SALESIAN SPIRITUALITY: INSPIRED COMMONSENSE
Long before the Second Vatican Council, St Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Bishop and doctor of the Church, spoke of the universal call to holiness. He believed that everyone was called to be holy and the quickest way to become holy was simply to follow the inspirations of God. He writes, “if we only accepted God’s inspirations to the full extent of their power in how short a time would we make great progress in holiness.” Perhaps, this explains, why Salesian spirituality has been called ‘inspired common sense’(Elizabeth Stopp).
We are all aware of the role of temptations in our life, but we may not be so aware of the opposite movement, namely, inspirations. Inspirations come from the Holy Spirit who whispers things to our heart throughout the day, inspiring us to do good. Sometimes, at the end of the day, we regret that we didn’t carry out the good we could have done. We may have had missed opportunities. Nevertheless, Francis encourages us not to become discouraged. After sin, according to Francis, discouragement is the greatest obstacle to the spiritual life. It prevents us from moving forwards and weighs our spirits down. “People stumble. Gently bear with them and pray for them. We each in turn commit faults: others today and I tomorrow.” Never forget, in the spiritual life we are always beginners. God always gives us a chance to begin again.
One of the ways in which God inspires us to begin again is through the sacrament of confession. Francis writes, you do not lose much by falling, if you take God’s hand quickly and allow God to pull you back up again. In fact, the sacrament can help us to grow in humility, self-knowledge, and compassion towards others. We must adopt the following attitude: “well poor heart, here we are fallen into the ditch which we had made so firm a resolution to avoid; ah, let us rise and leave it forever. Courage! Let us be more on our guard, God will help us, we shall do well enough!” When we are back up on our feet, we need to hold onto the hand God reaches out to help us, in particular, through the Sacrament of the Eucharist. When asked who should go to communion, Francis answers: “those who are weak so that they may become strong; those who are strong so that they may not become weak!”
God’s inspirations can come to us in many ways: through a word that someone speaks, a book we read, the Word of God, a picture we see, a thought or a feeling that urges us to do something good. Francis says, “be extremely compassionate, loving and patient with each person, especially with those who are troubled.”We may feel inspired to call a friend, write a note, an email, visit someone who is lonely, sick or in prison. He concludes, “we cannot always offer God great things, but at all times we can offer God little things with great love.”
Inspirations, therefore, are the way that God speaks to our heart so as to move our hearts to do good to others. It is God’s way of addressing us personally creating a mutual friendship between God and us. Although inspirations are always God’s initiative, at the same time, we can prepare our heart to receive them. Prayer is an essential ingredient in making our hearts vigilant. The cultivation of such an interior disposition allows us to respond to these inspirations “carefully, frequently, and promptly’ while ‘leading an ordinary life to all outward appearances.” The key is allowing our heart to become converted through these inspirations:
I cannot approve the methods of those who try to reform a person by beginning with outward things, such as bearing, dress, or hair. On the contrary, it seems to me that we ought to begin inside. “Be converted to me with your whole heart,” God said. “My son or daughter, give me your heart.” Since your heart is the source of all your actions, as the heart is, so are they.
Eunan Mc Donnell SDB, Living Life from The Heart with St Francis de Sales (short biography), Don Bosco Publications, Bolton UK. https://www.salesians.org.uk/bookshop
Eunan Mc Donnell SDB, Created For Love (Meditating on the Eucharist with St Francis de Sales), DeSales Resource Center Publicatons. https://embracedbygod.org