Salesian spirituality, called after our patron, Francis de Sales, simply describes our way of being in the world and our way of being in God. It takes as its starting point the gift and sacredness of life especially as it expresses itself in the culture of young people.
Only when pushed to put his way of education into writing did Don Bosco describe it tentatively as a system, but a ‘preventive’ one with the educator always there to accompany the young. To put it simply, he said that it consisted of ‘reason, religion and loving kindness.’ It effect, he took these three – ‘holiness’, ‘education’ and ‘gentleness’ – and wove them into a unique vision of life.
The gospel image he found most expressive of his way of relating was that of the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep by name and is prepared to give his life for them. This was complemented by the image of Mary who moves among her children, guarding and guiding them.
You could say that his life’s direction was confirmed by certain recurring dreams, the first of which, at nine years of age, never left him. It describes a field of young people at play and the young Giovanni getting involved with words and fists to stop them ‘swearing’. A man dressed in a white cloak appears whose face is dazzling. He calls the boy by name and asks him to take charge of the others but says that they can only be won over by gentleness and love. He then points to the lady beside him who takes the boy’s hand. She will teach him how to be sensitive to the most troubled hearts.
This then becomes his whole life, this desire to bring the good news of unconditional love to the young and to bring young people to accept Jesus as their closest friend. In the context of education he found a way to do this.
Sharing time, fun, prayer, encouragement, love
Salesian spirituality is about presence, about family, about ‘being there’ for young people – sharing time, fun, prayer, encouragement, love. It also requires us to be present to ourselves in prayer so that we can recognize the Spirit of Jesus in the hearts of the young.
When we first meet this family spirit, it feels like welcome, acceptance, forgiveness and especially a love which is real and sincere. In this setting we are helped to become the ‘gifted’ and generous person we are and to discover our path in life.
Living joyfully and creatively is our gift to the world. It means that though we are immersed in the culture of our time, we also carry a message of Christian hope with us. This ‘alternative’ way is God’s gift to us for which every day we say thanks.
The ‘thanks’ we utter is best expressed as Eucharist where Christ nourishes us at the table and lays down his life for us. Every meal can then become eucharistic – the gift of food and company received with thanksgiving – and every kind gesture a reflection of Jesus’ self-giving.
Our life is lived on the earth. Don Bosco loved to take his youngsters out into the countryside to experience something of the freedom and beauty of life. The story of him taking young prisoners on a day’s outing without prison officers in attendance speaks of his trust in their responsiveness to an open sky and to an inner freedom evoked by hill and stream.
In consequence, we take our responsibilities towards creation seriously so that future generations of the young of all species can inherit the earth.
Don Bosco made of us a family, living with a profound respect for each other, ‘acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with our God’. He wanted us to experience Jesus’ promise of ‘life in abundance’. Salesian spirituality opens us to that experience.