Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ignatius and the Salesians

Today, as we commemorate the sainthood of St. John Bosco, we also celebrate the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the great saint who is the patron of soldiers and retreatants and the same person who introduced the Spiritual Exercises to the Church. He is also the founder of the biggest male congregation: the Society of Jesus.

St. Ignatius, like St. John Bosco has been dear to me ever since I have begun my journey in the realm of the religious life. In fact, this affinity with him has led me, during my first postulancy, to knock at the portals of the Jesuits. With the go signal from my formators in Canlubang, I attended one vocation orientation seminar in 2002 conducted in Ateneo de Manila University.

There, I had the chance to know the Jesuits up-close and more personal. In a way, I’ve become more intimate with the Jesuit theologian Catalino Arevalo, the Jesuit philosopher Roque Ferriols, and the Jesuit constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas. These names have become institutions in their own right. They have contributed not only to the flourishing of their congregation, but also, in the development of our nation as well.

That meeting also privileged me of meeting in person the author of Opening to God, Wheat among Weeds, and countless prayer and discernment books we have in our very library: the venerable Fr. Thomas Green, SJ. I was so star struck with him that after his talk, I defied all odds in getting his autograph, and eventually, his warm greetings he asked me to convey to my companions in Canlubang.

In that occasion, I also met a former aspirant from the FIS who was then a Jesuit scholastic in the person of Br. Lester Maramara, SJ. We communicated through e-mail up to the point of my return to Canlubang, and even until I had to finally tell him that I am sticking it out with the Salesians.

My experience with them was more than enriching. Jesuits are very accomplished. Most of them. And joining them, I thought, would allow me to flex my muscles in doing the things I love the most: writing and teaching being the two. However, that experience helped me to validate that perhaps, I am really called to be in the walls of the Salesians. SJs are great people, they are brilliant braniacs, but I am more at home with the technical SDBs.

I cannot remember the name of the building where we had the seminar, but the sweet after-taste of that experience has left some beautiful feelings in me which I am not yet ready to let go of. I was completely overwhelmed by what I saw and experience: their warm hospitality, even their state-of the-art facilities, and their food was a little less than a fine dining experience!

One after-taste of that encounter with the Jesuits is that they speak good of their confreres. They only reserve the best and sweetest adjectives for each other. And that feeling of awe I still carry up to now. I have learnt in my research that the SJs don’t put much emphasis on community life unlike the way we celebrate fraternal community, but they are able to communicate their love through their good words for each other.

Scanning the pages of our very own Biographical Memoirs, I found out that it’s no less than the “Salesian Pope” himself in the person of Pio Nono who advised Don Bosco, in his visit to Rome, to imitate the Jesuits in their ways of treating the confreres.

Don Bosco quoted Pius IX with these words:

You will never hear a Jesuit priest speak less than favorably of any of his confreres. Rather, they always highly praise any of them should their names crop up in conversation. Should anything happen that might in anyway stain or tarnish the name or reputation of your society, keep it hidden from the strangers. Do likewise. Depend one another in all circumstances. [1]

These words of St. John Bosco stirred some sensitive chords in my heart. It has pushed me to evaluate how the Salesians live well to the standards of the Jesuits in terms of fraternal charity. It asks me to assess each Salesian as regards his treatment of his brother Salesian.

But above all, these words seek an honest response from me as to how I treat my companions, and even my formators.

Don Peter Ricaldone, the fourth successor of Don Bosco, entitled his 1933 message “Think well, speak well and do well to all.” At a glance, it seemed that it’s written more for very young kids who are learning to “stop, look and listen.” However, the profundity and richness of his message written more than seven decades ago has never been lost its essence.

He said that “Charity exhorts us in the first place to think well of all. “Think” here means the proper use of the mind in forming judgments with regard to our neighbor. Uncharitableness is so detestable a vice that St. John Chrysostom compares it to the low occupation of cleaning out sewers and revealing the filth that is in them.”

He concluded that “the odor of charity is kindness.”

“The great master of the spiritual life, St. John of the Cross, used frequently to say: ‘The surest means to learn how to speak to God is to speak little with men.” He would be seen entering mountain gorges and speaking with the rocks, and the reason for it is given: “I have thus less matter for confession that when I speak to men.’”

“St. Francis of Sales rightly points it out: those who criticize others by making laudatory preambles and interweaving appealing clever remarks are the most subtle and poisonous slanderers of all.”

“And what must be said of those slanderers who are not simply Christians, but religious and priests?” Don Ricaldone asked. St. Jerome has this to say: “What blameworthy and fatuous inconsistency, to delude themselves that they are shut up in the cloister and then to wander with their tongue all over the face of the earth.”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or if you’re concerned at all, but the ill remarks toward others are spreading like wild fire. I say this out of my experience, both firsthand and secondhand. And as I exhort each one to make a difference, in highlighting the virtues of each one rather than zeroing in on the defects, I also challenge myself to be charitable, especially with my thoughts and prejudices towards others, to become a Benedict, that is, to reserve good words for others.

If we can achieve this, we can truly say that, indeed, we “we receive each confrere with an open heart,[2] because our concern is not about forming accomplished writers or excellent preachers, or even preparing delicious food, for “our hallmark is our family spirit.[3]

[1] BM IX pp. 262

[2] Constitutions of the Society of St. Francis of Sales, 52

[3] Constitutions of the Society of St. Francis of Sales, 51