Wednesday, March 05, 2008

How Salesian am I?

This reflection paper bears a special flavor and tone. For one, I am using a question for my title. But what is most is that it carries with it my serious thoughts about the spirituality, my particular response to the very charism God handed on to me. The very spirituality I wish to live with and for, the very spirituality I desire to die with and for.

The interrogative pronoun “how” asks for a degree. It presupposes a certain amount of Salesianity in me. It doesn’t ask if I have a Salesian blood running into my veins. I appreciate answering such a question nine months after I entered the novitiate—and three months away, finally, God-willing, I pronounce the evangelical counsels.

Don Cogliandro, the author of the now classic “Theology of Religious Life,” has something to say about pastoral charity:

The animating principle of our Spirit can only be the great apostolic charity of Don Bosco, a charity so youthfully dynamic making us “seeks souls and serve God alone” (C40), “a charity enkindled and kept alive by Christ’s love for the young and the poor” (C41) defines our Spirit, the style of life best suited to the fulfillment of our mission.

p. 278

We find in the pastoral charity, called the apostolic charity then, the very core of what it is to become a Salesian. This charity is the very source in which we find inner strength. The singular element mentioned in the constitutions, which according to the author of the Project of Life is the “animating nucleus” of the Salesian Spirituality.

Union with God

The pastoral charity should push me to pray more, to nurture my relationship with the very Master who calls me, although unworthy, to become His servant. I should pray because I love. Only in my being united with God will I be able to make this ‘love’ grow.

True, falling in love with God is a grace. It is bizarre how certain moments come when praying for me is a cinch, when I can easily perceive the sense of the divine; but hands down, those moments don’t happen everyday. And therefore, this grace also entails a great effort on my part.

I ought to make myself more attuned, more familiar with His voice by increasing the number of times I encounter him in my intimate visits to the Blessed Sacrament, in shunning off further distractions in my meditations, and in nourishing the trust I have in Him.

At times, staying in front of the Blessed Sacrament even just for five minutes could be a real struggle. Sometimes I succeed, but most of the time, I fail. But what’s consoling is the experience of having Him beside me. That should be a great deal of reason why I should persevere in learning and hopefully enjoying how to unite with Him.

Sense of the Church

I love the Church.

This I realized as a little boy who would religiously attend the Sunday catechesis in our lowly chapel then. Soon, I became a member of the Knights of the Altar, a catechist, a lector and eventually, I would be appointed by our parish priest to serve as the secretary in the pastoral council of the parish.

In fact, I remember that I prepared myself to receive the sacrament of Confirmation—by attending the four required meetings for the catechetical inputs. I just told my parents that I need them to be with me on the rite of the confirmation itself, and of course, the honorarium we need to pay to our parish office.

I guess I’m fortunate to be born as a Catholic in this country that, at least up to now, has a high regard for the Catholicism. In fact, seeing this element of the Salesian Spirituality in this light requires practically no major effort on my part to develop “a sense of the Church.”

I just wish that this love for the Church I was born in will be translated to become a concrete means for me to respect the bishops, parish priests and lay leaders I will be collaborating with in the not so distant future.

Predilection for the young

So far my apostolate in the young people has enriched my insight as a Filipino Christian and as a Salesian.

As a Filipino Christian, the work is still overwhelmingly vast. The development of the nation and of the Church is critical to the solid civic and Christian formation we give to the young. The juvenile problems we are trying to put a handle on are not things still to come, but a matter of the present realities we are living with.

It is in this regard that my being a Salesian is only an additional feature of my desire as a Filipino Christian to provide a hand in nation-building.

I have come to realize that I can stretch myself a little further (i.e. speak in front, animate youth groups, etc.) when certain situations call for it.

This is of course in the level of apostolate. I am a little confident in this department since I know that I have been blessed with both organizational and social skills.

Putting a name to my unknown issues and controlling those that I am now aware of are imperative to my being a Salesian. This is one aspect I know that I need to work on because I know that I am fragile. Human as I am, I am privy to the fact that I have certain needs to satisfy.

Loving Kindness

As I see it, loving kindness is one element of the Salesian Spirituality (and of the Preventive System!) that is fundamental. This is a “marketing strategy” we put out not only to evangelize, but to attract religious vocations. By the loving kindness exuded by then Br. Roger Miranda, my childhood dream to become a priest was resurrected.

My twice-a-week experience with him (we only met on weekends) is my most “concrete experience” of how it is to live with Don Bosco. I felt that my presence was valued; I was welcomed without any conditions save for one: I ought to become a good boy.

Now that I am a soon-to-be-Salesian, this loving kindness of him, I try to imitate. And living “a Salesian without the vows” for the past nine months, I found out that I still need to double my effort to become kind and loving to all; not only to some selected young individuals and companions, but to all.

The ingredients of Don Bosco’s loving kindness (I make a reference to him, after all, he perfected and lived out this spirituality) include patience, capacity for sacrifice, thoughtfulness and concern. I am dying to have these. Nay, having all these will want me to die soon so that I may never lose any of them.

Family Spirit

“The family spirit is lived, not talked about.” I read this sentence in the “novitiate notes” I found in the library. I think that it is sheer foolishness to study this aspect using theories without having any concrete “hands-on training” in living in a community. This I’ve experienced, not only in the instance I’ve become a novice, but goes back to my nearly six years of experience living inside the walls of the congregation.

I reckon that this is solidified by informal encounters with my formators, companions, and the young people.

Opportunities offered in the seminary community such as recreation and meals I attempted to maximized. I remember listing this down as one of my priorities in building a greater sense of community life in me.

But the challenge goes on. The difficult experience of accepting individuals who may not be my ideal type I need to face.

Optimism and Joy

I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but I’m realistic. I am not proud that I am one. I am aware that this is one aspect I need to work on. Don Bosco’s optimism is anchored in his faith and confidence with God. In this filial attitude with the Divine Master, he has found a sure source of optimism. Hence, when problems came, he remained in an upbeat mood.

This is one of my prayers:

to smile in the face of adversities
to remain serene and calm when tempest attacks
and when failure strikes me down,
may I have the joy of offering this suffering to the Lord.
Amen.

I hope that before this stage of novitiate comes to its final end, I may have even the 5% of Don Bosco’s sense of optimism and joy.

Work and Temperance

I know that I can deliver results. This I attribute to the fact that I work hard. This is more accurate if I love what I do.

The problem comes when I don’t have enough passion in carrying out a task. My output is mediocre, and if such projects come, I admit that I am frustrated.

The spirit of Da Mihi Animas Cetera Tolle (Give me souls take away the rest), I hope, remains constantly alive in me, reminding me unceasingly that my work is important for the salvation of the young.

I hope that with natural and supernatural means, I may be able to nurture the apostolic spirit in me especially when I am already a major player in the field of saving souls.

Initiative and Flexibility

Having reached the last quarter in this stage of the novitiate made me only produce a mixed sigh of distrust and awe in the ability of Don Bosco to thread the uncharted horizons of ministering to the youth of his time.

I am not sure if I can duplicate such herculean tasks of becoming an acrobat, magician, tradesman, teacher, musician, writer, preacher, friend, and a lot more for only one goal: to save souls. This is true when it’s hard for me to even learn one song to play in the guitar. And this is especially true when I look into myself and discover how rigid and impatient I am with people, things and even with myself.

I have to wear the “optimistic goggles” to become flexible. I know I should. I should.

Some final thoughts

When Fr. Wong (our provincial) came over last time, he told us that the General Chapter focuses on the issue of credibility—when some Salesians live a life in contradiction with what a sign of love ought to live—it does not come as mere disappointment among the young, it’s scandalous.

This reality frightens me. Am I ready to become a sign? Will I not cause scandal to others?

As the date of the professions comes nearer, I pose to myself these relevant questions.

But having been acquainted myself with these elements of the Salesian Spirituality, the most prevailing emotion is no longer fear, but a greater passion to transform myself, with His grace, the best Salesian I could ever be.

The title-question “How Salesian I am?” I cannot accurately answer yet. I guess I am not yet ready to come up with one for I am still in the process.