The second of this year’s Diocesan Assembly Spirituality Series was at Wickersley on 22 February. It was led by Father David O’Malley, a Salesian Priest and Rector of Savio House Retreat Centre in Cheshire.
The Salesian Order was founded by St John Bosco who lived about 150 years ago in Turin where he ministered to the young people who were being sent there to work and to live in terrible conditions. He developed a spirituality to meet their needs and which today’s Salesians still follow in their work with the young. Because it is largely for the young it differs from what we normally think of as spirituality and provides a different way of looking at life, but it is relevant to people of all ages.
The principle that underpins Salesian spirituality is relationships. Spirituality is not personal between God and ourselves. Instead we belong to each other as Christians in fellowship. We are all sisters and brothers of each other and of Jesus and it is through our normal relationships with others that we are able to engage with the presence of God and live in God’s Kingdom. God has breathed life into each one of us and now we must breathe life into each other. People are fundamentally good and will blossom through relationships which are good, positive and allow them space to develop so that they can soar and touch the face of God.
Several great works of literature and Bart Simpson feature stories in which someone sells their soul. Fr O’Malley made the point that we are all capable of doing this, not usually for money or so that our picture gets old instead of us, but when we turn in on ourselves and away from others, or when we cease to be able to laugh and play we lose part of our soul. When this happens we lose our sense of dignity and can fall apart as people. The alternative is the ‘lay form of holiness’ in which we are able to see God in the everyday things that we do and within which we can relax in the knowledge that we are beloved of God and that God is in charge, therefore, no matter what happens, everything will be alright.
Salesian spirituality is structured around a ‘Preventive System.’ Fr O’Malley showed pictures of a little boy left in a play pen and another boy in a garden sitting on a rug with toys. He asked which child is the safest. Whilst the boy in the playpen can come to no immediate physical harm he is far from safe. He lacks attention, stimulus and relationship. The other boy is free; someone must be there looking after him. He is more likely to hurt himself but he can play, experiment and delight in the world around him. Because he is not alone he feels able to take risks trusting that he will be protected. We are the same as this second child. Jesus stands beside us, we can take risks in the knowledge that he will be there for us and, in the same way, we need to be there for each other. The message is that God is everywhere. He is ‘in our face’ every moment of our lives and we can have a relationship with God through our relationship with others.
Fr O’Malley referred to four Salesian attitudes:
• Respect – we need to feel respected and should show respect to others. We should talk to others and listen to them. We should be consistent in our relationships and should smile, praise and be ready to apologise.
• Understanding – we should seek to put ourselves in the place of others and understand their motivation.
• Affection – we should let people know how we feel about them and, in our close relationships, how much we love them.
• Humour – we should be able to relax in our relationships and allow ourselves to just waste time. Children play and we are children of a God who is running the world, not us, therefore, we do not always have to be doing purposeful things. There is nothing wrong with adults taking time to enjoy themselves – it strengthens relationships. St Francis de Sales, from whom the Salesians take their name, said that the biggest sin is that at our death we give back to God a life un-enjoyed. Life is not a route march and God expects us to enjoy it.
Fr O’Malley pointed out the first letters of the above four attitudes spelt RUAH which is the Hebrew word for breath, wind and spirit. If you live with these attitudes you will be living in the Spirit of God.
St John Bosco taught that if a relationship fails and someone says or does something hurtful we should put their actions down to thoughtlessness rather than a more sinister motive. This gives them the space to retract, apologise and save face so that the relationship can be restored.
Don Bosco also taught that we should be cheerful. This can be a challenge when we are anxious but we need to remember that ‘God loves us to bits, so we can be cheerful’.
Fr O’Malley spoke about the four factors that St John Bosco identified as necessary for our development as spiritual people:
• Home – which is where we belong
• School/Education – through which, all our lives, we learn so that our spiritual development is continuous and up to date
• Playground – where we relax, celebrate life and try new experiences
• Church – where we reflect on our journey through life
These should be seen as relationships and not buildings. For example church describes, not a building, but any experience, spiritual or secular in which we encounter God. No matter what our vocation in life and essential part of it is that we constantly seek to build relationships that develop us spiritually.
Finally, Fr O’Malley stressed that faith is ‘trusting in God’ and not obedience to a set of teaching or rules and that spirituality is not just about engaging our minds but also about engaging our hearts.
Further information on Salesian Spirituality can be obtained from www.davidomalley.org.uk and prayer and other spiritual resources are available from the online shop at www.salesians.org.uk.