Wednesday 25 May 2016

Homily, Dominic Savio

Don Bosco is clear about his mission: it is DMACT. He wants to lead his boys to sanctity. He is only 42 years old when Dominic Savio dies. Quite remarkable.
What does this say about his own spiritual life? As a rule he does not speak about it, but it is mirrored in the Lives that he wrote.
What is Don Bosco saying to us?
GC26 and GC27 were all about our identity, returning to Don Bosco, radical living of the gospel.
Buccellato has said that the congregation will not be the one founded by Don Bosco if we do not restore spiritual retreats to the aims.
The biographies of young salesians who died during Don Bosco's lifetime are surprising in their descriptions of them at prayer.

Consciousness of an educator
Don Bosco's writings reveal the educator
He has in mind not just this one boy, Dominic, but all the others
the Life multiplies his efforts
with his boys
but also with his Salesians.

Ongoing formation
the fact that Don Bosco wrote, reveals also his ability and habit of ATTENDING to his experience, REFLECTING, DISCERNING in the Spirit.
this is the core attitude of ongoing formation. see C 96, 119, which speak of "hacer experiencia," "fare esperienza" - which in English we could translate as appropriating one's experience, in contrast to merely doing things or living through them with minimal attention. The basic capacity of ongoing formation is the ability to learn from experience, to discern there, in our concrete lives and our ministry, the action of the Spirit.

(Provincial House, Buenos Aires, 06.05.2016)

Homily, Monday, Week 7 of Ordinary Time

"This kind cannot be cast out without prayer and fasting."
Jesus is coming down from a night of prayer, and the experience of the transfiguration.
The people are "amazed" at seeing him.

In Jesus, we see a dialectic between activity and prayer.

In us: we are called to live life as prayer.
We need a balance between activity and prayer.
We are called to see God in people.
But this is nourished by the moments of formal prayer and quiet.
In "life as prayer," there is space - there has to be space - for community and personal prayer.

Why do I need personal prayer?
(Viganò says somewhere that personal prayer is of especial importance.)
When I ask this question, I need to ask: What is my relationship with the Lord?

Clearly, Jesus prayed.
And his prayer came from love.

(Provincial House, Medellin, 16.05.2016)

Umberto Eco and Don Bosco

Andrea Caglieris (journalist and secretary of the Ordine dei Giornalisti del Piemonte).
Translated from Rivista Maria Ausiliatrice  3/16 (maggio-giugno 2016) 36-37.

Secular intellectual with a profound religious sensibility, Umberto Eco died in Milan on 9 February 2016. A man on whom his Salesian education left a mark, even after his decision to take a distance from the gospel.

Between the vine-covered hills and the gates of the city of Nizza Monferrato in the province of Asti, there is still the oratory where as a young boy during the Second World War he studied music, and which became a setting for one of the chapter of his novel, Foucault’s Pendulum. Why did a young man, who was one of the leaders of Catholic Action, who used to go daily to communion and weekly confession, who chose St Thomas for his thesis in order to defend faith rather than get a degree, decide to be an agnostic and then an atheist, is a mystery to be investigated. In every one of his works, however, there is always a strong reference to the sacred and to spirituality, conscious as he was that the religions are a part of human history, of society, of the world.

The meeting with don Celi

Those who are familiar with the Salesian charism know well that the only really effective “formula” in the work of education is the meeting with a genuine master who knows how to attract and to show the way. Eco found such a figure in Don Giuseppe Celi, director of the oratory of Nizza Monferrato, 54 years in the service of the youth of Nizza, a priest full of goodness and for the use he had made of the phrase of Don Bosco that “an oratory without music is like a body without a soul.” Celi had set up a band for the town and had been responsible for teaching Eco to play the “genis,” a traditional instrument very similar to the clarinet. Winning the heart of that boy who would be more than one on the verge of a Nobel Prize for Literature, don Celi became for him a guiding light, a direction, a flicker in the darkness.

The importance of the oratory

The Salesian youth ministry thus touched also one of the protagonists of the twentieth century. Eco called don Bosco “great revolutionary” for having created “a new way of being together.” “This genial reformer,” he wrote, “saw that the industrial society needed new ways of gathering young people and adults, and so invented the Salesian oratory, a perfect setting in which every channel of communication, from games to music, from theatre to the press, was given its with the most minimal of resources. The wonderful thing about the oratory is that it prescribes a moral and religious code to its participants, but then goes on to welcome even those who do not follow it.” With his natural gift of bringing together high and low culture, Eco would return again to the “project of Don Bosco,” saying that if it were to continue being effective it would have to find “someone or a group of persons with the same sociological imagination, the same sensitivity to the times, the same organizational inventiveness” as Don Bosco.

A restless searcher

Such are the reflections left to us about the Salesian world he had known in his youth by this man of narrative structures, of conceptual architectures, of the “library of Babel,” of vast yet rigorous learning. Philosopher, semiologist, medievalist, linguist, encyclopedist, professor, editor – these are just a few of the many roles of this multi-faceted man. A wonderful representative of the “Società dell’Allegria” of bosconian memory, where everyone was committed to search out and share little things that make life better, and where all that led to melancholy had to be banished. Eco enjoyed having fun and writing, learning and teaching – revealing himself, in those best sellers that are maps for understanding our time, to be a restless seeker.


“Apart from the religious experience of his youth – a background that he never wanted to forget, despite his profoundly secular spirit – there was in him the desire to see how one could live the experience of faith without having to renounce cultural curiositas. Always with great respect for theological and spiritual themes.” (Cardinal G. Ravasi, in an interview with Edoardo Castagna, Avvenire 21 February 2016)


Italian essayist, writer, philosopher, linguist. Authoritative student of semiotics, in which he saw the icon of an interdisciplinary knowledge, he is also a brilliant journalist and writer, author of numerous essays and some extremely successful novels, most well-known among which is The Name of the Rose (1980), a philosophical thriller in a medieval setting. (Enciclopedia Treccani)  

Tuesday 24 May 2016


Wonderful Marian reflections from Rossi de Gasperis, Balthasar, John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Bozzolo. Ratzinger, earlier. All moving in the same direction. Obviously, RdG draws from Balthasar - and from Lonergan. So does John Paul II, the CCC, and Bozzolo.

I was thinking of Lonergan's remark: the theology that we need will emerge from a fusion of Balthasar and one other (Schillebeeckx? Rahner?) - and, I suppose, Lonergan's method.

Balthasar: the man who worked alone. The great star. Etoile. But what an enormous influence, all the same. Lonergan: another man who worked alone, but worked out a method that would enable us to work together, or at the very least, make more explicitly and deliberately methodical our already-working-together. How could the two come together?

Friday 20 May 2016

Salesian General Chapters: Timeline

1971-72: Special General Chapter 20
1972: Renewed Constitutions (Ricceri)
1980: ACG 298: Viganò, "The lay element in the Salesian community"
1977-78: GC21
1984: GC22. Definitive text of the new Constitutions (Viganò)
1990: GC23: Education to the Faith
1996: GC24: Laity
2002: GC25: Salesian Community
2008: GC26: Return to Don Bosco
2014: GC27: Radical living of the gospel
2015: 3rd ed. of the Constitutions (Fernandez Artime)

Friday 13 May 2016


Asuncion, Paraguay - a country that is obviously poor. The shanties on the river bank and on the main streets are very much what we see in Mumbai and in other Indian cities. The difference is that there is money in India, and business and industry, in a way that does not seem to be evident out here.

The history is one of much suffering. In the war waged by the neighbouring countries - Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia - a huge number of men lost their lives. It was the women who continued and revived the country, building up the population from scratch, as it were. The population is now some 6 million - it was 300,000 when the war ended, according to what I heard. 1 million live in the capital, Asuncion. 

Friday 6 May 2016

Don Bosco and Dominic Savio

Way back in the 1970s, when we were in the aspirantate, it was considered offensive to be called "Dominic Savio." And it was not only Lonavla: George Williams, now almost 100, used to tell of the story of two youngsters in a Salesian boarding school who were fighting. When separated by the watchful assistant, and asked the reason for the fight, one of them replied: "He called me Dominic Savio."

Dominic Savio: somehow, the image of a not-quite-all-there kind of youngster, not quite a model for anyone. But I think we have come a long way from all this. I, for one, have begun to appreciate just how much the famous Life written by Don Bosco has to say to us as educators and as followers of the spirituality of Don Bosco.

Today, on the feast of Dominic Savio, three words come to me: mission, education, and formation.

Mission. Don Bosco's work with Dominic Savio, and the Life that he wrote, indicate very clearly a priest who was extremely clear about his mission: not just working for poor young people, not even "making them priests," but accompanying them on the way to God, to sanctity, to that fullness of life that we see and that we have been promised in Jesus. This kind of clarity is quite amazing, really, especially when we think that Don Bosco was all of 42 years old when Dominic Savio died in 1857. Amazing, because it indicates a spiritual maturity that is quite astonishing in a young priest in his early forties.

We have been taught by our scholars that the Lives written by Don Bosco are really also mirrors of Don Bosco's own interior life, about which he is usually so reluctant to speak. No one can recognize the special spiritual gifts in another if he is not somehow already familiar with them in his own experience, as G. Buccellato says in his Notes for a Spiritual History of Father John Bosco.

One of our Salesian temptations is activism - the tendency to be busy with a thousand things, and to forget that Don Bosco's passion was Da mihi animas. All to easily we think of our mission in terms of "working for young people," or at best, for poor young people. But our Constitutions are clear: mission is "being signs and bearers of God's love to the young." Our mission is not just work. It is the call to reveal God and his mercy and love to young people, especially to those who have deficits in their experience of fatherhood and motherhood.

This is what our last two General Chapters, 26 and 27, have been trying to remind us: our identity, our vocation, our mission. GC26 called us to return to this fundamental salesian identity, to understand and own our vocation and mission, and our identity as salesian consecrated persons. GC27 reminded us that our lives are rooted in a call, the gospel call, the call to follow Jesus radically.

Buccellato says that, almost as soon as Don Bosco had settled in the Pinardi House, he began organizing semi-live-in retreats for young people, the young people off the streets of Turin. We still have the programs he had drawn up for them - and they are far more rigorous in terms of prayer and silence than what we usually demand from ourselves in our retreats.

Buccellato also points out that "preaching retreats to young people and to people of the working classes" was one of the five aims of the Salesian congregation enshrined in the Constitutions written by Don Bosco. An aim that somehow got dropped in the renewed version of the Constitutions that we now possess. According to Buccellato, the Salesian congregation will not be the one founded by Don Bosco unless we restore to it this aim.

Then there are the biographies of young Salesians who died while Don Bosco was still alive. Don Bosco, ever the educator, made Giulio Barberis, the first novice master, write their biographies - which he signed or at least owned completely when they were published. The surprising thing about these biographies is their descriptions of these young Salesians at prayer: one going red in the face, another unable to contain his tears at Communion; yet another prostrating before the Sacrament, and a fourth getting up in the night to pray. This is not quite what we have learnt as "Salesian prayer," as my theology students of Ratisbonne said to me. So what really is Salesian prayer? What was Don Bosco trying to tell us about the life of prayer of these young Salesians, and of the three young people (four if we count Comollo) whose lives he took the trouble to write? Whatever the answer, one thing is clear: Don Bosco understood his mission clearly in terms of Da mihi animas. His job was to walk with young people on their journey to God, nothing less.

Education. Don Bosco was not content to work with Dominic Savio. He took the trouble to write his biography - and this reveals his consciousness of being an educator. The wriring of the Life is the act of a great educator: Dominic becomes a model and inspiration to a whole group of youngsters, and to many generations of youngsters in the future. It also becomes a modeling of Don Bosco’s idea of education to his Salesians and to all those who would follow Don Bosco. The Life multiplies Don Bosco’s efforts enormously, for his boys and for his Salesians. And it adds to the creation of the environment, which is such an essential part of Don Bosco’s way of educating.

Formation. The fact that Don Bosco wrote the Life is also a revelation of his own ability to attend to experience: to the experience of the boy, as well as to his own experience as educator and guide. Don Bosco knows how to attend to, reflect and discern the action of the Spirit in the lives of the young and in his own life. This is the central attitude of ongoing formation described in the two chapters of our Constitutions dedication to formation: the ability to pay attention to experience, to “make experience” or learn from experience the values of the Salesian vocation (C 96), to discern the action of the Spirit in the lives of the young (C 119). Don Bosco models for us the central attitude of ongoing formation, that formation that never ends, because it is our ongoing response to the ongoing call and action of the Lord in our lives.

So mission, education, formation: all these are modelled for us in Don Bosco's relationship with Dominic Savio. The Life that Don Bosco wrote of his beloved student tells us much about Savio, but it reveals to us even more about the educator and guide that Don Bosco was. Certainly a timely lesson for us at this moment in the life of the congregation, when we are learning to see Don Bosco in his true complexity and depth. 

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