Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Direction of Intention...for Justice

(Pictured: Francis de Sales presents Jane de Chantal with the Spiritual Directory)

The founder of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, Fr. Louis Brisson, believed that the Spiritual Directory of Francis de Sales was the key to interpreting all of Salesian spirituality. The Directory was a rule of life Francis designed for the early Visitation sisters. The rule helped people live in the presence of God at every moment of the day (rising, at meals, before going to bed, etc.). Fr. Brisson highlighted the importance of the direction of intention for the life of the Oblates, and for all people, as the key to performing every action in an attempt to live in conformity with God’s will. As stated for the Oblates (though it should be applied to all who seek to live Salesian spirituality), the instructions in the Directory for the direction of intention read,
“The Oblates who wish to thrive and advance in the way of Our Lord should, at the beginning of their actions, both exterior and interior, ask for his grace and offer to his divine goodness all the good they will do. In this way they will be prepared to bear with peace and serenity all the pain and suffering they will encounter as coming from the fatherly hand of our good God and Savior” (Directory, Article 1).
The direction of intention is a popular prayer in Oblate schools, parishes, and other ministries. Many people familiar with the prayer may wonder what it has to do with a concern for social justice. In an article written a number of years ago, Fr. Anthony Ceresko, OSFS, suggested a new way to interpret the direction of intention given the changed global situations of our time from the time of Francis or Brisson. While noting that Francis focused on individual actions and how those actions brought one closer to or further from God, Ceresko writes,
“Each action in some way possesses the possibility of moving this world and our human community toward a better, more life-enhancing direction or ever deeper into chaos and death…Over and above our “personal advancement in holiness,” each of our actions also involves us in God’s creative and salvific purpose for humankind and for the universe.”[i]

None of our actions occurs in a vacuum: all have an impact on our wider community. Ceresko continues,
“Through a “right intending” of our deeds, God becomes not only the constant companion in our everyday actions. God and God’s plan for our world and our human community becomes more explicitly the end and goal of everything in which we are engaged. Our personal transformation in terms of a closer union with God in prayer and in awareness of God’s presence in each action is joined to the potential of these deeds to achieve a transformation of human society and the creation of a more just and peaceful human community.”[ii]

Ceresko concludes his article with a new form of the direction of intention which he believes captures Francis’ intention and our responsibility as people who live in today’s world:

My God, give me your grace. I offer you all the good that I shall do in this action and all the pain and suffering to be found in it. Stay close to me and help me to see how what I am doing can advance “Christ’s blessed hold upon the universe.” Amen.

A commitment to peace and justice brings with it the reality of suffering: our own suffering and the need to enter into the suffering of other people. Ceresko has done a great service for us by demonstrating how traditional Salesian concepts and prayers can give purpose to our mission to promote justice, while also realizing the costs that any attempt to follow Christ carries with it.

[i] Anthony Ceresko, “St. Francis de Sales’ “Spiritual Directory” for a New Century: Re-interpreting the “Direction of Intention.” In, idem., St. Francis de Sales and the Bible (Bangalore, India: St. Francis de Sales Publishing, 2005) 116.
[ii] Ibid., 122.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gentle Strength in Camden, NJ

(Pictured, L-R: Ryan Cronshaw, Bob Killion, Sr. Claire Sullivan, Mike Montavano, and Tim Gallagher)

Tim Gallagher is a senior at De Sales University and a member of the Oblate Associate Program, a discernment program for college-aged men considering a religious vocation with the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. During the summer, Tim has spent a number of weeks working in Camden, NJ, with De Sales Service Works, a Catholic service organization sponsored by the Oblates in Camden. For more information on the Oblate Associate Program, please visit http://www.oblates.org/vocations/. For more information on De Sales Service Works and to find information on how you can volunteer, please visit http://www.oblates.org/dsw/index.php. The following is Tim’s reflection on this experience of service.

At the beginning of this summer I had the opportunity to volunteer in Camden, NJ, with De Sales Service Works. It was a life changing experience of service. As a native of Philadelphia, I knew that Camden was going to be a different and challenging experience, but I had no idea what my feelings were going to be once I was actually living in the city that has such a reputation for violence and crime. I joined three other Oblate associates, two students from Virginia Tech, and the director of De Sales Service Works, Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS. We were informed that we would be walking around the streets of Santo Nombre (Holy Name) Parish and conducting house visits with a religious sister, Sr. Claire Sullivan. Sr. Claire was going to be our guide and “protector” for the next couple of weeks. Knowing the area in which we would be working, I was expecting someone at least a bit bigger than I; what we got was Sr. Claire: a 4’5”, 90lb, well over 70 year old IHM nun. Needless to say, I was a bit uncomfortable with this older nun walking me through the streets of Camden.

On our first night walking around the streets, Sr. Claire’s habit turned into my shield. I found comfort in this seemingly frail nun as we walked through one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. We soon realized that it wasn’t her strength or her size that people respected, rather, it was her gentle presence.
On a number of occasions, she walked up to a group of young men on the street corner, a task most of us would avoid at all costs. However, Sr. Claire just walked right into the middle of the group and said “Hello gentlemen, can I give you a Salesian thought for the day?” This one act was probably the most influential experience from my time in Camden.
Sr. Claire embodied the Salesian idea that “Nothing is so strong as gentleness and nothing as gentle as true strength.” Her simple act of just saying hello to a person on the street was her gentle way of bringing the church to the people. I think we can all take a little guidance from Sr. Claire: always treat the people we meet with respect and as if they were a member of our own family, and gentleness is the ultimate strength.

Francis de Sales, Doctor of Love

How do we make a connection between our faith lives and our commitment as Christians to working for peace and justice? In attempting to answer that question posed to him a number of years ago, noted spiritual writer Henri Nouwen replied,

"You must make the connection between prayer and life. The closer you are to the heart of God, the closer you come to the heart of the world, the closer you come to others. God is a demanding God, but when you give your heart to God, you find your heart’s desires. You will also find your brother and sister right there. We’re called always to action, but that action must not be driven, obsessive, or guilt-ridden. Basically, it’s action that comes out of knowing God’s love."[i]

This blog will explore the ways in which we come closer to the heart of God and to others from a Salesian perspective. The blog is run by the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, a religious congregation of men dedicated to spreading Salesian spirituality and committed to Catholic social teaching.

There are a number of blogs that discuss the link between spirituality and social justice, but none that explores the link from a Salesian point of view. St. Francis de Sales was described by Pope Paul VI as the “Doctor of Divine Love” because of Francis’ penetrating analysis of the love of God for all of humanity. We live in a world today where many people do not believe they are loved or lovable, and this leads to much of the violence and injustice we see around us. The priority of love in Salesian spirituality offers a starting point for approaching social questions that is often neglected in our discourse today. In the most recent addition to official Catholic social teaching, Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate, the pope highlights the importance of love in work for justice, “Love-caritas-is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth” (#1).

One dimension of this blog will be a look at how this love impacts the lives of people today, inspiring them to work for justice and peace. Stories from people involved in Oblate ministries will capture how people’s prayer lives impact their experience of working for justice and how those experiences also transform their prayer lives. Many of us have new understandings of classic themes of Salesian spirituality because of our experience of working for justice in the modern world.

Today, there are many questions that people of faith must reflect upon in light of the Gospel. In this blog, we will explore the ways people following in the tradition of Francis and Jane are attempting to make connections between their faith life and a commitment to social justice. We hope the blog will offer the opportunity for respectful dialogue among people who are struggling to answer questions about various issues in light of the Gospel and Salesian spirituality. It is our hope and prayer that this dialogue will draw us closer to the heart of God and to each other.

[i] Henri Nouwen, The Road to Peace, ed. John Dear. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998. 159.