– At the beginning of Lent, the Formation Department of the Salesian Congregation released two important publications on Salesian meditation. Below is the letter with which Fr Ivo Coelho, General Councilor for Formation, presents the two texts to the Provincials and Provincial Delegates for Formation.
I am happy to be able to present to you The Practice of Meditation in the Prayer of the Salesians of Don Bosco (accessible by clicking here), fruit of a seminar organized by the Formation Sector in Rome, 10-12 May 2018. The aim of the seminar was to clarify the place of meditation in the tradition and life of the Salesians of Don Bosco and to offer guidelines in this area. We asked ourselves three fundamental questions: what is Salesian meditation? Why should we meditate? And how do we meditate? To our pleasant surprise, the seminar had surprisingly positive echoes from around the Salesian world, and not only from those involved in initiating young novices and Salesians into the art of meditation. This strengthened us in our determination to make available the fruits of our seminar, and this is what we are happy to be able to offer you at this moment.
The book includes, obviously, the four main papers presented at the seminar: Notes for a “brief treatise” on meditation at the origins of the Society of St Francis de Sales, by Giuseppe Buccellato; Learning to meditate with St Francis de Sales, by Eunan McDonnell; Meditation as Lectio Divina, by Giuseppe M. Roggia; and Three perspectives on the importance of Christian meditation, by Xabier Blanco. These have been revised by the authors and edited by Giuseppe Buccellato.
Buccellato is also responsible for the Pointers and Suggestions for Daily Meditation (accessible by clicking here) that form a second contribution to the process, an aid for initiating people to meditation in the early phases of initial formation. It can be used with profit both by formation guides and by those going through these phases, but also by anyone, individuals or communities, who would like to renew their way of practising the half hour of meditation that is part of our Salesian way of life.
Our little seminar was a beautiful learning experience for us who participated in it. It began with a sharing of our own experiences of meditation, which was then illuminated by the four papers. This process led to a rather rich discussion and to some practical conclusions, which were shared in a letter sent to all the provinces and which may be found also in the present book. From Buccellato we learnt that Giulio Barberis, the first novice director of the Congregation, used to dedicate the first period of the novitiate, no doubt at Don Bosco’s urging, to initiation to meditation. Don Bosco insisted on the affective dimension of meditation – something that, as Eunan McDonnell reminded us, is at the very heart of the teaching of St Francis de Sales. In turn, St Francis’ insistence on the place of the Word of God in meditation has been ‘canonized’ by Vatican II, as Giuseppe M. Roggia pointed out. Salesian meditation today, therefore, is very much lectio divina: listening to, reflecting on, praying over and allowing ourselves to be carried by God’s Word and his Spirit. Xabier Blanco in his turn took us to the person and example of Jesus himself. Jesus prayed because he felt the need to pray, because he loved. People today, including the young, seem to be rediscovering the need for silence and for prayer. This is what the young people told us during the Synod on youth, faith and vocational discernment. The Salesians of today are, therefore, certainly invited to give an adequate response to them. When the people of God ask for bread, we cannot give them stones.
Dear confreres, the practice of meditation, as Don Bosco saw, is fundamental to our vocational fidelity and to our mission. Our Constitutions put it beautifully: “For us mental prayer is essential. It strengthens our intimate union with God, saves us from routine, keeps our heart free and fosters our dedication to others. For Don Bosco it is a guarantee of joyous perseverance in our vocation.” (C 93)
The Practice of Meditation in the Prayer of the Salesians of Don Bosco is being made available at the moment in digital format. This does not exclude the possibility of some provinces or regions going into print, though this would obviously entail a further checking of the text. Since all of the material included in the book is original, so there is no question of seeking further copyrights: it would be enough to indicate your intentions to us in the Formation Sector.
I hope this work will serve to awaken a renewed interest in and appreciation of the very important element of Salesian prayer that is our daily meditation. The season of Lent that we are just beginning is a favourable time to listen to and meditate on the Word, which calls and moves us to conversion.
A warm thanks once again to all those who contributed to the seminar: our four contributors, Giuseppe Buccellato, Eunan McDonnell, Giuseppe M. Roggia and Xabier Blanco; our editor Giuseppe Buccellato; the many confreres who helped in the translations; and the members of the Formation Sector, most especially Silvio Roggia who has been the driving force behind the arduous efforts of gathering the contributions, seeing to the translations, and bringing the whole project to completion.
Ivo Coelho, SDB