Salesian Family, what are you looking for? (SB, March 2015)

by Angel F. Artime posted Mar 12, 2015


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Our Family, present in almost every corner of the Earth, has been invited to transform itself into Jesus’ home, the place where he stays, where any person of any condition whatever, but especially those most in need, can have the experience of coming and seeing.

St. John the Evangelist tells the story of the humble beginnings of the little group of Jesus’ disciples. His narrative starts in a mysterious manner. He says that Jesus was “passing by.” We don’t know whence he’s coming or whither he’s going. He doesn’t stop near John the Baptist: he’s going beyond his religious world there in the desert. Therefore John suggests to his own disciples that they focus their attention on him: “Behold the Lamb of God.” Jesus comes from God, not with power and glory, but as a defenseless, helpless Lamb. He won’t impose himself by force; he won’t compel anyone to believe in him. One day he’ll be sacrificed on a cross. Those who wish to follow him will have to accept him freely.

The two disciples who’ve heard the Baptist start to follow Jesus without saying a word. Something in him attracts them, even if they don’t know yet what that is nor where he’s leading them. Nevertheless, to follow Jesus it’s not enough to hear what others say of him: a personal experience is necessary.

So Jesus turns and addresses to them a very important question: “What are you looking for?” They’re the first words he addresses to those who follow him. You can’t follow in his steps any old way. What do we expect from him? Why do we follow him? What are we looking for? Those men don’t know where the adventu­re of following Jesus might take them, but they intuit that he can teach them something they don’t know yet: “Teacher, where do you live?” They’re not looking for some grand doctrines from him. They want him to teach them where he lives, how he lives, and what his plans are. They desire that he teach them to live. Jesus says to them, “Come and see.”

Like John’s disciples, we too at one point in our life have taken up the journey of following Jesus, even though we may not know him very well, even without knowing for sure what it means to be his disciples in Don Bosco’s style. It’s true that Don Bosco is a fascinating person, capable of stirring up people’s hearts in a good way, capable of leading entire communities toward the God of Life, even in a way that doesn’t take you away from your daily routine, from ordinary life, from simplicity, and from the “normality” of being a citizen of any culture whatever on this earth. You don’t always ask yourself what it is that keeps Don Bosco contemporary, what motivated him in life, and what it is in his work that generates so much involvement and enthusiasm today. And Jesus, as he did with John’s disciples, at one point, almost by chance, looks at us and asks us, “What are you looking for?” Likewise today I ask you, Salesian Family, what are you looking for?”

Jesus’ pastoral-vocational plan

It’s very important that everyone answer this question personally, and even all together, as an ecclesial body. We have to learn to hear Jesus’ Word with an open heart, as purified as possible, renewing our capacity for listening. The disciples whom the Evangelist speaks of, before listening to Jesus had listened to the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God,” testing in their own hearts their desire to look for something more in their lives. So Simon, too, listened to his brother Andrew: “We have found the Messiah”; and Andrew “brought him to Jesus.” To hear and recognize the voice of intermediaries is a first condition.

And we also, as the Salesian Family, have been called to become intermediaries who lead others to Jesus— especially the young, in our specific case. So, we’ve been called to listen more than ever to God and to others, and also to be ready to become intermediariesmediators,ourselves, bringing them to Jesus. This has been one of my convictions from the start, and I’m sharing it with you so that it may become yours too. We, as a Family, have been called to listen more attentively to God and others, especially the young who are calling out to us everywhere and from various peripheries. 

The disciples replied with a little surprise and embarrassment, asking Jesus where he lived, and they heard his invitation. That invitation today is aimed also at us: “Come and see.” There you have Jesus’ pastoral-vocational plan. 

Dear friends, our Family, present in almost every corner of the Earth, has been invited to transform itself into Jesus’ home, the place where he stays, where any person of any condition whatever, but especially those most in need, can have the experience of coming and seeing. But equally we can ask what was Jesus’ home. In fact, in the Gospels we find him almost always on the road, and when he’s “at home” we find him as the guest of someone who receives him, because we know well that he had “nowhere to lay his head.” So let’s make sure we don’t become too attached to the structures of our houses and presences, our works and institutions. They’re certainly praiseworthy and meritorious, but let’s attend to the empty triumphalism that in the end empties us. The vaccine to prevent or combat this sickness is to contemplate Jesus always on the road, because the road is the proper setting for a rabbi with his disciples. In fact, what does it mean to be a disciple, if not a person who follows a teacher?

God doesn’t want sleepy-heads!

Remember the story of Samuel (1 Sam 3:1-10), well known because it’s a typical vocational text: God calls, “Samuel, Samuel,” and Samuel answers: “Here I am.” But I want to underline another aspect. In the narrative it seems that God has undertaken to keep Samuel from sleeping. The text says, “The Lord called”; and then, “The Lord called again”; and yet again, “The Lord came to call”; and, finally, “The Lord came and revealed his presence, calling out as before.”

A first observation is that God doesn’t get tired of calling us; another is that he doesn’t want sleepyheads. I repeat, dear Salesian Family: God doesn’t want us to be sleepyheads! Let’s pay close attention to a pretty common sin: self-satisfaction, this is, adapting to what we experience in our own world, to the taste and satisfaction of being together and centering on ourselves as groups and institutions. When you’re very much at ease, nestled comfortably in the warmth of your “sweet home,” it’s easy to fall asleep. And a family that’s fallen asleep can never be part of the outward-going Church, as Pope Francis proposes to us today, and as our own Salesian DNA has been from its origins. 

Dear brothers and sisters of the Salesian Family, let’s wake ourselves up and wake up the world! Our charism is more alive than ever, not through our own virtue, but through the grace of God that never abandons us, through the power of his call, through the witness of our beloved saints, blesseds, and venerables of our big Family, and through the witness of thousands of the sisters and brothers who’ve preceded us or are among us today. But especially our charism is alive more than ever because there are still millions of youngsters, especially those of the various geographical and existential peripheries, shouting out to God, many times with a whole lot of noise, and many times with a profound silence full of pain, abandonment, and suffering. 

May Mary, the star of our personal and community life, the Help of Christians, Mother and Teacher of our spirituality, already present and at work from our origins up to today, strengthen us, awaken us, and encourage us to live in communion among ourselves, in the Church, and in society, to be the instrument of the culture of encounter wherever we find ourselves, and to live our charism as an outward-going community of believers, in mission, where each of us can grow as a true missionary disciple, and live, like Don Bosco, with the young and for the young.