Strenna 2022 - Official Commentary (Rector Major)
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Strenna 2022 of the Rector Major, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime
“Do all through Love, nothing through constraint” St. Francis de Sales
1a Love is the greatest strength in the world
1b Love conquers everything and everyone: we need love.
1c Understanding true love.
1d making people feel they are loved and
1e giving love freely:
1f it is the greatest gift that someone can offer.
1.2 We are going to have a glimpse of the wonderful land that gave life to St Francis de Sales…
1.2a Seeing these places again, after 400 years of the death of this great person is a moment of powerful inspiration for us.
1.3 The place where a person is born contributes to shaping of their character.
1.3a Francis de Sales was born in this land of peaks, glaciers, valleys carved out by rushing torrents and lakes that mirror the wide, blue sky.
1.3b The result is a feeling of peaceful serenity.
1.4 “Do all through love, nothing through constraint.”
1.4a We do not know how often Saint Francis de Sales would have repeated this phrase in this land…
1.4b and now the echoes of his touching words, engraved on our hearts,
1.4c makes us feel a strong sense of the tenderness, gentleness and marvellous figure of St Francis de sales.
1.4d The land of Annecy is an area that radiates love and offers us so many precious pearls for our life.
2. Place: Thorens, house where Francis de Sales was born
2.1 Dear members of the Salesian Family, I feel very emotional being here in front of the house where Francis de Sales was born, under the Savoian sky that crowns these valleys furrowed by watercourses rising from the highest peaks in the Alps.
2.2 How can we not think that John Bosco, too, was a Savoyard.
2.2a He was not born in a castle but had the same gift as Francis did: a gentle, faith-filled mother.
2.2b Françoise de Boisy was very young when she was pregnant with her first child, and at Annecy, before the Holy Shroud that spoke to her of the passion of God’s blessed Son, she was deeply moved and made a promise: this child would belong to Jesus forever.
2.3 One day Mamma Margaret would tell John: “When you came into the world, I consecrated you to the Blessed Virgin.”
2.3a Don Bosco, too, would kneel before the same Shroud in Turin.
2.3b Christian mothers generate saints.
2.3c In a castle, like Francis, or in a run-down country shack like John.
2.3d They say that the first sentence Francis managed to put together was: “The good God and my mother love me very much.”
2.4 The good God watched over Francis and John and gave them both a big heart. Francis studied in Paris and Padua, in the most famous universities in the world.
2.4a John studied by candlelight in a tavern alcove.
2.4b But the Spirit is not hindered by small human things.
2.4c The two were destined to somehow cross.
2.4d One day Don Bosco calmly told a group of naïve young men: “We will call ourselves Salesians”.
2.5 The water from the streams of Savoy, like the spirit that matured in Francis de Sales, reached Turin and then the entire world.
3.1 As we leave this birthplace, let us lift our gaze to some of the significant places in life of St Francis de Sales, which will surely revive our spirit.
3.1a This land, the ancient duchy of Savoy, was nestled between France, Italy and Switzerland.
3.1b Fiercely independent, it was a crucible of different cultures.
3.1c Here he led a pastorally active life with intense preaching, which enabled him to carry out many reforms and, with patience and kindness, to pave the way for many conversions.
3.2 A person of noble spirit, sensitive, sharp and penetrating, he was a great master of spiritual life, opening up the paths of asceticism to all and emphasising the essence of the spiritual life in the love of God and neighbour.
4. Convent – Sisters of the Visitation, Maison de la Galerie, Annecy
4.1 St Francis possessed in him the grace and beauty of a good man, and he fascinated those who met him. (How much he resembled Don Bosco in this too!).
4.1a Just as Jesus could say: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” and his refrain was “You can all be saints, wherever you are”.
4.1b In a beautiful expression attributed to him, it would be said 'we must flower where God has planted us'.
4.1c This is a fundamental characteristic of Salesian spirituality, which is that of a realist.
4.2 St. Francis would have liked to write a Life of Saint Charity in which he would have reserved a small place for a certain Pernette Boutey, a humble widow from the valley, who had put up with a bad-tempered husband for years, had run a small clothing items shop and had lived filled with love of God and charity with everyone.
4.2a Francis always considered her a saint and wept when he was told of the death of "his Pernette".
4.2b It is the proposal of the "next-door holiness" or "the middle class of holiness" which Pope Francis speaks to us about with such affection.
4.3 The convent of the foundation of the Visitation Sisters is the place of a great spiritual adventure.
4.3a Many people entrusted themselves to the spiritual direction of St Francis de Sales, among them Jeanne de Chantal, a young, wealthy and widowed noblewoman with four children.
4.3b In the true sense of the word it was an “encounter of sanctity”.
4.4 Francis wrote to her in very expressive terms: “Always keep yourself in God’s presence, with holy freedom of spirit, complete trust in his mercy, without scruples, without distress and without disturbance.
4.4a Place your heart in the wounds of our Lord, gently and not by force of arms.”
4.4b And in a letter from 1604: “You need to do all through love and nothing through constraint.”
4.4c It is not mere slogan: it is a way of living and for us, like a fourth Salesian vow; and a characteristic of our Salesian Family, that would distinguish us is the kindness.
5.1 St Francis de Sales says that to feel God’s heart
5.1a and to open one’s heart to our brothers and sisters;
5.1b they are both intimately linked.
5.2 The sensitivity of Francis,
5.2a his entering into dialogue with everyone,
5.2b have great value
5.2c because they open up to friendship,
5.2d show the significance of Providence,
5.2e the way of approaching and interacting with every individual,
5.2f through his proverbial gentleness and loving-kindness.
6. Cathedral at Annecy
6.1 Here we are in the Annecy Cathedral where St Francis was ordained priest.
6.1a Here we encounter his pastoral heart, shining through in his sensitivity, delicacy and balanced life.
6.2 When the bishop assembled his clergy to ask for volunteers to go into the Chablais, which had passed in block to particularly hardened Protestants, even if this meant at the risk of one’s life, he was faced with a wall of silence.
6.2a Only Francis stood up -- “Bishop,” he said “if you think I am capable of it, I am ready.”
6.3 Cold, snow, hunger, rejection of hospitality: village after village where not even one door opened.
6.3a One night, when he could not return in time, he had to take refuge in a tree, tied to it with a strap, because falling asleep meant falling among a pack of wolves which were howling below.
6.4 Unable to get everyone to listen to him, Francis wrote some weekly flyers in which he tackled individual truths of faith from a Catholic point of view, explaining them in simple - effective ways.
6.4a He would quietly slip them beneath doors or fix them to walls along the streets.
6.4b This activity lasted years and earned him the title of “Patron of journalists” (How could we not think of Don Bosco’s ‘Catholic Readings’?)
6.5 There were not many conversions but the hostility ceased. He ended up establishing himself in Thonon, the capital of the Chablais, where his activity spread like wildfire, consisting especially of personal conversations. visits to the sick, continuous charity and all-round warmth.
6.6 “Charity is the measure of our prayer, because our love for God is shown through our love for our neighbour” he said.
6.6a This is the “prayer of life” in Salesian style.
6.6b When he was consecrated bishop, he reserved a privilege for himself which “gave him joy”: explaining Catechism to the children.
7. Significant places at Valdocco and Salesian Charism
7.1 Having wandered a little through the places of Francis de Sales, we must now find ourselves in his spirituality in order to better appreciate
7.1a the magnificent characteristics of Don Bosco’s Salesian spirit and the precious values of Salesian youth spirituality.
7.1b For indeed, we have this very rich wellspring from which our founder drank to quench his thirst for life, and for his spiritual growth and to shape his lifestyle.
7.2 Don Bosco was deeply struck by the extraordinary figure of this Saint, who fascinated him so strongly that already as a young seminarian he made this resolution before his priestly ordination:
7.2a “The charity and kindness of St Francis de Sales will guide me in everything.”
7.3 And, in the Memoirs of the Oratory, Don Bosco said that the Oratory began to call itself after St Francis de Sales because with the protection of this Saint they wanted to imitate his extraordinary meekness and winning of souls.
7.4 The watchword that Don Bosco gave to his Salesians, "Strive to make yourself loved" were the words of St Francis de Sales.
7.4a If we think about the way in which Don Bosco reinterpreted this loving-kindness in his educational system, we understand how profound were the motivations on which it was based.
7.5 For him, Francis de Sales was a genuine inspiration, above all because he was a true pastor, a master of charity, a tireless worker for the salvation of souls.
7.6 During his famous trip to Paris in 1883, Don Bosco wanted to carry out a “Salesian” pilgrimage.
7.6a Knowing of the existence of the famous statue of the Black Madonna of Paris before which the young Francis loved to pray, he went to the church where it was found and wrote in the Mass register there in French:
7.6b “Abbé Jean Bosco, superior of the Pious Salesian Society, recommends to St Francis de Sales all the works of which St Francis is the Patron.”
8. Chapel of St Francis de Sales at Valdocco
8.1 We are in the chapel of St Francis de Sales. How many humiliations, how many efforts, how much tears it costed Don Bosco.
8.1a We can truly say that he did "all through love and nothing through constraint". Here we feel the heart beat of Don Bosco.
8.1b Also in the person of his dear sons Michael Rua, Dominic Savio, Michael Magone... all represent an infinite host.
8.2 It was an exuberant sense of friendship that the boys felt for Don Bosco.
8.2a Following the footsteps of St Francis de Sales, the ‘singer’ of spiritual friendship, Don Bosco felt that friendship based on mutual benevolence and trust seemed essential to his preventive system.
8.3 Friendship for Don Bosco is that "extra touch" that transformed an educational method similar to others into a unique and original masterpiece.
8.3a His boys would testify about him with an almost monotonous insistence: "He loved me".
8.4 It was a snowy winter night, and while Don Bosco was returning to Valdocco he heard a subdued cry. Right there, up against the trunk of an elm tree, there was a boy and his little sister. The little lad, Carlo, was already known to Don Bosco who stopped and asked him: “What’s up, young Carlo?”
8.4a Among sobs, the boy explained that since his mother had died and that during her illness she had been unable to pay the rent for the house, the owner had tossed them out and left them in the street.
8.4b On their return from the funeral, they had found the door to the house locked. The owner, in order to make up for the debts that the mother had incurred in the last period of her illness, had confiscated everything that the woman had left and had thrown the two children onto the street.
8.4c Don Bosco, without hesitation, immediately took them home to stay with him. While they were going on to Valdocco, Carlo Gastini heard the words that so many boys had heard and that he would never forget:
8.4d “See, I am but a poor priest. But even when I have only one more piece of bread, I will share the half with you.”
8.5 An eminent Rector of a large Portuguese college had come to Turin to ask Don Bosco for advice”, recalls Fr Ricaldone. “When he had come into his presence, he presented the saintly educator with his questions regarding the way to educate the pupils in his College.
8.5a Don Bosco listened to him very attentively without interrupting him. When he had finished speaking, the Jesuit priest summed up in a single question what he wanted to know: ‘How will I succeed in educating the boys in my college well?’ And then he was silent.
8.5b Don Bosco replied to the priest, who was probably expecting a long speech, with a single phrase: ‘Love them!’
8.6 Like St Francis, Don Bosco chose the way of the heart, not constraint. And this will always be the right path in our Salesian Family.
9.1 Valdocco is a living testimony of thousands of miracles that came from strong love.
9.2 The first courtyard at the Oratory in Valdocco was Don Bosco’s heart.
9.3 One of them, St Luigi Orione, would write: “I would walk on burning coals to see him once more, and to thank him.”
9.4 Don Bosco found his happiness in the happiness of others. He wanted his boys to come to his house willingly; they would find there a family atmosphere where they truly felt loved.
10. Don Bosco’s tomb, Basilica of Mary Help of Christians
10.1 In this Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, by the side of Don Bosco's casket, is the most privileged and blessed place for the Salesian world. People who want to "see Don Bosco" pass by here all the time.
10.2 He had one of those very rare qualities: the “grace of life”. A life overflowing, like good wine from the vat.
10.3 For which thousands of people have said: "Thank you for being there!" and "Beside you I am someone!"
10.4 "He listened to the boys most attentively as if the things they were saying were all very important. Sometimes he would get up or walk with them in the room. At the end of the conversation he would accompany them to the door, open the door himself, and bid them farewell by saying: ‘We are always friends, eh!’” (Memorie Biografiche IV, 439).
10.5 29 December 1887. Don Bosco was dying. At the end of the day, he summoned Fr Rua and Bishop Cagliero. He took them by the hand and said softly:
10.5a "Love each other like brothers. Love each other, help each other and bear with each other like brothers. The help of God and Mary Help of Christians will not fail you.... Promise me to love each other as brothers". This was for them and for the whole Salesian Family.
10.6 Let us entrust our commitment to Don Bosco so that he will teach us to live out our resolution with passionate love.
10.6a St Francis de Sales said: “I particularly like these three small virtues: kindness of heart, poverty of spirit and simplicity of life.”
10.7 Where there is misunderstanding, where there is rejection, where there is antipathy and conflict, where there is indifference, division, where there is so much uncertainty and insecurity, we need to just remember this magical phrase: “Do all through love and nothing through constraint.”
10.8 The proposal of this Strenna is truly fundamental and relevant to all situations of our lives, if love for the Lord and for each of our brothers and sisters vibrates strongly in our hearts.
10.9 Therefore, let us remember every day and in all our houses and works the slogans: “Strive to make yourself loved” and “Do all through love and nothing through constraint” making these holy words resound and radiate everywhere.
11.1 Thanks to Don Bosco and Francis de Sales,
11.1a throughout the world, every day, thousands of miracles of love take place, wrought daily by the Salesian Family on behalf of the young and the very poor.
11.1b As Don Bosco used say: “Whoever loves is loved in return”.
11.2 Let us continue to live this call in a prophetic and concrete way, so that the words resounding in our Family will always be:
11.2a “Strive to make yourselves loved” and “Do all through love and nothing through constraint”. Then we can change the world.
11.3 Let us conclude with a fervent prayer before the heart of St Francis de Sales
11.3a that is found still incorrupt in the Visitation monastery in Treviso.
Dear St Francis, we members of the Salesian Family
entrust ourselves and the young people in our works to you.
Give us your heart and your spirit.
Help us to walk the ways of love,
so that our faith and life are never arid nor without ardour,
but always animated by that divine love
that makes every action of ours filled with love.
You said, ‘The measure of loving God is to love him without measure’
Teach us to love God and others without measure,
always imparting that gentleness and loving-kindness.
Help us to overcome all indifference, discord, tiredness and fear
and to respond with patience, kindness and charity.
Make our thoughts, words and deeds
always a concrete expression of love. Amen.