I know I said in my last, introductory post to Salesian spirituality that I was going to look first at Don Bosco's "Preventive Method," what with the school year starting up now and all.
But I changed my mind, because I happened to be looking at a short work of St. Francis de Sales, the Spiritual Directory. It's sort of a rule of life for the religious he supervised -- only instead of specifying so mant hours of work, so many of sleep, so many of prayer, etc., he specifies little acts of devotion and intention to be performed throughout the day, connected to rising, worship, work, meals, bedtime -- the whole cycle of an ordinary day. They are, so to speak, spiritual exercises, not for a novena or a retreat but for every day.
"It is true that the Directory proposes many exercises," Francis writes,
Yet it is good and fitting to keep one's interior orderly and busy in the beginning. When, however, after a period of time, persons have put into practice somewhat this multiplicity of interior actions, have become formed and habituated to them and spiritually agile in their use, then the practices should coalesce into a single exercise of greater simplicity, either into a love of complacency, or a love of benevolence, or a love of confidence, or of union and reunion of the heart to the will of God. This multiplicity thus becomes unity.
I like this idea of patiently developing little habits that "coalesce" over time into character.
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The ordinary thing for me to do would be to start where Francis starts, at the beginning of the day, with "Article #1: Rising."
But I was struck instead by Article #2, "Meditation." Or rather, preparation for meditation.
Francis devotes only a short paragraph to instruction on meditation, "the serious practice of [which] is one of the most important of the religious life." Mainly he suggests going to other sources, including his own other works. But he devotes several paragraphs of this article to the preparation.
To form themselves for meditation they will prefer to all other means the exercise of the preparation of the day....By this means they will endeavor to be disposed to carry out their activities competently and commendably.
Invocation. They will invoke the help of God, saying,
"Lord, if you do not care for my soul, it is useless that another should do so." (Ps 127:1)
They will ask him to make them worthy to spend the day with him without offending him. For this purpose, the words of the psalm may be helpful,
"Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Your good spirit will guide me by the hand on level ground, and your divine majesty by its inexpressible love and boundless charity will give me true life."
Foresight. This is simply a preview or conjecture of all that could happen during the course of the day. Thus, with the grace of Our Lord, they will wisely and prudently anticipate occasions which could take them by surprise.
Plan of Action. They will carefully plan and seek out the best means to avoid any faults. They will also arrange, in an orderly fashion, what, in their opinion, is proper for them to do.
Resolution. They will make a firm resolution to obey the will of God, especially during the present day. To this end, they will use the words of the royal prophet David, "My soul, will you not cheerfully obey the holy will of God, seeing that your salvation comes from his?"
Surely this God of infinite majesty and admittedly worthy of every honor and service can only be neglected by us through lack of courage. Let us, therefore, be consoled and strengthened by this beautiful verse of the psalmist:
"Let evil man do their worst against me. The Lord, the king, can overcome them all. Let the world complain about me to its heart's content. This means little to me because he who holds sway over all the angelic spirits is my protector." (Ps. 99:1)
Recommendation. They will entrust themselves and all their concerns into the hands of God's eternal goodness and ask him to consider them as always so commended. Leaving to him the complete care of what they are and what he wants them to be, they will say with all their heart:
"I have asked you one thing, O Jesus, my Lord, and I shall ask you again and again, namely that I may faithfully carry out your loving will all the day of my poor and pitiable life." (Ps 27:4; 40:9)
"I commend to you, O gracious Lord, my soul, my life, my heart, my memory, my understanding and my will. Grant that in and with all these, I may serve you, love you, please and honor you forever." (Ps. 31:6, Lk 23:46)
Okay. Do you see what he did there?
St. Francis has just unified the concepts of "the morning offering" and "the to-do list."
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Before meditation, in fact as part of the preparation for meditation, St. Francis prescribes thinking about all the things that you expect to encounter during the day, anticipate difficulties, carefully plan (with an eye towards avoiding faults -- I tend to skip that step when making to-do lists), then "arrange in an orderly fashion what ... is proper... to do."
Did you catch those last two words?
You finish up your orderly-arranged to-do list with two more steps I commonly skip: resolving to obey the will of God, and entrusting yourself, with all your "concerns" (including, we are to assume, all the items on your aforementioned to-do list), into God's hands.
It turns out that you don't have to try hard to push back the items that are rushing at you and demanding your attention while you are trying to make your morning offering.
It turns out that you don't have to guiltily say to yourself, "I'll do my morning offering as soon as I write my to-do list."
It turns out that you've been a bit silly, trying to add "Say Morning Offering" to the top of the to-do list.
St. Francis suggests that the to-do list can itself be the morning offering. He sanctifies it: embedding it in an exercise of invoking God's help, planning tasks with an eye to avoiding faults, resolving to do God's will, and ultimately entrusting the outcome to God's providence.
And this is a perfect example of why St. Francis draws me. I am used to being made to feel, oh, I don't know, insufficiently go-with-the-flowish, insufficiently trusting of God; that my desire for order and efficiency is somehow a marker of a lack of love. That I should want to run to God in prayer more than I should want to make an Action Plan, and that my itchiness until All The Things are safely written down, that itchiness which so interferes with making prayer my first act of the day, is a sign of weakness and a thorn in the flesh.
What's this? Rather than putting holiness on my to-do list, I can make my to-do list holy. This is a spiritual exercise I can roll up my sleeves and tackle, true multitasking: setting out my daily plans, right there, on the altar of offering.