Shifting gears a little bit to write about what I've been thinking as a spiritual anchor for my upcoming school year, which we'll be starting late.
Ever since I first got deeply into the Western classic Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales, I've been reading bits here and there about the Salesian tradition of spirituality. I've read bits about Benedictine and Dominican spirituality, thinking at first that these would appeal to me because of their intellectual foundation; but it's really the Salesian material that has spoken to my center.
This path to devotion doesn't seem very common in my circles, and I think that's odd. The dominant spiritual trends at my own parish appear to be those of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Josemaria Escriva, and (maybe most widespread) Carmelite; there's a Carmelite weekly study group, for instance.
I know that Carmelite spirituality promises a certain retreat from the world, of staying aloof from it in order to remain focused on the eternal. St. Thérèse, the little Carmelite flower, brings it back down to earth in her "little" way of scrubbing floors and serving others with great love, while the mind remains turned away from worldly concerns. I understand that the interior castle is far more expansive than our homes and workplaces, and that for those who are up to their elbows in the frustrations of daily life, Carmel offers a place of refreshment.
But Salesian spirituality seems to me tailor-made for ordinary moms, working mothers, anyone who is very, very busy with worldly concerns, wealthy as we are by global standards; and in a particular way, those who are daily enmeshed in the work of educating young people:
- Francis de Sales was a spiritual director, most notably, of married women living in the world, women of a comfortable-enough social class, women with familial and social duties. His Devout Life is directed at "Philothea," a female figure who is assumed to be able to scrape together a little time for solitary meditation, but not a lot. He directs her to move back and forth between the prayer life and the ordinary life of duties, sanctifying the ordinary with acts of intention, and bringing the ordinary life to prayer in the form of frequent self-examination.
- Jane Frances de Chantal, Francis's protégée, was a widowed mother of four who had to defer her calling to religious life until she had provided for her children; the Order of the Visitation that she started with Francis's help in Annecy was an unconventional sisterhood of women, many of them older, some of them sick or disabled, who eschewed asceticism in favor of public, active outreach.
- John Bosco was an Italian priest who dedicated his life to the education of disadvantaged and delinquent youth, whom he attracted to his "little oratory" with games and magic tricks. He rejected the "repressive" or punitive systems of educating children; his own "Preventive System" of child discipline is "based entirely on reason and religion, and above all on kindness; therefore it excludes all violent punishment, and tries to do without even the slightest chastisement." He called the religious institute he founded the "Society of St. Francis de Sales."
- Elisabeth Leseur was an aristocratic Frenchwoman who was surrounded in her social circles by anticlerical, unbelievers, including her dearly beloved husband Félix. Frequently ill but keeping up a lively correspondence and social life as much as she could, she "focused all of her self-chosen penance on contradicting her natural inclination toward solitude and introversion, and instead joyfully extended herself in genuine love to her active social circle...In this approach to mortification, she followed Francis de Sales who recommended moderation and internal, hidden strategies instead of external practices." Her correspondence with beloved friends who were unbelievers reveals an exemplary faith in the power of reason and kindness.
I've explored quite a bit about St. Francis and Elisabeth Leseur here on the blog, although I haven't come close to exhausting the material I have. In upcoming posts I hope to share thoughts on Don Bosco's "Preventive System," reflections on Jane Frances, and some of St. Francis's rules of life for the Visitation sisters he helped found. Planning to tie all this together into some recommendations for worldly, well-off, working women -- the group that St. Francis seems (to me) to speak to the most.
Come along and we'll see what we can see.