Having time for just a quick post this morning, I thought I'd return to my series on the very practical body of Salesian spirituality, in particular, St. Francis de Sales's Spiritual Directory. There's a quite short, but useful, bit in it that I want to highlight.
I had just gotten started on the series about the Salesians before our family's month in Europe, and then I started trip-blogging and lost the thread. Here's a quick recap of the series:
Salesian spirituality: Four examples. Why Salesian spirituality resonates with me; introductions to St. Francis de Sales, to St. Jane Francis de Chantal, to St. John "Don" Bosco, and to Elisabeth Leseur.
Francis de Sales: The patron saint of to-do lists? In which St. Francis sanctifies the act of making one's daily to-do list by turning it into the Morning Offering.
The Salesian preventive system, or: How to not punish kids. John Bosco's philosophy as an antidote to the spank 'em and show 'em who's boss strain of Protestant-influenced American Catholic parenting.
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In the second post up there, the bit about "to-do lists," I dug down into 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.
I went on in that post to describe Article 2, "Meditation," which is the bit about making your to-do list -- okay, Francis doesn't call it that, he calls it "the exercise of the preparation of the day."
There are other articles: how to enter into the praying of the hours, notes for how to properly prepare themselves interiorly for Mass, examination of conscience, meals and recreation, night prayer, and so on. But it's not neatly organized, and tucked into Article 1 with "Rising" is a little bit called "Direction of Intention" that I think exemplifies what he is trying to get at in the introduction, about making each day a single exercise of greater simplicity. Because it has to do with sanctifying every action of the day.
Here's how it goes, with paragraph breaks added by me for emphasis.
They who wish to thrive and advance in the way of Our Lord should,
at the beginning of their actions, both exterior and interior,
ask for his grace
and offer to his divine Goodness all the good they will do.
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In this way they will be prepared to bear
with peace and serenity
all the pain and suffering they will encounter
as coming from the fatherly hand of our good God and Savior.
His most holy intention is to have them merit by such means
in order to reward them afterwards out of the abundance of his love.
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They should not neglect this practice in matters which are small and seemingly insignificant,
nor even if they are engaged in those things which are agreeable and in complete conformity with their own will and needs,
such as drinking, eating, resting, recreating and similar actions.
By following the advice of the Apostle, everything they do will be done in God’s name to please him alone.
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So, I guess this is the gist of the direction of intention:
You're about to do something -- anything.
(Really, anything. Start your work, start your coffeemaker, wake the children, change a diaper, eat a sandwich, begin a blog post, take a nap, walk up to receive the Eucharist, make that phone call you've been putting off all day, go to bed with your spouse, step on the treadmill, meet a friend for drinks. Anything. Something you're looking forward to or something you're dreading. It doesn't matter. Anything.)
Do this (quickly, silently, or it will never do for all your actions):
-- Ask God for grace
-- Offer God all the good that comes of it
-- Try to intend in the doing of your action what God intends: That you may gain merit through patiently bearing any and all suffering (however minor!) that comes via that action.
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The whole rest of the Spiritual Directory is this advice writ larger and more specific. The exercise of the preparation of the day is a longer and more formal way to ask God for help and to offer God all your intentions. The exercise upon rising is an offering of all affections and resolutions, and asking God for help and blessing. So is the exercise before the divine office. St. Francis suggests a variety of meditations and prayers for the variety of "checkpoints" in the day, but they all boil down to asking for help, offering God the good one does, and uniting one's will to God's will -- that is, to his will specifically for you and your benefit, which should be an easy exercise even to those who are used to doing things for their own will alone.
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The direction of intention "before all your actions" is the stuff for which the little prayers called "ejaculatory prayers" have been invented. I imagine that each person could easily set down their own version. As for me, I am fond of taking these two bits from Psalm 69/70:
O God, come to my assistance... Let all that seek you rejoice and be glad in you.
An alternative formula from the same psalm could be,
Let all that seek you rejoice... You are my help and my deliverer.
Or you could use "the advice of the Apostle" (1 Cor 10:31) as an ejaculatory prayer:
Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.
It's up to you. The point is to form the intention. Whatever you can come up with that will quickly orient the mind and heart will do. Maybe put it up on a sticky note in the places where you tend to do things, and see if you can turn it into a habit.