In Gaudete et Exsultate, the Apostolic Exhortation signed on March 19, 2018, Pope Francis wrote a few paragraphs under the subtitle, “The Saints Next Door” (no. 6-9). We read in paragraph 6, “Nor need we think only of those already beatified and canonized. The Holy Spirit bestows holiness in abundance among God’s holy and faithful people.”
How true this is about our Salesian Family! Among those in the Salesian Family officially recognized for their heroic virtue, there are nine Saints, 55 Blesseds, 18 Venerables, and 28 Servants of God. There are consecrated religious, laywomen and men, young and old, parents, mystics, martyrs, missionaries, and rich and poor from various continents. We can be amazed and proud of the holiness in abundance that God has bestowed on Don Bosco’s worldwide family. Along with all these holy people officially recognized by the Church, there are countless others whose names will never be included on www.sdb.org, but who also lived their life in Christ with heroic virtue. These are the “saints next door” that Pope Francis wrote about in Gaudete et Exsultate.
Last year, just one month into the pandemic, at Mass on Holy Thursday, April 9, 2020, Pope Francis once again used the expression, “the saints who live next door.” In his spontaneous remarks, he said, “They are heroes—doctors, volunteers, religious sisters, priests, shop workers—all performing their duty so that society can continue functioning. How many doctors and nurses have died! How many religious sisters have died! All [while] serving.”
I believe we have all experienced the grace of witnessing people giving generously of themselves in service of others, not only during the pandemic. Our lives have been touched by SDBs, FMA, Cooperators, and other members of the Salesian Family—parents, teachers, colleagues, volunteers, and young people—who give joyful witness to the Gospel. They don’t draw much attention to themselves, but their practice of the virtues is beautiful. In our contact with these “saints next door,” we are inspired, may be challenged to conversion, somehow changed.
From August 2020 to July 2021 in Salesian News, we included the brief biographies of the Salesian Saints and Blesseds who have specific days in the Salesian liturgical calendar. This year, August 2021 to July 2022, I invite you to tell the story of the “Saints Next Door,” who do not have a feast day but have moved you to live your Christian and Salesian vocation with greater commitment. By sharing encounters with this type of holiness, we will first acknowledge with gratitude the abundance of holiness that God has given to his people. We will also see that holiness is possible and be encouraged to move along the paths of holiness in our own lives.
The contributions to Salesian News should be two to three paragraphs and focused on one or two concrete incidents that convey this person’s life in Christ. You might also send in a good-quality photo to go along with the story.
Often, we sit around the dinner table and retell stories of confreres we’ve lived with, ordinary people with frailties and faults, who still have shown us the power of the Cross. Many times, these stories make us laugh, and sometimes they surface feelings of sorrow or hurt. By sharing the stories of the "saints next door," we can rejoice and be glad! We can rediscover the call to holiness in practical ways for our own time, with all its risks, challenges, and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph. 1:4; Gaudete et Exsultate 2).
Last week, the Salesian Cooperators of eastern USA held their provincial congress. Congratulations to the newly elected leaders. Thanks to all who prepared and participated in the congress.
This week, the provincial council and I are together for the annual days of prayer and planning. This Saturday, we rejoice in the ordination of Craig Spence, at St. John Bosco Parish, Harvey, LA. Please keep these intentions in your prayers.
Fr. Tim Zak