“Excuse me,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry.” These phrases are part of life’s lessons that we learn when we are very young, and they still serve us well in the religious life and in our apostolic works. We don’t outgrow them. They were recommended by Pope Francis to families and all believers on the Solemnity of the Holy Family, December 27, 2020. These simple phrases can have a profound effect on relationships, whether in the home, workplace, or religious community. They highlight the educational value of the family. The little things we learn at home can have lasting effects, both positive and negative, throughout life. The Pope said, “If these are three phrases in a family, in a family environment, then the family is fine.”
As Salesians, it is worth returning to these familiar expressions because “family spirit” is so central to our charism. We have an official Salesian Family with 32 recognized groups in it, and we have a family spirit that pervades our educational and pastoral environments. The post-capitular documents of GC28 were attentive to this dimension of our charism, to the relationship of the family and our Salesian mission, and to the relational and family poverty that many young people experience today. We are being called to rediscover in the Salesian charism the riches and potential of our family spirit. Like the nuclear family, a Salesian work filled with Don Bosco’s family spirit is also a school of faith, a welcoming environment, a place where the young feel free to express themselves and share responsibility for the good of all, a place to interiorize the values of the Gospel and become honest citizens and good Christians.
We don’t need to be a perfect family to live the Salesian family spirit. Remember that Don Bosco’s first memory was the death of his father. As a child, he experienced economic poverty, strife with his brother, and separation from the family to continue his studies. Through it all, Mama Margaret was able to make the family a school of love. What he learned at home, with his mother’s help, Don Bosco was able to create at the Oratory for so many young people whose family lives were also troubled. The new sculpture of Mama Margaret and a child entering the Oratory, blessed one year ago during GC28, conveys the experience of welcome, tenderness, and hope that should be part of every Salesian community, every group of the Salesian Family, and every Salesian presence. The three simple phrases that the Pope included in his Angelus talk last December can help us recreate the family spirit of the original Oratory.
During the same Angelus talk, Pope Francis announced that March 19, 2021 - June 26, 2022 would be a Year of the Family. It is the fifth anniversary of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The year began on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and will end with the World Meeting of Families in Rome. To assist individuals, groups, and communities during this year, many resources have already been prepared. Here are links to a few of them:
- The Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life has prepared many resources in multiple languages.
- Our own Salesian Family has the important document produced after the International Congress on Youth Ministry and Family in Madrid in 2017.
- The SUE and SEC provinces are organizing a Salesian Family pilgrimage next June, which culminates in participation in the World Meeting of Families in Rome with the Holy Father. The pilgrims will be invited to prepare for their journey through a yearlong spiritual program.
Since there are still 14 months in this Year of the Family, I invite the confreres at this time to look over the resources listed above and begin to share them with colleagues. We see in the GC28 documents that the family is not a parallel ministry to our mission to the young, but the family shares in the Salesian mission, is involved in the educative pastoral community, and actively participates in doing youth ministry every day. With our colleagues, we can consider how to highlight the family in our strategic plans for this coming academic pastoral year.
A blessed Easter season to everyone.
Fr. Tim Zak