Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the Salesian tradition.
Similar to Saint Francis and Saint Clare in the Franciscan tradition, Saint Frances de Sales and his spiritual friend, Saint Jane de Chantal, were cofounders of the Visitation of Holy Mary, the community which began the Salesian tradition. Francis and Jane viewed the universe as an interconnected world of hearts: human hearts and the heart of God joined together through the heart of Jesus. What a happy coincidence that we are focusing on them during the week of Valentine’s Day!
The Salesians challenged the long-held conviction of many in the Catholic Church (including, some would argue, St. Paul himself) that lay people are less spiritually capable than vowed religious. In the Salesian view, all Christians are called to the devout life. De Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life was written for ordinary men and women and, until the mid-1950s, was the most frequently read spiritual guide in the Catholic world. Even now, it is often reprinted and adapted for modern-day readers.
Much of the Devout Life is still relevant and expressed in captivating imagery. In the book, Francis gives the reader advice on how to pray. He says that while praying, if a particular reflection elicits a response, the reader should pause – just as bees don’t leave a flower until they have gathered all its honey. Moreover, to ensure that the fruit of prayer does not fade from memory, the reader is advised to choose four or five favorite “flowers” from the “garden” of meditation and gather them into a “spiritual bouquet” so that their “spiritual scent” will linger for the rest of the day.
According to Salesian spirituality, the deepest yearning of all human beings is to achieve an intimate, loving union, an exchange of hearts with the divine lover. Jane de Chantal quoted Francis in her deposition for his canonization: “We must cleave to him alone, long for him ardently and always” (271). The exchange of the heart of the Savior for one’s own heart is what characterizes Salesian prayer.
True love expects nothing in return. It seeks only the good of the other. If our love for God is true, we will pray whether or not we feel that we are receiving “spiritual flowers” back from him. According to Jane, Francis continued to pray “whether it brought comfort or desolation” (271).
Repeated so often that it’s almost a cliché is the conventional wisdom that we must love ourselves before we can love others. Yet, it’s true if “loving ourselves” means loving the God within our souls. As is conveyed to us so beautifully in the Salesian tradition, we must join our hearts first to God, then to each other. This Valentine’s Day, join your heart with God, then “find another soul to love” (from Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer”).
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