Rome (Italy). At the opening of Circular No. 1028, the Mother General of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, Sr. Chiara Cazzuola, thanks all the FMA and the Educating Communities “for their cordial and affectionate participation” in the Feast of Gratitude held on 26 April 2023 in Bogotá, Colombia, and the Colombian Provincials “for the communion and sharing in which they were able to involve their Provinces.”
She then dwells on the monthly retreat and the annual spiritual exercises as “moments of particular interior renewal”, which “Don Bosco considered of great importance for relaunching on the path of holiness.”
The spiritual exercises as an itinerary of conversion
First of all, Mother Chiara defines the term “spiritual exercises”, born from Catholic asceticism, which in its general meaning indicates “the set of practices of devotion” and in its particular one, “denotes the custom of withdrawing from ordinary occupations to concentrate on one’s spiritual life and be renewed in fervor.”
The adjective “spiritual”, explains Mother, refers to the main protagonist and guide, who “is and always remains, the Holy Spirit”. Hence, the objective of the spiritual exercises: “to be with the Lord, to abide in Him, recovering our call and missionary identity; to grow in the sublime knowledge of Jesus which occurs in the encounter with Him and through the work of the Holy Spirit.”
She therefore describes the spiritual exercises as “a privileged time to live a more intense experience of grace,” in which to let the Lord “act freely” in each of us. It is the opportunity to live the experience of the disciples of Emmaus in “telling Jesus the experiences of personal, community, apostolic life,” and listening to the explanation of their meaning. It is to open our eyes like them to hope and joy and offer these “with a renewed impulse of love to the community and to the young.”
Recalling the Regulations and the charismatic sources, she underlines the gift of grace offered from the beginning by the FMA Institute “for a relaunching on the path of holiness, to ask ourselves if Jesus really is our first and only love, as we committed ourselves when we professed our vows.” And also, as Mother Mazzarello advised, “to rekindle the fire,” shaking off the ashes and putting on some wood (cf. Letter 27).
The monthly retreat: a resumption on the path of holiness
Another privileged moment for relaunching the path of holiness is the monthly retreat to be carried out, as indicated by the Regulations, “half a day every month and a full day every quarter, planned in a manner similar to that of the annual retreat, creating the same conditions of silence and recollection.”
The style and modalities can be drawn directly from the example of Jesus who, “the more He is immersed in the needs of the people, the more He feels the need to ‘rest’ in Trinitarian communion.” He seeks desert spaces, where He retires in silence and above all in prayer, “the place where we perceive that everything comes from God and returns to Him”,in a dynamism that helps to rediscover the right dimension with oneself, “in our relationship with the Father, with our neighbor, and with all of creation.”
A third aspect that nourishes the spiritual life is the unification of life in God where, despite intense apostolic work and in all that one finds oneself living, the thought turned to God is not lacking, which gives action the necessary motivation and strength.
It is the “grace of unity” proposed by Don Bosco and similarly recommended by Mother Mazzarello to the Sisters, “As far as you can, always preserve a spirit of union with God, remain always in His presence” (L 23, 3).
Mother Chiara highlights the importance of cultivating inner unity in daily life, to avoid living the response to one’s vocation in a fragmentary and superficial way and thus contributing to enriching Salesian spirituality:
“The annual spiritual exercises, the monthly retreat, like the daily meditation, are stages of a journey of progressive inner unification that takes place every day. We are heirs of a solid and demanding, fascinating and challenging spirituality, which has shaped female and male saints and is given to us to enrich it today with our personal and community contribution.”
At the end of the Circular, Mother entrusts to Mary in the month dedicated to her, “every desire for good, for interior renewal, and for total availability to the voice of the Holy Spirit.” She wishes that “the Solemnity of Mary Help of Christians and Pentecost may mark a profound experience of communion in unceasing prayer for us, for young people, for families, and for the world, in the trustful request for the gift of peace and the graces that we all need.”