11 February 2007

From the Mailbag

This is a bit of false advertising: it's not exactly a mailbag, it's a postal container we use for our mail and this "reader question" didn't exactly arrive in the postal container, it came via E-mail. Taking a picture of the computer and saying, "From the community E-mail inbox" just didn't have the same ring to it!

A reader wrote in asking how, in the Salesian tradition, we reconcile a docility to the will of God with the "liberty of spirit" which is found in the writings of St. Francis de Sales. A fabulous question!

To clarify, St. Francis de Sales speaks of the two wills of God. He suggests that we refer to those things which we know the Lord wants us to do as His "signified will" and those things which the Lord permits (but does not necessarily desire) as His "permissive" will. Amid the Lord's permissive will (such as finding the copy machine jammed when we are in a hurry -- to use an everyday example) we are encouraged to remember and observe the Lord's signified will. Surely the Lord did not desire the copy machine to jam; he did, however, permit it to become jammed. As we struggle to accept this, we are encouraged to remember the precepts of good Christian behavior ... such as refraining from the temptation to dismember the person whom we suspect may have caused such a mini-disaster.

Within this context of striving to accept the circumstances in which we find ourselves, how does "liberty of spirit" fit? An example or two of this spiritual gift:

There are suggested methods of introducing a Visitandine novice to a deeper method of prayer when she begins her formation. There is, however, a note in our constitutions that if some other method of prayer seems to work more effectively for one particular novice, the novice mistress, using her judgment, should have a great liberty of spirit to encourage this.

An everyday example: in our rule of life, we are obliged to make one hour of meditation prior to the first community exercise of the day and one half hour in the afternoon. In addition, we are to make one half hour of spiritual reading at some time during the day. Perhaps a sister intended to make her spiritual reading at 4.30pm in the Chapel. If, shortly into her reading, she discovered a guest entering the chapel who needed to be consoled, we hope she would have the liberty of spirit to approach the visitor and ask if she could be of help. And more so, that she would have the liberty of spirit to see her response to circumstances which the Lord permitted as a service, a prayer pleasing to the Lord. Surely one would not plan to do spiritual reading at a time when we expect a visitor -- but, rather, we would try to have the inner freedom to accept the circumstances which we cannot control and allow the Lord to use us as He pleases.

Liberty of spirit is a freedom of heart that allows us to detach ourselves from the "outcome" that we would like to see in a given situation. Perhaps the sister, setting out to do her spiritual reading at 4.30pm, had imagined herself finishing a certain chapter in her book by the time the bell for Vespers is rung. Through the grace of liberty of spirit, however, she is detached from that "outcome" and open to whatever the Lord's permissive will has in store.

"Walk in the presence of God in a holy and absolute liberty of spirit."
St. Jane de Chantal

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