Monday, August 14, 2017

Homily for 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Aug. 13, 2017
Residence, Silver Spring, Md.

I was originally scheduled to go to a parish for Mass on the 13th, but due to my having to leave for retreat, I was relieved of that.  But with a little tweaking I used the homily I’d already mostly drafted at home, instead. This is the "parish" text.

“Bring to perfection in our hearts the spirit of adoption as yours sons and daughters” (Collect).

The Collect of today’s Mass uses the word spirit twice.  The 1st use notes that we have been taught by the Holy Spirit to call God our Father—we “dare” to do that under the prompting of the Spirit.  The 2d use asks our Father to perfect in us “the spirit of adoption” as his children.

How has the Holy Spirit taught us?  We’ve listened to the teachings of Jesus, who taught us how we ought to pray.  Now, many people have read the Gospels or heard the Lord’s Prayer.  But not all have believed the Gospels or taken them to heart.  If we have done so, it’s because the Holy Spirit has moved our hearts, convinced our minds, urged us to listen to Jesus and become his disciples.  This is a great grace, given to us not out of our merits but purely out of God’s goodness.

Jesus is truly the Son of God—by origin, by his divine nature:  “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, consubstantial with the Father,” as we say weekly in the Creed.

We are not sons and daughters of God by nature.  We can become so by grace, by adoption as children of the One whom we dare to address as “Father” because Jesus has taught us to do so. He’s done more than teach us that we’re God’s children.  He makes us God’s children by adoption; makes us his own sisters and brothers.

How so?  1st, in his preaching he says that anyone who does the will of his Father is his brother or sister, even his mother (Mark 3:34-35).  Being related to God is not a matter of nature but of super-nature.  Thru Christ we can receive the gift of a union of our wills with his Father’s will that draws us into a family relationship with his Father, into adoption.

2d, the Spirit led us to the saving water of Baptism, where we were born anew of water and Spirit (cf. John 3:5) and were anointed with sacred chrism; and by being chrismated (I’m not sure that’s a real word) were made christs, made brothers and sisters of the Christ, God’s Anointed One, Jesus of Nazareth.  As the Spirit anointed him at his baptism in the Jordan and brought a declaration from heaven, “You are my beloved Son” (Mark 1:11), so the Spirit anointed us at sacramental Baptism and made us God’s adopted children. 
Post-baptismal chrismation at the Easter Vigil
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill., April 15, 2017
Photo by Dave Devall
3d, Jesus has given us the amazing gift of his own Body and Blood, the Holy Eucharist.  When we feed on this sacramental food, we become Jesus—again, not by nature but by super-nature.  The Fathers teach us that God’s Son became human in order that humans might become divine.  Thru Jesus we do become adopted children of his Father.  In a beautiful line, the Apostle John writes in his First Letter, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (3:2).  When the Father looks upon us, he sees his own Son Jesus, and he loves us, and he is ready to welcome us into his house, his home, our eternal home.

The Collect prayed that the Father “bring to perfection in our hearts [this] spirit of adoption.”  To be brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, to do the will of his heavenly Father, requires that our hearts become like the heart of Jesus, that they be more and more perfectly aligned with his way of thinking, willing, and acting.  Our hearts need constantly to be converted from their innate selfishness and brought to the perfection that we see in Jesus.  So we pray that the Father bestow an abundance of his Holy Spirit upon us to work over our hearts, to shape them, to conform them to the heart of his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Salesian Sisters Celebrate Professions

Salesian Sisters Celebrate Professions

On Saturday, August 5, two Salesian sisters made their perpetual profession and one sister made her first profession of religious vows. The professions took place at separate Masses in the chapel of Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon. Sr. Karen Dunn, FMA, provincial, received the professions.

Sr. Janet Keller and Sr. Brittany Harrison
Sr. Brittany Harrison, FMA, and Sr. Janet Keller, FMA, pronounced their final vows at a Mass over which Cardinal Joseph Tobin, CSsR, archbishop of Newark, presided and preached. Sr. Brittany was a Salesian Cooperator in Chicago before discerning God’s call to the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.

After Mass: Fr. Abe Feliciano and Sr. Kelly Schuster; she's holding the copy
of the FMA Constitutions just given to her as part of the rite of profession.
Sr. Kelly Schuster was a Salesian Lay Missioner at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Md., in 2010-2012, assisting Fr. Abe Feliciano, SDB, with youth ministry and teaching theology. In 2012 she was hired as a teacher and minister. Ere long, she discerned a call to the FMAs. Fr. Feliciano presided and preached at the Mass of First Profession.

Sr. Kelly with some of her former colleagues at Don Bosco Cristo Rey (l-r):
Bro. Tom Sweeney, SDB, Lisa Stacey, Ana Chapa, and Robert Smith.
The Masses were attended by many FMAs, a dozen or so SDBs, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales (a schoolmate of Sr. Kelly at DeSales University), several diocesan priests, and many family members of the professed and friends of the FMAs. A buffet lunch was served in the cafeteria afterward.

The bride (of Christ) cuts the cake! Sr. Karen Dunn, provincial; Sr. Janet;
Sr. Brittany; and Sr. Joanne Holloman, mistress of novices.
(There was a separate cake for Sr. Kelly.)
Your humble blogger was among the concelebrants—and took a few photos—for 3 reasons: his long friendship with Sr. Brittany from her Cooperator days and with Sr. Kelly from her entrance to the SLM program (which is not to say that Sr. Janet isn't a friend, too); his present association with Don Bosco Cristo Rey; and his responsibility for the SDB province newsletter.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Father, Teacher, and Spiritual Guide

“Be a Father, Teacher, and Spiritual Guide”

Fr. Tim Zak installed as provincial

After formally installing Fr. Tim Zak as superior of the New Rochelle Province, Fr. Tim Ploch urged him to carry out toward the province the same responsibilities with which Salesian directors are charged: to be fathers, teachers, and spiritual guides of their communities.

Fr. Tim Zak makes his profession of faith as he is installed as the 20th provincial 
of the New Rochelle SDB Province on July 29.
Fr. Zak’s term began on June 7, immediately upon his appointment by Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, Rector Major, and the appointment’s confirmation by the SDB general council.

The brief installation rite took place within a celebration of the Eucharist in the chapel of Salesian High School at New Rochelle on Saturday, June 29. The rite consisted of a reading of the Rector Major’s letter of appointment; Fr. Zak’s profession of Catholic faith; his and Fr. Ploch’s signing of the document of installation; and an exchange of fraternal greetings and peace between Fr. Zak and each of the Salesian priests and brothers present.

Fr. Tim Zak (left) and Fr. Tim Ploch before Mass.
Fr. Ploch, general councilor for the SDB Interamerica Region, represented the Rector Major in the ceremony. Also present, because of a non-related meeting, were general councilors Fr. Fabio Attard and Fr. Guillermo Basañes, besides another 28 concelebrating priests and about a dozen other SDB priests and brothers. Numerous other members of the Salesian Family just about filled the chapel: Salesian sisters, Cooperators, ADMA members, a Don Bosco Volunteer, Salesian Lay Missioner candidates (doing their 3 weeks of orientation), parishioners from Holy Rosary-Corpus Christi Parish in Port Chester, N.Y. (where both Fr. Ploch and Fr. Zak once served as pastor), staff from the Salesian works in New Rochelle, Fr. Zak’s sister and her husband, alumni, and various other friends. Deacon Ivan Gemio from Holy Rosary assisted at the liturgy. Students from Salesian High served the Mass.

A part of the congregation, representing at least six branches of the Salesian Family
besides parishioners and friends.
July 29 is the liturgical memorial of St. Martha. In his homily, Fr. Ploch first noted various “images” of people following Christ in the Scriptures, which led him to Martha and Mary, who welcomed Christ into their home and listened to him. He linked them with Don Bosco and the service of a religious superior. Don Bosco, he said, appears to us as a super-active apostle, but we know that he had a deep interior life. His apostolic motive was to choose the better part, like Mary—to be close to Jesus; and then, Martha-like, to go forth with energy to serve others, to do Christ’s work. Every Salesian, he added, is called to be close to Jesus and thus find energy to do his work.

Fr. Tim Ploch preached the homily.
The homilist continued by outlining the responsibilities of a superior (director or provincial): to be a father, a teacher, and a spiritual guide. As a father, he gives life to or animates the community that he leads, and he governs it. Fr. Fernandez has charged Fr. Zak to be a father and governor, to lead the province in accepting the decisions that need to be made.

As a teacher, the superior shows his confreres how to choose the better part, to seek union with God while doing a great amount of work. As a spiritual guide, he accompanies his confreres in their efforts to combine holiness with work.

The Rector Major, Fr. Ploch promised, will be close to Fr. Zak, accompanying him in his duties; and so will Fr. Ploch himself.

Finally, Fr. Ploch reminded Fr. Zak that Mary Help of Christians will teach, form, accompany, and help him. As Don Bosco said, she is the one who did everything in his life, and she will continue to act in our lives.

At the end of Mass, Fr. Zak expressed his thanks to many people and highlighted the presence of so many branches of the Salesian Family. He pointed to and thanked Fr. Ploch for being for him a father, teacher, spiritual guide—and friend.

After Mass a buffet lunch was served in the school cafeteria.

More photos at

Homily for Feast of Transfiguration

Homily for the Feast of the

Aug. 6, 1995
Luke 9: 28-36
St. Peter, Gloucester, Mass.

Another homily from the archive.  I have only 2 homilies for this feast in the archive that are readily discoverable—neither for the current cycle of readings (Year A).

“While he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly two men were talking with him—Moses and Elijah” (Luke 9: 29-30).

The Transfiguration, by Bellini
The cycle of our Sundays in O.T. is broken today by the feast of the Transfiguration, which falls on Aug. 6.  Ordinarily, feasts don’t replace a Sunday celebration, but feasts of our Lord such as today’s do.  And it’s fitting that the transfiguration be observed even on Sunday.  For the Church tells us that every Sunday celebration is a little Easter.  On this feast of the Transfiguration, Jesus, his apostles, and we look toward his passion, death, and resurrection, the “passage he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem” (9:31).

The word translated here as “passage” is, in St. Luke’s Greek, exodos, “going out.”  That word recalls the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, their delivery from slavery to freedom, their covenant at Mt. Sinai to be God’s chosen people.

And here is Moses, speaking with Jesus about his approaching exodus in Jerusalem, by which Jesus will go out from the sufferings of this life to the glory of everlasting life, opening that road for us too, so that we, the people of the new covenant, might pass from the slavery of our sins to the freedom of God’s children.  Easter is the Christian passover.

Elijah, also, appears and speaks with Jesus.  That prophet of the 9th century B.C. experienced his own exodus or passage.  When his earthly ministry was completed, he was taken up into heaven by a fiery chariot, as we read in 2 Kings (2:9-12).  Similarly, Jesus’ passage will be completed when he ascends to heaven on a cloud.

The revelation on the mountaintop shows Jesus to be the new Moses and the new Elijah.  Moses represents the prophets and fidelity to the covenant.  Jesus has come to bring the law and the prophets to their perfection.  He has come to bind all mankind, and not just the Hebrews, into a new covenant with our Creator and Father.  More than Moses, more than Elijah, he is the Chosen One of God, and therefore all of God’s people must “listen to him” (Luke 9:35).

Only by listening to Jesus shall we surely be on the road out of the slavery of sin into the freedom of God’s children.  Only by listening to Jesus shall we surely be faithful to the covenant God sealed with us in Baptism and Confirmation, the covenant that he reseals with us every time we partake of the Eucharist, which is Christ’s body given for us (Luke 22:19), his blood of the covenant (Mark 14:24) poured out for us.

But how can we listen to Jesus?  Listening to him begins with prayer.  In last week’s gospel, Jesus taught us to pray.  This week he gives us the example, for he is praying when his transfiguration happens.  Prayer opens our ears, our minds, and our hearts to the voice of Christ.  Prayer prepares our wills to do whatever Christ asks of us, prepares us to be transfigured into glorious images of Christ, God’s Chosen One.  For whenever we do what Christ asks, we are his images.

We listen to Christ in the holy Scriptures.  “To know the Scriptures is to know Christ,” St. Jerome says, “and ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”  We hear and reflect upon a little bit of the Bible whenever we come to Mass.  But we must open and reflect on the Bible privately too—every day, if possible.  That’s an old New England custom, you know, going back to the 1st settlements at Plymouth, Salem, Gloucester, and Boston.  Most households had only one book, the Bible.  When Massachusetts enacted the world’s 1st public school law in the 1640s, it was so that all children would be able to read the Bible.  Unlike our Puritan ancestors, we don’t have a Christian culture around us to guide us in Christ’s way; we need the Word of God even more than they did.

The people of the diocese of Greensburg, Penna., were surveyed recently about the priorities that thought their pastors should treat in their preaching.  4th in the list of 12 topics was the sacrament of Penance and spiritual direction.  Listening to Christ also means confessing our sins to him, thru his priestly minister, and hearing his words of advice, encouragement, and pardon in this wonderful sacrament.  It means seeking out a priest to whom we can open our hearts confidently and be guided in our spiritual lives.  You see, hearing a sermon is hearing something necessarily directed to maybe a couple of hundred people at a time; spiritual direction in one-on-one.

A 4th way in which we listen to Christ is by listening to his Church.  The Pope and the bishops speak to us in Christ’s name, teaching us what the word of God means today, teaching us how to live Christ’s word today.

Finally, listening to Christ means acting.  St. James tell us, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.  Just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (1:22; 2:26).  After praying, reflecting on the Scriptures, seeking spiritual direction, and absorbing the teaching of the Church, we have to act.  To listen to Christ is to obey him:  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he said at the Last Supper (John 14:15), keep them as they apply to our own lives as parents or youngsters or widows, as workers or retirees or students, in all aspects of our lives.  Christ wants us to transfigure our world, to make its appearance and its reality change, by the impact that we have on it as his disciples.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Homily for 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

July 29, 1990
Matt 13: 44-52
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field” (Matt 13: 44).

Today’s gospel consists of 3 short parables, the last of which Matthew interprets for us, and a saying of Jesus about wisdom. The 1st 2 parables are similar, and the 3d is like the parable of the weeds and the wheat, which we heard last Sunday.

Windows in the Scots' Church, Melbourne
The parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price may be interpreted in 2 principal ways.  You focus on either the object desired or the action of the seeker.  If you focus on the object—the hidden treasure or the priceless pearl—you emphasize the kingdom of heaven as the goal of all our desires, a priceless treasure worth more than anything else you could have.  If you focus on the action—what the finders do—you emphasize the steps to be taken to secure possession of the kingdom.

I’d like to focus on the finders’ actions.  I suppose that in the 1st parable the fellow is a tenant farmer.  Both the farmer and the merchant act quickly and decisively.  They’ve found something that they believe they must secure for themselves at once, lest anyone else make the same discovery and beat them to the prize.

Part of their decisiveness involves risk.  The farmer and the merchant both sell all their other valuables in order to raise the necessary cash.  The farmer runs the risk of an eventual lawsuit from the previous owner of the field—in Palestinian village life his sudden wealth would be no secret; while the merchant risks a collapse in the pearl market—and there were no government bailouts in Jesus’ time.

Finally, the farmer experiences joy in his find.  We may assume that the merchant does too.  Who wouldn’t be happy to have to have sudden wealth land in his lap?  The farmer’s discovery promises him and his family security for the future and a place in society.

Jesus, of course, uses parables to make a point about God’s kingdom.  If his point is, indeed, what the finders do, his point would urge decisive action, risk, and joy. 

There’s a story about the school for apprentice devils.  One day Satan visited in order to see how their training was coming along.  He asked them how they planned to lure people to damnation.  The 1st novice said, “I’ll tell them there’s no God.”  “That won’t do,” Satan answered.  “In their hearts they know it’s not true.”  “I’ll tell them there’s no hell,” said the 2d demon.  “That won’t do either,” replied the master.  “They experience plenty of hell already on earth.”  Said the 3d apprentice:  “I’ll tell then there’s no hurry.”  “Excellent!” exclaimed Satan.  “You’ll ruin many souls that way.”

The kingdom of heaven, the life given us by Jesus, is a treasure, brothers and sisters.  If we pussy-foot around it, we may lose it entirely.  We must commit ourselves to Jesus Christ; we must commit ourselves decisively, as soon as we recognize the treasure.  We must rate every person in our lives, every object, and every part of our lives in the light of the Gospel.  Jesus tells us, “People don’t light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it’s set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:15).  If there’s anything in our lives we cling to, any person, any habits, any lifestyle, any vice, any material idol that we love more than Jesus, than we’re not ready to sell everything we have in order to secure our treasure, and we risk one day running out of time and into ruination.

Is there risk in committing ourselves decisively to God’s kingdom?  Without a doubt.  1st, we risk the unknown.  Most of you have taken such risks before with no guarantee of the outcome:  committing yourself to a spouse, purchasing a home, choosing a college or a career.  When we say yes to God we take what the 19th-century Danish philosopher Kierkegaard called a leap of faith and trust that God will grab hold of us.  We don’t know the future; we don’t have an absolute intellectual and emotional certainty that there is a personal God, a heaven, eternal life.  We have no idea what demands God’s love will make on us, just as we have none about married life, mortgages, college education, or career before we leap into them.  So it’s a risk to live totally for the unseen God, to put our hope in the crucified carpenter of Nazareth.

2d, we risk public opinion. At the Last Supper, Jesus warned his friends:  “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me 1st.  If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.  Remember that the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:18-20).

Yet finding the kingdom and acting decisively to enter it are causes of joy.  The word “gospel” means “good news.”  It is good news that God lets us find him, that he lets us know his love thru Jesus, that he claims us as his own daughters and sons in Jesus, that he forgives our sins and gives us life.  Good news makes us happy. The happiest people on earth have been the saints, for they knew the secret of joy:  wholehearted commitment to God.

St. Teresa of Avila is supposed to have said, “A sad saint is a sorry saint.”  St. Therese the Little Flower writes in her autobiography, “Since I have left off thinking of myself, I live the happiest life possible.”  St. Philip Neri told the young people of Rome who gathered around him, “Run, jump, and shout as much as you like, so long as you don’t sin”—a teaching which St. John Bosco also adopted.  St. Thomas More cracked jokes with the executioners—and also threw a straight line to one of them:  “Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we may meet merrily in heaven.”

It’s been said that Don Bosco had an 11th commandment in his house:  “to serve the Lord in gladness,”[1] which is a line from Ps 100 (v. 2).  There’s a scene in the Life of Dominic Savio written by DB that brings that line to life (ch. 18: Camillo Gavio).  Dominic lived what he preached, and the Church verified his holiness by canonizing him in 1954, 20 years after DB’s own canonization.

The saints rejoiced in discovering the hidden treasure of Jesus.  They gambled everything to attain it, as our Founding Fathers gambled their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for the glorious ideal of freedom.  The very same hidden treasure, the joy of the heavenly kingdom, is revealed to us in the teaching of Jesus.  If we are wise, we know how to secure it.

[1] Cavaglia, II “Magone Michele,” page 149.

Rector Major Announces Salesian Strenna for 2018

Rector Major Announces Salesian Strenna for 2018

“‘Sir, give me this water.’ Let us cultivate the art of listening and accompaniment.”

(ANS – Rome – July 27) - The water of life, which only Jesus can give, and the Salesian focus on the education of youth are the central themes for the 2018 Strenna: “‘Sir, give me this water.’ Let us cultivate the art of listening and accompaniment.”

Fr. Fernandez with young people (ANS)
During the summer session of the general council, Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime presented the strenna’s theme and guidelines. Following long tradition, he will present the strenna in detail toward the start of the new year.

The topic emerged from consultation and dialog with the advisory board of the Salesian Family in Turin last May when the leaders of the different groups that make up the Family gathered to celebrate the solemnity of Mary Help of Christians.

“The phrase that synthesizes the strenna,” writes Fr. Fernandez, “corresponds to the heartfelt request that the Samaritan woman makes to Jesus at Jacob’s well. In her meeting with him, the woman feels that she has been listened to, respected, and appreciated; and so in her heart she feels impelled to ask for something even more precious: ‘Sir, give me some of that water...’ (the water of life to the full that you’re offering me).”

Following the central theme of this gospel passage, and in the context of the forthcoming Synod of Bishops (“Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment), Fr. Fernandez intends to explore “the importance for our whole Salesian Family and its mission in the world of cultivating the precious arts of listening and accompaniment, with conditions that need to be ensured, the demands and the service that are involved in both listening and accompanying, in the process of personal, Christian, and vocational development.”

Fr. Fernandez intends to take his reflection further by considering 5 points:

- a meeting that cannot leave us unmoved: the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman as a model of relationships with the young;
- a meeting that moves a person further: like Jesus, one must first seek the good in others and, as experts in humanity, to help in necessary discernment;

- a meeting that transforms a life: after the example of Jesus, who listens and accompanies, it is necessary to support a pedagogy of processes;
- what pastoral action do we have in mind?

- in the company of the Samaritan woman.

Fr. Fernandez detailed some of his thoughts about listening and accompaniment in an essay presenting the strenna to the Salesian Family—which is not the commentary that will develop these ideas at much great length at the end of December, leading into 2018.

Here is his presentation:


Rome, July 16, 2017
Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel

“Sir, give me this water” (John 4:15)


Synthesis: a summary of how the strenna will be presented when sent out at the end of this year. I begin by saying that this is not the commentary on the Strenna 2018; here I limit myself to offering some hints.

The phrase that synthesizes the strenna corresponds to the heartfelt request that the Samaritan woman makes to Jesus at Jacob’s well. In her meeting with him, the woman feels that she has been listened to, respected, and appreciated; and so in her heart she feels impelled to ask for something even more precious: “Sir, give me some of that water” (the water of life to the full that you’re offering me).

Following the central theme of this gospel passage, we would point out, in the context of the coming Synod of Bishops (“Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment”), the importance for our whole Salesian Family and its mission in the world of cultivating the precious arts of listening and accompaniment, with the conditions that need to be ensured, the demands and the service that are involved in both listening and accompanying, in the process of personal, Christian, and vocational development.


The starting point for our reflection must be the calm and meditative reading of the gospel passage that we know as “the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman” (John 4:3-42); a meeting that then becomes the icon to refer to in order to see how the Lord relates to her, the sort of relationship he establishes, its results, and the consequences that the meeting with him has in this woman’s life.

Source unknown
There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

(For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:7-9).

Jesus is in a situation in which he is powerless and vulnerable in the face of a practical need. To the Samaritan woman he is a foreigner, he is thirsty, he does not have a bucket to draw water, and the water in that deep well is out of his reach.

On the other hand, as far as one can tell from the story, the woman – to put it mildly – has a doubtful reputation, living in an “irregular” situation.

In addition, between Jesus and the Samaritan woman there is the barrier of well-established ethnic and religious conventions. According to the customs of the time, it is reprehensible behavior for him to ask water from this woman.

In this situation, from our point of view, we can observe something very interesting: a secular place, a well in the open countryside, that becomes a place for an encounter with God.

Jesus, the real protagonist and leading person in the encounter, in the listening and the opening dialog, “has a plan” for conducting this meeting, beginning by listening to the other person and the situation, which he knows intuitively.

For us nowadays, this process of LISTENING is a real art. “We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. In communication, listening is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur.[1]

This process of listening begins with a meeting that becomes an opportunity for a human relationship freely entered, “with a respectful, compassionate gaze that also heals, liberates, and encourages growth in the Christian life.[2]

When a meeting happens in this way, among other things listening:

Ø  fosters openness toward the other person;

Ø  implies giving one’s whole attention to what the other person may be saying and making a conscious effort to understand what the person wants to communicate;

Ø  accompanies with real interest the person and what is being sought and expected;

Ø  sets to one side one’s own world, one’s own situation, in order, as far as possible, to draw close to that of the other person.

Ø  Listening, to put it briefly, is the art that requires giving careful attention to a person, his or her struggles, weaknesses, joys, sufferings, and expectations; in fact, we do not limit ourselves to listening to something; rather, we are attentive to someone.

Ø  This listening, when it refers to personal spiritual accompaniment, goes beyond the psychological dimension and acquires a spiritual and religious dimension, because it takes us along pathways on which one is waiting for Someone.

Ø  Our gaze as educators turned in a special way to young people and also to the life of their families, gives us reassurance that there is much that is positive in every heart;[3] and there is a need to bring out this positive element through the patient work of paying attention to ourselves, to openness to others, to listening and reflection.

This listening ought to lead us to understand properly the needs of young people nowadays, and sometimes the needs of their parents, or of those people with whom we come into contact through our ministry. In fact, young people approach us not so much in search of accompaniment as, rather, because of the pressure of their needs, when they find themselves facing doubts, problems, emergencies, difficulties, conflicts, tensions, decisions to be made, problematic situations to be coped with.

And, in general, they make an approach if there is someone who takes the first step by showing an interest in them, approaches them, and has time for them. Sometimes these casual meetings can become the doorway opening onto a more serious journey that leads to growth.

This is what happened in the meeting between Jesus and the woman who had gone to the well simply to draw water.


Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water?” ...

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; ...

“Sir,” said the woman, “give me this water that I may not thirst.” (John 4:10-15)

* As a master of wisdom and an able conversationalist, Jesus makes use of all that words can offer – expressions and gestures – to make contact with people.

ü  He asks questions, discusses, explains, tells stories, pays attention to the way the person he is speaking to sees things, make suggestions, affirms, provokes a reaction.

ü  He helps the woman face up to the real situation she is in and to her evasive replies; even with regard to her delicate position – as she says in the following verses – “I have no husband.”

ü  Jesus is not discouraged; he does not give up when faced with the initial resistance.

ü  The conversation helps her clear up some ambiguities, reveal herself in an honest way; the enigmatic and provocative replies draw the woman closer, she grows in trust, and in her surprise she really wants to have what can make her life better.

* Jesus, who is seeking what is best for the other person, the one he is speaking with, rather than pronounce a moral judgment of disapproval or reproach establishes a personal relationship.

ü  Instead of accusing, he discusses and makes a suggestion.

ü  His language, his words, are addressed to the heart of the one he is speaking to.

ü  In conversations (in practice, on this occasion with the Samaritan woman), he speaks calmly, without haste in presenting himself as the one who can change her life, in order to awaken gradually in her the desire to be able to have access to a spring of water that promises a special, different, better life.

* As an expert in humanity, Jesus shows himself to be attentive and full of interest in the inner world of those he is speaking with; he reads their hearts, studies them, and knows how to interpret them.

These attitudes of the Lord make us understand the importance of the gift of discernment.

In the Church’s tradition, the exercise of discernment has been applied in many different situations: for example, discerning the signs of the times, or discerning in view of acting in a moral manner, or spiritual discernment in order to follow a path of Christian life to the full, or again, spiritual discernment when it is a question of one’s own vocation or choice of life.

In all these cases, dialog with the Lord and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit are essential; there are some basic (fundamental) prerequisites, however, that make further discernment possible.

§  The starting point will be what leads the individual, the young person, the married couple, or one of them, to feel the need to give meaning to his or her life, to make it significant. It is in this situation that one becomes aware that something is not really going well.

§  When one does not feel well, is not living harmoniously and does not find real and full meaning in what forms part of himself, or of the “us” in a marriage or a family, the situation can arise from an “existential void,” which often leads to personal disorientation and frustration.

§  In the societies in which we are living that make us live our lives on the outside, as though we were in a glass case, without any visible limitations or defects, without the right to be old or to grow old, because “that is in bad taste,” more than ever there is need for an education that encourages depth and an inner life.

These are all situations that can stimulate, encourage, or assist with discernment, and one needs to undertake every process of discernment, as Pope Francis proposes in the letter in preparation for the Synod,[4] by recognizing, interpreting, and choosing.[5]

- RECOGNIZING,[6] in the light of what the Spirit inspires.

ü  To have clarity in the high and low moments of life; in the periods of a real interior struggle that can occur.

ü  To help bring to fruition all the emotional qualities that a person may have, and give a name to what one is experiencing or what we find present in ourselves.

ü  To capture the “flavor” that I find in the consonance or dissonance between what I experience and what is in the depth of my heart.

ü  All of this enlightened by the Word of God on which one should meditate. Putting at the center the person’s ability to listen and even one’s affective nature, without being afraid even of silence.

ü  Taking up everything as part of the journey of growing to personal maturity.


ü  That is, understanding what the Spirit of God is calling someone to do through what is stirred up in each one.

ü  Interpreting and being interpreted is a very sensitive task that requires patience, vigilance, and even a certain knowledge. It is necessary to be aware that social and psychological conditioning exists.

ü  It will be necessary to face up to reality, and at the same time not to be satisfied with the minimum, nor deal only with what is easy; being aware of one’s own gifts and possibilities.

ü  Naturally this task of interpretation cannot be developed in a believer, in a Christian:

§  without a real dialog with the Lord (a dialog such as the Samaritan woman had with Jesus).

§  unless all the capacities of the person are engaged (acting in such a way that what happens is not unimportant, as occurs in the heart of the woman in conversation with Jesus).

§  without the help of an experienced person in listening to the Spirit (who, in the case of the gospel passage was Jesus himself guiding her).


The time then comes when the individual, the young person, the wife or husband – whoever – has to decide, exercising authentic human freedom and personal responsibility.

The Samaritan woman had to decide for herself whether to ignore Jesus and continue her life as though nothing had happened in that meeting, or to make the decision to allow herself to be surprised by him and involved to the point of going to call her fellow townsmen because that man had reached the depths of her inner world.

ü  The choice that is made when discernment is carried out in the light of the Spirit, very often brings a person freedom, and at the same time demands coherence in life.

ü  For this reason, it can be said that to encourage people, and in a very special way young people, to make life choices that really are free and responsible is the final aim of every serious process in the faith journey and in personal growth (and in any vocational ministry that one can imagine).

Discernment – the Pope tells us – “is the main tool which permits safeguarding the inviolable place of conscience, without pretending to replace it,[9] precisely because “we have been called to form consciences, not to replace them,[10] following the example of Jesus who in his conversation with the Samaritan woman, accompanies her on the journey toward the truth and her own inner life.


Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to him. ...

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:27-30, 39-42).

n  The Samaritan woman enters the scene in the gospel as “a woman from Samaria,” and she leaves it having come to know the spring of living water in such a very personal way that she feels the need to run and tell her own people what has happened to her, and through her witnessing there are many who then approach Jesus.

n  To those whom he meets, as in this case the Samaritan woman, Jesus does not offer more things to think about or to get to know, but rather a way to grow and change their lives. Even “Jacob’s well,” a symbol of the wisdom that comes from the Law, loses its value and is replaced by living water (by the spring).

n  The image of God that comes through in the meeting with Jesus is not the image of a god unmoved, distant, philosophically cold. On the contrary, Jesus reveals him as the God who gives life, who can be called Father, who does not cut himself off, seek to control, or possess, because he is Spirit (worship in Spirit and truth).

n  The conclusion of the meeting goes beyond what one might have expected for a normal ending, that the woman would return to her ordinary life with the jar full of water. Instead, the jar, which the woman leaves behind empty so as to go and call her neighbors, speaks to us of a gain and not a loss.

Like Jesus – accompanying

There are numerous biblical accounts which in the first place tell the story of the accompaniment that God promises his people throughout time.

On the boundary between the two Testaments, John the Baptist appears as the first spiritual companion in the Gospels, first of Jesus himself. John could bear witness and prepare the way because God had spoken to his heart.

On so many occasions in the New Testament Jesus makes himself a neighbor, a traveling companion, in order to communicate himself and meet the people of his time in a personal way.

The meeting of the Lord with the Samaritan woman helps us to see the way the Spirit of God can act in the heart of every man and woman – that human heart which, because of fragility and its own sins, feels quite often confused and divided, attracted by temptations and suggestions that are varied and often contradictory.[11]

Faced with this human dilemma, Personal Accompaniment would appear to become an extremely valid means of the Christian spiritual tradition, in the desire to help believers avail of the instruments and resources that enable them to recognize the presence of the Lord, his challenges, and his calls.

How can we describe Accompaniment? As an example, “like a kind of ongoing conversation between companions in order to Welcome Life, accompanying life;”[12] a dialog that has as its purpose the fostering of the relationship between the individual person and the Lord, helping to overcome any potential obstacles.

As with Jesus in every meeting, in every experience of accompaniment there is need for:

ü  a loving glance, like that of Jesus when calling the twelve to their vocation (John 1:35-51);

ü  an authoritative word, like that of Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum (Luke 4:32);

ü  the ability to come close to someone. like Jesus with the Samaritan woman (John 4:3-34, 39-42);

ü  The decision to walk side by side, to become a traveling companion like Jesus with the disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

Therefore, to accompany involves:

Ø  knowing the journey the other person is making, the point at which she has arrived and where she is going, in order to be able to walk with her;

Ø  ensuring that there is a meeting that is an opportunity for a relationship that is human and humanizing and not utilitarian;

Ø  a listening attitude (once again reference is made to the art of knowing how to listen!), that makes it possible to know and understand where the other person is coming from, the journey he is on, the situation he is in: of sorrow, lack of hope, fatigue, searching, etc.

Ø  It is also always a matter of a meeting of mediation, because the real Companion is the Holy Spirit.

Ø  The one who accompanies as the traveling companion has to become the witness to and the proclaimer of the action of the Spirit in the person accompanied, but in a quiet way, staying at his side, content to occupy one’s allotted place and not another one. In truth the spiritual companion is molded in the fundamental experience of being first of all met by Him.

Ø  To discover the way in which God manifests himself in our lives to the extent of surprising us as we are met by him.

Ø  The initiative will always be God’s; we need to show responsibility and freedom.

All of this is undertaken by means of a pedagogy of processes, which is so common in the spiritual tradition. “The Christian life is lived in a progressive way, according to distinct degrees of depth and fulness, and is always open to an ever greater development.”[13]

            - Following processes that should not be forced either from within or from without.

            - To the point of becoming conscious of the process and making it one’s own, given that it is the Spirit who unleashes it in each one.


            This will be the final part of the strenna, which I shall present fully at the end of the year, since it deals with the pastoral application of what has been said so far. I shall refer to the strategic (key) points of the pastoral method of the Church at the present time, and to what is specific to our Salesian spirituality. I intend to develop the following points, of which I indicate only some possible headings:

n  Walking with the young, with families, with fathers and the mothers, who need to follow this path. With those in mind with whom the different groups of the Salesian Family in the world are engaged in their mission.

n  Providing opportunities for all young people, excluding no one, because the Spirit is at work in each one.

n  With a religious or lay or educational-pastoral community that feels itself responsible for the education of the new generations.

n  In which the adults are significant and credible persons of reference.

n  With the appropriate means.

V. IN COMPANY WITH THE SAMARITAN WOMAN. As Jesus called his own followers, toward what goal would he be leading us today?

Angel Fernandez Artime, SDB
Rector Major

[1] EG 171
[2] EG 169
[3] “[In every boy ... there is] a soft spot. The first duty of the educator is to locate that sensitive spot, that responsive chord in the boy’s heart…” (BM 5:237, quoted in GC 23, n. 151).
[4] Pope Francis, Young people, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Preparatory Document and questionaire (Turin: Elle Di Ci, 2017), pp. 22-65.
[5] Ibid., p. 44, quoting EG 51.
[6] Cf. Ibid., p. 45-46.
[7] Cf. Ibid., p. 46-47.
[8] Cf. Ibid., p. 47-48
[9] Ibid., p.40, n.2
[10] AL 37
[11] Pope Francis, Document of the Synod. op. cit., p. 50
[12] Lola Arrieta, Aquel que acompaña sale al encuentro y regala preguntas de vida para andar el camino: Apuntes provisionales (Barcelona: Simposio CCEE, 2017), p. 11.
[13] Stefano de Fiores, “Itinerario espiritual,” in Nuevo Diccionario de Espiritualidad (Madrid: Paulinas, 2004), p. 755.