Friday 13 September 2013

Ritiratezza, prayer and the profane

I finally managed to return to my translation of Giuseppe Buccellato's Appunti per una 'storia spirituale' del sacerdote Gio' Bosco - quite appropriate in these days when the Relics of Don Bosco are in the Holy Land.

I am struck once again by Don Bosco's insistence on ritiratezza - which is probably best translated 'spirit of recollection' - and prayer. It is something he picked up from Cafasso at the Convitto, or rather something that was reinforced by Cafasso, because Buccellato does not forget to point out that the young farmhand Johnny was rather different from other young farmhands of the time, because of his remarkable spirit of prayer.

And then the little note on how John Bosco, perhaps already as a seminarian, decides to keep aside 'profane literature.' I knew of his remark that his extensive reading of the Greek and Latin classics had led to a sort of 'distaste' for spiritual literature, and that it was his discovery of the Imitation of Christ that probably set him on the road to recovery. But this remark about setting aside profane literature is challenging. Profane literature: Vidal, for example, is very much profane literature. His main characters, those for whom he displays an undoubted affinity, are all atheist: Caroline Sanford, the publisher turned actress; James Burden Day, the senator, who now and then is not beyond perjuring his professed lifelong atheism; and Peter Sanford, Caroline's nephew and publisher of The American Idea. Profane does not necessarily mean bad. It merely means 'not under God.' But that, going by Rossi de Gasperis, is bad enough. For what is not under God is - evil. That is the somewhat unpalatable truth that Rossi de Gasperis is putting forward, and that perhaps John Bosco's resolution points to. Is there a different way of reading the profane and the secular today? Question. Is God totally absent in the profane and the secular? Question. Is it possible to live as though God did not exist or did not matter if he did? More than a question.

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