Saturday 27 September 2014

Luis Timossi on the Ratio and the new document on Spiritual Accompaniment

Early morning, Los Canas, Santiago. Centro de Espiritualidad; formation community with postnovices and theology students, 5 altogether; a campus of the Raul Silva Henriquez University. Just outside and somewhat overlooking the city, though not at all high on the Cordilleras. Chile: country of extraordinary beauty. Quite European Alpine, with snow still lingering on the granite peaks on the left of the city if you look south. Very modern airport and streets. Did not pass barrios like those in Mexico.

Strong element of lay collaboration: the gentleman who came to pick me, Luis, said he was a Salesian, and only later I realized he was what Don Bosco might have called an extern Salesian. This is one of the strong elements in South America, especially in Argentina, where they have 30 communities run by laypeople – which means that lay people are directors of the works, and are treated on a par with Salesian rectors, joining the formation meetings, and even the provincial chapter. They are of course salaried people, and the salary is twice that of a rector of a collegio or school, so there is no ground for complaint on that side. Perhaps the one problem that remains is eventual transfers. For people with families this is not easy; but the Salesians here say that even other ordinary people easily now accept transfers over cities. Getting someone for the works in the interior is far more difficult for now.

The other strong element is the pride in the Salesian charism. Quito has been a major influence; by and large Salesians and especially lay people are very open to participation in courses of ongoing formation in salesianity. Then there are figures like Luis Timossi: former provincial in Argentina, a man who is passionate about Don Bosco and the charism.

He is critical of the Ratio which he says presupposes a personalistic anthropology: I guess he means it presupposes an atomic kind of individualism, or at the very least that it makes the individual Salesian the protagonist and subject of formation, with the community and others community in as helps to his growth. Timossi, instead, would want to see the community as the subject of formation. This is profoundly Trinitarian, and, he says, this is how the Constitutions proceed, at least in the earlier chapters. After C 1 which speaks about Don Bosco, C 2, which you might expect to speak of the individual Salesian, goes on to speak instead of the Salesian congregation, the community of those called to be Salesian – baptized, members of the Church, at the service of young people… Here we come back to the profoundly Trinitarian basis of all Christian life, consecrated life, Salesian life. God is Trinity, God is communion, God is interrelationship. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, but there is the most profound reciprocity between them, a reciprocity that we believe is the Holy Spirit, is Love. Strangely, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz was talking about needing to get back to the Trinity not as separate persons but precisely as communion, as relationship, as love. And Angel Fernandez Artime pinpointed fraternity as the royal road to renewal.

Another profound and acute observation made by Timossi was the lack of recognition of the element of reciprocity in spiritual accompaniment, and in formation in general. The model presupposed is top down: I know, you don’t; I will form you, and you will be formed. – And this observation is absolutely accurate in its res: there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that formation and accompaniment are two way processes, in which the formator and director is formed perhaps more than the formee himself.

So there seems to be a great passion in our Ratio for clear and distinct ideas – which is something quite Cartesian. Atomic individualism, top-down procedures, clarity and distinctness, certainty, believing that clear and distinct ideas are all we need to be saved: all quite Cartesian, at the very least part of the dubious heritage of modernity.

So, in Timossi, a very strong recognition of the community dimension of Salesian spiritual accompaniment: the fact that Don Bosco is a man of relationships, who is present with his boys, and who in the context of confidence is able to make little interventions in the confessional. Timossi is an ardent reader of the Letter from Rome of 1884, where Don Bosco pointedly refers to the importance of gaining the confidence of the boys, without which his whole system of education fails to work. Timossi gives whole retreats on this letter, and he says the salesians are amazed that he is able to pull out so much from this letter.

Timossi feels, therefore, that the Jesuit model of spiritual direction is not what we need, precisely because it tends to presuppose a one-to-one relationship that does not overflow into life. He also said that he is not comfortable with the desolation-consolation distinction, which smacks of dualism. Don Bosco, instead, began from the good that he discovered in a boy.

Yet another element that our Ratio and CNAPS fails to recognize is the formation that goes on between peers, among the formees themselves – and this, once again because our documents tend to assume a one-to-one and top-down kind of model.

Timossi is, instead, very comfortable with Carl Rogers. Rogers, he says, not only talks about empathy, but teaches you how to get there: a pedagogy of empathy. The escucha or listening; the eco or feedback; the deep respect for the other; all skills that we need to learn, that are, at present, nowhere integrated in our processes of formation. Our formation tends to be, in the now classic phase, intellectualist: our heads are filled with correct ideas, which we then want to sell / pass on / impose on others. As soon as we begin hearing a problem, our minds begin to formulate answers. So from people like Rogers, we could very well learn a pedagogy of empathy.

Then again, in the course of our discussions yesterday, Timossi also expressed his satisfaction about the moves towards collaboration and coordination between the sectors, most especially those of youth ministry and formation. Formation that is not geared towards youth ministry is an anomaly for us. The question is, of course, how to move forward.

He also greatly appreciated the Consulta Mondiale that Cereda had begun: the idea that the regional coordinators are really part of the formation team at the Pisana.

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