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God is very much concrete. He exists, lives and loves eternally. He reveals Himself in the body and history of Jesus. He works unceasingly in creation and redemption through His Spirit. He is present at all points in history. He envelops and penetrates every heart and has a unique relationship with each of His children. He sees well where we are and what we need; He helps us truly and wisely; He always aims at the first and last end for which He created us: to mould in us the features of His Son, to bring us as far as possible to His stature and fullness. Let us listen to St Paul:

For, in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So, you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority (Col 2:9-10).

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:17-19).

The concreteness of God is why the saints know how to be concrete, and concrete means everyday. The refrain of all saints is always the same: we become saints by doing God’s will in the present moment, the only time we have. Radically, with Chiara Lubich: since charity is the supreme value, ‘in love what counts is to love’! Simply, with Don Bosco: ‘age quod agis’, ‘do well what you are doing’. Also, because, if this is not the case, dangerous gaps open up between saying and doing, between prayer and life, between love of God and love of neighbour, which weaken or compromise the journey of faith.

1. Practice

It is essential to convince oneself that what matters most is not the knowing, important though it is, but the tasting and practising. Jesus said it bluntly: "Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21). Or also: “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:21). Consistent with the Lord’s teaching, St. Paul and St. James affirm the same. The former says that “For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” (Gal 5:6). And the latter, “ In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”, because “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (Jas 2:17, 26).

This is something that man, in his creatureliness, already intuits: one truly knows not by hearsay, but by experience; one truly knows what one loves, not what one impartially observes. More so, since love is exchange, giving and receiving, we truly know not what we passively receive but what we actively interpret.

The same can be said of our freedom: it is healthy when it acts according to God’s will, not when it is indecisive or arbitrary. The Gethsemane utterance, to take away the sufferings but not according to His will but according to the will of His Father, confirms the above statement.

What is already true for every reasonable and free creature, is all the more true on the level of faith, where it is necessary to unceasingly support the mysterious action of God who is always at work for our salvation and fullness. We “should always pray and not give up” (Lk 18:1) and always live in union with God. One does not become holy by loving in fits and starts: holiness is everyday life. It is as Jesus says of himself: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (Jn 5:17). Hence, the ideal of the life of grace: abiding in Jesus and working in Jesus knowing that Jesus abides in us and works in us. Here, we understand how much damage fear and inertia can do, as they distract us from living dialogue with God and paralyse action, so that God cannot work all that fruitfulness that he would like to realise in us.

2. Growing in virtues

Therefore, practice cannot be occasional, sporadic. The Gospel calls for radical conversion, total surrender, trust and faithfulness, constancy and perseverance: “by your perseverance, you will save your souls” (Lk 21:19). This is why the Christian life means growth in the cardinal virtues - justice, temperance, prudence and fortitude - and in the theological virtues - faith, hope and charity. The idea of virtue is significant: it is stability and ease in doing good, and it grows with the repetition of virtuous acts. There is therefore no holiness without everydayness!

Isolated good ‘leaves time to find’; it does not unify the personality; it does not consolidate it; it does not make it confident and trustworthy, responsible for itself and others; it often fills the soul with disappointment, sorrow, guilt, regret because the ideal of life is to conform to Jesus, to take on his inner features. If then, the practice of goodness is not daily, the soul loses its strength, the will is reduced to aspiration, morality tends to apathy, faith does not become ‘devotion’.

Certainly, growth in virtues is the joint fruit of God’s grace and man’s commitment. And in this sense, there is no mysticism without asceticism, no new life without the death of the old, no fruitfulness without mortification. It is significant that Jesus’ invitation to follow Him explicitly says that one must carry one’s cross ‘every day’. As if to say: there are things in oneself and in others that one cannot just get rid of and so require continuous vigilance and patience.

3. Ask for daily bread

The Lord’s best suggestion for living the Gospel practically and daily is contained in the ‘Our Father’, which is the rule of Christian prayer. The believer declares that he wants to ‘do God’s will on earth as it is in heaven’, that is, perfectly well, and asks for ‘daily bread’, that is, what is needed to live well in the present moment. There is no need to accumulate, there is a need to ‘hurry’, to share the talents, that is, the gifts and tasks that God has entrusted to us. This makes the heart free from disordered memories and expectations, from worries, and disposes it to love in the present. The essentiality of daily bread does not weigh down the heart and keeps the soul unburdened by the judgments of others, and helps to live under God’s gaze, trusting in His providence. In the Salesian perspective, this attitude is captured in the programmatic motto ‘da mihi animas, cetera tolle’!

On closer reflection, asking God for too much or too little is a lack of faith. The point is to fix oneself in God’s will and ask for the means necessary to achieve it, no more, no less. To ask for his share of the property, like the younger son in the parable, or like the elder son with his poor complaint that he had no celebration with his friends, is poor filial awareness, poor confidence in providence. A son or daughter of God is ‘blessed’ because they want to obey and at the same time they can ask, knowing that they are not alone and abandoned, but listened to and accompanied. As soon as we step out of filial confidence in the Father’s love, we become thoughtless again: works do not depend on God but everything weighs on us.

To ask for daily bread is to realise the first beatitude, the first way to be happy: to be "poor in spirit" (Mt 5:3), to realise the Scripture when it says: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord…. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water… in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit (Jer 17: 5-8).

One of the best spiritual inspirations for living daily holiness is that of Chiesa Lubich in her booklet on the ‘Art of Loving’. The saint advises to pass from one person to another ‘without leaving any leftovers’, and says that the contrary would indicate little humility: if something remains in the heart, it means, in fact, that a person is too important to us, or we consider ourselves too important to them, and this is not in accordance with the ‘charity of God’!

4. Salesian optimism

It is very useful to avoid complaining: it unnecessarily dampens thought and action. Pope Francis recently recommended this, but it is a typical trait of the Salesian charism: Living in holy cheerfulness and cultivating a healthy optimism. Fundamentally, the Christian is neither worldly optimistic nor worldly pessimistic, for he believes not only in the victory of good, and knows the power of the Risen One and the success of saints, but is also aware of the terrible pitfalls of the Enemy and the failure of many. The Christian knows that the Christian life is spiritual combat.

Nevertheless, there is a Christian ‘style’ whereby one can speak of ‘optimism’ and avoid ‘pessimism’. It says so in the Salesian Rule of Life: A Salesian does not allow himself to be discouraged by difficulties, because he has complete trust in the Father: “Let nothing disturb you”, said Don Bosco. Inspired by the humanism of St. Francis de Sales, he believes in man’s natural and supernatural resources, while not ignoring his weakness. He grasps the values of the world and refuses to lament over his own time: he considers everything good, especially if it pleases the young. Since he proclaims the Good News, he is always happy (Const. 17).

On right worldly pessimism and right Christian optimism, Pope Francis expressed himself very effectively when addressing the Salesians: “Many run the risk of a pessimistic attitude in the face of everything around us and not only with respect to the transformations taking place in society but also in relation to their own Congregation, their brothers and sisters and the life of the Church. That attitude that ends up ‘boycotting’ and preventing any response or alternative process, or else bringing out the opposite position: a blind optimism, capable of dissolving the strength and novelty of the Gospel, preventing us from concretely accepting the complexity that situations require and the prophecy that the Lord invites us to bring forward. Neither pessimism nor optimism are gifts of the Spirit... Neither adapting to the fashionable culture, nor taking refuge in a heroic but already disembodied past... Neither pessimist nor optimist, the Salesian of the 21st century is a man full of hope because he knows that his centre is in the Lord, capable of making all things new... Neither triumphalists nor alarmists, cheerful and hopeful men and women, not robots but artisans; ‘Capable of pointing to ideals other than those of this world, testifying to the beauty of generosity, service, purity, perseverance, forgiveness, fidelity to our personal vocation, prayer, the pursuit of justice and the common good, love for the poor, and social friendship..’ (Christus vivit, 36).”

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