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Lenten reflection shares Salesian spirit

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“We are called to love. That is our origin,” said Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Father Matthew Hillyard, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna. “We need to imitate creative love and give security to insecure hearts.”

More than 800 people from the Arlington Diocese, from more than 50 parishes and as far as South Carolina, came to St. John Neumann Church in Reston to attend the Live Jesus conference for direction in Salesian spirituality. The theme this year was “Salesian GPS.” 

“In the face of pain and suffering we are called to patient endurance, and supporting one another is so important,” said Oblate Fr. Francis W. Danella.

“It’s a morning of recollection held during the Lenten season,” said Oblate Father Kevin Nadolski, director of development and communications for the Wilmington/Philadelphia Province. “It is a way for the Oblates and lay colleagues to share our Salesian spirituality.”

Oblate Father Francis W. Danella, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Cape May, N.J., titled his talk, “Heart Centered in a World of Sensory Overload.” He spoke about how to find the sacred in the midst of busyness.

Father Danella encouraged the attendees to grow in deep awareness of their core identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters. He organized his presentation around gentleness, patience and simplicity.

He said people need to store up gentleness by being kind, affirming others and resisting the urge of anger. He encouraged the attendees to be patient with themselves first before being patient with others.

“Many people are patient during difficult times but get set off by small inconveniences,” he said. “In the face of pain and suffering we are called to patient endurance, and supporting one another is so important.”

Father Danella said simplicity has a deeper meaning than decluttering.

“What feeds our minds and hearts obsesses our thoughts and feeds our actions,” he said.

Cecilia Covel, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church in Washington, said the idea of being patient with herself is something she doesn’t think about too often.

For Meaghan Stoner, a parishioner of St. John Neumann, this was her first Live Jesus conference. She found the program compelling and engaging. “The talk gave practical spiritual insight so we can be the light of Christ in our communities, especially during this time in our culture,” she said. “We have a choice in situations that cause impatience and anger.”

Father Hillyard’s talk, “Salesian GPS: Thank God for Recalculating,” covered practical ways to stay calm in the midst of storms that make people change course. Cheryl Jones, a parishioner of Our Lady of Good Counsel, resonated with the part of his talk about how heart speaks to heart. “It felt as if his heart was speaking to my heart, and I thought I was here to hear a particular message,” she said.

Father Hillyard said the first experience of God for Christians was redemptive love, and the cross was meant to be redemptive in love. He said there are several competing spirits that seek room in the human heart.

Carol Swiger, a parishioner of St. John Neumann and chairwoman of the conference, has been involved with the event from the beginning. She asked her parish priests to gather with others on a Saturday morning to explain Salesian spirituality and to pray together.

“The parishioners were thrilled for the opportunity to learn more,” said Swiger. “It was such a success that they asked for more. Each year we pick a theme based on the teachings and what is going on in the church today.”

Swiger said the inspiration for the recent presentation came from a June 2016 general audience address where Pope Francis spoke about the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. “It is often necessary to learn how to rediscover our path to our heart, to recover the value of intimacy and silence, because the God who encounters us and speaks to us is there,” reads part of the message. 

“The committee started looking at the reflection and how it tied to Salesian spirituality,” said Swiger. “(The pope) was talking about finding a way or a path and we talked about how you use your GPS when you’re lost.”

The conference applied three Salesian “little virtues” of gentleness, patience and simplicity to the theme, said Swiger. The remaining virtues include humility, honesty and hospitality. She said the conference is really about building community, even between parishes. Swiger said people from different parishes meet at the conference and look forward to seeing each other every year.

“Some have moved on to Live Jesus communities, organized to help people continue to discover how to live their lives gently, patiently and simply,” said Swiger.

There are currently 12 active communities, which began a year and a half ago as an outgrowth of the yearly meeting. Small groups of up to eight members meet monthly and base their activities on the Live Jesus conference theme, according to their organization website.

“There are many paths people take and different things speak to different people,” said Swiger. “As long as it is meeting people’s needs we will continue the groups.”

Mass followed the presentations. Oblate Father James Greenfield, provincial for the Wilmington/Philadelphia Province, asked the congregation to listen to the Gospel as if hearing the story of the prodigal son for the first time, picturing themselves in each of the roles, including the fatted calf, which elicited laughter from the crowd. Father Greenfield spoke about simplicity, and invited everyone to sing, “Simple Gifts,” recalling a line from the song that speaks about dancing.

“Dance into the kingdom of Heaven, because apparently we are going to be doing it for all eternity,” he said. “Anytime the Lord wants us to envision Heaven, He says it’s a feast.”

“To be a person who is able to dance, I think, is a person who practices simplicity,” he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017