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3. Educational Spirituality – the spiritual foundations of Murialdine pedagogy

We need to grasp the relationship between spirituality and pedagogy: in the light of the charism of Murialdo it assumes a particular configuration with respect to the core of our educational task. The experience of being loved by God and conveying such experience, becoming a “friend, brother and father,” lead the Josephan educator to a style of familiarity, simplicity and kindness, gentleness and firmness.
Spirituality gives soul to our being educators: it helps us welcome those who are weakest and poorest, recognize Jesus in the youth, share their life, question ourselves and listen. Without forgetting that the goal of education is “ne perdantur” that is not the minimum but the maximum, that is to lead the youth to God, in a way of holiness of life, both of those being educated and the educator.

Fr. José Fidel Antón

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3. Educational Spirituality – the spiritual foundations of Murialdine pedagogy

(P. José Fidel Antón)


“The search for balance between contemplation and action marks our lives constantly and we cannot renounce the construction of such accord, because it is a richness characterizing our identity as religious of active life. Ours is an educational spirituality that sees the family of Nazareth as model for being educators with the heart of Saint Joseph, teacher of spirituality in our lives” (XXII GC, 21).
“Aware that our educational spirituality considers the poor youths as the ‘theological locus’ of our meeting with Christ, as Josephites we live our mission with them in the ‘pedagogy of love,’ focusing in the ‘education of the heart,’ and getting back to Saint Joseph as a model and educator, but first of all as our educator” (Ibid., no. 27).
I speak about spirituality related to education without exclusively referring it to the religious experience (religious beliefs or practices). On the other hand, I speak about education referring to our specific pedagogical style, inherited from St Leonard Murialdo.

1. A spirituality that is good for our time.

We live in a secularized age but with outbreaks, demands and strong experiences of spirituality: Eastern meditation techniques, trips to places of spirituality, good reception to spiritual leaders, a swarm of religious confessions, sects, movements of spirituality, spiritual tourism…
On many occasions this growing demand for spirituality could meet the need to escape a life unbearable for its complexity and competitiveness… so to be able to take refuge in that tranquillity of life that closely resembles the peaceful wellbeing of those who do not want to assume responsibility at the harshness of life.
It is not easy to give a definition of spirituality. Of course, a typical dimension of spirituality is certainly the human spirit trying to read and interpret everyday reality referring to something larger than itself: God, the Absolute, universe, nature… Spirituality, in this sense, is a continuous search for meaning, for the ultimate reason of things and our actions, for meaning of life, hope towards the future and faith.
Even service (work, profession, volunteering) is lived as that which gives sense, also to one’s personal life, rather than material support to others. Service, compared to the past, consists less and less in “giving things” and more and more in “taking care of people.” It is a spiritual deed, an inner attitude of welcoming the other in oneself, even though this attitude of “concern, care, solidarity, worry and interest” on the others disturb and question our personal peace of mind. It is to worry about others, give attention to them, and help them find their place in society.
In this perspective life options (profession, parenting, consecration, volunteering…) are more and more seen and lived in the viewpoint of sharing, understood as participation in the history and life of others, with the readiness to take on their problems and their life conditions, thus overcoming the traditional terms of charity and service.
Educating out of “vocation” is more than practising a profession or a social activity. It means to share one’s life and qualities with others. Murialdo was well aware of it when he said that to educate one must be willing to share the life and problems of the other (economic hardships in his case), rather than try to solve his problems by offering good and well paid services: “It’s unbelievable the poverty we continuously live in, despite all the economic cutbacks we do. True, if we would get out of this state of constant anxiety, we would not have to do anything but imitate the many Institutes of Charity which have chosen over these exceptional years to establish or increase the boarding cost for the inmates; but for us that would be like betray the purpose of our institution that, usually, is for the most miserable and abandoned youths, materially or at least morally “(Letters, II, 512).

2. Spirituality as “form” of pedagogy

1) Typically, pedagogy is seen as a reflection on the “educational event”, on how to “guide the boy” towards a goal, and preset objectives and purposes. In such case the methodological aspect is prevailing, although not all pedagogic knowledge can be reduced to a pure empirical-experimental method related to the analytical processes of exact sciences. Pedagogy takes a sense in the organic and uniform framework of all the spiritual reality and that is why you cannot ever abstract from a global vision of existence where the educational activities and life itself find their justification. It is spirituality (horizon of sense and meaning) that enlivens and shapes pedagogy.
Often and in the best case, spirituality has been linked with the purpose of education, i.e. the set of values and the horizon of meaning and sense we want to transmit or communicate to the youths. But we continued to give more relevance to the appropriate methodology to effectively convey these very specific content (behaviours and values), regardless of the educator’s life options. The educator’s life options were not even minimally involved with it. Only indirectly the “meaning-sense” he wanted to give his own activity and the influence that all this could have on his life as an adult was considered.
Religious Congregations are usually bearers of a sensitivity substantially integrating this framework, deeply implying the educator’s interiority (spirituality).
In this sense Murialdine pedagogy:
a) Considers the fact that what we want to communicate is incommunicable by definition: an ideal of life, the reality of God. All this cannot be “passed”, but just “evoked” by the narration of one’s personal experience. It is desired that the youth live this ideal of life and this experience of God and for this the educator acts as “bridge” and “way” for the youth to walk their own path. This primarily involves the educator’s testimony of life and the quality of the relationships he can establish. What is communicated goes beyond what is said and what is done because it relates, somehow, to a life experience.
b) In this process the educator’s inner attitudes (spirituality) cannot be secondary to the educational purpose. Effectively they prepare for the relationship because they express welcome, esteem, interest, care… or, on the contrary, impede the relationship because they transmit rejection, disregard, and disinterest. Therefore care for the educator’s interiority becomes critical as a starting point for every educational act.
c) At the same time we must consider that, in faith environments like ours, educational activity, like any other “work” takes the value of a service and therefore a gift: for the educator, being with the kids is not just a task or profession, but vital expression (testimony) of human and religious ideals spurring him, and this is the privileged way to evangelize and promote personal growth in faith.
d) There is a deep relationship between the vision of the educator (the set of ideals and values that constitute the horizon of culture and sensitivity determining his attitudes and feelings and giving an identity to his own person) and the mission of the educator (the quality of his performance that he then converts into an educational plan – purpose, methodology, means and style – the fundamental course of his life).
2) The Guidelines for Josephan ministry accurately express it: “Our educational activity is where we witness and where –at the same time– we experience God’s love. It is powered by the Spirit’s presence. There is, therefore, a deep connection between spirituality and educational style; between method options and attitudes of faith inspiring our actions” (Guidelines for Josephan ministry, 3.0).
Spirituality is then the key element determining the pedagogical act. It gives form and efficacy to education because it involves the condition of entering in meaningful educational relationships with the youth.
On the other hand, educational activity reminds the educators the ultimate motivations of their actions and helps them to embody the values that animate them. Spirituality determines the motivations of their educational work, and at the same time, the educational activity, whether spiritually inspired, reinforces the educators’ personal identity. It is an educational spirituality made up by interior attitudes directing towards the educational task (mission), creating the conditions to achieve the objectives we intend to achieve (youth education) and simultaneously informing (giving form, in the philosophical sense) the educators’ lives.
It is not therefore a purely pedagogical discourse (targeting young growth), but rather a vision that is based on the educational relationship as a source of growth, both for the educators and those who are educated. For the educators it is not about just performing a task and nothing more: it is a path of maturation that leads them to fully live their life (a way of sanctification, in religious terms)[1] .

3. Educating with the pedagogical style of St Leonard Murialdo

L. Murialdo used to say that the real problem of many boys was lack of love and acceptance. What made them criminals was not having found anyone able to restore or compensate for the lack of motherly affection or the loss of fatherly guidance.
The Murialdine pedagogical style feature consists in being, as an educator, “friend, brother and father” of young people, as an expression of communion and shared life with young people. The inner attitudes that best express this pedagogical style of acceptance are:
a) familiarity. In the educational relationship you have to commit emotionally. The serene share with the kids, through the watchful and foreseeing presence of the educator, can be understood and secured only in the context of a great, mature, pure and sincere love. The Murialdine pedagogy is the pedagogy of love. It synthesizes and embodies the best of St L. Murialdo style: to be a “well-united family” so that the boys, especially the poor ones, may experience their home and family in meeting with the educators, and that love and affection they often lack, because parents have “other things to do”.
b) Sensitivity, kindness and firmness as basic attitudes of Murialdine pedagogy. The serenity of the relationship, the warmth, loyalty, trust, listening, mutual respect and good humour are usually the “normal” conditions that ensure the young the feeling he can open up and confide in with the adult educators willing to help him.
c) All this needs to be taken into everyday life, as fundamental condition in carrying out the educational proposal. Through careful and balanced management of the ordinary things we can establish a positive relationship with young people, letting them experience real life, so that they gradually mature their sense of responsibility.
d) The moments of spirituality, (prayer, fraternal life, where you can share it), favour the growth of the institution, not as a structure offering services, but as a place where our priority is mingling with each youth environment and creating a family atmosphere in the logic of sharing.

4. Educational spirituality outlines that bring out the potential of young people

Being “extraordinary in the ordinary” is what characterized the everyday approach of L. Murialdo and what constitutes the utopia of those who want to share his spirit. This utopia is to be found in “the present moment”, in real space, in the normality of everyday life, where everyone gives his best and where is the best way to respond to the needs of each one. And this can be done only in everyday interpersonal relationships. It requires:
a) A positive outlook, unlimited confidence in the capabilities and potential of each boy to become fully himself, provided he finds a suitable environment to facilitate his growth;
b) A relational style full of affection: rather than therapeutic targets, we have to offer responses characterized by welcome, care, daily relationships. And we can do it mainly sharing our time and person with young people: this is much more urgent and important than the supply of services. The educational relationship entails above all empathy, cordiality, care, love, kindness, warmth, courtesy, sincerity, realism, naturalness and normality.
c) To do and to keep quiet: our pedagogic style is simple and day-to-day.
– When? We must be able to live in its fullness our everyday life that can sometimes be tedious, monotonous and always the same. It could however become an opportunity for intense spirituality.
– Where? Where we normally live (home, school, with our friends…) in an atmosphere of naturalness and normality, where interpersonal relations are lived and relationship with others are woven, in these spaces that can be places for welcoming others with whom we interact occasionally…
– How? Through a lifestyle and commitment to be perceived by others as something possible, without appearing exceptional or heroic…
d) “A well-united family.” Among adults (collaborators, educators, religious): paying attention so that we are not choked only and exclusively by the organizational issues and take good care of other dimensions of life, as it might be building meaningful relationships, sharing the ideals and educational values that inspire us and being available to live the experience of welcome communally, rather than individually. Complementarity between lay people and Josephites in the Family of St L. Murialdo: we all are equally invited to participate in the Murialdine spirituality sharing our lives and in the promotion of a culture of solidarity.
With young people: let us rediscover the family ambience and the naturalness of school and family life as assets able to qualify and ensure the right to education.

5. Education: a gift for us adults

Performing a service (either professional or volunteer) with young people is not only “helping” someone who may be in need of something. It is something that marks and can change the lives of adults. So to say that “communion with young people is an all-absorbing feeling for us, the Josephites; it is at the heart of our experience of communion with God” (Guidelines for Josephan ministry, 3.1).

P. José Fidel Antón

[1] It would be interesting to consider some elements of pedagogy typical of the Murialdine tradition (the educational option, the centrality of the person, the community dimension of education) and read them as a source of spirituality (which inner attitudes they suggest us?), And vice versa: to consider some elements of the Murialdine spirituality (to welcome the young, especially the poor-weak, without pretending him to be different from what he is; to recognize the presence of Jesus in the young and educate him, as St. Joseph did; to be at the service of young people with full dedication and consciousness that the pursued ideal is never fully realized; to establish personal relationships with young people and with the other members of the educational community characterized by respect and kindness, in order to grow together; and to try to share with young people, getting involved emotionally) to grasp the options and educational stimuli that they suggest us..

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