Don Bosco wanted his Salesians and the young people they served, to know that it was easy to be a saint. “Do the ordinary things in an extraordinary way,” he told them. He showed them how it was not necessary to look for extraordinary ways to be holy or to practise virtue. “Accept what the day brings” was his norm. He taught them to do well all that they were expected to do each day and offer it all up as a prayer.
The spirituality of the Salesians was shaped at different times by four great saints: St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), St. Jane de Chantal (1572-1641), St. John Bosco (1815-1888) and St. Mary Mazzarello (1837-1881). It has also been deeply influenced by the courageous and joyful inputs of an increasing number of young people including St. Dominic Savio (1842-1857) and Blessed Laura Vicuna (1891-1904).
There is nothing complicated about Salesian spirituality; it is as simple as it is profound. It was intended for everyone regardless of their station in life. The first book St. Francis de Sales wrote on spirituality - Introduction to the Devout Life- was written for a young married woman with a family.
Don Bosco too wrote a number of books on spirituality for the young and taught his collaborators to use the educative method that was based upon his pedagogical experience with poor youngsters in Turin. It was based on three pillars: reason, religion and loving-kindness. He even called his educational experience the 'Preventive System'.
The title was borrowed from the novel method of educating, accepted by the more humanistic educational institutions of his time, instead of the medieval method of repression. In choosing this method, he also saw prevention of physical and moral harm through education and love - an indispensable solution - to the problems of abandoned youth and the only way to stop juvenile delinquency and socially accepted forms of child exploitation. He used means and resources capable of introducing young people to the world of God’s grace and helped them grow in it, in addition to assisting their upkeep, their instruction, their professional skills, and their moral and social growth. His education was directed towards self-discovery, the formation of character, holistic development and facing the challenges of life.
A line often quoted of Mary Mazzarello, showing how the Preventive System was imbibed even by Don Bosco's collaborators, runs as follows:
"Courage my good Sisters. I want you to be cheerful, love one another and always work to please Jesus alone. Jesus must be your whole strength..."
St. Dominic Savio, himself a teenager, under the influence of the Preventive System was able to tell a new boy at Don Bosco’s oratory, “Here we make holiness consistin being cheerful.”
It is important to note that there are four foundational pillars that sustained Don Bosco himself in his pedagogy, as a priest and Christian educator. These were:
First pillar: Devotion to Mary Help of Christians.
Second pillar: Devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist
Third pillar: Educational system based on joy and hope
Fourth pillar: Devotion to the Pope and the Church
The edifice of Salesian education erected on the base of these four pillars, offers the Church and society, the dual benefits of churning out good Christians (committed to follow
Christ more fully) and honest citizens (committed to work for the uplift of society).