Salesian Spirituality has had a tremendous impact on my life. I credit the Sisters, and the teachings of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal with inspiring me to devote over half of my life to the mission of the Visitation School.
I’ve decided to share some details from my first quarter here, and my initial encounter with Salesian Spirituality. At the beginning of this 36-year journey here at Visitation, the students had not yet been as immersed in the study and practice of the counsels of St. Francis and St. Jane as they are today. I had one class that was extremely noisy and disrespectful. I tried changing the atmosphere and engaging the students in learning the beauty and the value of ballet and ballet training. I tried this in innumerable ways.
But –– while I was envisioning a program modeled after the great ballet academies in Europe, the students were disappointed that they didn’t have jazz, tap, ballet, and baton in my class. They had expected a program like most American neighborhood dance schools were offering in the Eighties, and they let their disenchantment be known.
I had hoped that Visitation, with its highly respected academic level, would be the perfect setting for actual classical ballet training. That was also the reason why Visitation had chosen to hire the Andahazy Ballet, known for its commitment specifically to the classical traditions.
Well, I’m sure you have heard the expression, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans!” I was about to experience this first-hand –– there was a crushing gap between my vision and reality. I really suffered over this. I went to the chapel to pray several times. I wanted to do the best I could for the students.
One time, passing by the stained-glass window in the foyer of the Fine Arts Center, its words jumped out at me: “All things with love, nothing by constraint.”
The words made me really angry –– like a case of false advertising –– ineffective in real life. It felt like mockery. It caused me to roll my eyes, thinking it was a pious platitude. It felt totally unrelated to my actual situation. How could “no constraint” ever solve my current conflict with the students? My first reaction, then, was irritation.
But I suddenly found myself challenged: challenged that, if it was true, I needed to actually apply the words and put “all through love, nothing by constraint” into action.
So, I asked myself, “How do I live this in my situation?”
I had already doled-out detentions to all the students in the class. Their response had been fury. Some of the students felt I was unfair. They said they had not been part of those who were disruptive. Some said they didn’t want to be treated like “a bunch of kids”.
My effort to live out the words of our founders made me hear their complaints. The next time I met that class, I announced that each of them were to assign themselves detention, or no detention, depending on whether or not they had contributed to the mayhem. Except for one student, everyone ultimately assigned themselves a “detention”. From that day onward, there was peace in our relationship. By applying, “All through love, nothing by constraint”, to my teaching, I learned that one has to put into action the virtues taught by the Visitation Sisters’ two great foundings saints: humility and gentleness. Then, and only then, will they become powerfully effective in our lives.
Allow me to share another Salesian quote from the Letters of Spiritual Direction (page 109) that is especially meaningful to me: “Try to carry out your tasks cheerfully; but if you cannot do it cheerfully, at least do it courageously.”
This has been very helpful to me. Maybe we are not always able to successfully accomplish the tasks set before us in the way we had envisioned, and which we feel would bring us joy. So we become discouraged. It’s normal. It’s something we cannot change. But, what we can do, is to go on, courageously.
The last quote I’d like to share with you is the motto of the Sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis: “A gentle presence in a violent world.”
As followers of Visitation spirtuality we are asked to say the Direction of Intention every morning: “My God, I give you this day. I offer you, now, all of the good that I shall do and I promise to accept, for love of you, all of the difficulty that I shall meet. Help me to conduct myself during this day in a manner pleasing to you. Amen.”
We do this in order ultimately to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth. Envisioning something, and then carrying it out with intentionality has great power; however, the essential is how we carry out our intentions. Throughout each day we have to strive to be generous, hospitable, and loving in how we treat those we encounter –– and whom God has placed in our paths. We are called –– and must be compelled to follow the motto: “A gentle presence in a violent world”.
Here is my personal motto, to share with you: The best antidote to violence is beauty.
St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly have affirmed that beauty is the indispensable ingredient to counteract evil. The famous speech of Leonard Bernstein after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, stressed the importance of beauty through the arts for conquering violence in the world.
The striving for beauty in ballet training is very challenging to the individual, because it involves our bodies. The need to change our physical body requires a supreme effort since our perception of our own self is so intimately bound to our body.
To choose a higher esteem than our own self esteem is a herculean task. I don’t even believe that this is possible without real spiritual help. But with God’s grace –– God’s actual intervention –– a person can develop a self-image in God’s image –– when we are humbly aware of our limitations –– and ask.
Dear Graduates, the Sisters of Visitation have always embodied these virtues –– practicing these counsels daily –– as a commitment to their religious vows. This is the most precious and lasting gift from Visitation to you.
Is that not why we are here today –– the one-hundred forty-eighth graduation of our school? To celebrate that something of inestimable value has been bequeathed by the Sisters to us: the tradition of practicing the Salesian virtues daily, especially their crowning motto –– “LIVE + JESUS!”
Marius Andaházy, formerly of Stockholm’s Royal Swedish Ballet, is Artistic Director of the Andaházy Ballet Company (www.andahazyballet.com) and the Andaházy School of Classical Ballet of St. Paul / Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has directed a ballet program from 1984 through the present for Visitation School in Mendota Heights, Minnesota. Marius Andaházy can be contacted via email: email@example.com
Visitation School in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, is an independent Catholic school founded in 1873 by the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary. It educates boys and girls from Montessori Pre-K through grade five and all-girls in grades six to twelve. A Visitation education is more than just academic achievement; it’s about growth and wholeness in mind, body and spirit. Visitation provides an education that is not for school, but for life (Non Scholae, Sed Vitae). (www.visitation.net)
Copyright Marius Andahazy 2020.
Photo credit: Andy Clayton-King of King Studios