Today, the last day of January, the Church is celebrating the feast of Saint John Bosco. In his preface to the book Evangelii gaudium con Don Bosco, which is a collection of essays by members of Salesian Order which Saint John Bosco founded, Pope Francis described Don Bosco’s message as “revolutionary”, particularly at a time where priests where living lives detached from the people. With the great courage and faith that the Gospel demands, Saint John Bosco was able to bring the joy and care of the true educator to all the boys he saved from the streets of 19th century Turin.
The more he cared for the boys in difficulty the more the Holy Spirit taught him how to care for and protect them. In his letter to the Salesians in celebration of the bicentennial of Don Bosco’s birth, issued from the Vatican on June 24, 2015, in the Solemnity of the birth of St John the Baptist, Pope Francis wrote: A characteristic feature of Don Bosco’s pedagogy is loving kindness, which is to be understood as a love that is manifested and perceived, and reveals itself in caring, affection, understanding, and involvement in the life of another person. In the experiential process of education, according to Don Bosco, it is not enough to love, but love needs to be expressed in gestures that are concrete and effective. Thanks to this loving kindness, so many children and adolescents in Salesian settings have experienced an intense and serene emotional growth, which has proved very valuable in the shaping of their personality and in their life’s journey.
Don Bosco’s legacy is also present in the wisdom he left us. First of all, he teaches us that our great penance is that of living up to our duties and also bearing with people who have difficult personalities. He says: Your mortification should be your diligence in doing your duties and in putting up with the annoyances of others.
Furthermore, Don Bosco gently reminds us how to be disciples of Jesus, namely carrying our cross and following him. After all it was Jesus himself who told us so when addressing these words to the disciples of every age: If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 16:24-25). In his writings we find a little commentary about this written by the saint when he said: Carry your cross on your back and take it as it comes, small or large, whether from friends or enemies and of whatever wood it be made.
As a great educator, Don Bosco also teaches us not to postpone for other time what we can do now. It is so obvious that time flies and never returns back. Hence, Don Bosco said: Do not put off till tomorrow the good you can do today. You may not have a tomorrow.
As we are noticing, Don Bosco centred on the Word of God. In one of his sayings he guards us against where to look. He tells us: Guard your eyes since they are the windows through which sin enters the soul. Does not this bit of spiritual wisdom take us to what Jesus himself tells us regarding the eyes and their function within the whole body? Jesus tells us: The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matt 6:22-23).
Finally, Pope Benedict XVI is one of the Popes who powerfully highlighted how Don Bosco is truly a gift for the Church and humanity as such. In his address to the members of the 26th General Chapter of the Salesian Congregation delivered at the Clementine Hall on Monday 31 March 2008 he said:
Don Bosco is a shining example of a life marked by apostolic zeal, lived at the service of the Church in the Congregation and in the Salesian Family. At the school of St Joseph Cafasso, your Founder learned to make his own the motto “Give me souls, take away all else”, as the synthesis of a model of pastoral action inspired by the figure and spirituality of St Francis de Sales. This model fits into the horizon of the absolute primacy of God’s love, a love that succeeds in shaping passionate personalities eager to contribute to Christ’s mission to set the whole earth ablaze with the fire of his love (cf. Lk 12: 49). Besides the ardour of God’s love, another characteristic of the Salesian model is awareness of the inestimable value of “souls”. This perception by contrast generates an acute sense of sin and its devastating consequences in time and in eternity. The apostle is called to cooperate with the Saviour’s redeeming action in order that no one be lost. “Saving souls”, precisely as St Peter said, was thus Don Bosco’s raison d’être. His immediate successor, Bl. Michele Rua, summed up the life of your beloved Father and Founder in these words: “He did not give way, he did not speak, did not turn his hand to any task that did not aim at the salvation of young people…. He truly had only their souls at heart”.
Saint John Bosco, friend of the young, teacher in the ways of God, your dedication to empowering the needy inspires us still. Help me to work for a better world, where the young are given the chance to flourish, where the poor’s dream for justice can come true, and where God’s compassion is shown to be real. Intercede for me as I bring my needs to you and to our heavenly Mother, the Help of Christians. Saint John Bosco, Pray for us!