St. John Bosco, a gift from God
199 years ago on August 16, a poor boy was born in a small town in Becchi near Turin, Italy. His name was John Bosco. There were no signs in the sky that would foretell his future greatness. His arrival into the world was so quiet; not even his parents had any idea that one day he will make so much difference in the lives of countless young people in the world. The year 1815 marked the unification of Italy. A certain revolutionary spirit characterized the European climate. Somehow, it was the worse time to be born. Yet in the plan of God, everything has a reason. All things just fall in place when seen in the greater scheme of things. And into these chaotic times, God sent this child who will become a sign of God’s love for youth.
When John was growing up, he became aware of certain supernatural interventions in his life. His reflective soul heightened his awareness of the presence of Jesus and Mary in the phases of his growth. But he had to struggle a lot. He had to work and study hard. His poverty introduced him to the harshness of reality. But his indomitable spirit and deep faith gave him all the courage to face his daily difficulties with joy and optimism. Having lost his father at an early age, his mother taught him to balance the strength of character and the tenderness of heart. He was able to unite this in his person making him both patient and kind. These are among the qualities, later as a priest, that will make him an effective “father and teacher of youth.”
Then as a young country priest, he found himself thrust into a new world where there was no shortage of problems affecting the young people in society. He discovered a cruel society that preyed on them. In fact, people in the upper classes felt that these young people were not and could never be capable of civilized living. Many of them were illiterate, ignorant, law offenders and irreligious. There was only one solution for them – the juvenile prison! But here is where the creative vision of this priest, Don Bosco, would shine. He looked at this situation with a different perspective. He saw not just prisoners but possible upright citizens, not just scums or street boys but boys who could become good Christians. He saw them beyond the trappings of their present situations. Given the opportunity and the conducive climate, they can even be future saints!
Don Bosco’s way of seeing things was marked by his great empathy and love. Because he was able to walk in the shoes of poor youth, he was able to understand them and their needs. Most of all, he was moved by the heart of the Good Shepherd who has deep compassion for the lost and the stray. It is this empathy and compassion that is most needed even today. Like the incarnate Son of God who identified himself with the vulnerability of the lost, the least and the last, we are to learn the value of being in contact and close to those who suffer.
It is for this reason that St. John Bosco is a gift to the Church and to the world. In one of the articles of the Salesian Constitutions, it says: “With a feeling of humble gratitude, we believe that the Society of St Francis de Sales came into being not merely as a human venture but by the initiative of God… Through the motherly intervention of Mary the Holy Spirit raised up St John Bosco to contribute to the salvation of youth. The Spirit formed within him the heart of a father and teacher, capable of total self-giving … The Church has acknowledged God’s hand in this, especially by approving our Constitutions and proclaiming our Founder a saint.”
Things have so much changed since the time of St. John Bosco. The needs of the young have also become more complex. Modern technology and scientific advancement have created so much gap between the digital immigrants and the digital natives. Yet the principle that moved him is still relevant. St. John Bosco teaches us to contemplate the youth situation through God’s eyes! Young people will always be the center-piece of God’s affirming love simply because they are the future of both Church and society.
On a more personal note, as a son of St. John Bosco, many times I am both challenged and overwhelmed by the vastness of the field of mission. At times, I wonder if I have made a difference at all for youth of today. Yet I feel consoled by the thought that I am not alone. There are thousands of us who keep the dream of St. John Bosco alive. We only have to walk the talk for the gift to become a transforming presence!