St. John Paul’s reflections on St. John Bosco’s Work
TODAY’S URGENT NEED FOR CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
14. The Church feels herself directly implicated in the education question, because she is always there where man is involved since her mission. This evidently implies a true love of predilection for the young.
Let us go to the young: that is the first and fundamental need in the field of education. “The Lord has sent me for Youth”: in this statement of Don Bosco we discern his fundamental apostolic option, directed to poor youth, to those of the lower classes, those most at risk. It is useful to recall those striking words of Don Bosco to his boys which form the genuine synthesis of his basic choice: “Remember that whatever my worth, I am here at every moment of the day and night for you. I have no other goal than your physical, mental and moral welfare.” “For you I study, for you I work, for you I live, for you I am even ready to give my life”.
15. So great a dedication of himself to the young, in the midst of difficulties sometimes of an extreme nature, John Bosco attained because of a singular and intense charity, i.e. an interior vitality that united in him in an inseparable manner love of God and love of his neighbor. In this way he was able to establish a synthesis between evangelizing activity and educational work. His concern for the evangelization of his boys was not limited to catechesis alone, nor to liturgy alone, nor to those religious practices, which call for an explicit exercise of faith and lead to it, but covered the whole vast sector of the youth condition. It forms an integral part therefore of the process of human formation, not losing sight of defects but at the same time optimistic about progressive maturing, in the conviction that the word of the Gospel must be sown in the reality of their daily living so as to lead the boys to a generous commitment of themselves in life. Since they are living through a period of particular importance for their education, the saving message of the Gospel must sustain them throughout the educational process, and faith must become the unifying and enlightening element of their personality.
In the Church and in the world the integral educative vision that we see incarnated in John Bosco is a realistic pedagogy of holiness. We need to get back to the true concept of “holiness” as a component of the life of every believer. The originality and boldness of the plan for a “youthful holiness” is intrinsic to the educational art of this great saint, who can rightly be called the “master of youth spirituality”. His secret lay in the fact that he did not disappoint the deep aspirations of the young (the need for life, love, expansiveness, joy, freedom, future prospects) but at the same time led them gradually and realistically to discover for themselves that only in the “life of grace”, ie in friendship with Christ, does one fully attain the most authentic ideals.
An education of this kind requires at the present day that the young be equipped with a discerning conscience that is able to perceive authentic values and unmask the ideological hegemonies which make use of the means of social communication to enslave public opinion and subjugate minds. Perhaps never in the past has the world had such need of individuals, families and communities which make of education their ‘raison d’etre’, to which they dedicate themselves as a primary objective and to which they unreservedly devote their efforts and seek collaboration and help, so as to try out and renew with initiative and a sense of responsibility new educational methods. To be an educator today implies a true individual choice of a way of life, to which those who exercise authority in the ecclesial and civil communities owe a debt of recognition and help.
Along with the educational action of the family must be emphasized that of the “school”, which is able to open wider and more universal horizons. In John Bosco’s view the school, in addition to fostering the cultural, social and professional dimensions of the young, had to provide them with an efficacious structure of moral values and principles. If it failed to do so, the young people would find it impossible to live and act in a consistently positive and upright way in a society characterized by tension and strife.
A further part of the great educational legacy left by the Piedmontese Saint was his preferential interest in the world of work, for which young people had to be carefully prepared. This is something, which is felt as an urgent need at the present day, even amidst the profound changes that have taken place in society. We share Don Bosco’s concern for rendering the new generations professionally competent with proper technical skills, as has been done in such praiseworthy fashion for more than a hundred years in the schools of arts and trades and the workshops with such commendable skill by the Salesian Brothers. We share his concern for the fostering of an ever more incisive education to social responsibilities, on the basis of growth in the understanding of the dignity of the subject, which Christian faith makes not only lawful, but to which it gives energy with incalculable implications.
A final item to be pointed out is the importance given by the Saint to youth groups and associations in which youthful dynamism and initiative grow and develop. By giving life to a whole variety of activities he created living environments which made good use of free time for the apostolate, study, prayer, joyful occupations, games and cultural pursuits where the young could come together and grow. The notable changes of our own time with respect to the nineteenth century do not exempt the educator from taking a fresh look at situations and conditions of life, allowing the necessary space for the creativity which is typical of youth.
I am convinced, and the meetings with young people that I have always asked should be included in the programs of my apostolic journeys support this conviction, that there already exists an abundance of projects and initiatives for the Christian education of youth; but we must not forget that at the present day young people are exposed to dangers and temptations unknown in other ages, such as drugs, violence, terrorism, the pornographic element in many films and television programs, and obscenity in words and pictures. All this means that in the care of souls the necessary education of youth be given pride of place with appropriate methods and adequate initiatives. On youth depends the future of the Church and of society!
I am well aware, worthy educators, of the difficulties you meet with and of the disappointments you experience at times. Do not be discouraged as you follow the privileged way of love that is education. Be strengthened by the inexhaustible patience of God in his pedagogy towards humanity, the unfailing exercise of fatherhood revealed in the mission of Christ, teacher and shepherd, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit, sent to transform the world. The powerful though hidden efficacy of the Spirit is directed to bringing about the maturity of humanity on the model of Christ. He is the animator of the birth of the new man and the new world (cf. Rom. 8:4-5). In this way, your educational labors will be seen to be a ministry of collaboration with God and will certainly be fruitful.
Your saint, who is our saint too, used to say that education is a “matter of the heart” and that one must “open a way for God in the boy’s heart not only in church but also in the classroom and workshop”. It is precisely in the human heart that the Spirit of truth is made present as consoler and transformer: he unceasingly enters the history of the world from the heart of man. Keep always before you Mary most Holy, the most lofty collaborator of the Holy Spirit, who was docile to his inspirations and so became the Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church. She continues through the centuries “to be a maternal presence as is shown by Christ’s words spoken from the Cross: ‘Woman, behold your son’; ‘Behold your mother’.
To her I entrust you, and with you the whole world of youth, that being attracted, animated and guided by her, they may be able to attain through the mediation of your educative work, the stature of new men for a new world: the world of Christ, Master and Lord. May my Apostolic Blessing, the pledge and promise of heavenly gifts and testimony of my affection, strengthen you in the faith, and may it console and protect all the members of the great Salesian Family.
Given at Rome, from St Peter’s, on 31 January, the memorial of St John Bosco, in the year 1988, the tenth of my Pontificate.
MEDITATION – Dr. Andrew Seeley
St. John Bosco had a special love of the young, in particular of the impoverished young. Our society has fewer materially poor youth but, as St. Teresa of Calcutta declared, many more who are spiritually famished: “The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty—it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” John Bosco devoted his life to communicating God’s love to the young who had never known human love. He experienced firsthand how his love for them awakened a great thirst for holiness. St. John Paul often remarked on the natural idealism of the young. He saw in John Bosco a model for eliciting and directing their idealism toward the love of God and their fellows, and for forming in them the spiritual prudence they need to remain spiritually free in the face of relentless efforts to enslave them.
Do I have a cynical view of students which hinders me from actively trying to awaken their idealism? Or, on the other hand, do I have an idealistic view of my students that prevents me from seeing what keeps them from being idealistic? Do I allow my students space in which to exercise their idealism creatively?
Lord Jesus Christ, you made St. John Bosco into a channel of Your love for his students. Transform my heart and enlighten my mind so I might become such a channel for my students. “Let them look up and see, no longer me, but only Jesus.”
Please also offer one Mass and one Rosary sometime this month for the intentions of the members of the Confraternity.