Reading: From the Letter from Rome – Part II
Critical Edition: P. Braido – Translation: P. Laws
by St. John Bosco
“I see, I understand,” I said. “But how can we bring these youngsters to life again, so that we can get back to the liveliness, the happiness, the warmth of the old days?”
“With love? But don’t my boys get enough love? You know how I love them. You know how much I have suffered and put up with for them these forty years, and how much I endure and suffer even now. How many hardships, how many humiliations, how much opposition, how many persecutions to give them bread, a home, teachers, and especially to provide for the salvation of their souls. I have done everything I possibly could for them; they are the object of all my affections.”
“I’m not referring to you.”
“Then to whom are you referring? To those who take my place? To the rectors, the prefects, the teachers, the assistants? Don’t you see that they are martyrs to study and work, and how they burn out their young lives for those Divine Providence has entrusted to them?”
“I can see all that and I am well aware of it, but it is not enough; the best thing is missing.”
“That the youngsters should not only be loved, but that they themselves should know that they are loved.”
“But have they not got eyes in their heads? Have they no intelligence? Don’t they see how much is done for them, and all of it out of love?”
“No, I repeat: it is not enough.”
“Well, what else is needed?”
“By being loved in the things they like, through taking part in their youthful interests, they are led to see love in those things which they find less attractive, such as discipline, study and self-denial, and so learn to do these things too with love.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to explain that more clearly.”
“Look at the youngsters in recreation.”
I looked, and then asked: “Well what is special about it?”
“You’ve been educating young people for so many years and you don’t understand! Look harder! Where are our Salesians?”
I looked, and I saw that very few priests and clerics mixed with the boys, and fewer still were joining in their games. The superiors were no longer the heart and soul of the recreation. Most of them were walking up and down, chatting among themselves without taking any notice of what the pupils were doing. Others looked on at the recreation but paid little heed to the boys. Others supervised from afar, not noticing whether anyone was doing something wrong. Some did take notice but only rarely, and then in a threatening manner. Here and there a Salesian did try to mix with a group of boys, but I saw that the latter were bent on keeping their distance from teachers and superiors.
Then my friend continued: “In the old days at the Oratory, were you not always among the boys, especially during recreation? Do you remember those wonderful years? They were a foretaste of heaven, a period of which we have fond memories, because then love was the rule and we had no secrets from you.”
“Yes, indeed! Everything was a joy for me then, and the boys used to rush to get near me and talk to me; they were anxious to hear my advice and put it into practice. But don’t you see that now with these never-ending interviews, business matters, and my poor health I cannot do it any more.”
”Well and good; but if you cannot do it, why don’t your Salesians follow the example you gave? Why don’t you insist, why don’t you demand that they treat the boys as you used to do?”
“I do. I talk till I’m blue in the face, but unfortunately not everyone nowadays feels like working as hard as we used to.”
“And so by neglecting the lesser part they waste the greater, meaning all the work they put in. Let them like what pleases the youngsters and the youngsters will come to like what pleases the superiors. In this way their work will be made easy. The reason for the present change in the Oratory is that many of the boys no longer have confidence in their superiors. There was a time when all hearts were wide open to their superiors, when the boys loved them and gave them prompt obedience. But now the superiors are thought of precisely as superiors and no longer as fathers, brothers and friends; they are feared and little loved. And so if you want everyone to be of one heart and soul again for the love of Jesus you must break down this fatal barrier of mistrust, and replace it with a happy spirit of confidence. Then obedience will guide the pupil as a mother guides her baby; and the old peace and happiness will reign once again in the Oratory.”
MEDITATION – ELISABETH SULLIVAN
In this letter, which has come to be seen as the “Magna Carta” of Salesian education, we see the beating heart at the center of St. John Bosco’s charism. “The young must not only be loved, but they must know that they are loved.” However, students do not grasp this in the countless hours poured out by their teachers in lesson planning and grading, though that diligence is indeed an act of self-giving love. St. John Bosco knew that education is relational; it is a matter of the heart. Without the personal familiarity that breeds confidence and openness, he believed no lasting education could take place.
How is that love best communicated? By taking the time to delight with the young in those activities that spark joy—in play, in story-telling, in music, in games. The word recreation comes from the Latin recreatio and from recreare, which means create again, renew. Recreation is life-giving. Josef Pieper, the German Catholic philosopher, reminded us that true leisure is an attitude of the mind and a condition of the soul that fosters a capacity to receive the reality of the world. In fact, the word used to designate the place where we educate and teach is derived from a word which means leisure: in Greek it is skole, in Latin scola, and in English “school.”
The pressures of the current educational climate can make the school experience all work and no play for both students and teachers. For the young, true leisure is scarce. Even in Don Bosco’s time, he described a kind of joyless “apathetic recreation.” How much more of a threat is this today with the isolation of screen time, the lack of immersion in nature, the overscheduled sports and after-school lessons? How much are our students inwardly yearning for loving mentors who know them for who they truly are?
Do I ask God to help me know and love each of my students individually? Do I engage with them outside the classroom, in activities and conversation? Do I still remember how to play? Do I ask God to help me delight in their quirks and discern their struggles, so I can respond in true charity?
St. John Bosco, God filled you with an overwhelming love for your students. Pray for me, that I might come to love my students as you did
Please also offer one Mass and one Rosary sometime this month for the intentions of the members of the Confraternity.