Reading: From the Letter from Rome – Part I
Critical Edition: P. Braido – Translation: P. Laws
by St. John Bosco
Don Bosco was in Rome on the business of the Salesian Society and other matters. The Letter was composed by Don Bosco’s secretary, Fr John Baptist Lemoyne, who used an outline or sketch dictated to him by Don Bosco himself….In recent times, it has become recognised as almost the “Magna Carta” of Salesian Education; as such it is now included as an appendix to the Constitutions of the Salesian Society, and those of other members of the Salesian Family. In reality, there are two letters: a shorter one addressed to the boys, and a longer one – subsuming the former – for the Salesians. Recent research has revealed that the letter was needed; all was not well at Valdocco, discipline having become a serious problem with the senior students. The dream context of the letter is a familiar theme in the life of Don Bosco.
Rome, 10 May 1884
My dear sons in Jesus Christ,
Whether I am at home or away I am always thinking of you. I have only one wish, to see you happy both in this world and in the next. It was this idea, this wish of mine, that made me write this letter. Being away from you, and not being able to see or hear you, upsets me more than you can imagine. For that reason I would have liked to write these few lines to you a week ago, but constant work prevented me. And so, although I shall be back very soon, I want to send you this letter in advance, since I cannot yet be with you in person. These words come from someone who loves you very dearly in Christ Jesus, someone who has the duty of speaking to you with the freedom of a father. You’ll let me do that, won’t you? And you will pay attention to what I am going to say to you, and put it into practice.
I have said that you are always and exclusively in my thoughts. Well, a couple of evenings ago I had gone to my room, and while I was preparing for bed I began to say the prayers my good mother taught me, and whether I simply fell asleep or became distracted I don’t know, but it seemed that two of the former pupils of the Oratory in its early days were standing there before me. One of them came up to me, greeted me warmly, and said: “Do you recognise me, Don Bosco?”
“Of course I do,” I answered.
“And do you still remember me?”, the man went on.
“I remember you and all the others. You’re Valfre, and you were at the Oratory before 1870.”
“Tell me,” went on Valfre, “would you like to see the youngsters who were at the Oratory in my time?”
“Yes, let me see them,” I answered. “I would like that very much.”
Valfre then showed me the boys just as they had been at that time, with the same age, build and looks. I seemed to be in the old Oratory at recreation time. It was a scene full of life, full of movement, full of fun. Some were running, some were jumping, some were skipping. In one place they were playing leap-frog, in another tag, and in another a ball-game was in progress. In one corner a group of youngsters were gathered round a priest, hanging on his every word as he told them a story. In another a cleric was playing with a number of lads at “chase the donkey” and “trades”. There was singing and laughing on all sides, there were priests and clerics everywhere and the boys were yelling and shouting all round them. You could see that the greatest cordiality and confidence reigned between youngsters and superiors. I was overjoyed at the sight, and Valfre said to me: “You see, closeness leads to love and love brings confidence. It is this that opens hearts and the young people express everything without fear to the teachers, to the assistants and to the superiors. They become frank both in the confessional and out of it, and they will do everything they are asked by one whom they know loves them.”
At that moment the other past pupil, who had a white beard, came up to me and said: “Don Bosco, would you like to see and know the boys who are at the Oratory at the present time?” This man was Joseph Buzzetti.
“Yes,” I replied, “it is a month since I last saw them.” And he showed them to me.
I saw the Oratory and all of you in recreation. But no more could I hear the joyful shouts and singing, no longer was there the lively activity of the previous scene. In the faces and actions of many boys there was evident a weary boredom, a surliness, a suspicion, that pained my heart. I saw many, it is true, who ran about and played in light-hearted joy. But I saw quite a number of others on their own, leaning against the pillars, a prey to depressing thoughts. Others were on the steps or in the corridors, or up on the terraces near the garden so as to be away from the common recreation. Others were strolling about in groups, talking to each other in low tones and casting furtive and suspicious glances in every direction. Sometimes they would laugh, but with looks and smirks that would make you not only suspect but feel quite certain that St Aloysius would have blushed to find himself in their company. Even among those who were playing, there were some so listless that it was clear they were not enjoying their games.
“Do you see your boys?”, asked my former pupil.
“I can see them,” I replied with a sigh.
“How different they are from what we used to be,” went on the past pupil.
“Too true! What an apathetic recreation!”
“This is what gives rise to the coldness of so many in approaching the sacraments, to neglect of the prayers in church and elsewhere; to their reluctance to be in a place where Divine Providence heaps every possible blessing on their bodies, their souls and their minds. This is why so many do not follow their vocation, why they are ungrateful to their superiors, why they are secretive and grumble, with all the other regrettable consequences.”
MEDITATION – Dr. Andrew Seeley
Sometimes the Saints seem so far beyond us! Passages like this letter from St. John Bosco show that they really are. In the ancient epics, we continually read of heroes who performed feats “greater than ten men” such as ourselves could perform. The Saints are the heroes of the Church. We need to admire them and imitate them to the extent that we can. Yet we must be careful not to judge ourselves too harshly because we are not like them. Not yet. We should rejoice in them as amazing creations of God’s grace, and realize that God can gradually mold us into likenesses of them if we stay close to Him through prayer and the sacraments. Devotion to the saints and invoking their intercession opens more and more to His work.
So we should relish contemplating the love that Bosco expresses for his students, and that he encouraged in his fellow priest/teachers. He kept them “always and exclusively” in his thoughts. He remembered each of the hundreds of the young men he served over the years. He not only loved them, but he made sure that they knew he loved them, that he enjoyed being with them. They received his direction with confidence that it came from his personal care for them. His love made him attentive to their spiritual state, and caused him pain when he saw signs that they were not on the road to temporal and eternal happiness.
Do I take time to learn about the lives and teachings of the saints, especially those who reveal the power of God’s grace at work in circumstances like mine? Do they make me discouraged or encouraged? Do I give thanks to God for His gift of the saints? Do I turn to them in prayer for guidance and strength? Do I ask their intercession on behalf of my students?
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.