“Do you want the Lord to give you many graces? Visit him often. Do you want him to give you just a few? Visit him seldom. Do you want the enemy to assault you? Rarely visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament… My dear young people…often go to visit Jesus, and the enemy will not win out against you!”
– St John Bosco
Who was St John Bosco?
John Bosco was born in Piedmont, in the north of today’s Italy. His mother Margaret infused in him a great love for God and a strong faith at a time of poverty and hardship. He entered the seminary, where he trained for the priesthood. As a priest, he became chaplain of a girls’ boarding school. But he did not limit himself to the school compound. Visiting a prison, he was deeply struck by the number of young boys he encountered there. Together with his mother, he began to shelter boys, educating them in the faith and in a profession, desiring to change their fate. His actions were frowned upon by the upper classes, who feared the spread of revolutionary ideas. In Italy, diocesan priests are referred to as ‘Don’, which is why John came to be known as Don Bosco.
Several times during his life, Don Bosco faced serious opposition, including from his bishop, but he never gave up. He continued to work at bettering the lives and prospects of young people. Soon he was joined by others who shared his ideals. This was the beginning of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB), officially called the Society of Saint Francis de Sales. Saint Francis had a deep prayer life and defended the Catholic faith in a peaceful way. Don Bosco was inspired by his example and wanted to have such a profound relationship with God. He became known for his joyful and optimistic approach to life, while taking his Christian responsibility very seriously. In all his projects he gave evidence of a great trust in God, and frequently called out to him in his daily prayer.
While Don Bosco provided the boys with the primary needs of life — shelter, food and education — he especially wanted to help them grow in their relationship with God. He called his approach ‘the preventive system’, since he wanted to prevent the boys falling out of society and into sin. He urged them to frequently look back over their lives and ask God’s forgiveness for everything they did wrong. He taught them that the confession of sins is the best way to grow in a relationship with God. Every sin disrupts this relationship, which can only be repaired by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. This is also true for you: frequently looking back over your behaviour will help you grow in holiness, and thus in your relationship with God. Step by step you will learn to recognise your sins more quickly and even to prevent them. Having thus prepared them to meet Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist, Don Bosco also urged the boys to receive Communion. There is no closer way to be with Jesus on this earth, for in the Eucharist, Jesus is truly and bodily present.
Collect for Saint John Bosco
O God, who raised up the Priest Saint John Bosco as a father and teacher of the young, grant, we pray, that, aflame with the same fire of love, we may seek out souls and serve you alone. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Deus, qui beatum Ioannem presbyterum adulescentium patrem et magistrum excitasti, concede, quæsumus, ut, eodem caritatis igne succensi, animas quærere tibique soli servire valeamus. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum.
John Bosco & Friends Who Blasphemed
When John Bosco was 9-years-old, he had a dream that changed his life. This is the story of that dream.
John proved popular with the other boys – or most of them. He had a strong, sturdy body, well able to take care of himself in the fights and rough-and-tumble that inevitably occurred. He came home one day with a gash to his head. He would never explain to his mother what had happened, saying only that it was an accident. His mother forbade him to mix with the bullies, but John
pleaded with her, saying that when he was with them ‘they do as I want them to do, and don’t fight any more.’ When he was with them, he added, ‘they are better and
don’t use bad words.’
Already, he was recognising the influence he had over other boys; loving God so much, he hated the boys blaspheming, and of course, some would do so deliberately simply in order to rile him. He would respond with his fists, which would explain the gash on his head.
About this time, he had a dream that explained to him that this was not the way to change his companions’ behaviour, and also gave him some understanding of what would be his life’s work. Many years later he wrote down this experience at the Pope’s request:
At the age of about nine years old I had a dream that remained deeply impressed on my mind for the rest of my life. In the dream I seemed to be near a house in a large courtyard where a crowd of boys were playing together. Some were laughing, others were playing, and many of them were blaspheming.
On hearing these blasphemies I immediately rushed into their midst, raising my voice and using my fists to make them keep quiet. At that moment a dignified looking man who seemed to be in the prime of life and was nobly clad, appeared on the scene. A white mantle covered the whole of His person, but His face was so radiant that I was unable to look at it for long. He called me by my name and directed me to place myself at the head of these boys, ending with the words, ‘You must win the hearts of these friends of yours, not with blows but with sweetness and charity. Set to work at once, then, to instruct them on the wickedness of sin and on the excellence of virtue.’
The man in the dream went on to give him the help of His Mother, who also appeared, majestic in bearing and clad in a mantle of bright light. John explained that he did not understand the meaning of the dream but was assured by the lady, ‘In good time, my son, you will understand everything.’
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