Saint John Bosco accomplished what many people considered an impossibility; he walked through the streets of Turin, Italy, looking for the dirtiest, roughest urchins he could find, then made good men of them. His extraordinary success can be summed up in the words of his patron Saint, Francis de Sales: The measure of his love was that he loved without measure.
John’s knowledge of poverty was firsthand. He was born in 1815 in the village of Becchi in the Piedmont district of northern Italy, and reared on his parents’ small farm. When his father died, Margaret Bosco and her three sons found it harder than ever to support themselves, and while John was still a small boy he had to join his brothers in the farm work. Although his life was hard, he was a happy, imaginative child. Even as a boy, John found innocent fun compatible with religion. To amuse his friends he learned how to juggle and walk a tightrope; but he would entertain them only on condition that each performance begin and end with a prayer.
As he grew older, John began to think of becoming a priest, but poverty and lack of education made this seem impossible. A kindly priest recognized his intelligence, however, and gave him his first encouragement, teaching him to read and write. By taking odd jobs in the village, and through the help of his mother and some charitable neighbors, John managed to get through school and find admittance to the diocesan seminary of nearby Turin. As a seminarian he devoted his spare time to looking after the ragamuffins who roamed the slums of the city. Every Sunday he taught them catechism, supervised their games and entertained them with stories and tricks; before long his kindness had won their confidence, and his Sunday School became a ritual with them.
After his ordination in 1841, he became assistant to the chaplain of an orphanage at Valocco, on the outskirts of Turin. This position was short-lived, for when he insisted that his Sunday-school boys be allowed to play on the orphanage grounds, they were turned away, and he resigned. He began looking for a permanent home for them, but no decent neighborhood would accept the noisy crowd. At last, in a rather tumbledown section of the city, where no one was likely to protest, the first oratory was established and named for Saint Francis de Sales. At first the boys attended school elsewhere, but as more teachers volunteered their time, classes were held at the house. Enrollment increased so rapidly that by 1849 there were three oratories in various places in the city.
For a long time Don Bosco had considered founding an Order to carry on his work, and this idea was supported by a notoriously anticlerical cabinet minister named Rattazzi. Rattazzi had seen the results of his work, and although an Italian law forbade the founding of religious communities at that time, he promised government support. The founder-priest went to Rome in 1858 and, at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, drew up a Rule for his community, the Society of Saint Francis de Sales (Salesians). Four years later he founded an Order for women, theDaughters of Mary, Help of Christians, to care for abandoned girls. Finally, to supplement the work of both congregations, he organized an association of lay people interested in aiding their work.
Exhausted from touring Europe to raise funds for a new church in Rome, Don Bosco died on January 31, 1888. He was canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. The work of John Bosco continues today in over a thousand Salesian oratories throughout the world. No modern Saint has captured the heart of the world more rapidly than this smiling peasant-priest from Turin, who believed that to give complete trust and love is the most effective way to nourish virtue in others.
Saint for the Day
GOSPEL. Matt. viii. 23-27. At that time when Jesus entered into the boat, His disciples followed Him; and behold a great tempest arose in the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves; but He was asleep. And His disciples came to Him, and awaked Him, saying: Lord, save us, we perish. And Jesus saith to them, Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? Then rising up He commanded the winds, and the sea; and there came a great calm. But the men wondered, saying, What manner of man is this, for the winds and the sea obey Him?
It was in the evening after a day of very hard work, during which Our Lord had performed miracles, and preached the new Gospel to the multitudes which continually followed Him, that He took His disciples with Him in a small ship over to the other side of the lake. Had any one, impressed with faith in Our Lord s divinity, seen this company getting into that boat, they would certainly say that it would have a prosperous journey, the wind would blow most favorably, the waves would be quiet, the waters would feel the happiness of the nearness of their Creator. We would think ourselves happy to be with Jesus on that ship. But Our Lord intended a different voyage: scarcely had the boat left the shore, than the wind began to increase and a great squall arose. The boat was very small, and every moment the angry waters threatened to engulf it. We read of many saints who have been able to govern the waters, and make them help them in their designs for the glory of God. St. Francis spread his mantle over the waves, and he and his companions got on it, and in this way travelled from Africa to Rome, wafted by gentle breezes and carried by quiet waters and tides. But when Jesus was on the water, could He do nothing? Was it true that His disciples were to do greater things than He ever did? Perhaps it was Judas that brought this severe storm on the frail vessel. Some Fathers of the Church say that this tempest was a figure of the battles which the Church has to undergo in this world. From its very establishment, the Church had to suffer many persecutions; powerful kings and tyrants rose against it, they sought to destroy it by every means that human ingenuity or cruelty could invent. They would have succeeded had not God kept the promise which He made, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church. In fact, the contrary happened; while the enemies of the Church thought they had destroyed it, they spread it all over the world. The greater the persecution the greater became the number of the faithful.
Even at this very day there are men who make war on the bark of Peter, in order to sink it and to remove from he world our holy religion. But it will be found that their efforts are useless. We can confidently repeat, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.” Many others, too, there are, who though they do not persecute the Church, still lead such wicked lives that they render her no honor. But you, my dear young people, will be good and obedient children of the Church, that in all her persecutions she may be consoled by witnessing the sanctity of your lives. We are sailing over a tempestuous sea, where there are many storms to be encountered. Happy those who do not suffer shipwreck. To avoid this terrible shipwreck and to arrive safely in the port of heaven we must labor diligently, we must be vigilant and on our guard. When a ship goes out from port, laden with rich merchandise, with precious treasures, how careful the captain is, how obedient and prompt are the sailors in guiding the vessel, so that it may not run on a sand-bar or be dashed to pieces on a rock. Should a storm come up, how vigilant are all the officers; what labors do they not undergo, they do not spare themselves in any manner until the danger is over. With the same vigilance you must guide the little ship, your soul; watch day and night, watch when you think there is a calm, and you are in security, when the devil does not tempt you; for when you least expect it, he will raise a most furious storm of temptations in your soul. Watch when you think yourself strong; watch with unceasing care as Our Lord said to the Apostles: “Watch ye and pray that ye enter not into temptation.” St. Anthony said to his disciples, “I counsel you, my sons, to have vigilance over your hearts, for we have many enemies who can destroy them.” When the devil sees Christians attentive to their spiritual life, he attacks them with temptations and spreads over them his net of bad thoughts to make them fall into sin. Prayer, vigils, fasts, the sign of the cross, faith, trust in God, humility, and a great love of Jesus Christ will put him to flight.
But to return to the ship. If a vessel strikes a rock, all is generally lost, while if the soul falls into sin, she can quickly rise again. By the grace of God, a plank, which is the Sacrament of Penance, is thrown out to her, by which she can still reach the haven of heaven. But how few there are who look for this plank; how many have indeed found it, but use it badly, by making bad confessions! It is most absurd to be careless of shipwreck because we may find the means of being saved. Would anyone say to the captain of a ship, “Do not be so careful; the wreck will produce many pieces of wood by which we can save ourselves.” What would become of the valuable freight which the ship bears?
Your soul is a rich treasure when alive in the grace of God; if a single mortal sin should creep into that soul, it would die to God, and those great, magnificent Christian virtues you practised with so much attention would be lost; they would no longer give us the right to a reward in paradise. Oh, how often this happens! Let us look at that good youth, who by means of a pious education received from his parents, by his good will and vigilance over himself, keeps his baptismal innocence; goes to his first communion, and loves Our Lord his Saviour. What treasures of grace he accumulates! Afterwards, unhappily, grown tired of watchfulness, he falls into a great sin. What a dreadful wreck, which should be deplored with the bitterest tears. In one instant he has robbed himself of all the treasures he had gathered; he is dead before God. Behold how sin robs us of our most precious treasures! Oh, that he had made some more determined effort of resistance! Oh, had he but invoked the names of Jesus and Mary sincerely, he would not have fallen into sin. What a dreadful monster from hell is sin; it is worse than the lightning stroke that melts all the gold in the money chest, for sin so destroys and devours all our good works that they cannot be accounted to our credit for eternal life. It is true that as soon as we repent, our good works revive again by God s infinite kindness; still, many who fall into sin obstinately remain in it, and vain is their former goodness.
Let me impress upon your minds, my young people, the disastrous results of overconfidence in being saved. A youth vvho had lived a bad life had a strong inspiration to give up his evil ways. He wrote down his sins, so as to make a general confession more easily and fully, and was on his way to church, when the thought came into his mind: I will commit that sin once more; it will not matter much, a few times more or less, and it is just as easy to confess; this will certainly be the last time. He gave way to the temptation, committed the sin again, and, in coming from the house, was killed by an enemy.
Be ye, my dear young people, always on your guard; you are still innocent; make every effort to remain so, that the little vessel of your soul may arrive safely in port. A ship well furnished, and provided with all necessaries, guided by an expert pilot, will be able to cope with the fiercest tempest and will surely enter the harbor in triumph.
My dear young people, you are young and inexperienced as yet; put yourselves under the management of a skillful pilot, who knows the dangers of life and how to avoid them. The confessor is your pilot; let him give you full instructions in your conduct,, and then have recourse to God in prayer; imitate the example of the Apostles, who, when the danger was greatest, went with confidence to Our Lord and said, “O Lord, have you no care for us; why do you abandon us?” Our Lord will rouse Himself from sleep at your cries, and will say half encouragingly, half complainingly, “Why are you fearful, ye of little faith? Is this your confidence in Me? Has My grace done so very little for you?” Then He will command the sea of disturbance to be calm, and you will be astonished at the power and the love of Our Lord; you will say with the Apostles, “Who is this, thinkest thou, that both wind and sea obey Him?”
Yes, my young friends, have a most lively faith in Jesus, and when any temptation allures you, or when in danger, cry out with the Apostles, “Master, doth it not concern Thee that we perish?” When you had the misfortune to fall into sin, was it not because you neglected to call on Our Lord for help? on the contrary, did you not come out of temptation unscathed when you flew to the Almighty for protection? Then always have recourse to God; remember that He loves you more than you can ever realize, and. be sure He will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. If He should give the devil permission to try you by temptation, you may be certain He has set a limit, beyond which he can not go; the chained dog may make a great noise but he can do no harm.
Do you really believe that anything would have happened to the bark tossed on the lake? Not at all. It is the same with ourselves. Do not imagine that any misfortune will happen to you if you trustingly confide in God. St. Anthony, after having put to flight a great number of devils, sending forth a profound sigh to Our Lord -said, “Where, O dear Jesus, were you? Why did you not come sooner to help me?” Our Lord answered, “Anthony, I was with you all the time, and saw your struggles; you were tempted that you might be strengthened in virtue; you have fought well, and hereafter, you need not fear your enemies.”
In this way will God act toward you, if in your temptations you have recourse to Him.