GC28

The priority of the Salesian Mission among the youth today_Rossano Sala

The priority of the Salesian Mission among the youth today

Rossano Sala sdb

I wish you all a good day.

We will live together three mornings of spirituality, marked by the three main topics of our General Chapter. These are mornings of "spirituality", and therefore we must not produce anything special. Instead, we are called to do the most important thing, which is to create the spiritual atmosphere necessary to face the challenges of our General Chapter. We are called to make concrete, continuous and habitual that openness to the action of the Spirit without which any subsequent act will not draw from its own source and therefore will not bear the hoped-for fruits.

We are not gathered here to do pastoral marketing or even to plan our educational action. Nor do we have primarily to produce a document or to hold elections. Our primary task is to listen to the voice of the Father, let ourselves be guided by his Spirit and enter into the feelings of his Son. We are called to live Mary's attitude, so that we can be activated like Martha: "Mary, sitting at Jesus' feet, listened to his word" (Lk 10:39).

Aware that every progress can only come from a renewed availability to the action of the Spirit, let us try in this first part of the morning to enter on tiptoe into the first nucleus on which we will have to deliberate in the coming weeks: The priority of the Salesian mission among the young people of today. It will not be an easy task, because we will need a careful look at the young people of today and a profound look at the essence of the Salesian mission: only afterwards will we be able to truly identify a few articulated priorities capable of restoring vigor to our educational and pastoral action with and for the young.

As the Working Instrument of our General Chapter suggests, I have chosen to tackle this first nucleus of the mission by letting myself be inspired "above all by the passages of the Gospel in which Jesus meets young people and by the passages of the Memoirs of the Oratory in which Don Bosco, in beginning his work, identifies the priorities of the mission". Let us therefore immediately seek "the inspiring criteria" for the action of Jesus and "the profound reasons" for Don Bosco's vocational choices.

 

1. The criteria that inspire the action of Jesus towards the young

As Article 10 of our Salesian Constitutions well says, "The Salesian spirit finds its model and source in the very heart of Christ, the apostle of the Father". And it goes on saying that

Reading the Gospel we become more aware of certain aspects of th figure of the Lord: gratitude to the Father for the gift of a divine vocation offered to all men; predilection for the little ones and the poor; zeal in preaching, healing and saving because of the urgency of the coming of the Kingdom; the preoccupation of the Good Shepherd who wins hearts by gentleness and self-giving; the desire to gather his disciples into the unity of brotherly communion.

It therefore seemed useful and necessary to me to draw your attention to some of Jesus' encounters with young people, so that we can truly be in tune with the attitude, style and method of the "first and greatest evangelizer" (cf. Evangelii gaudium, n. 12; Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 7). I would like to take into consideration four meetings which in the synodal journey of the last three years have been valued, leaving each of you free to consider other meetings between Jesus and the young people narrated in the Gospels which he considers significant for himself and for the journey of the General Chapter which we are beginning.

 

  • The priority of the mission: Jesus' attention to the poorest and most abandoned young people

Jesus came so that we might all have life and have it in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). For this reason He is not afraid to meet young people who live in a situation of degradation and death, to restore their life, joy and hope. Pope Francis, in n. 20 of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit, addressing young people, stated:  “If you have lost your inner vitality, your dreams, your enthusiasm, your optimism and your generosity, Jesus stands before you as once he stood before the dead son of the widow, and with all the power of his resurrection he urges you: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” (Lk 7:14)”.

If we observe that passage carefully (cf. Lk 7:11-17), what really makes the difference is the compassion of Jesus, the empathetic listening to a tragic situation, which puts his heart in motion and disposes him to action. An only son of a widowed mother: "Seeing her, the Lord had compassion for her and said to her, "Don't cry!"" (Lk 7:13). He really suffers with this mother, he enters into that situation and makes it his own. He acts with mercy because he has a living and deep heart.

Let us ask ourselves: how many young people have lost their inner strength, dreams, enthusiasm, hope and generosity? How many young people are alive, but in reality they have died under the rubble of a society that kills their dreams and their expectations? We, like Jesus, are called to give more to those who have had less from life. To make gestures and actions of hope, especially for those who have lost all hope and stopped dreaming.

Another similar episode was well commented during the Synodal Assembly and helps us to recognize the intentions of Jesus, a man of great inner freedom and therefore capable of authentic authority. This is the episode of the possessed epileptic (cf. Mk 9:14-29), which helps us to recognize how much the power of Jesus is truly at the service of the full life of every young person. It is worthwhile to hear again n. 71 of the Final Document of the Synod:

In order to undertake a true journey of maturation, the young need authoritative adults.  In its etymological meaning, auctoritas indicates the capacity for enabling growth; it does not express the idea of a directive power, but of a real generative force.  When Jesus encountered the young, in whatever state and condition they might find themselves, even if they were dead, in one way or another he said to them: “Arise!  Grow!” And his word brought about what he was saying (cf. Mk 5:41; Lk 7:14).  In the episode of the healing of the possessed epileptic (cf. Mk9:14-29), which evokes so many of the forms of alienation experienced by young people today, it seems clear that Jesus stretches out his hand not to take away freedom but to activate it, to liberate it.  Jesus fully exercises his authority: he wants nothing other than the growth of the young person, without a trace of possessiveness, manipulation or seduction.

Here there are important things that concern us very closely: we are called to recognize the different forms of poverty and alienation of the young people of today; to verify whether the exercise of authority that has been given to us is really correct; to come out of every form of abuse (of power and authority, administrative, conscientious and sexual); to set our educational action in the logic of liberating the freedom of the young and not of chaining them to ourselves.

 

  • The style and method of the mission: Jesus walking along with the disciples of Emmaus

In the centre of this first part I will place the text that most inspired the synodal journey, that of Jesus walking with his disciples on their way to Emmaus. Perhaps there we do not speak directly about young people, because the two disciples are probably adults, but it is certain that this episode has really shaped the path of the Church with and for young people today during the whole synodal path. In fact in the Final Document, in n. 4, it is said that

We took the account of the disciples on the way to Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35) as paradigmatic for our understanding of the Church’s mission to the young.  This passage expresses well what we experienced at the Synod and what we would like every one of our particular Churches to experience with regard to the young. 

I invite you above all to meditate on the attitudes and behaviour of Jesus.

First of all, he walks with the two disciples who have not understood the meaning of his story and are moving away from Jerusalem and the community with sadness. The first step that Jesus teaches us to take is that of empathetic listening, that of entering into the feelings of these disappointed disciples, of making them our own, of seeking their reasons. Sometimes the young tell us that we are in "debt of listening" to them, that we find it hard to put ourselves before them with an authentic openness to their real questions and their concrete situations. Jesus invites us first of all to listen. And not only that: He invites us to walk with the young. Jesus first of all wants to be with them, without worrying about the direction of the journey. He is interested in not abandoning them, in being close to them, in creating a close relationship.

Then Jesus takes the floor. He becomes dialogue and proclamation. With affection and energy he offers them the correct keys to interpreting what they have lived and what they are living. He is not afraid to speak of the cross, which is the heart of his revelation: totality of donation for the life of all, incomprehensible reality for those who have a hard heart, apparent weakness of God who reveals the maximum of his love. The disciples are called - through the gestures of the Last Supper - to enter into the feeling of Jesus, to convert their positions, to embrace the logic of God, which is both overwhelming and enveloping.

And Jesus, like any true educator, at a certain point disappears from their sight with discretion and elegance, putting the two disciples before their conscience and responsibility. It is important to note that Jesus does not send the disciples back to Jerusalem, but it is they who choose to return to the heart of the community to share with them the joy of the Gospel. The presence of Jesus allowed them to truly become themselves, or missionary disciples of that good news that every young person is called to receive and give.

 

  • Priority in mission: Jesus invites young people to total self-giving

One of the biblical episodes that was most cited and commented on during the synodal journey was undoubtedly that of the "rich young man" (cf. Preparatory Document, II,1; Instrumentum laboris, n. 84; Christus vivit, n. 17-18.251). In this episode (cf. Mt 19:16-22; Mk 10:17-22) the love of Jesus emerges first of all: "Jesus, staring at him, loved him" (Mk 10:21). A love that surprises and amazes, pointing to the way of friendship as the royal way of a Gospel that does not require servants but friends (cf. Jn 15:15). A God who loves and who therefore calls: there is in fact no love that is not personal and personalizing: love is always love for a concrete person, for a person who is called to enter into friendship and to share a mission. For this reason, in the Gospels, love is always logically followed by a call by name and also by a call that changes the name.

For this reason, addressing the young people during the Pre-Synodal Meeting (March 19-24, 2018), Pope Francis expressed himself as follows: "God loves each one of us, and addresses a call to each one personally. It is a gift that, when it is discovered, fills us with joy (cf. Mt 13:44-46). Be sure: God trusts in you; He loves you and he calls to you. And there will never be any shortcoming on his part, because he is faithful and truly believes in you". The "youth ministry" of Jesus is immediately thought of and implemented in a vocational key and oriented towards the total gift of oneself: to the rich young man Jesus proposes to pass from the logic of having to that of being; to pass from the closed and comfortable logic of the project to the open and risky logic of vocation, from the logic of keeping for oneself to that of giving with generosity.

If we think about it well, it is a question of the full and profound meaning of education, which only in this way draws on its generative nucleus: many times, when we think of education, we immediately go to its maieutic and Socratic sense, to that of educere in the sense of "pulling out" from the young person something that is already within him, but that is asleep and passive, to bring out the talents that he already possesses. But Jesus, who is much more than Socrates, goes even deeper, without denying this maieutic dimension of education: he wants to pull the young man out of himself, he wants to help the young man out of his egocentricity, to invite him to go towards others, towards the Kingdom that comes, towards the logic of the Gospel, which is to give his life so that all may have life. So educere (educating) tells us first of all that we must get out of ourselves, out of our closures, that we must break down our inner walls that isolate us from others. Jesus knows more than anyone that narcissism is the cause of death and he pushes this young man out of himself to become a gift for others.

Pope Francis hits the mark when he tries to push every young person into the ecstasy of life (this concept of the "ecstasy of life" is very dear to us, because it comes directly from Saint Francis de Sales: cf. Treatise on the Love of God, VII, 6-8): “How wonderful it would be to experience this “ecstasy” of coming out of ourselves and seeking the good of others, even to the sacrifice of our lives”(Christus vivit, n. 163). It is the ecstasy of charity, of love as a gift of oneself! This thought is strong and propulsive, and it is then developed in the next issue:

When an encounter with God is called an “ecstasy”, it is because it takes us out of ourselves, lifts us up and overwhelms us with God’s love and beauty. Yet we can also experience ecstasy when we recognize in others their hidden beauty, their dignity and their grandeur as images of God and children of the Father. The Holy Spirit wants to make us come out of ourselves, to embrace others with love and to seek their good. (Christus vivit, n. 164).

It is clear that not only young people are called to the "ecstasy of life". Every Christian community, every local Church and the Church as a whole must allow itself to be reformed by this type of ecstasy, which has nothing to do with strange forms of spiritualism.

We too, as the Salesian Congregation, during this General Chapter, must feel called to embrace a pastoral style characterized by this type of ecstasy, because it is at the root of the life of Don Bosco, who kept nothing for himself, but gave himself all for the good of the young: "For you I study, for you I work, for you I live, for you I am ready even to give my life" (Salesian Constitutions, art. 14).

Precisely then we must return to Don Bosco, and so we go towards the second part of our meditation.

 

2. The profound reasons for the vocational choices of Don Bosco

If on the one hand the Working Instrument of our General Chapter invited us to let ourselves be inspired "above all by the passages of the Gospel in which Jesus meets young people", on the other hand it impels us to review the "passages of the Memoirs of the Oratory in which Don Bosco, in beginning his work, identifies the priorities of the mission". Here too the choices could be many, because the text of the Memoirs of the Oratory is very rich in episodes from which to draw inspiration to identify today the priorities of the mission among young people.

I have chosen to enhance three points where Don Bosco, through a work of authentic discernment in the Spirit, identifies the priorities of the mission among the young people of his time: the first is the meeting with the young prisoners and the birth of the first idea of an oratory; the second is the dream of the shepherdess or of the three stops, which Don Bosco recognizes as a program for his vocational decisions; the third is the comparison with the Marquise of Barolo and the definitive priority vocational choice of Don Bosco for the poor and abandoned young people.

 

  • The first idea of the oratory: the wisdom of Don Cafasso and the meeting with young prisoners

We know that the young John Bosco, after his priestly ordination, did not throw himself headlong into pastoral activity, but attended the Convitto Ecclesiastico for three years (1841-1844). Years of deepening moral theology in academic activity, time for targeted pastoral experiences designed for students, years of closeness to spiritual figures of impressive stature. Don Bosco would say, recalling that beautiful experience that forged his pastoral heart, that while in the seminaries dogma and speculation were being studied, at the Convitto "one learns to be a priest". Here Don Bosco completed his regular two-year study programme and then, under the wise advice of Don Cafasso, stayed for a third year. In these years, according to the Memoirs of the Oratory, the first oratorial experiences of Don Bosco began, his first "pastoral experiments" that gradually matured to become a school of holiness for young people and educators.

The first thing that emerges from the story is that, as always, Don Bosco does not act alone or with his own mind, but makes constant reference to a guide: "Don Cafasso, who had been my guide for six years, was my spiritual director, and if I did something good I owe it to this worthy ecclesiastical in whose hands I rest every deliberation, every study, every action of my life". He follows his teacher, living with confidence the experiences that this holy man makes him live. And for this reason he also goes to the prison:

It was he who first took me into the prisons, where I soon learned how great was the malice and misery of mankind. I saw large numbers of young lads aged from 12 to 18, fine healthy youngsters, alert of mind, but seeing them idle there, infested with lice, lacking food for body and soul, horrified me. Public disgrace, family dishonour, and personal shame were personified in those unfortunates. What shocked me most was to see that many of them were released full of good resolutions to go straight, and yet in a short time they landed back in prison, within a few days of their release. (Second decade, 11).

He sees the malice and misery of men, he is astonished at the health and ingenuity of these young people, he is horrified to see them unhealthy and gnawed by insects. He is moved by the unhappiness of those boys, who were just like sheep without a shepherd, with no one able to gather this scattered flock. And he studies the matter, realizes that there were good intentions in them, but not accompanied by anyone outside the prison. And he thinks, and prays. He does not improvise hasty solutions, but he puts himself in genuine discernment.

And here one sees how the Convitto Ecclesiastico was not only a place of pastoral experience, but also of pastoral reflection on the reality encountered. Don Bosco patiently and intelligently searches for the reasons for failure and also for the solution:

On such occasions I found out how quite a few were brought back to that place; it was because they were aban- doned to their own resources. "Who knows?" I thought to myself, "if these youngsters had a friend outside who would take care of them, help them, teach them religion on feast days . .. Who knows but they could be steered away from ruin, or at least the number of those who return to prison could be lessened?" I talked this idea over with Fr Cafasso. With his encouragement and inspiration I began to work out in my mind how to put the idea into practice, leaving to the Lord's grace what the outcome would be. Without God's grace, all human effort is vain.

And here is a first conclusion: the young Piedmontese priest finds some viable pastoral paths, confronts himself with his spiritual guide and follows his advice, starting to study and placing his commitment in the hands of God, who alone can make every human action fruitful. This is how the first idea of a "Salesian oratory" was generated in Don Bosco's heart. Not in any other way: for us this is a method to be assumed!

 

  • The programme of the mission: the dream of the shepherdess or of the three stops

At the center of listening to the charism of this morning we put an important dream. It seems to me that this important dream lies right at the center between two great moments in the life of Don Bosco: the initial dream of the nine years - to which Don Bosco has always given central importance in his vocational life - and the final moment of the Mass among the tears celebrated at the Sacred Heart Church of Rome, where he thinks back to that first dream and sees it fulfilled in all his existential journey. I think that the dream of the shepherdess - called also "of the three stops" -, intensification and specification of that of the nine years, has the same meaning that the story of the disciples of Emmaus had in the synodal journey: that is, it gave the style and the method to the whole journey covered. Don Bosco himself, returning to it, says that it served him as a "programme" for subsequent deliberations.

Everything in those moments was uncertain: indeed, apart from Don Bosco’s self-confidence and his confidence in the designs of Divine Providence, the texts of that period of his life speak of a great effort to recognize God's designs. Don Bosco, like Mary and like all the disciples of the Lord, had to walk in faith, which he sees only when he sets out with abandonment and availability. The evening before the communication of the umpteenth transfer of the Oratory, this time to Valdocco, Don Bosco goes to bed with a restless heart: and "on that night I had a new dream that seems to be an appendix to that made to the Becchi when I was nine years old".

We start from a multitude of animals of every race that frightened and made Don Bosco flee, while a Lady told him to go ahead with them, while she preceded them. Then three stops and "at each stop many of those animals changed into lambs, so that the number of lambs grew larger and larger". The first passage is clear, very similar to the first dream: "Four fifths of those animals had become lambs".

Then there was a new problem: there were many little shepherds who arrived, but immediately they left again:

Then something wonderful happened. Many of the lambs were transformed into shepherds, who as they grew took care of the others. As the number of shepherds became great, they split up and went to other places to gather other strange animals and guide them into other folds.

In the dream follows the vision of the Church with the inscription Hic domus mea, inde gloria mea and the promise of understanding everything that was happening in the dream with the passing of time. The conclusion of the story is profound and important: "This dream lasted most of the night. I saw it all in great detail. But at the time I understood little of its meaning since I put little faith in it. But I understood little by little as the dream began to come true. Later, together with another dream, it served as a blueprint for my decisions".

In this dream there is the vocational key to Don Bosco's pastoral commitment, there is the beginning and the essence of the Congregation and of the Salesian Family: Don Bosco's vocation becomes for us a renewed convocation for the good of so many young people. From wolves, to lambs, to shepherds: this is the vocational journey that awaits us!

Above all, and once again, there is a Don Bosco who puts himself in the wake of obedience to Mary who, as in the dream of nine years, is without doubt the true Teacher of the journey. How can we be Salesians of Don Bosco without a renewed trust in Mary, without putting ourselves back at her school with humility and simplicity, without recognizing that "without Mary Help of Christians we Salesians are nothing", as the Salesian proto-martyr Luigi Versiglia well affirmed?

Finally, there is Don Bosco who allows himself to be guided by the spirit, that in his existence was manifested many times through dreams and visions, which even today we urgently need. Let us not give up dreaming of the great, especially in times of crisis, let us not give up daring to take new paths, because in a "change of age" like ours this is what God and his Church expect from us!

 

  • The irrevocable choice: giving one's life for young people, to the last breath

A third and final episode that I would like to draw to your attention is the dramatic and decisive dialogue between young Don Bosco and the Marchioness Barolo, at whose service he was at that time.

First of all, we note that this holy woman is sincerely concerned with the health and mission of Don Bosco among the young, so much so that she feels obliged to push him to a precise choice, because "You cannot possibly continue to direct my works and that of your abandoned boys, especially now that their number has increased beyond counting". The Marchioness's proposal is quite clear: she asks Don Bosco to "give up all care for the youngsters".

I repeat, the concern of the Marchioness is sincere, because

"I cannot allow you to kill yourself. Whether you like it or not, so many diverse activities are detrimental to your health and my institutions. And then there are the gossip about your mental health and the opposition of the local authorities, which oblige me to advise you. (…) Give up either the work for boys or the work at the Refuge. Think about it and let me know."

All the reasons are against Don Bosco: his health, the lack of means, the rumours about his alleged madness, the lack of collaborators, the opposition of the authorities. But the Gospel – we know – at decisive moments is not reasonable, it is loving! Don Bosco, in reality, had already prayed it over and thought about it, and his answer is as clear as water and as hard as a diamond:

"I can tell you right now. You have money and will have no trouble in finding as many priests as you want for your institutes. It’s not the same with the poor youngsters. If I turn my back on them at his time, all I’ve been doing for them now will go up in smoke. Therefore, while I will continue to do what I can for the Refuge, I will resign from any regular responsibility and devote myself seriously to the care of abandoned youngsters."

The vocational motivation is dictated by love for the young: if Don Bosco does not take care of the poor children no one else will do so in his place. This speaks of the uniqueness and irreplaceability of the vocation, which needs to be honoured in the first person singular and in the first person plural, because every authentic vocation will always and in any case become a convocation. Don Bosco's vocational motivation is clear: if he does not make this commitment - which in prayer he recognized as God's request for his life - young people will truly be abandoned to themselves. This is his vocation, and nobody else’s. This is his singular and unrepeatable call, which he has the duty to welcome to the end, whatever it takes!

All the rest of the dialogue is a logical consequence of this irrevocable vocational position. Don Bosco will have, as Marchioness Barolo prophesied, problems of material survival, his health will be ruined, he will be full of debts, he will have difficulties with both civil and ecclesiastical authorities, and so on. The different threats and offers of this woman are to no avail ("I will never give you a penny (soldo) for your boys [...] I will continue to pay your salary, and I will increase it if you wish").

Don Bosco has nothing else to say but to repeat what he had already said: "I’ve thought it over already, My Lady Marchioness. My life is consecrated to the good of young people. I thank you for the offers you’re making to me, but I can’t turn back from the path which Divine Providence has traced out for me”. The result was a dismissal on the spot: "So you prefer your vagabonds to my institutes? In that case, you are dismissed from this moment”. After a brief dialogue, they decided to close it all in three months: "I accepted my dismissal, abandoning myself to whatever God-s plan for me might be”. And then the episode ends, logically, with Don Bosco considered crazy: he renounces to a comfortable and safe life to put himself on the street with his boys!

Here we have a Don Bosco who chooses, like the two disciples of Emmaus, to be on the side of the Lord, to take risks and dare to keep faith with the vocation received from the hands of the Lord Jesus, who acted through the mediation of Mary. Like those two mysterious wayfarers, Don Bosco also enters the night to remain on the side of the Lord and of the poor and abandoned young people. A night that, we know well, will manifest itself in his life in many ways: misunderstandings inside and outside the Church, physical hardships and economic difficulties, abandonment and misunderstanding, and much more.

But nothing could ever really distract Don Bosco from his accepted vocation: "I have promised God that I would give of myself to my last breath for my poor boys". (cf. Salesian Constitutions, art. 1). This is what Don Bosco promised and did; this should also happen to every son worthy of such a great father; this should be promised before God and also reaffirmed in deed by our 28th General Chapter.

 

Salesiani di don Bosco

Capitolo Generale 28°

Spirituality Days

19 February 2020

The PRIORITY OF THE SALESIAN MISSION AMONG THE YOUTH OF TODAY

Texts for prayer and meditation

 

1. The criteriA THAT INSPIRE THE ACTION OF JESUS

 

JESUS RAISES THE WIDOW’S SON AT NAIN (Lk 7:11-17)

11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” 14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

 

JESUS HEALS A BOY POSSESSED BY AN IMPURE SPIRIT (Mk 9:14-29)

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. 17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” 19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. 28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” 29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

 

JESUS ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS WITH THE DISCIPLES (Lk 24:13-35)

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

 

THE RICH YOUNG MAN (Matthew's Version: Mt 19:16-22)

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

 

THE RICH YOUNG MAN (Mark’s Version: Mk 10:17-22)

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

 

2. THE PROFOUND REASONS FOR THE VOCATIONAL CHOICES OF DON BOSCO

 

The texts are taken from: Memoirs of the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales from 1815 to 1855, in ISTITUTO STORICO SALESIANO, Fonti salesiane 1. Don Bosco e la sua opera, Rome, LAS 2014, 1170-1308.

 

Memoirs of the Oratory, Second decade, 11 (pp. 1232-1235)

The “Convitto Ecclesiastico” of St. Francis of Assisi

At the end of the holidays, I had three situations to choose from. I could have taken a post as tutor in the house of a Genoese gentleman with a salary of a thousand francs a year. The good people of Murialdo were so anxious to have me as their chaplain that they were prepared to double the salary paid to chaplains up to then. Last, 1 could have become a curate in my native parish. Before I made a final choice, I sought out Fr Caffasso in Turin to ask his advice. For several years now he had been my guide in matters both spiritual and temporal. That holy priest listened to everything, the good money offers, the pressures from relatives and friends, my own goodwill to work. Without a moment's hesitation, this is what he said: "You need to study moral theology and homiletics. For the present, forget all these offers and come to the Convitto." I willingly followed his wise advice; on 3 November 1841, I enrolled at the Convitto. The Convitto Ecclesiastico completed, you might say, the study of theology. In the seminary we studied only dogma, and that speculative; and in moral theology only controversial issues. Here one learnt to be a priest. Meditation, spiritual reading, two conferences a day, lessons in preaching, a secluded life, every convenience for study, reading good authors — these were the areas of learning to which we had to apply ourselves. At that time, two prominent men were in charge of this most useful institution: Doctor Louis Guala and Fr Joseph Caffasso. Doctor Guala was the work's founder. An unselfish man, rich in knowledge, prudent, and fearless, he was everyone's friend in the days of the regime of Napoleon I. He founded that extraordinary seedbed where young priests fresh from their seminary courses could learn the practical aspects of their sacred ministry. This proved very valuable to the Church, especially as a means of eradicating the vestiges of Jansenism that still persisted in our midst. Amongst other topics the most controversial was the question of Probabilism and Probabiliorism. Chief amongst the former's advocates were Alasia and Antoine, along with other rigorist authors. The practice of this doctrine can lead to Jansenism. The Probabilists followed the teaching of St Alphonsus, who has now been proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. His authority can be called the theology of the Pope since the Church has proclaimed that his works can be taught, preached, and practised, as they contain nothing worthy of censure. Dr. Guala took a strong stance between the two parties; starting from the principle that the charity of O.L.J.C." should be the inspiration of all systems, he was able to bring the two extremes together. Things came together so well that, thanks to Doctor Guala, St Alphonsus become our theological patron. This was a salutary step, long de- sired, and now we are reaping its benefit. Fr Caffasso was Guala's right-hand man. His virtue, which withstood all tests, his amazing calm, his shrewd insight, and his prudence enabled him to overcome the acrimony that was still alive in some probabiliorists against the Liguorians. Dr. Felix Golzio, a hidden gold mine amongst the Turinese clergy, was also at the Convitto. In his modest life- style he was hardly noticeable. But he was a tireless worker, humble and knowledgeable; he was a real support, or better, Guala and Caffasso's right-hand man. The prisons, hospitals, pulpits, charitable institutes the sick in their homes, the cities, the villages, and we might add, the mansions of the rich and the hovels of the poor felt the salutary effects of the zeal of these three luminaries of the Turinese clergy. These were the three models placed in my path by Divine Providence. It was just up to me to follow their example, their teaching, their virtues. Caffasso, who for six years had been my guide, was especially my spiritual director. If I have been able to do any good, I owe it to this worthy priest in whose hands I placed every decision I made, all my study, and every activity of my life. It was he who first took me into the prisons, where I soon learned how great was the malice and misery of mankind. I saw large numbers of young lads aged from 12 to 18, fine healthy youngsters, alert of mind, but seeing them idle there, infested with lice, lacking food for body and soul, horrified me. Public disgrace, family dishonour, and personal shame were personified in those unfortunates. What shocked me most was to see that many of them were released full of good resolutions to go straight, and yet in a short time they landed back in prison, within a few days of their release. On such occasions I found out how quite a few were brought back to that place; it was because they were aban- doned to their own resources. "Who knows?" I thought to myself, "if these youngsters had a friend outside who would take care of them, help them, teach them religion on feast days . .. Who knows but they could be steered away from ruin, or at least the number of those who return to prison could be lessened?" I talked this idea over with Fr Caffasso. With his encouragement and inspiration I began to work out in my mind how to put the idea into practice, leaving to the Lord's grace what the outcome would be. Without God's grace, all human effort is vain.

 

Memoirs of the Oratory, Second decade, 15 (pp. 1241-1242)

Another dream

In the second Sunday in October 1844, I had to tell my boys that the Oratory would be moving to Valdocco. But the uncertainty of place, means, and personnel had me really worried. The previous evening I had gone to bed with an uneasy heart. That night I had another dream, which seems to be an appendix to the one I had at Becchi when I was nine years old. I think it advisable to relate it literally. I dreamt that I was standing in the middle of a multitude of wolves, goals and kids, lambs, ewes, rams, dogs, even birds. All together they made a din, a racket, or better, a bedlam to frighten the stoutest heart. I wanted to run away, when a lady dressed as a shepherdess signaled rue to follow her and accompany that strange flock while she went ahead. We wandered from place to place, making three stations or stops. Each time we stopped, many of the animals were turned into lambs, and their number continually grew. After we had walked a long way, I found myself in a field where all the animals grazed and gamboled together and none made attacks on the others. Worn out, I wanted to sit down beside a nearby road, but the shepherdess invited me to continue the trip. After another short journey, I found myself in a large courtyard with porticoes all round. At one end was a church. I then saw that four-fifths of the animals had been changed into lambs and their number greatly increased. Just then, several shepherds came along to take care of the flock; but they stayed only a very short time and promptly went away. 

Then something wonderful happened. Many of the lambs were transformed into shepherds, who as they grew took care of the others. As the number of shepherds became great, they split up and went to other places to gather other strange animals and guide them into other folds.  I wanted to be off because it seemed to me time to celebrate Mass; but the shepherdess invited me to look to the south. I looked and saw a field sown with maize, potatoes, cabbages, beetroot, lettuce, and many other vegetables. "Look again," she said to me. I looked again and saw a wondrously big church. An orchestra and music, both instrumental and vocal, were in- viting me to sing Mass. Inside the church hung a white banner on which was written in huge letters, Hic domus mea, inde gloria mea.

As my dream continued, I wanted to ask the shepherdess where I was. And I wanted to know the meaning of that journey with its halts, the house, the church, then the other church.  "You will understand everything when you see in fact with your bodily eyes what you are looking at now with the eyes of your mind." Thinking that I was awake, I said, "I see clearly, and I see with my bodily eyes. I know where I'm going and what I'm doing." But at that moment the bell of the Church of St Francis sounded the Ave Maria, and I woke up.

This dream lasted most of the night. I saw it all in great detail. But at the time I understood little of its meaning since I put little faith in it. But 1 understood little by little as the dream began to come true. Later, together with another dream, it served as a blueprint for my decisions.

 

Memoirs of the Oratory, Second decade, 22 (pp. 1256-1258)

Good-bye to the Refuge • Fresh imputation of insanity

Marchioness Barolo became alarmed by all that was being said about Don Bosco, especially because the city council of Turin were opposed to my projects. One day she came to my room to speak to me. She began, "I am very pleased with the care you take of my institutions. Thank you for all you have done to introduce in them hymn-singing, plainchant, music, arithmetic, and even the metric system." "No thanks necessary. These are duties which priests must perform. God will repay everything. No need to men- tion it further."

"I wanted to say that I regret very much how your multiple occupations have undermined your health. You cannot possibly continue to direct my works and that of your abandoned boys, especially now when their number has increased beyond counting. I propose to you that from now on you concentrate just on your obligations, that is, the direction of my little hospital. You should stop visiting the prisons and the Cottolengo and give up all your care for the youngsters. What do you say to that?"

"My Lady Marchioness, God has helped me up to now and will not fail me in the future. Don't worry about what should be done. Fr Pacchiotti, Dr Borrelli, and I will do everything."

"But I cannot allow you to kill yourself. Whether you like it or not, so many diverse activities are detrimental to your health and my institutions. And then there are the gossip about your mental health and the opposition of the local authorities, which oblige me to advise you..."

"Advise me to do what, My Lady Marchioness?"

"Give up either the work for boys or the work at the Refuge. Think about it and let me know."

"I can tell you right now. You have money and will have no trouble in finding as many priests as you want for your institutes. It's not the same with the poor youngsters. If I turn my back on them at his time, all I've been doing for them now will go up in smoke. Therefore, while I will continue to do what I can for the Refuge, I will resign from any regular responsibility and devote myself seriously to the care of abandoned youngsters."

"But how will you be able to live?"

"God has always helped me, and he'll help me also in the future."

"But your health is ruined; you're no longer thinking straight. You'll be engulfed in debt, You'll come to me, and I tell you here and now that I'll never give you a soldo for your boys. Now take my motherly advice. I'll continue to pay your salary, and I'll increase it if you wish. Go away and rest somewhere for a year, three years, five years. When you're back to health, come back to the Refuge and you'll be most welcome. Otherwise you put me in the unpleasant position of having to dismiss you from my institutes. Think it over seriously."

"I've thought it over already, My Lady Marchioness. My life is consecrated to the good of young people. I thank you for the offers you're making me, but I can't turn back from the path which Divine Providence has traced out for me."

"So you prefer your vagabonds' to my institutes? In that case, you are dismissed from this moment. This very day I shall arrange for somebody to take your place."

I pointed out to her that such a sudden dismissal would give rise to conjectures that would do neither of us credit. It would be better to act calmly and preserve between us that charity about which we should both have to answer before the Lord's tribunal.

"In that case," she concluded, "I give you three months' notice. After that you will leave the direction of my little hospital to others."

I accepted my dismissal, abandoning myself to whatever God's plan for me might be.5

Meanwhile, the reports that Don Bosco had gone mad were gaining strength. My friends were grieved; others were amused. But they all kept far away from me. The archbishop did not interfere. Fr Caffasso advised me to bide my time; Dr Borrelli kept quiet. Thus all my helpers left me alone in the midst of about four hundred boys.

At that time some respectable persons wanted to take care of my health. "This Don Bosco," they said amongst themselves, "has some fixations which will inevitably end up in madness. Perhaps he would benefit by treatment. Let's take him to the asylum and leave it to them to do whatever they think best."

Two of them were appointed to come with a carriage to pick me up and escort me to the asylum. The two emissaries greeted me politely and then inquired about my health, the Oratory, the future building and church; they sighed deeply and exclaimed aloud, "It's true."

After that they invited me to go for a drive with them. "A little air will do you good. We have a carriage at hand. We'll go together and have time to converse."

At this point I understood their game, and without letting on that I had them figured out, I walked with them to the carriage, insisting that they get in first and take their places. But instead of getting in there myself, I slammed the door shut and called out to the coachman, "Straight to the asylum with all speed. They're expecting these two priests there."