|Pedro Calungsod, Philippines|
|Kateri Tekakwitha, American Indian|
|Sigmund Ocasion, Philippines-Canada|
|Bl. PierGiorgio Frassati, Italian|
|PierGiorgio Frassati again|
The very first life written by Don Bosco was that of his friend Luigi Comollo - and the first draft of this life dates back to 1839, the year that Comollo died. The life, originally meant for the seminarians of Chieri, was published only in 1844, three years after Don Bosco's ordination. It went through 3 more editions, and in each of these Don Bosco expanded his audience: those aspiring to the priesthood (the things Don Bosco did to find priestly vocations!), anyone aspiring to Christian perfection, and so on.
Why then did Don Bosco write the lives of Savio, Magone and Besucco? A concrete push might have been dealing with Savio. Savio, after hearing Don Bosco's sermon on the call to holiness, made a radical decision to become a saint - and for a model, he seems to have turned to Comollo, whose Life, written by Don Bosco, was in his hands. This seems to have been the inspiration behind Savio's efforts to mortify himself in extraordinary ways. And here is where Don Bosco steps in, and manifests his spiritual originality: no extraordinary mortifications and penances, but simply doing your duties extraordinarily well, doing them cheerfully, and engaging in 'practical exercises of charity towards your companions.'
Here we see Don Bosco already beginning to modify the type of spirituality he had picked up in the Seminary, and seen exemplified in his best friend. We see him looking around for a type of spirituality that would be both attainable and attractive to the young. And for models - don Bosco is always concrete - he turns to his own boys. With Savio, Magone and Besucco, Don Bosco could turn to his boys and say to them: these boys lived here in the Oratory, they walked with you, they played with you, they prayed with you. If they can become saints, why not you? He could not have said that about Aloysius, and not even about Comollo.
Here Don Bosco is extraordinary, and perhaps in this we have not imitated him sufficiently. He had a shrewd and wise assessment of the power of the printed word, and he took pains to make use of this God-given means. The importance he attached to the Life of Dominic Savio can be seen in the time and energy he spent revising and expanding the text: the book went through fully five editions in his own lifetime.
The three lives are a compendium of Don Bosco's approach to the young, of his educative method and his spirituality. And really the two are one: Don Bosco was convinced that there is no education without religion. According to Murdoch, this was the context of the Life of Savio: against the then current moves to remove the influence of religion in education, Don Bosco wanted to say: it is not possible to educate without religion.
So: (1) youthful and fresh models of holiness, (2) accessible models, absolutely close to the life of the boys he was dealing with; (3) and the indispensable connection between reason and religion, between education and grace.
And more still. The life of Savio is Don Bosco's first crystallization of his own particular way of educating and guiding youngsters. The life of Magone is the classic of the education through and of the heart, of his conviction that the only way to approach a youngster is through his heart. And the three lives together indicate that Don Bosco knew how to approach each one differently. Savio and Besucco had already been massively touched by grace before they met Don Bosco. Magone, instead, needed help of a different kind, and that Don Bosco was able to provide.
And a practical conclusion. Perhaps the three lives do not speak to youth today in the same way that they did in Don Bosco's time. The ever practical Don Bosco, instead of lamenting and clinging on to a past that is no more, would have given himself to finding new and contemporary models of youthful holiness. Which is what Pascal Chavez did some years ago, in one of the most brilliant moves of his term as Rector Major: the calendar showcasing contemporary models of youthful holiness in the Salesian Family. People like Sigmund Ocasion, PierGiorgio Frassati, Alberto Marvelli, the five young Polish martyrs and so on. Their lives speak, and they speak very loudly.