Monday 22 April 2013

Learning from Don Bosco's Three Lives

We've been having group discussions this morning, the topics being extracts from Don Bosco's Three Lives: Savio, Magone and Besucco. I continue to be amazed at how these Lives continue to speak, to reach out across the decades and grab the Salesian, young and not so young, of today.

In the Life of Besucco, we have this extremely strong appeal to the young as well as to their educators and directors, to find a regular confessor. It is not a sin to go to a different confessor each time, Don Bosco says repeatedly; but if you want to really be helped, this is no good. It's like going to a different doctor each time. He will not know you well enough to make a proper diagnosis and to prescribe the right medicine.

In the Life of Magone, the importance of the playground, which, Don Bosco does not hesitate to say, is almost as important as the church. This is an extremely interesting remark, one that bears a profound truth. In the playground, the perceptive educator is able to intervene in a way that is not quite possible in the church. In the church the educator / priest does have a role to play, but the main interaction is between God and the individual, God and the community. In the playground, the role of the educator / spiritual director is quite different. God acts in and through him in a remarkably different way, a way that we find Don Bosco was extremely sensitive to.

In the Life of Savio, the great stress is on an apostolic holiness. This is the head of ch. 11, which comes immediately after the crucial ch. 10 which speaks of Savio's 'second conversion.' Don Bosco was convinced that the path to holiness, even for a young lad, lay through the apostolate. This is extraordinary, and perhaps one of the distinctive features of Salesian spirituality, Don Bosco's spirituality, one that we have sort of forgotten / ignored / neglected in the last many years. No way of becoming a saint except by bringing your companions to God. No way of being a good Salesian except through an apostolic holiness, and one that is not restricted only to the young and to explicitly pastoral situations, but very much includes also the life of the Salesian community.

And then the call to sanctity: the influence of Don Bosco's homily on Savio, and the way he responds to it, with all his heart, all his being: this is also amazing. In our community I see that some are willing to talk like this; but are all of us? Am I? What is the great pull in my life? What is the great lodestar, the great fascination? Savio was marked by this great, overwhelming desire for sanctity. "My friends will be Jesus and Mary." As Caviglia says, it is this willingness of Savio to put God above all things that is even more remarkable than his "Death rather than sin." That is what leads to this. And Don Bosco himself, commenting on the Rich Young Man, remarks on the words of Jesus: "If you wish". If you wish: you need to wish, you need to desire, you need to want to follow Jesus with all your heart. How to be a saint? Thomas Aquinas to his sister: Will it. Desire it. With all your heart.

Also an interesting note about grumbling: Don Bosco talks about many boys who are not happy with the food, with the accommodation  with the timetable, with the superiors, and then says: Dominic would never complain. Any food was fine with him. He had learnt his lesson well: when he wanted to do extraordinary penances, Don Bosco had forbidden him, and had told him instead to accept with serenity and joy the little circumstances of daily life. He was putting in very simple terms what Francis de Sales had recommended: embrace with joy the will of God's good pleasure.


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