Friday, January 31, 2014

Feast of St. John Don Bosco

I am reproducing a beautiful, inspiring and thought provoking homily of a Salesian Priest.

Dimapur (IND), 06 November 2009

Therefore while we thank the Lord for the gift he has given us in Don Bosco, we want to draw from him the inspiration and the strength to do whatever we are called upon to do in this part of India today.
From this point of view the Word of God becomes very illuminating, because it helps us to see how great Don Bosco was and how we can imitate him today in the new social context.
It is well known that born in Castelnuovo d’Asti in 1815, John was taught the faith and the practice of the gospel message by his mother. At just 9 years of age he came to understand from a dream that he was to devote himself to the education of the young. While still a boy he began to entertain his companions with games interspersed with prayer and religious instruction. When he became a priest he took as his programme of life: «Da mihi animas, caetera tolle», and began his apostolate among the poorest youngsters founding the Valdocco Oratory and putting it under the protection of St Francis of  Sales.
With his educational method and his pastoral practice, based on reason, religion and loving kindness (the Preventive System) he led adolescents and young men to reflection, to a meeting with Christ and with their companions, to education to the faith and to its celebration in the sacraments, to apostolic and professional commitment. Among the best fruits of his educational method is fifteen year old St Dominic Savio.
The source of his untiring activity and the effectiveness of his work was a constant “union with God” and a total trust in Mary Help of Christians whom he felt was the inspiration and support of everything he did. And to his Sons he left as a legacy a spirituality that is simple but soundly based on the Christian virtues.
In fact the first reading gives us one of the great spiritual and educational insights of Don Bosco, that is that the love of God and for God is the source of joy, so that he could say to the boys in the Oratory: “Here we make holiness consist in always being cheerful.”
Perhaps we ourselves need to learn not to consider God as a threat to our happiness but rather as the source of happiness and life. Perhaps we need to learn from Don Bosco to have a smiling face and a gaze that is calm, optimistic, far-sighted that shows that we are believers in a God who was crucified yes, but who rose again and has filled our human lives with joy and hope. Perhaps we need to help the young to have the experience of how happy one can be while serving God.
The reason for this truth, that is: “the law of the Lord is perfect, it revives the soul, rejoices the heart and gives light to the eyes,” as the responsorial psalm says, is to be found in the fact that basically the law is at man’s service, to make him ever more human and not to oppress him.
This is possible when one discovers that laws and commands are meant to encourage virtue and are therefore the expression of love. St Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians that we have just heard refers to this.
Without love the most precious gifts of both nature and grace would be of no use. The primacy of love arises precisely from the fact that it leads us to maturity, to reach the perfect stature that makes us ‘divine’, since it makes us like God. Precisely because it has the immense power to transform people from within it also has the force to conquer death.
Living in God’s friendship – as Don Bosco proposed to his boys – means then living in communion with him, remaining united with him through keeping his commandment of love.
Living in joy means giving full rein to all the best of intentions in our hearts the source of everything that is good.
Living in this way, when all is said and done, means being salt of the earth, light of the world, a city on a hill-top, in other words, people who are doing good as Jesus wants his disciples to be. 
The extract from Matthew’s Gospel would appear to have been the programme of Don Bosco, who was well aware of the responsibility that we Christians have “before men.”
The salt of the earth, the hope of the world, are those who preserve human and religious values that ensure that the earth does not go to the bad, that it retains a  modicum of humanity.
We too are the salt of the earth when we live the spirit of the beatitudes, when we make the Sermon on the Mount our identikit and we become something of an alternative society, people who, faced with a society that idolises success, the transitory, the temporary, money, pleasure, power, revenge, conflict, war, chose peace, forgiveness, mercy, generosity, a  spirit of sacrifice, beginning in our immediate circle, our own family or community, but then expanding to embrace the whole of society.
Jesus warns, however, that it is possible for salt to lose its taste, for his disciples not to be genuine, and he does not hesitate to point out the disastrous consequences: «It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.» Either we are disciples with a clear gospel identity, meaningful, therefore, and useful to the world, or we are to be thrown out, to be scorned, we are the most unhappy of men, the misfits, we are nothing.
We are the light of the world, as He is the light, if we live gospel beatitudes; we are a city on a hill, if we accept the public responsibility we have and do not try to make the faith or our discipleship a private matter, without a social dimension, with public involvement; we are a lamp on a lamp-stand, if we live according to the Gospel and give light to everyone believers or not, disciples or not, those near or far away; in other words, light for the whole world.
Christianity, the faith, the Gospel, the Salesian Family have a social role and a public responsibility for the simple reason that every vocation is mission.
This is the meaning of the exhortation with which Jesus concludes, and which even though it refers particularly to the metaphor of the light, also obviously refers to the idea of the salt and the city. «Let your light so shine before men.» Jesus wants his disciples to do good for its own sake not looking for gratification, for self satisfaction, for recompense. Nevertheless, when good is done it cannot go unnoticed round about.
We have the responsibility of doing good for love, and not so as to be seen, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She incarnated so well the tenderness of God with no distinction of persons. For her it was enough that people was poor and needy to help them.
Jesus wants his disciples to make the Sermon on the Mount their plan of life: meekness, poverty, generosity, mercy, forgiveness, abandonment to God, trust, doing to others what we would like them to do to us, these then are the gospel works that we should make shine out, that make us become “salt” and “light”, that will go to create an alternative society that won’t allow humanity to totally destroy itself. 
That was just what Don Bosco was trying to do for the sake of the boys in all his works, whose purpose was precisely that of making them into “honest citizens and good Christians”. Human formation, an encounter with Christ, finding their place in the life of the Church and discovering their own vocation, this was the path of faith proposed by Don Bosco.
That was the reason why he founded the Salesian Congregation to continue and spread out the dream of God for the good of the young, specially those who are poor, abandoned and at risk. This is then our programme for the future in India.

Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva Sdb

Dimapur (IND), 06 November 2009

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