In the 19th Century, the great Saint John Bosco came to the rescue of generations of young people to save them from a moral, spiritual and cultural shipwreck. Due to radical and drastic changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution, the displacement from the rural to the urban milieu produced an upheaval that affected seriously the family, and especially the upbringing of children and teenagers.
Many young boys had parents working long hours and the youth had no educational opportunities, and without education, no work chances. The net result of neither schooling nor work led to excessive free time, indolence and laziness, and eventually vices—drinking, gambling, looting, fighting, and even jail terms.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Saint John Bosco came to the rescue of the youth—most especially the teenage boys. Bosco himself had lost his father as a tender child and was brought up in dire penury by a hard-working and faith-filled mother—Mama Margarita! Poverty for Bosco was not academic and theoretical; quite the contrary, John experienced it in his very flesh and blood.
To make a long story extremely short, the young priest, Father John Bosco, came to the rescue of the young boys situated in the hustle and bustle of the city of Turin. How did this come about? Father John loved the boys, especially those who were most troubled and abandoned. He talked to them using their own language and experience. He taught them about God and the purpose of their lives. Eventually in time and through Divine Providence, Bosco set up an Oratory. This multi-purpose structure served as a domicile for the boys. In it there would eventually be education and trade schools, formation for the future work-world. And of course, and of the greatest importance, would be the chapel where the young people could worship God through Mass and frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance.
Many young people were salvaged from a moral shipwreck, a Titanic crash into an iceberg, due to the intelligence, initiative, creativity, insistence and tenacious spirit of Saint John Bosco. To this day, all throughout the world the Salesians, that is to say the sons of Saint John Bosco, work strenuously to save the youth from cultural, moral and spiritual shipwrecks.
Today more than ever, the young live in precarious, morally dangerous and spiritually challenging situations. This being the case, we should pray for the spirit of the great Saint John Bosco to permeate and penetrate the moral fabric of adults so as to come to the rescue of the young, saving them from the real possibility of sinking both quickly and deeply!
What then are some tools that can be utilized for the sake of the salvation of the youth? The Holy Spirit raises up saints in every time and place, culture and epoch. May He do that in us and in our initiatives right now.
The following are some action items that we can and should wield in our battle for the salvation of the youth. May the great Saint John Bosco quickly come to our rescue.
1. FERVENT PRAYER LED BY THE SPIRIT. There has never been a successful initiative of this kind that has not been imbued with deep and penetrating prayer. As the Psalmist points out: “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the laborers work.” (Ps. 127:1) By inundating our initiatives with a torrential downpour of prayer, God’s House has a most solid foundation.
2. TALK TO THE YOUTH. Due to the electronics media, internet, phone, etc., the lines of human and warm communication with the young have been hampered, damaged and wounded most gravely. During the recreation breaks from school work, Father John Bosco and his priest sons would go out into the courtyard and walk and talk with the young people. As adults, and this means priests, youth ministers, and especially parents, we must find the time to talk with and listen to our youth. Otherwise, they will never learn how to speak and listen—no communication skills!
3. LISTEN TO WOUNDED HEARTS. Directly related to talking, of course, is the art of listening. May we always be ready to lend an attentive ear to the words and the hearts of the young. However, let us pray for the grace and insight to be able not only to listen to them, but also to be able to understand them. That is to say, to read the intentions of their hearts. The words convey the concept; the heart, the inner-meaning of what is really desired.
4. ENCOURAGE. One of the most charming figures in the New Testament is the person of SAINT BARNABUS. Filled with faith, imbued with the Holy Spirit, and a zealous missionary, Barnabas held a key role in the early Church. He was always going out on a limb to welcome, encourage, and support the primitive Christian Community. It was actually Barnabas who gave credibility to the conversion of Saul, who became the great Apostle Paul. Barnabus’ name means SON OF ENCOURAGEMENT. May we make it a point in dealing with the young to make every effort to encourage them! Kind words, enthusiastic gestures, and winning smiles are all clear signs of living out the apostolate of encouragement.
5. COUNSEL. All of us are in dire need of good advice and counsel. More than anybody else, this applies in the formation of our young people. If we as adults can easily be misled, fall into an immoral ditch and find it hard to get out, how much more are the young at risk, who often think they know everything but really know very little! Teachers, confessors, catechists, parents, and priests should be willing to give good counsel and advice. One good counsel at the proper time can result in saving a young person from a moral disaster. However, on the contrary, bad advice can lead quickly to disaster.
6. FRATERNAL CORRECTION. As a sequel to both encouraging the young, as well as giving them good advice, is that of offering them timely fraternal correction. If I am moving headlong toward a precipice and nobody warns me, I will fall off the cliff into sure death. Someone has to cry out: Turn around!!! Young people who have made mistakes must have somebody to warn them of their errors and direct them back onto the correct path before they end up in disaster! As adults, many of us complain about not having been corrected in our youth and now we are paying the negative consequences. Pope Benedict XVI stated in one of his Lenten messages that fraternal correction is actually a dimension of the theological virtue of charity.
7. FRIENDS. We all need a good friend or two; this definitely applies to the youth. However, it must be stated with great clarity what a real friend is, an authentic friend. A true friend is not simply doing things together, or sharing the same plans, goals, and projects, or having the same ideals. Gang members and thieves could do all of the above together! The acid test of a true friend is when that so called friend is a bridge for union with Jesus, who is the Best of Friends and the Friend who will never fail us! May our youth find, cultivate, and establish true and lasting friendships, always having Jesus as the super-glue uniting them together.
8. SACRAMENT OF CONFESSION: MEETING THE DIVINE PHYSICIAN. Jesus came to save the sinners; He came to seek after the lost sheep. The Parable of the Prodigal Son or the Merciful Father can and should be applied to all, but in a special way to the youth. Once again, Saint John Bosco, who had such charism and love for the young, was known to spend long hours administering the Sacrament of Confession, and most especially to his young! Peace of soul and joy of heart come from union with Jesus, the Divine Physician. What consoling words: “I absolve you of your sins… go in peace!”
9. FORMING GOOD AND SOLID FAMILIES: THE DOMESTIC CHURCH. Our short essay would be remiss if it we were to neglect the paramount importance of striving to form good and solid families. The family has many names: The Domestic Church, the basic cell of society, the basic cultural building block, the first and fundamental institution. One of the greatest blessings that can descend upon a young teen, boy or girl, is to have the extraordinary blessing of a family where Jesus is in the center, where there is love, comprehension, understanding, communication—dialogue, as well as frequent and fervent prayer. Let us work on building solid and holy families, and as a consequence, wholesome young people!
10. MARY: THE MOTHER OF GOD AND THE MOTHER OF THE YOUNG. Let us do all we possibly can to offer our young people to Mary, and Mary to our young people. This can be done in many ways! Consecrate our young to Mary. Pray the Rosary for them and pray the Rosary with them. Give the young people both a Scapular and Miraculous Medal to wear as a sign of their consecration to Mary and the protection of Mary. In their rooms enthrone an image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, or Our Lady of Guadalupe, or Our Lady of Fatima. Speak often to the young people of Mary’s maternal love and protection. Tell the youth that Mary is their loving and tender Heavenly Mother, as well as their life, their sweetness and their hope!
In conclusion, friends in Jesus and Mary and the saints, let us do all we can in our power to help out our young people. As the great Saint John Bosco, moved by the Holy Spirit, helped countless young people from cultural, social, moral and spiritual disaster, so must we take the initiative right now to follow in the footsteps of the saints and be a light, a beacon, a shining and bright signpost for our young! May we help the young people to truly understand the universal call to holiness, to happiness, and to heaven. This can only be accomplished by a deep knowledge, love and union with Jesus, the Son of Mary, who is the WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE!