Imitating St. John Bosco, Monday of the 4th Week of Ordinary Time (II), January 30, 2000

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Domus Sanctae Mariae Guadalupensis, Rome
Monday of the 4th Week of OT, Year II
January 30, 2000
2 Sm 15:13-14,30;16:5-13

In the first reading, we see David on the Mount of Olives weeping for his son Absalom, who killed David’s first son, slept with ten of David’s wives, and then was even trying to kill him. David wanted to forgive Absalom and reconcile him, but Absalom refused to the end. If on a merely human level, David as a father wept so for his wayward son, how much more poignant must be have the tears of David’s descendent, one thousand years later, on that very same mountain, when Jesus looked over Jersualem and wept, wept over the fact that God’s wayward sons and daughters were still trying to kill the Lord’s anointed and were still refusing the forgiveness and reconciliation he was offering. He loved sinners so much that in order to save them, he would even allow them to succeed where Absalom had failed, in killing the King of Israel.

Likewise in the Gospel we see his love again, shown to the man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs, who frequently was handcuffed and chained, whom no one had proven strong enough to tame. The Lord came to him and cast out the numerous legion of demons, restoring him to perfect sanity, telling him to go to his family and make clear to them how much the Lord in his mercy had done for him.

Fast-forward to Turin in the 1830s. The Lord doubtless was weeping over all those wayward children who were still rejecting him. Those kids who really never had had a chance to get to know him. Who were constantly heading down dead ends. Who frequently were handcuffed and chained by the authorities. Who were legionary in number. Whom no one had proven strong enough to tame. And then the Lord raised up Giovanni Bosco.

That’s the setting and the proper context to understand the extraordinary life, love and grace of the saint we celebrate today. Saint John Bosco was the Lord’s chosen instrument to save countless wayward children, to bring the Lord’s mercy to them and to send them out in the missionary order he founded to show the whole world how much the Lord in his mercy had done for them. In the famous vocational dream he had as a nine-year old, St. John Bosco found himself surrounded by a crowd of fighting, blaspheming and pretty much untamed children whom he tried in vain to subdue, first by reason and then by his fists. Suddenly there appeared a mysterious Lady who said to him, “Gently, gently if you wish to win them! Take you shepherd’s staff and lead them to pasture.” As she spoke, the children were transformed into wild beasts and then into lambs. From that moment, John recognized that his vocation was to seek out and find these wild beasts of boys and gently, lovingly bring them back to the Good Shepherd who would transform them into lambs of God. For the next 64 years of his life, John did just that.

The secret of his enormous success, I believe, was that he saw the image of God, and therefore inherent goodness, in every child he encountered. He therefore found it so easy to love them — especially the wilder ones — and to make them feel loved by him and more importantly loved by God. And they loved him — so much so that at the end of his life he proudly stated that he never had to punish them; in fact, he ruled them with such merciful and loving indulgence that it scandalized the educational establishment of his day. He recognized that God had created them out of nothing but love with a vocation to give themselves back out of love, and he did all he could to help to live out their vocations, some to the priesthood, most toward marriage. For the former, he made arrangements for their education and formation; for the latter, he opened a technical school so that they could learn a trade to support themselves and their eventual families.

Much like our present holy father, he never stopped loving young people and seeing in each one individually someone raised up by God with a particular vocation and mission for the good of the world and his glory. This was the source of his constant hope in them and hope for the future, and this allowed him remain young to the very end: No matter how old he got, he continued — like the young people he loved so much — living in the future with hope.

Jesus asked his disciples to let the children come to him. At this Mass, let’s turn to the Lord and ask him to give us his own patient, merciful heart to love young people as he did, as St. John Bosco did. To see the good in them — no matter how psychedelic their hairdos, no matter how many body parts they’ve pierced, no matter how unruly they are. To encourage their vocations constantly, whatever they may be. And for the gift to be found worthy, like St. John Bosco, to help lead them as lambs to the lamb of God, slain by wayward sons and daughters, whom we are about to consume. God love you!