St. John Bosco believed that holiness is for everyone, especially young people. He spent his life tirelessly fostering holiness in the young and the poor in Italy and throughout Europe.
Before John Bosco died on Jan. 31, 1888, the Salesian congregation he founded had spread throughout Italy, Spain, France, England, Uruguay, and Brazil. It grew from humble beginnings to almost 1000 members at the time of his death.
The Salesians built and administered oratories and schools. The Salesian ‘oratory’ was a home where the young felt welcomed, a school where young people learned academically and were formed in virtue, a church that evangelized, and a playground where friends met and had fun together.
The youngsters who attended the Salesian oratory were educated in what they call the ‘preventive system,’ which is entirely based on reason, religion, and loving kindness.
Don Bosco (Don, meaning Father in Italian) said loving young people was not enough. They must know they are loved. Young people flourished in this environment of love and charity. Don Bosco was truly a genius when it came to young people. He loved them and they loved him.
Below, I’ve included five of St. John Bosco’s tips for helping young people (and anyone, really) grow in holiness:
1) “Never act in such a way today that would cause you to blush tomorrow.”
Salesian spirituality is all about intentionality. Don Bosco was big on thinking before you speak or act. He was also honest with young people about the dangers of the world. Not to scare them, rather, so they would better recognize the ugliness of sin in contrast to the beauty of virtue and, thus, act accordingly.
2) “Fly from bad companions as from the bite of a poisonous snake.”
This harkens St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals.”
Don Bosco knew this well. He often encouraged the kids at the oratory to seek virtue as a basis for good, solid friendships. Young people today could equally benefit from this.
3) “My children, jump, run and play! Make all the noise you want, but avoid sin like the plague and you will surely gain heaven.”
Once while serving snow cones with a Salesian sister, I noticed her beautiful white habit was covered in blue, red, green and purple dye from the syrup that overflowed from the snow-cones we made for about 100 kids.
Yet, it was as though she didn’t notice the stains at all. Once she noticed, she couldn’t have cared less about them.
Instead, she stood with a huge smile on her face looking at the basketball court, field, and playground that all the kids we served played on. They shouted, laughed, and and made all sorts of noise.
Sister then looked at me and slayed me with one phrase: “Look at them, it’s beautiful. they are all safe here in Our Lady’s house.” I knew she meant their souls were safe. And yes, despite the mess, it was absolutely beautiful.
St. Don Bosco meant exactly this when he said the quote above. Dear young people: have all the fun you want. Just stay away from sin.
4) “There are two things the devil is deadly afraid of: frequent communions and frequent visit to Blessed Sacrament.”
St. John Bosco knew and believed in the power of Jesus in the Sacraments, namely, the Holy Eucharist and Confession. He often placed the chapel in an area where the kids had to pass it when walking from their rooms to class.
This simple plan still works today, and if practiced, will bare fruit in the life of the Church.
At a parish I formerly worked at, the youth group attended Holy Mass on Sundays, celebrated feast days, and frequently visited the Blessed Sacrament.
The priest also made himself available for confession. Praised be Jesus Christ, the young people from that youth group grew, and are growing, in virtue. We even have a couple of young men from our group in the seminary. (Please pray for them to persevere in their vocation.)
Being in the presence of God and receiving Him in Holy Communion gives us grace beyond our imagination. He’s waiting just to see you, so pay Him a visit.
5) Remember: nothing, absolutely nothing, must ever be done at the Oratory except in the Holy Name of Mary.
Don Bosco had a great devotion to Our Lady under the title, Mary Help of Christians. He said in his life that, ‘she did it all’. Truth be told, she’s still doing it. Marian devotion is a key to holiness. Draw close Mary and she will draw you to Jesus. It really is that simple.
St. John Bosco never over-complicated holiness. His approach was simple, direct, and for everyone-especially the young. He lived this and he fosterd it in everyone he met.
Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, holiness spread all around him. His motto, the Salesian motto is, “Da mihi animas, caetera tolle,” which is Latin for, “Give me souls and take away the rest”.
That’s exactly what happened — God gave him souls.
In fact, many people Don Bosco personally knew became saints! His spiritual director, Joseph Cafasso-a saint. His co-founder of the Salesian Sisters, Mary Mazarello – a saint. One of his boys, Dominic Savio – a saint. His successor Micheal Rua – beatified.
Many more whom he personally knew became venerable, were beatified, or were canonized by the Church.
St. John Bosco’s Salesians currently serve in 134 countries around the world. The preventive system still exists in every oratory, school, and center they administrate.
Although the times have changed, the universal call to holiness has not, nor has the heart of the young. The dangers are greater but the heart is the same. May we take St. John Bosco’s wisdom straight to heart, so we too can not just become saints, but help form saints also.