For the past five years, I have had the privilege of working full-time in high school ministry. I often hear people say, “That’s so great that you are working with the future of the Church”. For the longest time, this statement didn’t sit well with me. I recently figured out why: young people are not the future of the Church, they are the Church. I have learned during this privileged time of ministry that there is great HOPE and JOY to be found in the young Church today.
St. John Bosco is the patron saint of youth - and for good reason! At the centenary of his death, John Paul II named him “Father and Teacher of Youth”. At one point during his ministry, St. John Bosco ran a home which housed over eight hundred young men and he worked tirelessly to promote their dignity. His love for the Eucharist and steadfast promotion of the mercy of Jesus serve as examples for all of us working in ministry. I’ve received a glimpse over these last several years of what St. John Bosco tells us with his life: there is great hope and joy to be found in following Jesus and in sharing that joy with others.
The “Father and Teacher of Youth” is famous for saying, Servite Domino in laetitia!, which is Latin for “Serve the Lord joyfully”. In any of our apostolic endeavors, it is crucial that we lead with joy.
With everything going on in our world and Church, it can be all too easy to fall into despair - to question or wonder where God is. In the young people I have the privilege of working with, I have seen God’s hand everywhere. I have seen His hand in the ways that they encounter the heart of God for the first time; I have seen it when they grow in communion with each other; and I have seen it when they choose hope over the lies of this world.
It is our great privilege to not only share the hope that is to be found in living for Christ— whether in the young Church or elsewhere—but also our responsibility to proclaim the joy of the Gospel. I am grateful for all that the young people I work with have taught me and count myself as privileged to learn what it means to live a life filled with Christian hope and joy.
St. John Bosco, pray for us!
**At the closing Mass of World Youth Day in Panama, Pope Francis also discussed the role of the young Church and their mission "now." “Not tomorrow but now”, he said. “Realize that you have a mission and fall in love”, Click here to continue reading.
For more resources to learn about World Youth Day, please click here.
Not long ago, I sat listening to the words of my university’s honored commencement speaker, Peggy Noonan, who entreated us to do something after we graduated that day: “You must not stop reading books. That’s all. If you seek a happy and interesting life, one of depth, meaning and accomplishment, you must read books.” I thought that to be a simple message—but refreshingly concrete and unique. As she pointed out, to get to graduation day my peers and I had read a number of books. Most were works assigned as required reading for a course rather than for leisure. Continuing to read after a life in school would benefit us, Noonan said, as we moved through life to new places, with new people, and into new positions.
As a Catholic, I took Ms. Noonan’s advice as an opportunity to seriously take up spiritual reading. I previously had taken advantage of my Catholic high school’s library to some degree, but I often had to let spiritual reading take second place behind the demands of other commitments. This continued in college with the much larger university library collections. There seemed to be no time to read for the sake of reading, spiritual or otherwise. While I may not have had much choice at the time, I know that when the faithful disregard the great literary works of Catholicism, we do ourselves a great disservice. With its full and ever-expanding breadth of writings, the Church encourages the faithful to enrich themselves through the works of popes, saints, and the Magisterium, along with theologians, mystics, clergy, and religious (see CCC 133). These can offer many insightful perspectives on the Faith, but they cannot replace reading the Bible! As St. Jerome remarked, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!” Similarly, the Second Vatican Council affirmed the Word of God as “food for the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.” (Dei Verbum, 21) We may spend years studying books for school and for professional development—how much more should we pore over the Word of God “to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified”? We nourish ourselves with physical food multiple times a day, shouldn’t we do the same with spiritual nourishment?
When I worked in a Catholic bookstore, my boss shared this insight from St. John Bosco: “Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book.” Customers might have wandered in to buy a rosary or Catholic memorabilia, but many times I noticed them stop in front of a display of books on family life, spirituality, or healing prayers. As I assisted them with their selections, many would share their favorite devotions or ask for guidance in selecting a title. The customers were seeking writings by those whose experiences they could relate to—authors whose work would speak to our customers just as Sacred Scripture speaks to each of us and motivates us to seek and undertake the will of God. On other occasions, customers would simply be looking for something new to deepen their spirituality and share what they learned with their family and friends.
I have observed that the benefits of supporting Catholic bookstores extend in many ways: not only does it help a business to continue providing accessible, quality literature, but it also offers customers the chance to find something meaningful and wholesome that will be useful in subsequent questions, reflections, and experiences long after the first reading. Consider dusting off your Bible or picking up that Catholic book on your table. Spend a few moments and allow yourself to be touched by the author’s message and then share the experience with loved ones. Start a book club with friends and neighbors to discuss a spiritual work and apply it to your day to day life. The words of an approved source can galvanize, console, clarify, educate, or guide your spiritual formation. As Ms. Noonan reminded us, continual reading throughout our lives, especially of spiritual works, will give our lives greater depth and meaning. Start by picking up the book.
Questions for Reflection: Is there a spiritual book or book from the Bible you’ve been meaning to read? How has a book or Scripture passage impacted your life?
Growing up, I experienced the excitement of living in a predominantly male household. My brothers and I would regularly tap into some wellspring of energy within ourselves and cause all sorts of trouble for my poor mother to sort out if we somehow didn’t already exhaust ourselves. Now that we’re older and (hopefully) more mature, I find myself wondering 1) where did that incredible energy go? and 2) how did my mother ever put up with us? It certainly takes a special type of person to remain steadfastly patient and loving in the face of such chaos; mothers are a wonderful example, but what about those who are not parents (and would not be obligated to do so) who look after the young?
St. John Bosco, whose feast we celebrate today, is similarly venerated for dedicating his life to the betterment and education of street urchins, juvenile delinquents, and other disadvantaged youth. Born in Italy, “Don Bosco” was first the chaplain of a girls’ boarding school in Turin called the Rifugio (“Refuge”). His other ministries included visiting prisoners, teaching catechesis, and assisting at the country parishes. While visiting the prisons, Don Bosco was troubled to see so many adolescent boys and became determined to prevent them from ending up there. Finding traditional methods of parish ministry inefficient due to the urbanization-driven influx of migrants, Don Bosco developed another form of apostolate: meeting the boys wherever they were in life—be it offices, shops, or marketplaces. While society might have looked the other way or written off these little ones, Don Bosco would unceasingly offer help to those he encountered throughout his ministry.
I could focus on the well-documented efforts of the saint’s ministry, such as the establishment of permanent youth centers (which he called oratorio), contracting dignified jobs for the unemployed and obtaining fair conditions for those who held jobs, caring for the boys’ health, or instructing those willing to study after the work day, but I’d like to dwell on the special aspect of his numerous dreams which helped to reveal God’s will for his life. In one particularly, the Blessed Mother led Don Bosco into a beautiful garden, bidding him to pass through a rose arbor after removing his shoes. Shortly after doing so, his feet were cut and bleeding from the thorns of the roses on the path he was taking, yet he refused to turn around. Observers in the dream remarked, “How lucky Don John is! His path is forever strewn with roses! He hasn’t a worry in the world. No troubles at all!” They attempted to follow, but many who had been expecting an easy journey turned back—only some stayed with him. Finally, after successfully enduring the journey, he found another incredible garden where a cool breeze soothed his torn skin and healed his wounds.
I agree with Don Bosco’s interpretation: the path was his mission, the roses were his charity to the boys, and the thorns were the distractions and frustrations that obstructed his efforts. The message of the dream was clear to the saint: keep going, do not lose faith in God or His calling! For Don Bosco, challenges would always remain, such as financing. Don Bosco kept going and did not lose faith in God. His mother, a 59-year old poor peasant, even left her house and sold her jewelry to become a mother (“Mamma Margherita”) to those her son took in, eventually numbering 800! Acts of faith such as these reflect the fact that human works are very limited; it is God who is able to do the impossible. One can see this also evident in the efforts of St. Mother Teresa in the streets of Calcutta, the witness of the shepherd children who saw our Lady at Fatima, or the strength and determination of Mother Angelica in the founding of the Eternal Word Television Network.
In surrendering ourselves to be like “a little pencil in the hand of a writing God,” as Mother Teresa referenced in an interview, and not worrying about human measures of success, we can follow the example of saints like Don Bosco who effected great change in both society and the individual lives of those they served. The saints never worked for their own sake, but simply did the work they were guided to do by Providence. To echo the words of Don Bosco, “I have done nothing by myself. It is the Virgin Mary who has done everything.”