Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Feast of St. John Bosco

When I can find the time I have been reading Dr. Wendy M. Wright's excellent book on the Salesian tradition, Heart Speaks to Heart.  (see HERE.)    So it is fitting therefore that today we remember a saint who was to be inspired by the life and writings of St. Francis de Sales, St. John Bosco. And I think if we want to see the Salesian tradition of the Sacred Heart in practice we have to look no further than St. John Bosco.

This has prompted me to remember that I was so fortunate to have a teacher in High School - Tom Keeley - who was very keen to promote our interest in the saint, and every class would start with  'Saint John Bosco pray for us.'  He was really the best teacher I  ever had, and when I began my own career in higher education I consciously decided to imitate his way of teaching: he taught with his head but also his heart. He was a demanding teacher, but was nonetheless gentle and kind. ( But you still would not want to cross him! ) No matter how hard the lesson was you would never feel that he was leaving anyone behind.  Despite his rather stern way, no-one was ever afraid to put up their hand and say ' I don't understand'.  Other teachers would shout or call you an idiot or 'pay attention', but he would always explain.  I learnt more mathematics from him than anyone else!  You could get it wrong time after time, but he would work through your problems.  He taught you to be highly rational and analytical, but at the same time he was a deeply spiritual man with a devotion to the rosary.  He would make them and repair them in his spare time.  Every time I pick up my rosary beads, I always think of him.  He was, I think, a model of teaching from the heart. With him you always thought that you had 'got it'.  It seemed to stay inside, whereas with other teachers in would go in one ear and out the other.   So today I have him in my thoughts as well as someone who I think embodied the kind of values which are to be found in the Salesian tradition.  So, God bless you Mr. Keeley, wherever you are!

The more I think about St John Bosco, the more do I appreciate his relevance to the world we face today. St. John lived (1815-1888)  at a time when Italy was going through  revolutionary economic, political and social change.  He realized that the people who were most   damaged by all this change were young people, and he devoted his life to trying to improve the welfare and education of the young.  Education, following the principles of St. Francis de Sales was a 'matter of the heart'.  You could  only teach the young through being kind and loving.  He believed that through education we could prevent problems developing : by giving the young employment skills and values to see them through life.  Education should be about three things: reason, religion and kindness.  In a world in which so many young people are bearing the brunt of the economic , social and political conditions  of our own times, St. John Bosco reminds us to have a care for the young: to make sure that they have a good education which will equip them for employment; so that they appreciate the complementary role of reason and religion; and above all through our hearts speaking to their hearts, they might experience kindness and gentleness.   He was intensely practical about this and believed that fear was not the way to shape and form the character of the young: and in this we see his devotion to the Sacred Heart shining through all his works and deeds. So today I pray for all those who have been inspired by the life of this saint to work for the education of our young people in these challenging times.

St. John Bosco pray for us. Let our hearts be as open to the needs of the young in our troubled world as yours was in your own time. 

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