St John Bosco

Founder of the Salesians of Don Bosco (entered heaven this day in 1888)

Dear Boss,

My erratic nephew, please don’t be such a wimp.  If there’s one thing that obstructs God’s efforts to do good to souls more than anything else, it’s a lack of perseverance.  It is no novelty to get a great idea, to start out on a great project, to take up a noble task – this happens every day. But to follow through with it – that’s what makes for a real saint.  You have started building up your Compass chapter, and you can see the good results already, yet so soon your determination is wavering in the face of a few challenges and obstacles.  Haven’t I taught you anything over the years? Don’t you realize that this difficult moment in the execution of your worthy enterprise is a golden opportunity for you to show and grow your faith, your hope, your Christian love?  Ugh. If you throw in the towel now I’ll… I’ll… Oh, I don’t know what I’ll do, but it won’t be pleasant. Perhaps the example of today’s saint can knock some sense into you.

Of course, you remember the story of Don Bosco.  He was the son of Piedmontese peasants (northern Italy) and heard God’s call when he was still only a boy, at which point he began gathering poor boys even younger than himself in order to teach them the catechism and encourage them in Christian virtue.  He longed to be a priest but had to overcome poverty and bitter opposition to enter the seminary. He did so (the first challenge met and conquered – a pattern that would repeat itself unceasingly throughout his life) at the age of 16. While yet a seminarian he continued his work of teaching boys, of helping them out of the misery and poverty into which early industrialized Italy tended to force them.  

Once he was ordained, he worked tirelessly to expand his projects.  Against all the odds (he had no money and no connections) he opened a school where boys were apprenticed to a trade during the day and received academic and religious instruction at night.  At first, his only assistant was his mother, who served as general housekeeper for the little community. Soon the group had grown so much, however, that he had to recruit help from other young priests.  Together, they opened two other such schools in the thriving metropolis of Turin, but these priests couldn’t keep pace with Don Bosco, and eventually abandoned him. He forged ahead, deciding to gather his future assistants from the very boys who were enrolled in his school.  And thus began the religious order of the Salesians, priests dedicated to the Christian and practical education of boys, especially the poor. (He also started a parallel group for girls, under the care of a religious order for women, called the Daughters of Our Lady, Help of Christians, and a kind of third order, for interested lay people, called the Salesian Cooperators.).  By the time Don Bosco died, 768 Salesian priests were hard at work in a dozen countries, and by the mid-twentieth century, it was one of the largest religious orders in the whole Church. Oh, I forgot to mention that at the same time Don Bosco was founding his new religious orders, the older religious orders (like the Jesuits and the Ladies of the Sacred Heart) had been expelled from Piedmont, and many convents had been shut down – it was the height of Italian anti-clericalism, a positively insane time to start a new order.

I could go on and on about the unlikely projects that he undertook successfully (like raising money that the Pope himself couldn’t even raise in order to finish the construction of a church in Rome dedicated to the Sacred Heart), and about the plethora of miracles attributed to his intercession even during his lifetime, but I think I have said enough to make my point.  If he had backed down in the face of difficulties, the thousands and thousands of souls whom God has touched through his work would have been left untouched. If you back down in the face of difficulties…. Well, I think you get the message. Stay close to Christ, my young nephew, and take courage: he will never abandon you; just keep fighting for his unconquerable Kingdom.  God bless.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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