St. John Bosco 2019
St. Matthew records, in his passion narrative, an old tradition from the earliest days of the Church which is referred to in this letter to the Hebrews. The story tells us that when Our Lord died, there was an earthquake, and one of the results was the ripping of the Temple veil–the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple. The holiest place of the Temple, where the Ark of the Covenant used to rest, was believed to be the dwelling place of God on earth. So the ripping of the veil came to mean a number of things, chiefly that the separation of God from humans was reversed by the death of His Son.
The chief priest used to enter the Holy of Holies only once a year, with the blood of sacrifice, to atone for the sins of the people. But Jesus, the great high priest according to the order of Melchizedek, died and entered the presence of God, heaven, with His own blood. Now, in Him and through Him, we offer that same sacrifice in faith. We not only enter the presence of God, but we spiritually eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, entering into communion with Him so that He dwells in us all the time. And, even better, we are called to shine as lights to the world, drawing others to Christ and the Church by our faith, hope and charity. The gift we offer is the gift of ourselves, in Christ, for the Father to do with as He wills.
Our saint today, John Bosco, called by his title “Don” Bosco, exemplified that giving in his life and his ministry. His birthplace, Becchi, in northern Italy, is close to Turin and immediately north of Monaco. So in the early nineteenth century it was in the area that had been ravaged and impoverished by the Napoleonic wars. “At the age of two, John lost his father, leaving him and his two older brothers to be raised by his mother, Margherita. His "Mama Margherita Occhiena" would herself be declared venerable by the Church in 2006.
“Raised primarily by his mother, John attended church and became very devout. When he was not in church, he helped his family grow food and raise sheep. They were very poor, but despite their poverty his mother also found enough to share with the homeless who sometimes came to the door seeking food, shelter or clothing.
“When John was nine years old, he had the first of several vivid dreams that would influence his life. In his dream, he encountered a multitude of boys who swore as they played. Among these boys, he encountered a great, majestic man and woman. The man told him that in meekness and charity, he would ‘conquer these your friends.’ Then a lady, also majestic said, ‘Be strong, humble and robust. When the time comes, you will understand everything.’ This dream influenced John the rest of his life.”
As part of his self-education, he studied the moves and magic of traveling entertainers, and became proficient in juggling and magic. On a Sunday, he staged a show for his friends and got them “hooked” on his performance. Then he recited the homily he had heard at Mass that morning and prayed with his friends. They discerned that he had a call to the priesthood, and against the wishes of his brothers, he began studying with a local priest. He studied in seminary and was ordained about the age of 26. He was assigned to Torino–we call it Turin. “While visiting the prisons, Fr. Bosco noticed a large number of boys, between the ages of 12 and 18, inside. The conditions were deplorable, and he felt moved to do more to help other boys from ending up there. He went into the streets and started to meet young men and boys where they worked and played. He used his talents as a performer, doing tricks to capture attention, then sharing with the children his message for the day.”
“In 1859, Fr. Bosco established the Society of St. Francis de Sales, [the Salesians]. He organized 15 seminarians and one teenage boy into the group. Their purpose was to carry on his charitable work, helping boys with their faith formation and to stay out of trouble. The organization still exists today and continues to help people, especially children around the world.” As we work to evangelize young people, then, we should frequently pray, “St. John Bosco, pray for us.”