This week, we celebrate Catholic Schools Week! This coming Friday, at the conclusion of our week, we’ll celebrate the memorial of Saint John Bosco, the patron saint of children and young people. His example is always worth considering because he taught his youth to turn their hearts to God and to keep his commandments; and he teaches us to do so, as well.
Don Bosco devoted his life to the care of poor and abandoned boys in the city of Turin, Italy, because he knew they were made in the image and likeness of God. He provided them with a great home built on faith, hope and love, centered on Jesus Christ. He taught them both the arts and the faith and he gathered others around himself for this work. By his own fatherly care and great humor, he conveyed to them a deep love of God for each one of them personally, and led them on the path to holiness, filling them with hope. In this way, he showed them the greatness of a life well-lived; he showed them the way to lasting joy and peace, the desire of every heart. Through his love, Don Bosco helped them to know God is indeed mindful of them and that He always cares for them. This was his life’s ambition, the goal of his tireless mission and enthusiastic love: to lead souls to God by uniting them to the Body of Christ, the Church.
Shouldn’t this be same goal at the heart of every Catholic school? The task of such schools is the education of our children in the arts and sciences, and above all – and this must not be forgotten – an education in the Faith of the Church. Through an education in the Catholic-Christian Faith and the means to explore the wonders of the world, we seek to form our students to use well the talents and gifts they have been given by God in order to become “good and faithful servant[s]” of God and good citizens (Matt. 25:21).
As a great teacher and father to the young, Don Bosco said, “I have always labored lovingly for them [his boys].” With these words he provides an excellent model for all who have responsibility for young people. He tells us the need to always work for them with the love of Jesus always in our hearts. It is to his example that our students, teachers, parents and volunteers must look if we truly want to make of our Catholic schools an “A+ for America.”
There are many voices telling us where we will find the fulfillment of this joy, where we will find the happiness we desire deep within. Some of these voices are true, but many of them are false, and promise us what they cannot give. Before we listen to these voices, we need to look first to see if the one who speaks is truly happy and to be certain the voice is authentic. That happiness we seek has a name and a face: it is Jesus Christ! We must look to Him and stay close to Him always. Speak with Him in your prayer; learn from Him in the Sacred Scriptures; encounter Him in the Sacraments. He will never abandon us or lead us astray; rather, He will always say, “Come, share your master’s joy” (Matt. 25:23)!
The joy and enthusiasm of youth is no secret and even those who have grown old recall it with fondness, often desiring it again. We mustn’t let our youngsters lose this joy! Don’t let them be stifled, but let them come to know, love and imitate Jesus Christ!
To parents, this Apostle to the Young addresses these words: “Raise your children with great care in the holy fear of God, because on this depends their health and blessings for your house.” When you presented your sons and daughters to the Church and requested the gift of Baptism for them, you pledged to be the first teachers of your children in the ways of faith, and the Church prayed that you would be the best of teachers.
Each day, as you gaze upon your child(ren), renew this promise and make it the guiding principle behind the way you raise them. Consider these powerful words John Bosco spoke once to a group of children: “Be cheerful, but let your cheerfulness be genuine, stemming from a conscience free from sin. Unfortunately, parents are not always good counselors because they are not always guided by what is best for their child’s spiritual welfare, but by worldly considerations. But if parents live their faith, they are your best counselors because they know them intimately and their advice can be nothing but good and well-founded. Always be guided by what is best: eternal life with God! By your example and teaching, show your children how to follow faithfully after Jesus Christ; to do so, you must first strive to follow Christ before all else.”
To teachers, St. John Bosco gives this admonition and reminder: “The teacher who is seen only in the classroom and nowhere else, is a teacher and nothing more; but let him go with his boys to recreation and he becomes a brother.” If you share in the joys and interests of your students they will know that you love them and will then better learn from you. Do not seek to be simply a teacher, but seek to be a fellow disciple of the Lord, a mentor and a guide to the young.
If each of us follows these profound words of St. John Bosco, our Catholic schools will help transform our nation and, more importantly, will instill the love of God in our children. His example shines like a great light illuminating the path of the young souls entrusted to our care. The character of a society is only as good as the character of its individuals.
Love these children! Learn well from St. John Bosco to lead your children ever closer to Jesus Christ. Let his words spoken near his death be yours: “Tell [them] that I shall be waiting for them all in Paradise.” Through our celebration of Catholic Schools Week, may the Lord deepen his grace in each of our lives and help us all to be found faithful to Him.