John Bosco, on Friends and Benefactors

In researching our parish’s summer bible school (an event we’re assembling from scratch without the canned VBS products from publishers) I found some excellent thoughts from one of our week’s saints, John Bosco.

I’ve never before encountered the patron saint of youth, but I see why he has been entrusted so from this remarkable and holy insight:

The repressive system may stop a disorder, but can hardly make the offenders better. Experience teaches that the young do not easily forget the punishments they have received, and for the most part foster bitter feelings, along with the desire to throw off the yoke and even to seek revenge. They may sometimes appear to be quite unaffected, but anyone that follows them as they grow up knows that the reminiscences of youth are terrible, and some have even been known in later years to have had recourse to brutal vengeance for chastisements they had justly deserved during the course of their education.

In the preventive system, on the contrary, the pupil becomes a friend, and the assistant, a benefactor who advises him, has his good at heart, and wishes to spare him vexation, punishment, and perhaps dishonor. By the preventive system pupils acquire a better understanding, So that an educator can always speak to them in the language of the heart, not only during the time of their education but even afterward. Having once succeeded in gaining the confidence of his pupils he can subsequently exercise a great influence over them, and counsel them, advise and even correct them, whatever position they may occupy in the world later on.

This brought me back to my days (2007-08) assisting in the chaplaincy at the Crittenton Children’s Center. By far, it was the most demanding thing I’d ever done, working with those troubled, injured young people. I wonder how the founder of the Salesians would have tackled modern psychiatric institutions. These youth had certainly experienced repression at the hands of their abusers, sometimes even the parents they still loved. Many of them lashed out in “brutal vengeance”–probably why most all of them were there. In particular, I remember one usually gentle young man who visibly struggled with his own “vexation.” I could see in his eyes, and in his manner how he wanted to strike when situations overwhelmed him. I was speaking to my wife of these quotes and how I was thinking back to those kids.

One episode was especially moving to me. The young women were on lockdown one evening, so I had only four young men for “choir practice.” We had just acquired a set of tone chimes, mainly for the people less interested in singing. With three-fourths of our singers in their rooms, the guys were more interested in jamming than vocalizing. It was easy enough to give them a pentatonic scale: select chimes, plus one kid playing patterns on certain notes on the lowest octave of the piano. The improvisation was good, considering the level of musicianship. But one boy, after we finished, found himself stunned. “Man,” he said, “We were good.”

Of course they were.

John Bosco, pray for them. Pray for them all.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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