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We have been reflecting very seriously on the theme: “What kind of Salesians for the youth of today?” Again, the 28th General Chapter will reflect on this theme from a world perspective. Basically, Don Bosco wanted his sons to be loved by the boys, for he knew that it is only in a love relationship, can we facilitate the growth of any youngster. Youngsters are captivated by men of God, men of Integrity, men who are Trustworthy, men of Empathy, men of Reconciliation and men with a Vision.
1. Men of God: Every Salesian is basically a disciple of Christ. As disciples, it is only natural that we be connected to the Master consistently. Our Constitutions have prescribed so many practical ways we can be in touch with our God. We begin the day with God. At dawn, the Morning Prayer, Mediation and the Holy Eucharist are powerful means to nourish ourselves with the Word of God, the Bread of life. Frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament keep us in tune with the wavelength of God. At dusk, the Evening Prayer, Spiritual Reading, the Rosary helps us to examine ourselves, thank God for the many blessings and revitalize ourselves with spiritual thoughts that come from the Spiritual Reading. Besides these, the occasional other moments of prayer, recollection and retreats help us to keep ourselves on the right track. We are basically spiritual beings, living in this physical world but with a divine purpose. This is exactly why St. Augustine told us vividly that our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee Oh God! Our deepest yearnings are for God. This is why Don Bosco was particular that the boys keep their eyes fixed on God. He really wanted to prepare them to be upright citizens for this world and the next. He had constant recourse to the preparation of Confessions and Holy Communion. He loved to sit at the confessional for hours, for he felt that it was the best strategy to keep the boys in tune with God. Boys loved to go and make their confession to him.
Some do criticize the Salesians as people who only play and have fun. But I am more prone to think that together with the fun and games, our students need to see us as men of God. It is only when they realize this will they come to us seeking spiritual accompaniment. If they do not come to us for spiritual energy, it is good to ask ourselves why! Spirituality is not something that we pretend to have. If we are men of God, the boys will see through and will come to us with a deep desire for God. If there is a misnomer that Salesians are only for fun and frolic, let us radically change that attitude by coming across to the young people as spiritual men passionate about God. I simply love this practice of repeating every now and then: “Thank you Jesus, Praise you Jesus, love you Jesus”. This often helps me to get connected with Him and remain in His love.
2. Men of Integrity: Young people love those who are sincere and authentic. They have a sharp sense of honesty. If anyone tries to pretend to be sincere and play games with them, they will have a natural aversion to such people. Don Bosco was sincere in his love for the boys and that is one reason why they looked up to him. Sincerity is not only with regard to money but also in our relationships. They do not like any partiality. In fact when young people used to come to Ennore for animation, I used to ask them what they liked and did not like in their elders. The oft repeated answer was that they liked those who genuinely loved them and that they did not like partiality shown by the elders.
Besides, being genuine in our relationship, we have to stand for truth in all our endeavours. It is true that we live in a society which adheres to bribes and corruption. The easy way to get things done is through a bribe. But we need to communicate that we stand for values and that we do not comply to such demands of the avaricious people. This process may take time but we stand for truth and fight even legally for our rights. One of the reasons why young people get agitated in Society is due to the insincerity they observe in the world. They are prone to sincere dealings. As religious, we have all the more responsibility to tell the world that Truth will triumph. In general, I have observed young people having a soft corner for the sincere religious.
3. Men who are trustworthy: Sincere religious are trusted by the young. In addition to this, it is important that the young are trusted by the elders. We see in the YAR Sector, the formation of the Children’s Parliament, where they take the role of various administrative characters and discuss issues to plan and resolve problems. This is based on the belief that young people are capable of resolving their own problems. Capitalizing on this ability of the young people, we need to discuss with them and seek their opinions and even decide with them on the various issues they are facing. It is amazing to see the active participation and involvement of the young people in this process. In addition, we will also see that they begin to implement the decisions they have been part of. This is how we develop a sense of co-responsibility and they begin to rise to mature ways of life.
We all know that the basis of any relationship is trust. We need to trust the people around. Trust is shown by delegating works, giving freedom for people to function with enough financial resources too. It is unfortunate that there are people who have the so called paranoid tendency, wherein they suspect everyone around. This has been one of the real causes of conflicts, misunderstanding and indifference. It is high time that we resolve this problem and trust people so that we can be found trustworthy. It is only in an atmosphere of trust, affirmation that human excellence blossoms.
4. Men of Empathy: Men of God, men of integrity and men who are trustworthy will emerge as people who can manifest empathy to people around. They are able to perceive the needs of people around and make those needs their own and enter into the lives of people with compassion and passion. This is how passionate men and women entered into the lives of people and have brought about a radical transformation in the society. In the recent times, St. Mother Theresa, Bl. Oscar Romero, and in the last century our own father and founder St. John Bosco are shining examples of deep empathy. They felt with the people and entered into their lives with a spiritual energy and brought life to so many people. Like Jesus, they were willing to even die for the suffering lot. This definitely creates a magnetic bond and the result is that such people are loved by their beneficiaries.
5. Men of Reconciliation: We are all fallible human beings who need to forgive and ask forgiveness. Mistakes do take place. The easiest thing is to condemn such people and alienate or write off such people from our lives. Jesus always went in search of the lost sheep and was keen to bring them back to the fold. The parable of the lost coin or of the lost son is clear indication of his genuine forgiving love. When someone does something wrong particularly against us, our natural inclination is to take revenge and punish the person. Jesus told us to go in the forgiving style, not seven times but seventytimes seven. It is only in a true reconciling spirit that we regain the person back to normalcy. We need to admit the mistake done, forgive the person from the heart and take steps to reach out to the person with loving forgiveness. St. John Paul II reached out to Aga Khan who attempted to shoot him to death. Men of God can only think of forgiveness and not revenge and punishment. Such persons will endear to the young people and will win their hearts.
6. Men with a Vision: It is men with vision who will plan with the young and give them big dreams in order to enable them to bring out their potentials. People love those who can perceive the hidden potentials of people and develop them. Deep down in every soul there is the seed of sanctity. It is a special ability to make people realize this potential and make them work on this potential. Don Bosco was able to see the goodness in every person and enabled them to mature this goodness into Sainthood. Sometimes, we think that our task is to enable one to develop their intellectual abilities and make them attain a degree and a secure job and we feel happy that we have brought them up. While this is a good step, we should look for moving them to Sanctity and make them Good Citizens of this world and of the next! This would be the apex of our interventions in the lives of young people.
Don Bosco’s Way of Being Loved
“You can do nothing with young people unless you have their confidence and love,” St. John Bosco was known for saying. At an early age, St. John Bosco connected with a traveling circus, and learned from them the arts of juggling and acrobatics. He’d later use those skills to attract school children to a performance, only to follow it with a preaching of the homily he had heard earlier in the day! Good Don Bosco knew that souls come to Christ through relationship. His playful, unassuming character meant that youth were drawn to him and trusted him. This formed the foundation for their relationship. Lovable, human Don Bosco exemplifies that people madly in love with God can go beyond the rest of us in expressing their love. Don Bosco not only acted as a priest, a catechist, and a teacher of subjects from music to metrics to his first slum kids, he also took many homeless or abused boys to live with him. He cooked for them, cut out and sewed their suits, barbered their hair, made their beds, and in all ways acted as both a mother and a father. Surely this was enough self-giving, but not for the saint.
Don Bosco’s approach wasn’t all fun and games, though. Fiercely devoted to the sacramental life, to prayer, and to the study of Scripture, he continually availed himself of the Sacraments and encouraged his boys to do the same. An afternoon of soccer in an Italian field, for example, would always be followed by Mass and Confession. St. John’s love of Christ and His mother couldn’t help but rub off on the boys, who desired to emulate their spiritual father in all things.
John Bosco died on January 31st, 1888. His last message for his sons was this: Live together as brothers, love each other and bear with each other. The protection of Our Lady, Help of Christians, will always be with you. At the time of Don Bosco’s death, close to 800 boys were living at the Oratory that he had built. Wrote Pope Pius XI of the beloved saint, “God gave him largeness of heart as the sand on the seashore.” This, I think, is the heart of Don Bosco that we can emulate today in serving our youth. Whether we are in the classroom or playground, in the office or in the pulpit, may our hearts always be enlarged as good Don Bosco’s was.
Some Practical Ways to Love and Be Lovable
“It is never too late to be what you might have been” said George Eliot. All of us face challenges in life when we want to make a new beginning in our relationships, mission or even in our vision. All we need is the right attitude, a controlled mind, the belief in self and faith in life. To begin with, we need to love our choice of life and be ever hopeful for a better way to live our religious life. If you’ve made up your mind to start a new life, then you’ve already taken the first step towards becoming a person who can love and be loved. Here are a few tips and more steps that will help you prepare yourself for a change of life in this new year.
1. Forget - Whenever you want to start anew, you may need to take lessons from and make peace with the past. No matter how bad things were, how hurt you were, or how many failures you met – you’ve got to forget them. We need to learn from our mistakes, and forget about them – though remember to not repeat them!
2. Forgive - To release yourself from the bondage of your mistakes, guilt, wrongdoings, and torments of others, you need to first forgive yourself and them as well! If possible, use the option of apologizing for your mistakes. This frees us from a negative bond and gives us the permission to move forward to start a new life.
3. Be Peaceful - As I detailed in my last Circular, a calm and serene mind helps us to be peaceful and productive. Drop your tensions and don’t worry – that will only accumulate stress. Learn mind control and consistent meditation. You’ll be happier and more peaceful when you let go of things that you cannot control. You’re less burdened and can concentrate on working with your own life.
4. Accept - One more step to attain peace of mind and move forward is to accept the past because you cannot change it. Accept yourself, your life, your confreres and the community life and mission, while trying to make the best use of the current situation for your own growth and betterment. Acceptance of a problem gives you something concrete to work on to correct your wrongdoings and change your life. Know yourself better and try to understand other confreres and situations in the community and mission. Know your shortcomings and virtues, skills and abilities, interests and passions. Try to understand the reality and, realistically find out what would it take for you to solve your life and make a new beginning. True solutions come with profound understanding and acceptance.
5. Be Positive - Some of you might have faced and lived in negativity either in the recent or distant past. Violence, anger and guilt are some negativity that you need to convert to peace, compassion, gratitude, good habits, love, and self-respect. Good and positive thoughts impact your actions. You can make a new beginning only when you feel good about yourself!
6. Change - Be ready to stop doing what you’ve been doing if it needs to be changed, and start with something new without any fear, even if it amounts to changing your lifestyle. Change may feel awkward and difficult in the start – it always is. But you need to push yourself to make it happen. You cannot grow, evolve, or progress without embracing change in life. Find the change you need for the new start in life.
7. Focus - Choose a path, remain positive, have priorities, create a goal, and remain focused. Don’t let negative thoughts and emotions from your past disturb or deter you. Remind yourself to be strong and determined because focus will help you achieve a good start to a new life.
8. Be Aware - Life is full of surprises. Opportunity may knock at your door anytime and you need to keep your eyes, ears, and mind open all the time. When required, think of all possibilities, keep all options open, trust your instincts, and have faith in yourself. Trust that every moment has the potential to launch your life.
9. Take Risks - At every given moment you’ve many choices and you choose one. The choice is always in YOUR hands. Every moment you take risks. With time, learning, and practice you develop the wisdom and instincts to make the right choices. Always make the choice to cling with the right and good. Take a chance if you have a gut feeling even if the odds are against you, at the same time; learn to say no when required.
10. Make Efforts - Keep trying and keep making efforts, none of them ever go waste. Develop an attitude to learn from every event, every person, every situation, and every failure. Treat everything as a blessing in disguise. The more you try and give your best; more are your chances to make the right choice and to make a successful new beginning of being loved and being lovable.