Saint John Bosco, Master of Youth

By Matthew August

"Whatever you do, think of the Glory of God as your main goal" - St. John Bosco.

God is known to send our world the saints we need most when we need them. Men and women will be called to reflect the image and likeness of God in ways that will change the course of history. With Napoleon's exile in 1815, a new era began with the Industrial Revolution. God would need another soul in the world to become His hands and feet.

Enter St. John Bosco, the "Apostle of Youth," whose feast we celebrate on Jan. 31.

John Bosco was born in Becchi, Italy, on Aug. 16, 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which wreaked havoc in his country. When John was only 2, his father died. He and his two brothers were raised by their mother, Margaret. She was a devout Catholic and raised her sons with strong values.

Vivid dream
When young John was 9 years old, he had a vivid dream where he saw children in a field. They were violent and rowdy. The boy tried to stop the chaos, but no one would listen. 

A man and woman suddenly appeared, both magnificent and majestic. In his memoirs, St. John Bosco stated that the man "appeared, nobly attired, with a manly and imposing bearing."

They promised him that he would conquer these souls.

The children of the field suddenly became wild vicious beasts. Young John shrank back in terror, but the majestic woman stretched out her hand, and the monsters became lambs. "This is the field of your work," said the woman. "Be humble, steadfast, and strong."

When John rose from his sleep, he ran to his mother. "When I grow up, I'm going to be a priest, and I'll talk to children all the time, and I'll do everything for them!"

Magic tricks
In his travels through the streets, John stumbled upon a circus act, filled with magicians performing illusions. It dawned on the boy that if he could learn these tricks, then he could use them to attract people to himself and win their souls for God.

John dedicated himself to learning magic. He became very skilled and would charge participants with praying the Rosary to see him perform. He would also add a homily, teaching his audience about Christ.

John knew his divine call to become a priest, but he lived in poverty with no way to pay for an education. He left home when he was only 12 to find work and live his dream.

He went from farm to farm trying to lend any help for money. He finally found a job at a vineyard, where he labored for two years before meeting a priest who would take an interest in him.

Father Joseph Cafasso, who is now canonized for his missionary work, became one of John Bosco's lifelong friends and helped direct him on his path to seminary.

Through his fundraising and with the help of his mother, John was able to gather the funds he needed to enter the seminary in Chieri, by the Church of the Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception). After years of study, he was ordained a priest.

Father John's gifts with the modern youth were extraordinary. He was first assigned to Turin, at the time largely slums, wracked with extreme poverty.

"Do not commit sin!"
He noticed young boys roaming the streets throughout town. Father John felt the divine urge within him to claim these for Christ. He captivated their attention with the magic tricks he'd learned in his youth and catechized the children on the streets, teaching them about the God who loved them.

"Run, jump, have all the fun you want at the right time, but for Heaven's sake, do not commit sin!" he pleaded.

Father John worked tirelessly to give these children a life of dignity. He persuaded businesses and schools to end the physical abuse and beating of children in their institutions. His "oratories" gave children a safe place to gather for instruction and recreation.

His innovative "preventative system" of education was based on three pillars: reason, religion and kindness.

"Without confidence and love, there can be no true education," he stated. "If you want to be loved ... you must love yourselves, and make your children feel that you love them."

In 1859, Fr. John created the Society of St. Francis de Sales, a group of seminarians who dedicated themselves to forming young men into the Catholic faith. This religious congregation would come to be known as the Salesians of St. John Bosco.

In 1871, he founded the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters) to do the same work for young girls.

After giving his entire life to these children, he died on Jan. 31, 1888.

In 2002, Pope St. John Paul II declared him the patron saint of magic. This shows us how God can use anything we touch to ultimately bring glory to Him.

Divine involvement
Saint John Bosco radiated Christ wherever he went. His life story gives the faithful a glimpse into how involved God wants to be in our lives.

Perhaps many of us feel that God is detached or uninterested in our stories. He's God, and He has bigger things to worry about. This is not true.

God cares deeply about each and every one of us and wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives. We must see with our eyes of faith and let our Heavenly Father into our lives.

When we do, we will change the world.

"Servite Domino in laetitia!" Serve the Lord joyfully. His will for our lives is filled with meaning and adventure.

Saint John Bosco, pray for us!

WATCH: Father Dan Cambra, MIC, shares his thoughts about St. John Bosco.



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