For the Feast of John Bosco

The Feast of St. John Bosco is January 31. He is the patron of our home education endeavor. Michael had always affectionately referred to our home"school" as "The Foss School for the Athletically Inclined." Good to know he had his priorities straight. When he began applying for college and we actually did need a name to put on the line asking for one, he chose St. John Bosco Academy after the good, Italian saint who was a lover of athletics and a, well, saint with boys. Perfect.

Tomorrow, Patrick will attend a talk at a local church on athletics and religion, an activity long planned and very fitting for the feast. Then, we'll all finish watching this wonderful, fabulous DVD. Then, following the Italian theme, we'll turn our attention to Days of the Blackbird: A Tale of Northern Italy. Dawn's got it all planned out ever so nicely. We'll enjoy our own version of her tea and a craft.

For dinner, it's Chicken Cacciatore over angel hair pasta and Frutti di Bosco alla Zablagione (HT: MacBeth)

For parents and educators and especially parent-educators, this is a a little bit of the good saint, well worth reading and pondering and meditating upon. A candle will be lit and my prayers will be that I can be the "teacher" Saint John Bosco envisioned:

It seems to me that the words of the Holy Gospel which speak to us of the Divine Saviour come down from heaven to earth to gather together all the children of God scattered all over the world, could be applied literally to the young people of our times. They constitute the most vulnerable yet valuable section of human society. We base our hopes for the future on them, and they are not of their nature depraved. Were it not for struggling parents, idleness, mixing in bad company, it would be so easy to inculcate in their young hearts the principles of order, of good behaviour, of respect, of religion, because if they are ruined at that age, it is due more to carelessness than to ingrained malice. These young people truly have need of some kind person who will take care of them, work with them, guide them in virtue, keep them away from harm.

When teachers are thought of as superior and no longer as fathers, brothers and friends; they are feared and little loved. And so if you want everyone to be of one heart and soul again for the love of Jesus you must break down this fatal barrier of mistrust, and replace it with a spirit of confidence in you.

How then are we to set about breaking down this barrier? By a friendly informal relationship with the young, especially in recreation. You cannot have love without this familiarity, and where this is not evident there can be no confidence. If you want to be loved, you must make it clear that you love. Jesus Christ made himself little with the little ones and bore our weaknesses. He is our master in the matter of the friendly approach.

In general, the system we ought to adopt is called Preventive, which consists in so disposing the hearts of our students that they ought to be willing to do what we ask of them without need of external violence. I would like to think that coercive means are never to be used, but only and exclusively those suggested by patience and charity. If we wish to be seen as friends wanting the real good of our students, and require them to do their duty, we must never forget that we represent the parents of these young people. If therefore I want to be a true father to these children, then I must have a father's heart, and not turn to repression or punishment without reason and without justice, and only in the manner of one who does so under duress, and for the sake of duty.

How often in my long career have I had to convince myself of this great truth! It is certainly easier to lose one's temper than to be patient; threaten young people rather than reason with them. I would say that it better suits our lack of patience and our pride to punish those who resist us, rather than bear with them firmly and with kindness. The charity I am recommending to you is the one St Paul used towards the faithful newly-converted to Christianity, who often made him weep and implore them when he saw them less docile, and less responsive to his zeal. Hence I recommend all teachers that they should be the first to practise fatherly correction in respect of our dear children, and this correction be done in private.

Sometimes it might seem to us that a young person was taking no notice of our advice, whilst deep inside they were well-disposed to cooperate, and meanwhile we were ruining him by our harshness which they cannot understand. Perhaps they did not believe they deserved so much punishment, for something they did; more from weakness than malice. Quite often, when I have sent for trouble-makers, treated them in a kindly way, and asked them why they were so unruly, I was given the answer that they were being picked on, as the saying goes, or given a bad time by one or other teacher. When I looked into the matter calmly and without making a fuss, I had to admit that the fault was not nearly as bad as it seemed at first, and sometimes simply wasn't there at all. For this reason I must say to you with sorrow that we always must bear part of the blame for insubordination. I have often noted that those who demanded silence, handed out punishments, exacted prompt and blind obedience, were invariably those who showed little respect for the useful advice I and other colleagues found it necessary to give, and I became convinced that teachers who never forgive their pupils, are in the habit of forgiving themselves everything. So if we want to know how to command, let us be careful to first learn how to obey, and let us set out first and foremost to make ourselves loved rather than feared.

Everything at its proper time, says the Holy Spirit. When there is the need to punish, great prudence is required to choose the right moment. Nothing is more dangerous than a cure applied incorrectly, or at the wrong moment. We can get to know the right moment only from experience which has been fine-tuned by the goodness of our hearts. First of all then, wait until you are in control of  yourselves; do not let it be understood that you are acting because of a bad mood, or in anger. In this event you would put your authority at risk, and the punishment would become harmful. You may recall that saying of Socrates to a slave he was not pleased with, If I was not angry, I would strike you. young people watch us keenly, and are good at judging from the expression on our face or our tone of voice, whether we are upset because of our devotion to duty, or because we are angry. Even though they are young, they know that only reason has the right to correct them.

Do not punish anyone the very moment the fault is committed, for fear that they are not yet able to own up, or overcome their emotions, they might become embittered, and commit the same, or even worse faults. Give them time to think it over, to recover, to acknowledge their mistake, and so make it possible for them to profit by the experience. I have often thought that this was the way the Lord treated St Paul when he was still breathing threats and murder against the Christians. It seems to me that the same rule is proposed to us when we encounter certain young people who stubbornly oppose us. Jesus does not throw Paul to the ground at once, but after a long journey, after he has had the chance of reflecting on his mission. And he did this far away from those who in any way could have encouraged him in his resolve to persecute the Christians. There instead, outside Damascus, he showed himself to him in all his power and might, and with gentle strength he opened his mind to see the error of his ways. And it was precisely in that moment that he changed Saul's attitude. From persecutor to the apostle of the Gentiles. It is upon this divine example that I would want teachers to train themselves, so that with enlightened patience and diligent charity, in God's name they await that opportune moment to correct.

When you are punishing, it is difficult to preserve that calm which is necessary to assuage any doubt that you might be acting to impose your authority, or to vent your anger. The more you act from spite, the less you are likely to be heeded. The heart of a father, which we ought to have, condemns this way of acting. We should regard those over whom we must exercise authority as we would our own children.

In certain more serious moments it is more useful to turn to God, to humble oneself before him, than to let loose a torrent of words which, on the one hand only harms the one who hears them, on the other hand does nothing for the one who deserved them. When we see our efforts prove ineffectual, and we have only thorns and brambles to show for all our labours, believe me, we must put it down to defective methods of discipline. God is not in the whirlwind, which St Teresa interpreted as, Let nothing disturb you. Our gentle St Francis of Sales used to say, I am afraid to lose in a quarter of an hour that little gentleness that I have managed to put together drop by drop over twenty years. What's the point of talking to someone who is not listening? One day he was reproached for having dealt with excessive gentleness with a young man who had seriously offended his mother. He replied, This young man was not capable of gaining anything from any rebuke of mine, because his poor attitude had deprived him of reason and common sense. A harsh correction would have done nothing for him, and would have done me a lot of harm, causing me to act like those people who drown trying to rescue another.

Young people often need convincing that we have confidence in their ability to improve, and feel there is a kindly hand to help them. You can get more with a friendly look, with a word of encouragement that gives his heart new courage, than you can with repeated blame, which serves only to upset, and weaken enthusiasm. Using this system, I have seen real conversions among those one would otherwise have believed impossible. All youngsters have their off-days - you have had them yourselves! Heaven help us if we do not try to help them to get through them without trouble. Sometimes simply having them understand you do not think they acted from malice is enough to ensure they do not fall again into the same fault.

Remember that education is a matter of the heart, of which God is the sole master, and we will be unable to achieve anything unless God teaches us, and puts the key in our hands. Let us strive to make ourselves loved, and we will see the doors of many hearts open with great ease, and join with us in singing praises and blessing of Him who wished to make himself our model, our way, our example in everything, but especially in the education of the young.

Pray for me, and believe me.

Your loving father and friend,

Fr. John Bosco

Feast of St Francis of Sales 1883

For more of St. John Bosco's writings, visit the Salesians and Crossroads Initiative. And I highly recommend Keys to the Hearts of Youth.

O glorious Saint John Bosco, who in order to lead young people to the feet of the divine Master and to mold them in the light of faith and Christian morality did heroically sacrifice thyself to the very end of thy life and did set up a proper religious Institute destined to endure and to bring to the farthest boundaries of the earth thy glorious work, obtain also for us from Our Lord a holy love for young people who are exposed to so many seductions in order that we may generously spend ourselves in supporting them against the snares of the devil, in keeping them safe from the dangers of the world, and in guiding them, pure and holy, in the path that leads to God. Amen.