Homily for Don Bosco’s Birthday
For the Youth at the Europe Confonto
Don Pascual Chavez V.
Ez 34,11-12.15-16.23-24.30-31; Phil 4,4-9; Mt 5, 1-12
Dear young people,
Brothers and sisters of the Salesian Family,
From the Colle, this hillside where everything speaks of Don Bosco, on this, his birthday, celebrated during the European Confronto, from this newly renovated temple, I reach out to all the young people of the Salesian Youth Movement around the world.
1. The first word I would like to address to you is “Rejoice in the Lord, always” (Phil 4,4). This invitation, which we hear every time we celebrate the memorial of Don Bosco, becomes more vibrant and convincing each time we hear it.
“The Lord is near” (Phil 4,5). Indeed, he has been present and living among us since the moment of the Incarnation of his Son; in the power of his Resurrection, Jesus offers us fullness of life and eternal salvation.
Songs of joy surrounded the birth of Jesus, that event which marks the beginning of our era. A proclamation of joy also marked the resurrection of Jesus from the dead at Easter, as His victory over death became our guarantee of freedom from all evil.
It is joy that also filled the life of Don Bosco, from his earliest years which he spent here in Becchi, years defined by hard work, the tender care of his mother Margarita, his ardent desire to learn, and his generous commitment to his peers.
Joy derives from and leads to gratitude, because life itself is a gift, wrapped in love from beginning to end. We can deduce this fact from history: the history of the world, with its many heroes of holiness and wisdom, its courageous witnesses as well as its unsung promoters of good; but also in the personal history of each one of us. The whole history of humanity, including its most tragic pages whose darkness could call into question the very existence of God, reveals in fact the ever present love of God, acting through those countless people who in God’s name spent their best energies to build a world worthy of man, a world of justice, peace, culture and a promise of salvation.
Gathered here as Salesian youth, we are also commemorating, with justified emotion, the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Salesian Congregation and of the Salesian Family: with joy and gratitude! We look forward to the upcoming celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of our beloved founder and father. On this site, in 1815, on a 16th of August just like today, John Bosco saw the light of day. From here, we turn our eyes to the world, to contemplate the network of works that find their origins in John Bosco, and to the multitude of young people who in those works find a home, friendship, and direction for their lives.
Take a moment, if only briefly, to re-read your own young lives. Joy and gratitude flow from an inner source: because you have life, because you have been introduced to a personal encounter with Jesus, because you have received the gift of Christian faith, because you are free to express that faith with all your youthful energy within the community of the Church.
How many times have you felt joy and expressed thanks to the Lord for the love of your parents and the generous dedication of your educators; and how many more times have you felt gratitude for the gift of friendship, for projects dreamed of and realized, and for festive moments which find their fullest expression in a well-prepared Eucharistic celebration in which you shared with heartfelt participation.
You are protagonists in this beautiful story, a story at once personal and universal, which finds its origins in Jesus. Share with many others this call of Christ to true freedom, human dignity, fraternal care, and peace! Today, in this place where John Bosco lived his youth, I encourage you to discover and to walk the roads that, inspired by these ideals, lead to a joy that is complete.
2. This year for us is a Jubilee, which opens the door to the immediate preparations for the bicentennial of the birth of Don Bosco. We are therefore invited to walk through this door, a sign that contains a message. Crossing the threshold, we enter into the Temple, the space where we feel more powerfully the presence of God. There, we join the assembly of the Christian community where, together, we celebrate the marvels that God has done, we praise God for his greatness, we thanks Him for his mercy, and from Him we receive the energy we need to give ourselves in generous service to our brothers and sisters.
This door also has a more personal meaning for each one of us: it is the threshold which allows God and our brothers and sisters to enter into our hearts, into our life plans, even into our material possessions.
If only our door could be opened as wide as Mary’s door was. She, who upon hearing God’s invitation answered in prompt reply: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord” (Lk 1,38); she who felt compassion for her cousin Elizabeth in her time of need and “went in haste to the hill country” far away (Lk 1,39); she who at Cana was attentive and caring enough to make sure the celebration would continue uninterrupted (Jn 2, 3.5); she who at the foot of the cross gave Jesus her full availability to be a mother to each of us: “Woman, behold your son” (Jn 19, 26).
Alas, this door may also remain closed, because we do not want to share our wealth (cf Lk 18,22-23); because disorder reigns in our hearts (cf Lk 12, 29); because of the distractions and the noise that make it difficult for us to “understand the things that are happening around us” (cf Lk 12, 56); because ambition prevents us from getting involved in projects that require us to be generous towards others (cf Lk 14, 7-14).
From this Colle, where Johnny Bosco had his dream - a dream that guided his life – he tells you today: “Open your lives to the great dream that God has for each one of you: holiness! This is the goal that the great Pope John Paul II left with the young people at World Youth Day in Rome, 2000, when he challenged you with these words: Dear young people, … from every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplatives and lovers of prayer; coherent with your faith and generous in your service to your bothers and sisters, active members of the Church and artisans of peace”. Don’t set your sights on anything less that this!
Place your trust in the grace of God, in the happiness that following His plans will bring you , and in the Spirit who dwells in you. You are not the first ones to be attracted by the desire for holiness: this indeed is one of the basic characteristics of the Salesian Youth Movement to which you belong. The very origins of this Movement lie in the hunger for God and the limitless charity which inspired don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello. Following in their foot steps, the young learned how to weave into a seamless fabric the energy of youth with a generous response to God.
On the walls of this Temple there are photos that remind us of that glorious day when Pope John Paul II declared the holiness of Laura Vicuna, to the cheers and applause of the young people who where present.
3. By what door does one enter to explore the mystery of God’s dream for him or her? “I am the door” (Jn 10,7), declares Jesus. Through Him, we can enter without any illusions or risk of betrayal regarding both the mystery of God and true love for our brothers and sisters, lived in the real world.
This has been borne out by the countless believers who have entrusted themselves to Him, particularly his most beloved and enthusiastic disciples. Two of them are named in the Gospel.
Fascinated by his personality, they left all they had and followed him. Jesus turned to them and asked, “What are you looking for?”. But before they could answer, he read their hearts and knew their desire to share his mission, so he added: “come, and see”.
Come and see! Jesus makes the same invitation to each of you, to know Him more profoundly, to build a friendship with Him by spending time together, by inviting Him into your work, your life, your relationships. It is an invitation to work together with Jesus to fulfill his promise of love, and thus becomes a source of light and courage for all.
This door opens onto a path of love that urges us ever forward, ever upward. “I am the way the truth and the life” (Jn 14,6). With our trust firmly in God, and careful to interpret well the mandate that was entrusted to us by our father and teacher Don Bosco, I wish, at this first Confronto of the new millennium, to commission you, young people of the Salesian Youth Movement: GO FURTHER
Do not settle for a superficial daily existence, but go beyond and explore profoundly, in all of its hidden potential, the project of life that God has dreamed for you ever since the dawn of time.
Go beyond personal interest and open yourselves to the many voices all around you that are crying for attention: share a sincere word, offer a friendly glance, extend your hand in generosity.
Go beyond the interests of your own nation and your own culture, to sow the seeds of a universal brotherhood which embraces all those who are different than you, because we are all born of the same Father.
Go beyond the insatiable and, at times, boring satisfactions of a consumerist lifestyle, and foster instead a relentless commitment to a solidarity that is useful, and visible.
Go beyond individualism, professional qualification, even when acquired through much sacrifice; go beyond the accumulation of personal wealth, and share your material goods with those who are most in need.
Go beyond the assurances of reason and of science, and open yourselves to the mystery that lies within all reality, recognizing with filial joy the imagination of the Creator God, the energy of the Risen Christ, and the life-giving presence of the Spirit.
Even in your experience of religion, go beyond obligations, ritual practices, and chasing the next spiritual high. Instead, anchor yourselves to the faith of the great ecclesial community: celebrate the Paschal mystery of the Lord of life and enjoy already the victory of good over evil.
To “go beyond” is nothing more than believing and embracing the logic of the Gospel, a logic of generosity and creativity which call to mind the beatitudes: “because theirs is the kingdom of heaven… because they will inherit the earth… because they will be called sons and daughters of God… because your reward will be great in heaven... (Mt. 5, 10.12).
This is precisely the message that calls out to us from this birthplace of don Bosco, so aptly called the “Hill of the Beatitudes of the Young”, because it evokes Don Bosco’s passionate dream for all youth: “I want you to be happy here on earth and for all eternity”.
4. To go beyond also means to see beyond geographic boundaries. Today, more than ever, the Kingdom of God needs open minds and generous hearts that can embrace the global village. In one famous dream, Don Bosco saw himself right here at Colle, looking out at the vast field of his mission: the whole world! This missionary thrust, a characteristic of any follower of Don Bosco, young or less young, will be celebrated in a special way in this jubilee year, on September 27, with an “extraordinary missionary expedition”. Similar to the first group of missionaries sent by Don Bosco himself 134 years ago - a group made up of daring and generous young people, who had grown up in the youth groups of the Valdocco oratory experience - this year’s extraordinary expedition will go from the altar of the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians to every corner of the globe.
Among this group of missionaries are members of the SYM. However, the entire SYM needs to nurture its missionary soul. As members of SYM, become promoters of joy and the leaven of hope wherever you are. Consider yourselves commissioned to be signs and bearers of the love of God, building meaningful human relations in the cities where you live and becoming heralds of the Word among your peers.
If you take up this challenge, the incarnate love of God will to live in and through you. The Incarnation is the fundamental source of our salesian spirituality. In fact, it is the main way in which to become “signs and bearers of the love of God”. From Jesus in the Incarnation, we learn how to take the first step towards our needy brothers and sisters, we learn how to share the journey of humanity in history, we learn how to enter into meaningful relationship with whomever we meet.
What’s more, the Incarnation reveals to us the value of ordinary, every day life. Made up as it is of so many different elements which, when taken together, reveal to us the presence of God, it is in the ordinariness of the passing days, taking each of us from birth towards our own resurrection, through events both banal and extraordinary, that we come to see the light of the Christ’s divinity in our midst.
5. This task is arduous, but equally satisfying; In the SYM you will find all the guidance, energy and companions you need to make the journey. This European Confronto which you have just celebrated is indeed an important phase of the journey, empowering you with its rich variety of study, reflection, prayer and celebration. Recharged by this Confronto in this jubilee year, its now up to you turn to communicate this experience to many other young people and to spread Don Bosco’s spirituality which lends itself so spontaneously to the young.
Like Don Bosco, you too will have Mary as your “mother and teacher”. Do not take your eyes off of her; listen to her when she says: “do whatever Jesus tells you” (Jn 2,5). Pray to her with the confidence of children, that the Lord may inspire many young people to say “yes” to his call to priestly or consecrated life. To her, I entrust each of you. With you, I entrust to her the youth of all the world, that she might attracted them, guide them and inspire them to find their full stature as men and women who are committed to building a new world: the world of Jesus Christ, Teacher and Lord.
Don Pascual Chavez V.
Colle Don Bosco, August 16, 2009