St. John Bosco, Pray for Us

Today I’m preaching at the seminary. Talk about a rough crowd; definitely the most critical of audiences. I’m preaching on the feast of St. John Bosco and here’s what I’ll say…

St. John BoscoReadings: Phil. 4:4-9 Matt. 18:1-5
St. John Bosco Biography

“Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Someone once told me that you can only be a child once, but you can be childish your whole life long. I think he meant “childlike,” or at least that’s what I prefer to think.

Jesus tells us we have to turn and become like children: that we must turn away from what we are like now, to become the way children are. So what are children like? One might think of children as innocent and pure … unless, of course, one has been a substitute teacher for a sixth-grade religious education class. I don’t think innocence Jesus is going for here.

Children are also completely dependent on their parents for everything. They need a roof over their head, clothes to wear, food to eat; they need to be educated and socialized and taught to pray. Jesus was calling his followers to turn away from thinking they had everything figured out and taken care of and to realize that they needed God, that they needed God’s wisdom, and needed God’s grace and forgiveness.

St. John Bosco is a very compelling figure for me. Having been a youth minister, I am drawn to his concern for youth. And I have been very moved by the obedience he shows in his vocation and his spiritual life. We can see John Bosco in this Gospel in two ways. First, he was one who helped poor children who very literally had nobody they could depend on. He taught them, and brought them to Mass, and fed them and sheltered them. He was able to reach out to ruffian boys who everyone else had given up on. I guess that makes him the patron saint of cam priests and formation contact people.

But even more than that; more importantly, he was childlike in his obedience to God’s will. For example, most of the priests who tried to help him for a time eventually fell away; many of them because they were put off by John Bosco’s efforts to help these poor children while himself not having even a penny to his name. He had grand plans but no obvious means to achieve them. But Bosco was confident in what God could do in him when he had absolutely nothing. In his childlike dependence on God, he was able to build houses and schools for poor children, several churches, and even found a religious order, the Salesians of St. John Bosco. We should all be so childlike.

I find it so easy in my life to be filled with delusions of self-sufficiency: those sins, as Rolando mentioned yesterday, are legion. As we come to the Eucharist today, would that we could turn away from any of that in our lives, and reach out our hand, in childlike faith, to receive our Lord who longs to be our strength and our sufficiency. “Whoever humbles himself like this,” Jesus tells us, “is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”