John Bosco, who we celebrate today, was born in the late 1800s in Italy. He lost his father at age two, but he managed to retain a sweet, kind disputation. At age nine, he received a vision of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary encouraging him to be kind, obedient, and hardworking – a vision that began his vocation early in life. Eventually, Bosco went to seminary and became a priest and was assigned as chaplain to a girls’ boarding school. But before long, Bosco was not satisfied working with well-to-do young women – he was more drawn to the ragamuffin boys outside the school – so much so that he opened an orphanage for them in 1846. Eventually his work led to the formation of the Salesian order, a group of women religious, lay brothers and dedicated laity who operated orphanages, vocational schools, and night-time primary schools for working people.
Having watched the recent State of the Union address, and especially the commentary following, I think we as a country have lost a lot of what Bosco embodied – the sweet, kindness that shows love to one another. We are so busy being right that we forget what being kind to one another looks like.
We see a difficult invitation from Philippians today, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Gentleness is not one of those virtues we value today – instead we have become rigid upholders of what is right – much as we saw when our government shut down last year. Showing love sounds good, but showing love is much harder in practice.
So how can we become a people full of love like Bosco’s? Two things emerge from Philippians: First, the text says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice.” Rejoicing in God may seem silly, but having words of adoration for God always on our lips makes loving a lot easier. Focusing on God somehow takes us out of ourselves and puts us back on track with being agents of love. Second, the text says, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” In other words, we have to actively pull our minds out of the messiness of our lives and set our minds on goodness. Perhaps then we might find our ways to the kindness, generosity, and love we find in people like Bosco. Amen.