Archbishop Gregory Aymond delivered the following homily at the annual Catholic Schools Week Mass Jan. 31 at St. Dominic Church.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. John Bosco, who was born in 1815 to a very poor family.
When he was 2, his father died, and his loving mother was left to care for him and his two brothers. It was tough.
Even when he was going to school, besides learning about God and Jesus from his mother and others, he also had to work. He probably spent as much time in the fields working to take care of his family as he did in school.
Even though John Bosco had a challenging and an especially tough childhood, he always knew this – God loved him and God was always there.
Something happened to John Bosco when he was 9 years old. While he was sleeping, he had a dream. In this dream, he was standing on a playground, and there were all these kids not just playing but fist-fighting, calling each other names and throwing each other down on the ground. John Bosco was watching all of this in his dream, and this messenger comes to him and said, “John, you have to do something about this. Go stand in the middle of them and ask them to be kind like Jesus.”
That’s what he did, and they listened. Then, as the dream went on, the messenger told John, “I want you to spend the rest of your life with young people, telling them to live like Jesus.” John asked, “How can I do that? I’m just a kid. I’m 9 years old.” The messenger of God said, “God will lead you.”
When John Bosco was an adolescent, his heart went out to people. He was an ordinary kid in many ways, but what was extraordinary about him was that he loved and accepted people as they were. He liked to play games and tell jokes, and at the end, he would add on something about Jesus. That was his way, even as a kid, of sharing his faith with others.
All of that led to his being very serious about living his faith and making a difference in the world among his peers.
When John Bosco became a priest, another significant moment in his life happened. He met this young guy and found out he was an orphan. His parents had abandoned him, for whatever reason. John Bosco got to know him and quickly realized this young man was looking for a father. John Bosco was willing to be a father figure for him, and he was also willing to be a teacher. He taught him a lot of things about life, but most importantly he taught him about Jesus and how to make a difference in the world.
Because John Bosco was kind to this young man, other priests began to work with him. He went on to establish what is now known as the Salesian priests and brothers, and from that group the Salesian sisters were founded. Now, 150 years later, Salesians live on almost every continent in the world. We are so blessed that they are involved in Catholic education across the world.
John Bosco’s life tells us two things. First, he teaches that even though your lives may be filled with challenges, God loves you and God is longing for your love. What are some of those challenging situations in your life right now?
John Bosco also teaches us something that was apparent in his childhood dream. He was looking at these guys fighting with each other, and he was standing on the sidelines. The messenger of God was saying, “Don’t stand on the sidelines, John, get involved. Do something. Give your witness.” He took a risk. He was gutsy. He was bold in his dream, and he was bold in his life.
That is what we are called to do as the Young Church – to get involved. There may be something going on in your own school that is not right. We can stand on the sidelines and let it go or we can jump in and say, “This is not right.” We can see dishonesty or bullying or see our friends doing dangerous things on the Internet. In those moments, we can say it’s somebody else’s job or we can be like John Bosco and be gutsy and bold. We can say, “Jesus, I am willing to give my life to make a difference.”
As the Young Church, you have the privilege to attend a Catholic school. A Catholic school offers an incredible opportunity to gain knowledge today, tomorrow and for the rest of your life. A Catholic school also gives you the privileged opportunity to know Jesus and to know people like John Bosco, who was bold and courageous and who made a difference.
You come to know Jesus – and it’s not just by reading about him. Do you know Jesus? Is he your friend? Is he your brother? Our Catholic schools help us to know him better.
Catholic schools are what they are because of many dedicated people who give their lives in service to you. They have said yes to a call from God to be involved in the vocation of Catholic education. I thank all administrators, teachers, staff and parents because they have heard and responded to God’s call.
We do all of this for you, our students, because you are very precious in God’s sight. You are called by name.
John Bosco said yes to his dream. We pray that just as John Bosco heard God’s message at 9 and then again at 15, so can you. God has a dream for you, and we hope and pray that you will follow that dream.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarion firstname.lastname@example.org.