“Two Things in Life are Essential”

St. John Bosco is arguably the most successful saint in youth ministry in the brief history of the Church. He was born in Italy in 1815 and died in 1888. 100,000 people attended his funeral. His father died when he was just a boy. He used this experience, and his naturally joyful and fun-loving personality, to become a gentle, yet firm father to the young – especially those in grave difficulty.

He used to say to young people:

“Two things in life are essential. One, stay in the state of grace. Two, enjoy life as much as you can.”

Let’s take the second part of his advice first. The story is told of a little African boy who was attending catechesis in his local parish. The catechist asked, “Who made the world?” He answered, “God made the world.” Next question, “Why did God make the world?” Response, “God thought we’d enjoy it!”

The world is full of goodness and beauty and it evokes love and delight. We Christians profess this explicitly in our Creed. Other believers share a similar attitude. Agnostics and atheists, too, can surprise us with their reverential attitude to the created world and its innate goodness. Life is meant to be enjoyed. We are called to delight in the Creator’s magnanimous gift.

Remarkably, a similar openness to Jesus is displayed by those who are not disciples:

“John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:38-39).

We are left in no doubt. Those who are not one of us can discern the goodness of Christ. There is goodness everywhere, outside the confines of the Christian community, too. We are called to “see” this. It would be arrogant to think otherwise. The gift of faith expands, rather than contracts, our horizon.

What about the first part of Bosco’s advice? It also challenges, no doubt.

It is good to “see” that we find happiness indirectly. That is to say, we have to eliminate all those things that will not bring happiness.

Think of the modern forms of darkness: gossip, pornography, violence, theft, abuse of drugs, excessive alcohol, manipulation of the truth through modern media, infidelity, dishonesty, etc. In short, anything that contradicts the fundamental values of the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes. If we can eliminate these behaviours – and the attitudes that motivate and accompany them – we are on the path to happiness.

This is Bosco’s point: stay in the state of grace – avoid grave sin.

Again, the Gospel expands our horizon. Just as our pursuit of happiness will affect others, so too our personal life of sin will have ramifications beyond our own orbit:

“But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck” (Mark 9:42).

Jesus is speaking about scandal. It is “an attitude or behaviour which leads another to do evil” (CCC 2284). Interestingly enough, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2286) mentions four professions who should be wary of scandal: public and civic figures, business leaders, teachers, media personnel.

Doesn’t all this seem relevant? Think Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. Think Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Think the behaviour of some of our politicians. Think Sex Ed programs in some schools. Think of the manipulators of public opinion in and through the various media forms.

Indeed, Bosco’s advice retains all the power and relevance for our young people today and for those who are entrusted with their care and education. It is a call, undoubtedly, to deepen our understanding of the importance of the Christian community.

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