Don Bosco - Joy of my youth
The school anthem of St. Joseph Vocational Training Centre, Kamuli has the beautiful words “Don Bosco, Joy of my youth” which is packed with meaning for life. It is also an honour to St. John Bosco who is a saint of joy and wanted young people to be happy “here in this life and in eternity” as he himself would tell his young people. The motivation and the original meaning of the author of this anthem is not known but surely it is an invitation to look into the life of St. John Bosco and learn to live in joy especially in the youthful years of life. It is also an invitation to look into our life of joy—where do we find joy and what makes us happy and joyful.
Majority of our trainees in our Vocational Training Centre come from difficult and vulnerable situations of family and society. As we sing these words at the beginning of the school I often wonder what goes on in the mind of our boys and girls. I console myself saying, ‘it is good to begin the day with the thought of joy.’ And Don Bosco becomes our model in finding joy amidst challenges of life.
All of us need lessons in joy. We all need models in life to follow. Models who lived joyful and exciting life, who found joy that is permanent and worth imitating. Teaching young people the right notion of joy and teaching them the right ways of finding true joy is indeed a pastoral ministry among the young. Making young people to live with joy is helping them to build a strong foundation for happy living for years to come.
Don Bosco’s name and character are synonym with joy and cheerfulness. “God loves the cheerful giver”, is one of his cherished quote from the scripture. St. John Bosco was a cheerful lad right from his childhood. He understood well that happiness is an inside joy and made himself joyful, happy and cheerful all the time in spite of the hard condition economic and family condition he found himself.
From his early childhood his joy consisted in making other people happy. He learnt many skills and tactics to live happy life and his happy life made others happy. Little John’s happiness consisted in living a sound moral and spiritual life. When he was only seven or eight years old he had a great ability of keeping around him many children of his age or even children much older to him. He played with them, prayed with them, and taught them to live well. After playing exciting games filled with joy he would come home with brushes and scratches in his hands and legs and his mother urged him to stop such games and avoid children who play violent games. But little John would entreat his mother, “Mother, please do not stop me from playing with them; because when they are with me they behave well and they do not do anything that is immoral that you yourself have taught me to avoid.”
Early in life Don Bosco realized that joy is the character of a person who is morally upright, emotionally balanced, generous with others and who is well motivated to serve God and others. He also knew that Joy is greater, deeper, and larger than happiness. Early in life his venerable mother taught him to be tough in meeting the challenges of growing up in trying moments. “Tough solutions are required for tough situations”, she would say. This reflects the humanism of Kahlil Gibran who said, “He who has not looked on sorrow will never see joy.”
God seems to have prepared little John Bosco through many trials and challenges so as to make him understand the hardships that many young people undergo. Due to economic hardships at home, especially after the death of his father little John Bosco struggled to go to school and realize his dream of becoming a priest. After becoming a priest he struggled hard to make his ends meet in establishing a home (Oratory) for boys.
Don Bosco’s words to his Salesians later in life “Let nothing upset you,” are lessons he learnt early in life. It is finding God beyond the struggles of life. It is like being like Job of the Old Testament finding joy and providence of God in pain and frustrations. For the virtuous man or woman, joy is more than just an emotion. Joy is a Spiritual tool that we can use to overcome our circumstances, to empower us to rise above the pain and the sorrows of this life.
Joy is something we choose; it is a decision to be fruitful and contented. Joy is the response to something bigger, something eternal and often comes from conquering oneself and willingly enduring suffering, insults, pain, humiliation, or hardships for a virtuous cause. True joy nourishes our soul even when our lives are often difficult and filled with hardship. Joy is a matter of our soul, it runs deep into the core of us and radiates throughout our being.
Don Bosco understood that joy is a divine virtue, but it cannot be separated from our earthly life. There is a deep correlation between our earthly life and heavenly life; living a joyful life will necessarily lead us to heaven, which is eternal joy or bliss. Joyful life is a fruit of virtuous living—a worthy living of Gospel values.
His recommendation to little Dominic Savio who wanted to be a saint, is to be happy and happy all the time. As the Spiritual Father Don Bosco advised him that he does need to do exordinary penance or mortifications to please the Lord, but the Lord is pleased with our joyful living. Joyful living consists in doing ordinary things in exordinary ways. Dominic Savio, would become the youngest saint understood well Don Bosco’s simple pedagogy for sanctity, “God loves the cheerful giver”. Don Bosco kept repeating to the boys of his oratory, “Play, jump, sing and dance, but do not sin” because sinning is being sad that ruins one’s joyful living. This is the synthesis of Don Bosco’s educative love, the Preventive System—preventing situations of sin and sadness.