In the 19th Century, during the full flourishing of the Industrial Revolution that was radically transforming the society in Europe, many young people experienced physical, moral and spiritual dangers that they had never confronted before. An agrarian, farm society was rapidly being transformed into the busy hustle and bustle, rapid pace city life. With this many families were displaced and launched into a real upheaval. Many young people found themselves as if they were abandoned by family, by society and by the world at large. Many became orphans and wandered the streets of the big cities, exposed to all the dangers imaginable.
Always aware of the struggle, plight, and predicament of man, God would intervene in a most powerful way—especially rushing to the aid of the young people who seemed to be thrown to the mercy of a merciless and aggressive society. In His Divine Providence God raised up among the ranks of His valiant soldiers the person of Saint John Bosco.
This great saint, who was brought up in dire poverty, became a blazing light, a shining beacon to enlighten the path of so many young people who were wandering through the streets of Turin, Italy like sheep without the guiding staff of the Shepherd. Experiencing an impetuous inner call to save the young from the grip of the ravenous wolves, Don Bosco became their friend, guide, leader, Shepherd, and especially their spiritual leader.
Now for us and our youth, what can we do following in the footsteps of the great friend of the young, Saint John Bosco?
First of all we must recognize with humility and honesty that never has there been a time in society in the history of humanity in which there have been more temptations, struggles, challenges, obstacles for young people, as well as children, to follow in the footsteps of Christ and to live a pure, noble, and holy existence. Therefore, this short essay is written for the purpose of motivating us to do all we can to help the young generation from falling prey to the grips of the devil, a ravenous wolf on the prey, and pursue their safeguard and eternal salvation. We will offer ten concrete suggestions; here they are!
1. Recognize the Countless Enemies of the Young
Drugs, drink, pornography, gang-activity, suicidal thoughts, materialism, consumerism, and an overall milieu of disobedience and rebellion—all of these mentioned represent the moral environment that the young are inhaling which pollutes their spiritual lungs. As adults and Good Shepherds of the young we must be keenly attentive to and aware of these numerous, malicious and perilous enemies. The Good Shepherd must know the pack of wolves that are on the search of their prey!
2. Pray, Pray, and Pray
Hopefully we all find time to pray. What oxygen is to the lungs, prayer is to our soul. Without prayer we suffocate and die. Jesus and the letters of Saint Paul insist that we pray constantly and never giving up hope. In all honesty, we probably do not pray enough for the young people. We pray for world peace, the orphans, the sick and the dying, the Church and its needs, as well as for marriage and the family—all of these are the most noble of intentions, but we should not be remiss in praying for the young. Every day make it an intention to pray for the young, for their security and salvation. Offer prayers, Masses, Communions and sacrifices for the salvation of the young.
3. Connect with teens, especially as a parent
Working with the young, especially the teen-group, can be very challenging to the point of exasperating. This does not mean that we throw in the towel; this was not the style of Saint John Bosco. Parents should find time, ways, methods and strategies to connect with their teens; the more seemingly rebellious, the more time and effort to connect and save. Teens can become silent and morose, sad and depressed, angry and scornful—these are all crying signs of their desperate need for the presence, attention and love of their parents. Parents do not extinguish the smoldering wick! Set apart time to be with and communicate with the young.
4. Mealtime with youths
Sociological studies have proven across the board the primary importance of meal time for the family as a whole, but especially for the young. Numerous studies reveal that parents that sit down at table and eat and talk with their teens result in their young performing better in school, being better athletes, suffering less depression and an over-all sense of joy and well-being is experienced.
5. But leave the electronics off at the table
Indeed a family can be sitting at a table together and it is as if they were all in their own world, their own play or fantasy world. Despite being at the table, we often see the separation that still exists due to the ubiquitous presence of electronics and media. Meal time should be totally free of the TV, talking on and on; or the radio and music blaring; the cell-phone and constant text messages, the internet in any size, color and form.
In other words, the human person, the mother, father, son, daughter, brother and sister, grandma and grandpa have infinite value and prevail over all of the electronic devices in the created universe. However, sad to say, for many, our immaterial gadgets and exposure to media often transcends the great importance the human person and our connection to one another. This is modern idolatry. Indeed, idolatry is when we place anything above God. The human person is made in the image of God and should be highly respected for this innate dignity.
6. What to talk about
It might be that our culture leaves families who have never really connected on a deep level and have to learn what to do and say at the table. Here are a few suggestions to create a harmonious, free, and joyful atmosphere at the family meal-time.
- First, start with prayer. Bless the meal and ask the Lord Jesus to sit down at meal with the family. He is the best of Guests and the source of union and love.
- Second, listen! When a family member communicates what he believes to be important—listen attentively in a non-judgmental way.
- Third, encourage all and be a source of consolation.
- Fourth, share the truth! A Biblical passage, an Ecclesiastical event, a social gathering, a personal inspiration, a personal anecdote—all of the following can be food for though and food for communication.
- Fifth, smile! One of the most encouraging gestures to foster healthy communication is the smile. It is also one of the clearest signs that we are disciples of Jesus the Lord.
- Sixth, learn some humorous stories or some good (clean) jokes.
- Seventh, laugh! In the health field many have come to the conclusion that laughter is the best medicine.
- Eighth, share knowledge. Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the contemplation to attain love clearly states that if one loves then he is willing to share his treasures with others—share knowledge!
- Ninth, if a family member, due to shyness or fear or whatever cause, has said nothing at the table, then the father or mother should encourage him to share anything and all should listen attentively!
- Tenth, end with prayer!
If these communication principles are embraced and lived out, families will communicate better and the young will be far less likely to experience a crushing loneliness that is all too often the sad plight of so many.
7. Play with the children
One of the hallmarks of the success of Saint John Bosco was the emphasis he placed on recreation and wholesome, healthy play-time. Parents should learn to play with your young. Tennis, ping-pong, basketball, biking or hiking, softball or baseball. Playing, and especially that of sports, can have incalculable value in forming good social habits in the young. Get them away from the electronic world addictions in which they are really living not in a real world but in a fantasy world!
8. Bed time conversation
Look for prime-time opportunities to talk on a deeper level with the young. For children, bed-time proves to be a prime time; try it with the teens too! We all have our hidden fears, wounds, doubts, failures and doubts. Sit next to the bedside of your son or daughter and simply ask how the day went; then, if there is anything in his/her mind or heart that is weighing heavy upon them. This could prove most efficacious in bonding with your child and preventing bad decisions that we have all made when we acted in a state of desolation.
9. Practice Forgiveness
If it is such that your child has failed morally, please never give up on them but practice mercy through forgiveness. Tell them that our God is a God of love and He is always ready to forgive, always, but under one condition: we tell God we are sorry and are ready to change, ready to be converted. Then take your child to the fount and source of forgiveness, the Sacrament of Confession. “Though one’s sins be is as scarlet, they will be made as white as the snow.”
10. Consecrate the Young to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
In the midst of the tempest and struggles of life, there must be a sound refuge of security and safety. This secure refuge is the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We should pray and teach our young people to pray the short, tender but powerful prayer: Sweet heart of Mary, be my salvation. Seeking a true refuge in the Immaculate Heart of Mary will lead us to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the harbor of eternal salvation. As we are reminded in in the Memorare: “Never was it known that anyone who fled to her protection or sought her help was unaided.”
May Our Lady place her mantle to cover all our young and gently embrace them in her Immaculate Heart!