In the calendar of Catholic Saints there are numerous saints who excelled in the formation of youth. Saints who, in the most varied junctures in history were called to support and sanctify this age-group, so often neglected…but which God never abandons. Among them, perhaps no one is as renowned for the vastness of his work as Saint John Bosco. His life, full of miracles, and his particular charism for carrying out his mission make of the father of the Salesian family the authority par excellence in the area of youth education. His work, born in the midst of adverse circumstances, has today spread throughout the world.
Our Lady Help of Christians and her Divine Son prepared St. John Bosco with an abundance of gifts so as to deeply understand the hearts of the young, be able to interpret their most noble aspirations, and indicate the sure way for a multitude of abandoned children to be transformed in exemplary Christians. One could truly say that Saint John Bosco dealt with all aspects of the so-called ‘integral formation’ of the individual. In this regard, many of his teachings come to mind, but one important piece will suffice: ‘The first step to educate young people well consists in striving to bring them to confess and receive Communion with proper dispositions. These Sacraments are the strongest supports for youth. Frequent confession and Communion and daily Mass are the columns which should support an educational edifice.’
Yes, for Saint John Bosco, the main purpose of education was to prepare young people to go to Heaven, and so guarantee that they live well even on Earth. Nowadays, contrary to what one would expect, new theories in Catholic milieu are bringing up doubts, confusion…and more confusion.
Recently Francis has founded a network called Scholas Ocurrentes which aspires to become a worldwide point of reference for youth education. Anyone, hearing about an educational movement founded by the pope, would think that the most urgent needs of youth, among which the same needs that Saint John Bosco pointed out more than a century ago, would be the most prominent. So it’s surprising that this entity would highlight as its mission: ‘technology, arts and sports to foment social integration and the culture of encounter’ based on an education that ‘recuperate an anthropological vision and essential human values, and which embraces the entire reality that young people experience. That is to say, a vision that is holistic and of social integration.’ (Scholas Ocurrentes). There are no religious symbols, nor even a measly mention of God to be found on this page. But rather, an abundance of recurrent clichéd references to integration and encounter….and of course, to the famous ‘values’ that are never defined, but that everyone ‘grabs on to’ – which in itself makes them as dubious as they are mysterious. Indeed, a motley crew – everything from soccer clubs to an assortment of politicians – huddles under the cover of such ethereal values.
But what are these ‘values’ worth if they are not based on the only objective moral basis that exists, which is Catholic morality? And this leads us to other questions: what do young people really need? Of what value are values without God? How should youth formation be as Christians? These, and many other topics, will be thoroughly defined by the Magisterium, and by Mamma Margherita’s son himself.
Enter in the various parts of our study
II – How can we educate youth in a Christian way?
III – What are games and physical education useful for?
IV – What God expects of youth is sanctity
V – The Church is called to evangelize culture
I – Is there such a thing as education without God?
It is a principle of Catholic pedagogy that the essence of education consists in the collaboration with divine grace, for the formation of a true and perfect Christian. (John XXIII. Message to participants in the 7th Inter-American Congress on Catholic Education, January 10, 1960)
Indeed never has there been so much discussion about education as nowadays; never have exponents of new pedagogical theories been so numerous, or so many methods and means devised, proposed and debated, not merely to facilitate education, but to create a new system infallibly efficacious, and capable of preparing the present generations for that earthly happiness which they so ardently desire. The reason is that men, created by God to His image and likeness and destined for Him Who is infinite perfection realize today more than ever amid the most exuberant material progress, the insufficiency of earthly goods to produce true happiness either for the individual or for the nations. And hence they feel more keenly in themselves the impulse towards a perfection that is higher, which impulse is implanted in their rational nature by the Creator Himself. This perfection they seek to acquire by means of education. But many of them with, it would seem, too great insistence on the etymological meaning of the word, pretend to draw education out of human nature itself and evolve it by its own unaided powers. Such easily fall into error, because, instead of fixing their gaze on God, first principle and last end of the whole universe, they fall back upon themselves, becoming attached exclusively to passing things of earth; and thus their restlessness will never cease till they direct their attention and their efforts to God, the goal of all perfection. (Pius XI. Encyclical Divini illius Magistri, no. 98, December 31, 1929)
We must not ignore the fact that many, even generous Christians who are sensitive to the dramatic questions involved in the problem of liberation, in their wish to commit the Church to the liberation effort are frequently tempted to reduce her mission to the dimensions of a simply temporal project. They would reduce her aims to a man-centered goal; the salvation of which she is the messenger would be reduced to material well-being. Her activity, forgetful of all spiritual and religious preoccupation, would become initiatives of the political or social order. But if this were so, the Church would lose her fundamental meaning. Her message of liberation would no longer have any originality and would easily be open to monopolization and manipulation by ideological systems and political parties. She would have no more authority to proclaim freedom as in the name of God. This is why we have wished to emphasize, in the same address at the opening of the Synod, ‘the need to restate clearly the specifically religious finality of evangelization. This latter would lose its reason for existence if it were to diverge from the religious axis that guides it: the kingdom of God, before anything else, in its fully theological meaning…’ (Paul VI. Apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 32, December 8, 1975)
With regard to the liberation which evangelization proclaims and strives to put into practice one should rather say this:
– It cannot be contained in the simple and restricted dimension of economics, politics, social or cultural life; it must envisage the whole man, in all his aspects, right up to and including his openness to the absolute, even the divine Absolute;
– It is therefore attached to a view of man which it can never sacrifice to the needs of any strategy, practice or short-term efficiency.
Hence, when preaching liberation and associating herself with those who are working and suffering for it, the Church is certainly not willing to restrict her mission only to the religious field and dissociate herself from man’s temporal problems. Nevertheless she reaffirms the primacy of her spiritual vocation and refuses to replace the proclamation of the kingdom by the proclamation of forms of human liberation- she even states that her contribution to liberation is incomplete if she neglects to proclaim salvation in Jesus Christ. (Paul VI. Apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 33-34, December 8, 1975)
It is a common complaint, unfortunately too well founded, that there are large numbers of Christians in our own time who are entirely ignorant of those truths necessary for salvation. And when we mention Christians, We refer not only to the masses or to those in the lower walks of life – for these find some excuse for their ignorance in the fact that the demands of their harsh employers hardly leave them time to take care of themselves or of their dear ones – but We refer to those especially who do not lack culture or talents and, indeed, are possessed of abundant knowledge regarding things of the world but live rashly and imprudently with regard to religion. It is hard to find words to describe how profound is the darkness in which they are engulfed and, what is most deplorable of all, how tranquilly they repose there. (Pius X. Encyclical Acerbo nimis, no. 2-3, April 15, 1905)
Men and women were created for something great, for infinity. […]So we can see how absurd it is to think that we can truly live by removing God from the picture! God is the source of life. To set God aside is to separate ourselves from that source and, inevitably, to deprive ourselves of fulfilment and joy: ‘without the Creator, the creature fades into nothingness’ (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 36). In some parts of the world, particularly in the West, today’s culture tends to exclude God, and to consider faith a purely private issue with no relevance for the life of society. Even though the set of values underpinning society comes from the Gospel – values like the sense of the dignity of the person, of solidarity, of work and of the family –, we see a certain ‘eclipse of God’ taking place, a kind of amnesia which, albeit not an outright rejection of Christianity, is nonetheless a denial of the treasure of our faith, a denial that could lead to the loss of our deepest identity. (Benedict XVI. Message for the Twenty-Sixth World Youth Day, August 6, 2010)
Oppose then, to the pernicious efforts which seek to completely distance religion from education and from schools, or at least to form schools and education on a purely naturalistic foundation, the idea of the task of teaching enriched by the inestimable treasure of a faith which is felt and lived, by the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Strive so that your children and youth, as they progress in the way of years, also receive a religious formation which is ever more ample and well based. […] Do this in such a way that this instruction is closely united to the holy fear of God, the habit of recollecting oneself in prayer, and the full and conscious participation in the spirit of the liturgical year of Holy Mother Church. (Pius XII. Radio message for the closing of the Inter-American Congress on Catholic Education, October 6, 1948)
One of the defects or vices of modern pedagogy is to reduce religion to a mere sentiment. Because of this they do not want one to speak with the young people about the eternal truths, nor even to mention death, judgment, and much less hell to them. It is necessary to instruct them profoundly and capacitate them to continue this instruction on their own. A reform of customs is necessary. This is not attained except by distributing the bread of the divine word to the peoples. Catechize the children; inculcate in them the detachment of the things of this earth. […] All teachers should teach and promote the study of the diocesan catechism. It is of utmost importance. Twice a year there should be held with all solemnity a catechism exam, and whoever does not pass it should not be promoted to the other exams. Special awards should be given to those who have outstanding results in this exam. And to better assure this study, special care should be taken in the record of the weekly and monthly marks. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, p. 421)
Only religion is capable of beginning and finishing the great work of a true education. Without religion there is no fruit to be had among youth. Young souls, in the period of their formation, need to experience the beneficial effects derived from sacerdotal unction. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, p. 428)
It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man’s appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of Ps. 102:5: ‘Who satisfieth thy desire with good things.’ Therefore God alone constitutes man’s happiness. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica I-II, q. 2, a. 8)
People today need to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of their lives. They need to recognize that implanted within them is a deep thirst for God. They need to be given opportunities to drink from the wells of his infinite love. It is easy to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us; it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain (cf. Spe Salvi, 31), our lives are ultimately empty. People need to be constantly reminded to cultivate a relationship with him who came that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with ‘Christ Jesus, our hope’ (1Tim 1:1). (Benedict XVI. Address for the celebration of Vespers and meeting with the Bishops of the United States of America, April 16, 2008)
II – How can we educate youth in a Christian way?
Like a chain of gold is learning to a wise man, like a bracelet on his right arm. (Sir 21:21)
Because into a soul that plots evil wisdom enters not, nor dwells she in a body under debt of sin. For the holy spirit of discipline flees deceit and withdraws from senseless counsels; and when injustice occurs it is rebuked. (Wis 1:4-5)
Train a boy in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not swerve from it. (Prov 22:6)
But wicked people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known (the) sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2Tim 3:13-17)
Besides this, we have had our earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not (then) submit all the more to the Father of spirits and live? They disciplined us for a short time as seemed right to them, but he does so for our benefit, in order that we may share his holiness. (Heb 12:9-10)
This necessary vigilance does not demand that young people be removed from the society in which they must live and save their souls; but that today more than ever they should be forewarned and forearmed as Christians against the seductions and the errors of the world, which, as Holy Writ admonishes us, is all ‘concupiscence of the flesh, concupiscence of the eyes and pride of life’ (1Jn 2:16). Let them be what Tertullian wrote of the first Christians, and what Christians of all times ought to be, ‘sharers in the possession of the world, not of its error’. (Pius XI. Encyclical Divini illius Magistri, no. 92, December 31, 1929)
The first step to educate young people well consists in striving to bring them to confess and receive Communion with proper dispositions. These Sacraments are the strongest supports for youth. Frequent confession and Communion and daily Mass are the columns which should support an educational edifice which one wishes to be far removed from threats and punishment. Do not force young people to frequent the Sacraments, but rather encourage them and facilitate so that they may benefit from them. On the occasion of spiritual exercises, triduums, novenas sermons, catechisms, etc, there should be emphasis on the beauty, grandeur and holiness of a religion which proposes means that are so easy, so useful to civil society, to the tranquility of the heart and to the salvation of the soul as are the Sacraments. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pp. 428-429)
Reason and religion are the instruments that the educator should constantly use, teach and practice himself if he wishes to be obeyed and attain his end. This supreme end consists in making young people good, and saving them eternally. All the rest: letters, science, arts, trades, should be considered means. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pp. 423-424)
What is the obligation of the Christian educator? According to the spirit of Jesus Christ and the speaking of his morality, the educator, whether he be a priest or a teacher, should avoid giving a tainted education to the children Providence has confided to him, he should immediately direct them to the path of sanctity, whose ways are renunciation and generosity. To communicate to them the spirit of sacrifice, he should direct his care, above all, to cultivate their reason and their will, without neglecting any of the other faculties. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pg. 415)
Childhood, adolescence and youth are times of an extraordinary flourishing of sentiments and affections. The educator should take advantage of this. The heart has sections that are little explored, almost unknown. The center of the heart, so to say, is love. It is necessary to purify love, transform human sentimentality into refined and sublime love; in charity, in charity towards God and towards neighbor. Control anger, help one’s neighbor, subject sensibility to reason, to the teachings of the faith, to the zeal for the glory of God. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pg. 411)
There is no true instruction which is not at the same time education. Intelligence is the light that God has given us to illuminate our way. It is at the same time the great instrument for all human work. It is that which distinguishes man from animals. It is the reflection of God. It is necessary to cultivate and educate it adequately. Instruction progresses alongside with human life and work, which always begins, and should begin by the knowledge of the end, to then proceed to the choice and concrete application of the means which lead to this end. This thought is what directs all intellectual formation. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pp. 408-409)
Wisdom is the art of governing one’s own will. The education of the will consist above all in strengthening it, distancing from it all the obstacles that can obstruct its upright use, and providing occasions and motives for its proper use according to its natural and supernatural life. All, or almost all educators, see the development of a child`s intelligence as his main privilege. But this is a lack of prudence, because they ignore or easily lose sight of human nature and the interdependence of our faculties. They dedicate all their efforts to the development of the cognitive faculty and sentiment, which they erroneously and harmfully confuse with the faculty to love and on the other hand they completely neglect the sovereign faculty, the will, only source of true and pure love, of which sensibility is no more than a kind of appearance. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pg. 413)
The intelligence and the sensibility, overexcited by an intense culture, attract all the powers of the soul, absorb his whole life, and acquire prematurely an extreme vivacity, coupled with the most refined delicacy. The child like this understands quickly, his imagination is ardent and agile, his memory retains with scrupulous exactitude and effortlessly the smallest details, which leads to learning by rote, his sensibility enchants all around him. But all of these brilliant qualities disguise the most shameful insufficiency, the most fatal weakness. The child today, and unfortunately, later the youth, carried away by the immediacy of conceptions, does not know how to think nor to operate with criteria, he lacks good sense, tact, prudence – in a word, practical sense. […] Too superficial to read the depths of his soul, he sees nothing but the surface, that is to say the passing sensations, and rushing to secure its slightest movements, believes to have firmly decided that which he seems to desire; incapable of dominating himself, he hurries to put it into practice. A sad and ridiculous toy of the evil spirit, who does not cease to confuse him, exciting impressions that he, poor blind child, imagines to be firm resolutions, the objects of lengthy meditation! […] Virtue attracts him, but as it is repugnant to the weakness of his nature, he interprets this repugnance to be a contrary desire. And he gives in. In vain the most abundant graces fall upon his soul, because he does not know how to seize them; his conscience is like a stormy sea, constantly agitated by the most contrary currents. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pp. 413-414)
Formation of the conscience, which is so to say forming in the students this practical intellect which knows the moral law and which evaluates each action in its light, discovering its consonance or discrepancy with this law and proceeding in accordance with it. Everything should converge toward this: readings, conversations, discussions, classes, talks, public and private conferences should all tend toward inculcating in the intelligences the upright judgment about the things and the actions of life. They should learn to flee from evil and do good not out of fear or because others are observing them, but rather for love of God; not for reward or punishment from the superior, but for duty of conscience. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pg. 410-411)
Impurity is the vice that causes most damage in youth. Morality: this is what is most important! […] It is necessary to always keep the boys busy. […] If we do not keep them occupied, they will seek occupation, and certainly with thoughts and things that are not good. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pg. 429)
The proper and immediate end of Christian education is to cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian, that is, to form Christ Himself in those regenerated by Baptism, according to the emphatic expression of the Apostle: ‘My little children, of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you’ (Gal 4:19). For the true Christian must live a supernatural life in Christ: ‘Christ who is your life’ (Col 3:4), and display it in all his actions: ‘That the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh’ (2Cor 4:2). For precisely this reason, Christian education takes in the whole aggregate of human life, physical and spiritual, intellectual and moral, individual, domestic and social, not with a view of reducing it in any way, but in order to elevate, regulate and perfect it, in accordance with the example and teaching of Christ. Hence the true Christian, product of Christian education, is the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished man of character. (Pius XI. Encyclical Divini illius Magistri, no. 94-96, December 31, 1929)
In fact, since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created, it is clear that there can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man’s last end, and that in the present order of Providence, since God has revealed Himself to us in the Person of His Only Begotten Son, who alone is ‘the way, the truth and the life’, there can be no ideally perfect education which is not Christian education. From this we see the supreme importance of Christian education, not merely for each individual, but for families and for the whole of human society, whose perfection comes from the perfection of the elements that compose it. From these same principles, the excellence, we may well call it the unsurpassed excellence, of the work of Christian education becomes manifest and clear; for after all it aims at securing the Supreme Good, that is, God, for the souls of those who are being educated, and the maximum of well-being possible here below for human society.(Pius XI. Encyclical Divini illius Magistri, no. 7-8, December 31, 1929)
Counter the scarcity of principles of this century, which measures everything by the criteria of success, with an education which capacitates the young person to discern between truth and error, good and evil, justice and injustice, planting firmly in his soul the pure sentiments of love, of fraternity, of fidelity. If the dangerous movies today, speaking only to the senses, and in an excessively unilateral manner, bring the risk of producing in souls a state of superficiality and passivity of soul, a good book can complete what is missing here, having an increasing importance in the work of education. (Pius XII. Radio message for the closing of the Inter-American Congress on Catholic Education, October 6, 1948)
Intellectual catechesis will be of little efficacy unless accompanied by an education that considers not only the intelligence, but also the will and the heart of the adolescent: religion embraces the whole man; it is their overall comportment in life that needs to be oriented according to the Christian message by implementing a complete pedagogy of spiritual life so that the youth become aware of the correspondence that exists between the truths that they are taught to believe and the interior aspirations which spring from their personality towards the ideals of justice, charity and moral rectitude. (John XXIII. Message to participants in the 7th Inter-American Congress on Catholic Education, January 10, 1960)
Suffering is also part of the truth of our life. So, by seeking to shield the youngest from every difficulty and experience of suffering, we risk raising brittle and ungenerous people, despite our good intentions: indeed, the capacity for loving corresponds to the capacity for suffering and for suffering together. We thus arrive, dear friends of Rome, at what is perhaps the most delicate point in the task of education: finding the right balance between freedom and discipline. If no standard of behaviour and rule of life is applied even in small daily matters, the character is not formed and the person will not be ready to face the trials that will come in the future. The educational relationship, however, is first of all the encounter of two kinds of freedom, and successful education means teaching the correct use of freedom. As the child gradually grows up, he becomes an adolescent and then a young person; we must therefore accept the risk of freedom and be constantly attentive in order to help him to correct wrong ideas and choices. However, what we must never do is to support him when he errs, to pretend we do not see the errors or worse, that we share them as if they were the new boundaries of human progress. (Benedict XVI. Letter to the faithful of the diocese of Rome on the urgent task of educating young people, January 21, 2008)
Develop, in the souls of children and youth, the hierarchical spirit, which does not deny to each age group its due development, so as to dissipate, as much as possible, this atmosphere of independence and excessive liberty which the youth today breathe, and which brings them to reject all authority and all control, seeking to bring about and form this sense of responsibility and recalling that liberty is not the only human value, although it is among the first, but rather that it has its intrinsic limits in the inevitable norms of honesty, and extrinsically in the correlative rights of the rest, whether it be each one in particular or society taken as a whole. (Pius XII. Radio message for the closing of the Inter-American Congress on Catholic Education, October 6, 1948)
‘Folly is bound up in the heart of a child and the rod of correction shall drive it away’ (Prov 22:15). Disorderly inclinations then must be corrected, good tendencies encouraged and regulated from tender childhood, and above all the mind must be enlightened and the will strengthened by supernatural truth and by the means of grace, without which it is impossible to control evil impulses, impossible to attain to the full and complete perfection of education intended by the Church, which Christ has endowed so richly with divine doctrine and with the Sacraments, the efficacious means of grace. Hence every form of pedagogic naturalism which in any way excludes or weakens supernatural Christian formation in the teaching of youth, is false. […] But alas! it is clear from the obvious meaning of the words and from experience, that what is intended by not a few, is the withdrawal of education from every sort of dependence on the divine law. (Pius XI. Encyclical Divini illius Magistri, no. 59-60.62, December 31, 1929)
So today we see, strange sight indeed, educators and philosophers who spend their lives in searching for a universal moral code of education, as if there existed no Decalogue, no gospel law, no law even of nature stamped by God on the heart of man, promulgated by right reason, and codified in positive revelation by God Himself in the ten commandments. These innovators are wont to refer contemptuously to Christian education as ‘heteronomous’, ‘passive’, ‘obsolete’, because founded upon the authority of God and His holy law. Such men are miserably deluded in their claim to emancipate, as they say, the child, while in reality they are making him the slave of his own blind pride and of his disorderly affections, which, as a logical consequence of this false system, come to be justified as legitimate demands of a so-called autonomous nature. (Pius XI. Encyclical Divini illius Magistri, no. 62-63, December 31, 1929)
Such are the fruits of Christian education. Their price and value is derived from the supernatural virtue and life in Christ which Christian education forms and develops in man. Of this life and virtue Christ our Lord and Master is the source and dispenser. By His example He is at the same time the universal model accessible to all, especially to the young in the period of His hidden life, a life of labor and obedience, adorned with all virtues, personal, domestic and social, before God and men. Now all this array of priceless educational treasures which We have barely touched upon, is so truly a property of the Church as to form her very substance, since she is the mystical body of Christ, the immaculate spouse of Christ, and consequently a most admirable mother and an incomparable and perfect teacher. (Pius XI. Encyclical Divini illius Magistri, no. 100-101, December 31, 1929)
III – What are games and physical education useful for?
The true Christian does not renounce the activities of this life, he does not stunt his natural faculties; but he develops and perfects them, by coordinating them with the supernatural. He thus ennobles what is merely natural in life and secures for it new strength in the material and temporal order, no less than in the spiritual and eternal. (Pius XI. Encyclical Divini illius Magistri, no. 5-6, December 31, 1929)
The well-known program of Greco-Roman Antiquity never loses its validity: mens sana in corpore sano. And this should be understood in the integral sense: to achieve a proper collaboration between the two components of man. Make the body a worthy collaborator of the spirit for the glory of God and the good of neighbor. […] Physical education is most suitable, and even necessary, but it should not become a merely mechanical exercise, nor a series of movements which are more or less synchronized, but rather it should be a discipline, a perfecting in every sense, also esthetically. Agility and robustness of the body so that it can better serve the soul, and social life. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pg. 406)
Games are made to rest and avoid bad humors. Because of this, sedentary games are not recommendable, nor those which require too much calculation, nor those which inflame with the desire for material interests. […] Any game which includes the danger of offending God, causing harm to one’s neighbor, or to oneself, should be prohibited. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pp. 406-407)
Man, my dear sons, was born to work. Adam was placed in the earthly Paradise so he would cultivate it. The Apostle Saint Paul says: ‘Whoever does not work should not eat, Si quis non vult operari, nec manducet’ (2Thess 3:10). By work is understood the fulfillment of one’s duties, whether they be studies, art, or some occupation. We are all workers. Remember that by work, you can make yourselves meritorious to society, to religion, you can do good to your souls, especially if you offer to God the occupations of each day. […] Remember that your age is the springtime of life. The one who does not accustom himself to work during his youth will be an idler until his old age, to the dishonor of the motherland and his relatives, and perhaps with irreparable damage to his own soul, because idleness brings with it all kinds of vices. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pg. 489)
Respond to the exaggerated importance given today to everything that is merely technical and material with an education which always gives first place to spiritual and moral values, the natural and above all the supernatural ones. The Church, doubtlessly, approves of physical culture, if it is orderly; and it will be orderly when it does not lead to the worship of the body, when it is useful to strengthen the body, and not waste away its energies, when it serves as recreation to the spirit, and is not the cause of weakening or roughening of the spirit, when it provides new stimulus for study of professional work and when it does not lead to abandoning them, neglecting them, or causing perturbation in the peace which should reign in the sanctuary of the home. Oppose the immoderate search for pleasure and moral indiscipline – which also seek to invade the ranks of catholic youth, making them forget that they carry with them a fallen nature burdened with the sad inheritance of original sin – the education in self-dominance, sacrifice and renunciation, beginning with the small to later progress to what is great; education in fidelity to the fulfillment of one’s own duties, of sincerity, serenity and purity, especially in the years in which development approaches maturity. But may you never forget that this goal cannot be reached without the powerful aid of the Sacraments of Confession and the Most Holy Eucharist, whose supernatural educational value can never be fully appreciated. (Pius XII. Radio message for the closing of the Inter-American Congress on Catholic Education, October 6, 1948)
Yes, for a grievous conflict is at hand, and against the powers unseen is our wrestling; against ‘the spiritual wickednesses’ (Eph 6:12) our fight, ‘against principalities, against powers’ our warfare: and it is well for us, if when we are earnest and sober and thoroughly awakened, we can be able to sustain that savage phalanx. But if we are laughing and sporting, and always taking things easily, even before the conflict, we shall be overthrown by our own remissness. It becomes not us then to be continually laughing, and to be dissolute, and luxurious, but it belongs to those upon the stage, the harlot women, the men that are trimmed for this intent, parasites, and flatterers; not them that are called unto heaven, not them that are enrolled into the city above, not them that bear spiritual arms, but them that are enlisted on the devil’s side. For it is he, yea, it is he, that even made the thing an art, that he might weaken Christ’s soldiers, and soften the nerves of their zeal. (Saint John Chrysostom. Homilies on St. Matthew, Homily 6)
Life is not a plaything: or rather our present life is a plaything, but the things to come are not such; or perchance our life is not a plaything only, but even worse than this. For it ends not in laughter, but rather brings exceeding damage on them who are not minded to order their own ways strictly. […] Let us therefore become men. How long are we to crawl on the earth, priding ourselves on stones and stocks? How long are we to play? And would we played only! But now we even betray our own salvation; and as children when they neglect their learning, and practise themselves in these things at their leisure, suffer very severe blows; even so we too, spending all our diligence herein, and having then our spiritual lessons required of us in our works, and not being able to produce them, shall have to pay the utmost penalty. And there is none to deliver us; though he be father, brother, what you will. But while these things shall all pass away, the torment ensuing upon them remains immortal and unceasing. (Saint John Chrysostom. Homiles on St. Matthew, Homily 23)
The time of life is short; we should then prepare for death, which is rapidly approaching and to prepare for that awful moment, let us reflect that everything in this world shall soon end. Hence, the Apostle tells those who suffer in this life to be as if they suffered not, because the miseries of this life shall soon pass away, and they who save their souls shall be happy for eternity; and he exhorts those who enjoy the goods of the earth to be as if they enjoyed them not, because they must one day leave all things; and if they lose their souls, they shall be miserable for ever. (Saint Alphonsus Liguori. Sermons for all the Sundays in the Year, Sermon IX, no. 13, pg. 42)
IV – What God expects of youth is sanctity
The Church is particularly anxious that this society should allow free expansion to her treasure ever ancient and ever new, namely faith, and that your souls may be able to bask freely in its helpful light. She has confidence that you will find such strength and such joy that you will not be tempted, as were some of your elders, to yield to the seductions of egoistic or hedonistic philosophies or to those of despair and annihilation, and that in the face of atheism, a phenomenon of lassitude and old age, you will know how to affirm your faith in life and in what gives meaning to life, that is to say, the certitude of the existence of a just and good God. It is in the name of this God and of His Son, Jesus, that we exhort you to open your hearts to the dimensions of the world […] Be generous, pure, respectful and sincere, and build in enthusiasm a better world than your elders had. (Paul VI. Address to young men and women of the world at the closing of Vatican Council II, December 8, 1965)
Christ replies to the young man in the Gospel. He says: ‘No one is good but God alone’. We have already heard what the young man had asked: ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ How must I act so that my life will have meaning and value? We could translate his question into the language of our own times. In this context Christ’s answer means this: only God is the ultimate basis of all values; only he gives the definitive meaning to our human existence. Only God is good, which means this: in him and him alone all values have their first source and final completion; he is ‘the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end’ (Rev 21:6). Only in him do values and their authenticity and definitive confirmation. Without him-without the reference to God-the whole world of created values remains as it were suspended in an absolute vacuum. It also loses its transparency, its expressiveness. Evil is put forward as a good and good itself is rejected. Are we not shown this by the very experience of our own time, wherever God has been removed beyond the limits of evaluations, estimations and actions? […] How I pray that you, my young friends, will hear Christ’s reply in the most personal way possible; that you will and the interior path which enables you to grasp it, accept it and undertake its accomplishment! […] These questions show how man without God cannot understand himself, and cannot even fulfill himself without God. Jesus Christ came into the world first of all in order to make each one of us aware of this. Without him this fundamental dimension of the truth about man would easily sink into obscurity. However, ‘the light has come into the world’ (Jn 3:19), ‘and the darkness has not overcome it’ (Jn 1:5). (John Paul II. Apostolic letter Dilecti amici, no. 4, March 31, 1985)
I know that you often wonder about how to live your life in a worthwhile manner; how to behave so that your existence be full and does not fall in a void; how to do something to improve the society in which you live, looking for a remedy for the serious evils that it suffers and that are repugnant to your thirst for sincerity, brotherhood, justice, peace, solidarity. […] Christ calls you to commit yourselves in favor of the good, of the destruction of egoism and sin in all its forms. He wants you to build a society in which the moral values that God desires to see in the heart and life of man are cultivated. Christ calls you to be faithful children of God, workers of good, of justice, of brotherhood, of love, of honesty and harmony. Christ encourages you to always carry in your spirit and in your actions the essence of the Gospel: love of God and love of man. (John Paul II. Address to youth of San José, Costa Rica, March 3, 1983)
Now we can see what is the deepest meaning of study and work at the same time: the search for sanctity. The task which opens up before you, who pursue a Christian witness in University work, can thus be summarized in a word filled with significance: sanctity. Sanctity in your studies and through your studies. The work world has need of your holiness of life. […] And since sin is an obstacle to the love of God – it contaminates the works of man and perturbs the ambiences of his activity, transforming them into places of struggle and hatred – it becomes evident that the Christian will be at the service of the work world only if he fights against the sin which dwells his soul. (John Paul II. Address to participants in the annual Congress of UNIV, March 29, 1983)
Remember, dear young people, that we have been created to know, love and serve God, our Creator, and that of no use to us whatsoever is all the knowledge of the world and all the riches of the universe without the fear of God. On this holy fear depend all our temporal and eternal good. To keep us in the fear of God, prayers, the Sacraments, and the Word of God are of aid to us. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pp. 489-490)
Remember, dear young people that you are the Lord`s delight. Happy is the one who begins to observe the law of God ever since he is small. God deserves to be loved, because he has created us, he has redeemed us, he conserves us and has granted us innumerable benefits, and has a great reward for reserved for the one who keeps his law. Charity is that which distinguishes the sons of God from the sons of the devil and the world. The one who gives good counsel to his companions does a great work of charity. Obey your superiors, according to the mandate of God, and all will be well. The virtues that form the best ornament of a Christian youth are charity, purity, humility and obedience. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pg. 416)
How difficult it is to uproot a vice that has taken root in youth! […] Each one of you should strive to acquire good habits, because in this way it will be easy for him to practice virtue. The habits formed in youth, generally last a lifetime: if they are good, they lead to virtue and they give us the moral security of eternal salvation. History teaches us that at all times virtue was loved, and those who practice it venerated and honored; on the contrary, vice was always reproved, and those who practice the vices despised. This should serve as an incentive for us to flee from it constantly and practice virtue. Whoever wants to be great should begin when he is to and walk valiantly along the path of virtue. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pg. 416)
My sons: God in his eternal councils has destined to each one of you a condition of life with its corresponding graces. As in any other circumstance, also in this one, which is of capital importance, the Christian should seek to know the divine will, imitating Jesus Christ, who declared that he had come to the earth solely to fulfill the will of His eternal Father. It is very important then, my dear ones, that you seek to see clearly, so as not to labor in occupations which the Lord does not will for you. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pg. 422)
My sons, detach yourselves form earthly things. Imitate the little birds when they want to leave the nest. They start to leave the edge of the nest, they flap their little wings, they try to lift into the air, they try out their strength. So should you do too: flap your wings a little to rise toward heaven… Begin with little things, with what is necessary for your eternal salvation. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pg. 412)
Young people, accustom yourselves to saying to the devil: I cannot, I have only one soul! This is true Christian logic. Because of this, purity of intention, do that which pleases God, obey God. The benefit is: the world is most ungrateful, it is impossible to keep it happy; the best counsel that can be given is to not expect recompense form the world, but only from God. (Saint John Bosco. Biografía y escritos (Biography and Writings), Second edition, Madrid: BAC, 1967, pp. 410-411)
But what sea is more cruel than our fickle world? What sea so changeable, so deep, so swiftly stirred by the breath of impure spirits? […] I assure you that there is no danger more hidden than the sweet pleasures of the world. While charming and seducing the soul, they destroy you, and — so to speak — dash to pieces your mind and your intelligence on the rocks of bodily pleasure. (Saint Ambrose of Milan. Commentary of Saint Ambrose of Milan on the Gospel according to Saint Luke, Book Four, no. 3, pg. 91)
Do you see not even the eyes of the body, that when they abide in smoke they are always weeping; but when they are in clear air, and in a meadow, and in fountains and gardens, they become more quick sighted and more healthy? Like this is the soul’s eye also, for should it feed in the meadow of spiritual oracles, it will be clear and piercing, and quick of sight; but should it depart into the smoke of the things of this life, it will weep without end, and wail both now and hereafter. For indeed the things of this life are like smoke. (Saint John Chrysostom. Homilies on St. Matthew, Homily 2)
I hope that among those of you listening to me today there are some of the future saints of the twenty-first century. What God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy. He loves you much more than you could ever begin to imagine, and he wants the very best for you. And by far the best thing for you is to grow in holiness. Perhaps some of you have never thought about this before. Perhaps some of you think being a saint is not for you. Let me explain what I mean. When we are young, we can usually think of people that we look up to, people we admire, people we want to be like. It could be someone we meet in our daily lives that we hold in great esteem. Or it could be someone famous. We live in a celebrity culture, and young people are often encouraged to model themselves on figures from the world of sport or entertainment. My question for you is this: what are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves? What kind of person would you really like to be? When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best. I am asking you not to pursue one limited goal and ignore all the others. Having money makes it possible to be generous and to do good in the world, but on its own, it is not enough to make us happy. Being highly skilled in some activity or profession is good, but it will not satisfy us unless we aim for something greater still. It might make us famous, but it will not make us happy. Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts. (Benedict XVI. Address to pupils for the Celebration of Catholic Education, September 17, 2010)
V – The Church is called to evangelize culture
The Gospel, and therefore evangelization, are certainly not identical with culture, and they are independent in regard to all cultures. Nevertheless, the kingdom which the Gospel proclaims is lived by men who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the kingdom cannot avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures. Though independent of cultures, the Gospel and evangelization are not necessarily incompatible with them; rather they are capable of permeating them all without becoming subject to any one of them. The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times. Therefore every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture, or more correctly of cultures. They have to be regenerated by an encounter with the Gospel. But this encounter will not take place if the Gospel is not proclaimed. (Paul VI. Apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 20, December 8, 1975)
There are many ties between the message of salvation and human culture. For God, revealing Himself to His people to the extent of a full manifestation of Himself in His Incarnate Son, has spoken according to the culture proper to each epoch. Likewise the Church, living in various circumstances in the course of time, has used the discoveries of different cultures so that in her preaching she might spread and explain the message of Christ to all nations, that she might examine it and more deeply understand it, that she might give it better expression in liturgical celebration and in the varied life of the community of the faithful. […] The Gospel of Christ constantly renews the life and culture of fallen man, it combats and removes the errors and evils resulting from the permanent allurement of sin. It never ceases to purify and elevate the morality of peoples. By riches coming from above, it makes fruitful, as it were from within, the spiritual qualities and traditions of every people of every age. It strengthens, perfects and restores them in Christ. Thus the Church, in the very fulfillment of her own function, stimulates and advances human and civic culture; by her action, also by her liturgy, she leads them toward interior liberty. (Vatican Council II. Pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes, no. 58, December 7, 1965)
Christians, on pilgrimage toward the heavenly city, should seek and think of these things which are above. This duty in no way decreases, rather it increases, the importance of their obligation to work with all men in the building of a more human world. Indeed, the mystery of the Christian faith furnishes them with an excellent stimulant and aid to fulfill this duty more courageously and especially to uncover the full meaning of this activity, one which gives to human culture its eminent place in the integral vocation of man. […] Furthermore, when man gives himself to the various disciplines of philosophy, history and of mathematical and natural science, and when he cultivates the arts, he can do very much to elevate the human family to a more sublime understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty, and to the formation of considered opinions which have universal value. Thus mankind may be more clearly enlightened by that marvelous Wisdom which was with God from all eternity, composing all things with him, rejoicing in the earth, delighting in the sons of men. (Vatican Council II. Pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes, no. 57, December 7, 1965)
Therefore with full right the Church promotes letters, science, art in so far as necessary or helpful to Christian education, in addition to her work for the salvation of souls: founding and maintaining schools and institutions adapted to every branch of learning and degree of culture (Codex luris Canonici, c. 1375). Nor may even physical culture, as it is called, be considered outside the range of her maternal supervision, for the reason that it also is a means which may help or harm Christian education. […] Again it is the inalienable right as well as the indispensable duty of the Church, to watch over the entire education of her children, in all institutions, public or private, not merely in regard to the religious instruction there given, but in regard to every other branch of learning and every regulation in so far as religion and morality are concerned (Cod. I.C., cc. 1381, 1382). Nor should the exercise of this right be considered undue interference, but rather maternal care on the part of the Church in protecting her children from the grave danger of all kinds of doctrinal and moral evil. Moreover this watchfulness of the Church not merely can create no real inconvenience, but must on the contrary confer valuable assistance in the right ordering and well-being of families and of civil society; for it keeps far away from youth the moral poison which at that inexperienced and changeable age more easily penetrates the mind and more rapidly spreads its baneful effects. (Pius XI. Encyclical Divini illius Magistri, no. 23-24, December 31, 1929)