HOMILY FOR MASS OF ST JOHN BOSCO + OPENING OF SEMINARY YEAR 2024
SEMINARY OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD, HOMEBUSH, 31 JANUARY 2024
A while ago TIME magazine published an article on “How to Raise Happy Kids.” It began by noting that whilst there’s a plethora of information on how to raise successful and clever children —whether traditional, personal, pop cultural or more scientifically validated. But the overwhelming concern of parents is their children’s happiness. Moreover, wise parents know that while being a high achiever is no guarantee of happiness, a happy child is more likely to be a successful child, one capable of navigating the ebbs and flows of life. Happy kids tend to grow up to be happy adults.
So, what does the science say? The article proposes Ten Commandments for raising happy children based on the best scientific research we have: give them happy parents and an environment conducive to happiness; teach them to build relationships; praise their efforts more than accomplishments or gifts; foster optimism, emotional intelligence, self-discipline and good habits; encourage playtime and eat dinner together. On the face of it these are commonsensical recommendations. But will they be enough to make young people happy? Will their joy be authentic happiness or more like the faux and fleeting happiness offered by the culture?
Though he had no children of his own, Don Bosco was an expert in parenting for happiness. Thousands would testify that his recipe works. It began with the New Testament. In his Letter to the Philippians St Paul says “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord. I repeat, what I want is your happiness… So don’t worry, be happy.” (Phil 4:4-9) Paul’s happiness, we note was happiness “in the Lord”: not so much about fleeting pleasures or present feelings, but an orientation, relationship, state of being. And his strategy for getting there was likewise living “in the Lord”: “pray and give thanks… fill your minds with everything noble, good and pure, everything worthy of love and honour, everything virtuous and praiseworthy.”
Don Bosco thought similarly. He did many practical things that reflect what the parenting science says today: he was a ‘happy parent’, demonstrating Christian joy in his words and deeds, spreading that joy like good COVID. He created a happiness-making environment and a place for building relationships in the youth refuges he established as ‘oratories’. “Fly from bad companions as from poisonous snakes,” he said. “Keep good companions, so you may one day rejoice with them in heaven.”
St John Bosco cultivated in his young people Christian faith through thorough catechesis: “God knows how much good can come to you from reading one good Catholic book,” he said. He cultivated Christian hope, through encounters with God and fellows that would build their confidence. “It is not enough to love the young,” he taught, “they must know that they are loved.” He cultivated Christian love through a relationship with that God in the sacraments. “Be brave and detach yourself from worldly desires. Through Confession, purify your heart of anything that taints it. Banish darkness from your mind and enliven your faith with true piety.” “We don’t go to Holy Communion because we are good, we go to Communion to become good.”
Bosco encouraged in his charges a different way of thinking and acting from that of the cold, indifferent, dog-eat-dog world they had come from: his was what we might call spiritual intelligence, the life of virtue, compassion and holy leisure. “Act today in such a way that you need not blush tomorrow,” he counselled. And “don’t put off to tomorrow the good you can do today. You may not have a tomorrow.” Outreach to the poor, music, sport, drama, Eucharistic adoration, retreats, simple meals together could all be moments of true communion and sheer fun. “Run, jump, shout to your heart’s content, enjoy yourself as much as you like, only don’t sin,” he said. But “whatever you do, make the glory of God your main goal.” Don Bosco’s recipe for happiness, like St Paul’s, was life in Christo. “In my experience only the practice of religion can assure concord in families and happiness in this valley of tears,” he reflected.
How, then, are we to make happy priests? By making happy seminarians. And how are we to make happy seminarians? Well, we could do worse than follow Paul’s advice to cultivate a holy happiness, through prayer and thanksgiving, through filling our minds with everything noble and good, our hearts with everything virtuous and praiseworthy, our souls with everything lovely and pure. And we can, like Don Bosco, seek to make this youth refuge for street kids that is Good Shepherd Seminary, a place for building relationships with good companions and future saints rather than poisonous snakes-in-the-grass; a place for cultivating Christian faith, hope and love, through reading the Scriptures and more than one good Catholic book, and through a relationship with Christ in the sacraments. “Good Confessions and good Communions are the first steps to a sound education,” Bosco counselled. “Do you want Our Lord to give you many graces? Then visit Him often. Do you want Him to give you few graces? Visit Him seldom. Make frequent visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and the devil will be powerless against you.”
The Seminary of the Good Shepherd should be the premier institution for cultivating spiritual intelligence, the life of virtue, compassion, divine service and holy leisure. “Your mortifications should be in doing your duties diligently and in putting up with the annoyances of others,” Don Bosco said. Here at Good Shepherd Seminary we will offer you plenty of such duties and annoyances as opportunities for growth! There will be many occasions for service also. “Health is God’s great gift, and we must spend it entirely for Him,” Bosco said. “Our eyes should see only for God, our feet walk only for Him, our hands labour for Him alone; in short, our entire body should serve God while we still have time. Then, when He shall take our health and we shall near our end, our conscience will not reproach us for having misused it.” And so dear sons, I say with St John Bosco: “Servite Domino in lætitia,” serve the Lord with gladness!
 Eric Barker, “How to raise happy kids: 10 steps backed by science,” Time 24 March 2014 https://time.com/35496/how-to-raise-happy-kids-10-steps-backed-by-science/
INTRODUCTION TO MASS OF ST JOHN BOSCO + OPENING OF SEMINARY YEAR 2024 – SEMINARY OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD, HOMEBUSH, 31 JANUARY 2024
Welcome dear seminarians to today’s Mass for the opening of the 2024 seminary year. As always, I am delighted to be with you to celebrate the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life. Today is the memorial of St John Bosco, the great priest, educator and founder of the largest religious order in the world. Bosco’s life was dedicated to shepherding young people, especially the poor and neglected. He brought Christ’s love to them through whatever means he had at his disposal, and quickly attracted many likeminded priests and laity to join him in his mission.
As Don Bosco knew very well, it takes a home and village to raise a child: so, too, it takes a seminary and diocese to raise a priest, and so I want to acknowledge those who work tirelessly to ensure our seminarians receive the very best formation, including your Rector, Very Rev. Fr Michael de Stoop; your Vice Rector, Fr Paul Durkin; the First Year Director, Fr Dominic Nguyen; the Dean of Studies, Sr Susanna Edwards OP; the Spiritual Director, Fr John Armstrong; the Director of Human Formation, Mr. Anthony Kendrick; along with Della and the other staff. I also welcome the Vocations Directors from the various dioceses.
A special welcome to the eight new seminarians who begin their journey to priesthood this semester, as well as all those back with us after another year of discernment and formation. Please know that you are greatly loved for yourselves and for your courage and generosity in taking this step. And parents and family members, please know we will do all in our power to ensure your sons and brothers thrive here. You, too, are most welcome here. In total the Seminary of the Good Shepherd now boasts 46 seminarians from nine Latin Rite dioceses and three Eastern Rite eparchies, a diverse witness to God’s graces working to bear fruit in the Archdiocese of Sydney, its Province and dioceses beyond. Our Church needs good priests now more than ever: we pray they are happening before our very eyes. A very warm welcome to you all!