A Priest with the Heart
of Don Bosco
Homily of Bishop Luc Van Looy, SDB
Ordination of Frs. Matt DeGance and Mike Leschinsky
July 2, 2011. Our Lady of the Valley Church, Orange, N.J.
Don Bosco was a priest of a very different kind. He learned from Don [Father] Cafasso that even young people in prison were not really bad. He decided to keep them off the streets and give them a good education. Education for him was at the same time faith-education. He renewed the catechetical system in such a way that catechism was not just the teaching of doctrine, but the witnessing presence of the priest or catechist. He brought faith to society, and the living environment of the young to the Church.
When Jesus asked the disciples to go out to the villages and proclaim the Good News, to cure the sick, he was aware these men had little understood his teaching and the purpose of God’s sending him into the world. So Don Bosco gave great responsibility to young lads over others, engaging them in the educational and pastoral system of the Oratory of Valdocco.
He was a priest, always and everywhere. And a humble but convinced, poor but caring priest. Maybe in these times of the Church in which we are living we need to combine poverty and courage: poor by choice, and daring by conviction. These are two gifts we all should ask for our priests and deacons, and in fact for all Christians. To be poor today we will go against the mainstream. Also daring to speak about the Gospel and continue to tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth needs courage and may not always be welcome. The man and woman in the street does not ask for our message; maybe many are afraid to recognize for themselves that deep in their heart they crave for the mystery, for the transcendent, for what cannot be seen or touched or measured.
Our young people of today need priests who open the door to faith, to spirituality, to trustworthy relationships. So many are afraid to engage themselves with others, and especially to engage themselves for life in any value and witness-oriented lifestyle. A priest today is not in the first place an organizer, a director or coordinator—God bless those who are—but first and foremost we need inspirers; more than teachers, we need witnesses of faith, said Paul VI. A priest today listens to God and to people. His first duty is to become a disciple. The only way to become a teacher and a witness is to begin with discipleship. If you want to give water to your garden, it is better to keep a receptacle full so it can overflow, rather than to use a hose or a plastic pipe. First you need to fill yourself with God and Gospel, with Jesus and God’s love; then your witness will be credible.
For this the priest has the Eucharist, day after day, to grow totally in the spirit of Christ. The Eucharist is his way of proclaiming the Word, of commenting on Christ and not himself, of breaking the bread and shedding the wine as a sign of his own service to the people in Christ’s name. There it becomes eloquent that a priest lives at the service of the community and not the community at his service. This guarantees his poverty in spirit.
The Eucharist is the event where resurrection and cross, giving himself and forgiving join together in a forceful, credible sign of redemption. There he creates community. There he explains the Gospel way of life. There he invites for service or diakonia. There, as for Don Bosco, he finds and communicates the joy which allows him to live a life totally dedicated, giving an understanding of the choice he made to live a celibate life, and to live in a community of brothers—Salesians together. There he blesses, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the community and the world as a true missionary of Christ.
Here we need a word about the Holy Spirit. Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit. All her life she witnessed as a contemplative of God living in her. She was there a “specialist in the matter” when the Spirit came over the apostles in the Cenacle, the same place where they had the Last Supper with Jesus. That Spirit of God took away all fear from the disciples; doors and windows opened, and they went into the squares and the streets to tell anybody their experience with Jesus, in particular that they had eaten with him.
Dear priests, dear Christians, God shares his meal, his body and blood, with us. The one who eats his body and drinks his blood will saved. To this end he gave us the priest, to be able to participate in the banquet. But first, before joining in this divine meal, we ought to recognize our smallness, profess our faith, and proclaim our readiness to live according to what Christ taught us.
When the disciples asked him what they had to do, he simply said, “Believe in the one the Father has sent.” And when he met the children, he gave us the key to the Preventive System. Three words, three verbs, he gave us synthesizing what Don Bosco elaborated. He embraced the children as a sign of his love; he put his hand on their heads as a sign of protection and encouragement; and he blessed them as a sign that he would never leave them alone, but remain with them, with us, to the end of time (Mark 10:16).