Mgr Paul Grogan

Mgr Paul Grogan
Mgr Paul Grogan

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Transfixed by a saint's gaze

I venerated the relics of St John Bosco at Liverpool Cathedral a few days ago. The Salesians had organised things beautifully. I lined up with lots of high school children. As the line we were in slowly progressed towards the reliquary, we passed numerous banners giving details of the saint's life, his commitment to youth, his writings, his spirituality and the work of the Salesians throughout the world. Two words sprung out from the texts with particular clarity: joy and patience. In the early years, don Bosco had to keep moving his oratories because the neighbours complained about the behaviour of his boys. His ears must have been assailed by all sorts of foul language!

He has always been one of my heroes. There is a photograph of him playing football with some boys dresed in a cassock. It sums up for me the heart of pastoral outreach to the young. We go to them, spend time with them, laugh with them, love them and lead them to Christ. Don Bosco would always insert prayer into fun activities. I'm trying to do that more and more, overcoming a fear that the young people whom I accompany might find it too heavy. He was able to do this, I am sure, because his life of prayer was so rich. His eyes, in a famous photograph taken when he was 65 (see below) are incredibly penetrating: as he looks out towards us they suggest that he has seen Christ and that he is continuing to see Christ. His face is strangely youthful. I was reminded of words that Blesed John Paul II wrote about the Church being always young because she is always animated by the Holy Spirit. This thought was particularly moving because we had just heard that Archbishop Kelly had offered his resignation to the Pope due to ill health following his recent stroke.

If there is one thing that makes us feel exhausted and old it's rivalry among ourselves. Here is something don Bosco wrote to his fellow priests which I read on one of the banners at the exhibition: "Put an end to criticism which makes the heart grow cold, and most of all encourage one another to live in friendship with God. If we are not at peace with God we are not at peace with ourselves nor with one another." The New Evangelisation requires the clergy to be united, plain and simple. I saw the teenagers reverently pressing their hands on the reliquary, experiencing the seriousness of the moment. They need us to be there for them, undistracted and undismayed by whatever insecurities assail us.

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