In Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), he identified St. John Bosco among a selection of twelve saints who “stand out as lasting models of social charity for all people of good will.” St. John Bosco, the man known affectionately as Don Bosco, is renowned for his groundbreaking contributions to youth holiness and social media, and these two elements came together most splendidly in his 1847 publication, The Companion Of Youth: in his own words, “a book suitable for the young, adapted to their religious ideas, based on the Bible, and setting out the foundations of the Catholic religion clearly and concisely.”
Written at 32 years of age, this pastoral masterpiece enjoyed some 120 printings in Don Bosco’s lifetime, and includes brief and practical reflections on such topics as: the love of God; the Catholic Church and the Bible; good and evil; human nature; the afterlife; the Blessed Virgin Mary; spiritual exercises; the Catholic Mass and Sacraments; and personal vocation. Reading The Companion of Youth, today, one must appreciate that this book was written in a very different time, to a very different audience; the Catholic Church’s teaching and theology have since been significantly influenced by numerous factors, not least of all by its famous Vatican II Council (1962-1965) and the reforms which proceeded it.
Nevertheless, The Companion of Youth has always been, and continues to be, a great spiritual inheritance for St. John Bosco’s congregation, the Salesians of Don Bosco, and a treasure trove of spiritual insights for Catholics, young and old. In order that Don Bosco’s classic work may continue to inspire and encourage young people to follow Christ, it is as necessary as it was in Bosco’s time that the truth’s presented in it be suitably adapted to their religious ideas.
Thus, the aim of this blog series is to serve as a ‘companion to The Companion,’ by presenting its key ideas in the light of modern theological developments, and suggesting how these can apply to the faith lives of young Catholics, today.