Homily for the Votive Mass of St John Bosco and the reception of the relic of St John Bosco at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, St Marys
Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16; Philippians 4:4-9; Matthew 18:1-5
25 August 2023
With great joy, we gather this evening to celebrate this historic occasion: the reception of the holy relics of St John Bosco, here at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish. St John Bosco was of course founder of the Salesians and it is only fitting that he comes to visit his brothers and sisters under whose pastoral care this parish has been entrusted. I know that the parishioners here and his devotees are very thrilled to have the relics visit the diocese so that they can pray with their favourite Saint in a tangible way.
The relic is not a piece of magic. It is not the focus of our worship. The veneration of the saints should serve to strengthen rather than to lessen our faith in Christ. In our Catholic understanding, relics remind us of the holiness of the saints and inspire us to follow their example of a faith-filled life.
St John Bosco is the saint who showed us the all-embracing love and compassion of God. He ministered especially to people on the margins, those who were in prisons, on the streets or other precarious situations.
You all know that Pope Francis wants priests and bishops to “have the smell of the sheep.” Don Bosco did have the smell of the sheep by going after young people at risk of homelessness, unemployment, loss and despair. He gathered them, supported them and above all offered them the opportunity to turn their lives around. Through such means as spiritual guidance, education, recreation, social connection, friendship, he transformed them into people of faith, hope and love.
In 1844, Don Bosco formed a movement and placed it under the patronage of St Francis de Sales. It quickly flourished and developed into a new religious congregation. That new religious congregation, the Salesians as it was popularly known, spread rapidly beyond Turin and became what is one of the largest religious orders in the Church. Indeed, Don Bosco’s work grew into a large charismatic family that today includes sisters, alumni and other associations of the faithful.
The Diocese of Parramatta is grateful that we host the presence, ministry and witness of the sons and daughters of St John Bosco. They continue to testify to his charism of seeing, loving and serving Christ in the poor, the troubled and the needy. The Don Bosco Youth Centre has been known as sanctuary for children and young families over Western Sydney.
The prophet Ezekiel speaks of the God who does not abandon his people in times of sadness and despair. “I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray and bandage the wounded and make the weak strong”. St John Bosco acted out this enduring love of God by gathering, caring, supporting and equipping those who were lost, wounded and weak.
The Gospel speaks to us about the essence of Christian leadership and service. It tells us of the way Jesus welcomes little children and holds them up as a model of Christian discipleship. “Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And so, the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Anyone who welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”
Accepting the kingdom like a child is to strip ourselves naked before God, to acknowledge our total dependence on him, to live in vulnerability and yet in complete freedom. As both individuals and the church, we must learn to have childlike relationship with God. We must learn to be the least and the servant. It is in being the last and servant of all that we are true to our Christian discipleship. It means the greatest has to become the smallest; the powerful has to become the powerless and the leader has to become the servant. It is a stark reminder of our commitment to be servants in imitation of the Servant Leader who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for others.
My dear friends,
We give thanks to God for the life of deep faith, unwavering commitment, humble service and untiring love for the vulnerable that St John Bosco showed us. He taught us that everyone – no matter what their circumstances are – is a child of God and deserving our utmost respect and care. In welcoming and honouring his relics today, we are bolstered by his example and his intercession in order to follow his footsteps.
As we gather to give thanks for the visit of the precious relic, we renew our commitment to live by the wisdom of God, based on self-giving love. Let us pray that we have the heart of compassion like St John Bosco. May we be inspired to build our lives, relationships and communities where the care for the vulnerable is front and centre. Like him and the Salesian family, may we learn to grow and become a more effective instrument and a sign of hope for all.