The fundamental characteristic of the oratorian mission is the pedagogy of joy and celebration. It is a load-bearing dimension of Don Bosco’s preventive system which will see in the many religious anniversaries of the year, the opportunity to offer children the opportunity to breathe deeply the joy of faith. Don Bosco knew how to enthusiastically involve the youth community of the oratory in the preparation of events, theatrical performances, receptions that make it possible to provide a diversion from the fatigue of daily duty, to enhance the boys’ talents for music, acting, gymnastics, to direct their imagination in the direction of positive creativity.
At stake is always that of a meaningful life, where there is truly something to rejoice about, something to celebrate, someone worth celebrating for.
The experience of the “playground” is characteristic of a spontaneous environment in which relationships of friendship and trust are created and formed. In the “playground,” understood as a pedagogy of cheerfulness and celebration, the value proposition and the trusting attitude are realized in an authentic and friendly way. It is the suitable place for the care of each boy/young man, for the little word in his ear, where the educator-youth relationship overcomes the formalism associated with other structures, environments and roles. In this sense, the experience of the “playground” is a call to get out of our formal structures, out of the walls in which we work, to make each place where young people get a rich environment for educational and pastoral proposals.
Through the playground then, we are truly close to the young people we wish to meet. The Salesian charism does not flee, does not detach itself from the world, but places itself exactly in the heart of the world, in accordance with the choice of the Son of God who, doing the will of his Father, came to dwell among us, without fear, with awe, with great desire to encounter Jesus who comes to us as one of us.
This is why Don Bosco is a master in creating a strong link between recreation in the playground and feasting in the liturgy. In a passage from the ‘Memoirs of the Oratory’, describing the liveliness of a typical day among the boys, Don Bosco says, “I used that enjoyable recreation to instill in my pupils, thoughts of religion, of attendance at the holy sacraments.” In his famous Letter of 1884 from Rome, he conversely brings out a very close relationship between the ‘listlessness’ of recreation and ‘coldness’ in approaching the sacraments. In the oratorian mission that the dream entrusted to him, playground and church, play and liturgy, wholesome recreation and life of grace are closely interconnected, as two inseparable elements of a single pedagogy.
Vocation and mission is not only about being spouses and parents but also about one’s children. Putting life and vocation on the table from the very beginning broadens the horizon, avoiding the straits of orientation to possible choices. These are fruits: they ripen, instead of falling to the ground still unripe or rotting on the branches, only if the plant is healthy, with well-developed roots and a vigorous stem. Educating children to live a life as a vocation means making them aware of a fundamental truth: no one decides to come into the world: one is called to existence. And the first author of this call is not Dad or Mom but God. God is the one who calls; He loves madly, He knows everything, He wants good, He knows it and He can do it; life, even amidst the inevitable contradictions, becomes inexhaustible search for this loving will and consent to it, in small things as well as in big things. Indeed, there are no longer small things or great things. Since the Lord who asks is great, it becomes our response. True greatness is faithfulness to Him who calls. The greater or lesser importance is not attached to the object of His request.
Vocation is associated with election-mission.
An election not at all democratic but the result of sovereign deliberation; a predilection not based on merit but on piety toward the nothingness that the elected person is; a preference toward ordinary people – poor ignorant peasants, as in the case of John Bosco – and not toward the best, expressed not for a privilege, but for a mission, in which even the outcome is His. Election-mission impels one to freely give, what one has freely received. To live life as a gift. Election that does not discount commitment: it increases it. Election increases responsibility.
The opposite of election is expectation.
Everything is due to me; I do as I please; I only care about what comes in handy. Pretension: to live by whims; and that every whim be satisfied. A sure way to become a treacherous, pestilent person. Failure.
Life as ambition and pretension: frailty and ugliness. Life as vocation and mission: beauty and solidity.
Fr. Enrico Stasi – SDB
DICASTERO PER LA PASTORALE GIOVANILE SALESIANA, La Pastorale Giovanile Salesiana. Quadro di riferimento, SDB, Roma 2014, 131.