This Wednesday we will be beginning the holy season of Lent. It is a time associated with fasting and sacrifice. Often we try to give up something we like, such as sweets or a favorite food. We may even try to do some extra acts of charity, like volunteering at a soup kitchen or organizing a clothing drive for the poor. All these things are good, but we should never forget that Lent is primarily a celebration of the Church community, not of our selves as individuals. Any sacrifice we make is for the building up of the Body of Christ, which is the Church.
It is with this focus in mind, the Church, that I am beginning this series of letters. We will be looking at this great mystery from the stand point of Don Bosco. Our patron was a fiercely independent person who had a firm vision of how he wanted the Salesian mission to proceed. At the same time he was always a man of the Church who respected and promoted the initiatives of his bishop, and especially the Pope. This was not always easy. He and his bishop didn’t always see eye to eye, but the spirit of obedience led him in all he did.
What would Don Bosco say to us today about Lent? It is true that Don Bosco was very strict with himself, and was known for his self sacrifice, which included fasting. He advised the boys in the Oratory to fast when the Church fasts, but that they shouldn’t give themselves over to harsh penances, and be mindful of their health. The Saint taught that best penance is not the one that we choose for ourselves, but rather the one that God gives us, like having to put up cheerfully with annoying situations or people. He taught his benefactors to mindful of the poor, especially those who are young. Be in all things be joyful, even when it is not easy. In these things we will be fulfilling our Lenten observance and building up the Church.