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Archives December 2006

From the desk of the Rector Major



 by Pascual Chávez Villanueva                      December  2006

The mamma of Don Bosco, Margherita Occhiena, can be the model of every mamma… Hers is a message of strength, of optimism, of hope against all hope.

The earliest memory Don Bosco had was the hand of his mother. Little Johnny was only two and he didn’t want to leave the room where his father had died. He tells the story himself: “’My poor son,’ my mother said, ‘come with me, you no longer have a father.’ Having said this, she broke down and started crying as she took me by the hand and led me away. I began crying too because she was crying”. The hand of Margaret, who though torn apart by grief and apprehension about the fu­ture, is kind and firm: she will never leave her sons. It is her first important message: “We may have suffered a blow, but we are going ahead, and whatever happens you can count on me.” Margaret was then 29 years old, little John 2, Joseph 4, Anthony 14. For Anthony, Margaret is only the «step-mother». What’s more, he is a rough teenager, a good worker but stubborn and jealous.

Margaret is a very «modern» mother: Responsibility for the family rests on her shoulders. The classic comment about mothers nowadays could sound like this: «Mother is on her own! ». Today, mothers are alone in many ways. Either because they have double work, outside and at home, or because they are separated with children to look after, or because they are left alone with the task of educating their children. My husband takes no interest in these things, they say, as though justifying a lack of attention which in realty is a serious fault. Mamma Margaret is above all present. Hers is a total, effective love, made up of few words, much activity, constant example, absolute self-giving. An illiterate country woman with a wealth of wisdom and extraordinary good sense. Everyone agrees in emphasising the determining role she had in the formation of little John. Her lessons were simple and profound. For example:

Determination and courage are the ingredients needed for success. No one ever sees Don Bosco «discouraged». Nor his mother. At home everyone has to give a hand. Margaret soon gets the boys used to working in the house and in the fields. John had to do his best to pay for his schooling: he learned how to be a tailor, a blacksmith, a waiter, a barber. At Val­docco too no one was “spoiled”. When a boy ran to Mamma Margaret to get her to sew a button on his coat, she offered him a needle and thread: “Why don’t you try? You need to learn to do a bit of everything”.

Temperament has to be under control. Each son has a different temperament which he needs to learn to keep under control. With sweetness and patience, Margaret softens Anthony, who has a rough edge. She closely follows John’s development: “John had that self-confidence in what he did that can easily turn into pride. Margaret did not hesitate to correct his little tantrums from the start, before he was capable of being morally responsible”, Fr Lemoyne writes.

Quarrels and misunderstandings among the brothers are not solved with tellings off or lectures. Mamma Margaret understands the validity of Anthony’s point of view when he doesn’t appreciate John’s desire to study and she acts accordingly. Though she probably had tears in her eyes as she prepared John’s bundle as he went off to work as a stable boy away from home.

The sons have their path in life along which they need to be accompanied. As soon as she understood her son’s vocation, she clearly told him: «Listen to me carefully, John.  I want you to think things over calmly. When you have made up your mind, follow the path you have chosen without letting anyone distract you. The most important thing is that you do  God’s will. The parish priest wants me to get you to change your mind since in the future I might need you. But I’m telling you now, your mother doesn’t enter into this. God is all that matters”. This really is «giving one’s life ».

Joy and peace are the salt of life. Margaret kept an eye on things but not in a suspicious or overbearing way. She knew how to give correction with a smile and take life with a sense of humour. When she left her little paradise at the Becchi to follow Don Bosco to a dreary and notorious suburb, with her son she sang a cheerful little song.

Talking, chatting, telling stories are vitally important in family life. And in the little house at the Becchi there was also time to talk about dreams.

Conscience is a fundamental guide. From being very small the Bosco’s learned to tell right from wrong, without hypocrisy or deceit. They knew exactly what they were supposed to do and not to do. On her death-bed Margaret could tell her son: “My conscience is at peace. I have done my duty in everything as far as I could.

God is learned about in the family. Prayer, the catechism, a sense of divine providence, the sacraments, acts of charity: all of this, little John Bosco learned at his mother’s knee. At those knees the Preventive System was born.

Here then is the model for the whole Salesian Family.

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