05 January 2009

Oh, what would John Bosco do?

I don't like conflict and confrontation, but I'm also not one to shy away from it when the circumstances necessitate it.

This afternoon an incident occurred involving me and one of our students, the details of which need not be entered into here. Suffice it to say that the circumstances are such that disciplinary action must be imposed.

The difficulty here is finding the proper balance between justice and mercy, punishment and forgiveness, a lesson learned and a lesson lost. I hate being in this situation.

Fortunately, such circumstances are rare. Whenever I find myself in one, I always turn to the words of Saint John Bosco, words which were of great help in Australia:

First of all, if we wish to appear concerned about the true happiness of our foster children and if we would move them to fulfill their duties, you must never forget that you are taking the place of the parents of these beloved young people. I have always labored lovingly for them, and carried out my priestly duties with zeal...

My sons, in my long experience very often I had to be convinced of this great truth. It is easier to become angry than to restrain oneself, and to threaten a boy than to persuade him. Yes, indeed, it is more fitting to be persistent in punishing our own impatience and pride than to correct the boys. We must be firm but kind, and be patient with them...

See that no one finds you motivated by impetuosity or willfulness. It is difficult to keep calm when administering punishment, but this must be done if we are to keep ourselves from showing off our authority or spilling out anger.

Let us regard those boys over whom we have some authority as our own sons. Let us place ourselves in their service. Let us be ashamed to assume an attitude of superiority. Let us not rule over them except for the purpose of serving them better.

This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized, and still others to hope for God's mercy. And so he bade them to be humble of heart.

They are our sons, and so in correcting their mistakes we must lay aside all anger and restrain it so firmly that it is extinguished entirely.

There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for true fathers who are eager for real correction and improvement.

In serious matters it is better to beg God humbly than to send forth a flood of words that will only offend the listeners and have no effect on those who are guilty.
With these words, Don Bosco highlights the difference between a punishment and a discipline. A punishment is given simply out of anger, whereas a discipline is given with the aim of teaching.

Both discipline and disciple come from the same root, meaning to learn. A discipline is, it is true, a form of a punishment, but it's ultimate and primary aim is to teach and correct, to change a certain behavior.

By the grace of God I can honestly say that I bear no anger toward this student and that after having met with him and his mother his remorse is genuine and, I believe, a lesson has already been learned well. And no discipline has officially yet been given.

Just after the incident I told him already what the discipline would be, but now after seeing his sorrow my heart tells me to lessen the discipline because the lesson has been shown. What is needed now is mercy, mercy that highlights the Lord's own mercy toward each of us.

At the same time, my head tells me not to lesson the discipline, lest I appear weak to others, because the incident occured in public; but I must alter the discipline. In this case, my heart will win. After all, in the words of Saint James, "mercy triumphs over justice" (James 2:13).

My heart breaks for the boy and for his mother. He meant no offense - of this I am sure - but his action must be corrected. Both know this. At the same time, knowing the speed with which gossip travels here in Effingham, the entire school will likely know of the incident by morning and classes resume in the morning. This will not help the boy feel better; I pray the students will be respectful.

I have told him that I will hold nothing against him nor think any less of him in the days to come. I hope he believes me and knows it to be true. In fact, I think more of him for actually coming in to see me; not many would have done so.

Please, keep this situation in your prayers.

Let us pray:

you called John Bosco
to be a teacher and father to the young.
Fill us with love like his:
may we give ourselves completely to your service
and to the salvation of mankind.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saint John Bosco, pray for us!

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