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St. John Bosco, Eli and the Value of Spiritual Mentors

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. John Bosco—a man who devoted his life to helping young people. One of the greatest blessings of our Christian faith is the witness of men and women throughout history who let go of their own needs and worked tirelessly for the good of youth and those generations who were to come after them. The witness of these men and women should call us, as the Church, into a reflection on how best to minister to youth and young adults, especially in a time and culture that is “youth obsessed.” We can readily see how this obsession plays itself out in all areas of society: the entertainment and news media industry, politics, sports, education, and relationships, just to name a few. A fair question is: How might this “obsession with youth” bleed into and perhaps even negatively influence the Church’s own ministry to youth and young adults just as they are seeking to claim their own Christian faith and discipleship, and how might we best avoid the danger of this obsession?

For full disclosure, I will begin by stating that one of the core convictions I gained in my ministry with youth and young adults is that young people do not benefit from older people trying to act or pretend young; rather young people benefit when their elders remember their own age and are authentic to who they, themselves, are.

To use an image from Scripture: in our world today, young Samuels need the guidance of older and wiser Elis. For any person ministering to young people, 1 Samuel 2-3 is an important and essential point of reference. There is much insight to be gained in continually returning to these chapters. Eli is one of the unsung heroes of Scripture. For our purposes here, we will make use of the famous encounter between the young Samuel and the elder Eli as a way to explore some thoughts.

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