When John Bosco was a young boy, he had a dream. He dreamed that he was surrounded by a mob of crude boys: they blasphemed and bullied and pushed him. John Bosco was only 9, but he was pious and holy. He loved God. When he saw these crude boys blaspheming, in his dream he “jumped into their midst, swinging wildly and shouting at them to stop.”
But his shouts didn’t stop the boys. At that moment, in the dream, a nobleman appeared. He was strong, and stern, but his face glowed angelically. Bosco writes that “he called me by name and told me to place myself as leader over those boys, adding the words: ‘You will have to win these friends of yours not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness. So begin right now to show them that sin is ugly and virtue beautiful.’”
John Bosco’s dream— leading others to virtue, and to Christ, with gentleness and kindness—became his vocation. He became a priest, founded a religious order, and he led thousands of souls to communion with Jesus Christ. In 1934, he was canonized a saint. We celebrate his feast day each year on Jan. 31.
In some ways, Bosco’s dream described the vocation of all priests: to stand amidst the souls of this world, leading all towards virtue, and towards Christ. A priest is called to bring others to Jesus Christ: through charity, preaching and teaching, and through the sacraments. A priest is called to be a witness to the beauty, and goodness, and the truth of the Christian life.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis said that every vocation “means sometimes going against the tide and also encountering obstacles, outside ourselves and within ourselves.” A vocation, he said, is difficult, a cross, but “the more we unite ourselves to Jesus through prayer, Sacred Scripture, the Eucharist, the Sacraments celebrated and lived in the Church and in fraternity, the more there will grow in us the joy of cooperating with God in the service of the Kingdom of mercy and truth, of justice and peace.”
Over the past two months, the nation of Ukraine has been wracked by turmoil and division over the country’s democratic future. The country may be on the verge of civil war. In the beautiful city of Kiev, battle lines have been drawn between protestors and armed riot police. I have been struck by the presence, in the midst of that violence, of priests. Kiev’s priests have flocked to the battle lines, praying before crucifixes in the zone between protesters and police. One priest told a reporter, “I’m here to placate the violence. My congregation is here.”
Priests stand amidst the chaos of the world. Like St. John Bosco, they win souls with gentleness and kindness. Religious brothers and sisters do the same. Their consecration to Christ is a sign, for all of us, of eternity. Their heroic generosity leads them to the battle lines of this world; bringing Christ to the places he’s needed most.
Priests and religious are called to bring Christ to the world, and the world to Jesus Christ. We’re all called to share in that work. We’re all called to win souls for Christ. There is no vocation more joyful, more noble, or more holy than that.