St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “Let us leave a saint to write the life of a saint.” The book, The Life of Dominic Savio by John Bosco, is just that. A book about St. Dominic Savio written by St. John Bosco. This book details the life of St. Dominic Savio, but I wouldn’t say it is an entertaining read. The book’s goal was for St. Bosco to detail what he saw while educating St. Savio in school, so it reads more like a police report than an entertaining story. However, the character and virtues this 14-year-old boy had during his lifetime are pretty amazing.
St. Bosco explains that when it came to character and virtue, St. Savio was probably not the best in the school, but he was unique in that he seemed to have mystical experiences. One example given is knowing when someone was on their death bed and desired the sacraments. St. Savio was able to wake St. Bosco up and tell him where to go. When asked about these experiences, St. Savio would never explain himself or detail how he seemed to know things. He was a very private and humble boy.
Early in St. Savio’s life (7 years old), he set goals for his life. Everything he did was in pursuit of those goals. St. Bosco details that St. Savio was always loving, kind, and friendly to everyone in the school, but he only became friends with others who had the same goals and desired to pursue the best virtuous life possible. He also encouraged others to strive for virtue. Examples were preventing physical fights between students and ripping up magazines with impure images.
St. Savio spent every day of his life trying to live the best life possible and making friends with those having similar virtuous goals. It was about living a life of community, and he founded Sodality of Mary Immaculate.
Benedict XI once said that a de-Christianized culture has not only lost the Gospel but has lost the fundamental human values or “the art of living.” Dr. Edward Sri explains what this means,
“in an age of moral confusion, when the great tradition of the virtues has not been passed on, the challenge is not just that we don’t know enough about Christian doctrine or the Church’s moral teachings. The problem runs much deeper: we don’t even know how to live. We don’t know how to live friendship, community, dating, marriage, and family life well” (The Art of Living pg 18).
When I read about how this 14-year-old saint lived his life, I am amazed and can’t imagine any teen and very few adults living a similar virtuous life. But remember, St. Bosco is clear that St. Savio was not the only one living this type of life. THERE WERE MANY boys in the school living this way. We as a society have truly lost the concept of living a virtuous life.
We no longer listen to historical thinkers like Plato or Aristotle or even the Catholic thinkers like St. Augustine and St. Aquinas. All four stressed the importance of a virtuous life when living in a community to have fulfilling lives.
The message today is if someone ‘thinks’ something will make them happy then who are we to judge how they want to pursue happiness? No one ever follows up and asks, “Are these things making people happy?” With this new concept of accepting ANY lifestyle someone chooses – are we happier?
I would argue – no. A few posts ago, I discussed a long-term study that showed that relationships made us the happiest during our lives. Sadly a recent study found, “Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.” They mention health because the study also looked at how loneliness affected health which showed “a higher risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. [Loneliness] has been shown to influence our genes and our immune systems, and even recovery from breast cancer.” You can read the entire article here. Our current society is seeing a decline in mental health, physical health, and spiritual health.
The greatest thinkers have taught us that a virtuous life will enhance every aspect of life from friendships, marriage, family, and community. Studies haven shown that these are the things (mainly relationship with others) that improve our lives and make us happier.
Shouldn’t we listen?
St. Augustine said, “si ille, cur non ego?” or “If he is, why not I?”
My favorite quote from the book stresses this point, “Remember that true religion is not a matter of words; there must be deeds. Hence, if you find something related worthy of admiration, do not be satisfied with saying: I like that, or that is very good; but rather say: I want to put into practice what I see is praiseworthy in others.” (pg 9)
We need to think about the type of life we want to live especially as a community with others. We can only change ourselves. What type of virtues do you need to work on? Ask for grace to receive help in living the virtuous life. This is the only type of life that leads to true fulfillment.
You can read more about how the Catholic Church teaches the virtues by reading paragraphs 1803 – 1841 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. To start you off:
1803: A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.
1804: Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good. The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love.