The first edition of Il giovane provveduto (in English The Companion of Youth) appeared in 1847 and was Don Bosco’s greatest publishing success. The year he died it had reached its 119th edition. It was reprinted with minor adaptations until 1961. It is also the book which Don Bosco most liked and constantly recommended.
It represents a point of arrival for his pastoral experiences amongst boys at the early Oratory and is the basis for developments in his plans for youthful holiness. We find in it the content and model of Christian living which he offered the boys, his unmistakeable “horizons of youth spirituality.” This was the author’s intention, declared right from the preface, where he says he wants to teach “a method of Christian living which is cheerful and content at the same time”, “brief and easy, but sufficient” so young people can become “the consolation of their parents, an honour to their town, good citizens on earth to then be the fortunate inhabitants of heaven.”
From the point of view of its content the book is split into three parts plus an appendix with hymns. The first part has a series of instructions and reflections on God, his special relationship with the young, Christian duties, eternal truths and the example of St Aloysius Gonzaga.
The second part offers a range of “particular exercises of Christian piety” which are out of the 18th century devotional context but chosen and organised for the special kind of Christian life Don Bosco liked to offer and in tune with his personal sensitivities: morning and evening prayer; suggestions for assisting fruitfully at holy Mass and approaching the sacraments; prayer for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament and for spiritual communion; prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Sorrows and other devout practices; prayers for the exercise for a happy death; an instruction on choice of state (included much later, after 1878).
The third part of the Companion of Youth has the Office to Our Lady and prayers for Vespers throughout the year.
Here we include the complete first and second parts of the Companion of Youth, including prayers and devotional practices common to 19th century Catholicism. Even here Don Bosco’s publishing work has an unmistakeable feel about it. It is very instructive for the reader to retrace the texts the boys at Valdocco used for prayer every day, full of devout affections and spiritual energy, fruitful practical resolutions and ethical responsibility, targeted at ascetic and virtuous activity.
Scholars have identified the authors Don Bosco referred to frequently, but have also noted his criteria for selection or exclusion, his emphases and the connotations which give the work an unmistakeable personal imprint. For example, the comment on the traps the devils sets for the boys to distract them from giving themselves to God from their childhood and the statement of perfect harmony between religion and happiness. Especially his insistence on childhood as a favourable time for working on virtue, and on a complete baptismal way of life with good results throughout life. The age of youth, according to Don Bosco, is the “key to one’s whole earthly existence”, a responsible and constructive age, a happy occasion for entering into a special relationship with God and for undertaking a virtuous and happy journey to holiness (Servite Domino in laetitia).
Other issues arise, and will recur constantly in the Saint’s magisterium: the need to always be ready, because death can come at any moment, by always keeping our eye on our fate; union with God in a loving and self-giving relationship through prayer, devotional practices, and brief thoughts about God, offering things up; Marian devotion; the exercise of specific virtues such as love and fear of God, obedience and purity, charity and service; the exact and joyful fulfilment of one’s duties of state; seeing to meditation, listening to the word of God, catechetical education; the need to mortify the senses, flee bad companions and occasions of sin; the strategic centrality of the sacraments of confession and communion which are the pillars of the formation approach Don Bosco used.
The importance of the Companion of Youth emerges especially when read in the light of all of Don Bosco’s teaching and “his entire system and lifestyle” by which he immerses young people at the Oratory in daily life. The reader can see this by comparing with other texts in this collection, especially the lives of Dominic Savio, Michael Magone and Francis Besucco.
Reference time period: 1847 – 1887
Salesian Historical Institute, Salesian Sources 1: Don Bosco and his work. Collected Works, LAS – Kristu Jyoti, Rome – Bangalore, 2017, 693-765.
Istituto Storico Salesiano