Writings and testimonies of don bosco on spiritual life

Cleaning your clothes when you come back from a trip


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219. Cleaning your clothes when you come back from a trip

ASC A000303 Conferenze, Quad. III, 1877-1878, ms by Giacomo Gresino, pp. 24-26

(cf. MB XIII, 438-440).
Sunday 29 October 1877

The reason I have called everyone together here is to welcome you and tell you some news after your holidays. One of the latest items, just come in from Fr Ronchail, is the opening of a new house at Cannes, not far from Nice. We will soon be opening others in other places and we will continue as far as America. So we will be opening at La Navarre, Tonon, Marseilles, Bordeaux … then on to Barcelona etc. All along the coast, and then two weeks of continuous voyage by steamer to Rio de Janeiro. But I need you to become good priests and good teachers.

But what I wanted to tell you is that after a journey you always end up with clothes covered in mud or at least dirt. So, although there mightn't have been any mud during these holidays, there will be at least some dirt on your clothes or a splash of mud. You have more or less all been on holidays so you need to think how, after you come back from a trip, to clean your clothes. Now you have an opportunity on this Feast of All Saints to go back over your conscience; to prepare well I thought we would have a triduum with a short sermon each evening. Try to put into practice what you will be told. What I would suggest over these days which the Church dedicates to the souls of the faithful departed, is to try to do something in suffrage for them. Those who can go to Communion, let them do so. You can all pray and pray much, and apply indulgences you have gained to them. This is one of the most beautiful ways of making suffrage for their souls. Do this for them as an act of charity, especially for the souls of your family, and you all have some family members, recently or in the past, who have died. These prayers, this good that you can do for the souls in purgatory, is really good for you too; it is like food which you give to someone who likes it but in reality it nourishes the person who takes it.

So spend these days well, reflect on your conscience, and offer up all the good you do for the souls in purgatory; so when we present ourselves for eternity we will find ourselves well prepared, and the good we have done will preserve us from the flames of purgatory and open to us the gates of heaven. Good night.

220. “Cleanliness and exactitude”

ASC A000303 Conferenze, Quad. III, 1877-1878, ms by Giacomo Gresino, pp. 27-30

(cf MB XIII, 417-419).
Wednesday 28 November 1877
So, Don Bosco welcomes you all back and brings you good news. The Novena to the Immaculate Conception begins tomorrow. Our boys have always had a special devotion to Mary Immaculate. There is a Sodality by that name, begun by Dominic Savio when he was alive, along with the regulations he and his friends wrote for it. Many of you belong to this Sodality (only those who are outstanding in virtue).

I recall how at the beginning of the Novena to the Immaculate Conception, Dominic Savio made the resolution to do it well; he came to me and wanted to make a general confession (he had not previously done so as far as I know); and then he kept a clean conscience throughout the novena so he could go to Holy Communion every day. As the Church earnestly wants all Christians to do, and, I would add, all the boys at the Oratory, they should act well in such a way that they can approach the Eucharistic table every day.

What advice can I give you for this novena as a memento? Two things: Exactitude and cleanliness. They rhyme [in Italian: esatezza e pulitezza] and they go well together. Exact observance of all the rules of the house, all without exception. Exactitude in church and study, eating a sleeping. Exactitude in everything. The other thing is cleanliness, not by polishing our shoes, but keeping our conscience clean. It is also good to keep clean like you should, but if someone feels a little niggle in the heart and looking back over his confessions sees the same things all the time: same lies, same wasting time, same faults, sins and confession, confession and sins; well, let him talk about these things, and if he believes he should, make a general review or general confession or mainly on the points he believes necessary. Someone else will feel a little niggle in the heart and will say: “But I'm afraid I once made a bad confession and I am not in a good state; it is true that I forgot that sin but I did it on purpose”. He tooand there are some of theseshould speak to his director about it and put it all to him. And another one might say: “I have been worried for some time, and am afraid my conscience is not in a good state.” Let him confide in his spiritual father and if he wants also make a general confession since this is just the right time for that. And the same can be said for everyone who is aware that his confessions lack something by way of sorrow or resolution or preparation.

So remember always, but especially for this novena: exactitude and cleanliness. Be exact in everything and keep your conscience clean so you can go to Holy Communion. Just like I recall Dominic Savio doing in such an exemplary way during his last Novena to the Immaculate Conception, making himself a worthy imitator of St Aloysius; worthy of a boy who at seven and a half years of age at his first Communion, resolved: death, but not sin. And if we do this, Mary Immaculate will do a favour for all of us that will be of most advantage to our soul. Good night.

221. How to make the retreat

ASC A000303 Conferenze, Quad. III, 1877-1878, ms by Giacomo Gresino, pp. 31-35 (cf MB XIII, 752-754).

Sunday 2 June 1878
A word after about six months! See how long it is since I have given you a good night. But if I didn't come in person, l was mentally here with you all the time. While I was in Rome and while I was on my way to Nice or San Pier d’Arena, I was thinking of you at Mass in the mornings, and in the evenings my thoughts went irresistibly back to you. But I have been back for a while now and I hope I will not be going away again too son. We are here for your spiritual and also temporal advantage.

What I have come tell you however is that tomorrow evening we will begin the students' retreat, and then immediately afterwards for the working boys. Everything I usually recommend for the retreats can be put in a word: pay attention and put into practice what you hear in the sermons or read. How do we put it into practice? In all the sermons, the readings, there is always something for us: it may be our examination of conscience was not well done or we have been lacking in sorrow or good resolutions; or we may have forgotten the confessor's advice etc. We can think about how things were, are, will be; whether there is something in our past actions to be fixed up; or if we are on the right road that Jesus Christ points out to us, and what we need to do in future.

This is the best time to think of your vocation, because in solitude Deus loquitur, and the retreat days are for drawing back and being alone. The trade and working boys too need to think of their vocation, because some need to think whether God wants them to stay here and work in the Congregation and be part of it or if they are being called to something quite different. Everyone needs to take a pause for some days from the usual occupations to apply themselves exclusively to matters of their soul.

Consider that we do not receive great graces so often; and being able to make a retreat is a great grace. How many were here last year listening to these same words and now they have passed on to the next life. I believe everyone made the retreat well last year, but if they hadn't, would they still have had time? And who can promise us that we can still make the retreat here another year? I cannot assure you of that. Only God can tell us that, and in fact he says the contrary: “Estote parati, quia qua hora non putatis filius hominis veniet”, and he shows us through experience that we can also die young. If this is how things are, let us always be ready, so whenever death comes we can present ourselves tranquilly before the gates of heaven.

So now that we have the opportunity, let's make this retreat well. Since the Lord tells us: “Ante orationem praepara animam tuam”, so I tell you: “before the retreat, prepare your soul”, that is, before starting have the intention of drawing profit from it.

And given that I think of you day and night, during these days of retreat I am consecrated completely to your spiritual advantage. In my Mass I will always pray especially for this, that the retreat goes welland what I say on my own behalf I say on behalf of all those with me and those coming especially for this occasion. These evenings I hope to speak again with you and so I don't keep you too long let's conclude these words with this beautiful conclusion: being able to make a retreat is a great grace which we don't always have; therefore we must make it well; to make it well we must put into practice what we hear in the sermons and readings; and since all favours come from heaven, I for my part and you for yours, let us ask God that we can gain the best result possible for our souls. Good night.

222. Discerning and deciding on our vocation

ASC A000303 Conferenze, Quad. III, 1877-1878, ms by Giacomo Gresino, pp. 35-40

(cf MB XIII, 807-808).

Tuesday 18 June 1878
For all the Solemnities of Our Lady that have been or are to come, the Feasts of the Consolation, St Aloysius and St John, St Peter and others before the end of the year, one thing that would be of great importance is to think about your vocation. Some will have already thought about it and are waiting some weeks, some days to make a final decision. That is why every year I usually offer some time for someone who wants to talk about this and this year I would be happy if the boys from 5th and 4th Year and others too who want to talk about their vocation, would come to my room any time after Vespers.

But we can also say something in general now. When we become aware that we are called to the ecclesiastical state, it is also of major importance to see whether it is better to become a secular priest or join some congregation. Whoever wants to embrace the ecclesiastical state must have a right and holy intention: that is, if he wants to save his soul. And could he not also support his family? It is a right and just thing to help our family; so you can be businessmen, shoemakers or whatever you want and then help your family and others with what you like from your earnings. But a priest no, he can give them alms like to anyone else, if they should find themselves at that point, but no more than that. And then you hear the usual objection: “But many priests, this one, that other one have done this, bought that; they have become wealthy, made their families wealthy etc.” So have they all done badly? I do not want to judge anyone, I only note what the Divine Saviour says and the holy Church. Jesus Christ says it explicitly: whoever wants to be God's minister should not be concerned about temporal affairs; indeed not only should he not be concerned, but “non implicet se”, Scripture says precisely, “do not get involved, not get mixed up in: non implicet se in negotiis.” The words are clear. Saint Ambrose or Saint Gregory says that whatever the priest has is the patrimony of the poor: not his, you see; it belongs to the poor. His labours are for God, the means are God's and also the earnings must be God's and also belong to the poor. The priest must only be interested in saving souls: that means a holy purpose.

What I can also tell you is that someone who does not feel called to the ecclesiastical state should not even think about becoming a priest, and would get nothing good out of it. Whoever does not feel he can preserve the virtue of chastity is not made for the priesthood, and should turn to something else, since as a priest he would only do evil to himself and others. I tell you this so you can have time to think about it and do things well. Good night.

223. The lambs and the storm

ASC A000303 Conferenze, Quad. III, 1877-1878, ms by Giacomo Gresino, pp. 41-48

(cf MB XIII, 761-764).
Thursday 24 October 1878
I am happy to see my army of soldiers again contra diabolum. Although in Latin, even Cottini can understand it! And I have so many things to tell you, this being the first time I am speaking to you after the holidays, but for now I only want to tell you a dream. You know that we dream when we are asleep and that we don't have to put much faith in them; but if it is not wrong not to believe, sometimes there is nothing wrong either with believing them and they can also instruct us, like this one for example.

I was at Lanzo for the first of the retreats and I was sleeping, as I said, when I had this dream. I found myself in a place and did not know where it was, but I was close to a town where there was a garden and near this garden was a very large meadow. I was in the company of some friends who invited me to come into the garden. I came in and saw a huge number of lambs gambolling, running, and prancing around like they do. Then a gate opened onto the field and the lambs scampered out to graze. But many did not want to go out. They stayed in the garden and went around nibbling some grass here and there and grazed that way, though there was not as much grass there as there was outside where the larger group had gone.

“I want to see what the lambs outside are doing.” We went out and we saw them peacefully grazing; and then. Almost immediately, the sky darkened, there was lightning and thunder and a storm was brewing. “What will happen to these lambs if they are caught in the storm?” I was saying; “let's bring them in and save them.” And I started calling them. Me on one side, my companions on the other, we tried shepherding them back into the garden, but they did not want to know about it. We chased them here we chased them there; ah but they had faster legs than us. Then it began to spit, then rain but I couldn't get them in. One or two though came into the garden, but all the others, and there was a lot of them, stayed out in the meadow. “Well, if they don't want to come, bad luck for them; meanwhile, we'll go back in.” And we went back into the garden.

There was a fountain there on which were written in red letters: Fons signatus, sealed fountain. It was covered. And then it opened, the water shot up, and made a rainbow, but shaped like this arch. We and the lambs in the garden with us got under it and the rain and hail couldn't reach us. “But what is this?” I was asking my friends, “And what about those poor lambs outside?”

“You will see.” they answered. “Look at the foreheads of these lambs. What do you see?” I looked and on the forehead of each lamb was written the name of a boy at the Oratory.

“What is this?”

“You will see, you will see.”

Meanwhile I couldn't hold back any longer and wanted to run out and see what the poor lambs left outside were doing.

“I will pick up the ones that were killed and send them straight to the Oratory”, I was thinking. I got wet as well and I saw those poor little lambs collapsed on the ground struggling to limp into the garden but they couldn't walk. I opened the gate but all their efforts were useless. The rain and hail had so battered them and they were a pitiful sight as it continued to do so. One was hit on the head, another on the face, another on the ears, another the legs, others elsewhere. The storm had ceased meanwhile.

“Look,” those near me said, “at the foreheads of these lambs.” I looked and on the forehead of each lamb was written the name of a boy at the Oratory.

“But,” I said “I know the boy by this name and to me he seems like a little lamb”. “You will see, you will see.”

Then a golden jar with a silver cover was presented to me, and I was told: “Dip your hands into this ointment and touch the lambs' injuries with your hand. They will recover.” I began calling them:

“Baa! Baa!”

Nothing. Nothing happened. I tried approaching one and it ran away.

“It doesn't want to, so bad luck for him!” I went to another and it ran away. And this useless game went on.

I finally reached one whose eyes were hanging out of its sockets, so badly had it been struck, poor thing. I touched it with my hand and it recovered and went into the garden. Many others were no longer afraid and allowed themselves to be touched and healed, and went into the garden. But there were still many left, mostly the worst off, and it was impossible to approach them.

“If they don't want to be healed, then that's their problem; but I don't know what I can do to get them back into the garden.”

“Let them go,” one of the friends with me said “they will come, they will come.”

“We will see.”

I put the jar back where it was before and returned to the garden. It had all changed, and at the entrance I read: Oratory. As soon as I went in, the lambs who did not want to come entered by sneaking in and were playing hide and seek; not even then could I approach any of them. There were a few of them unwilling to be given the ointment which then turned into poison for them and instead of healing them made their injuries worse.

“Look, do you see that standard?”

“Yes, I see it. I was reading this word in huge letters: Holidays.”

“So, this is the result of the holidays”, one who was with me explained, because I was already beside myself with grief. “Your boys go out to pasture with good will, but then come the storms, the temptations; then the rain which is the devil's assaults; then comes the hail when they fall into sin. Some go to confession and are healed, but others either don't make a good confession or don't go at all. Keep it in mind and never tire of telling your boys that holidays are like a devastating storm for their souls.”

I was looking at the lambs and I saw terrible injuries on some; I was looking for a way to heal them when, as I said, I was sleeping and Fr Scappini made a noise in the room next to me while getting up and I awoke.

This is the dream, and although just a dream, just the same it has a meaning that will not do harm to anyone who puts his faith in it. And I can tell you that I noted some names amongst the lambs in the dream and comparing these with the boys, I saw that these behave just like it happened in the dream. However things are, during this novena for All Saints we should respond to God's loving kindness. He wants to show us mercy and through a good confession purge the wounds on our conscience. We then should all agree to fight the devil and with God's help we will be victorious and receive the crown of victory in Heaven.


Don Bosco's first trip to Rome between February and April 1858 was crucial for the successive development of his Work. His main purpose was a pilgrimage to the places of martyrdom at the heart of Catholicism. But the saint was also moved by a desire to “meet the Pope in person and receive suggestions and encouragement from him regarding the work undertaken in Turin for the salvation of the young.”30 In particular he wanted to talk to him about setting up a kind of association that would guarantee the stability of the Oratory and the house attached to it. He was guided by Pius IX to found a religious congregation with vows and was asked to present a draft Rule. Thus began the process that would lead, step by step, to consolidation of the project from a religious and legal point of view31.

After the official act of foundation of the Society of St Francis de Sales (December 18, 1859), Don Bosco, who already for some years had been seeing to the formation of his boys as collaborators with ecclesiastical spirit, detachment of heart from all personal ambition, apostolic zeal in exercising virtue, committed himself with even greater determination to shaping them spiritually so they could gradually acquire the mindset and lifestyle of consecrated religious.

This section contains documents which are fundamental for grasping the idea of the Salesian religious in Don Bosco's mind and the spiritual features which, in his opinion, had to characterise it, starting from his initial cautious suggestions to the more robust and demanding formative interventions in the Seventies and Eighties.

The section is in five parts.

The first is the instruction “To the Salesians” (no. 224), which the saint put as the introduction to the Constitutions, aiming to give his disciples a key for authentically interpreting the Salesian religious vocation.

The second part includes some early constitutional texts: the first draft of the rules of the Salesian Society drawn up between 1858 and 1859 (no. 225), the translation (1875) of the definitive text approved by the Holy See in its Latin version in 1874 (no. 226), the Rule of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians printed in 1885 (no. 227).

The third part includes a selection of circular letters of considerable spiritual substance sent by Don Bosco to the Salesians and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (nos. 228-237).

The fourth part is made up of personal letters of the saint to his male and female disciples, with very significant and concrete spiritual pointers, which document the robust, ascetic model the founder was proposing (nos. 238-257).

The fifth part has five conferences and three dreams addressed to the Salesians (nos. 257-265). They are a sample of Don Bosco's efforts to infuse a sense of belonging to the Congregation in his sons, along with a correct idea of religious consecration and its practical repercussions on life.

The item To the Salesians, the central chapters of the early Constitutions and the selection of circular letters, correspondence, conferences and “dreams”, reveal what was the spiritual and moral temper of the religious Don Bosco wanted; the vigorous concept he had had of the spirit that should animate the Salesian vocation. This demanding model was understood within the horizon of the absolute primacy of God and the Gospel ideal of following Christ, including radical detachment from self, giving of oneself without any going back.

The practical implications of this view are such as to constitute a way of life so radical and austere that it leaves us stunned: generous obedience without limits, an ascetic and essential, yet joyful life, an impressive diligence in view of the community mission, benign, patient, endless charity, loving fraternity, strictly guarded chastity, "A piety that gives maximum development to prayer life, or union with God" 32, an absolute fidelity to the smallest requirements of the Rule, flexible and creative adaptability, an ardent apostolic energy to the point of complete sacrifice of self.


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