Writings and testimonies of don bosco on spiritual life



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The years of foundation and consolidation of the Salesian Society and the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians are ones where Don Bosco's horizons expanded in an impressive manner. The priest of Valdocco, ever more aware of having received a divine mission, feels that he has been transported into a huge field of activity, given a charism that makes him father and founder of a movement of apostles, consecrated men and women who are destined to spread over space and time. His spiritual magisterium deepens, his proposals become more radical, all-embracing.

The texts included here are taken from notes made during Don Bosco's conferences. They are simply examples. As with the circular and personal letters, on these occasions too the saint emphasises what he considers to be characteristic aspects of Salesian consecrated life, with the freshness and liveliness typical of direct speech.

These addresses further confirm the total acceptance Don Bosco has of consecration and the Salesian vocation, which ask for generous and determined commitment.

The reader can see that the dreams addressed to the Salesians (nos. 263-265), compared with those to the boys, along with their instructive and symbolic function, involve a more marked spiritual and charismatic purpose. In particular the dream of the ten diamonds (no. 265), which presents the icon of the ideal Salesian, showing what is specific to the Salesian spirit, “more than a feature or virtue, it is a range of attitudes, deep convictions and well tested methodological experiences which flow harmonically into the creation of an original and particular style of holiness and apostolate.”56

258. You must act in such a way that others, mirroring themselves in you, can be built up

ASC A0040601 Cronaca 1858, ms by Giovanni Bonetti, pp. 17-19 (cf MB VI, 68-70).

[October/November 1858]57

We can now say that our school year has begun, and therefore I would very much like to begin as we did last year by spending some time with you at least once a week. The best time we can find is this hour after prayers. I do not want to give you a sermon, but I only want to tell you, and I desire this with all my heart, I only want to recommend what was so often said by St Paul, indeed what God himself said to Moses when he came down from the mountain, that you be models, that you be true models for all the boys at the Oratory. You have to be like so many straight lines that all the other boys can follow along. Therefore you have to act in such a way that others, mirroring themselves in you, can be built up. You should try not only to help one another with advice but with deeds. What value would it be if you recommended to others to frequent the holy sacraments, if they saw that you went very rarely? If they see you go devoutly to the sacraments, if they see you devout and modest in church who knows then that by your example they may find somewhere to draw sustenance for their souls. If unfortunately a cleric were to engage in immodest talk, let slip some little word that someone interprets as against the beautiful virtue, alas, what damage, what a scandal! …

People expect good results from us, people look at us and if they do not see some result, oh what a scandal for them! St Ambrose likens us to the moon He says we must take so much care. The moon does not shine with its own light. It takes its light from the sun, uses it then gives it to the earth. We are the same. Of ourselves we have nothing, but we must take from almighty God, from the sun of justice, the divine word that enlightens the mind and after using it for ourselves then we must spread it for all men. They expect that we will lead them on the way that leads to heaven. Saint Augustine [says]: “Do you want to know what those robes the Romans wear mean? Do not believe that the toga a young man took on at 17 years of age only meant this but rather that under the toga was knowledge, virtue, in short all the good gifts that someone who wants to put on the toga must be adorned with. It is the same with us. Under these clothes we must have the virtues that such a divine habit deserves.”

When Joshua had to cross the Jordan, God asked him to follow the priests with the ark [of the Covenant]. When they arrived there with the ark on their shoulders, the waters of the Jordan opened up and the army passed through. That is what the priests did. Carrying the ark on their shoulders the waters divided; the upper and lower waters were like a high wall and left a path across the Jordan dry so all the army could cross to the other side of the Jordan. So must we do too. With the ark of the divine Covenant, with holy religion, good advice, nice words we must see that men pass from this world to eternity safe and sound. Onward then, and let's do everything we can for the good of souls.

You have so many boys around you watching you carefully. Do everything in your power to direct them well and with good example, words, advice and charitable warnings. If you do that this year, although with a fewer number of clerics than other years, I will be very happy and the Lord can do no other than bless me, you the whole House, continuing, as he has always done up till now, to help us by the power of his arm, blessing all our efforts. Amen.


ASC A0040604 Annali III 1862, ms by Giovanni Bonetti, pp. 1-6 (cf MB VII, 162-164)58.

[14 May 1862]

It is my intention that this vow you have just made does not impose any other obligation than observing what you have already observed up till now, that is, the rules of the house. It is my great desire that none of you be caught up in any fear, or by some concern. If that is the case let each one come to me quickly and open up his heart, letting me know of his doubts and anxieties. I say this because it could be that the devil, seeing the good that you are doing by being in this Society, gives you some temptation, seeking to distance you from God's will. But if you quickly let me know I will be able to look at things, return your hearts to peace, and also release you from your vows if I see that this is God's will and for the good of souls.

Someone might say to me: “Did Don Bosco also make these vows?” Well, while you were making these vows to me, I was making them to the One on the Crucifix, for all of my life, offering myself in sacrifice to the Lord, ready for anything that is for his greater glory and the salvation of souls.

My dear friends we are in turgid times and it almost seems to be a presumption in these unfortunate times to be trying to put into place a new religious community, while the world and Hell are using all their powers to wipe out all those already on this earth. But that does not matter; I have not just possible but certain arguments that it is God's will that our Society begin and continue. Many efforts have been made to prevent it, but all in vain. Indeed some of those who have most obstinately opposed us have paid dearly for it. One distinguished person, who for various reasons I shall not name, maybe out of zeal, was strongly opposed to this Society. He was overcome by serious illness and a few days later left for eternity.

I would never be able to finish this evening if I were to tell you about all the special acts of protection we have received from Heaven since our Oratory began. All this helps us argue that God is with us and that we can go ahead in all our affairs with trust, knowing that we are doing his holy will.

But these are not the arguments that give me hope that all is well for this Society; there are other more important arguments, amongst them being the unique purpose we propose, which is the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. Who knows, but that the Lord may want to use our Society to accomplish much good in his Church? Twenty five or thirty years hence, if the Lord continues to help us as he has until now, our Society, spread everywhere, could even go beyond a thousand members. Some of these preaching and instructing ordinary folk, others educating abandoned youth; some teaching,others writing and spreading good books; and everyone supporting the dignity of the Roman Pontiff and ministers of the Church. How much good can be done! Pius IX believes that everything is already sorted out: and here this evening things are in order, so let us fight with him on behalf of the Church, which is God's Church. Let us have courage, let us work with all our heart. God will reward us as a good paymaster. Eternity will be long enough for us to take a rest59.

260. Always keep in mind the purpose of the Congregation

ASC A0250202 Conferenza di D. Bosco – 12 gennaio 1873; ms by another (cf. MB X, 1061-1063).

[12 January 1873]

I see with great pleasure that our Congregation is increasing every day…. But if it is my greatest desire that our Congregation should grow and increase the number of sons of the apostles, it is also my greatest desire that the members be zealous ministers, sons worthy of St Francis, just as the Jesuits are sons worthy of the courageous St Ignatius of Loyola. The whole world marvels at it and more than anyone else, the evildoers. Out of devilish hatred they would like to see this most holy seed crushed. Persecutions, the most horrendous events will not discourage these magnanimous individuals. They are split up in a way that one does not know about the other, and far from one another they perfectly fulfil the Rule given them by their first superior, just as it would be if they were in community. Wherever there is a Jesuit, I say, there is a model of virtue, an exemplar of holiness: wherever he preaches, hears confessions, proclaims the Word of God. Is there more? When evildoers think they have crushed them, that is precisely when they begin to increase in number; and it is then that the result in terms of souls is greater.

So may it be for you, my sons, so think seriously about the state to which God is calling you; think and pray, and when entering this Congregation mirror in yourselves those magnanimous sons of Christ, and work as they do. Whether you have embraced the ecclesiastical state or remained a layman and whatever office you are given, always see to exact observance of the Rule. Whether you live here, at Lanzo, in one of the other houses, or in France, in Africa, in America, whether you are alone or with others, always keep in mind the purpose of this Congregation, the education of youth and our neighbour in general, in arts, sciences and religion; in a word, the salvation of souls. And if I should say what is currently going through my mind, I would describe a huge number of Oratories spread over the world, some in France, some in Spain, some in Africa, some in America and in so many other places where our confreres are working tirelessly in the vineyard of Jesus Christ.

Right now it is simply a thought I have, but it seems to me I could already assert it as an historical fact. But since the Holy Father, Pius IX, has urged us to take up only Italy as our field of work for now, since, as he says, it is extremely in need, we will put our forces to work here in Italy. However Heaven should dispose things, always remember the purpose of the Congregation you will join or have already joined. Let us encourage one another and work tirelessly together so that one day, in company with all the souls we have won for God, we will enjoy the beatific vision of God with them for all eternity.

261. Through our vows we are all completely consecrated to God

ASC A0000409 Prediche di don Bosco. Esercizi Lanzo 1876, Quad. 20, ms by Giulio Barberis, pp. 14-19 (cf. MB XII, 451-454)60.

[Lanzo Torinese, 17 September 1876]

When an army general sees all his ranks of soldiers, he is happy because he hopes he can more easily destroy his enemy with them, without any fear. So right now I am happy seeing the ranks of my sons increase, soldiers who want to fight the devil; soldiers who will help me destroy, as much as we can, his kingdom on earth and prepare a nice place for ourselves in Heaven.

Do you know what it means to make these holy vows? It means being put in the first ranks of the Divine Saviour's army and to go into battle under his command. But what I would like to say to you right now is this, that it is not enough to make vows, but we must make every effort to do what we have promised God to do by vow. Through our vows we are all completely consecrated to him; let us never take back what we have given him. We have consecrated our eyes to him: so let's leave aside useless and insignificant reading, vain or bad looks. We have all consecrated our ears to God: so let's not pause any longer to listen to people complaining and sowing discontent, no longer want pleasures or be found in conversations, gatherings where, even if there is no bad talk, it is all very worldly and secular just the same. We have consecrated our tongue to the Lord: so no more biting or rude words to our friends, answering superiors back, no more sowing discontent; no, now that we have consecrated it to him, let us not stain it any more; instead give it completely over to singing the divine praises, talking of good examples to encourage others to do good. We have consecrated our throat [appetite] to the Lord, so away with all kinds of immoderate delicacies in food; much abstemiousness with wine; never let our greedy appetite lead us to accept dinners, drinks or the like. These hands of ours have been especially consecrated to the Lord, so let them no longer remain idle; let them not regret doing work which seems to be filthy work, so long as everything is for the greater glory of God. All these feet are consecrated to God: what a field I am entering here! So let's not use these feet to return to the world which we have abandoned. Yes, I think I should stay with this idea for a moment to deal with it.

The Lord has given us a great grace by calling us to follow him: this world is too perverse and perverting. So let us follow the grace and not return to perversion. See, the Holy Spirit clearly tells us that the world is completely set on evil: “mundus in maligno positus est totus.” So let us see that our feet never turn back again to where we have escaped from. The principle hurdle, the biggest difficulty we find is our parents. But the Lord said that if they become a hurdle to our greater good we do not need to listen to them, nor heed them, he even goes to the point of telling us to hate them. So we need to really detach ourselves from them, since God has done us the great favour of calling us to follow him. Through our vows we have detached ourselves from them to bind ourselves especially to God, so why put ourselves back in danger of detaching ourselves from God by going to listen to their miseries, needs or desires? …

I see that I have digressed somewhat from what I was talking about, that since we are especially consecrated to God we should give him our whole life, all our works, our entire selves. We have to really try hard so that the fact, our works , corresponds to this purpose. Believe me also that here has never been anybody who was discontent at the moment of death for being consecrated to God and for having spent his life in his holy service. There are countless numbers, instead, who at that point regret that they have not loved him and served him. They weep over their miseries but time has run out. Since the Lord in his great mercy has wanted to warn us in time and call us to himself, let us surrender to him and do things worthy of his call.

262. Patience, hope, obedience

ASC A0000409 Prediche di don Bosco - Esercizi Lanzo 1876, Quad. XX, ms by Giulio Barberis, pp. 1-11 (cf MB XII, 454-460).

[Lanzo Torinese, 18 September 1876]
We are at the point of going our own way and each one will be going back to where the Lord has destined him to exercise his sacred ministry. What can I tell you at this moment that can serve as a watchword for each one to recall as fruit of this retreat wherever and whenever? There are three simple words that I believe are of the greatest importance possible right now. So it would be good to heed them with all the effort possible. Here they are: Patience
, Hope, Obedience.

[1. Patience] - Firstly I would like to suggest much patience. The Holy Spirit himself admonishes us: “Patientia vobis necessaria est,” he tells us somewhere in Holy Scripture. “In patientia vestra,” he says elsewhere, “possidebitis animas vestras. Patientia opus habet perfectum.” I do not intend here to speak of the patience required to put up with fatigue or extraordinary persecutions; nor of the patience needed to suffer martyrdom nor that which we need to practise when seriously ill. Patience is certainly necessary in these cases and to an heroic degree; but they are cases that rarely have to be put into practice, and God in these cases gives us extraordinary graces. The patience I intend speaking of is the patience needed to fulfil our duties well, the patience we need to practise all of our Rule, discharge our duties exactly. This is what I intend to speak to you about. Both superiors and inferiors need it, and it could be needed in a thousand instances, therefore we need to have it in abundance.

Someone will be overburdened with tasks and someone else wants to give him one more. He could be angry with the one who wants to do this, either because that persons seems unaware of the other things he has to do or because he just believes he can do it. Patience is needed.

Or there could be someone else who wants to teach, but they ask him to assist; or there might be someone instead who wants to go to school but they ask him to teach, or he'd like to be in one place but they send him to another. Patience is needed in all these cases.

Or there is someone who believes the Superior has something against him, does not view him favourably, always gives him the worst jobs to do. Without patience he immediately begins to complain, show his discontent, and what will happen?

Or someone else has a job he does not like, or he can't do well where he is; he feels like complaining a thousand times over about everything there and going who knows where to. Take this kind of response slowly: here patience is needed more than ever.

Or it will happen one day that someone says: “the Superior hates me”; it might be imagination more than anything else; but even so, is it legitimate to complain, speak badly of him, show publicly how offended he is? No. This is why I was saying that we need to have patience as our inseparable companion.

And the Superior? How much patience is needed here! Because if he knows how to get others to practise it, the others can say: there's many of us, he is just one, and we are practising a bit of patience towards each one. The Superior though is alone and apart from all the others and has to be patient with everyone. So although he might be young, sometimes it is very tough work. Sometimes has to chew on things for a while a little out of regard for one or some other, either because they are not capable, or because he does not see good will and spontaneity in things, or even sees ill will. But is this good enough to cut off relations with someone regarding that matter and complain about everything? I know that there will be a thousand temptations to offer a harsh reproach or send someone away or something like that, but it is precisely here that much patience is needed or, to put it better, much charity with that condiment of St Francis de Sales added in: kindness, meekness.

The teacher, or an assistant could cut the matter off with a blow here, a kick there; but I maintain that although it might stop an occasional abuse, it never does good and never helps people love virtue or get something to sink in. Of course, let there always be true zeal. Try your best to do things well, yes. But always calmly, kindly, patiently.

Someone will say: “well said, but it costs something not to get angry when you see ... “ It costs. And I know it costs as well; but do you know where the word patience comes from? From [the Latin word] patior, pateris, passus sum, pati, which means: to suffer, put up with, endure. If it did not cost some effort it would no longer be patience. And it is precisely because it costs effort that I recommend it so much and that the Lord encourages it so much in the Holy Scriptures. I am also aware that it costs. I am sure you don't believe that it is the most enjoyable thing in the world to be 'nailed' to giving audiences or stuck at a table all evening to do what has to be done, letters and the like. I can assure you that many times I would like to get out for some fresh air and maybe I really need to; but patience is needed. If I didn't do these tasks many things wouldn't happen; so much good would be left undone; so much important business would be left stranded: therefore, patience.

Don't believe that it doesn't also cost me, that after having given someone a job to do, entrusted him with something important or delicate or urgent, and I find it not done or badly done, it doesn't cost me something to regain my calm. I assure you that sometimes my blood is boiling in my veins; I get pins and needles all over. So? Lose my patience? That won't get the job done; and the confrere will not be corrected by my anger. Calmly advise, set appropriate rules, encourage; and if there is a need to shout a bit, then do it, but think for a moment: what would St Francis de Sales do in this situation? I can assure you that if we act like this we will obtain what the Holy Spirit told us: “In patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras.”

And then? It also takes patience, constancy, perseverance to carry out our Rule. The day will come when you feel tired, bored or, let's say there will be be a day when you don't want to make meditation, say the rosary, go to the sacraments, continue on with your boring assistance. This is the right moment to ask the Lord and the Blessed Virgin, constantly and perseveringly, for patience.

Look how much care a gardener takes to get a little plant to grow. You might say it is effort thrown away. But he knows that over time that little plant will give him so much back, so he does not worry about the effort and begins to work and sweat to prepare the ground: digging here, hoeing there, then manuring, weeding, then planting or putting in the seed. Then, as if this were not enough, how much effort he makes seeing that nobody tramples the ground that has been planted, or that birds or hens don't come and eat the seed. When he sees it sprout he looks at it with pleasure: “oh! It's sprouting, it's got two leaves, three ...” Then think of the grafting, how much care he takes looking for the best plant in the garden, cutting a branch, binding it, covering it, seeing that cold or wet don't destroy it. When the plant grows and begins to bend over, he immediately provides a support so it can grow straight, and if he is afraid that the stem or trunk is too weak, that wind or storms could flatten it, he puts a stake next to it, ties it and binds it will not run that risk. So why, my good gardener, so much care for a plant? Because if there wasn't it would not give me fruit. It is good that it is done this way: if I want it to give me plenty of good fruit then I need to look after it in every way possible. Unfortunately, note that despite this, often the graft fails, the plant is lost; but in the hope that it can b brought back to life, so much effort is made.

We too my dear sons, are gardeners, farmers in the Lord's vineyard. If we want our work to produce results, we have to show so much care for the plants we are cultivating. Unfortunately, despite our efforts and care, our grafts dry up and the plant goes bad; but if we really do make these efforts, most times the plant succeeds ... Even though there might not be success, the master of the vineyard recompenses us, for he is so good! Bear in mind then, getting up set is not worth it, nor giving in to impulse: continual patience is needed, constancy, perseverance, effort.

[2. Hope] - The farmer at least hopes to be paid, be recompensed. And us? Who will pay us? So I begin with the second point I want to talk to you about: hope. Yes, what supports patience must be the hope of reward. We work so that the hope of reward may smile so consolingly upon us. We are lucky that we have such a good master. Note how consoling these words are: “Quia super pauca fuisti fidelis, super multa te constituam”, because you were faithful in small things, I will put you in charge of greater things. We poor people know so little, have so little strength, ability. It does not matter, we are faithful in doing the little we can and the Lord will give us a great reward. When, as a teacher, you are tired and you would like to let your job go, careful! Be faithful in little things if you want the Lord to give you greater things. Or the Rector! He has advised, spoken, recommended ...; he is about to lose patience or just let everything go as it likes or get angry... Careful that you be faithful in little things, if you want to be in charge of greater things.

A point where we must practise so much patience still, looking to hope, is overcoming ourselves. I mean overcoming our habits, our bad inclinations, the temptations that constantly bother us. How much it costs to leave those habits behind, our very ordinary lukewarmness, weakness, carelessness with the little practices of obedience or piety. Here too we need constant patience, extraordinary tolerance, not allowing the devil to win and, day or night, awake or asleep, playing or working, always endeavouring to overcome our bad inclinations. This is what we call patience or being long-suffering. And if we need to struggle so much to obtain victory, we will want to look to the great reward, the great prize prepared for us and we will not fail to win out. “In patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras.” St Paul adds: “Si vos delectat magnitudo praemiorum, non vos terreat magnitudo laborum.”

I am not here to tell you how well our hope is founded. You know that it is our most merciful Lord that has made the promise, and for the little we are faithful in he has promised us much; he calls those who have observed his law 'blessed', because he knows how great the reward is. Elsewhere he tells us that even a glass of cold water given in his name will be compensated. Courage then: may hope sustain us when our courage fails us.

[3. Obedience] - Now, there is need for a virtue that includes these first two and keeps them together. This virtue is obedience. I will only say a few things, given that we have tackled obedience in Rodriguez at length in this retreat and that there have also been sermons on it. I really recommend that you practise patience in obeying and when this obedience does not come easily, when our thinking is far from being obedient, let us look up to Heaven, hold onto hope.

Well kept obedience is the life and soul of religious Congregations; it is what keeps them united. How much good can be done when many members depend absolutely on one, who by reason of his position has a broader view of things, can see clearly what needs to be done and tells someone: “stay here”, and he stays; do that, and he does it; “go there”, and immediately he sets out. Good is increased and it is a good that cannot be achieved unless there is absolute obedience.

What other great things obedience can bring! All your actions become more meritorious; I speak of manual activities. There might be someone who is good at little or nothing, but he puts himself under obedience and the Superior asks him to sweep or be the cook, and he can have the same merit as someone who is busy all day, labouring away in the pulpit or confessional or teaching. This great good comes to us through obedience. Let everyone be patient in the task he has, do it well as far as he can, and not give thought to anything else except that the Lord will welcome him and bless him.

I have one more idea I would very much like to recommend to you today. This thought ties the other three together. It consists in making the exercise for a happy death well each month; putting aside one day a month to leave aside, as much as is possible, all other occupations, to think about matters concerning our soul.

It will help to make comparisons month by month: did I improve this month? Or did I go back somehow? Then come to details: how was I in this virtue, that other one? And make a special review of matters to do with the vows and the practices of piety: How was I with regard to obedience? Did I make progress? - Did I carry out the assistance I was given well, for example? How did I do it? - Was I busy at school? - Regarding poverty, be it clothing, food, my cell: do I have something that is not really poor? Was I greedy? Did I complain when I lacked something? - Then come to chastity: have I given any room for bad thoughts? Have I detached myself still more from love of family? Did I practise mortification in eating, looking, etc.? - Then move on to practices of piety and note especially any lukewarmness, or if these practices were done without enthusiasm.

This examination should always be made, whether it be a long or a short one. Since some of you have occupations that do not allow you time apart any day of the month, they are legitimate occupations, but on that day let each one do what he can to follow up these indications and make particular resolutions.

Just one more little thought. When the young man asked the Lord what he had to do to be saved, he gave him the law and said: “Fac hoc et vives. Do this and you will live.” So I say to you: you have the Rule, it is the Lord who gave it to you; fulfil it and you will live. Let each one study it and at the same time study how to put it into practice. Let each one for his own part, superior, inferior, priest or coadjutor, try to put it into practice. How happy and consoled we will be at the moment of our death, for having practised it! We can be certain, as I was saying, that our hope will not be confounded. The Lord is faithful to his promises and he will give us whatever it is we hope for. Indeed, he is full of kindness and mercy. He will give us far more than we could imagine.

Let us have courage then. If we have to suffer something, put up with something to do everything the Lord asks of us, let us not pull back. He knows how to reward our every effort and will make us content now and in eternity, and will give us the reward that exceeds all expectation.

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