Writings and testimonies of don bosco on spiritual life

Humility, work and temperance

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263. Humility, work and temperance

ASC A0000409 Prediche D. Bosco. Esercizi Lanzo 1876, Quad. XX, ms by Giulio Barberis,

pp. 33-46 (cf. MB XII, 463-469)61.
28 September 1876
They say we should take no notice of dreams; and I must tell you truthfully that in most cases I am also of this opinion. However sometimes, though not telling us about the future they serve just to same in letting us know how to resolve intricate affairs and in showing us how to proceed prudently in certain matters. So they can be taken for what is good in them. Right now I would like to tell you about a dream that has preoccupied me throughout this retreat and tormented me especially last night. I will tell it to you as it happened only shortening things a bit here and there so as not to be too long, because it seems to me that it was full of many and serious lessons.

[Part I] - It seemed to me that we were all together, going from Lanzo to Turin. We were all in some kind of vehicle, but I couldn't say if we were on a train or an omibus, but we weren't walking. When we got to a certain point along the road, I don't recall where, the vehicle stopped. I got off to see what was wrong and found myself face to face with someone whom I cannot really describe: he looked both tall and short at the same time, fat and thin, and he also looked red and white; he walked on the ground but also in the air. I was dumbfounded and could make no sense of it, but plucked up courage and asked: “Who are you?” Without giving me an answer he said: “Come.” I wanted to know who he was first of all, what he wanted, but again he said: “Come quickly; let's get the vehicles moving into this field.”

The marvel was that he spoke loudly and softly at the same time and in many voices, and I was just left marvelling at it all. The field was very big, as far as you could see, all flat, not dug up but all flattened down like a farmyard. Not knowing what to say, and seeing him so resolute, we turned the vehicles around so that they entered that huge field and then we shouted out to everyone inside to get off. They all got off in very quick time and has soon as they had, the vehicles were seen to vanish, without our knowing where they had gone to.

“Now that we have got down,” I whispered to myself, “you will ask why you made us stop in this place.” He answered: “The reason is serious; it is to avoid a terrible danger.”

“Which danger?”

Danger from a wild bull that will leave no one alive if he comes through: Taurus rugiens quaerens quem devoret.

Slow down, my friend, you are attributing to the bull what St Peter says about the bull in Holy Scripture: Leo rugiens.

That doesn't matter: there it was leo rugiens, here it is taurus rugiens.

The fact is that you have to be very much on the alert. Call everyone to come around you. Then solemnly and urgently announce that they be careful, very careful, and as soon as they hear the bull bellowing, A loud and extraordinary bellowing, to immediately throw themselves on the ground and stay face down, faces pressed to the ground, until the bull has passed through. Woe to the one who does not listen to you, for whoever does not lie flat on the ground face down as I have said will be lost, because we read in the Holy Scriptures that the one who is humble will be exalted and the one who exalts himself will be humbled: Qui se humiliat exaltabitur et qui se exaltat humuliabitur.”

Then he said once more: “Quickly, quickly: the bull is about to come; shout, shout out loudly for them to get down.”

I was shouting and he was saying: “More, more, louder, shout, shout”. I was shouting so loud that I think I even frightened Fr Lemoyne who sleeps in the room next to me, but I couldn't shout any louder.

Then immediately we heard the bellowing of the bull: “Careful, careful!... Line them all up straight next to each on both sides, with a space in the middle for the bull to run through.”

I'm shouting and giving these orders; in the blink of an eyelid they are all prostrate on the ground and we began to say the bull coming from way off, enraged.

Although most were lying face down, some wanted to stand up and watch the bull to see what it was and they were not lying down. Just a few of them. The individual said to me: “Now you will see what happens to them; you will see what they get for not lowering themselves.” I wanted to warn them again, shout at them, run to them. The other would not let me. I insisted that he let me go to them. He told me firmly: “Obedience is for you too, get down”. I was still not lying down when we heard this tremendous, fearful bellowing. The bull was already close to us; we were all shaking and asking: “What the... what the…” “Don't be afraid: down on the ground!”. And he kept shouting: “Qui se humiliat exaltabitur et qui se exaltat humiliabitur… qui se humiliat… qui se humiliat.

A strange thing that really made me wonder was this, that although my head was on the ground and I was completely prostrate with my eyes in the dust, nevertheless I could see everything that was happening around me very well. The bull had seven horns, almost in the shape of a circle: there were two in place of his nose; two in place of his eyes; two where the horns would ordinarily be and one above; but the marvellous thing was that these horns were so strong, flexible, bending in whichever direction, so that to strike or knock someone to the ground the bull didn't have to run here or there; it just need to move ahead without twisting and turning itself, to strike whoever it encountered. The horns at the nose were the longest and these caused surprising damage.

The bull was already very close; then the individual shouted: “watch the effect of humility.” And then suddenly, what a marvel it was! We all found ourselves lifted up in the air to a considerable height so it was impossible for the bull to reach us. The handful who had not got down were not lifted up. The bull came and tore them to pieces in an instant; not one was saved. We meanwhile, lifted up in the air, were terrified and said: “If we fall down we're done for; poor us! What will become of us!” Meanwhile we could see the enraged bull trying to get to us. He was leaping up terribly trying to gore us, but he was not able to do any damage to us. So more enraged than ever, he made it clear he wanted to go and find some fellow bulls; almost as if he were saying: “well, we'll help each other, we will climb up…”, and so habens iram magnam, he went off.

Then we found ourselves back on the ground and the person was shouting: “Face the south.” Then, without our understanding what was going on, the scene in front of us changed. Facing south we saw the Blessed Sacrament exposed: there were many candles lit on both sides and the field was no longer there, but we seemed to be in a huge, ornately decorated church. While we were all there in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, many enraged bulls arrived, all with horrible horns and terribly frightening in appearance. They came, but since we were in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, they could do no harm to us. Meanwhile we were saying the chaplet to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. After a while, I don't know how long, we looked and the bulls were no longer there. Looking back towards the altar we found that the candles were extinguished, the Sacrament no longer exposed, the church had gone ... “But where are we?” We found ourselves in the field where we had first been.

You understand well enough that the bull is the enemy of our souls, the devil that is so enraged with us and constantly seeks to do us harm. The seven horns are the seven capital vices. What can free us from this bull's horns, from the devil's assaults, from not falling to vice, is principally humility, basis and foundation of the virtues.
[Part 2] - Meanwhile we were dumbfounded, amazed, looking at one another. No one was speaking, no one knew what to say. They were waiting for Don Bosco to speak or for that individual to tell us something when, taking me aside, he said: “Come, I want you to see the triumph of the Congregation of St Francis de Sales. Climb up on this rock and you will see.” It was a huge boulder in the middle of the boundless field so I climbed up on it. What an immense view confronted me! The field, that I could never have believed could be so large, looked to me as if it covered the entire earth. People of every colour, dress, nation were gathered there. I saw so many people that I did not know if the world could have that many. I began by looking at the ones in front as I looked at them: they were dressed like us Italians. I knew the ones in the front rows and there were so many Salesians there who were leading groups of boys and girls by the hand. Then there were others with other groups; then still more and more that I no longer knew and could not make out, but there was an indescribable number of them. Towards the south there were Sicilians, Africans and an endless crowd of people I didn't know. They were all being led by Salesians; those in the front rows I knew and then no more.

“Note”, the person said to me. Then an endless crowd of other people appeared before me, dressed differently from us. They wore skins, kinds of mantles that looked almost like velvet, all in different colours. I turned to the four points of the compass. Amongst other things, to the east I saw women with feet so tiny that they struggled to remain standing and almost could not walk. What stood out was that everywhere I saw Salesians leading groups of boys and girls and with them a huge crowd of people. I always knew the ones in the first rows, then going on further, no longer, not even the missionaries. There are many things here that I cannot tell you at length because it would take too long.

Then the one who had led me and advised me up to this point about what I had to do, spoke again and said: “Look, Don Bosco; for now you will not understand everything I say, but pay attention: everything you have seen is all the harvest prepared for the Salesians. See how huge this harvest is! This huge field you find yourself in is the field in which the Salesians must work. The Salesians you see are the workers in the Lord's vineyard. many are working and you know them. The horizon then broadened before your eyes with people that you do not yet know, and this means that not only in this century, but in the next and in future centuries the Salesians will work in their field. But do you know on what condition what you see will happen? I will tell you: look, you need to print the Rule and on the first page, in large letters, remember, print the words that will be your coat of arms, your rallying cry, your badge. Note well: Work and temperance will see the Salesian Congregation flourish. You will explain these words; repeat them, insist on them. You will have a handbook printed that explains them and makes it well understood that work and temperance are the legacy you leave the Congregation and at the same time will also be its glory.”

I replied: “I will do this willingly enough; all this is according to our purpose and what I am already recommending every day and insisting on, every occasion I can.”

“Are you convinced then? Have you understood it well? This is the legacy you will leave them; and say clearly that while your sons follow this, they will have followers from the south, north, east and west. Now leave the Retreat and send them off to their destinations. These will follow the rules, then others will come”.

Then the vehicles appeared once again to take us on to Turin. I was looking and looking: they were omnibuses, but sui generis, strange as could be. We began to get on; but the omnibuses had no supports of any kind and I was afraid they would fall off, so I didn't want to let them leave. But the person said to me: “Go, go: they don't need support, they just need to carry out these words: Sobrii estote et vigilate.” Whoever carries out these two things will not fall, even though there is no support and the carriage is running fast.

[Part 3] - They leave.

The carriage set off fast and I was with the individual. “Come,” he soon said to me, “Come, because I want to show you the most important part.” You have something to learn! So, do you see that large cart?”

“I can see it.”

“Do you know what it is?”

“I can't see it well.”

“If you want to see it well, come up close. Do you see that poster there? Come up and look at it: there is an emblem on the poster, and that will tell you the rest.”

I came up and saw four very large nails painted on the poster. I turned to him saying:

“I don't understand anything unless you explain it!”

“Don't you see those four nails?” I looked carefully. “Those are the four nails that drilled into and tormented our Divine Saviour so much.”

“And by that you mean?”

“They are four nails that torment religious congregations. If you avoid these four nails, meaning, that your congregation is not tormented by them, you keep them far away, then things will go well, you will be saved.”

“But as I said before, What do these nails mean?”

“If you want to know better, have a closer look at the large carriage with the emblem on it. See, this carriage has four compartments, each corresponding to a nail.”

“But what do these compartments mean?”

“Observe that at each one's entrance there is a poster with an inscription that explains everything.”

I observed the first compartment; I read the poster: Quorum Deus venter est.

“Now I begin to understand something.”

Then he replied:

“This is the first nail that torments and sends religious congregations to their ruin. It will also decimate you, unless you are careful. Fight against it well and you will see that things will prosper.”

Now let's come to the second compartment. Read the inscription for the second nail: Quaerunt quae sua sunt non quae Iesu Christi. Here are the ones who seek their own comforts, ease and own interests or perhaps those of their family, and they do not seek the good of the Congregation which is the portion of Jesus Christ. Be careful, keep this scourge away and you will see the Congregation prosper.”

Third compartment. Observe the inscription for the third nail, it says: ‘Aspidis lingua eorum. A fatal nail for Congregations: complaining, gossip, those who seek to criticise rightly or wrongly.’”

Fourth compartment: ‘Cubiculum otiositatis. Here are the idle ones in large numbers; when idleness starts to enter, the community will be ruined; instead, as long as it keeps working hard, you will be in no danger.”

“Now observe one more thing in this carriage, which very many take no notice of but I want you to give it very special attention. Do you see that closet that is not part of any compartment, but sticks out a little in all of them? Observe it well: it is like a half compartment or area.”

“I see, but there is only a heap of weeds, tall grass, some cut, tangled.”

“Good, good: this is what I want you to observe.”

“What can I draw from this?”

“Observe well the inscription that is almost hidden.”

I did observe it well and I saw written: Latet anguis in herba. “And what is that about?”

Look, there are certain individuals who lie hidden; they say nothing but talk amongst themselves. Be careful: latet anguis in herba. They are a real scourge, real plagues in the Congregation. Bad as they are, if they could be uncovered, they could be corrected. But no, they remain hidden. We don't notice them and meanwhile things get worse; the poison spreads in their heart and when they eventually become known there is no more time to repair the damage they have already wrought. So learn the things well that you need to keep far away from the Congregation. Keep what you have seen well in mind. See that these things are explained and explained again at length. By doing so you can be at peace about your Congregation knowing that things will thrive, one day being better than the other.”

I asked him then, so I would not forget any of the the thins he had told me, if I could have some time to write them down. “If you wish to try,” he answered, “then write them down; but I fear you have little time. Be careful.”

While he was saying this and I was getting ready to write, I thought I heard a strange noise, agitation all around me. It seemed that the ground below me was shaking. So I looked around to see if something else was happening again and I saw some young people, who had left just a bit earlier, running back to me terrified from everywhere, and then immediately the bellowing of the bull. It was the same bull following them. When the bull reappeared, I was so scared at the sight of it that I woke up.

I have told you this dream now, before you leave, convinced that in all truth it would be a worthy conclusion to the Retreat if we would decide to keep to our motto: Work and Temperance; if we all do our best to avoid the four large nails that destroy Congregations: the vice of greed; seeking an easy life; complaining and idleness; to which we should add that each one must be open, frank and confident with his superiors. This way we will do good for our souls and at the same time can also save those entrusted to our care by Divine Providence.

If we wanted to give a special reminder that can serve throughout this year, it would be: seek every way of preserving the queen of virtues, the virtue that safeguards all others; and of we have it, it will never be alone, in fact it will be accompanied by all the others; if we lose it, the others will either not be there at all or will soon be lost. Love this virtue, love it a lot and remember that to keep it you must work and pray: Non eicitur nisi in jejunio et oratione.

Yes, prayer and mortification. Especially mortification in looks, in rest, food and especially wine. Not seeking comforts for our bodies, indeed I would almost say mistreating them. No special treatment other than what is necessary; when health demands it, yes. Give the body what is strictly necessary and no more; because, as St Paul used say: “Corpus hoc quod corrumpitur aggravat animam.” Yes! What did St Paul do? “Castigo corpus meum et in servitutem redigo ut spiritui inserviat.”

So I recommend here what I recommended at the end of the other Retreats: obedience, patience, hope… The other thing is the humility we need to have and inculcate in our young people and others, virtues that would ordinarily be called the foundation of Christian living and perfection.

264. Future matters for vocations

Critical ed. in C. Romero, I sogni di Don Bosco…, pp. 51-57.

9 May 1879
A huge long battle between our boys and all kinds of other warriors, various kinds with strange weapons. At the end few survived.

Another more intense and horrible battle took place between gigantic monsters and well-armed, well-practised very tall men. They carried a very high, broad standard at the centre of which, written in gold, were these words: Maria Auxilium Christianorum. The battle was long and bloody. It was as if those following the standard were invulnerable and they remained masters of the huge plain. They were joined by the youngsters who had survived the previous battle and together they made up a kind of army, each with a crucifix in his right had as a weapon, and in his left a small standard of Mary Help of Christians, modelled on the one above.

The new soldiers held many manoeuvres on that vast plain, then they split up and left, some to the West, others to the East, a few to the North, many to the South.

Once they had gone the same battles reoccurred, the same manoeuvres and same departures in the same directions.

I knew many of them from the earlier scuffles; the ones that followed were unknown to me but they let me know that they knew me and they asked me many questions.

Then a shower of bright flames came down; it looked like fire of many colours. There was thunder then the sky cleared and I found myself in a lovely garden. A man who looked like St Francis de Sales offered me a book, without saying anything. I asked him who he was. “Read the book”, he answered. I opened the book but it was difficult to read. However I managed to identify these precise words:

For the novices: Obedience and diligence in everything. By their obedience they will deserve the Lord's blessings and the good will of men. By their diligence they will combat and conquer the snares of spiritual enemies.

For the professed: Jealously safeguard the virtue of chastity. Love the good name of the confreres and promote the dignity of the Congregation.

For the Rectors: Every care, every effort to observe the Rule and see that the Rule by which everyone is consecrated to God is observed.

For the Superior: Total offering of himself to see that he wins both himself and his subjects over to God.

Many other things were printed in the book, but I couldn't read them because the paper seemed as blue as the ink.

“Who are you?” I asked the man again as he stood there calmly looking at me.

“My name is known to all the good, and I have been sent to tell you some things about the future.”

“What things?”

“Those written down and others you will ask me about.”

“What should I do to promote vocations?”

“The Salesians will have many vocations through their exemplary conduct, by treating their pupils with the greatest charity and insisting on frequent Communion.”

“What should be observed in accepting novices?”

“Exclude the lazy and the greedy.”

“And accepting for vows?”

“See that they have a guarantee of being chaste.”

“How do we best preserve a good spirit in our houses?”

“Write, visit, receive and deal with people kindly, and very often in the case of the first superiors.”

“How should we go about the missions?”

“Send individuals who morality is secure; call back anyone who give you cause for serious doubts; work at and cultivate indigenous vocations.”

“Is our Congregation going well?”

Qui iustus est, iustificetur adhuc; Non progredi est regredi: Qui perseveraverit salvus erit.”

“Will it expand much?”

“As long as the superiors do their part it will grow and no one will be able to stop it from spreading.”

“Will it last a long time?”

“The Congregation will last so long as its members love work and temperance. If one of these two pillars is missing your building will collapse around your superiors and inferiors and their followers.”

Just then four individuals appeared carrying a bier and walking towards me.

“What is this for?” I asked.

“For you.”


“Don't ask, just remember that you are mortal.”

“What do you want to signify by this coffin?”

“That you must practise in life what you want your sons to practise after you. This is the legacy, the testament you must leave your sons; but you must prepare it and leave it well accomplished and practised.”

“Will flowers or thorns dominate?”

“There will be many roses, many consolations but some very prickly thorns are imminent and they will and they will bring much bitterness and sorrow. You need to pray a lot.”

“Should we go to Rome?”

“Yes, but slowly, with the greatest prudence and exquisite caution.”

“Is the end of my mortal life imminent?”

“Don't worry about this. You have the Rule, books, do what you teach others to do. Be vigilant.”

I wanted to ask other questions, but there was a thunderstorm and lightning, and some men, or I should really say terrible monsters were rushing towards me to tear me to pieces. Just then everything went dark and I could see nothing. I thought I was dead and I began shouting out wildly. I awoke and found myself still alive. It was a quarter to five in the morning.

If there is something there that could be to your advantage, take it.

In everything, honour and glory to God forever and ever.

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