Writings and testimonies of don bosco on spiritual life


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265. The ten diamonds

Critical ed. in C. Romero, I sogni di Don Bosco…, pp. 63-7162.

[San Benigno Canavese, 10-11 September1881]
Spiritus Sancti gratia illuminet sensus et corda nostra. Amen

On the night of September 10 (1881), the day the holy Church consecrates to the holy name of Mary, the Salesians gathered at San Benigno Canavese were making their Retreat. On the night of the 10th, while I was sleeping, I found myself in a large and splendidly ornate hall. I seemed to be walking up and down with the Rectors of our houses when a man appeared amongst us of such majestic mien that we could not keep our eyes fixed on him. He gazed at us then without a word began to take a few paces ahead of us.

He wore an imposing mantle with a stole-like collar tied at the neck with a ribbon that hung down in front. On the stole was written in luminous characters: Pia Salesianorum Societas anno 1881, and on the ribbon: Qualis esse debet.

The august personage wore ten huge diamonds of extraordinary splendour which was what prevented us from fixing our gaze on him, except with out great effort.

Three of the diamonds were on his breast and on one was inscribed Fides, on another Spes and Charitas was inscribed on the one over his heart. The fourth diamond was on the right shoulder where Labor was inscribed; over the fifth on the left shoulder one could read Temperantia.

The other five diamonds adorned the back of the mantle and were arranged thus: one very large and brighter one was in the middle, like at the centre of a square, and it bore the inscription Obedientia. On the first on the right one could read Votum Paupertatis. On the second a little lower, Praemium. On the left higher up was inscribed Votum Castitatis with a dazzling splendour all of its own and looking at it attracted and held the attenuation like a magnet attracts metal. On the second on the left lower down was written Ieiunium. All four of these directed their rays of light towards the diamond at the centre.

Explanation - To avoid confusion it should be noted that each diamond had rays like flames small tongues of flame on which various texts could be read: Faith carried the words: Sumite scutum fidei ut adversus insidias diaboli certare possitis63. Another ray had: Fides sine operibus mortua est64. Non auditores, sed factores legis regnum Dei possidebunt65.

On the rays of Hope: Sperate in Domino, non in hominibus66. Semper vestra fixa sint corda ubi vera sunt gaudia67.

On the rays of Charity: Alter alterius onera portate si vultis adimplere legem meam68. Diligite et diligemini. Sed diligite animas vestras et vestrorum69. Devote divinum ufficium persolvatur; Missa attente celebretur; Sanctum Sanctorum peramanter visitetur70.

On the word Labour: Remedium concupiscentiae; Arma potens contra omnes insidias diaboli71.

On Temperance: Si lignum tollis, ignis extinguitur72. Pactum constitue cum oculis tuis, cum gula, cum somno, ne huiusmodi inimici depraedentur animas vestras73. Intemperantia et castitas non possunt simul cohabitare74.

On the rays of Obedience: Totius aedificii fundamentum, et sanctitatis compendium75.

On the rays of Poverty: Ipsorum est regnum coelorum76. Divitiae sunt spinae77. Paupertas non verbis, sed corde et opere conficitur78. Ipsa coeli ianuam aperiet et introibit79.

On the rays of Chastity: Omnes virtutes veniunt pariter cum illa80. Qui mundo sunt corde, Dei arcana vident, et Deum ipsum videbunt81.

On the rays of Reward: Si delectat magnitudo praemiorum, non deterreat multitudo laborum82. Qui mecum patitur, mecum gaudebit83. Momentaneum est quod patimur in terra, aeternum est quod delectabit in coelo amicos meos84.

On the rays of Fasting: Arma potentissima adversus insidias inimici85. Omnium virtutum custos86. Omne genus daemoniorum per ipsum eicitur87.

A large red-coloured ribbon hemmed the bottom of the cloak, and above this ribbon was inscribed: Argumentum praedicationis, mane, meridie et vespere88. Colligite fragmenta virtutum et magnum sanctitatis aedificium vobis constituetis89. Vae vobis qui modica spernitis, paulatim decidetis90.

Up till this moment some of the Rectors were standing, others kneeling; but all were astonished and no one spoke. At this point Fr Rua spoke excitedly — We need to take notes lest we forget. He looked for a pen but couldn't find one; he pulled out his wallet, searched it but there was no pencil. I will remember, said Fr Durando. I want to take notes, added Fr Fagnano, and began to write with the stem of a rose. We were all looking and we could understand what he was writing. When Fr Fagnano stopped writing, Fr Costamagna continued to dictate: Charity understands all things, sustains all things, conquers all things; let us preach this in word and deed.

While Fr Fagnano was writing, we all found ourselves in pitch dark. "Quiet," said Fr Ghivarello, "let us kneel down and pray and the light will return." Fr Lasagna began the Veni Creator, then the De Profundis, Maria Auxilium Christianorum etc. to which we responded. When we said Ora pro nobis, a light reappeared, surrounding a placard on which we could read: Pia Salesianorum Societas qualis esse periclitatur anno salutis 190091.

A moment later the light became brighter so that we could see and recognise one another. In the midst of this brightness the personage we had seen before appeared again but looking distressed like someone on the verge of tears. His mantles had become faded, moth-eaten, in tatters. In place of the diamonds there were gaping holes caused by moths and other insects.

Respicite,” he told us, “et intelligite92.” I saw that the ten diamonds had become grubs that were hungrily eating up the garment.

Therefore the diamond Fides had been replaced by: somnus et accidia93.

For Spes there was risus et scurrilitas94.

For Charitas: Negligentia in divinis perficiendis95. Amant et quaerunt quae sua sunt, non quae Iesu Christi96.

For Temperantia: Gula et quorum Deus venter est97.

For Labor: Somnus, furtum et otiositas98.

In place of Obedientia there was nothing but a large, deep hole and nothing written.

For Castitas: Concupiscentia oculorum et superbia vitae99.

For Poverty there was: Lectum, habitus, potus et pecunia100.

For Praemium: Pars nostra erunt quae sunt super terram101.

For Ieiunium eravi there was a hole but nothing written.

We were all terrified at the sight. Fr Lasagna fainted, Fr Cagliero went as white as a sheet and leaning against a chair cried out: “Is it possible that things have come to this?” Fr Lazzero and Fr Guidazio and were holding onto each other to stop from falling. Fr Francesia, Count Cays, Fr Barberis and Fr Leveratto were kneeling, rosaries in hand and praying.

Then we heard a sombre voice: “Quomodo mutatus est color optimus102.

But in the darkness something remarkable occurred. We suddenly found ourselves enveloped in darkness, in the midst of which appeared a bright light in human form. We could not look at it, but we could see that it was a handsome young man dressed in a white cloak woven through with gold and silver thread. All around it was hemmed with very bright diamonds. He was of imposing and charming mine and he came towards us and addressed us with these exact words:

Servi et instrumenta Dei Omnipotentis, attendite et intelligite. Confortamini et estote robusti. Quod vidistis et audistis est coelestis admonitio quae nunc vobis et fratribus vestris facta est; animadvertite et intelligite sermonem. Iacula praevisa minus feriunt, et praeveniri possunt. Quot sunt verba signata, tot sint argumenta praedicationis. Indesinenter praedicate opportune et importune. Sed quae praedicatis, constanter facite, adeo ut opera vestra sint velut lux quae sicuti tuta traditio ad fratres et filios vestros pertranseat de generatione in generationem. Attendite et intelligite: – Estote oculati in tironibus acceptandis; fortes in colendis; prudentes in admittendis. Omnes probate; sed tantum quod bonum est tenete. Leves et mobiles dimittite. Attendite et intelligite: – Meditatio matutina et vespertina sit indesinenter de observantia Constitutionum. Si id feceritis numquam vobis deficiet Omnipotentis auxilium. Spectaculum facti eritis mundo et angelis et tunc gloria vestra erit gloria Dei. Qui videbunt saeculum hoc exiens et alterum incipiens, ipsi dicent de vobis: – A Domino factum est istud et est mirabile in oculis nostris. Tunc omnes fratres vestri et filii vestri una voce cantabunt: – Non nobis, Domine, non nobis; sed nomini tuo da gloriam103.

These last words were sung, and to the voice of the one speaking were added a multitude of other voices so melodious and resonant that we were left benumbed, and to prevent ourselves from swooning, we joined in the singing. As soon as the singing finished it all went dark. Then I awoke, and I I am telling you that it was daylight.

Reminder – This dream lasted almost the entire night and in the morning I was completely worn out. Nevertheless for fear of forgetting I got up quickly and took some notes that served to remind me of what I have spoken of on this day of the presentation of Mary in the Temple.

It was not possible to recall everything. Amongst many other things I could detect with certainty that the Lord shows us great mercy. Our Society is blessed by Heaven, but he wants us to do our part. The threatened evils will be prevented if we preach on the virtues and vices noted there: if we practise what we preach and we pass it on to our confreres the authentic tradition of our past and future works.

I was able to see that there are many thorns imminent, many efforts, but they will be followed by many great consolations. Around 1890 there will be great fear; around 1895 there will be a great triumph. Maria Auxilium Christianorum, ora pro nobis.

This third section comprises a choice of texts addressed to the people, committed Catholics, lay and clerical Salesian Cooperators. Don Bosco insists on the spirit that should animate the good Christian who is in the world, active in charity, coherent and consistent in faith.

Nineteenth century Catholicism, in every social class, had a marked spiritual and practical fervour to it along with a keen sense of vocation in the Church and in society urgind one to evangelical witness, militancy and works of charity. In fertile ground such as this, keen pastoral, educational and social initiatives sprang up; lay associations, new kinds of male and female consecrated life emerged, along with any number of missionary and apostolic enterprises. A strong sense of ecclesial cohesion and shared responsibility animated these generous Catholics inspired by a zealous, enterprising, creative and well-formed clergy dedicated to their mission,.

Don Bosco's works benefited broadly from such a climate. Generous clergy and lay people, attracted by the saint's charity, generously lent a hand from the earliest days of the Oratory, without ever abandoning him and to the point of becoming an integral and strategic part of his family. Their awareness of their Christian vocation made them desirous of a more ardent interior life and to cooperate regularly in the Salesian mission.

Don Bosco never ceased nurturing this yearning for educational and apostolic charity, not only by animating and organising their cooperation but also by looking after them spiritually. The texts here show his commitment to promoting a holistic, devout and active view of Christian life: God's merciful and tender, unlimited love deserved the response of lively faith and ardent charity in imitation of Jesus Christ. Christians are urged to a more aware and cultivated interior life sustained by the grace of the sacraments, united to God in prayer “through holy thoughts and devout sentiments”104, detached from the allurements of the world and aiming for holiness in the exercise of virtue. They are encouraged to trust in Providence, witness to the Gospel in their daily life, “exercising their charity by working for the salvation of souls” and helping one another “mutually in doing good and keeping evil at bay.”105
This view also emerges in correspondence and advice given to friends, lay people and priests. According to Don Bosco the Catholic is called to be a leaven in society and in the warp and woof of daily life, a witness to his or her own faith, carrying out works of charity. They are to be generous and fearless in offering themselves, promoting piety, working for the Christian education of the young, spreading good press, looking after vocations, supporting missionary activity.

This section has three parts.

In the first part (Spiritual resources of the Christian) there are six of Don Bosco's texts by way of example, aimed at the spiritual formation of the lay Catholic (nos. 266-271), simple essays on a broad formative and instructional involvement with the people. The best examples are to be found in certain of the saint's publications: the Key of Paradise (1856), the Month of May (1858), the Catholic Companion (1868).

The second part has two of Don Bosco's conferences (nos. 272 and 273) illustrating the Salesian Cooperator vocation and the key role entrusted to it for the development of Salesian work.

The third part contains twelve examples of letters (nos. 274-285) to friends, benefactors and Cooperators dealing with advice and topics on spiritual life.

All the means of salvation are to be found in the Church, where holiness and charity flourish. Don Bosco constantly invites adults and young people to cooperate with the action of grace, hope and charity, generously offering themselves through constant prayer, and by frequenting the sacraments but especially by imitating Jesus Christ in a virtuous life of charitable works.

266. Faith, hope and charity

Critical ed. in [Giovanni Bosco], Il cattolico provveduto per le pratiche di pietà con analoghe istruzioni secondo il bisogno dei tempi. Torino, Tip. dell’Oratorio di S. Franc. di Sales 1868,

pp. 87-91 (OE XIX, 95-99)106.
St Paul the Apostle says that without faith it is impossible to please God: “sine fide impossibile est placere Deo.” Let us then always keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts. We need faith to enlighten us throughout our lives. Faith must be the food that sustains us in spiritual life as Holy Scripture tells us: "justus ex fide vivit", the just man lives by faith. So that the faith we received from God at holy Baptism may not diminish in our hearts we should often stir it up. To do this we should often make acts of faith, protest with all our heart that we firmly believe the main truths of the Catholic religion and all that God wishes us to be taught by means of the Church. We do this by reciting the words of the act of faith.

But, dear Christian, faith is not enough for our eternal salvation, because we also need the virtue of hope by which we abandon ourselves into God's hands, like a child in the arms of its tender mother. We need to obtain many favours from God and usually God does not grant them unless we hope for them. How many sins we have committed! We therefore need God to show us mercy and forgive us. We constantly need the help of God's grace to live as holy people on this earth. Now, God wants to grant this mercy, this forgiveness, this help from his grace but only to those who hope for it. God has prepared a sea of delights for us in the next life but nobody will be there to enjoy that unless they have the virtue of hope. And for this we must make frequent acts of this virtue, reviving in our hearts a great trust in everything we will obtain from God's goodness through the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ. To reawaken and keep this virtue alive in us let us devoutly recite the words of the act of hope.

Of all the virtues, then, charity is the greatest and the most excellent. The others could not obtain eternal salvation without it. But in what does this virtue of charity consist? It consists in loving God above all other things and our neighbour as ourselves for love of him. Love for God then, and for our neighbour must always be a flame burning in our heart. We must primarily love God with all our heart because He is a most perfect spirit, a being of infinite goodness, our highest good. We must also love Him because he has filled our lives with countless benefits. He created us out of nothing. He saw that we were born into the Catholic religion which is the only one that can lead us to the gates of salvation. Although we have offended Him so many times, He did not strike us dead as He could have done and as He has done for others who did not repent after sinning. Out of love for us He came down to earth from Heaven amidst sinners. He suffered a most terrible death for us. Out of an excess of love He left us the holy Eucharist as our food. And finally, He has prepared a wonderful place for us in Heaven for all eternity. And who, considering these cases of God's love for us, would not feel his heart burning with love for God?

But we must also love our neighbour as ourselves. Everyone in the world is our brother, children of the same father, who is God. They all have a right to be loved by us. Jesus Christ made a direct command of this, saying "hoc est praeceptum meum ut diligatis invicem", “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” We must not only love our friends but also our enemies. Our Divine Saviour gave us the example by forgiving and praying for those who crucified him. May the flame of this charity be always alight in us. This is why we make frequent acts of this virtue by reciting the words of the act of charity.

267. Jesus Christ, every Christian's model

Critical ed. in Giovanni Bosco, La chiave del paradiso in mano al cattolico che pratica i doveri di buon cristiano. Torino, Tip. Paravia e Comp. 1856, pp. 20-23 (OE VIII, 20-23).

One day the Lord said to Moses: “Remember to carry out my orders well and do everything according to the pattern I showed you on the mountain.” God says the same to Christians. Jesus Christ is the pattern or model to be copied by every Christian. Nobody can boast of belonging to Jesus Christ unless he makes the effort to imitate him. So in the life and actions of the Christians we should find the life and actions of Jesus Christ himself.

The Christian should pray, since Jesus prayed humbly, confidently in recollection upon the mountain.

The Christian should be accessible as was Jesus Christ to the poor, the ignorant, the children. He should not be proud, pretentious, arrogant. He should be all things to all people in order to win everyone over to Christ.

The Christian should take care of his neighbour since Jesus Christ took care of his followers. Therefore his dealings should be edifying, charitable, serious, kind and simple.

The Christian should be humble as was Jesus Christ, who knelt to wash his disciples' feet including Judas, even though he knew he would betray him. The true Christian considers himself less than others and servant of all.

The Christian should obey as Jesus Christ obeyed, be submissive as he was to Mary and St Joseph. He obeyed his heavenly Father until death, death on the cross. The true Christian obeys his parents, his employers, his superiors because he recognises God himself in them; they stand in for God.

In eating and drinking the true Christian should be as Jesus Christ was at the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee, and at Bethany, meaning sober, temperate, attentive to others' needs and more concerned with spiritual nourishment than with dishes that nourish the body.

The good Christian should be with his friends in the same way Jesus Christ was with St John and St Lazarus. He should love them in the Lord and out of love for God; he should warmly confide in them the secrets of his heart, and if they should fall into evil he should make every effort to have them return to the state of grace.

The true Christian should be resigned in suffering privations and poverty as Jesus Christ suffered them, since he did not even have a place to lay down his head. He should know how to put up with contradictions and calumny as Jesus Christ tolerated them from the Scribes and Pharisees, leaving it to God to justify him. He should know how to put up with insults and slights, as Jesus did when they struck him, spat in his face and insulted him in a thousand ways in the Praetorium.

The true Christian should be ready to put up with sufferings of the spirit, as Jesus Christ did when he was betrayed by one of his own, denied by another and abandoned by them all.

The true Christian must be ready to patiently accept any persecution, any illness, even death, as Jesus Christ did. Crowned with painful thorns, his body lacerated from blows, his feet and hands pierced by nails, he consigned his soul peacefully into his Father's hands in heaven.

The true Christian should be able to say with the Apostle St Paul: "It is not I who live, but Jesus Christ who lives in me." Whoever follows Jesus Christ according to the pattern described here, can be certain of being glorified with Christ in Heaven one day and reigning with him in eternity.

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