Writings and testimonies of don bosco on spiritual life



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Don Bosco's correspondence with the Cooperators and friends, lay and clerical, always contains detailed and substantial spiritual suggestions aimed at proposing a way of interior life along with devotion and spiritual fervour, the practice of virtue, charity, loving and faithful fulfilment of the duties of one's state in life.

Our saint's Salesian inspiration emerges from these letters, in harmony with the teachings of St Francis de Sales in the Introduction to the Devout Life and letters of spiritual direction.

There are twelve items of correspondence here which document the range of Don Bosco's relationships and the concrete nature of his spiritual 'school'.
274. A lay person seeking perfection

Critical ed. in E(m) I, pp. 525-526.

Turin, 24 September 1862

Dear Sir,

May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ always be with us.

It is some time since I received the two letters you were kind enough to send me, but I did not answer because I was uncertain of where you were staying.

I am including the red ticket [for the lottery], indeed two, so you can win two prizes. The tickets I sent were not so much just for you to sell off but something you could have to help poor Don Bosco give bread to his poor boys with.

Going back over things in your first letter, I very much admire your heart's desire to blindly follow the advice of a poor priest like me. It is something difficult for both of us, but let us try.

“What do I need to do to lead a life,” you asked “detached from the world and that binds my heart to the Lord in such a way that I may constantly love virtue?”

R. Good will assisted by God's grace will produce this marvellous effect. But to succeed you must try to know and taste the beauty of virtue and the joy that someone who loves God experiences.

Then consider the emptiness of worldly things. They cannot give us the least consolation. Put all your journeys together, what you have seen, enjoyed, read and observed. Compare all this with the joy a man experiences after approaching the holy Sacraments, and he will see that the first is nothing, while the second is everything.

Once we have established this base then we come to the practice. You told me: “1. Mass and meditation each morning. 2. After midday a little bit of spiritual reading. 3. A sermon and benediction every Sunday. 4”. ... “Slow down”, you say, “a little at a time”. You are right; begin putting into practice what I write in passing and if you keep up with me, I hope with the Lord's help to be able to lead you to the third heaven.

When you come to Turin we can discuss some bigger projects. Meanwhile do not forget to pray for me. I warmly wish you everything good from the Lord. I am,

Your friend and servant,

Fr John Bosco


Critical critica in E(m) II, p. 276.

Turin, 22 July 1866
My good lady,

Lukewarmness, when it is not backed by our will, is totally devoid of guilt. In fact I believe that this lukewarmness, which takes the name of dryness of spirit, can be worthy of merit in the Lord's eyes. Nevertheless it takes matches to get some sparks going and I find these in brief prayers or a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, kissing a medal or crucifix. But more than any other thing the thought that occasional tribulations, pains and spiritual dryness are also sweet-smelling roses for eternity.

I will not fail to recommend you to the Lord at Mass and, while recommending myself and my poor boys to the charity of your prayers, I have the honour of sincerely and gratefully professing myself to be,

Your humble servant,

Fr John Bosco
276. To Marquis Ignazio Pallavicini

Critical ed. in E(m) II, pp. 423-424.

September 1867
Your Excellency,

May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be always with us. Amen.

Here I am speaking with Your Excellency as I would with my brother. What I wrote to you in August was neither a threat nor a passing whim; it was something loving and preventive. That said, you should consider three things: yourself – your household – your own affairs.

Self. Take a look at resolutions made in Confession and not kept; advice given to avoid evil and do what is good, but forgotten. The great defect of not being sorry for sins committed. This can be remedied through meditation and an examen of conscience in the evening or at some other more appropriate time. Right now God wants you to be more patient in your dealings, especially in the family; more confidence in the Lord's kindness; more peacefulness of spirit, and never ever be afraid of death surprising you by night or at some other unexpected moment. Make an effort to practise the virtue of humility and trust in the Lord and fear nothing. For the future, go to Confession and Communion in such a way that you become a model for everyone who knows you.

Your household. See that your dependants fulfil and have the time to fulfil their religious duties, and arrange things in their regard in such a way that in death and after death they will have reason to bless their master. In the family, charity and kindness with everyone; but never miss an occasion to give advice or counsel that can help as a rule in life and as good example.

Your affairs. A lot needs to be written about this. On Monday I need to go to Alessandria and there I will make a visit to Mombaruzzo, where I hope to write or speak to you more calmly.. What God especially wants of you is for you to foster veneration of the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as much as you can.

May God help you to take the road to Heaven. Amen.

I gratefully profess myself to be Your Excellency's,

Humble servant,

Fr John Bosco

277. To Cesare Callori

Critical ed. in E(m) II p. 426.

Turin 6 September 1867

Dear Mr Cesare,

This time it is not Cesare but Don Bosco confessing his guilt.

I have been off here, running around there and meanwhile I have not don my duty by sending you the book our Cesare offered to translate for our Catholic Readings.

Now let's fix a few things up within the family. One pamphlet for you, the other for Gloria; and since I have been late in sending it, thus you will adjust or better still make up for the time lost with special diligence and solicitude to get the work done.

How impertinent Don Bosco can be when giving orders! It is lucky he is dealing with kind and obedient people, otherwise you would leave me singing and carrying my cross.

But while blaming myself I would like to ask you, rather, recommend two things for you about which we have already spoken.

As you divide up your time try to go to confession every fortnight or at least once a month. Do not let a day go by without a bit of spiritual reading... But enough, let's not turn this into a sermon. Well then, let's conclude.

Many greetings to mother and father and all your good family. Give me some good advice. I wish you every heavenly blessing and I am, with heartfelt gratitude,

Your most indebted servant,

Fr John Bosco

278. To the mother of a family

Critical Ed. in E(m) III, pp. 133-134.

11 September 1869
I received your enormous sum of fr. 10,000 from Sr Filomena's hand. You offer this out of charity in honour of Mary Help of Christians to be used for various and serious needs of this new building. I was not able to stop and speak with Sister except in passing and so I could not give her my grateful thanks to bring back to you. Now while I am fulfilling this duty of gratitude I assure you I will continue to pray our common special prayers every day for you at the altar of Mary Help of Christians and I hope that the grace you ask of Her will be granted without delay.

You tell me that it has not been granted so far; you tell me that it is a problem in the family, one that I do not know about, but here is something positive I can tell you: continue to pray and resign yourself to the divine will. This problem will soon come to an end. Some things that look like thorns now, God will change into flowers. A glance at the crucifix and a fiat voluntas tua, is what God wants from you.

Meanwhile accept this advice: family sores have to be medicated, not amputated. Gloss over what annoys you, speak with everyone and advise them in all charity, and firmly. This is the remedy that will heal everything. Pardon me for taking this liberty: I would give lessons to Minerva, I would even give her sympathy.

Tomorrow (12) I will celebrate Mass and my boys will go to Communion for your intentions. May God bless you and all your family and grant you all a long and happy life with the precious gift of final perseverance.

I am gratefully yours and profess myself,

Your humble servant,

Your most indebted servant,

Fr John Bosco


Critical Ed. in E(m) III, pp. 211-212.

Turin, 28 May 1870
My dear lady,

I was honoured to receive your letter and it gave me true pleasure.

I see from it that your heart has been torn apart by the loss of your beloved husband, but has now become more calm and given way to being resigned to the divine will which, whether we want it or not, we need to submit to. Do not fear that your husband's affection for you will be diminished in the next life, indeed it will be perfected very much more. Have faith; see him in a much better position than when he was amongst us. The best thing you can do for him is to offer your every worry to God for the repose of his soul.

Now give me some freedom to say something. It is of our faith that we enjoy an infinitely better life in heaven than on earth. So why be so sorrowful if your husband has gone to take possession of it? It is of our faith that death for us Christians is not separation, but a deferral of the moment when we see one another again. So when someone goes before us—patience; he goes to prepare our place.

It is also of our faith that at any moment through works of piety and charity you can do good for the souls of the deceased: so why not rejoice in your heart if God has given you the chance to survive? Then, helping children, comforting your bon père, practising your religion, spreading good books, giving good advice to someone who needs it: are these not all things that must bring the Lord's blessing on the years he still gives you?

There are still other motives that for now I judge best not to say.

So, let us adore God in everything, in consolations and afflictions and let us be sure that He is a good Father and will not permit us to be afflicted beyond our strength. He is all-powerful and therefore can lift us up when he wants.

Meanwhile I have always recommended you and your family to the Lord at holy Mass and I will continue to do the same, as well as in the prayers that we say together at Mary's altar.

May God bless you and your efforts; pray for me. I profess that I am,

Your humble servant,

Fr J. Bosco

280. To A committed Catholic

Critical Ed. in E(m) III, pp. 227-228.

Turin, 13 July 1870
Dear Sir,

May God be blessed in everything. Do not be worried because you cannot do much. Before God, the one who does his will in little things does much. So take the inconveniences you are subjected to as coming from the Lord's holy hand, do the little you can and be at peace about everything.

In these times we feel the serious need to promote good press. It is a vast field, but each one doing what he can, can achieve a lot.

I will not fail to pray for you and your friends. I revere them so much in the Lord. Pray for me too. With real affection I profess myself to be,

Your affectionate friend,

Fr John Bosco

281. To a priest friend

Critical critica in E(m) V, p. 142.

Rome, 8 May 1876
My dear Fr Perino,

I am so happy about your promotion to parish priest of Piedicavallo.

You will have a much wider field to win souls for God. The basis of a successful parish is taking care of the children, being with the sick, loving the elderly.

For you: frequent confession, some meditation each day, exercise for a happy death once a month.

For Don Bosco: spreading the Catholic Readings and coming to lunch at the Oratory every time you come to Turin. The rest we can speak about when we meet.

May God bless you, your efforts, your future parish and pray for me. Always in Jesus Christ,

Your affectionate friend,

Fr John Bosco

282. To a priest who is tempted

ASC A1780133 Orig. aut. recently found, Fassio. Critical in E III, pp. 271-272.

Rome, 12 [January] 1878
My dear Fr ….

God has allowed you to have a great trial, but you will have a great victory. Prayer will overcome everything. Work, temperance especially in the evenings, do not lie down for a rest during the day, never more than seven hours in bed, these are all very useful things.

Principiis obsta; as soon as you are tempted, start working if it is daytime; start praying if it is night time; do not stop praying until you are overcome by sleep. Put these suggestions into practice; I will pray for you at holy Mass, God will do the rest. Courage, dear Fr …; seal your heart, hope in the Lord and go ahead without being worried.

Pray for me. I will always be, in Jesus Christ,

Your affectionate friend,

Fr John Bosco

283. To Right Rev Edoardo Rosaz, bishop of Susa (Blessed)

Critical in E III, pp. 293-294.

Rome, 7 February 1878

Dear and Reverend Bishop108,

I received news from Turin then from your dear letter, of how the great Pontiff Pius IX thought of you in fatherly terms and appointed you as Bishop of Susa. I was not a little amazed, because I know how humble you are and how you must take up a new approach verbo et opere. But I soon blessed the Lord, because I was and I am convinced that the Church has gained a bishop according to God's heart and that you will do much good for the diocese of Susa.

I am very happy about it and with all my heart I offer you all the houses of our Congregation for whatever service they can render you or the diocese that Divine Providence has entrusted to you.

I do not pretend to lecture you, but I believe that you will soon win over everyone's heart if:

1. You take special care of the sick, the elderly and poor children.

2. Go slow in making any changes to personnel already put in place by your predecessor.

3. Do what you can to win the esteem and affection of some who held or still hold high positions in the diocese; those who feel they were overlooked while your Lordship was chosen.

4. When taking strong measures against anyone amongst the clergy, you go slowly and as much as is possible listen to the one accused. For the rest I hope that in March we can speak personally.

Today, around three thirty, the Supreme and incomparable star of the Church, Pius IX, has died. Newspapers will give you the details. Rome is in consternation and I believe the whole world as well. Within a very short time he will certainly be on the altars.

I believe that your Lordship will always allow me to write with the confidence of earlier times; I pray to God that he will enlighten you and keep you in good health. I recommend myself to the charity of your prayers and with the greatest veneration I profess myself to be,

Your Lordship's affectionate friend,

Fr John Bosco

284. To a scrupulous woman

ASC A1780410 Lett. orig. recently found, Armelonghi. Critical in E III, pp. 388-389.

Turin, 26 September 1878
Esteemed friend in Jesus Christ,

With regard to your conscience, consider:

1. Never going back over past confessions.

2. Thoughts, desires and internal things are never subject for confession.

3. Confess only deeds, conversations that the confessor could judge blameworthy and nothing else.

4. Blind obedience to your confessor.

Be tranquil of conscience and pray for me. I remain always, in Jesus Christ,

Your humble servant,

Fr John Bosco

285. To a discouraged parish priest

ASC A1940605 Copies of orig. Ed. in E III, p. 399.

Turin, 25 October 1878
Dear Fr,

I received your good letter and the 18 Francs enclosed. Thank you. May God reward you. It is manna that falls to help us in our difficulties.

Be at peace. Do not talk of leaving your parish.

There is work to do? I will die working, sicut bonus miles Christi.

I am not very good at this? Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat.

There are thorns? When the thorns have become flowers the angels will weave a crown for you in Heaven.

Times are difficult? They always were, but God's help was never lacking. Christus heri et hodie.

Are you asking for advice? Here it is then: take special care of the children, the elderly and the sick and you will become master of everyone's hearts. For the rest, when you come to pay me a visit we will speak at length.

Fr John Bosco


Don Bosco, a tireless apostle of Marian devotion, emphasised the role of the Blessed Virgin for salvation of the individual in the Companion of Youth: she is the mediatrix of graces, defence against the assaults of evil, support in living a Christian life and on the way to holiness. These are things he draws from St Alphonsus Liguori: true devotion expressed through a life of virtue above all guarantees the most powerful patronage one could have in life and in death.

The issues are taken up in the booklet The Month of May (1858)109, where the saint frames popular and youthful Marian devotion explicitly within a context aimed at serious and fervent ethical and spiritual commitment, linking Marian devotion and eternal salvation to this.

Ten years later (1868), at the opening of the church of Mary Help of Christians he drew up a work called The Marvels of the Mother of God invoked under the title of Help of Christians110. Particularly evident in this is how he frames Marian devotion within an ecclesial perspective, since Don Bosco's view of things is opening up to this more and more. It is this that guides his missionary and education concerns. Via a number of meditations on the Gospels, the saint also develops other aspects of the spiritual life: Mary is a model of union with God, service of neighbour, practical attention to our brothers' needs, and her universal motherhood.

After the sanctuary at Valdocco was consecrated, Don Bosco became a tireless apostle of devotion to the Help of Christians: help of the Church in battles throughout history, inspiration and powerful support of Salesian work, maternal and beneficial presence in the lives of those who trust in her.

The Associations of Devotees of Mary Help of Christians (founded in 1869 and today known as ADMA or the Mary Help of Christians Association), aimed at “promoting devotion to the Mother of God and veneration of the august Sacrament of the Eucharist”111, certainly responds to the religious sensitivity of the time, but it expresses in an excellent way Don Bosco's efforts to encourage trusting Mary and encourages everyone to imitate her “beautiful virtues”.

Given the worldwide spread of Salesian work the cult of the Help of Christians was propagated everywhere, inseparable from Don Bosco and his mission.

This section, which is a simple selection from a vast amount of material, includes seven meditations (nos. 286-291 and 293), some prayers for ADMA (no. 292) and a “goodnight” to the boys on the efficacy of turning to the Help of Christians (no. 294).
286. Reasons for being devoted to Mary

Critical ed. in G. Bosco, Il mese di maggio…, pp. 12-18 (OE X, 306-312).

Come with me O Christian, and consider the countless reasons we all have to be devoted to Mary. I will begin by indicating the three principle ones and they are as follows: Mary is the holiest of all creatures, Mary is the Mother of God, Mary is our mother.

1. Throughout the Old Testament Mary is called beautiful and without stain. She is compared to the resplendent sun, to the moon in the fullness of its light, to the brightest stars, to a garden full of the most delightful flowers, to a sealed fountain from which fresh waters flow, to a humble dove, to the purest lily. In the Gospel the Angel Gabriel calls her “full of grace”, “Ave, gratia plena”: full of grace, or created and formed in grace, meaning that Mary from the first moment of her existence was without original and actual sin and remained that way until her final breath. Full of grace and therefore with not even the least defect in her purest heart. There was no virtue that ws not practised to the most sublime degree by Mary. The Catholic Church expresses this holiness of Mary by defining that she was always free from sin and invites us to call on her with the following precious words: “Regina sine labe originali concepta, ora pro nobis”, “Queen conceived without original sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.”

2. Mary was free from every stain of original and actual sin. She was adorned with every virtue we can possibly imagine. God had filled her with grace more than any other creatureall these prerogatives meant she was chosen from amongst all women to be raised to the dignity of Mother of God. This is the announcement the Angel made and St Elizabeth repeated it when the Blessed Virgin visited her. This is the greeting faithful Christians offer every day when they say: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.” Human intellect pales before the glorious name of Mother of God, therefore we bow our heads in deep veneration and limit ourselves to saying that no creature has been raised to a more sublime dignity, no creature could achieve that degree of glory, and as a consequence no creature can be as powerful with God as Mary can.

3. But if the title Mother of God is a glorious one for Mary, it is a very consoling and useful one for those who call themselves her children. Since she was mother of Jesus, true God and true Man, she became our mother. Jesus Christ in his great mercy wanted to call us his brothers and by this name he made us adopted sons of Mary. The Gospel confirms what we are saying. The Divine Saviour was on the Cross and suffered pains and terrible agony. His holy mother and the apostle St John were standing at the foot of the cross in deep distress. When Jesus opened his eyes, perhaps for the last time he opened them in his mortal life, he saw his beloved disciple and his dear mother. He opened his dying lips: “Woman,” he said to Mary, “[in John] behold your son.” Then he said to John: “Behold [Mary] your mother.” “Mulier, ecce filius tuus; ecce mater tua.” [Jn 19:26-27]. The Fathers unanimously recognise the Divine Saviour's will in this event, that before leaving the world he wanted to give us Mary as our loving mother and so we are all her sons. Mary is also our mother because she regenerates us through Jesus Christ in grace. Therefore since Eve is called mother of the living, so Mary is mother of all the faithful by grace (Riccardo da San Lorenzo). St William the Abbott had this to say about it: “Mary is mother of the head, so is also mother of the members and we are the members”, “Nos sumus membra Christi.” By giving birth to Jesus Mary also regenerated us spiritually. Therefore Mary is rightly called mother by everyone and as such deserves honour (William the Abbott, Cant. 4).

Here then, O Christian, is the one I am proposing for your veneration during this month. She is the holiest of all creatures, Mother of God, our mother, powerful and merciful mother who ardently wants to fill us with heavenly favours. She says, "I live in the highest heavens to fill those who are devoted to me with grace and blessings”, “ut ditem diligentes me,” etc. “thesauros eorum repleam." [Pr 8,21].

So courage then you who are devoted to Mary. See that you celebrate our mother, the mother of Jesus. When we celebrate our temporal mother's feast day we enjoy bringing relatives and friends together and offer her a bouquet of flowers with them along with expressions of affection. The month of May is our true mother's feast day, our heavenly protector's feast day. So let us do it joyfully. The most beautiful bouquet we can offer is one made of the virtues she gave us such outstanding example of. Let us resolve today to pray morning and evening with all the affections of our heart to the one whom we like to call our mother. Let us pray that she intercedes for us for some special grace from her son Jesus. Let us pray for the grace we know we have greatest need of.

Example - To encourage us to fervently solemnise the month of May in honour of Mary we could look at the example of the Oriental army when it got to Constantinople. Far from home, without churches and even sacred ministers, Christians soldiers continued at home with their devotion to and confidence in Mary. Here is a report from a magazine published on June 7, 1855: “The month of May was celebrated in some hospitals with pious and regular solemnity which is an honour to the Oriental army. There is no doubt that heaven's blessings rained down upon many souls touched by the grace poured out on the entire army and they will be crowned by victory in the war. Before those places came into our power they were mosques, that is churches dedicated to Mahommet. This year the praises of the Queen of Heaven have begun to resound in them. An altar was erected to Mary and was decorated with a taste that shows how each regiment has its artists. You can see columns there as if sculptured by magic. Marble artefacts in the likeness of the finest marble. Paper and coloured decorations are the work of people convalescing who devote their time to things that serve to enhance the decorum of devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Each house organised its own choir. All the musicians and the best of the harmonic society were vying to take part. Some composed hymns which everyone is happily singing in honour of Mary. In the evening when the hymn singing and the Litany of Our Lady was over the chaplain or other one sent offered an appropriate instruction for the day, keenly listened to by the huge number of devotees that had gathered. The room was often not large enough to hold them all. Even the wounded were brought there half an hour earlier so they could be sure of a place. For them this is the most wonderful moment in the day.” Here then, O Christian, is how we too can celebrate this month and show May a sign of our tender devotion. In the cities, in the countryside, at home, alone or in choirs and in military regiments too, homage and devotion can be rendered to the Queen of Saints.

Brief prayer: Merciful Virgin, / here is my heart // inflame it / with your holy love.

Prayer - Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

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