Writings and testimonies of don bosco on spiritual life

On the choice of a state of life


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On the choice of a state of life

Critical ed. in Giovanni Bosco, Il giovane provveduto per la pratica dei suoi doveri negli esercizi di cristiana pietà per la recita dell’Uffizio della B. Vergine, dei Vespri di tutto l’anno e dell’Uffizio dei morti coll’aggiunta di una scelta di laudi sacre. Torino, Tipografia e Libreria Salesiana 1880, pp. 75-78.

In His eternal decrees, God has destined each one of us to a state of life with its corresponding graces. Accordingly, as in every other case, so also in this all-important matter, the good Catholic should seek to discover the will of God following the example of Jesus Christ who said in fact that his sole purpose in coming down to us was to comply with the will of his eternal Father. It is then most important, dear children, that you choose your vocation wisely, so that you may enter the career for which the Lord has destined you.

Some souls, whom God wishes to favour particularly, receive a clear indication of the state to which he calls them. You cannot expect so much, but you have the consoling guarantee that God will direct you in the right way, provided you do not neglect the right means for making a prudent choice.

One of these means is to spend your childhood and youth without offending God, or else to atone by sincere penance for the time misspent in sin. Another means is humble and persevering prayer. Often repeat with St Paul: “Lord, what is it that you wish me to do?” Or with Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Or with the Psalmist: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.” Or use some other aspiration of love.

When the time has arrived for a decision, have recourse to God in frequent and very fervent prayer. Pray for guidance during the Holy Mass at which you assist, and offer up each Communion for the same purpose. You could also make a novena or a triduum, perform some act of mortification, or go on a pilgrimage to some noted shrine. Pray to the Blessed Virgin, who is the Mother of Good Counsel, ask the help of St. Joseph, her spouse, who faithfully kept the divine commandments; pray to your Guardian Angel and to your Patron Saints. It would be well also to prepare for your decision in such an important matter by making a retreat or a day of recollection.

Resolve to follow God's will whatever happens, and despite the disapproval of those who might give you more secular advice.

Should your parents or other individuals begin to oppose what you perceive to be the will of God in your regard, remember that this is the occasion to put into practice the great advice to obey God and not human beings. Conduct yourselves towards your parents respectfully and honourably; answer and treat them submissively and humbly, but without putting at risk the supreme welfare of your soul. Seek good advice on what to do, and then confide in him who can do all things. Consult experienced and God-fearing persons, and especially your confessor, to whom you should confide your vocation and your dispositions.

The young man who is faithful to his vocation

When St Francis de Sales understood at home that God was calling him to the priesthood, his parents observed that as the first born son he ought support and sustain them, and that his inclination to the clergy came from an indiscreet devotion and that he could also be holy in secular life. They felt it was better if he followed their intentions to offer him an honourable and advantageous marriage. But nothing could move him from his holy resolution. He constantly put God's will before that of his father and mother, and while he loved them tenderly and respected them deeply he preferred renouncing all the temporal advantages before lessening the grace of his vocation. His parents, notwithstanding their worldly outlook, were pious people and alter were happy with their son's resolve.

Prayer to know one's proper vocation

Here I am at your feet, O merciful Virgin, to implore from you the most important grace of my state in life. I only want to perfectly do the will of your Divine Son throughout my life. I ardently desire to choose the state that will most console me at the hour of my death. Grant Mother of Good Counsel, that I may hear a voice which removes every doubt from my mind. Since you are the Mother of my Saviour, also be the Mother of my salvation; because of you, O Mary do not enlighten me, who will? If you do not instruct me, Mother of Wisdom, who will teach me? Hear then, Mary, my humble prayers. Guide me, doubtful and vacillating, put me on the right path that leads to eternal life, because you are the only hope of virtue and life, the fruits of which are nothing but the fruits of honour and honesty. Three ‘Our Father’s, ‘Hail Mary’s and ‘Glory be’s.



St John Bosco's correspondence mirrors his manifold activities as a promoter of educational and welfare type work, publishing and missionary enterprises. Also documented is the broad network of relationships he had built up. His letters are those of a man of action, the tireless organiser, avid communicator, religious founder and a passionate animator of Catholic initiatives. Little space is given to spiritual aspects which he prefers to deal with in preaching, personal talks or in the context of the Sacrament of Penance.

But there is no lack of letters, brief though they may be, with spiritual input and valuable counsel, and from these emerges the wisdom and experience of someone who is forming souls.

Here we find an example set of correspondence, addressed to boys and young men, with suggestions and some small life programmes that echo the characteristic features of his spiritual teaching, all aimed at practical Christian living filled with good work and virtuosity.
185. To Stefano Rossetti

Critical ed. in E(m) I, pp. 500-501.

Sant’Ignazio presso Lanzo, 25 July 1860

My beloved son,

The letter you wrote me truly gave me pleasure. You have really shown by this that you have understood how I feel about you. Yes, my good friend, I love you with all my heart, and this love urges me to do whatever I can to help you progress in your studies and in piety and guide you on the way to Heaven. Call to mind the advice I have given you at various times; be cheerful, but let this cheerfulness be truly that of a conscience free from sin. Try to become wealthy - but in terms of virtue, and the greatest wealth is a holy fear of God. Keep away from bad boys and be friends with good ones; place yourself in the hands of your parish priest (arch priest) and follow his advice, and all will go well.

Greet your parents on my behalf; pray for me, and while God is keeping you some distance from me, I pray that he will always keep for as one of his own until you return to us. Meanwhile, I am yours in fatherly affection

Fr John Bosco.

186. To Severino Rostagno

Critical ed. in E(m) I, p. 423.

Turin, 5 September 1860
Beloved son,

Your letter brought me much pleasure. If you found great consolation in the brief time we were together for a chat, what joy will it not be for us when, God-willing, we will be forever blessed in heaven where we will praise our Creator for eternity with one voice?

So courage my son, remain firm in faith, and grow each day in the holy fear of God. Keep away from bad companions as you would poisonous snakes. Go to the sacraments of confession and communion. Be devoted to Mary and you will certainly be holy.

When I saw you I seemed to have an inkling of Divine Providence's plans for you. I will not tell you this yet, but if you come another time and see me I will speak more clearly and you will know the reasons for certain things said then.

May the Lord give you and your mother health and grace; and pray for me, whom am with all my heart,

Your affections friend,

Fr John Bosco.
187. To Giovanni Garino

Critical ed. in E(m) I, p. 144.

Calliano, 10 October 1860 [?]

My dear Garino,

I received your letter with much pleasure and I am delighted that you want so much to be good so you can become an excellent ecclesiastic. I will do everything I can for my part; but I also need you to do something. What is it? Unlimited confidence in everything regarding the good of your soul. I need you to go out and catch souls, but afraid that you might instead be caught by others I suggest that you simply make yourself a model for your companions in doing good. Moreover you will be greatly fortunate if you can do some good or prevent some wrong amongst your companions.

Love me as I love you in the Lord, and pray for me, since I am yours with all my heart,

Yours affectionately,

Fr John Bosco
188. To Emanuele Fassati

Critical ed. in E(m) I, pp. 459-460.

Turin, 8 September 1861
Dear Emanuele,

While you are enjoying the countryside with good Stanislao, I am arriving along with your mother to visit you by means of this note that I should write to you.

My idea is to put a plan to you; so listen up. Your age and your preparation would seem to be adequate enough for you to be admitted to Holy Communion. So I would like next Easter to be the great day for your First Holy Communion. What do you say about that, dear Emanuele? Try to talk to your parents about it and hear what they have to say. But I would like you to start now to prepare yourself and therefore be especially exemplary in the following:

1. Exact obedience to your parents and your superiors, not complaining about anything they ask you to do.

2. Fulfilment of all your duties, especially at school, without complaining about them.

3. Have great regard for your devotions. So make the sign of the cross well, kneel up straight and pray, and be exemplary at church.

I would be very happy to hear your answer regarding these proposals. Please greet Azeglia and Stanislao for me. Always be happy in the Lord. May God bless you all; pray for me, especially you, dear Emanuele, and honour me by your good behaviour. I am always your affectionate friend,
Fr John Bosco
189. To the boys at the Oratory

Critical ed. in E(m) I, p. 694.

From the Sanctuary of Oropa (Biella), 6 August 1863

My dear students,

If you could find yourself on the top of this mountain, dear boys, you would certainly be moved by the experience. There is a large building with a church at the heart of it, and together they make up what is commonly known as the Sanctuary of Oropa. There is a constant coming and going of people here. Some are thanking the Virgin for graces she obtained for them; others are asking to be freed from some spiritual or temporal evil; while others are praying to the Virgin to help them persevere in doing good, and asking for a holy death. There are young and old, rich and poor, farmers and gentlemen, Knights, Counts, Marquises, workers, merchants, men, women, farmhands, students of all kinds can be seen in great numbers going to the sacraments of confession and communion then going to the foot of a huge statue of Our Lady to ask for her heavenly help.

But in the midst of so many people I have one great regret. What is this? I could not see my own dear students. Ah! Yes. Why can't I have my boys here, take them to Mary's feet, offer them to her, put them under her powerful protection, make them all like Dominic Savio and also St Aloysius?

To give my heart some comfort I went before her special altar and I promised that once I got back to Turin I would do what I could to encourage devotion to Mary in you and while recommending you all to her I asked for these special graces for you. Mary, I said to her, bless all our house, keep even the least shadow of sin away from our boys; be a guide for our students; be the true seat of wisdom for them. Let them be all yours, always yours, and keep them as your sons, keep them amongst your devotees. I believe that the Holy Virgin will have heard my prayer and I hope you will give me a hand so we can correspond to Mary's voice, and to God's grace.

May the Holy Virgin Mary bless me, bless all our priests and clerics and all those who are working in our house. May she bless you all. She helps us from heaven so let us make every effort to deserve her holy protection in life and in death. Amen.

Your affectionate friend in Jesus Christ,

Fr John Bosco.

190. To Emanuele Fassati

Critical ed. in E(m) I, p. 607.

From your village at Montemagno – 1 October 1863
Dear Emanuele,

Before I leave, dear Emanuele, listen to two words from a friend of your soul.

Since you will have arrived at the College which your parents have prudently chosen for you, try to put this advice into practice:

1. Have great confidence in your superiors. 2. See that you put the advice of your confessor into practice. 3. Avoid idleness and companions whom you happen to hear speaking improperly. 4. Pray to the holy Virgin every day that she may allow anything to happen to you except falling into sin.

May God bless you and keep you in health and grace until we see each other again in August 1864, if we are still alive. Amen.

Your affectionate friend in Jesus Christ,

Fr John Bosco.
191. To the pupils at Mirabello

Critical ed. in E(m) I, pp. 629-630.

Turin, 30 December 1863

To my beloved boys at the Junior Seminary of St Charles in Mirabello.

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

The signs of filial affection you showed me, dear boys, when I had the pleasure of visiting you, made me resolve to visit you again over these days of festivity and best wishes. But now that my special work is preventing me from doing that, I restrict myself to writing you a letter to manifest some of the thoughts of my fatherly heart.

But first of all I want to thank you for what you have done for me, the greetings you have sent me, the prayers lifted up to God for the good of my soul. I also thank you for the affection you have shown Fr Rua and the other superiors at the Seminary. Since I was with you and often went to see what kind of spirit you had, I believe it might be good to tell you what I observed in particular (I will write some separate notes on this) and in general.

To my real satisfaction I observed more people frequenting the holy sacraments of confession and communion, more devout behaviour in church and prayer, especially in the evening, more charity in putting up with your companions and a real effort by many to do better in their studies, fight vices and bad temptations. I observed all this with great pleasure, but do allow me to tell you that I also saw many things which made me sad.

I saw some going to church without giving any sign that they were entering a holy place; listening to the sermon (and there was more than just a few) but constantly distracted and without taking away something to put into practice for the good of their soul. I saw a few others begin their prayers but then get to the end without having any idea what they had said and mostly not even opening their mouths. I found others pushing and shoving, and others who couldn't get their own back but were getting their bile and hatred up for the ones they didn't like.

Then there were a few who were escaping from hard work like it was an enormous boulder hanging over their heads. But what saddened me most were the ones trying to introduce ideas and topics that St Paul did not want Christians even to mention. Then there were a few others, very few, who, well, what can I say? They approached the holy sacraments unworthily.

These, my beloved boys, are the things I noted about how things are going at the junior seminary at Mirabello. Do you think maybe I am writing these things as a reprimand? No, I am writing only to advise you so that the good ones can be encouraged to persevere, the lukewarm ones can be encouraged to fire up a bit with the love of God and whoever needs to can get out of the situation he finds himself in. I have many things to write to you about this but I will reserve them until my next visit. Let me tell you what the Lord God wants from you during this year for you to deserve his blessings.

1. Avoid idleness, and be very diligent in fulfilling your religious and school duties. Idleness is the father of all vices.

2. Frequent communion. What a great truth this is that I am telling you at the moment. Frequent communion is the great column which supports the moral and material world to stop it falling into ruin.

3. Devotion and frequent recourse to Mary Most Holy. It has never been known anywhere in the world that someone who has trusting recourse to this heavenly mother is not promptly heard.

Believe me my dear boys, I believe I am not saying too much if I state that frequent communion is the great column that one pole of the world balances on; devotion to the Madonna is the other column on which the other pole balances. So I tell Fr Rua, the other superiors, teachers, assistants, and all the boys to recommend, practice, preach, insist with all the efforts of the love of Jesus Christ that you never forget these three reminders I am sending you for the greater glory of God and the good of your souls which are so dear to Our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

While I assure you that every day I recommend you to the Lord at Holy Mass, I also recommend my soul to the charity of your prayers. All the boys in this house also recommend themselves to your prayers and wish you every blessing from heaven. May the holy Virgin preserve you as her own, always. Amen.

Yours most affectionately in Jesus Christ,

Fr John Bosco.
192. To Fr Michael Rua, the Salesians and the boys at Mirabello

Critical ed. in E(m) II, p. 57.

Turin, 19 June 1864
To Fr Michael Rua and all my dear sons at Mirabello.

Dear Fr Rua, and all my beloved sons at Mirabello I know you are waiting for me for [the feast of] St Aloysius. And you can easily imagine how great would be my pleasure in being able to satisfy you. But I have some ongoing business matters that are absolutely going to prevent me from coming. Amongst other things they are digging the foundations for the new church and that needs constant assistance for the modifications that might be needed at any moment to adjust the boundaries. So we shall have to put off this pleasure until the first fortnight in July and then we can chat, laugh and joke and have a nice celebration [brindisi] together.

Just the same I would like to celebrate St Aloyius here with you. The 21st here will not be solemn since we have shifted the Solemnity to the 29th of this month. So I can celebrate Mass for my beloved Mirabellians. So let's come together in the spirit of the Lord and ask St Aloysius for three things:

1. Health and grace so you can prepare well for the exams and that way your holidays can be more enjoyable.

2. Imitating St Aloysius in his good example especially in avoiding improper talk.

3. That Fr Rua on my account will make you happy first in church, then at dinner and finally with a nice outing. If you celebrate St Aloysius like this we will all be happy.

Of course I love you all in the Lord and few hours of the day go by when I do not 'visit' you and think about you. Let us love one another, but love one another to serve the Lord throughout our life so we can enjoy him in eternity.

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

With all my affection, I am,

Your affectionate friend,

Fr J. Bosco

P.S. Greetings to your mother, subdeacon Franceschino, Fr Bonetti and all the Provera family. Amen.
193. To the pupils at Mirabello

Critical ed. in E(m) II, pp. 58-59.

[Turin, beginning of July 1864]
To my dear boys at Mirabello.

I have delayed, dear boys, in visiting you as I had promised, but what saddens me is that I could not even come to celebrate the Feast of St Aloysius. I am now looking for a way of making up for this delay by staying longer with you. God willing, I will be at Mirabello late on Tuesday evening. But why warn you? Wouldn't it be enough just to come as I usually do? No, my dear friends, it would not be enough. I need to speak to you in public to tell you some things that I know you will like, then to speak privately of less pleasurable matters, but which are necessary for you to know. Then I would like to offer a word in the ear to some of you to break the horns of the devil who wants to become your master and owner. Here I add a note that in a visit made recently, I was able to offer some warnings for those who had special need of them and I ask Fr Director to tell them for me that I seriously need to speak to their soul, heart, conscience, but this need of mine is only so I can do good for their souls.

I also tell you that in the frequent visits I make, I have seen things that give me much consolation; especially those who are exemplary in going to holy communion and in doing their duties. I have also noted minor carelessness by some, but I do not want to make too much of this.

Do not be too worried about all of this: I am coming amongst you as a father, friend and brother; just put your heart in my hands for a while and we will all be happy. Be happy for the peace and grace of the Lord which you soul will certainly be filled with; and I am happy that I will have the great and much-desired consolation of seeing you all friends of God your Creator.

So is all this about the soul and nothing for the body? For sure, once we have given the soul what it needs we will not leave the body without anything. Right now I am recommending Fr Prefect to give the right orders so you can spend a nice day and if time allows to also go on an outing together.

May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ always be with you and may the Holy Virgin make you all rich with the true richness which is the holy fear of God. Amen.

Pray for me. With all my heart I am,

Yours affectionately in Jesus Christ,

Fr John Bosco
P.S. Special greetings to the priests, teachers, assistants and the Provera family, especially to dear papa.
194. To Annetta Pelazza

Critical critica in E(m) II, p. 60.

Turin, 20 July [1864]
My precious young Annetta Pelazza,

1. Obedience is your sure path to Heaven.

2. To carry out the idea you sometimes are thinking about (you have not told me but I seem to see it in your mind: to become a Sister) put yourself entirely into the hands of your good superiors.

3. When you need something go and ask Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and Mary Immaculate, and you will be heard.

May God bless you and grant that you all may progress along the way that leads to the salvation of your souls.

Pray for me,

Your humble servant in Jesus Christ,
Fr John Bosco
195. To Fr Michael Rua and the pupils at Mirabello

Critical ed. in E(m) II, pp. 97-98.

Turin, 30 December 1864

To my dear boys at Mirabello.

The kindness and signs of filial affection you showed me when I had the beautiful pleasure of visiting you, the letters, greetings that some of you have sent me and which I preserve as grateful memory, encourage me to return as soon as possible and spend some time with you, my dear and beloved boys. Up till now I have not been able to satisfy this desire of mine, but I will shortly. Meanwhile to satisfy the affections of my heart in some way, I thought of writing you a letter than can be a messenger for my arrival there.

But what good is a letter to say the many things I would like to say? I will just keep things brief.

So let me say that I want to thank you for all the signs of kindness shown me and the confidence you showed me on that beautiful day I spent at Mirabello. The voices, the liveliness, the kissing and shaking my hand, the warm smiles, our speaking about matters of the soul, the mutual encouragement to do good are all balm for my heart and there is little I can think of in this that does not move me to tears.

I often have you in my thoughts and I enjoy seeing the good number of you that go to holy communion; but if they don't do better I'd like to have a sharp word with Prot, Maggiore, Pernigotti, Cigorza ... the names escape me; let me say no more.

I also tell you that you are the apple of my eye and that every day I remember you at Holy Mass; I ask God to keep you healthy, in his grace, make progress in learning, and that you may be able to be the consolation of your parents and Don Bosco's delight. He loves so so much.

What will Don Bosco give you as a Strenna (New Year's gift)? Three very important things: a warning, a piece of advice and a means.

A warning. My dear friends, flee every sin of immodesty; deeds, thoughts, looks, desires, words, conversations against the sixth commandment should never, as St Paul says, even be mentioned amongst you.

A piece of advice. Jealously guard the most beautiful, sublime queen of all virtues, the holy virtue of purity.

A means. The most effective means for holding down and overcoming the enemy with certainty and ensuring you preserve this virtue is frequent communion, but made with the right attitude.

Here I would like to say more things to you which are not for a letter; I merely recommend to Fr Rua that he be good enough to give you no fewer than three brief instructions or reflections on each of the topics mentioned.

Finally, dear friends, let me tell you I have great affection for you and desire so much to see you. That will be soon. I want you all to give me your heart so that every day I can offer it to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament while I am saying Mass. I am coming to see you with the great desire of speaking to each one about matters of your soul and to tell each of you three things; one about the past; one about the present; and the third about the future.

May the Holy Virgin keep you as her own always and may the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ always be with us. Amen.

Long live my dear boys at Mirabello.

Your affectionate friend in Jesus Christ,

Fr John Bosco.
P.S. Courage, patience and tolerance are my wishes for your director, prefect, teachers, assistants, domestics, dear papà Provera and all his family, Mamma Rua and my little friend Meliga, Chiastellardo, dear Ossella who wrote me a beautiful letter etc.

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