Writings and testimonies of don bosco on spiritual life

The snake and the Hail Mary


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210. The snake and the Hail Mary

ASC A0080302 Cronaca dell’Oratorio 1862, ms. by Francesco Provera21, pp. 1-6

(cf. MB VII, 238-239. 241-243).
Wednesday 20 August 1862

I would like tell you a dream I had a few nights ago (it would have been the night of the Feast of the Assumption). I dreamt that I found myself with all the boys at Castelnuovo d’Asti at my brother's house. While everyone was out playing, one came up to me (I don't know who), and called me to go with him. He led me to the field near the playground, and pointed to a snake lying there in the grass, about 7 to 8 metres long. It was a very big one. Horrified at the sight, I wanted to run away.

“No, no,” the man said, “Don't run away. Come here and see.”

“What?” I gasped, “Don't you realise that monster could spring on me and gobble me up in no time?”

“Don't be afraid, no harm will come to you. Come with me.”

“Nothing doing; I'm not crazy.”

“Well then,” he continued, “stay there.” Then he went and fetched a rope and brought it to me there where I was, and said:

“Take this rope by one end and hold it tightly in both hands, and I will take the other and go on the other side and we will dangle it over the snake.”

“And then?”

“And then we'll snap it across its back.”

“Ah! No, for Heaven's sake! The snake will leap up and tear us to pieces.”

“No, no; let me do it.”

“There, there! I have no intention of risking my life for a thrill like this.”

Again I tried to run away. Again he insisted that I not be afraid, that no harm would come my way. I agreed to his plan and stayed put. Meanwhile he went round to the other side, we stretched the rope then snapped it across the snake's back. The snake leaped up and struck at the rope, but instead it got ensnared in the noose. Then the man shouted:

“Hold it tight, hold it tight and don't let it escape from the noose.”

And he ran to a pear tree nearby and tied the rope to it. Then he came to me and tied my end to the iron grating of a window in the house. The snake kept furiously struggling to free itself, writhing, thrashing and flailing about. In its fury it tore itself to pieces, scattering its flesh over the area, till it was slashed to a mere skeleton.

When the snake was dead the man untied the rope, coiled it up and then said:

“Now watch!” He dropped it into a box and closed it, then opened it again. We were amazed. The rope was no longer coiled up, but arranged in the shape of a Hail Mary.

“How did that happen?” I asked. “The rope was thrown into that box and now it looks so orderly.”

“Well,” he said: “the snake is a symbol of the devil and the rope is the Hail Mary, or rather the rosary which is a succession of Hail Marys with which we can destroy all of hell's demons.”

Up to here is the first part of the dream. There is another part which is even more curious and interesting for everyone. But it is already late so we will put it off until tomorrow evening. Meanwhile let's keep in mind what that man said about the Hail Mary: let's say it devoutly when any temptation comes, assured that we will always be victorious. Good night.

Thursday 21 August 1862
Given that you have been pestering me I will tell the second part of the dream, and even if not all of it, at least what I can tell you about. But I must place two conditions first. The first is that nobody should write or talk about it outside: you can talk about it amongst yourselves, laugh, do what you want, but just amongst yourselves.

Now while we were talking about the rope, the snake and what they meant, I turned around and saw some boys who were picking up pieces of snake flesh and eating them. I immediately cried out:

“What are you doing? Are you mad? Don't you know that meat is poisonous and will do you harm?”

“No, no,” they said, “it's really good.”

And yet no sooner had they eaten it than they fell to the ground, swelled up and then hardened like stone. I was helpless, shouting at one, then another; I even slapped one, punched another, trying to stop them eating, but in vain. As soon as one fell to the ground, another would start eating.

So I called the clerics to help me and told them to use whatever means they could to stop any more eating, but to no avail. [Questioned afterwards privately about the clerics, he answered that in fact some of the clerics began eating and collapsed like the others]. I was beside myself, seeing such a huge number of boys lying on the ground. I turned to the man and said:

“These boys know that this meat will kill them, yet they eat it. Why?” He answered:

You know that carnalis homo non percipit quae Dei sunt.”

“But isn't there some way of saving these boys?”

“Yes, there is.”

“What is it?”

“Only a hammer and an anvil.”

“We need to use them on these boys.”

“You mean put them on the anvil and hit them with the hammer?”

Then the man explained, saying:

“Look, the hammer symbolises Confession and the anvil is holy Communion. We need to use these two means.”

I set to work and found this helpful, but not for everyone. many came back to life and recovered, but for some it didn't work. These were the ones who hadn't made good Confessions.

211. The storm in the sinner's heart

ASC A0000309 Piccole locuzioni del molto R.do don Giovanni Bosco, Quad. IX, 1876,

ms by Francesco Ghigliotto22, pp. 3-7 (cf. MB XII, 131-132).
Tuesday 14 March 1876

I have visited various houses in Liguria and have seen that there is much to be done. Yes, there is much good to be done, and if all of you listening to me were ordained priests and were true labourers of the Gospel, you would all have good to do. …

Arriving on the coast, I was able to see how stormy the weather was. For about five days there had been a storm at sea, but especially in one part. I had already heard it spoken of, but had never seen it, but I can tell you that it made me wonder. The waves were as high as our house, running into each other, and they made such a powerful, terrible noise together as if four canons were going off. This collision of waves produced white foam that went so high that if there had been a building amongst all those waves it would have been tossed into the air so high that if people were in it, they would have died before they hit the water. But there was no building there of course. I found myself about thirty metres from the shore and often wanted to pull back further so I wouldn't get drenched. Observing this spectacle I admired God's power in it. When he wanted to he could make the sea peaceful and calm and could walk on it. And then with just one word he could make it turbulent again, making it terrible to witness. If parliamentarians and senators were to go and shout at the sea to stop, well, we'd see what they could do about it.

Looking at this sea I thought of the sinner who is constantly in a storm like that sea was then. His conscience is always gnawing away at him and he never has peace and tranquillity. Sometimes he has a bit of recreation, and then pulls aside, sad. His friends invite him to enjoy himself, but his shoulders slump and he has no will to do so, because his heart is reproaching him, telling him: “You are no friend of God's.” He goes to lunch and tries to be cheerful, trying to chase away all the thoughts gnawing at him, but meanwhile his heart tells him: “And if you should die now, while you are eating, you would be excluded from paradise and hell would be ready for you”. He goes to bed in the evening and tries to put aside the sad but just remorse of his conscience, telling himself: “I want to go quietly to sleep; at least I would be free of all these tormenting thoughts.” Indeed that evening he did not say his prayers in order to repress the remorse he felt. But all in vain because his heart tells him: “If you should die this evening you would go into eternity, disgraced before God.” So, he has no peace and tranquillity but is always caught up in a storm.

These thoughts went through my mind seeing such a stormy sea. Good night.


ASC A0000408 Conferenze e prediche di D. Bosco 1875/1876, Quad. XIX,

ms by Giulio Barberis23, pp. 63-7824 (cf MB XII, 625-631).

Sunday 19 March 1876

One day the Divine Saviour, walking through the countryside near the city of Samaria, looked around him at the plains and valleys, and saw that the harvest everywhere was abundant. he invited his apostles to also enjoy the view of this wonderful country scene, but they quickly became aware that despite the abundance of the harvest there was nobody to gather it up. So alluding to something higher, he turned to his apostles and told them: “Messis quidem multa operarii autem pauci, the harvest is great, but you see how few workers there are.” This is the agonising cry of the Church and the people over the ages: the harvest is great but the labourers are few.

Our Divine Saviour, and you understand it well enough, meant by the field or vineyards around him, to speak of the Church and everyone in the world; the harvest is the salvation of souls, since all souls must be gathered up and brought to the Lord's granary; oh how abundant is this harvest; how many millions of people there are on this earth! How much work there is to be done to see that everyone is saved; but operarii autem pauci, the labourers are few. By the labourers working in the vineyard of the Lord is meant all those who in some way work for the salvation of souls. And note well that labourers here does not only mean priests, preachers and confessors, as some believe, who certainly are put there to work and are directly involved in gathering the harvest, but they are not alone, they are not enough.

The labourers are those who in some way work for the salvation of souls; like those who work in the fields are not just the ones gathering the grain but all the others as well. Look around a field and see the variety of labourers. One is ploughing, another turning over the soil; others are using a hoe; someone has a rake or is breaking open the clods and flattening them; others are sowing seed, other still covering it over; somebody is weeding, pulling out darnel, grass, vetches; one is hoeing, another uprooting, another one cutting; others are watering just at the right moment and pressing the seeds in; others instead are reaping, making bundles of sheaves,25 there are others loading the cart and pulling it; one is spreading out the wheat while another is beating it; one is separating wheat from chaff; others are cleaning, using a sieve, putting it into sacks, carrying it to the mill to make flour; one is sifting,26 another kneading, another baking. So you can see, my friends, what a range of labourers are needed before the harvest can fulfil its purpose of giving us bread from Heaven.

As it is in the field, so it is with the Church; all kinds of labourers are needed, all kinds; No one can say: “Although my behaviour is irreproachable, I would be no good working for the greater glory of God.” No, nobody can say that; everyone can do something. The labourers are few. Oh if only there were so many priests to send everywhere around the world, to every city, town, village, countryside, and convert the world. But it is impossible to have so many priests; so others are needed. How could priests be free for their ministry if they did not have people to bake the bread and cook their meals; if they had nobody to make their shoes and clothes? The priest needs to be helped; and I believe I am not mistaken if I say that all of you here, priests and academic students and trade students, working boys and coadjutors, all of you can be true labourers for the Gospel and do good in the Lord's vineyard. How? In many ways.

For example you can all pray. Certainly there is no one who cannot do this. Oh you see, you can all do the main part that the Divine Saviour spoke of there; after saying that the labourers are few, he added: “Pray then that the master of the harvest sends labourers into his harvest, Rogate ergo dominum messis ut mittat operarios in messem suam.” Prayer touches God's heart; God becomes obliged to send them. Let us pray to him for our towns, for far away towns; let us pray to him for the needs of our families and cities; and let us pray to him for those who are still caught up in the darkness of idolatry, superstition, heresy. Oh let us pray with all our hearts, pray much to the master of the harvest.

One thing everyone can also do, and it is of the greatest help and real work int eh vineyard of the Lord, is to give good example. Oh how much good one can do this way; good example through encouraging words for others to do good, good advice, good counsel. There might be someone who has doubts about his vocation; or there is another who is about to make a decision that will bring him harm forever; if people like this are advised, comforted in doing good, how much advantage they can draw from it! Often just a word is enough to get someone to stay on or to take the right path. St Paul told the faithful to try to be a lucerna lucens et ardens. If only we could see ourselves in this light! May everybody be edified by our words. But that is not enough: may there also be works. May we be inflamed by a charity that makes us disregard everything else so long as we do good to our brethren; if only there could be that perfect chastity that has us claim victory over all other vices; if only there could be that meekness that attracts the heart of others! Oh, I believe that the entire world would be drawn into our net.

Something else that we can all do is to be regular with our religious duties, practices of piety, taking part in things that can promote the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. Speaking well of the Church, ministers of religion, especially the Pope, and the arrangements of the Church. These are things that anyone from the oldest to the youngest can do; and amongst us here in the house, speaking well of superiors, the Congregation, the house, the things we do.

But even this is not enough. Something that everyone can do is to help pull out the weeds, rye grass, bermuda grass, the vetches and all the other weeds that only do harm; I am trying to say that when there is some sort of scandal, don't tolerate it; whoever in the house can get rid of it, do so, and do everything to stop it; if you can't don't ignore it, speak about it to someone who can and not just once, but two or three times; just so long as the scandal is avoided.

If you hear someone complaining of things at table, you can all correct him; someone might be intending to go out without permission or complaining because he can't go out, but you can all encourage him, and patiently advise him. One kind of weed you can all stamp out is scandalous talk. It often happens that there is something going wrong in the house and the superiors do not know about it and therefore cannot correct it; it is absolutely necessary for you to speak up about it, make them aware of what is wrong; you are in close contact with them while the superiors are somewhat distant.

Another way of rooting out weeds is fraternal correction. It happens while you are here or at home with your parents in your village that your fiends might inadvertently, in your presence, talk about things that are not proper for a young Christian; they write letters with unchristian thoughts and expressions that can make us angry or give us bad thoughts. So? Answer them kindly: “Look, you say such and such, but you know, these words do not sound nice in the mouth of a young Christian. I know that you are my friend and that you write without thinking about it; but because you are my friend I believe you will not be offended if I correct you for one thing or another.” Or: “I'm sorry, but I can't accept what you are offering me because they do not measure up to how a young Christian should be living.” Often a friendly correction done like this produces better results than a sermon in the hearts of your friends and companions, and it can happen that they begin to serve God or love their religion more just because they found this courteous way of finding out about religious practice.

And unfortunately it often happens that one needs to practise this kind of charity with one's own parents, instructing, correcting, advising them. We need fortitude and we need this; be courageous about it, but always do so charitably, kindly,with the gentleness that St Francis de Sales would have used if he were in our house. All these and a thousand others, are ways that each one, priest, cleric, lay of any age or status, can use to work in the Lord's vineyard. You see then that everyone can work in the evangelical harvest in many and various ways, so long as each one is zealous for God's honour and the salvation of souls.

Now someone might ask: “But Don Bosco, what are you alluding to? What are you trying to tell us? Why are you telling us this this evening?” Oh, my dear friends! That cry “operarii autem pauci” was not only heard in ancient times, in centuries gone by but we, we in our own times hear it more and more demandingly. The Salesian Congregation's harvest is daily growing beyond proportion so that I can say that we no longer know where to begin or how to organise our work. It is for this reason that I would like to see you all be labourers in the Lord's vineyard, quickly! Requests for colleges [boarding schools], houses, missions are arriving in extraordinary numbers both from around Italy, or France, or foreign parts. From Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria in Africa, from Arabia, India, China and Japan in Asia; from Australia, the Argentine Republic, Paraguay, Gibraltar and one could say from all over America there are requests to open new houses because everywhere there is such a lack of labourers for the Gospel that it frightens anyone who observes the amount of good that could be done and that has to be left undone through lack of missionaries.

From the Argentine Republic we have particularly distressing news from Fr Cagliero. When they come to Confession, you mostly don't ask: how long since your last Confession, but: how many times have you been to Confession? And it is not an unusual occurrence for men and women not have been for thirty or forty years. It is not that they hate the Church or Confession, no. This happens because they haven't had the possibility. And just imagine how many, oh how many on the point of death who want to at least have a priest to confess their sins to and receive absolution, but not even that is granted them because they rarely find a priest to satisfy that need for them!

However my aim is not to invite you to go to such faraway places; some can do this but not everyone, partly because the need here is so urgent, and also because for various reasons not everyone who feels called to the Salesian Congregation would be ready to go such huge distances. But in view of so many needs, such a lack of labourers for the Gospel, noting that all of you here, in one way or another can work in the Lord's vineyard, could I just stay quiet and not manifest the secret desire of my heart? Oh how much I would like to see you encouraged to work like the apostles! All my thoughts turn to this, all my concerns, all my efforts. and that is why we get you through your studies, make everything possible for you to take up the clerical habit, set up special schools.

Could I stay silent in view of such pressing needs? And while they are calling on us from everywhere and it would seem to be the voice of God manifested in so many mouths, could I just pull back? After the manifest signs from Divine Providence of the great things he wishes to achieve through the Salesians, could I remain quiet and not try to increase the number of evangelical apostles?

Now I have just one more thing to say and it is the most important. While I am inviting you all to remain constant and to join the Salesian Congregation, I would not like someone without a vocation to try to enter. I see the great good we can do; I point out to you how great the harvest is before our eyes, how we need many people to cultivate the Lord's vineyard if they hear an inner voice saying: in the Congregation you could more easily do good for the health of your soul and the soul of your neighbour; you know how things are and it is easy to join up. But I want all the others to follow their own vocation. What I want and what I insist on is this, that wherever you may be you be, as we read in the Gospel, “lucerna lucens et ardens”.

I am not against a young man who wishes to go to the seminary and become a secular priest. What I want and what I insist on and will insist on while I have the breath and voice to do so is that whoever becomes a cleric, becomes a holy cleric; he who becomes a priest becomes a holy priest; that he who wants to be part of the Lord's inheritance by embracing the ecclesiastical state not get caught up in secular things, but aims only to save souls. I require everyone, but especially the ecclesiastic, to be a light which enlightens people around him and not darkness which is a snare for those who follow.

This light is not only manifested through words: it is to become deeds. Let each one try to adorn his heart with the charity which urges him to give his life to save souls; and this means not looking to any bodily interest when it is a case of doing good, and saying with St. Paul that worldly interests and things of this earth are filth by comparison with gaining souls for Jesus Christ "omnia arbitror ut stercora ut Christum lucrifaciam." That means not being dominated by gluttony, intemperance which unfortunately wreck so many young lives, and let us also say, the lives of many ecclesiastics. The one who wants to work with the fruit in the Lord's vineyard, in whatever state of life he chooses, must also know how to be moderate and practise mortification, especially with wine.

The true labourer of the Gospel, wherever he finds himself, is one who willingly takes part in religious practices, promotes them, and celebrates them solemnly. If there is a novena, they are happy about it; they also have some special practice and invite others to join them.

To be a true labourer for the Gospel one needs not to waste time, but to work: a bit here, a bit there; someone studying, another assisting and teaching; someone looking after material things, and others in the pulpits or confessionals; someone working in the offices or similar. But keep well in mind that time is precious and anyone who wastes it or does not keep busy, can never be a good labourer for the Gospel.

So, my dear sons, here are the things I wanted to tell you about being a good Gospel labourer. Oh if only we would do all these things in every detail! …

They will only be obtained at the price of great sacrifice, by suffering something. We never achieve great things without great efforts; and that is why we have to show we are ready for everything.

Yes, let everyone join the Salesian Congregation, but let him say: I want to take this path only to save souls; and this includes that while saving other souls I first want to save my own. And so this will require sacrifice? Well, I am ready to make any kind of sacrifice. I would like to follow Jesus Crucified; if he died on the cross suffering terrible pain, I who wish to follow him must show myself ready for any suffering, even dying on the cross with him.

Besides, look! In the Gospel I find it written: blessed those who are troubled and never: blessed those who are enjoying life. So, if I have to suffer? Blessed am I, this way I can more closely follow in the steps of the Divine Redeemer. Those who enjoy this world just enjoy the moment and their enjoyment will be small, indeed, nothing is worse than nothing, as far as eternity is concerned. Those who are troubled instead might suffer somewhat, but this does not last long and every suffering will be changed into a precious stone up there in Heaven and console them for eternity.

I finish with what St Paul says, “Vos delectat magnitudo praemiorum; non vos deterreat magnitudo laborum”: do you take delight in the great reward of paradise? Then do not be afraid if you have to suffer something on this earth.

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