Writings and testimonies of don bosco on spiritual life

Faith, temperance, idleness

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213. Faith, temperance, idleness

ASC A0000301 Conferenze e sogni, Quad. I, 1876, ms by Giacomo Gresino27, pp. 1-9

(cf MB XII, 349-356).
Sunday 15 June 1876, Corpus Christi

I seemed to find myself in the midst of the courtyard heading towards the exit surrounded by my boys, some greeting me, others telling me something, as usual. Then from the trade school boys' side I heard: “Help! Help!” and I saw them running full pelt from there, many going through the gate at the back of the courtyard. Then the students too began shouting out, thronging around me. I wanted to go and see what had so scared my boys but they kept telling me not come any further forward, that there was a monster that would devour me, and they held me fast in their midst.

While I was wondering what to do, behold this awful monster appeared and came right up to us. That animal or devil or whatever it was, was so ugly, disgusting, terrible, enormous that there wasn't anything else like it on earth. It was something like a bear, but with a small rump compared with its other parts; it had enormous shoulders and a huge stomach, with an enormous head and grotesquely disproportionate mouth with two large tusks like swords sticking out.

All the boys, terrified as they were, crowded around me for advice; but I was also afraid and not a little embarrassed. I told them all to stay together under the porticoes and kneel down and pray to the Blessed Virgin. We were all on our knees quickly, praying with more than the usual fervour to Mary Help of Christians, asking her to free us from the monster, who meanwhile was slowly advancing towards us as if it was going to attack us.

We were there for some minutes when, I don't know how, but we all found ourselves in the clerics' dining hall which had recently been extended and seemed all lit up. And in the middle we could see Mary, similar to the statue above the porticoes or like the one on the cupola, or the church, I can't remember; however, there were rays of light coming from it, and it was surrounded by the Saints and the Blessed so that the dining hall looked like Heaven itself. Wonder replaced fear, and we were all attentive to and focused on Mary who seemed to want to say something to us; she reassured us: “Do not fear, have faith; my Divine Son is only testing you.”

I then carefully noted those who were around the Virgin and I recognised Fr Alasonatti, Fr Ruffino and Bro Michael of the Christian Schools, my brother, and others who used belong to the Congregation but were now in Heaven. Then one of them said in a loud voice: “Surgamus.” We were already standing and we did not know what to say. And then the same voice said, but louder: “Surgamus”; and since we were already standing we wanted to see how things were going to finish. I was about to ask for an explanation when Our lady began to speak, her voice wonderfully strong: “But you, as a priest, should understand surgamus: when you celebrate Mass and say: ‘Sursum corda’, what are you saying? Do you mean stand up, or do you mean raise your minds and hearts to God?”

So then I said to my boys: “As best as we possibly can, let's make an act of love and repentance before God.” And all kneeling again, we began quietly praying. A moment later again we heard “Surgite”, and we all stood up. Then we heard Mary singing St Paul's hymn with such harmony: “Sumite scutum fidei”, so clear, full and melodious that we were in ecstasy because in just the one voice we could hear all the notes from the lowest to the highest; it sounded like a choir of a hundred voices all united in one voice.

While we were there in ecstasy listening to that concert, we all found ourselves raised off the ground by some supernatural force, one holding onto a spike, another to a frame. I was holding on to a window frame, and was amazed we had not fallen to the floor where I could see countless beasts of all kinds and all of them wild running around the dining hall eyeing us suspiciously, and it seemed that they might leap on us at any moment, but had not yet done so.

While we were listening to that heavenly singing, many graceful boys came down from around Mary; they had wings, and and approaching us they placed a shield on everyone's heart. It had a steel centre, a ring of silver near the steel centre, another on the outside of diamonds then one of gold. When we all had a shield and the singing had finished, then we heard this voice: “Ad pugnam”; we saw the animals stir, hurl leaden balls, arrows at us, but they either did not reach us or hit our shields; after a long battle we were left unscathed. Then we heard Mary say: “Haec est victoria vestra, fides vestra” and we found ourselves all on the ground, the animals had gone.

Immediately afterwards were heard an agonising cry in the courtyard: they were our boys that seemed to have been torn apart by those wild animals. I wanted to leave the dining hall to see if I could in some way bring them relief. They did not want me to leave, afraid that something terrible would happen to me. I took no notice of their fear and said to them “I want to go and see what has happened, even if I should die with them.” I went out and saw a terrible sight: all the animals were pursuing our boys, injuring them, tearing them apart. But the animal that was creating the most frightful scene of all was the one that had first appeared: he was piercing the boys on both sides of their chest, in their stomach, in the heart, right and left with those two big tusks, and many fell to the ground, some dead, some wounded. When I appeared I ran at the monster, but he could not hurt me or the others who had followed me out, because our shield defended us.

I looked carefully at the monster's two swords, and what a mess they were making of my boys. On the point of one of them I read Otium, and on the other, Gula. Then I understood, but found it hard to explain why my boys were sinning through idleness, or gluttony, because it seemed to me they had been working or studying when and where they should be, and they were not wasting time in recreation; and regarding gluttony, they had not seemed intemperate to me.

I went back to the dining hall very sad, and I asked someone who was with Mary to explain it to me, and he answered: “Ah my good friend, you are still a novice in these things, and you think you have had lots of experience. Know that by idleness we mean not only not working or keeping busy or not just time spent amusing oneself in recreation, but we also mean time left for fantasy to roam free, leading to harmful thoughts; odd moments not properly occupied and especially in church. As for gluttony, you need to know that we can sin by lack of temperance even with just water and when we eat and drink more than we need; that is always intemperance. If you can get your boys to be temperate in these little things, they will always overcome the devil; and with temperance comes humility, chastity and the other virtues. If they are always busy doing their duties, they will never fall into the devil's temptations and will live and die as holy Christians.”

I thanked him for such a beautiful instruction and went up to Brother Michael and the others I knew, to find out if what I had seen and done was real or just a dream. But while I was trying to shake their hand, I seemed to be quite beyond myself. Seeing my amazement one of them spoke to me: “You should know, and you have studied this, that we are pure spirits and to be seen by mortals we have to take on our former likeness until the final resurrection when we will get our bodies back but with all the gifts of immortality.” Then I wanted to get up close to Mary who seemed to want to say something to me, but when I found myself almost up close, I heard a noise from outside me and awoke.
214. spiritual fervour

ASC A0000310 Discorsetti di D. Bosco, Quad. X, 1876/1877, ms by Giacomo Gresino, pp. 4-6 (cf MB XII, 557).

Friday 27 October 1876

The Novena for All Saints is in progress and I am hoping that someone will become a saint, or at least do miracles: maybe someone is already like this but I have not yet become aware of it. At the time of Dominic Savio, Besucco, Magone they made these novenas with more commitment; we could not have wanted anything better. I am not saying that you make them badly now, no, there are good boys; but there is no longer that commitment. I do not know why things are like this now. Perhaps it is me, for not speaking to my boys, not getting them to understand; or maybe it is them, not wanting to understand me; or it could be both. However, I don't see that general fervour any more like in the times I was telling you about where there were sixty or seventy boys and every morning sixty or seventy communions. But there is still time. I say this because, things being as they are, a match just takes a moment to light a fire in a haystack and we get a huge fire, a bonfire. Each of us can do this. Let each one think of Heaven; some have brothers, sisters, friends and companions, others their superiors or inferiors who are enjoying the rewards of their virtue. They were flesh and blood like us; and we are away from danger, can easily practise our religion, adjust matters on our conscience: so if they became saints, why not us? — But, you say, we need God's grace! I assure you the Lord gives us his grace. — So what is missing? A little bit of good will is missing. and if you do not have good will, if you cannot do it alone, ask the Lord, ask him insistently, and he will do it for you. And if your own prayers are not enough, turn to the saints who are ready to help us just at this time, and especially to Mary most holy: ask them to give you a burning divine love, constant love; and the Lord, if he does not grant it for you, cannot deny so many saints. Good night.

215. Grow up quickly and become apostles

ASC A0000302 Discorsetti di D. Bosco, Quad. II, 1876, ms by Emanuele Dompè28, pp. 7-9

(cf. MB XII, 557-558).

Sunday 29 October 1876
Today we have had a group depart for Rome, not a decisive step yet to go to America, no, but to set up a small college/boarding school in in a town near Rome called Albano, where Alba la Lunga once lived. Then in three or four days time there will be another small group departing to set up another small college in Ariccia; then another to set up a small one in Trinità. In the meantime let's pray for those travelling tonight perhaps until two in the afternoon tomorrow. Now we are making the Novena to the Saints and we need to remind ourselves not to waste any of these days, pray fro those who have to leave for America. Let the priests also remember them in their Masses. This time 24 will be leaving, I am not sure if all at once, but at most one or two weeks apart. We do not want the number in our army to decrease. Now that the older ones are leaving we need the other smaller ones to grow and take their place. So we need these little 'loaves' which we 'bake' here under the protection of Mary Help of Christians, to grow bit by bit, a metre long. We need you all to grow up into big boys! But let's trust in Divine Providence and I hope with the Lord's help, and a little bit at a time, we will make it. Meanwhile let me remind you that tomorrow evening, perhaps around five thirty, as I have already told you, there will be a conference for members of the Congregation, and I am telling you here publicly so you can all know about it. Meanwhile let's stay with the Lord who guides all our actions; and let's behave in such a way that he will not have to reproach us on judgement day when he comes to judge us. Good night.

216. At the beginning of the school year

ASC A0000302 Discorsetti di D. Bosco, Quad. II, 1876, ms by Emanuele Dompè, pp. 18-21

(cf MB XII, 565-567).
Thursday 2 November 1876
The regular timetable begins tomorrow. Some were already complaining: too much recreation, too many outings, too little time for study. So at least tomorrow when the regular timetable starts, everyone will be happy. But the timetable alone is not enough; you also need to study; so starting from tomorrow put every effort into avoiding idleness. If only you knew how precious time is! The sages tell us that time is a treasure, so someone who loses a minute of time loses part of that treasure. So we need to begin right away, so that at the end of the year we won't regret time lost. True wisdom comes from the Lord alone: “Initium sapientiae est timor Domini.” Therefore we must first of all adjust our consciences well. “Sapientia non introit in animam malevolentem”. This was written on a poster hung up in the study hall; I don't know if it is still there or not. Fr Durando can hang another one up there. And now I have the same advice that I usually offer at the beginning of the year: frequent Confession and frequent Communion.

As for frequent Confession, the Fathers recommend every week, fortnight or once a month. Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine say weekly. I haven't got special advice on that, just that you go to Confession when your conscience is worrying you about something. Some can go ten days without offending the Lord, others fifteen and others twenty. But some can only go three or four days then suddenly fall into sin; they should go more often, unless it's a case of little trifling things.

As for frequent Communion, I don't want to prescribe the time, but just remind you of a little something. Looking at my watch I see it is not too late: it is only eight minutes past nine. I can tell you this in five minutes. There was once a man who used go to Confession to St. Vincent de Paul. He did not like going to this confessor because he used to recommend frequent Communion. So he thought about changing advice and going to another confessor and told him: “I used to go to Father Vincent, but he asked me to go to Communion too often, so I have come to you to receive your advice.” This priest worked out his answer and said: “My son, start with something small: go every week, then every fortnight, then after you can go once a month.” The poor man followed this advice and after a short while he went from Communion only after Confession, then from Confession to the theatre, dancing, etc. Then once he stopped going to Confession, Communion altogether: he began to live a dissolute lifestyle. Some time went by and he was no longer as happy as he used be, his faults were bothering his conscience, and he went back to St. Vincent and said: “I see that by letting go of holy communion I have also let piety go and become worse; From now on I want to follow your advice and go to holy communion frequently.” I recommend the same to you; do this to keep your conscience clean and acquire true wisdom from the Lord. Good night.

217. Lanzo dream, or the dream of the Salesian garden

Critical ed. in Cecilia Romero, I sogni di Don Bosco. Edizione critica. Presentation by Pietro Stella. Leumann (Torino), Elle Di Ci 1978, pp. 40-4429.

Friday 22 December 1876

A plain like a perfectly calm sea, but made of shining crystal. The eye gets lost over the vast surface.

So many plants, grasses, flowers, vineyards, little woods, all kinds of flowers covering the surface. Wonderful lanes, magnificent buildings were an extra adornment. Everything was like on earth, but beautiful, unutterably so.

Instrumental music that sounded like thousands of instruments, each with a different sound, higher or lower, but all in perfect harmony. The same can be said for the voices. A huge number of people could be seen enjoying listening and taking part in singing and playing. The more one listened the more the desire grew to listen and everyone was yearning to hear more.

At a certain point all the music stopped and then many of the listeners turned to me. I was not on that marvellous plain, but nearby on a small hillock. I knew many of them. The ones who came closest were Dominic Savio, Fr Alasonatti, Fr Giulitto of whom I had thought much during the day. They were close enough to touch my hand. I was trembling and did not dare speak. The others looked at me with smiling faces as if they had wanted to say something, but nobody said a word.

Dominic Savio was dressed thus: a white tunic studded with diamonds covered him; a red sash edged in gold encircled his hips. His face was ruddy, shining, as beautiful as an angel's. In one hand he held a garland of flowers as if to give it away. I noticed a lily, rose, violet, sunflower, perennials, a stalk of wheat, gentian and others, but beautifully interwoven and of indescribable beauty.

With his free hand Savio made a sign for me to listen and began to speak like this:

“I am afraid of where I am and what I do not know; and I do not know what all this is or who I see.”

“The earth you are on now, if cultivated, will become a floor of precious stones in Heaven. These are the Lord's servants who had faith in him and now enjoy the fruits of their labour.”

“But why are you alone speaking and not the others?”

“Because I am the one who has been here longest.”

“What is this white tunic you are wearing?”

Savio went quiet and the others sang as a chorus: “Dealbaverunt stolas in sanguine Agni, ideo sunt ante tronum Dei.

“Why this sash?”

Fr Alasonatti, Fr. Chiala and others answered, singing: “Habuerunt lumbos praecinctos, virgines enim sunt, ipsi sequuntur agnum quocumque ierit.

“Is this garden the Heaven that you are enjoying?”

“Not at all. It is nothing other than material beauty; any mortal who saw supernatural light would fall dead. Would you like to see a small ray of supernatural light? Close your eyes then quickly open them again.”

As soon as I opened my eyes I saw a light from which a tiny ray like lightning flashed towards me, but so bright I cried out involuntarily as if my eyes had been pierced. A little later I opened my eyes and everything was as before …

“But tell me why this visit of yours, and first of all tell me if I am awake or dreaming.”

“Neither one nor the other. You are about to receive a strict command from the Lord and woe to you if you do not put it into practice. Some things refer to the past, others the present, and not a few to the future. Regarding the past, it is lack of faith, being too timid. Look how many souls the Oratories have brought to Heaven and we can see multitudes of them. There would have been a hundred thousand more had you had the faith that the minister of the King of kings should have.”

“But this frightens me too much: tell me something of the present.”

“For the present you have here a bouquet of flowers; take it, and give it as a gift to your sons of any age and condition, and you will ensure the Kingdom of Heaven for them.”

“But I don't understand what this means.”

“I will give you a hint: the rose is charity; the violet humility; the lily is chastity; the sunflower obedience; the perennials are for perseverance; the ivy, mortification; the stalk of wheat is Holy Communion; the gentian is penance. Each of these things must be duly and fully explained, and you will give your Salesians a finite treasure that will lead them to an infinite reward.”

“Tell me something for the future.”

“I will not say more, but the merciful God alone knows it and says this: ‘Next year you will lose six and then another two people very dear to you’; but they must be transplanted into a place of delight, the paradise of the Eternal One.

A bright dawn of glory will come forth from the Congregation to the four corners of the earth. Battles and triumphs there will be, but the soldiers will increase by many unless the leaders allow the chariot on which the Lord is seated to go off course. The time is near when good and bad alike will be astonished by the marvels that will quickly occur, but it is all mercy and everyone will be consoled.”

“What is the actual state of my boys?”

“You have to guide the children of God whom he entrusted to you and for which in time you will have to render account. Take these three sheets of papers and on each you will see what is needed.”

I took the sheets and on each of them was written as follows: Note those who are currently on the right path to heaven. And I saw many names I knew and many which in fact I did not know. The second was entitled: “Vulnerati” and it was a large number also; but not like the first. On the third one it said this: “Lassati sumus in via iniquitatis.

“You can see the names of the first two and they can be seen by the spirits. But not those of the third group. Those in Heaven, although pure spirits, would have to put up with an unbearable stench just seeing them. If you want to know the names and see them turn the page over.”

I turned the page and saw, not the names, but individuals, doing the most abhorrent things. There was a voice like thunder that deafened me: “Execrabiles viae eorum coram Deo et coram omnibus viventibus.”

And just then with that noise, I awoke. I looked up, but everything had become dark, I could not see anyone and only then I realised I was in bed, but so battered and so worn out by that dream that I could neither rest, nor think of anything else but the dream, which still torments me day and night.

218. A tranquil conscience

ASC A000303 Conferenze, Quad. III, 1877-1878, ms by Giacomo Gresino, pp. 10-13

(cf MB XIII, 427-429).
Tuesday 21 August 1877

Holidays are approaching, both for the academic students and for the trade boys: one lot to give their heads a rest, the others their shoulders and arms; but everyone will go on holidays. I need to give you some advice for these holidays. The advice I give is one only and it is that you be really free, maybe play up a bit, but to do this go to a place where God cannot see you. You all know such a place: home, bell tower, the cellar. But I don't think anyone would be such a fool as to believe that there is such a place where the Lord does not see him. And this thought of God's presence should go with us all the time, everywhere and in everything we do. Who would have the courage to do something wrong, offend the Lord, if he knows that the one he wants to offend can, right that moment before he can utter a word, dry up his tongue, or paralyse the hand that has thought to commit that sin?

You don't need to think of the Lord as all justice, inflexible. No, in fact he is all mercy, kindness, love. And just as the one who offends should fear him, so the one who can say: “I have nothing on my conscience” can be happy. And I say to this individual: go to sleep in peace, enjoy your recreation, live happily. I the one in harmony with God leads a happy life, the one who cannot say he has a good conscience ought be afraid lest God take away the time (to repent). Yesterday for example the assistant priest at Lanzo was walking in the garden with the parish priest, praising the sermon he gave; and he was happy about it because he had satisfied his listeners. Then all of a sudden the priest saw that Fr Oggero was no longer beside him and he saw him lying on the ground: “Fr Oggero, Fr Oggero!” No answer. He went and shook him: “What's the matter? Are you ok?” He was already dead. This priest had nothing to fear. He was from the Oratory and already a holy individual, but it says that one can die going for a walk, or eating, sleeping or at any moment. Likewise, not long ago, near Fr. Cagliero, at San Nicolás, the priest died. He was a parish priest who was here, visited the Oratory and I remember him. I speak of these two, but I could talk about many who have died suddenly and in all sorts of ways. So tomorrow when you leave, it could be that one of us does not come back. “Who died?” “Don Bosco.” “Oh, how come?” “He is no longer.” And what could happen to Don Bosco could happen to any one of us. If anyone is not prepared, let him do something about it, adjust matters. When someone has a tranquil conscience he can be cheerful, sleep peacefully and have peaceful dreams because he need not fear God's judgement. Good night.

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