A Tribute to St John Bosco.
(It is his Feast Day today, 31st January, on the Tridentine Latin Mass Calendar).
What a joy to see that it was St John Bosco’s Feast Day today! This inspirational, dedicated man brought so many young, unformed souls to fullness of faith and safely into Jesus’ arms. Even today, an ‘old soul’, fighting the good fight, can learn so much from reading his amazing God-given insights. That God chose and blessed this man for a singular vision and special purpose is clear from his early life.
I had the good fortune of a fellow believer, (who is a wife and mother of seven children who are mostly now grown and all fervently practising their faith) recommend to me a book called “The Forty Dreams of St John Bosco: The Apostle of Youth” which is taken from his Biographical Memoirs. My own children have not yet been able to read much of it because their mummy can’t put it down!
St John Bosco had prophetic dreams, visions and ecstasies. When a dream is a supernatural event, the receiver of the dream knows it. But the believers who had the privilege of hearing a dream of his, also knew it. In dreams he often saw secrets of people’s consciences and future events in detail, such as deaths, which did actually then occur. One of the funniest, most convincing early dreams was when, during his childhood, he was given to know the contents of his school exams beforehand in a dream, which allowed him to pass exams-and exceptionally well at that! The teacher thought somehow that he’d been cheating as he didn’t believe his ridiculous but honest explanation that he had ‘dreamt’ what was in it. Then one day the teacher wrote a very long, hard Latin test which John finished in record time. The teacher had only enough time in class to dictate half the exam that he’d prepared the night before, and was speechless to see that John had completed the full test, down to the very last word!
Here I’ll retell just one story: the dream of the Deadly Nooses, because it is easy to remember and made quite an impact on me. It is symbolic teaching dream, not a literal one.
John Bosco was a priest who particularly cared for the education and formation of boys in the Faith. Part of his duty, therefore, is both hearing confessions and providing spiritual guidance and direction, including giving advice in regards to conquering sin. Once he dreamed that he stood amongst a large group of boys who were preparing to make a confession when he noticed many had nooses around their necks that they could not remove! Upon inspection, there were horrible beast-cats crouching behind those boys, holding the nooses tightly in place, around the boys’ necks. Some held several nooses in their paws.
St John Bosco ordered through the Holy Name of Jesus Christ that the beasts reveal the purpose of the nooses. Tortured in appearance, the monster which he questioned was forced to speak:
“Don’t you understand? I rope these boys into making bad confessions. With these nooses I drag 9/10ths of mankind into Hell.” He then revealed the specific purpose of each noose.
The first noose makes the boys conceal their sins in Confession. The second to confess without true sorrow. The third noose keeps them from making a firm resolution and from carrying out their confessor’s advice.
Later St John Bosco related the dream to the boys to teach them about sincerity, sorrow and resolution. He explained that the first noose is not only about concealing sins but also about downplaying them or not being sincere- for example by accusing yourself of having done something 3 or 4 times when you know it to be exactly four, but don’t want to sound so bad. He says that if we are to rid ourselves of these nooses and wrench them from the devil’s clutches, we must confess all our sins and be truly sorry for them. I know that sometimes I must accuse myself of not having true sorrow when I know I should! I get annoyed at myself for not being as sorry as I know I should. But I also know that we must continuously pray for the grace to be truly sorry and to grow in contrition for our sins.
The devil also revealed that he hides behind the boys so that he cannot be seen. That way it is far easier to cajole people into sin and insincerity. He lastly revealed that if we want to know whether or not we (or one of our children) are held in his leash, we will know by whether or not we (they) are becoming better.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation in which Catholics confess their sins is a very great grace. It gives us the means to conquer ourselves for the sake of Christ, in order to be truly free. Without frequent confession we do not cut ourselves off from sin and the devil, although we may kid ourselves that we have done so. Faith is true when seen in a person’s works- a holy and pure life, as an outliving of his Faith, transformed completely by the Spirit. (James 2: 14-26) When our thoughts, words or actions become wordly, selfish or not as Christ called us, we must return to Him, in word and deed, with sincerity of heart. As St Paul says, we have to continue to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
Wherefore, my dearly beloved, (as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but much more now in my absence,) with fear and trembling work out your salvation. Phillipians 2:12 (Douay Rheims Bible)
Forty Dreams of St John Bosco. Edited by Fr. J. Bacchiarello. S .D.B, Tan Books, 2007.