From the Saints of the Catholic
Saint John Bosco - Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco, a.k.a. Don Bosco, was born of poor parents in a little cabin at Becchi, a hill-side hamlet near Castelnuovo, Piedmont, Italy, on August 16, 1815. He died on January 31, 1888 and was declared "Venerable" by Pope Saint Pius X on July 21, 1907.
Pope Pius XI beatified him on June 2, 1929, thus making him "Blessed". Pope Pius XI canonized him on April 1, 1934, thus making him a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church. His major shrine is The Tomb of St John Bosco in the Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians, at Turin, Italy. His Feast Day has an Office and Mass Propers on January 31. He is the Patron Saint of Catholic editors, publishers, apprentices, schoolchildren, and young people.
The Saint was an Italian Roman Catholic Priest and educator who used teaching methods based on love rather than punishment. He placed his works under the protection of Saint Francis de Sales which became the Salesian Society.
When he was little more than two years old his father died, leaving the support of three boys to the mother, Margaret Bosco. John's early years were spent as a shepherd and he received his first instruction at the hands of the parish priest. When he was young, he would put on shows of his skills as a juggler, magician and acrobat. The price of admission to these shows was a prayer - this was never enforced, but always requested.
He possessed a ready wit, a retentive memory, and as years passed his appetite for study grew stronger. Owing to the poverty of the home, however, he was often obliged to turn from his books to the field, but the desire of what he had to give up never left him. In 1835 he entered the seminary at Chieri and after six years of study was ordained priest on the eve of Trinity Sunday by Archbishop Franzoni of Turin.
Don Bosco began as the chaplain of the Rifugio ("Refuge"), a girls' boarding school founded in Turin by the Marchioness Giulia di Barolo, but he had many ministries on the side such as visiting prisoners, teaching catechism and helping out at country parishes.
It was here that an incident occurred which opened up to him the real field of effort of his afterlife. One of his duties was to accompany Don Cafasso upon his visits to the prisons of the city, and the condition of the children confined in these places, abandoned to the most evil influences, and with little before them but the gallows, made such a indelible impression upon his mind that he resolved to devote his life to the rescue of these unfortunate outcasts.
On the eighth of December, 1841, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, while Don Bosco was vesting for Mass, the sacristan drove from the Church a ragged urchin because he refused to serve Mass. Don Bosco heard his cries and recalled him, and in the friendship which sprang up between the priest and Bartollomea Garelli was sown the first seed of the "Oratory", so called, no doubt, after the example of St. Philip Neri and because prayer was its prominent feature. Don Bosco entered eagerly upon the task of instructing thus first pupil of the streets; companions soon joined Bartholomeo, all drawn by a kindness they had never known, and in February, 1842, the Oratory numbered twenty boys, in March of the same year, thirty, and in March, 1846, four hundred.
As the number of boys increased, the question of a suitable meeting-place presented itself. In good weather walks were taken on Sundays and holidays to spots in the country to spots in the country about Turin where lunch was eaten, and realizing the charm which music held for the untamed spirits of his disciples Don Bosco organized a band for which some old brass instruments were procured. In the autumn of 1844 he was appointed assistant chaplain to the Rifugio, where Don Borel entered enthusiastically into his work. With the approval of Archbishop Franzoni, two rooms were secured adjoining the Rifugio and converted into a chapel, which was dedicated to St. Francis de Sales. The members of the Oratory now gathered at the Rifugio, and numbers of boys from the surrounding district applied for admission. It was about this time (1845) that Don Bosco began his night schools and with the closing of the factories the boys flocked to his rooms where he and Don Borel instructed them in rudimentary branches.
The success of the Oratory at the Rifugio was not of long duration. To his great distress Don Bosco was obliged to give up his rooms and from this on he was subjected to petty annoyances and obstacles which, at times, seemed to spell the ruin of his undertaking. His perseverance in the face of all difficulties led many to the conclusion that he was insane, and an attempt was even made to confine him in an asylum. Complaints were lodged against him, declaring his community to be a nuisance, owing to the character of the boys he befriended.
From the Rifugio the Oratory was moved to St. Martin's, to St. Peter's Churchyard, to three rooms in Via Cottolengo, where the night schools were resumed, to an open field, and finally to a rough shed upon the site of which grew up an Oratory that counted seven hundred members, Don Bosco took lodgings nearby, where he was joined by his mother. "Mama Margaret", as Don Bosco's mother came to be known, gave the last ten years of her life in devoted service to the little inmates of this first Salesian home. When she joined her son at the Oratory the outlook was not bright.
But sacrificing what small means she had, even to parting with her home, its furnishings, and her jewelry, she brought all the solicitude and love of a mother to these children of the streets. The evening classes increased and gradually dormitories were provided for many who desired to live at the Oratory. Thus was founded the first Salesian Home which now houses about one thousand boys.
The municipal authorities by this time had come to recognize the importance of the work which Don Bosco was doing, and he began with much success a fund for the erection of technical schools and workshops. These were all completed without serious difficulty. In 1868 to meet the needs of the Valdocco quarter of Turin, Don Bosco resolved to build a church. Accordingly a plan was drawn in the form of a cross covering an area of 1,500 sq. yards. He experienced considerable difficulty in raising the necessary money, but the charity of some friends finally enabled him to complete it at a cost of more than a million francs (about 200,000). The church was consecrated on June 9, 1868, and placed under the patronage of Our Lady, Help of Christians. In the same year in which Don Bosco began the erection of the church fifty priests and teachers who had been assisting him formed a society under a common rule which Pius IX, provisionally in 1869, and finally in 1874, approved.
Character and Growth of the Oratory
Any attempt to explain the popularity of the Oratory among the classes to which Don Bosco devoted his life would fail without an appreciation of his spirit which was its life. From his earliest involvement with poor boys he had never failed to see under the dirt, the rags, and the uncouthness the spark which a little kindness and encouragement would fan into a flame. In his vision or dream which he is said to have had in his early boyhood, wherein it was disclosed to him what his lifework would be, a voice said to him: "Not with blows, but with charity and gentleness must you draw these friends to the path of virtue."
And whether this be accounted as nothing more than a dream, that was in reality the spirit with which he animated his Oratory. In the earlier days when the number of his little disciples was slender he drew them about him by means of small presents and attractions, and by pleasant walks to favorite spots in the environs of Turin. These excursions occurring on Sunday, Don Bosco would say Mass in the village church and give a short instruction on the Gospel; breakfast would then be eaten, followed by games; and in the afternoon Vespers would he chanted, a lesson in Catechism given, and the Rosary recited. It was a familiar sight to see him in the field surrounded by kneeling boys preparing for confession.
Don Bosco's method of study knew nothing of punishment. Observance of rules was obtained by instilling a true sense of duty, by removing assiduously all occasions for disobedience, and by allowing no effort towards virtue, how trivial soever it might be, to pass unappreciated. He held that the teacher should be father, adviser, and friend, and he was the first to adopt the preventive method.
Of punishment he said: "As far as possible avoid punishing . . . . try to gain love before inspiring fear." And in 1887 he wrote: "I do not remember to have used formal punishment; and with God's grace I have always obtained, and from apparently hopeless children, not alone what duty exacted, but what my wish simply expressed."
In one of his books he has discussed the causes of weakness of character, and derives them largely from a misdirected kindness in the rearing of children. Parents make a parade of precocious talents: the child understands quickly, and his sensitiveness enraptures all who meet him, but the parents have only succeeded in producing all affectionate, perfected, intelligent animal.
The chief object should be to form the will and to temper the character. In all his pupils Don Bosco tried to cultivate a taste for music, believing it to be a powerful and refining influence. "Instruction", he said, "is but an accessory, like a game; knowledge never makes a man because it does not directly touch the heart. It gives more power in the exercise of good or evil; but alone it is an indifferent weapon, wanting guidance."
He studied the aptitudes and vocations of his pupils, and to an almost supernatural quickness and clearness of insight into the hearts of children must be ascribed to no small part of his success. In his rules lie wrote:
"Frequent Confession, frequent Communion, daily Mass: these are the pillars which should sustain the whole edifice of education."Don Bosco was an indefatigable confessor, devoting days to the work among his children. He recognized that gentleness and persuasion alone were not enough to bring to the task of education. He thoroughly believed in play as a means of arousing childish curiosity - more than this, he placed it among his first recommendations, and for the rest he adopted St. Philip Neri's words: "Do as you wish, I do not care so long as you do not sin."
At the time of Don Bosco's death in 1888 there were 250 houses of the Salesian Society in all parts of the world, containing 130,000 children, and from which there annually went out 18,000 finished apprentices. In the motherhouse Don Bosco had selected the brightest of his pupils, taught them Italian, Latin, French, and mathematics, and this band formed a teaching corps for the new homes which quickly grew up in other places. Up to 1888 over six thousand priests had gone forth from Don Bosco's institutions, 1,200 of whom had remained in the society.
A Few Quotes
A Special "Thank You" to C.N. for this Submission!
Dreams and Visions of Saint John Bosco: H E L L
Many of the dreams of St. John Bosco could more properly be called visions, for God used this means to reveal His will for the Saint and for the boys of the Oratory, as well as the future of the Salesian Congregation. Not only did his dreams lead and direct the Saint, they also gave him wisdom and guidance by which he was able to help and guide others upon their ways. He was just nine years of age when he had his first dream that laid out his life mission.
It was this dream that impressed Pope Pius IX so much that he ordered St. John Bosco to write down his dreams for the encouragement of his Congregation and the rest of us.
Through dreams, God allowed him to know the future of each of the boys of his Oratory. Through dreams, God let him know the boys' state of their souls. On February 1, 1865, St. John Bosco announced that one of the boys will die soon. He knew the boy through the dream the night before. On March 16, 1865, Anthony Ferraris passed away after receiving the Last Sacraments. John Bisio, who helped Anthony and his mother during the former's last hour, confirmed the story of his part in this episode by a formal oath, concluding as follows:
"Don Bosco told us many other dreams concerning Oratory boys' deaths. We believed them to be true prophecies. We still do, because unfailingly they came true. During the seven years I lived at the Oratory, not a boy died without Don Bosco predicting his death. We were also convinced that whoever died there under his care and assistance surely went to heaven." (p. 201)St. John Bosco had many dreams of prophecies concerning the future of the Roman Catholic Church and of his Congregation. For now, we take an excerpt from the book Dreams, Visions & Prophecies of Don Bosco edited by Rev. Eugene M. Brown, Don Bosco Publications, New Rochelle, New York, 1986, pp. 211-227. The Scriptural quotations are from the 1883 Douay-Rheims Bible.
One word of caution in interpreting dreams. Sacred Scripture tells us not to put our trust in dreams unless they come from God.
The dreams of evil doers are just vanity. They are deceitful because true visions cannot come from falsehood. Vision of dreams resembles a mirror. When a soiled face appears in front of a mirror, the latter reflects a soiled face, not a clean face: The hopes of a man that is void of understanding are vain and deceitful: and dreams lift up fools. The man that giveth heed to lying visions, is like to him that catcheth at a shadow, and followeth after the wind. The vision of dreams is the resemblance of one thing to another: as when a man's likeness is before the face of a man. What truth can come from that which is false? Deceitful divinations, and lying omens, and the dreams of evil doers, are vanity. The heart fancieth as that of a woman in travail: except it is a vision forth from the Most High, set not thy heart upon them. For dreams have deceived many, and they have failed that put their trust in them. (Ecclesiasticus 34: 1-7)
Vision of Hell
On Sunday night, May 3 , the feast of Saint Joseph's patronage, Don Bosco resumed the narration of his dreams: I have another dream to tell you, a sort of aftermath of those I told you last Thursday and Friday which totally exhausted me. Call them dreams or whatever you like. Always, as you know, on the night of April 17 a frightful toad seemed bent on devouring me. When it finally vanished, a voice said to me: "Why don't you tell them?" I turned in that direction and saw a distinguished person standing by my bed. Feeling guilty about my silence, I asked: "What should I tell my boys?" "What you have seen and heard in your last dreams and what you have wanted to know and shall have revealed to you tomorrow night!" He then vanished.
I spent the whole next day worrying about the miserable night in store for me, and when evening came, loath to go to bed, I sat at my desk browsing through books until midnight. The mere thought of having more nightmares thoroughly scare me. However, with great effort, I finally went to bed. "Get up and follow me!" he said. "For Heaven's sake," I protested, "leave me alone. I am exhausted! I've been tormented by a toothache for several day now and need rest. Besides, nightmares have completely worn me out." I said this because this man's apparition always means trouble, fatigue, and terror for me.
"Get up," he repeated. "You have no time to lose." I complied and followed him. "Where are you taking me?" I asked. "Never mind. You'll see." He led me to a vast, boundless plain, veritably a lifeless desert, with not a soul in sight or a tree or brook. Yellowed, dried-up vegetation added to the desolation I had no idea where I was or what was I to do.
For a moment I even lost sight of my guide and feared that I was lost, utterly alone. Father Rua, Father Francesia, nowhere to be seen. When I finally saw my friend coming toward me, I sighed in relief. "Where am I?" I asked. "Come with me and you will find out!" "All right. I'll go with you." He led the way and I followed in silence, but after a long, dismal trudge, I began worrying whether I would ever be able to cross that vast expanse, what with my toothache and swollen legs. Suddenly I saw a road ahead. "Where to now?" I asked my guide. "This way," he replied.
We took the road. It was beautiful, wide, and neatly paved. "The way of sinners is made plain with stones, and in their end is hell, and darkness, and pains. " (Ecclesiasticus 21: 11, stones: broad and easy.) Both sides were lined with magnificent verdant hedges dotted with gorgeous flowers. Roses, especially, peeped everywhere through the leaves.
At first glance, the road was level and comfortable, and so I ventured upon it without the least suspicion, but soon I noticed that it insensibly kept sloping downward. Though it did not look steep at all, I found myself moving so swiftly that I felt I was effortlessly gliding through the air. Really, I was gliding and hardly using my feet.
Then the thought struck me that the return trip would be very long and arduous. "How shall we get back to the Oratory?" I asked worriedly. "Do not worry," he answered. "The Almighty wants you to go. He who leads you on will also know how to lead you back." The road is sloping downward. As we were continuing on our way, flanked by banks of roses and other flowers, I became aware that the Oratory boys and very many others whom I did not know were following me. Somehow I found myself in their midst. As I was looking at them, I noticed now one, now another fall to the ground and instantly be dragged by an unseen force toward a frightful drop, distantly visible, which sloped into a furnace.
"What makes these boys fall?" I asked my companion. "The proud have hidden a net for me. And they have stretched out cords for a snare: they have laid for me a stumbling-block by the wayside." (Psalms 139: 6) "Take a closer look," he replied. I did. Traps were everywhere, some close to the ground, others at eye level, but all well concealed. Unaware of their danger, many boys got caught, and they tripped, they would sprawl to the ground, legs in the air. Then, when they managed to get back on their feet, they would run headlong down the road toward the abyss. Some got trapped by the head, others by the neck, hand, arms, legs, or sides, and were pulled down instantly.
The ground traps, fine as spiders' webs and hardly visible, seemed very flimsy and harmless; yet, to my surprise, every boy they snared fell to the ground. Noticing my astonishment, the guide remarked, "Do you know what this is?" "Just some filmy fiber," I answered. "A mere nothing," he said, "just plain human respect.", Seeing that many boys were being caught in those straps. I asked, "Why do so many get caught? Who pulls them down?" "Go nearer and you will see!" he told me. I followed his advice but saw nothing peculiar. "Look closer," he insisted. I picked up one of the traps and tugged. I immediately felt some resistance. I pulled harder, only to feel that, instead of drawing the thread closer, I was being pulled down myself.
I did not resist and soon found myself at the mouth of a frightful cave. I halted, unwilling to venture into that deep cavern, and again started pulling the thread toward me. It gave a little, but only through great effort on my part. I kept tugging, and after a long while a huge, hideous monster emerged, clutching a rope to which all those traps were tied together. He was the one who instantly dragged down anyone who got caught in them. It won't do to match my strength with his, I said to myself. I'll certainly lose. I'd better fight him with the Sign of the Cross and with short invocations. Then I went back to my guide. "Now you know who he is," he said to me. "I surely do! It is the devil himself!"
Carefully examining many of the traps, I saw that each bore an inscription: Pride, Disobedience, Envy, Sixth Commandment, Theft, Gluttony, Sloth, Anger and so on. Stepping back a bit to see which ones trapped the greater number of boys, I discovered that the most dangerous were those of impurity, disobedience, and pride. In fact, these three were linked to together. Many other traps also did great harm, but not as much as the first two. Still watching, I noticed many boys running faster than others. "Why such haste?" I asked. "Because they are dragged by the snare of human respect."
Looking even more closely, I spotted knives among the traps. A providential hand had put them there for cutting oneself free. The bigger ones, symbolizing meditation, were for use against the trap of pride; others, not quite as big, symbolized spiritual reading well made. There were also two swords representing devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, especially through frequent Holy Communion, and to the Blessed Virgin.
There was also a hammer symbolizing confession, and other knives signifying devotion to Saint Joseph, to Saint Aloysius, and to other Saints. By these means quite a few boys were able to free themselves or evade capture. Indeed I saw some lads walking safely through all those traps, either by good timing before the trap sprung on them or by making it slip off them if they got caught. When my guide was satisfied that I had observed everything, he made me continue along that rose-hedged road, but the farther we went the scarcer the roses became. Long thorns began to show up, and soon the roses were no more. The hedges became sun-scorched, leafless, and thorn-studded. Withered branches torn from the bushes lay criss-crossed along the roadbed, littering it with thorns and making it impassable.
We had come now to a gulch whose steep sides hid what lay beyond. The road, still sloping downward, was becoming ever more horrid, rutted, guttered, and bristling with rocks and boulders. I lost track of all my boys, most of whom had left this treacherous road for other paths. I kept going, but the farther I advanced, the more arduous and steep became the descent, so that I tumbled and fell several times, lying prostrate until I could catch my breath. Now and then my guide supported me or helped me to rise. At every step my joints seemed to give way, and I thought my shinbones would snap. Panting, I said to my guide, "My good fellow, my legs won't carry me another step. I just can't go any farther." He did not answer but continued walking. Taking heart, I followed until, seeing me soaked in perspiration and thoroughly exhausted, he led me to a little clearing alongside the road. I sat down, took a deep breath, and felt a little better.
From my resting place, the road I had already traveled looked very steep, jagged, and strewn with loose stones, but what lay ahead seemed so much worse that I closed my eyes in horror. "Let's go back," I pleaded. "If we go any farther, how shall we ever get back to the Oratory? I will never make it up this slope." "Now that we have come so far, do you want me to leave you here?" my guide sternly asked. At this threat, I wailed, "How can I survive without your help?" "Then follow me."
We continued our descent, the road now becoming so frightfully steep that it was almost impossible to stand erect. And then, at the bottom of this precipice, at the entrance of a dark valley, an enormous building loomed into sight, its towering portal, tightly locked, facing our road. When I finally got to the bottom, I became smothered by a suffocating heat, while a greasy, green-tinted smoke lit by flashes of scarlet flames rose from behind those enormous walls which loomed higher than mountains.
"Where are we? What is this?" I asked my guide. "Read the inscription on that portal and you will know." I looked up and read these words: "The place of no reprieve." I realized that we were at the gates of Hell. The guide led me all around this horrible place. At regular distance bronze portals like the first overlooked precipitous descents; on each was an inscription, such as: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matthew 25: 41) "Every tree that yielded not good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire." (Matthew 7: 19) I tried to copy them into my notebook, but my guide restrained me: "There is no need. You have them all in Holy Scripture. You even have some of them inscribed in your porticoes." At such a sight I wanted to turn back and return to the Oratory. As a matter of fact, I did start back, but my guide ignored my attempt.
After trudging through a steep, never-ending ravine, we again came to the foot of the precipice facing the first portal. Suddenly the guide turned to me. Upset and startled, he motioned to me to step aside. "Look!" he said. I looked up in terror and saw in the distance someone racing down the path at an uncontrollable speed. I kept my eyes on him, trying to identify him, and as he got closer, I recognized him as one of my boys. His disheveled hair was partly standing upright on his head and partly tossed back by the wind. His arms were outstretched as though he were thrashing the water in an attempt to stay afloat. He wanted to stop, but could not. Tripping on the protruding stones, he kept falling even faster.
"Let's help him, let's stop him," I shouted, holding out my hands in a vain effort to restrain him. "Leave him alone," the guide replied. "Why?" "Don't you know how terrible God's vengeance is? Do you think you can restrain one who is fleeing from His just wrath?" Meanwhile the youth had turned his fiery gaze backward in an attempt to see if God's wrath were still pursuing him. The next moment he fell tumbling to the bottom of the ravine and crashed against the bronze portal as though he could find no better refuge in his flight. "Why was he looking backward in terror?" I asked. "Because God's wrath will pierce Hell's gates to reach and torment him even in the midst of fire!" As the boy crashed into the portal, it sprang open with a roar, and instantly a thousand inner portals opened with a deafening clamor as if struck by a body that had been propelled by an invisible, most violent, irresistible gale.
As these bronze doors -- one behind the other, though at a considerable distance from each other -- remained momentarily open, I saw far into the distance something like furnace jaws sprouting fiery balls the moment the youth hurtled into it. As swiftly as they had opened, the portals then clanged shut again.
For a third time I tried to jot down the name of that unfortunate lad, but the guide again restrained me. "Wait," he ordered. "Watch!" Three other boys of ours, screaming in terror and with arms outstretched, were rolling down one behind the other like massive rocks, I recognized them as they too crashed against the portal. In that split second, it sprang open and so did the other thousand. The three lads were sucked into that endless corridor amid a long-drawn, fading, infernal echo, and then the portals clanged shut again. At intervals, many other lads came tumbling down after them. I saw one unlucky boy being pushed down the slope by an evil companion. Others fell singly or with others, arm in arm or side by side. Each of them bore the name of his sin on his forehead. I kept calling to them as they hurtled down, but they did not hear me. Again the portals would open thunderously and slam shut with a rumble. Then, dead silence! "Bad companions, bad books, and bad habits," my guide exclaimed, "are mainly responsible for so many eternally lost."
The traps I had seen earlier were indeed dragging the boys to ruin. Seeing so many going to perdition, I cried out disconsolately, "If so many of our boys end up this way, we are working in vain. How can we prevent such tragedies?" "This is their present state," my guide replied, "and that is where they would go if they were to die now." "Then let me jot down their names so that I may warn them and put them back on the path to Heaven." "Do you really believe that some of them would reform if you were to warn them? Then and there your warning might impress them, but soon they will forget it, saying, 'It was just a dream,' and they will do worse than before. Others, realizing they have been unmasked, receive the sacraments, but this will be neither spontaneous nor meritorious; others will go to confession because of a momentary fear of Hell but will still be attached to sin."
"Then is there no way to save these unfortunate lads? Please, tell me what I can do for them."
"They have superiors; let them obey them. They have rules; let them observe them. They have the sacraments; let them receive them." Just then a new group of boys came hurtling down and the portals momentarily opened. "Let's go in," the guide said to me. I pulled back in horror. I could not wait to rush back to the Oratory to warn the boys lest others might be lost as well. "Come," my guide insisted. "You'll learn much. But first tell me: Do you wish to go alone or with me?" He asked this to make me realize that I was not brave enough and therefore needed his friendly assistance. "Alone inside that horrible place?" I replied. "How will I ever be able to find my way out without your help?" Then a thought came to my mind and aroused my courage. Before one is condemned to Hell, I said to myself, he must be judged. And I haven't been judged yet! "Let's go," I exclaimed resolutely.
We entered that narrow, horrible corridor and whizzed through it with lightning speed. Threatening inscriptions shone eerily over all the inner gateways. The last one opened into a vast, grim courtyard with a large, unbelievably forbidding entrance at the far end. Above it stood this inscription: "These shall go into everlasting punishment." (Matthew 25: 46) The walls all about were similarly inscribed. I asked my guide if I could read them, and he consented. These were the inscriptions: "He will give fire, and worms into their flesh, and they may burn and may feel forever." (Judith 16: 21) "The pool of fire where both the beast and the false prophet shall be tormented day and night forever and ever." (Apocalypse 20: 9-10) "And the smoke of their torments shall ascend up forever and ever." (Apocalypse 14: 11) "A land of misery and darkness, where the shadow of death, and no order, but everlasting horror dwelleth." (Job 10: 22) "There is no peace to the wicked." (Isaias 47: 22) "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 8:12)
While I moved from one inscription to another, my guide, who had stood in the center of the courtyard, came up to me. "From here on," he said, "no one may have a helpful companion, a comforting friend, a loving heart, a compassionate glance, or a benevolent word. All this is gone forever. Do you just want to see or would you rather experience these things yourself?" "I only want to see!" I answered. "Then come with me," my friend added, and, taking me in tow, he stepped through that gate into a corridor at whose far end stood an observation platform, closed by a huge, single crystal pane reaching from the pavement to the ceiling. As soon as I crossed its threshold, I felt an indescribable terror and dared not take another step.
Ahead of me I could see something like an immense cave which gradually disappeared into recesses sunk far into the bowels of the mountains. They were all ablaze, but theirs was not an earthly fire with leaping tongues of flames. The entire cave --walls, ceiling, floor, iron, stones, wood, and coal -- everything was a glowing white at temperatures of thousands of degrees. Yet the fire did not incinerate, did not consume. I simply can't find words to describe the cavern's horror. "The nourishment thereof is fire and much wood: the breath of the Lord as a torrent of brimstone kindling it." (Isaias 30: 33) I was staring in bewilderment about me when a lad dashed out of a gate. Seemingly unaware of anything else, he emitted a most shrilling scream, like one who is about to fall into a cauldron of liquid bronze, and plummeted into the center of the cave. Instantly he too became incandescent and perfectly motionless, while the echo of his dying wail lingered for an instant more. Terribly frightened, I stared briefly at him for a while. He seemed to be one of my Oratory boys. "Isn't he so and so?" I asked my guide. "Yes," was the answer. "Why is he so still, so incandescent?" "You chose to see," he replied. "Be satisfied with that. Just keep looking. Besides, "Everyone shall be salted with fire." (Mark 9: 48)
As I looked again, another boy came hurtling down into the cave at breakneck speed. He too was from the Oratory. A he fell, so he remained. He too emitted one single heart-rending shriek that blended with the last echo of the scream that came from the youth who had preceded him. Other boys kept hurtling in the same way in increasing numbers, all screaming the same way and then all becoming equally motionless and incandescent. I noticed that the first seemed frozen to the spot, one hand and one foot raised into the air; the second boy seemed bent almost double to the floor. Others stood or hung in various other positions, balancing themselves on one foot or hand, sitting or lying on their backs or on their sides, standing or kneeling, hands clutching their hair. Briefly, the scene resembled a large statuary group of youngsters cast into ever more painful postures. Other lads hurtled into that same furnace. Some I knew; others were strangers to me. I then recalled what is written in the Bible to the effect that as one falls into Hell, so he shall forever remain. ". . . in what place soever it shall fall, there shall it be." (Ecclesiastes 11:3)
More frightened than ever, I asked my guide, "When these boys come dashing into this cave, don't they know where they are going?" "They surely do. They have been warned a thousand times, but they still choose to rush into the fire because they do not detest sin and are loath to forsake it. Furthermore, they despise and reject God's incessant, merciful invitations to do penance. Thus provoked, Divine Justice harries them, hounds them, and goads them on so that they cannot halt until the reach this place." "Oh, how miserable these unfortunate boys must feel in knowing they no longer have any hope," I exclaimed. "If you really want to know their innermost frenzy and fury, go a little closer," my guide remarked. I took a few steps forward and saw that many of those poor wretches were savagely striking at each other like mad dogs. Others were clawing their own faces and hands, tearing their own flesh and spitefully throwing it about. Just then the entire ceiling of the cave became as transparent as crystal and revealed a patch of Heaven and their radiant companions safe for all eternity. The poor wretches, fuming and panting with envy, burned with rage because they had once ridiculed the just. "The wicked shall see, and be angry, he shall gnash with his teeth, and pine away. . . " (Psalms 111: 10)
"Why do hear no sound?" I asked my guide, "Go closer!" he advised. Pressing my ear to the crystal window, I heard screams and sobs, blasphemies and imprecations against the Saints. It was a tumult of voices and cries, shrill and confused. "When they recall the happy lot of their good companions," he replied, "they are obliged to admit: "We fools esteemed their life madness, and their end without honour. Behold, how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints. Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined unto us, and the sun of understanding hath not risen upon us." (Wisdom 5:4-6) "We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways, but the way of the Lord we have not known. What hath pride profited us ? or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us ? All those things are passed away like a shadow." (Wisdom 5: 7-9) "Here time is no more. Here is only eternity."
While I viewed the condition of many of my boys in utter terror, a thought suddenly struck me. "How can these boys be damned?" I asked. "Last night they were still alive at the Oratory!" "The boys you see here," he answered, "are all dead to God's grace. Were they to die now or persist in their evil ways, they would be damned. But we are wasting time. Let us go on."
He led me away and we went down through a corridor into a lower cavern, at whose entrance I read: "Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched." (Isaias 66: 24) "He will give fire, and worms into their flesh, and they may burn and may feel forever." (Judith 16: 21) Here one could see how atrocious was the remorse of those who had been pupils in our schools. What a torment was their, to remember each unforgiven sin and its just punishment, the countless, even extraordinary means they had had to mend their ways, persevere in virtue, and earn paradise, and their lack of response to the many favors promised and bestowed by the Virgin Mary.
What a torture to think that they could have been saved so easily, yet now are irredeemably lost, and to remember the many good resolutions made and never kept. Hell is indeed paved with good intentions! In this lower cavern I again saw those Oratory boys who had fallen into the fiery furnace. Some are listening to me right now; others are former pupils or even strangers to me. I drew closer to them and noticed that they were all covered with worms and vermin which gnawed at their vitals, hearts, eyes, hands, legs, and entire bodies so ferociously as to defy description.
Helpless and motionless, they were a prey to every kind of torment. Hoping I might be able to speak with them or to hear something from them, I drew even closer but no one spoke or even looked at me. I then asked my guide why, and he explained that the damned are totally deprived of freedom. Each must fully endure his own punishment, with absolutely no reprieve whatever.
"And now," he added, "you too must enter that cavern." "Oh, no!" I objected in terror. "Before going to Hell, one has to be judged. I have not been judged yet, and so I will not go to Hell!" "Listen," he said, "what would you rather do: visit Hell and save your boys, or stay outside and leave them in agony?"
For a moment I was struck speechless. "Of course I love my boys and wish to save them all," I replied, "but isn't there some other way out?" "Yes, there is a way," he went on, "provided you do all you can." I breathed more easily and instantly said to myself, I don 't mind slaving if I can rescue these beloved sons of mine from such torments.
"Come inside then," my friend went on, "and see how our good, almighty God lovingly provides a thousand means for guiding your boys to penance and saving them from everlasting death."
Taking my hand, he led me into the cave. As I stepped in, I found myself suddenly transported into a magnificent hall whose curtained glass doors concealed more entrances. Above one of them I read this inscription: The Sixth Commandment. Pointing to it, my guide exclaimed, "Transgressions of this commandment caused the eternal ruin of many boys." "Didn't they go to confession?"
"They did, but they either omitted or insufficiently confessed the sins against the beautiful virtue of purity, saying for instance that they had committed such sins two or three times when it was four or five. Other boys may have fallen into that sin but once in their childhood, and, through shame, never confessed it or did so insufficiently. Others were not truly sorry or sincere in their resolve to avoid it in the future. There were even some who, rather than examine their conscience, spent their time trying to figure out how best to deceive their confessor. Anyone dying in this frame of mind chooses to be among the damned, and so he is doomed for all eternity. Only those who die truly repentant shall be eternally happy. Now do you want to see why our merciful God brought you here?"
He lifted the curtain and I saw a group of Oratory boys -- all known to me who were there because of this sin. Among them were some whose conduct seems to be good. "Now you will surely let me take down their names so that I may warn them individually," I exclaimed. "Then what do you suggest I tell them?"
"Always preach against immodesty. A generic warning will suffice. Bear in mind that even if you did admonish them individually, they would promise, but not always in earnest. For a firm resolution, one needs God's grace which will not be denied to your boys if they pray. God manifests His power especially by being merciful and forgiving. On your part, pray and make sacrifices."
As for the boys, let them listen to your admonitions and consult their conscience. It will tell them what to do." We spent the next half hour discussing the requisites of a good confession. Afterward, my guide several times exclaimed in a loud voice, "Avertere! Avertere!" "What do you mean?" I asked. "Change life! " Perplexed, I bowed my head and made as if to withdraw, but he held me back. "You haven't seen everything yet," he explained.
He turned and lifted another curtain bearing this inscription: "They who would become rich, fall into temptation, and to the snare of the devil." (1 Timothy 6: 9) (Note: would become rich: wish to become rich, seek riches, set their heart and affections toward riches.) "This does not apply to my boys! I countered, "because they are as poor as I am. We are not rich and do not want to be. We give it no thought." As the curtain was lifted, however, I saw a group of boys, all known to me. They were in pain, like those I had seen before. Pointing to them, my guide remarked, "As you see, the inscription does apply to your boys." "But how?" I asked. "Well," he said, "some boys are so attached to material possessions that their love of God is lessened. Thus they sin against charity, piety, and meekness. Even the mere desire of riches can corrupt the heart, especially if such a desire leads to injustice. Your boys are poor, but remember that greed and idleness are bad counselors. One of your boys committed substantial thefts in his native town, and though he could make restitution, he gives it not a thought. There are others who try to break into the pantry or the prefect's or economer's office; those who rummage in their companions' trunks for food, money, or possessions; those who steal stationery and books...."
After naming these boys and others as well, he continued, "Some are here for having stolen clothes, linen, blankets, and coats from the Oratory wardrobe in order to send them home to their families; others for willful, serious damage; others, yet, for not having given back what they had borrowed or for having kept sums of money they were supposed to hand over to the superior. Now that you know who these boys are," he concluded, "admonish them. Tell them to curb all vain, harmful desires, to obey God's law and to safeguard their reputation jealously lest greed lead them to greater excesses and plunge them into sorrow, death, and damnation."
I couldn't understand why such dreadful punishments should be meted out for infractions that boys thought so little of, but my guide shook me out of my thoughts by saying: "Recall what you were told when you saw those spoiled grapes on the wine." With these words he lifted another curtain which hid many of our Oratory boys, all of whom I recognized instantly. The inscription on the curtain read: The root of all evils. "Do you know what that means?" he asked me immediately. "What sin does that refer to?" "Pride?" "No!" "And yet I have always heard that pride is the root of all evil." "It is, generally speaking, but, specifically, do you know what led Adam and Eve to commit the first sin for which they were driven away from their earthly paradise?" "Disobedience?" "Exactly! Disobedience is the root of all evil." "What shall I tell my boys about it?" "Listen carefully: the boys you see here are those who prepare such a tragic end for themselves by being disobedient. So-and-so and so-and-so, who you think went to bed, leave the dormitory later in the night to roam about the playground, and, contrary to orders, they stray into dangerous areas and up scaffolds, endangering even their lives.
Others go to church, but, ignoring recommendations, they misbehave; instead of praying, they daydream or cause a disturbance. There are also those who make themselves comfortable so as to doze off during church services, and those who only make believe they are going to church. Woe to those who neglect prayer! He who does not pray dooms himself to perdition. Some are here because, instead of singing hymns or saying the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, they read frivolous or -- worse yet -- forbidden books." He then went on mentioning other serious breaches of discipline.
When he was done, I was deeply moved. "May I mention all these things to my boys?" I asked, looking at him straight in the eye. "Yes, you may tell them whatever you remember." "What advice shall I give them to safeguard them from such a tragedy?"
"Keep telling them that by obeying God, the Church, their parents, and their superiors, even in little things, they will be saved." "Anything else?" "Warn them against idleness. Because of idleness David fell into sin. Tell them to keep busy at all times, because the devil will not then have a chance to tempt them." I bowed my head and promised. Faint with dismay, I could only mutter, "Thanks for having been so good to me. Now, please lead me out of here."
"All right, then, come with me." Encouragingly he took my hand and held me up because I could hardly stand on my feet. Leaving that hall, in no time at all we retraced our steps through that horrible courtyard and the long corridor. But as soon as we stepped across the last bronze portal, he turned to me and said, "Now that you have seen what others suffer, you too must experience a touch of Hell." "No, no!" I cried in terror. He insisted, but I kept refusing.
"Do not be afraid," he told me; "just try it. Touch this wall." I could not muster enough courage and tried to get away, but he held me back. "Try it," he insisted. Gripping my arm firmly, he pulled me to the wall.
"Only one touch," he cornmanded, "so that you may say you have both seen and touched the walls of eternal suffering and that you may understand what the last wall must be like if the first is so unendurable.
Look at this wall!" I did intently. It seemed incredibly thick.
"There are a thousand walls between this and the real fire of Hell," my guide continued.
"A thousand walls encompass it, each a thousand measures thick and equally distant from the next one. Each measure is a thousand miles. This wall therefore is millions and millions of miles from Hell's real fire. It is just a remote rim of Hell itself."
When he said this, I instinctively pulled back, but he seized my hand, forced it open, and pressed it against the first of the thousand walls.
The sensation was so utterly excruciating that I leaped back with a scream and found myself sitting up in bed. My hand was stinging and I kept rubbing it to ease the pain.
When I got up this morning I noticed that it was swollen. Having my hand pressed against the wall, though only in a dream, felt so real that, later, the skin of my palm peeled off.
Bear in mind that I have tried not to frighten you very much, and so I have not described these things in all their horror as I saw them and as they impressed me.
We know that Our Lord always portrayed Hell in symbols because, had He described it as it really is, we would not have understood Him. No mortal can comprehend these things. The Lord knows them and He reveals them to whomever He wills.
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