At the beginning of Holy Week in 1868, haunting dreams began to trouble Don Bosco, and they "went on for several miserable nights. '' "These dreams so exhausted me," he stated, "that in the morning I felt more done in than if I had been working all night. They also alarmed and upset me very much." The most frightful, but also the most salutary of these dreams occurred on Friday, April 10th. It is the account of this dream which we have reprinted below. The reader will notice that in this dream Don Bosco is accompanied by a man who acted as the Saint's guide. According to Don Bosco, it may have been an angel, a deceased pupil, St. Francis de Sales, or some other saint. Because of the extraordinary length of the original account, we have condensed it slightly. Apart from this, we are delighted to present it to you exactly as Don Bosco narrated it to his students on Sunday night, May 3rd, 1868.
The Experience of Saint John Bosco
... To Hell And Back
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.
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 scared me. However, with great effort, I finally went to bed.
Lest I should fall asleep immediately and start dreaming, I set my pillow upright against the headboard and practically sat up, but soon, in my exhaustion, I simply fell asleep. Immediately the same person of the night before appeared at my bedside.
"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 days 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."
"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 I was to do. For a moment I even lost sight of my guide and feared that I was lost, utterly alone. 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!''
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 the 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 smooth stones and at their end are hell and darkness and pain - Sir. 21, 11. 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 kept 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. 'They have spread cords for a net; by the wayside they have laid snares for me' - Ps. 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 flimsy fiber," I answered.
"A mere nothing," he said, "just plain human respect.''
Seeing that many boys were being caught in those traps, 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 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."
Means Of Escape
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 St. Joseph, to St. Aloysius, and to other saints. By these means quite a few boys were able to free themselves or evade capture.
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. 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 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. Panting, I said to my guide, "My good fellow, my legs won't carry me another step. I just can't go any farther."
"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."
(Continued Next Issue)