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The Experience of Saint John Bosco

To Hell and Back

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 3, 1868.

Continued from Issue 24

"What advice shall I give them to safeguard them from such a tragedy (of going to hell)?"

"Keep telling them that by obeying God, the Church, their parents, and their superiors, even in little things, they will be saved. Warn them against idleness. 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 commanded, "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.