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.
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. Following is an excerpt
from the book Dreams, Visions & Prophecies of Don Bosco edited by
Father Eugene M. Brown, Don Bosco Publications, New Rochelle, New York, 1986, pages
211-227. The Scriptural quotations are from the 1883 Douay-Rheims Bible.
Father Brown advises a word of caution in interpreting dreams. The Holy 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. And the heart fancieth as that of a woman in travail:
except it be a vision sent 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)
On Sunday night, May 3 in 1868, 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
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" (St. Matthew 25: 41) and "Every tree that yielded not good fruit,
shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the the fire." (St. 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.
"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
"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" (St. Matthew 25: 46). The walls all about were similarly
inscribed. I asked my guide if I could read them, and he consented. These were
- "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." (St. 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" (St. Mark 9: 48).
As I looked again, another boy came hurtling down into the cave at
breakneck speed. He too was from the Oratory. As 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 we 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 honor. 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) and "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 theirs, 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,
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Change life! "
Perplexed, I bowed my head and made as if to withdraw, but he held me
"You haven't seen everything yet," he explained.
He turned and lifted another curtain bearing this inscription: "They
who would become rich, full into temptation, and 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?"
"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
"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."
"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 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
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.
St. John Bosco's Journey into Hell