St. John Bosco (1815–1888) was born in Italy to a poor farming family. His father died when he was two, leaving his religious instruction to his pious mother. At the age of nine he had his first of many powerful visions which would come throughout his life. In it Jesus and the Virgin Mary showed him that he was to instruct poor, wayward boys and bring them back to God. John eventually joined the priesthood, paying his way through school with odd jobs. As a priest he began ministering to the poor and neglected boys of Turin, Italy, who were driven to desperate conditions in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Many of these street boys ended up in prison as teenagers. Don Bosco became a mentor and spiritual director to them, inspiring them to a life of virtue and saving many from a future of crime and poverty. He met with them as a group – called the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales – and catechised them as a kindly spiritual father. He also established the Salesians of Don Bosco, priests who minister to and educate boys under the patronage of the great spiritual director, St. Francis de Sales. Don Bosco is the patron saint of boys, labourers, young people and students. His feast day is 31st January.
By Mary O’Regan on the Catholic Herald
The saint whose feast we celebrate today discovered his vocation in his sleep.
Does God communicate with us through our dreams? St John Bosco thought so: he was shown God’s plan for his life in a dream when he was only nine years old. The vivid dream remained etched in his mind for his entire life.
The young John had dreamed that he was in a yard not far from his home in the hilly Italian countryside. The yard was full of poverty-stricken boys who were blaspheming and swearing. Wanting to stop them mouthing “these evil words”, John ran at them and struck them with his fists.
He was interrupted from throwing punches by a man in a white cloak whose face shone so much that young John could hardly look at him. The man said: “You will have to win these friends of yours not by blows but by gentleness and love… I want you to teach them the ugliness of sin.”
In the dream John admitted to the man that he was perplexed. He said he didn’t know how he could ever influence such a great number of boys and he told the man he didn’t know who he was talking to.
The man said: “I will give you a teacher, under her guidance you could become wise. Without her all ‘wisdom’ is foolishness… I am her Son… Ask my Mother what my name is.”
Suddenly Our Lady appeared, draped in a white mantle that seemed speckled with stars.
Our Lady took John’s hand and said: “Look!” Around them, in the place of the children were goats, dogs, cats and bears. Our Lady explained: “This is your work… What you will see happening to these wild animals is what you must do for my children.”
In the blink of an eye the wild beasts had turned into playful lambs frolicking around Our Lady and John. She assured the boy: “In good time you will understand everything.”
The dream revealed John’s vocation. When he grew up he dedicated his life to rescuing and educating abandoned children and young offenders.
Until his death on January 31, 1888, John continued to have dreams that were really masterclasses in divine instruction.
Many of John’s dreams concerned the boys he was teaching and the state of their souls. He dreamt that when the boys knelt in the confessional they came under the influence of certain bad angels and began holding back sins when they made their confessions.
Following these dreams, St John Bosco warned the children in his care that if they were going to go to Confession, they either had to make thorough ones or not confess at all.
Mother Angelica made a programme in which she described a dream where John was escorted by St Dominic Savio to a supremely beautiful, heavenly place, which was not in fact heaven. St Dominic showed John hordes of boys in white whose souls had gone there because they had been his charges.
Initially, John was delighted that his efforts had brought so many souls to the heavenly realm. But St Dominic had something hard to say to him: “There would be many, many more still if only you had greater faith and confidence in God.”
Believing that God can use dreams as a means of communicating with us flies in the face of Freudian psychology, which teaches that dreams are simply products of our subconscious minds. As Catholics, we can accept that explanation for the vast majority of dreams, but we should still be open to having the kinds of dream that John experienced.
True, most of us will never have such vivid and divinely inspired dreams as John. But today, on his feast day, it would be a good idea to pray for edification during our dreams and for the sort of instruction that will help us lead better lives.
A commenter on this article in the Catholic Herald gives additional information on the way visions and dreams in the Bible have sometimes been the channels God has used to communicate His wishes to men.
“Zacharias (Luke 1:5-23): God used a vision to tell Zacharias, an old priest, that he would soon have an important son. Not long after, Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, had John the Baptist.
Joseph (Matthew 1:20; 2:13): Joseph would have divorced Mary when he found out she was pregnant, but God sent an angel to him in a dream, convincing him that the pregnancy was of God. Joseph went ahead with the marriage. After Jesus was born, God sent two more dreams, one to tell Joseph to take his family to Egypt so Herod could not kill Jesus and another to tell him Herod was dead and that he could return home.
Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19): During Jesus’ trial, Pilate’s wife sent an urgent message to the governor encouraging him to free Jesus. Her message was prompted by a dream she had—a nightmare, really—that convinced her that Jesus was innocent and that Pilate should have nothing to do with His case.
Ananias (Acts 9:10): It would have taken nothing less than a vision from God to convince Ananias, a Christian in Damascus, to visit Paul, the persecutor of Christians. But because Ananias was obedient to God’s leading, Paul regained his sight and found the truth about those he was trying to kill.
Cornelius (Acts 10:1-6): God spoke to an Italian centurion named Cornelius who feared the God of the Jews. In his vision, Cornelius saw an angel who told him where to find Simon Peter and to send for him and listen to his message. Cornelius obeyed the vision, Peter came and preached, and Cornelius and his household full of Gentiles were saved by the grace of God.
Peter (Acts 10:9-15): While Peter was praying on the rooftop of a house in Joppa, God gave him a vision of animals lowered in something like a sheet. A voice from heaven told Peter to kill the animals (some of which were unclean) and eat them. The vision served to show that Christians are not bound by kosher law and that God had pronounced Gentiles “clean”; that is, heaven is open to all who follow Jesus.
Paul: Paul had several visions in his missionary career. One sent him to preach in Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10). Another encouraged him to keep preaching in Corinth (Acts 18:9-11). God also gave him a vision of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-6).
John (Revelation): Nearly the entire book of Revelation is a vision John had while exiled on the island of Patmos.”