“When you speak or preach,
always insist on frequent Communion,
and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The Lord sends us special people to handle special needs, at crucial times in the history of our Church and our world.
From the time of Jesus, the little ones, the children, have been dear to the heart of the Father. We recall the words of Jesus in Scripture, “Let the little ones come unto me, and do not hinder them. It is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.” (Mk 10:15) Again, He spoke of the children as being important in God’s Plan. “For what you have hidden from the learned and the clever, you have revealed to the merest children.” (Mt 11:25)
Children have always been uppermost in the mind of the Father, as they have been helpless and in need of protection. There have been orphans and street urchins from the beginning of time. Over the centuries, the Lord has provided for these little ones, by sending men and women to take care of them.
An epidemic of exploitation of children began at the end of the eighteenth century, with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Inventions, such as machines for spinning thread, the power loom, and the steam engine, created a new way of manufacturing goods. It also created a need for massive cheap labor. Families were lured off the farms and brought into the cities to work in factories, under the deception of living a better life.
In the name of progress, a new phrase had to be coined, slums, to accommodate the unbelievably poor living conditions, to which these families were subjected. Mothers and fathers worked long hours, as did the children who were old enough to work. Those children who could not find work, or were too young to work, were left to roam the streets, on their own. Satan had a field day, turning these little ones into street gangs. Left to their own devices, many embraced lives of crime. There was no one to curb their behavior, or focus them in the direction of God. But God is in charge; God is always in charge.
From God’s vantage point in Heaven, He could see the entire history of civilization, past, present and future. He could see the crisis, building in the lives of His children, in the wake of this new wave of materialism, this frenzy to possess more goods, better goods, no matter what the cost in human lives and souls. God knew, He would have to send a very special person to combat this wholesale evil in the world and save the children. That person would have to be so charismatic, he could draw young and old alike. He had to be able to soften hearts of stone and convince others that the vision, the Lord had given him could be accomplished. He had to have a “can do” personality. He had to be a mover and shaker. He had to be a super-yes man. He had to be a Don Bosco!
Don Bosco was God’s gift to the Church of the nineteenth century. He was one of the most powerful men in our Church of that time. The magnetism of Don bosco reached out and touched souls all over the world, even to this present day. He was one of the most multi-faceted diamonds, the Lord has ever given us. In addition to being a pied-piper to the young, attracting them, embracing them, protecting them, guiding them, he founded a Religious Order, was an author, a super church-builder, as well as a visionary and prophet. His accomplishments were so great, he was loved by millions of God’s people and hated by God’s enemies. He gave all credit to Our Lord Jesus and to His beautiful mother, Mary’s active intervention, under the title of Mary, Help of Christians.
When I was a little person, the good nuns in my Catholic elementary school, filled my spirit with beautiful tales about Don Bosco and his work with children. Interspersed with the stories were accounts of miraculous happenings, to which Don Bosco gave credit to Our Lady. She was his best friend; She became my best friend, possibly as a result of these marvelous stories. When I grew up, naturally, I believed that all the stories the nuns had told me about Don Bosco, as well as other saints, were just that, stories. That is, until I came back to the Church at age 40, at which time the Lord gave me the gift of believing as a child again.
In researching the incredible life of this modern day role model, we found the same problem exists, even among his own biographers. Some of them feel that supernatural aspect of Don Bosco’s life has been blown out of proportion, that the instances of miraculous intervention in his life have been overstated, and we should focus on the man and his accomplishments, rather than the power of the Lord to work in men’s lives, in whatever way He chooses. On the other hand, there are those who picture Don Bosco as an empty vessel; they give full credit for every good thing in his life to the intercession of Mary, Help of Christians. To be honest, that’s the way Don Bosco felt about most everything.
We realize, though, there has to be a balance, that some of the incidents in his life make him so unique that no one could feel capable of imitating him. In the interests of keeping the man on a plain where he remains touchable, we will attempt to keep our enthusiasm, for how much the Lord worked in his life, to a minimum. But if we don’t expound on the miraculous in his life, we fail to give glory to God, who is the moving Force behind all of it. We also fail to give honor to this man, who allowed himself to be emptied completely, that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit. We have to give serious consideration to the words Pope Leo XI said of him, “In his (Don Bosco) life the supernatural almost became the natural and the extraordinary ordinary.” We really have to address that profound statement.
Out of the Darkness
It was the year 1815, Masses of migrants descended on the big city of Turin, Italy. They had deserted their farms, fresh air, and the fragrances of the land, in exchange for the sweat and stench of close quarters in these newlyfound slums, all in the hopes of a new life. But some were still holding on to the lives, their families had lived for centuries in the little hamlets, the rolling hills of northern Italy. One of these villages, Becchi, was to be the birthplace of one of the most powerful men in our Church. On the day after the Feast of the Assumption in 1815, Our Lady gave us a gift, in the birth of John Melchior Bosco, in this unknown place, which is still not on the map of Italy today.
He was born of strong peasant stock, Francis and Margaret. Theirs was a large household to feed. Francis’ invalid mother, as well as a son by his first wife, plus John and his brother Joseph, created a major financial burden on the young couple. The fruits of their land were not enough to take care of the family, so Francis worked at other jobs to bring extra income into the house. It was while he worked for a landowner that he contracted pneumonia and died. John was barely two years old. John always remembered his mother’s words, although he could not remember his father: “You have no father, Johnny.”
With the father and main breadwinner gone, many families would have fallen apart, but not the family of Margaret Bosco. She had been given special graces by the Lord, to hold onto and provide for her family’s welfare and growth. She used them. She took care of her bedridden mother-in-law, a step-son, and her own two children. She had the greatest influence on Don Bosco. While he has been given the honor of being among the Communion of Saints, his mother has to be right there next to him, sharing the glory.
There has been an ongoing dispute about the value of absorbing huge amounts of information, compared with the simple, uncluttered teachings of our ancestors. Francis of Assisi distrusted books and learning. Don Bosco, on the other hand, was a great proponent of learning. We have to believe that a great deal has to do with faith. Where is the information coming from, and how does it glorify God? Margaret Bosco was very clear on that point. Whatever she taught her children was to point them towards God. Margaret believed that she was training her children for the difficult world they lived in. They all worked hard. It was good training for the life John would live as a religious. We can’t help but think, Our Lady had a direct hand in raising John.
The First Dream
Don Bosco was gifted with many dreams, visions and prophecies, during his lifetime. Actually, it’s very difficult to distinguish between them. We believe, his dreams were prophetic visions. There is a great deal of accuracy attached to Don Bosco’s visions, both for his time and for the Church of today. He actually became very famous, while he was still living, for the dreams, visions and prophecies he was given. In 1858, Pope Pius IX ordered Don Bosco to write down all his dreams “word for word”, for the posterity of the community.
Don Bosco experienced his first dream at age nine. He wrote it down in his autobiography. It impressed him so much, he never forgot it. Years later, he could recount the dream exactly as it had happened. In his own words,
“When I was about nine years old, I had a dream that left a profound impression on me for the rest of my life. I dreamed that I was near my home, in a very large playing field where a crowd of children were having fun. Some were laughing, others were playing and not a few were cursing. I was so shocked at their language that I jumped into their midst, swinging wildly and shouting at them to stop. At that moment, a Man appeared, nobly attired, with a manly and imposing bearing. He was clad with a white flowing mantle, and his face radiated such light that I could not look directly at Him. He called me by name and told me to place myself as leader over those boys, adding the words,
‘You will have to win these friends of yours not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness. So begin right now to show them that sin is ugly and virtue beautiful.’
“Confused and afraid, I replied that I was only a boy and unable to talk to these youngsters about religion. At that moment the fighting, shouting and cursing stopped and the crowd of boys gathered about the Man who was now talking. Almost unconsciously, I asked:
‘But how can you order me to do something that looks so impossible?’
‘What seems so impossible you must achieve by being obedient and by acquiring knowledge.’
‘But where, how?’
‘I will give you a Teacher, under whose guidance you will learn and without whose help all knowledge becomes foolishness.’
‘But who are you?’
‘I am the Son of Her whom your mother has taught you to greet three times a day.’
‘My mother told me not to talk to people I don’t know unless she gives me permission. So, please tell me your name.’
“At that moment I saw beside Him a Lady of majestic appearance, wearing a beautiful mantle glowing as if bedecked with stars. She saw my confusion mount; so she beckoned me to her. Taking my hand with great kindness, she said:
“I did so. All the children had vanished. In their place I saw many animals: goats, dogs, cats, bears and a variety of others.
“`This is your field, this is where you must work.’ the Lady told me. `Make yourself humble, steadfast, and strong. And what you will see happen to these animals you will have to do for my children.’
“I looked again; the wild animals had turned into as many lambs, gently gamboling lambs, bleating a welcome for that Man and Lady.
“At this point of my dream I started to cry and begged the Lady to explain what it all meant because I was so confused. She then placed her hand on my head and said:
‘In due time everything will be clear to you.’
“After she had spoken these words, some noise awoke me; everything had vanished.”
The next day, when he shared this dream with his family, everybody came up with a variety of interpretations of what the dream might have meant. However, his mother zeroed in on the message immediately. She said, “Who knows if some day he may not become a priest?”