Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Saint John Bosco's first Visions

The dreams of Don Bosco are recorded in the Biographical Memoirs of Saint John Bosco, the huge biography published in Italian between 1898 and 1939. Father John Baptist Lemoyne (1839-1916) between 1883 and 1916 composed the first nine volumes of this ambitious undertaking, covering 1815-1870, and he laid out the fundamental work for volumes 10-18, which cover the rest of the Saint’s life and were completed by Fathers Angelo Amadei (1868-1945) and Eugene Ceria (1870-1957). Volume 19 covers the canonization process, 1888-1934. An index (volume 20) was published in 1948.

The sources for the estimated 153 dreams found in the Biographical Memoirs include Don Bosco’s written accounts, the chronicles of the first Salesians,[1] the notes, memoirs, and testimony of various contemporaries, and many conversations with Lemoyne. Don Bosco wrote down two dreams at some length and alluded to a few others in his own Memoirs of the Oratory; he wrote out or had a secretary transcribe ten others, basically as memoranda for their future narration or for their communication to those for whom they were meant.[2] That means, obviously, that the great majority have come to us based on their oral narration. Often he would narrate them to all the Oratory residents, sometimes just to some of the Salesians.

[1] The principal chronicles and diaries are those of three early Salesians who were leaders in the nascent Congregation: Frs. John Bonetti (1838-1891), Dominic Ruffino (1840-1865), and Julius Barberis (1847-1927); and of two of Don Bosco’s personal secretaries, Frs. Joachim Berto (1847-1914) and Charles Viglietti (1864-1915).

[2] Memoirs of the Oratory records six dreams (two in detail, one in outline). A critical edition by Cecilia Romero, I sogni di Don Bosco (Turin: LDC, 1978), presents ten others, either autograph manuscripts or allograph manuscripts annotated by the Saint.

John was about nine when he experienced his first extraordinary dream. This first dream, the most important one, would set the course for his whole life.It is recorded in his autobiographical Memoirs of the Oratory.

John saw himself playing with a crowd of neighborhood boys; many of them were fighting and swearing. He told them to stop, then leapt in with both fists when they did not. Suddenly a stranger, a noble and radiant gentleman, appeared. He told John that he needed to use kindness, not blows, to win over these children. John did not understand. The man said he would give him a teacher, and a majestic Lady showed up. She instructed John to watch, and the boys turned into wild animals—bears, goats, dogs, cats, etc. “This,” she told him, “is your field of work. Make yourself humble, strong, and energetic, so that you’ll be able to do for my children what you’ll see now.” And the beasts turned into gentle lambs. In his confusion, John began to cry. The Lady assured him that in due time he would understand. And he woke up.

Evidently John realized this was no ordinary dream, even if he did not understand it. Yet he was quite skeptical about it: “I wasted no time in telling all about my dream.... Each one gave his own interpretation.... But my grandmother, though she could not read or write, knew enough theology and made the final judgement, saying ‘Pay no attention to dreams.’ I agreed with my grandmother.”

No comments: