The Experience of Saint John Bosco —
To Hell and Back
Continued from Issue 23
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 10. 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.
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 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."
As I looked again, another boy came hurtling down into the cave at breakneck speed. He too was from the Oratory.
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 they 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 shall be angry. He shall gnash his teeth and pine away — Ps. 111:10.
"Why do I 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.
"Such are the mournful chants which shall echo here throughout eternity. But their shouts, their efforts and their cries are all in vain. All evils will fall upon them — Cf: Job. 20:22.
"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 — Is. 66:24.
In this lower cavern, I again saw those Oratory boys who had fallen into the fiery furnace. 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.
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 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!
"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 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. 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.
"It won't be necessary!"
"Then what do you suggest I tell them?"
"Always preach against immodesty. 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."
"May I mention all these things to my boys?"
"Yes, you may tell them whatever you remember."
Continued in Issue 25