Monthly Archives: November 2017

“The Snake and the Rosary” of St. John Bosco – November 12, 2017

Dreams are a product of our unconscious mind and imagination. To pay too much attention to them is foolhardy. The inspired writer Sirach wrote “dreams give wings to fools.” (Sir. 34:1) But, not all dreams are created equal. Some dreams are more than just unconscious renderings of our conscious lives. In some rare cases, dreams are inspired, visions from heaven. Mary and Joseph were “warned in a dream” not to return to Herod. The wife of Pilate warned him to release Jesus “for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.” It is of this latter version, that of prophetic dreams, that filled the life of St. John Bosco. The Forty Dreams of St. John Bosco details some of these dream-visions that he experienced.

St. John Bosco was an Italian priest who lived in the 19th century helping and educating youth, particularly disadvantaged young boys. Many of the vision-like dreams revolved around the state of the boys’ souls in his Oratory. The dreams often involved the boys with weapons in fierce battles against gruesome animals and beasts. The weapons were metaphors for the sacraments and devotions, while the animals and beasts were various sins and vices.
The dreams were a sublime rendering of our internal struggles between virtue and vice, innocence and sin, heaven and hell. The prophetic nature of the dreams revealed the actual state of the boys’ souls. They also revealed the hidden spiritual realities of the Catholic faith. These remain completely relevant to us too. Imagine if St. John Bosco were still alive today, how troubling would his dreams be by the state of our souls, particularly those of young people?

One of the prototypical dream-visions St. John Bosco had concerned “The Snake and the Rosary.” In it, he and the boys were in a meadow where a stranger took him to see “a huge, ugly snake, over twenty feet long.” The stranger impelled him to dangle a rope over the snake, which he was quite hesitant to do out of fear. He finally agreed to hold the rope over the menacing snake, and the snake leaped up and “ensnared itself as in a noose.” The snake then furiously writhed to free itself but ended up tearing itself to pieces. The stranger then took the rope and put it in a box saying to “watch carefully.” Then, he opened the box to see the rope had taken the shape of the words Ave Maria or “Hail Mary.” The man then explained to him that the snake is a symbol of the devil and the Ave Maria rope stands for the Rosary – with which “we can strike, conquer, and destroy all of hell’s demons.”

The dream, however, was not done. In the second part of the dream, the boys of the Oratory were now congregated around them and the remnants of flesh from the snake. Then, against St. John Bosco’s protests that it was poisonous, some of the boys began to pick up the snake flesh and eat it saying, “It’s delicious!” They promptly crumpled to the ground, and their bodies swelled and hardened like stone. St. John Bosco tried vigorously to keep them from eating the meat but they just kept eating it. He questioned the stranger asking why do they keep eating the meat even though it will kill them? The stranger replied, “Because the sensual man does not perceive the things that are of God!” He pleaded to the stranger that there must be some way to save them. To which, the stranger said there is: “anvil and hammer.” St. John Bosco then put the boys on the anvil and hit them with the hammer. With that, most of the boys were “restored to life and recovered.” The stranger then explained to him that the anvil and hammer are symbols respectively for Holy Communion and Confession. By Confession we strike away at sin, and by Holy Communion we are sustained.

This was a theme that St. John Bosco constantly stressed, “Frequent and sincere Confession, frequent and devout Communion.” This was reflected in many dreams. For example, in another dream, the boys fought with two-pronged pitchforks against ferocious animals. He was shown that the two-prongs symbolized a “good Confession and a good Communion.” In yet another terrifying dream, St. John Bosco saw boys running down a road and being caught in traps and pulled into hell. God, however, left implements next to the traps so the boys could cut themselves free. There were two swords symbolizing a “devotion to the Blessed Sacrament – especially through frequent Holy Communion – and to the Blessed Virgin.” There was also a hammer “symbolizing Confession,” and knives symbolizing devotions to St. Joseph and various saints.

In perhaps his most famous dream, he saw a large ship, representing the Church, in a violent storm and under attack. The Pope guided the ship to two large columns, at which, the ship docked and was saved. On the one column was a statue of the Virgin Mary with the title “the Help of Christians;” and, at the top of the other larger column was a Eucharist Host entitled “the Salvation of the Faithful.” St. John Bosco explained, “Only two means are left to save her amidst the confusion: Devotion to Mary Most Holy and frequent Communion.”

In our modernist era besieged by materialist confusion, the dreams of St. John Bosco are all the more urgent. The attacks are particularly diabolical against young people, seducing them to believe that there is no God or absolute morality, and no eternal consequences. Anything goes! The devil lies hidden before our secular eyes. This makes the risk of succumbing to mortal sin, and potentially damnation, all the more terrifyingly ominous. Sadly, as the percentage of Catholics decreases, the number of those without religious affiliation expands (the so-called “rise of the nones”). If youth were so imperiled in the 19th century, how much more endangered are souls in the 21st century with the falling away en masse from the Church, the unmooring of morality, particularly in sexual promiscuity of all sorts, and so much more. The monsters of St. John Bosco’s dreams are running wild today.

The Church, however, is here to aid us in this battle. It is our field hospital, present on the battlefield to heal our wounds and save us. She helps us grow in virtue and slay the beasts. St. John Bosco’s solution for us was simple: innocence preserved in penance. He said one good Confession could restore us to our title “of Son of God.” As the dreams of St. John Bosco reveal, our salvation is found in prayer, the Holy Mass, frequent Confession and Communion, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and recourse to Mary, the Help of Christians, in the Rosary.

Purgatory and the Communion of Saints – November 11, 2017

“No man is an island,” so Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope”). We are each bound to one another “through innumerable interactions” so that: “No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.” Pope Benedict exhorts us to ask, “what can I do in order that others may be saved? . . . Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.” Salvation is a social reality. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of the community of believers coming together in a city. Heaven, as a city full of people, is a place of communal salvation. Sin, on the other hand, introduced the “destruction of the unity of the human race.” While man’s original unity was torn apart by sin, the work of redemption aims to heal that disintegration, as Benedict discerns, “redemption appears as the reestablishment of unity.”

Each believer is an interconnected cell in the Mystical Body of Christ. We are a band of brothers and sisters, bound together in hope and love, in a confraternal exchange of supernatural charity. Even now, the saints of Church Militant on earth, are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” – Church Penitent (or Church Suffering) in purgatory and Church Triumphant in heaven. The Communion of Saints live in a symbiotic relationship: the saints in heaven and purgatory interceding for those on the earth, while the believers on the earth ask for their heavenly intercession. And, in this month of November, dedicated to the souls in purgatory, we recall our special role in this symbiotic relationship while still alive: to pray, sacrifice and intercede for the dearly departed souls in purgatory.

Those in purgatory have died in God’s grace and friendship and are “assured of their eternal salvation,” however, they are “still imperfectly purified” and must necessarily “undergo purification” to enter into heaven (CCC 1030), for nothing unclean enters into it. (Rev. 21:27) Jesus spoke of purgatory, alluding to it as a “prison,” in which we pay for our sins down to “the very last penny”:

“Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.” (Lk. 12:58-59)

St. Paul similarly tells the Corinthians that we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and are subject to a “purifying fire;” they “will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:15) The encounter with Christ is one of grace and judgment. Benedict describes this eloquently:

“Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. . . . Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened.” (Spe Salvi, 44) Even after Confession, we must still make penance.

The departed faithful souls in purgatory do have to make recompense for their sins to satisfy the perfect justice of God. We can, however, assist them in that. The Catechism (CCC 1032) quotes an example from Scripture saying, “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Macc. 12:45) And so, how do we as Christians make atonement for the dead? The Catechism clarifies this:

“From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”

We are called to be intercessors, for both the living and the dead. We can offer up our prayers, sacrifices and sufferings on behalf of the poor souls in purgatory, for they can no longer merit for themselves. But, God has deigned through the Communion of the Saints that we can make up for others what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. For, we are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9), contributing to the salvation of souls. We can do this through our prayers, such as praying the rosary for those in purgatory. We can offer penances, and sacrifices. We can give alms, and do acts of charity on behalf of the deceased person.

Benedict also recommends a particular devotion for everyday life, that is, “offering up” all the minor daily hardships of the day. We can “insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great ‘com-passion’ so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race.” We can offer up those petty annoyances throughout the day whatever they might be, slow traffic, the heat, the pestering co-worker, etc. “In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning.” (Spe Salvi, 40) We can be assured that our efforts, prayers and sacrifices are efficacious and capable of mitigating the suffering of those in purgatory. (CCC 958)

Most importantly, we can offer the sacrifice of the Mass, and indulgences granted by the Church, for souls in purgatory. You can contact your Church and have a mass offered for your beloved deceased. Another beautiful gift is the tradition going back to Pope Gregory the Great of offering “Gregorian Masses” for deceased persons on thirty consecutive days. These are generally not done now in parishes, but in monasteries, seminaries, and other religious institutions.

The efficaciousness of intercession for those in purgatory has received mystical confirmation too. One such mystic was St. Faustina. She wrote in her Divine Mercy diary about a soul, a recently deceased nun, who visited her from purgatory requesting her prayers. Upon first visiting her, the sister was in “terrible condition,” but after some undisclosed amount of time of praying for her, the nun eventually returned and “her face was radiant, her eyes beaming with joy.” She would soon be released from purgatory and conveyed to her that many souls had “profited from my prayers.” Similarly, in the Divine Mercy Novena, dictated to St. Faustina by Jesus, He asks us to offer the eighth day for the souls in purgatory. He told St. Faustina, “It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all the indulgences from the treasury of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice.” (Diary, 1226) Memorializing a person is nice, but prayer for the deceased may be what they truly need.

Thus, it is within our power as members of the Communion of Saints to assist the poor souls in purgatory in the process of their purification and sanctification. Our prayers and sacrifices can help pay off their debts. In turn, in gratefulness for the merit we win for them, they will surely pray and intercede for us, until, at last, in heaven we will meet all those who we have helped, undoubtedly to our surprise. Also, lest we put our earthly time limits upon God, we should remember to pray even for those who have died long ago. God, who exists outside of time in eternity, receives all of our prayers and sacrifices in the eternal present, and can merit a soul whether long since dead or in purgatory. So, out of love for our family and friends, let us do our part in supernatural charity for the souls in purgatory, who may be most in need of our help.