Category Archives: Confession

“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.

The Only Thing that Matters – September 11, 2017

Life is fleetingly short. The minutes and seconds of our earthly lives are trickling down inexorably like grains of sand falling through the hourglass. Christ on his judgment seat holds the hourglass for each of our lives, watching, and waiting for that moment when we shall, at last, appear before him. Only he knows how many grains of sand of time are left for us. We must be ready at any moment. That is why Christ declares “behold, now is the day of salvation.” In a world where “all is vanity,” we must cut through the fog of sin and meaninglessness, and seize the weightiest of matters, in fact, the only thing that matters – the salvation of our souls.

Jesus said what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his life? Our goal is not this world or this life. Our goal is eternal life in the world to come. Jesus spoke of this often, comparing it to a wedding feast. In the great revelation given to St. John, he was caught up into heaven and beheld the joy of the saints at the wedding feast of Christ. An angel spoke to him “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev. 19:9) St. John wrote about these blessed ones of the Church as the Bride of Christ, saying she “has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure.” (Rev. 19:8) The saints are ready because of the way they are “clothed.” But, what is this clothing and why is it “fine linen, bright and pure?” Simply put, this is the divine, sanctifying grace of Jesus Christ.

We must be covered and clothed with the supernatural grace of Christ. Those with the proper “wedding garments” are saved, and those without them are condemned. Jesus himself alluded to this in a disturbing aspect of the wedding banquet parable:

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ (Mt. 22:11-13)

Time is short to be ready for the eternal wedding feast. The only thing that matters is that at the moment of death we are clothed with sanctifying grace.

The opposite of being clothed is being naked. We find nakedness in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, Original Sin, their eyes were opened “and they knew that they were naked.” (Gen. 3:7) They were exposed and ashamed before God. There is a curious scene too, in another garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, the night Jesus was betrayed and seized by the Roman soldiers. As all this happened, scripture says, “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” (Mk. 14:51-52) Sin has left us all naked and exposed to damnation. St. Paul spoke of this too, saying “Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked.” (2 Cor. 5:2-3) Yet, it matters not what sins we may have committed in the past. Nothing is beyond the mercy of God, as long as we sincerely seek his forgiveness through the repentance of our sins.

So, we must be clothed from on high by the Holy Spirit, but how?

Sanctifying grace is conferred onto us through faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of the Church, which are necessary for our salvation. (CCC 1129) The seven sacraments of the Church are, of course: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. These are the means by which we put on our wedding garments of fine linen, bright and pure.

All of the sacraments are eminently efficacious and necessary for the life of the Church. However, I would like to focus here on just three sacraments, which are so necessary for the world today, and for our individual souls, and yet, are so sorely neglected. Jesus’ prayer from the Cross is apt “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Or, in our case, we know not what we squander.

As far as we know, St. John was the only Apostle to hear these words from the Lord as he was crucified. He remained at the foot of the Cross, and did not flee like the other Apostles. He was the disciple whom the Lord loved. He was entrusted with the care of Mary the mother of God after Jesus died. He rested his head close to Jesus’ Sacred Heart at the Last Supper. He was the only Apostle not martyred, and so, lived to a wise old age, reflecting deeply for his whole life on the words of Christ. This deep meditation poured forth in the pages of his gospel when he wrote about the sacraments, especially Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confession.

In the third chapter of John’s gospel he writes about Baptism and being “born again.” The conversation, of course, is between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus tells him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn. 3:5) Baptism is the basis for the whole Christian life and “the gateway to life in the Spirit.”

Three chapters later John writes about the Eucharist in the Bread of Life discourse. In it, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn. 6:53-54) The Eucharist is our food of immortality.

Later in his gospel he writes about Confession and the power to forgive sins. He says about the Resurrected Jesus: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn. 20:22-23) This sacrament of divine mercy renders us into a state of grace. Baptism, the Eucharist and Confession are so vital, so necessary in the everyday life of a soul. These are the channels of sanctifying grace by which we put on the wedding garments of Christ. To neglect these is to neglect the state of our souls, and to jeopardize our place of eternal life in heaven.

This is the only thing that matters: When we die, will we be clothed in the wedding garments of Christ, or not? This requires us to earnestly pursue the weightiest of matters: repentance, conversion, sanctity, holiness, and saintliness. We are men and women of God, called to strive to enter through the narrow gate, to pray ceaselessly, to cling to the truth always, and to serve one another. The way of the disciple is to renounce the vanities of this world and to embrace the Cross of Christ.

St. John quotes Christ in the Book of Revelation about keeping our garments white and clean: “He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Rev. 3:5-6) And again, concerning our garments and Christ’s Second Coming: “Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed!” (Rev. 16:15) It is up to us to keep our wedding garments of fine linen, bright and pure. We do this by taking refuge in the sacraments of the Church; and going to Confession frequently, and receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist often.

God’s Presence in Confession – January 24, 2017

A number of years ago I approached the confessional booth in the crypt church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. It was there that something somewhat miraculous happened, or at least that is how it struck me.

I was a regular visitor at the crypt church for Confession and to attend Mass. On this particular day, however, I was also there to pray for my friend. At the time, a close childhood friend of mine had recently and unexpectedly passed away. He had become an avid mountain climber, and had gone on an adventure to climb one of the tallest mountains in the world in Pakistan. Then, one fateful day I received a phone call that he had gone missing after an avalanche. Soon after, our worst fears were confirmed. Obviously shocked and saddened I turned towards prayer and the Church.

After praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I went to Confession. Once I had confessed my sins, I spoke to the priest about concerns for my friend. I never once mentioned to him who he was or what had happened. I told him only that he had died outside the Church, and I asked if I should pray for him? His answer amazed me.

In part, he said, “sometimes I will pick up the paper and read, for example, about people who died while mountain climbing in Pakistan, and yes, I would pray for them.” I took this as a miraculous intervention of Christ in the sacrament, and as a direct response regarding my friend. The unknown priest, I am sure, had no idea of the prophetic words he had just spoken to me. Yet, his words resonated loudly in my soul.

As believers, we know that God always hears our prayers, even if sometimes it may not feel like it. As Catholics, we also know that God is present to us in a special way in the sacraments. The priest works in persona Christi Capitis, in the person of Christ the head, or as the Church teaches, “it is Christ Himself who is present.” (CCC 1548). This is of great consolation in Confession – the sacrament of divine mercy – when we are blessed to hear those most comforting of Jesus’ words, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” (CCC 1484)

The priest’s words that day had a number of effects on me. First and foremost, it powerfully reconfirmed the efficaciousness of the sacrament. Christ is truly present and truly forgives. It also affirmed to me that we are called to be intercessors, for our family and our friends, and in fact, for all those entrusted to us. This is our privilege and important responsibility as Christians. Lastly, we should not judge, but rather, entrust everyone by prayer and sacrifice to the divine mercy of God. Even today, years later, I pray for my friend’s eternal rest.