On Sunday night, May 3 , the feast of the Patronage of Saint Joseph, Don Bosco resumed the narration of his dreams:
I have another dream to tell you, a sort of aftermath of those I told you last Thursday and Friday which totally exhausted me. Call them dreams or whatever you like.
I told you of a frightful toad threatening to devour me on the night of April 17. When it finally vanished, a voice said to me:
“Why don't you tell them?” I turned in that direction and saw a distinguished person standing by my bed. Since I did not understand the reason for that censure, I asked:
“What should I tell my boys?”
“What you have seen and heard in your last dreams and what you have wanted to know, which shall be revealed to you tomorrow night!” He then vanished.
The next day I was continuously worried about the miserable night in store for me, and when evening came, I did not want to go to bed. I sat at my desk browsing through books until midnight. The mere thought of having to contemplate more terrifying scenes thoroughly frightened me. However, with great effort, I finally went to bed.
In order not to sleep immediately, and fearful that my imagination might drag me into the previous dreams, I placed my pillow in a way that allowed me to practically sit on the bed. But, due to my tiredness, I unintentionally fell asleep.
Soon I saw the man who had appeared to me the previous night standing by my bed. He said to me: “Get up and follow me!”
“For Heaven's sake,” I protested, “leave me in peace. I am exhausted! I have been tormented by a toothache for several days now and need rest. Besides, my last dreadful dreams have completely worn me out.”
I said this because this man's apparition always means anxiety, fatigue and terror for me.
“Get up,” he repeated. “There is no time to lose.”
I complied and followed him. As we walked, I asked him:
“Where are you taking me?”
“Come and you will see.”
He led me to a vast, boundless plain, veritably a lifeless desert, with not a soul in sight, nor a tree or brook. Yellowed, dried-up vegetation added sadness to the desolate scene. I had no idea where I was or what was I to do. For a moment I even lost sight of my guide and feared that I was lost, utterly alone. Neither Fr. Rua nor Fr. Francesia nor anyone else was with me. When I finally saw my friend coming toward me, I sighed in relief and said:
“Where am I?”
“Come with me and you will find out!”
“Well, I will go with you.”
He led the way and I followed in silence, but after a long, dismal trudge, I began worrying whether I would ever be able to cross that vast expanse, what with my toothache and swollen legs. Suddenly I saw a road ahead. Breaking the silence I asked him my guide:
“Where to now?”
“This way,” he replied.
But after walking a while, I noticed that it almost imperceptibly kept sloping downward. Although it did not look at all steep, I found myself moving so swiftly downward that I felt I was effortlessly gliding through the air. Really, I was gliding and hardly using my feet. Our march was fast. Then the thought struck me that the return trip would be very long and arduous, I asked my friend:
“How shall we get back to the Oratory?”
“Do not worry,” he answered. “The Almighty wants you to come back to it. He Who leads you onward will also know how to lead you back.”
The road was increasingly sloping downward. As we continued on our way, flanked by banks of roses and other flowers, I became aware that the Oratory boys and a multitude of others whom I did not know were following me on the same road. Somehow I found myself in their midst.
As I was looking at them, I noticed that now one, now another, fell to the ground and then was instantly dragged by an unseen force toward a frightful opening in the ground, distantly visible, which led those unfortunate boys straight into a furnace.
“What makes these boys fall?” I asked my companion.
“Take a closer look,” he replied.
I did. Traps were everywhere, some close to the ground, others at eye level, but all well concealed. Unaware of their danger, many boys got caught, and as they tripped, they would sprawl to the ground, legs in the air. Then, when they managed to get back on their feet, they would run headlong down the road toward the abyss. Some got trapped by the head, others by the neck, hands, arms, legs, or sides, and were pulled down instantly toward that hole. These ground traps, fine as spiders' webs and hardly visible, seemed very flimsy and harmless; yet I observed that every boy they snared fell to the ground.
Noticing my astonishment, the guide remarked:
“Do you know what that is?”
“Just some filmy fiber,” I answered.
“It seems like nothing,” he said, “but it is human respect.”
Seeing that many boys were being caught in those fibers, I asked:
“Why do so many get caught? Who pulls them down?”
“Go nearer and you will see!” he told me.
I followed his advice but saw nothing peculiar.
“Look closer,” he insisted.
I picked up one of the traps and tugged. I immediately felt some resistance. I pulled harder, only to feel that, instead of drawing the thread of the trap closer, I was being pulled down myself. I followed where the thread led and soon found myself at the mouth of a frightful cave. I halted, unwilling to venture into that deep cavern, and again I started pulling the thread toward me. It gave a little, but only through a great effort on my part.
I kept tugging, and after a long while a huge, hideous monster emerged, clutching a rope to which all those traps were tied together. He was the one who instantly dragged down anyone who got caught in them.
It would be useless to match my strength with his, I said to myself. I would certainly lose. I could better fight him with the Sign of the Cross and with short ejaculations.
Then I went back to my guide and he said to me:
“Now you know who he is.”
“I surely do! It is the Devil himself who places these traps to make my boys fall into Hell!”
Carefully examining many of the traps, I saw that each bore an inscription: Pride, Disobedience, Envy, the Sixth Commandment, Theft, Gluttony, Sloth, Anger, and so on. Stepping back a bit to see which ones trapped the greater number of boys, I discovered that the most dangerous were those of impurity, disobedience and pride. In fact, these three were linked to together. Many other traps also did great harm, but not as much as the first two. Still watching, I noticed many boys running faster than others.
“Why such haste?” I asked.
Looking even more closely, I spotted knives among the traps. A providential hand had put them there to cut oneself free. The bigger ones, symbolizing meditation, were for use against the trap of pride; others, not quite as large, symbolized spiritual reading well made. There were also two swords - one representing devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, especially through frequent Holy Communion, and the other devotion to the Blessed Virgin. There was also a hammer symbolizing confession, and other knives symbolizing devotion to St. Joseph, St. Aloysius and other Saints. By these means, quite a few boys were able to free themselves or evade capture.
Indeed, I saw two boys walking safely through all those traps without being caught, either becuase of good timing - getting past it before before the trap sprung on them - or by sliding out of it if they got caught.
When my guide saw that I had observed everything, he made me continue along that rose-hedged road. But the farther we went, the scarcer the roses became. Long thorns began to appear, and soon there were no more roses. The hedges became sun-scorched, leafless and thorn-studded. Withered branches torn from the bushes were strewn along the roadbed, littering it with thorns and making it difficult to walk through.
We had come now to a gulch whose steep sides hid what lay beyond. The road, which increasingly sloped downward, was becoming ever more horrid, rutted and littered, bristling with rocks and boulders and making the march ever more difficult.
I lost track of all my boys, most of whom had left this treacherous road for other paths.
I kept going, but the farther I advanced, the more arduous and steep the descent became, so that I tumbled and fell several times, lying prostrate until I could catch my breath. Now and then my guide supported me or helped me to rise. At every step my joints seemed to give way, and I thought my shinbones would snap.
Panting, I said to my guide:
“My good fellow, my legs will not carry me another step. I just cannot go any farther.”
He did not answer but continued walking. Taking heart, I followed. Finally, seeing me soaked in perspiration and thoroughly exhausted, he led me to a little clearing alongside the road. I sat down, took a deep breath, and felt a little better. From my resting place, the road I had already traveled looked very steep, jagged and strewn with loose stones, but what lay ahead seemed so much worse that I closed my eyes in horror.
“Let us go back,” I pleaded. “If we go any farther, how shall we ever get back to the Oratory? I will never make it up this slope.”
My guide sternly responded: “Now that we have come so far, do you want me to leave you alone?”
At this threat, I wailed:
“How can I survive without your help?”
“Then follow me,” he added.
We continued our descent, the road now becoming so frightfully steep that it was almost impossible to stand erect.
And then, at the bottom of this precipice, at the entrance of a dark valley, an enormous building loomed into sight, its towering portal, securely locked, facing our road. When we finally reached the bottom, I became smothered by a suffocating heat, and I could see a dense, green-tinted smoke lit by flashes of scarlet flames rising from behind those enormous walls which loomed higher than mountains.
"Where are we? What is this?" I asked my guide.
I looked up and read these words:Ubi non est redemptio - The place where there is no redemption. I realized that we were at the gates of Hell.
The guide led me all around this horrible place. At regular distances bronze portals like the first overlooked precipitous descents; on each was an inscription, such as: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the Devil and his angels." (Mt 25: 41) "Every tree that yielded not good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire." (Mt 7: 19)
I tried to copy them into my notebook, but my guide restrained me: "There is no need. You have them all in Holy Scripture. You even have some of them inscribed on your porticoes."
At such a sight, I wanted to turn back and return to the Oratory. As a matter of fact, I did try to start back, but my guide ignored my attempt.
After trudging down into a steep, never-ending ravine, we again came to the foot of the precipice facing the first portal. Suddenly the guide turned to me with a changed and startled face, pointing to something with his hand: "Look!" he said.
I looked up in terror and saw in the distance someone racing down the path at an uncontrollable speed. I kept my eyes on him, trying to identify him, and as he got closer, I recognized him as one of my boys. His disheveled hair was partly bristled and partly tossed back by the wind.
"Let us help him! Let us stop him!" I shouted, holding out my hands toward him.
"Let him go," the guide replied.
"Do you not know how terrible God's vengeance is? Do you think you can stop one who is fleeing from His blazing wrath?"
Meanwhile the youth had turned his fiery gaze behind him in an attempt to see if God's wrath were still pursuing him. He precipitated himself toward the bottom of the ravine and crashed against that bronze portal as though he could find no other solution in his flight.
"Why was he looking back in terror?" I asked.
"Because God's wrath pierces all the gates of Hell and will reach and torment him even amidst the fire!"
As the boy crashed into the portal, it sprang open with a roar of chains. Instantly two, then ten, then one hundred, then near a thousand inner portals opened with a deafening screech as if moved by the crash of the youth, who was dragged in by an invisible, very rapid and irresistible gale.
As these bronze doors - one behind the other, though each at a considerable distance from the other - remained momentarily open, I saw far into the distance something like furnace jaws spouting fiery globes at the moment the youth hurtled into it. As swiftly as the portals had opened, they then clanged shut again.
For a third time I tried to take notes, this time to write down the name of that unfortunate lad, but the guide again took me by the arm and said, "Wait, and look again."
I saw one unfortunate boy being pushed down the slope by an evil companion. Others fell alone or with others, arm in arm or side by side. Each of them bore the name of his sin on his forehead. I kept calling to them as they hurtled down, but they did not hear me. Again the portals would open thunderously and slam shut with a rumble. Then, dead silence!
My guide explained to me: “These are some of the causes why many are eternally lost: Bad companions, bad books and bad habits."
The traps I had seen earlier were indeed dragging the boys to ruin. Seeing so many falling into perdition, I cried out disconsolately, "If so many of our boys end up this way, we are working in vain. How can we prevent such tragedies?"
My guide replied: "This is their present state and that is where they would go if they were to die now."
"Then, let me jot down their names so that I may warn them and put them back on the path to Heaven."
"Do you really believe that some of them would reform if you were to warn them? At first, your warning might impress them, but soon they will forget it, saying, 'It was just a dream,' and they will do worse things than before. Others, realizing they have been unmasked, will receive the Sacraments, but this will be neither spontaneous nor meritorious since they are not upright. Others will go to confession because of a momentary fear of Hell, but will still be attached to sin."
"Then is there no way to save these unfortunate lads? Please, advise me how they can be saved."
Here is the advice: "They have superiors; let them obey them. They have rules; let them observe them. They have the Sacraments; let them receive them."
A new group of boys came hurtling down the path, and the portals opened momentarily.
“You should enter as well,” the guide said to me.
I pulled back in horror. I could not wait to return to the Oratory to warn the boys lest others might be lost as well.
My guide, however, insisted, “Come, you will learn much. But first tell me: Do you wish to go alone or with me?” He asked this to make me realize that I was not strong enough to go alone and, therefore, needed his friendly assistance.
Dante watching the horrors of Hell
Then a thought came to my mind and raised my spirits. I said to myself: Before a person is condemned to Hell, he must pass by his judgment. And I still have not presented myself before the Supreme Judge.
After that I said resolutely: “Then, let us go in.”
We entered that narrow, horrible corridor, whizzing through it with lightning speed. Threatening inscriptions appeared under a veiled light over each one of the inner gateways. The corridor opened into a vast, gloomy courtyard with a small but incredibly thick door at the far end. Above it we could read this inscription: Ibunt impii in ignem aeternu - The impious shall go into the everlasting fire. [Mt 25: 46] The walls all around were filled with inscriptions.
I asked my guide if I could read them, and he answered, “Do as you wish”.
Then I examined everything.
In one place it was written: Dabo ignem in carnes eorum ut comburantur in sempiternum Cruciabuntur die ac nocte in saecula saeculorum - I will give fire to their flesh and they will burn for ever. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever. [Judith 16: 21]
In another place: Hic univérsitas malorum per omnia saecula saeculorum - In this place all the evil ones are put forever and ever.
In others: Nullus est hic ordo, sed horror sempiternus inhabitat - There is no order in this place, but only eternal horror dwells here. [Job 10: 22]
Fumus tormentorum suorum in aeternum ascendit - The smoke of their torments rises forever. [Apoc 14: 11]
Non est pax impiis - For the impious there is no peace. [Isaiah 47: 22]
Clamor et stridor dentium - [Here is] weeping and the gnashing of teeth. [Mt 8:12]
As I moved around reading the inscriptions, my guide, who had been standing in the center of the courtyard, came up to me and said:
“From here on, no one may have a companion to help him, a friend to comfort him, a heart to love him, a compassionate glance or a benevolent word to sustain him. All this is gone forever. Do you want to see and experience these things yourself?”
“I only want only to see!” I answered.
“Then come with me,” my friend replied, and, taking me by the hand, he led me to that small door and opened it. It opened onto a corridor at whose far end was a room with a large window that had a single crystal pane reaching from the pavement to the ceiling, which allowed the observer to look through. As soon as I entered the room, I felt an indescribable terror and stopped.
Ahead of me I could see an immense cavern that extended far ahead ending in deep caves dug into the bowels of a mountain. They were all ablaze, but it was not an earthly fire with leaping tongues of flames, but a fire that made everything incandescent and white because of its high temperature. The entire cavern - walls, ceiling, floor, iron, stones, wood and coal - was white and glossy. That fire surpasses the fire of earth in heat thousands and thousands of times. Yet it did not consume what it burned or reduce it to ashes. It is impossible for me to describe that cavern in all its astounding reality.
Terribly frightened, I stared briefly at that unfortunate youth for a while. He seemed to be one of my Oratory boys, one of my sons.
“Isn't he one of my youth?” I asked my guide. “Isn’t he X?”
“Yes, that is right,” he answered.
“Why is he so still, so incandescent without being consumed?”
“You chose to see. Do not speak. Observe and you will see. For,omnis enim igne salietur et omnis victima sale salietur - Everyone shall be immobilized by the fire. Every victim shall be conserved with salt. [Mk 9: 48]
As I looked again, another boy came hurtling down into the cavern in a despairing fury and at a lightning speed. He too was from the Oratory. As he fell, he remained there immobile. He too emitted a shriek of pain that blended with the last echo of the scream that came from the youth who had preceded him.
Other boys kept hurtling down with the same impetus, all screamed, and then all became equally motionless and incandescent, like those who had preceded them. I noticed that the first became immobile with one hand and one foot up into the air; the second boy was bent toward the floor. Others had their feet up or their faces glued to the floor. Still others supported themselves by only one foot or hand; others were sitting, standing, kneeling or lying on their backs or sides, their hands clutching their hair.
Briefly, the scene resembled a large statuary group of youth set in every painful posture imaginable. Other lads hurtled into that same furnace. Some I knew; others were strangers to me. Then I recalled what is written in Scriptures to the effect that as one falls into Hell, so he shall remain forever. Lignum, in quocumque loco cecíderit, ibi erit - In the place the wood falls, there it remains. [Eccles 11:3]
As my astonishment increased, I asked my guide:
“When these boys run with such speed, do they not know they are coming here?”
“Oh, yes, 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 Divine Mercy, which calls them 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 terrible must be the desperation of these miserable boys who do not have any hope of leaving this place” - I exclaimed.
“If you really want to know their innermost frenzy and fury, go a little closer,” my guide remarked.
I took a few more steps, coming closer to the window, and looked inside. I saw that many of those poor wretches were savagely striking at each other causing terrible wounds; some were biting one another 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 that cavern became as transparent as crystal and revealed a patch of Heaven and their radiant companions safe for all eternity.
The reprobates gnashed their teeth with envy, hardly breathing because they had once ridiculed those just youth.
“Go closer!” he advised.
Pressing my ear to the crystal window, I heard some screaming and weeping among the horrible contortions; others were blaspheming and making imprecations against those saints. It was a tumult of voices and cries, shrill and confused.
I asked: “What are they saying? What are they shouting?”
He replied: “When they recall the happy lot of their good companions, they are obliged to admit, ‘We fools deemed their lives to be madness, and their end without honor. Behold, how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints. Thus we passed up the path of truth.’ [Wisdom 5:4-6]
“They also cried out, ‘We wore ourselves out on the path of iniquity and destruction and walked through hard roads, but we ignored the way of the Lord. What has pride profited us? All those things have passed away like a shadow.’ [Wis 5: 7-9]
“These are the melancholic canticles that sound here for all eternity. But screams, efforts, weeping are all useless. Omnis dolor irruet super eos - All sorrow fell over them! Here time is no more. Here is only eternity.”
As, in utter terror, I viewed the condition of many of my boys, a thought suddenly struck me.
I asked: “How is it possible that these boys are damned? Last night they were still alive at the Oratory!”
The guide answered: “The boys you see here are all dead to God's grace. Were they to die now or persist in their evil ways, they would be damned. But we should not waste time. Let us go on.”
He led me away from that terrible place and we went through a corridor deeper down to another underground cavern. Over its entrance I read: Dabit Dominus omnipotens ignem et vermes in carnes eorum, ut urantur et sentiant usque in sempiternum. [The Lord Almighty will give fire, and worms into their flesh, so that they may burn and may feel forever - Judith 16: 21]
Here I could see the terrible remorse of those who had been formed in our schools:
• The memory of each unforgiven sin and its just punishment;
• The thousands of means, many of them extraordinary, they had to convert to the Lord, persevere in the good and earn paradise;
• The memory of so many graces given by the Blessed Virgin that were ignored and the promises made to her that were not kept;
• The fact that they could have been saved by a small effort, and instead, now they are condemned forever!
• So many good intentions that were not kept!
Hell is indeed paved with good intentions, as the proverb says.
In that place I again saw those Oratory boys who I had seen before in the fiery furnace. Some are listening to me right now; others are former pupils or even strangers to me. I drew nearer to them and noticed that they were covered with worms and disgusting insects that gnawed and consumed their hearts, eyes, hands, legs and entire bodies, leaving them in such a miserable state that it defies description. Those unfortunate boys remained motionless and were a prey to every kind of torment without any possibility of avoiding them.
Hoping that they could see me and I might be able to speak with them or to hear a word from them, I drew even nearer but no one spoke or even looked at me. I asked my guide why, and he explained that the damned are totally deprived of freedom. Each must endure the full weight of God’s punishment, with no change whatsoever in his state.
He added: “And now it is necessary for you to enter this fiery region you just have seen.”
“No, no!” I objected in terror. “Before going to Hell, one has to be judged, and I have not been judged yet. So I do not want to go to Hell!”
“Answer me,” he said, “what would you rather do: Visit Hell and save your boys, or stay outside and abandon them to their torments?”
For a moment I was struck speechless. Then, I answered: “I love my boys and wish to save them all, but isn't there some other way without going to that place?”
“Well,” he went on, “you still have time just as they do, provided you do all you can.”
My heart felt a great relief as I heard those words and instantly I said to myself: I don't mind how much work it takes if I can rescue these beloved sons of mine from such torments. “Come inside then,” my guide went on, “and observe a proof of the Goodness and Mercy of God, who uses a thousand means to induce your boys to penance and save them from everlasting death.”
Taking my hand, he led me into the cavern. As I stepped in, I found myself suddenly transported into a magnificent crystal hall. In the hall, at regular distances were large veils that covered other rooms that accessed the cavern.
The guide pointed to one of those veils over which was written: The Sixth Commandment, and he exclaimed: “Transgressions against this commandment caused the eternal ruin of many boys.”
“Did they not go to confession?”
“They did, but they either made a bad confession or purposely omitted the sins against the beautiful virtue of purity. For example, one said that he had committed such sins two or three times when it was four or five. Other boys who had fallen into that sin in their childhood were ashamed and never confessed it, or made a bad confession, or did not tell everything.
“Others did not have the sorrow for their sin or lacked the purpose to avoid it in the future. There were even some who, rather than examine their consciences, spent their time trying to figure out ways to deceive their confessor. Anyone dying in this frame of mind shall be among the damned for all eternity. Only those who die truly repentant with the hope of eternal life shall be eternally happy.
“Now do you want to see why the mercy of God brought you here?”
He lifted the curtain and I saw at the end of the room 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.
“At least now you will surely let me take down their names so that I may warn them individually,” I begged.
“There is no need for that”, he answered.
“Then what do you suggest I tell them?”
“Always preach against immodesty. A generic warning will suffice. Bear in mind that even if you admonished them individually, they would make you a thousand promises, but not always sincerely. For firm resolution not to sin again, one needs God's grace, which will never be denied to your boys if they ask. God is so good that He 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 teachings and let them consult their consciences, which will tell them what to do.”
He spent the next half hour discussing the requisites of a good confession.
Afterward, my guide exclaimed in a loud voice several times, “Avertere! Avertere!”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“They must change their lives! They must change their lives!"
Perplexed, I bowed my head and was going to withdraw, when he called me back again and said: “You have not yet seen everything.”
He turned and lifted another veil under which this inscription was written: Qui volunt dívites fieri, íncidunt in tentationem et láqueum diáboli [Those who desire to become rich, fall into temptation and into the snare of the Devil - 1 Tim 6: 9]
“This does not apply to my boys!” I countered. “For they are as poor as I am. We are not rich and do not want to be. We give it no thought.”
As the veil lifted, however, I saw in the room a group of boys, all known to me. They were in pain, like those I had seen before. Pointing to them, my guide remarked:
“As you see, the inscription does apply to your boys.”
“Then explain to me the means of the word divites.”
“For example, the hearts of some boys are attached to material objects so that this disordered affection distances them from the love of God; they lack therefore, piety and recollection. The heart can be perverted not only by the use of riches, but also by the immoderate desire for them, especially when this desire is against the virtue of justice.
“Your boys are poor, but remember that greed and idleness are bad counselors. Some of the boys committed substantial thefts in their native towns, and although they could make restitution, they are not concerned to do so. There are others who try to break into the pantry or the prefect's or treasurer’s office; others rummage in their companions’ trunks to steal food, money or other objects, and there are some who steal stationary and books for their own use...”
After naming these boys and others as well, he continued:
“Some are here for having stolen clothes, linen, blankets and comforters from the Oratory wardrobe in order to send them home to their families. Others, for some intentional damages they made and did not repair. Still others, for not returning objects they had borrowed or for keeping sums of money they were supposed to hand over to the superior.”
He concluded, saying:
“Now that you know who these boys are, admonish them, tell them to curb all vain, harmful desires, to obey God's law and to be zealous of their own honor, otherwise jealously shall lead them to greater excesses that shall plunge them into sorrow, death, and damnation.”
I could not understand why such dreadful punishments should be meted out for infractions that boys held of little account, but my guide interrupted my thoughts by saying: “Remember what you were told when you saw those spoiled grapes on the wine.”
Memorias Biograficas de San Juan Bosco,
Vol. 9, pp. 166-181
Memorias Biograficas de San Juan Bosco,
Vol. 9, pp. 166-181