What St John Bosco teaches us about the power and meaning of dreams
Does God communicate with us through our dreams? St John Bosco thought so: he was shown God’s plan for his life in a dream when he was only nine years old. The vivid dream remained etched in his mind for his entire life.
The young John had dreamed that he was in a yard not far from his home in the hilly Italian countryside. The yard was full of poverty-stricken boys who were blaspheming and swearing. Wanting to stop them mouthing “these evil words”, John ran at them and struck them with his fists.
He was interrupted from throwing punches by a man in a white cloak whose face shone so much that young John could hardly look at him. The man said: “You will have to win these friends of yours not by blows but by gentleness and love… I want you to teach them the ugliness of sin.”
In the dream John admitted to the man that he was perplexed. He said he didn’t know how he could ever influence such a great number of boys and he told the man he didn’t know who he was talking to.
The man said: “I will give you a teacher, under her guidance you could become wise. Without her all ‘wisdom’ is foolishness… I am her Son… Ask my Mother what my name is.”
Suddenly Our Lady appeared, draped in a white mantle that seemed speckled with stars.
Our Lady took John’s hand and said: “Look!” Around them, in the place of the children were goats, dogs, cats and bears. Our Lady explained: “This is your work… What you will see happening to these wild animals is what you must do for my children.”
In the blink of an eye the wild beasts had turned into playful lambs frolicking around Our Lady and John. She assured the boy: “In good time you will understand everything.”
The dream revealed John’s vocation. When he grew up he dedicated his life to rescuing and educating abandoned children and young offenders.
Until his death on January 31, 1888, John continued to have dreams that were really masterclasses in divine instruction.
Many of John’s dreams concerned the boys he was teaching and the state of their souls. He dreamt that when the boys knelt in the confessional they came under the influence of certain bad angels and began holding back sins when they made their confessions.
Following these dreams, St John Bosco warned the children in his care that if they were going to go to Confession, they either had to make thorough ones or not confess at all.
Mother Angelica made a programme in which she described a dream where John was escorted by St Dominic Savio to a supremely beautiful, heavenly place, which was not in fact heaven. St Dominic showed John hordes of boys in white whose souls had gone there because they had been his charges.
Initially, John was delighted that his efforts had brought so many souls to the heavenly realm. But St Dominic had something hard to say to him: “There would be many, many more still if only you had greater faith and confidence in God.”
Believing that God can use dreams as a means of communicating with us flies in the face of Freudian psychology, which teaches that dreams are simply products of our subconscious minds. As Catholics, we can accept that explanation for the vast majority of dreams, but we should still be open to having the kinds of dream that John experienced.
True, most of us will never have such vivid and divinely inspired dreams as John. But today, on his feast day, it would be a good idea to pray for edification during our dreams and for the sort of instruction that will help us lead better lives.
I wrote this article for The Catholic Herald, in honour of St John Bosco's feast day. This was my sixth piece for http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/ during the month of January 2016.