ST JOHN BOSCO'S DREAM OF THE HORNED CAT
It is the feast day of Saint John Bosco, the extraordinary priest of the 1800s who revolutionized education for boys, first in his native Italy and then throughout the world. He died on January 31st, 1888, but over a century later he is still renowned for the prophetic dreams he had. It is part of our spiritual inheritance from John Bosco that the dreams he had concerning the boys in his care may help reveal our souls to ourselves just as they revealed the secrets of salvation to Italian schoolboys.
Once John Bosco dreamed he was in the middle of the playground and the boys of the oratory congregated around him. Every boy held a rose, a lily or a violet. Some boys had both a rose and a lily, or some other flower. All of a sudden, this sweet scene was thrown into chaos by the unhappy appearance of an ugly and vicious cat. When Bosco related this dream to his boys, he described the ferocious feline as being, "black as coal...it had horns, eyes as red as live coals, long sharp claws and a disgustingly swollen belly".
The cat was a sneaky beast and Bosco saw him slink stealthily towards the boys until he was close enough to claw the flowers from their hands and dash them to the ground. John Bosco fell into panic at the sight of this grasping cat, but the boys remained totally unperturbed and did not mind that the beautiful flowers had been snatched from them. So terrified was John Bosco that he wanted to flee, but just then his guide appeared, the angelic man who came to lead Bosco through his dreams. "Don't run away! Tell your boys to raise their arms up high beyond the beast's reach," his guide commanded Bosco, and Bosco promptly instructed his boys to raise their arms high over the beast's ability to claw their palms. The horned cat did his best to jump up, but his heavy pot belly weighed him down he and he fell to the ground.
After he had time to reflect, Bosco gave his boys a talk on his dream which entailed revealing that the cat was really the devil. Bosco stressed that the lily is a symbol of the beautiful virtue of purity, "against which the devil wages endless war" and that "Woe to those who keep their flower low! The devil will snatch it from them." There is a need to hold their virtue in a high place, and not treat it carelessly, yet when it came to the practical advice on how to maintain purity and fight the devil, Bosco did not mention sexual sins, which I found surprising. Instead he said that purity is compromised by over-eating, total disregard for fasting, avoidance of responsibility and by wayward indulgence in certain conversations and books. Why, you may ask, did he put such emphasis on habitual gluttony which leads to abhorrence of fasting? Bosco drew his boys attention to the verse from Sacred Scripture, "This kind of devil can be cast out only by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17.20)
Too often purity is seen in terms purely of abstinence from illicit sexual activity, but it bears further reflection that Bosco was told that the devil wages constant war on the virtue of purity, and even if we are to be chaste, there is a need for both prayer and fasting in order to drive out the devil who will otherwise stalk us relentlessly. In our wills, we need to give purity a high place of honor, and see habitual gluttony, even food addiction not just as that which can make us fat or unhealthy in our bodies, but as dangers to the soul because they are the means by which we disqualify ourselves from regular fasting, which combined with prayer is the only way the devil can be driven out of our lives.
A MOST HAPPY FEAST OF ST JOHN BOSCO TO YOU AND YOURS!
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This post was informed by 40 Dreams of St John Bosco (Tan Publishers) which you may buy here.