Dated May 10, 1884, addressed from Rome to the educational community of Turin-Valdocco, the letter takes up many elements of a previous drafting sent on the same date to the young people of the 'house annexed' to the Valdocco Oratory; however, it is enriched with other relevant reasons reserved for educators. Materially it is the work of Don Giovanni Battista Lemoyne, however for the principles, the reasons, the suggestions contained in it, largely already present in the educational system previously lived by Don Bosco and somehow theorized by him in previous documents, argue in favor. of a full consonance between him and his spiritual son, disciple, good educator and excellent writer. So a text-summary of a forty-year collective educational experience, which, although reserved for a specific environment, contains a message of universal value.
Critical text with introduction, variants apparatus and historical-illustrative notes in Pietro Braido (ed.), Don Bosco educator writings and testimonies. Third edition with the collaboration of Antonio da Silva Ferreira, Francesco Motto and José Manuel Prellezo. Salesian Historical Institute, Sources, First Series, n. 9. Rome, LAS 1997, pp. 375-388.
Rome, 10 May 1884
My dear children in Jesus C.
Near or far I always think of you. Only one is my desire: to see you happy in time and in eternity. This thought, this desire resolved me to write you this letter. I feel, my dear friends, the weight of my distance from you and not seeing you and not feeling you cause me pain as you cannot imagine. Therefore I would have liked to write these lines a week ago, but the continuous occupations prevented me. However, although a few days are missing on my return, I want to anticipate my coming among you at least by letter, not being able to do so in person. They are the words of those who love you tenderly in Jesus Christ and have the duty to speak to you with the freedom of a father. And you will let me, won't you? And you will pay attention to me and put into practice what I am to tell you.
I have said that you are the only and continuous thought of my mind. Now then in one of the last few nights I had retired to my room, and while he was preparing me to go to rest he had begun to recite the prayers that my good mother taught me. At that moment I do not know whether I was taken by sleep or taken away from me by a distraction, it seemed to me that two of the ancient youths of the Oratory appeared before me.
One of these two approached me and greeted me affectionately and said: - O D. Bosco! He knows me?
- I know I know you: I answered.
- And do you still remember me? the man added.
- About you and everyone else. You are Valfré, and you were in the Oratory before 1870.
- Say! continued Valfré, does he want to see the young people who were in the Oratory in my time?
- Yes let me see them, I answered; this will cause me great pleasure.
And Valfré showed me all the young people with the same appearance and height and age of that time. I seemed to be in the ancient oratory at recreation time. It was a whole life scene, all motion, all joy. Who was running, who was jumping, who was jumping. Here he played for the frog, there in bararotta and the ball. In one place a group of young people had gathered, hanging from the lip of a priest who told a little story. In another place a cleric who in the midst of other young men played donkey flies and crafts. People sang and laughed at all sides and everywhere clerics and priests and around them the young people cackling cheerfully. It was clear that the greatest cordiality and confidence reigned among the young and the Superiors. I was charmed by this spectacle and Valfré told me: - See: familiarity brings love, and love brings confidence. This is what opens hearts and young people reveal everything without fear to teachers, assistants and superiors. They become frank in confession and out of confession and lend themselves docile to everything that wants to command the one from whom they are certain to be loved.
At that moment my other old pupil approached me who had a white beard and said: - Don Bosco now wants to know and see the young people who are currently in the Oratory? (He was Buzzetti Giuseppe).
- Yup! I replied; because it is already a month that I no longer see them!
And he pointed them out to me. I saw the Oratory and all of you doing recreation. But he no longer heard shouts of joy and cries, he no longer saw that motion, that life as in the first scene. In the deeds and in the faces of many young people we read a boredom, an exhaustion, a musoneria, a distrust that was painful to my heart. I saw it is true that many who ran, played, lived in blissful light-heartedness, but others were not few I saw, alone leaning on the pillars in the grip of 'discouraging thoughts; others up the stairs and in the corridors or above the balconies on the garden side to escape common recreation; others walk slowly in groups talking in a low voice to each other giving around suspicious and malign glances: sometimes they smile but with a smile accompanied by looks that not only suspect, but to believe that Saint Louis would have blushed if he had found himself in company with them; even among those who played there were some so lazy, that they could see clearly, as if they had no taste in amusement.
- Have you seen your youth? that old student told me.
- I see them; I answered, sighing.
- How different they are from what we once were! exclaimed that old pupil.
- Unfortunately! How much unwillingness in this recreation.
- And from here comes the coldness of so many in approaching the Holy Sacraments, the neglect of the practices of piety in the Church and elsewhere; to be unwilling in a place where Divine Providence fills them with all good for the body, for the soul, for the intellect. Hence the non-correspondence that many make to their vocation; hence the ingratitudes towards the Superiors; hence the secrets and murmurs, with all the other deplorable consequences.
- I understand, I mean, I replied. But how can these dear young people of mine be revived, so that they may resume their ancient liveliness, joy, expansion?
- With love!
- Love? But aren't my young people loved enough? You know if I love them. You know how much I suffered and tolerated for over forty years, and how much I tolerate and suffer even now. How many hardships, how many humiliations, how many oppositions, how many persecutions to give them bread, house, masters and especially to procure the health of their souls. I did what I could and knew for those who form the affection of my whole life.
- I'm not talking about you!
- Whose then? Of those who take my place? Directors, Prefects, Masters, Assistants? Don't you see how they are martyrs of study and work? How do they consume their youthful years for those who entrusted them with Divine Providence?
- I see, I know; but this is not enough: we lack the best.
- What is missing then?
- That young people are not only loved but that they themselves know they are loved.
- But don't they have eyes on their foreheads? Don't they have the light of intelligence? Do they not see that what is done for them is all for their love?
- No, I repeat; this is not enough.
- What does it take, then?
- That being loved in those things that they like by participating in their infantile inclinations, they learn to see love in those things that they naturally like little; what the discipline is. study, self-mortification and these things learn to do with love.
- Explain yourself better!
- Observe young people in recreation.
I watched and then replied: "And what's special to see."
- Have you been educating young people for years and do not understand? Look better! Where are our Salesians?
I observed and saw that very few Priests and Clerics mingled among the young and even fewer took part in their entertainment. The Superiors were no longer the soul of recreation. Most of them walked among them talking, regardless of what the students did: others watched the recreation giving themselves no thought of the young; others watched so far away without warning anyone who committed a fault; someone then warned but in a threatening manner and this rarely. There were some Salesians who would have liked to intrude on some group of young people, but I saw that these young people were studiously trying to get away from the masters and Superiors.
Then that friend of mine resumed: - In the ancient times of the Oratory she was not always among young people and especially in time of recreation? Do you remember those beautiful years? It was a blaze of paradise, an age that we always remember with love, because love was what we normally needed, and we had no secrets for her.
- Of course! And then everything was a joy for me and for the young people a momentum to get closer to me to want to talk to me, and a lively anxiety to hear my advice and put it into practice. But now you see how continuous audiences and multiplied affairs and my health prevent me.
- All right: but if you can't, why don't your Salesians make you their imitators? Why don't you insist, don't you demand that you treat young people how you treated them?
- I speak, I mop but too much that many do not feel anymore to do the labors of the past.
- And thus neglecting the less I lose the most and this is their most toiling. May they love what young people like and young people will love what the Superiors like. And in this way their effort will be easy. The cause of the present change in the Oratory is that a certain number of young people have no confidence in the Superiors. Formerly the hearts were all open to the Superiors, whom the young loved and readily obeyed. But now the superiors are considered as superiors and no longer as fathers, brothers and friends, so they are feared and unloved. Therefore if we want to make a single heart and a single soul for Jesus' sake we must break that fatal barrier of distrust and submerge cordial confidence in it. Therefore, obedience should guide the pupil as the mother guides her child. Then I will reign ancient peace and joy in the Oratory.
- So how do you go about breaking this barrier?
- Familiarity with young people especially in recreation. Without familiarity, love cannot be demonstrated and without this demonstration there can be no confidence. Those who want to be loved need to show that they love. Jesus Christ became small with the little ones and brought our infirmities. Here is the master of familiarity. The teacher seen only in the chair is a teacher and no longer, but if he goes to recreation with the young he becomes like a brother. If one is seen only preaching from the pulpit it will be said that he does neither more of his duty, but if he says a word in recreation it is the word of one who loves. How many conversions did not cause some of his words made to resound suddenly in the ear of a young man while he enjoyed himself.
Those who know they are loved love and those who are loved get everything especially from young people. This confidence puts an electric current between the young and the Superiors. The hearts open and make their needs known and reveal their defects. This love makes the Superiors bear the hardships, the troubles, the ingratitudes, the troubles, the faults, the negligence of the youngsters. Jesus Christ did not break the reed already broken, nor did it extinguish the wick that smoked. Here is your model. Then you will no longer see who will work for vainglory; who will punish only to avenge offended self-love; who will withdraw from the field of surveillance out of jealousy of a feared preponderance of others; who will murmur of others wanting to be loved and esteemed by the young, excluding all other Superiors, gaining nothing but contempt and hypocritical moine; whoever lets himself steal the heart from a creature and to make the court to this neglect all the other young men; who for the sake of their own comfort keep in mind the strict duty of surveillance; who for a vain human respect refrain from warning those who must be warned. If there is this true love, nothing will be sought but the glory of God and the health of souls.
It is when this love weakens that things are no longer good. Why do we want to replace love with the coldness of a regulation? Why do the superiors move away from the observance of those rules of education that Don Bosco dictated to them? Because the system of preventing the disorders with vigilance and lovingly is gradually replacing the less heavy and brighter system for those who command to ban laws which, if supported by punishments, ignite hatred and bear sorrows; if we neglect to make them observe, they yield contempt for their superiors and are they the cause of very serious disorders?
And this necessarily happens if there is no familiarity. If, therefore, we want the oratory to return to its ancient happiness, the ancient system is re-enacted: that the Superior be all to all, always ready to listen to every doubt, or lamentation of the young, all eye to paternally monitor their conduct , all heart to seek the spiritual and temporal good of those whom Providence has entrusted to him. Then the hearts will no longer be closed and certain secretions that kill will no longer reign. Only in cases of immorality are the Superiors inexorable. It is better to run the danger of driving an innocent out of the house than to consider him a scandal. The assistants do a very strict duty of conscience to report to the superiors all those things which they know in any way to be offended by God.
Then I asked: "And what is the principal means for treating similar familiarity and similar love and confidence?"
- The exact observance of the house rules.
- And nothing else?
- The best dish in a lunch is good wax.
While this is how my old pupil finished speaking and I continued to observe with great regret that recreation gradually I felt oppressed by great exhaustion that was growing every now and then. This oppression got to the point where I could no longer resist shaking myself and finding myself. I found myself standing by the bed. My legs were so swollen and they hurt me so much that I could no longer stand. The hour was very late so I went to bed determined to write these lines to my dear children.
I want him not to make these dreams because they tire me too much. The following day he felt broken in the person and I could not wait to rest the following evening. But as soon as I was in bed I started to sleep again. Aveo before the courtyard, the young people who are now in the Oratory, and the same ancient pupil of the Oratory. I began to question him: - What you told me I will let my Salesians know, but to the young people of the Oratory what should I say?
He replied: - That they recognize how much the Superiors, the masters, the assistants struggle and study for their love, then that if it were not for their good they would not submit to so many sacrifices; that humility be remembered as the source of all tranquility, that they know how to bear the faults of others, that perfection is not found in the world but this is only in paradise; let them cease from murmuring because these cool hearts; and above all that they try to live in the Holy grace of God. Whoever does not have peace with God, has no peace with himself, has no peace with others.
- And then you tell me that you are among my young people of those who do not have peace with God?
- This is the first cause of the bad mood, among the others that you know, to which you must remedy, and which does not do now what I tell you. In fact, he does not distrust anyone who has secrets to guard, except those who fear that these secrets come to know each other, because he knows that he would return shame and disgrace to them. At the same time, if the heart does not have peace with God it remains anxiously restless, intolerant of obedience, irritated by nothing, it seems to him that everything goes bad, and because it has no love, he judges that the Superiors do not love him.
- And yet, my dear, do you not see how often Confessions and Communions are in the Oratory?
- It is true that the frequency of the Confessions is great, but what is radically lacking in so many young people who confess is stability in purpose. They confess but always the same faults. the same next occasions, the same bad habits, the same disobediences, the same neglect of duties. This is how it goes on for months and months, and even for years, and some even go on to the fifth year. They are confessions that are worth little or nothing; therefore they do not bring peace and if a young man were called in that state to the court of God it would be a very serious business.
- And there are many of them at the Oratory?
- Few compared to the large number of young people in the house: Observe. - And pointed them out to me.
I looked and one by one I saw those young people. But in these few I saw things that have profoundly embittered my heart. I do not want to put them on paper, but when I return I want to show them to everyone they refer to. Here he will only tell you that it is time to pray and to make firm resolutions; to propose not with words but with deeds and to show that the Comollo, the Savio Domenico, the Besucco and the Saccardi, still live among us.
Finally I asked my friend: "Do you have anything else to say to me?"
- Preach to all great and small that they always remember that they are children of Maria SS. Help. That she gathered them here to lead them away from the dangers of the world, so that they might love each other as brothers and give glory to God and to her with their good conduct. What is the Madonna what they provide bread and means to study with infinite graces and portents. Remember that they are on the eve of their SS. Mother and that with her help must fall that barrier of distrust that the Devil knew how to raise between young people and Superiors and of which he knows how to benefit for the ruin of certain souls.
- And will we succeed in removing this barrier?
- Yes certainly as long as children and adults are ready to suffer some small mortification for Mary's sake and put into practice what I have told her.
Meanwhile, I kept looking at my youngsters, and to the spectacle of those who saw them moving towards eternal perdition, I felt such a tightness in my heart that I woke up. Many very important things that I saw I would still like to tell you but time and conveniences do not allow me.
I conclude: Do you know what this poor old man who has consumed his whole life for his dear young people wants from you? Nothing else except, given the due proportions, the happy days of the ancient oratory return. The days of Christian love and trust between the young and the Superiors; the days of the Spirit of condescension and forbearance for the love of Jesus Christ of one towards the other; the days of open hearts with all simplicity and candor, the days of charity and true joy for all. I need you to console me by giving me the hope and the promise that you will do everything I desire for the sake of your souls. You do not know enough about how lucky you are to have been admitted to the Oratory. Before God I protest: It is enough for a young man to enter a Salesian house because the Blessed Virgin take it immediately under its special protection. So let's all get along. The charity of those who command, the charity of those who must obey let the spirit of St. Francis de Sales reign among us. O my dear children, the time is approaching in which I will have to detach myself from you and depart for my eternity (Note of the Secretary. At this point Don Bosco suspended to dictate; his eyes were filled with tears, not for regret, but for ineffable tenderness that leaked from his gaze and the sound of his voice: after a few moments he continued) so I long to leave you, priests or clerics, or dear young people for that path of the Lord in which he himself desires you. To this end, the Holy Father whom I saw on Friday 9th May sends his blessing to you wholeheartedly. The feast day of Maria SS. Help of Christians I will be with you before the effigy of our most loving Mother. I want this great festival to be celebrated with every solemnity and D. Lazzero and D. Marchisio are thinking of making sure that we are happy even in the refectory. The feast of Mary Help of Christians must be the prelude to the feast that we must all celebrate together a day in paradise.
Your most affectionate friend in G. C.
Sac. Gio. Bosco.