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In the dream at 9, there are strong movements that stand out because of their intensity and that in the story acquire such verisimilitude that they leave a mark not only in the memory but also in the body, a detail that remains vivid even if recounted many years later: “When I heard those blasphemies, I immediately threw myself into their midst, using my fists and words to silence them.... My hands seemed to hurt from the punches I had given, my face ached from the slaps I had given.”

When the action becomes so agitated, what he lets transpire becomes more immediate, unfiltered: John has a strong character, where the impetus to react easily wins over possible hesitations, fears, reluctance. It is not only the dream that signals his temperament. The fact that in the quarrels with his step-brother Antonio, it was he, the youngest, and not Giuseppe, Margherita's eldest son, who reached such a point of tension that he had to be sent away from home from February 1827 until November 1829 - Moglia farm - confirms that, as a character, Giovanni was not a submissive one.

The testimonies sworn during the trial that would lead to the declaration of the heroic virtues of Don Bosco, and finally to his canonisation, become interesting: "By his own confession, which I heard, he was naturally fiery and haughty and could not suffer resistance, yet by many acts he was able to restrain himself so much that he became a peaceful and meek man and so master of his own nature" (Marchisio, in Copia Publica Transumpti Processus Ordinaria, 629r). Similar is the opinion of Fr. Cagliero and Fr. Rua: "By his own confession, his natural character was fiery and haughty, such that he could not suffer resistance, and he felt an inexpressible struggle within himself, whenever he had to present himself to someone to ask for charity" (Cagliero, ibid 1166r); "He was of a fiery temper, as I, and many others with me, have been able to ascertain; for in various circumstances we noticed how much violence he had to do to repress the outbursts of anger for the contrarieties that happened to him. And if this was the case in his old age, it leads one to believe that his character was even more vivid in his youth” (Rua, ibid 2621 r-v).

In the dream, this is precisely the first word the majestic character says: 'Not with blows'. There is an indication of direction that corresponds to a sharp turn. John is taken aback and somehow resists this invitation, pressing on with his questions about 'who you are' and the impossibility of doing what is proposed to him.

We know from the story of those who left us the Memoirs of the Oratory, written 40 years later, that in reality that conversion, more than a moral or even just methodological change, from something that does not work to something that works better, was a convergence of a continuous, gradual, fruitful succession of educational processes and spiritual paths that will make John not only capable of controlling himself, but a genius of the educational relationship, a 'soul friend' capable of directing that powerful energy into a force that grows, not represses. The first not to be repressed is precisely this inner charge. Indeed, the teacher who makes the impossible possible will give him the task of making himself stronger and stronger, inside and out: humble, strong and robust.

It is a force that from violent opposition becomes generative energy, no less intense and resilient. It does not stop in the face of arrogance and wins. It conquers evil with good. A victory, therefore, not a letting oneself be overwhelmed by aggression or fleeing in fear.

This kind of strength that knows how to confront violence and redeem it from within has a genuinely evangelical flavour. The 'turn the other cheek' with which the call to love one's enemies is paradoxically made explicit can be seen embodied in the days of Easter, where the worst of evil becomes a pathway to the most fruitful good ever, from the Alpha to the Omega of our universe.

Along with not ‘opposing the wicked’ comes the insistence in the Gospels on FREEDOM, especially in the gospel of John, an eyewitness and at the same time the last to narrate with what has happened also its meaning, that is, the direction that, that Easter imprints on the whole of history. It is the free gift of self. Jn 10:17-18: "This is why the Father loves me: because I give my life, only to take it up again. No one takes it away from me: I lay it by myself. I have the power to give it and the power to take it back”. This confirms how much power is developed from that clear choice of direction, of ‘towards where’, of con-version and con-vergence: ‘Not with blows’.

For Don Bosco, it will become very clear that this is the only educational path worth pursuing, where auctoritas truly becomes the art of making one grow, according to the original meaning of the term (augere). The rejection of an educational system based rather on repression and punishment is for him a trajectory of no return, even when he has now crossed the ocean and his people transplant the oratory to Patagonia. In his final years, the fear that this spirit would be lost would bring him to tears and lead him to write some of the most heartfelt and incisive pages, such as the letter from Rome on 10th May 1884: “It is not enough to love, they must realise that they are loved”. That historic letter was also in the form of a dream and could almost be understood as an answer that Don Bosco in his final years gave to that impetuous Giovannino, not as an antithesis but as a review of the entire path from the point of arrival: “In his time you will understand everything”.

For us who reflect on it after years, this life journey is so generative, in which we are personally involved, each with his or her own story, with two possible gifts to grasp:

- It is possible to redirect energy, not suppress it but give it a new direction. It is a slow and tiring path, but it is worth it. One becomes neither less strong nor less effective. The people who have done us the most good are educators and teachers who have taken steps in this direction.

- It is a path that demands and is nourished by great faith. It does not seek the immediate effect but knows how to believe in the fruit even when there is only a seed, not infrequently the smallest of all. This is the logic of Easter. It is a field in which between education and evangelisation, between nature and grace, between the challenge of the present and the hope of the future, a consonance is established that is as divine as it is human. What we are, with our reliance and patience, is strengthened by the grace that is given to us from above. The experience of our saints, among whom the martyrs are always first on the list, confirms this, and is proven by the variety of contexts and situations in which this winning of evil with good has been achieved. It is not a question of culture or of particular historical conjunctures: it concerns human relations always, before, now and after us, with the same permanent modernity that the Gospel parables have.

Silvio Reggia, SDB


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