Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 12.


" I USED also to make other missionary excursions at this time to more distant counties towards the north. On the way I had to pass through my native place, and through the midst of my kindred and acquaintance; but I could not do much good there, though there were many who professed themselves great friends of mine. I experienced in fact most fully the truth of that saying of Truth Himself, that no prophet is received in his own country; so that I felt little wish at any time to linger among them. It happened once that I went to lodge on one of these journeys with a Catholic kinsman. 1 I found him in hunters trim, ready to start for a grand hunt, for which many of his friends had met together. He asked me to go with him and try to gain over a certain gentleman who had married a cousin of his and mine. I answered that some other occasion would be more fit. He disagreed with me however, maintaining that unless I took this chance of going with him, I should not be able to get near the person in question. I went accordingly, and during the hunt joined company with him for whose soul I myself was on the hunt. The hounds being at fault from time to time, and ceasing to give tongue, while we were awaiting the renewal of this hunter's music, I took the opportunity of following my own chase, and gave tongue myself in good earnest. Thus, beginning to speak of the great pains that we took over chasing a poor animal, I brought the conversation to the necessity of seeking an everlasting kingdom, and the proper method of gaining it, to wit by employing all manner of care and industry; as the devil on his part never sleeps, but hunts after our souls as hounds after their prey. We said but little on disputed points of faith, for he was rather a schismatic than a heretic, but to move his will to act required a longer talk. This work was continued that day and the day after ; and on the fourth day he was spiritually born and made a Catholic. He still remains one, and often supports priests at home and sends them to other people.

" On an occasion of this kind there happened a very wonderful thing. He went once to visit a friend of his who was sick in bed. As he knew him to be an upright man, and one rather under a delusion than in wilful error, he began to instruct him in the faith, and press him at the same time to look to his soul, as his illness was dangerous. He at last prevailed with him, and was himself prevailed upon by the sick man to send for a priest to hear his confession. Accordingly, after instructing the invalid how to stir up in himself meanwhile sorrow for his sins and make ready his confession, the other went away. Not happening to have a priest at home at the time, he had some difficulty in finding one. In the meantime the sick man died, but evidently with a great desire of confession ; for he repeatedly asked whether that friend of his was coming who had promised to bring a physician with him, under which name priests often visit the sick. What followed seemed to show that his desires had stood him in good stead. Every night after his death there appeared to his wife in her chamber a sort of light flickering through the air and sometimes entering within the curtains. She was frightened, and ordered her maids to bring their beds into the room and stay with her; they however saw nothing, their mistress alone saw the appearance every night and was troubled at it. At last she sent for that Catholic friend of her husband, disclosed to him the whole cause of her fear, and asked him to consult some learned man. He asked a priest's advice, who answered that very probably this light meant that she should come to the light of faith. He returned with the answer, and won her over. The widow, on becoming a Catholic, had mass said in the same room for a long time, but still the same light appeared every night. This increased her trouble, so that the priest consulted other priests, and brought back an answer to the widow, that probably her husband's soul was on the way to Heaven, by reason of his true conversion of. heart and contrition accompanied with a desire of the sacrament, but still he stood in need of prayers to free him from his debts to God's justice. He bade her therefore have mass said for him thirty days, according to the old custom of the country. She took the advice, and herself communicated several times for the same intention. The night after the last mass had been celebrated in the room, she saw three lights instead of one as before. Two of them seemed to hold and support the third between them. All three entered within the bed-curtains, and after staying there a little while, mounted up towards Heaven through the top of the bed, leaving the lady in great consolation. She saw nothing of the sort again; from which all gathered that the soul had then been freed from its pains, and carried by the angels to Heaven. This took place in the county of Stafford.

"My journeys northwards were undertaken for the purpose of visiting, and strengthening in the faith, certain persons who there afforded no small aid to the common cause. Among them were two sisters of high nobility, daughters of an earl of very old family who had laid down his life for the Catholic faith. 2 They lived together, and manifested a great desire to have me not merely visit them sometimes, but rather stay altogether with them. Though this could not be, they gave themselves up entirely to my direction, that I might lead them to God. The elder [Lady Elizabeth Woodroff], who had a family, became a pillar of support to that portion of our afflicted Church. She kept two priests with her at home, and received all who came to her with great charity. There are numbers of priests in that part of the country, and many Catholics, mostly of the poorer sort. Indeed I was hardly ever there without our counting before my departure six or seven priests together in her house. Thus she gave great help to religion in the whole district during her abode there, which lasted till I was seized and thrown into prison; whereupon she was constrained by her husband to change her abode and go to London, a proceeding which did neither of them any good, and deprived the poor Catholics of many advantages. Her sister [Lady Mary Percy] was chosen by God for Himself. " I found her unmarried, humble, and modest. Gradually she was fitted for something higher. She learnt the practice of meditation; and profited so well thereby, that the world soon grew vile in her eyes, and Heaven seemed the only thing worthy of her love. I afterwards sent her to Father Holt in Belgium. He wrote to me on one occasion about her in these terms: ' Never has there come into these parts a country-women of ours that has given such good example, or done such honour to our nation/ She had the chief hand in the foundation of the present convent of English Benedictine Nuns at Brussels, 3 where she still lives, and has arrived to a great pitch of virtue and self-denial. She yearns for a more retired life, and has often proposed to her director to allow her to live as a recluse, but gives in to his reasons to the contrary. " At first I used to carry with me on these journeys my altar furniture, which was meagre but decent, and so contrived that it could be easily carried, along with several other necessary articles, by him who acted as my servant. In this way I used to say mass in the morning in every place where I lodged, not however before I had looked into every corner around, that there might be no one peeping in through the chinks. I brought my own things mainly on account of certain Catholics my entertainers not having yet what was necessary for the Holy Sacrifice. But after some years this cause was removed; for in nearly every place that I came to they had got ready the sacred vestments beforehand. Moreover I had so many friends to visit on the way, and these at such distances from one another, that it was hardly every necessary for me to lodge at an inn on a journey of one hundred and fifty miles; and at last I hardly slept at an inn once in two years."

1 William Wiseman, Richard Fulwood, and Ralph Willis, whose names soon reappear in the story, were with Father Gerard at Lady Gerard's house before Michaelmas, 1592. P.R.O., Domestic, Elizabeth, vol. ccxlviii. n. 103.

2 Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland, who was beheaded at York in l S72 , had four daughters: Elizabeth, wife of Richard Woodroff; Lucy, wife of Sir Edward Stanley ; Jane, wife of Lord Henry Seymour ; and Mary, the second Abbess of the English Benedictine Convent at Brussels.

3 This venerable community was transferred, in 1794, to Winchester, and in 1857 to East Bergholt in Suffolk. This was the first English Convent founded after the Reformation, and the first to come to England at the French Revolution.