Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 34.

1599 to 1603.

" I MUST now return to London, and relate what happened after John Lilly was taken, and the gentleman imprisoned with whom I rented my London house. This house being now closed to me, I sought out another, but on a different plan. I did not now join in partnership with any one, because I was unwilling to be in the house of one known to be a Catholic. I managed that this new house should be hired by a nephew of Master Roger Lee, whom with his wife I had reconciled to the Catholic Church ; 1 and as he was not known to be a Catholic, the house was entirely free from all suspicion. I had the use of this house for three years, and during that time it was not once searched ; nor even before the Queen's death, though there were many general searches made, and the prisons were choked with Catholics, did they ever come to this house.

" I had a man to keep the house who was a schismatic, but otherwise an honest and upright person. When I was in residence, this man provided me with necessaries; and when I was away, he managed any business for me according to my written directions. In all appearance he was the servant of the gentleman who owned the house, and so he was esteemed and called by the neighbours; and since as a schismatic he frequented their churches, they entertained no suspicion of him, nor of the house.

" For myself, when I came to town, I always entered the house after dark, and in summer time scarce ever went out while I remained there. But my friends would come to visit me by ones and twos on different days, that no special attention might be drawn to the house from the number of visitors. Nor did they ever bring any servants with them, though some were of very high rank, and usually went about with a large number of attendants. By these means I provided better for them and for myself, and was able to continue longer in this way of life.

" It was from this house, soon after my taking possession of it, that Master Roger Lee and three others went to the noviceship, all of whom are now priests and labourers in the Society. The only one of them who is not now actually labouring is Father Strange, who is at present suffering imprisonment in the Tower of London, where he has had to undergo many grievous tortures, and a long solitary confinement. This solitude, indeed, if we look only to his natural disposition, cannot but be very irksome and oppressive to him ; but he is not solitary who has God always present with him, consoling him, and supplying in an eminent degree and full abundance all those comforts which we are wont to go begging for from creatures. This Father Strange used to come to me when I was a prisoner in the Clink. He was a Catholic before I knew him ; and seeing that he was a youth of quick parts and good disposition, an only son and heir to a fair property, so that he could well associate with gentlemen, I got him to come often to me, and at length to make the Spiritual Exercises. In the course of these he saw good reason to come to the resolution of following Christ our Lord, and entering the Society. Till he could make full arrangements for this, and sell his property, I got him to reside in the same house with Father Garnet, that the good spirit he had imbibed might not evaporate, but be rather increased. He remained with Father Garnet nearly two years before he was able to disentangle himself entirely from his worldly goods : at length cutting the last ties which bound his bark to the English shore, he passed across the channel a free man.

" Before he started, however, he brought me a friend and companion of his who is now Father Hart. 2 He also is an only son, and his father (a rich man) is, I think, still alive. I did not give him the Exercises, but I met him from time to time (for I was free now), and instead of the Exercises I taught him the method of daily meditation. I gave him also some pious books to read, among others Father Jerome Platus ; and it was from this last that he acquired the spirit of religion and of the Society. He is now a very useful labourer in England, and well suited to converse and deal with gentlemen, to whose society he was accustomed before he left the world.

" The third was the present Father Thomas Smith, who for these last four years has resided at St. Omers. He was a Master of Arts of Oxford ; and I found him engaged as tutor to the young Baron, the son of my hostess: so that I had many good opportunities of conversing freely with him. But as he was a schismatic, that is, though a Catholic by conviction, yet lingering in heresy from infirmity of will, I found it impossible to move him, or even stir him from his present state of mind. Such people, in fact, who can truly say with the Prophet, ' My belly cleaveth to the ground,' are far more difficult to gain than full heretics, as we find by daily experience. He was often present at my private exhortations, and also at my public sermons, but he slept a heavy and lethargic slumber, so that one might easily recognize the power of the strong man armed keeping his house in peace. However, a stronger than he came upon him, and despoiled him, and bound him, and took away his armour in which he trusted. And this stronger One who overcame him was no other than the Child Who was born and given to us. For on the night of our Lord's Nativity, while the whole family were celebrating the feast, he alone of all remained in bed; but he could not sleep, and began to feel an overpowering shame, seeing that even the three boys whom he taught had risen and were engaged in praising God, thus teaching their master, not by words, but by deeds. Roused, therefore, interiorly by the cradle-cries of the Divine Infant, he began to think with himself how much time he had hitherto lost, and how the very boys and the unlearned were entering into God's Kingdom before him. So, trembling and eager to lose no more time, he rose at once, came to the chapel door and knocked, and asked to speak to me. As I was engaged, I sent him a message, asking him to wait till the morning, when I should be at his service. But he would not listen, and sent back word that he must speak with me at once. I therefore bade him have a little patience, and when I had finished Matins, I came out to him, dressed in my alb as I was. When he saw me he threw himself at my feet, and said, with the tears streaming down his cheeks, ' Oh, Father, I beseech you for the love of God to hear my confession.'

" I wondered at the strangeness of the thing, and bade him be of good heart—that I would hear him at a proper time, but that he must first prepare himself well for it.

"' Oh, Father,' he cried, ' I have put it off too long already ! Do not bid me delay any more.'

"'It is well,' I replied, 'that you feel the necessity of instant diligence. But this is not delaying, to take a fair and moderate time for preparation. Nay, the confession and absolution would not be good, if preparation and examination are omitted, when they might easily have been made.'

" 'Well, but,' urged he, ' I may die before the time of confession.'

"' Then I will answer for you before God,' I said : ' do you in the meanwhile conceive in your heart a true sorrow for having offended our good Lord.'

" Upon this he yielded, and retired still weeping ; and after one or two days' diligent examination of conscience, he made his confession, and being reconciled, celebrated with us the conclusion of the feast, the beginning of which he had lost.

"These three, then, of whom I have spoken, crossed over into Belgium with Master Lee, and from thence passing on to Rome, made their noviceship at Saint Andrew's, all except Father Hart. He was admitted rather later, but was sent into England earlier than the others on some business, and is a very useful labourer there.

" When I was in London, I did not allow everyone to come to my house whose desire to converse with me I was willing to gratify; but I would sometimes, especially after dark in winter time, go myself to their houses. On one occasion I was asked by a certain lady to her house to hear the confession of a young nobleman attached to the Court, who was a dear friend of her husband's. Her husband was also a Catholic and well known to me: though quite a young man, he had been one of the principal captains in the Irish War. And the young nobleman just mentioned was a baron, and son to an Irish earl, and at this present writing he has himself succeeded to the earldom on his father's death. This young baron, then, wished to make his confession to me. As I had not known him before, I put a few questions to him, according to my wont, beforehand. I asked him, therefore, if he was prepared at once. He answered that he was. I then asked how often in the year he was accustomed to go to the sacraments. ' Twice or thrice in the year,' he said.

"' It would be better,' said I, ' to come more frequently, and then less preparation would be necessary. As it is' I should advise you to take a few days for the exact and diligent examination of your conscience, according to the method that I will show you : then you will come with greater fruit, and with greater satisfaction to yourself and to me. And for the future I would recommend a more frequent use of the holy sacraments.' And I brought some reasons for my advice.

"He listened to me very patiently, and when I had finished, he replied, ' I will do in future what you recommend, and I would willingly follow your counsel at present, if it were possible ; it is, however, impossible to put off my present confession.'

"' Why is it impossible ?' I asked. "' Because,' he replied, 'to-morrow I shall be in circumstances of danger, and I desire to prepare myself by confession today.'

"' What danger is this,' I asked again, ' to which you will be exposed ?'

"' There is a gentleman at Court,' he said, ' who has grievously insulted me, so that I was compelled, in defence of my honour, to challenge him to single combat; and we meet tomorrow at an appointed spot at some distance from town.'

"'My lord,' I exclaimed, 'to approach the sacrament in such a frame of mind, is not to prepare yourself for danger, nor to cleanse your soul (though I doubt not that it was with a good intention you proposed it), but rather to sully your soul more than ever, to affront God still further, and render Him still more your enemy. For to come to confession with a determination of taking vengeance is to put an obstacle to the grace of the sacrament; and moreover this particular action on which you are resolved is not only a sin, but is visited with excommunication. I urge you, therefore, to give up this intention; you will be able to preserve your honour by some other way. Nay, the honour you think to preserve by this, is not real honour, but merely the estimation of bad men founded on bad principles; men who exalt their own worldly ideas above the law and honour of God.'

"' It is impossible to withdraw now,' he said, ' for the thing is known to many, and has been taken even to the Queen, who has expressly forbidden us to pursue the matter any further.'

"'Well, then,' said I, 'you have the best possible reason for laying aside the quarrel, namely, obedience to the Queen's behest. Moreover, you must remember that you are known for the intimate friend of the Earl of Essex, and that if you overcome your adversary, the Queen (if it be only to spite the Earl) will certainly visit you with some heavy punishment for having disregarded her commands ; but if you should kill him, unquestionably she will take your life. On the other hand, if you should be vanquished, what becomes of the honour you wish to defend ? And if you should be slain in that state of soul in which you go to the fight, you go straight to eternal fire and everlasting shame : for while you are defending your body from your adversary's sword, you forget to parry the mortal thrust that the devil is aiming at your soul.'

" But spite of all I could say, the fear of the world, which is fatally powerful with men of this rank, prevailed, and his reply was, ' I implore you, Father, to pray for me, and to hear my confession, if you possibly can.'

"' Certainly I cannot hear you,' I said, ' for that honour which you worship is not necessary to you, in the sense in which it is to those who are obliged to take their part in a war. Besides, you are the challenger, and you took this unlawful course when it was possible for you to follow some other method of vindicating yourself, and so whatever necessity there is for pursuing the matter has been created by yourself. But this is what I will do: I will give you from my reliquary a particle of the Holy Cross, enclosed with an Agnus Dei, and you shall wear it upon you. Perhaps God may have mercy on you for the sake of this, and afford you time for penance. Understand, however, I do not give it you in order to encourage you in your bad purpose, but that you may wear it with all reverence and respect, so that should you come into danger (which certainly I do not desire) God may be moved to preserve your life, in the consideration of the good will you have of honouring His Cross.'

" He took my gift very thankfully and reverentially, and had it sewed inside his shirt over his heart; for it was arranged they should fight in their shirts without cuirass. It happened, God so allowing it, that his adversary made a lunge at his heart and pierced his shirt, but did not touch his skin. He on his side wounded and prostrated his enemy, then gave him his life and came off victorious. He then came to me in high spirits, and told me how he had been preserved by the power of the Holy Cross ; then he thanked me very earnestly, and promised to be more on his guard in future. The Queen soon after took a fancy to this young nobleman, and kept him close to her at Court for a time. But tiring soon of this sort of life, at his father's death he married the widow of the Earl of Essex. She was a heretic when he married her, but he soon made her a Catholic ; and they both live now as Catholics in Ireland, as I hear."

Richard de Burgh, commonly called Richard of Kinsale from his conduct at that place, Baron of Dunkellin, succeeded his father as fourth Earl of Clanricarde, May 20, 1601. He was subsequently made Earl of St. Albans, and died November 12, 1635. He married Frances, daughter and heiress of Sir Francis Walsingham, widow of Robert second Earl of Essex. Thus Walsingham's only child became a Catholic. "That knight, moreover, who introduced this young baron to me, followed my counsel at that time, and after devoting several days to a diligent examination of conscience, made a general confession of his whole life, with a view of reforming it for the future. A little later he was desirous of returning to the Irish wars, but as I was in doubt whether this was lawful in conscience, he promised me to resign his appointment and return to England, if the priests there, to whom I referred him as living on the spot, and therefore having a closer knowledge of the circumstances, decided that it was unlawful. Soon after his arrival in Ireland, in a certain fight, while he was bravely mounting a wall and animating his men to follow, he was struck dead by a musket ball. He had, however, before the fight carefully written me a letter and sent it off, informing me that he had consulted the priests in the country, and had received this answer, that it was lawful to fight against the Catholic party, because it was not clear to all why they had taken up arms.

" After his death, a remarkable incident occurred which I will relate. His wife, pious soul, who never had the least idea of her husband's death, about that time heard every night some one knocking at her chamber door, and that so loudly as to wake her. Her maids heard it too, but on opening the door there was no one to be seen. She therefore got a priest to stay with her and her maids till the usual time of the knocking; and when the same noise and knocking at the door were heard, the priest himself went to the door, but found no one. This knocking went on till such time as news of her husband's death reached her: as if it had been a warning from his angel to pray for his soul."

It does not seem rash to assume that the knight here mentioned was Sir Henry Bagenal, 3 who was born at Carlingford in Ireland, August 3, 1556. He was Marshal of Queen Elizabeth's armies in Ireland for many years. He married Eleanor, third daughter of Sir John Savage of Rock Savage, Knight. Sir Henry Bagenal was killed at Blackwater in Ireland, August 14, 1598, in an attack upon that fort or pass. His widow afterwards married Sir Sackville Trevor, fourth son of Sir John Trevor of Trevorllyn, Knight. We have the following mention of his death in Chamberlain's Letters: "August 30, 1598. We have had a great blow in Ireland ; Sir Henry Bagenal the Marshal, went with 3,500 foot and 300 horse to relieve Blackwater fort, distressed by Tyrone; the enemy between 8,000 and 10,000 strong attacked him and he was slain with 16 captains and over 700 soldiers."

"While I was in London," Father Gerard continues, "the opportunity often presented itself of visiting men of rank, confirming them in the faith, directing them, and also of converting some; for every one tried to bring the members of his family and his friends to me. One asked me to mount on horseback and ride to meet a friend of his, whom he would throw in my way at a particular spot two miles out of London. This was a man of wealth and influence, and decidedly the principal man of all the county where he lived. He was of the rank next below that of baron 4 (for he was not an earl nor a baron), and was wholly given up to vanities. I met him, and he, being told who I was (for he was anxious to speak with a priest), saluted me kindly; but at the same time was unwilling to recognize me. I put on the character of a Catholic who wished that all men were Catholics, and said that I had heard that he was a good friend to Catholics, but not to himself, because he was not a Catholic ; and so we fell upon the question whether this was necessary for salvation, and this I proved in such manner that he did not deny it. But I saw that the greatest difficulty lay in withdrawing his will from the pleasures of the world, and therefore I directed my attack against that quarter, and by God's aid I overthrew the walls, and laid open a way for the entry of good and sound counsels into his heart; insomuch that he who had up to that time conversed with me as with some man of rank, a friend of his friend, at last said, ' You shall certainly be my confessor.' Then we appointed a time and place where this business might be attended to without inconvenience or hurry; and after a few days he came to my friend's house near London, and there he abode until after fit preparation he made his confession. Thenceforth he became one of my principal benefactors : for every year, until I left England, he gave me a thousand florins [100/.], besides horses, and other occasional necessaries.

" The same person also brought to me his brother-in-law, who was son and brother to an earl, and himself heir to the earldom. I met him also riding on horseback, and at exactly the same spot, and before we separated God touched his heart too, and gave him the grace of conversion. He was fully satisfied on all points relating both to faith and morals, and a few days after I received him into the Church, and I have great confidence that he will, please God, become one of its chief supports. I administered the sacraments to these and others like them in my own house, and on that account I kept it from public notice, that it might not be thought a Catholic house. I thus secured an asylum in London, where the peril of priests, and myself in particular, is ever greatest and most pressing; and men of rank and influence were able to be there without fear of any sudden and unexpected visitation, and so come to visit me with greater confidence. I learned by experience that this care of mine was very pleasing to them, and profitable by the security gained both for them and myself.

" Having held this house for three years, I let it to a Catholic friend, and took another house nearer the principal street in London, called the Strand. Since most of my friends lived in that street, they were thus able to visit me more easily, and I them. After my removal I discovered how entirely free from suspicion was the house which I had left, and in which I had dwelt for three years; for the servant who kept my house, sent for a gardener with whom he had been acquainted while living in the other house (for the garden of the new house needed to be put in order), and the gardener remarked to him, ' Some Papists have come to live in your old house,' as though they who had previously dwelt there had been good Protestants.

"This new house was very suitable and convenient, and had private entrances on both sides, and I had contrived in it some most excellent hiding-places; and there I should long have remained, free from all peril or even suspicion, if some friends of mine, while I was absent from London, had not availed themselves of the house rather rashly. 5 It remained, however, in the same state up to the time of the great and terrible disturbance of the Powder Plot, as I shall hereafter shortly mention.

"Meantime my friends brought me another who was heir to a barony, and is himself now a peer, and by God's grace I persuaded him to take on his shoulders the yoke of the law of Christ and of the Catholic faith, and made him a member of the Church. Another whom I had previously known in the world, and had seen to be wholly devoted to every kind of vanity, fell sick. He had abounded with riches and pleasures, and passed his days in jollity, destined, however, to fall thence in a moment, had not God patiently waited and in a suitable time led him to penance. He then was lying sick of a grievous illness, but yet had not begun to think of death. I heard that he was sick, and obtained an entry into his chamber at eleven o'clock at night, after the departure of his friends. He recognized me, and was pleased at my visit. I explained why I had come, and warned him to think seriously of the state of his soul, and, instead of a Judge, render God a Friend and most loving Father, however much he might have wasted all his substance. So, then, weakness of body opened the ears of his heart, and in an acceptable time God heard us, and in the day of salvation helped us; insomuch that he offered himself as at once ready to make his confession. I, however, said that I would return on the following night, and advised him meantime to procure that there should be read to him by a friend, whom I named, Father Lewis of Grenada's Explanation of the Commandments: that after each Commandment he should occupy some little time in reflection, and call to mind how, and how often, he had offended against that commandment ; that then he should make an act of sorrow regarding each, and so go to the next. He promised that he would do so, and I promised that I would return on the following night. This I did, and heard his confession; I gave him all the assistance I could, for the time had been short, especially for a sick man, to prepare such a confession, but he dared no longer defer it, although he still seemed tolerably strong. I advised him to use the utmost care in discharging all his debts, which were great, through the extravagant expenditure in which he had indulged : I also exhorted him to redeem his sins by alms. He did both by the will he made the following day, and bequeathed a large sum for pious uses, which as I heard was honestly paid.

" I also bade him prepare for the Holy Communion and Extreme Unction against the following night, and to have some pious book read to him meantime. He not only did what I advised, but exhorted all that came to visit him on the following day to repent at once of their former life, and not defer their amendment, as he had done: ' Do not,' he said, ' look for the mercy which I have found, for this is to be presumptuous and to irritate God ; for I have deserved Hell a thousand times on this account.' And much more to the same effect did he speak, with so much earnestness and freedom, that all marvelled at so sudden a change. They asked him to hide the cross which he had hanging from his neck (for I had lent him my own cross full of relics for him to kiss, and exercise acts of reverence and love); but he answered, ' Hide it! Nay, I would not hide it, even if the most bitter heretics were here. Too long have I refrained from profession of the Catholic faith, and now, if God gave me life, I would publicly profess myself a Catholic :' so that all marvelled and were much edified and moved at his words. He spoke thus to all the peers and great men that visited him. His conversion thus became publicly known, and many of the courtiers afterwards spoke of it. On the third night of my visiting him according to my promise, he again confessed with great expressions of sorrow, and begged for the sacrament of Extreme Unction, and when he received it, himself arranged for me more conveniently to reach the different parts of his body, just as though he had been a Catholic many years. Seeing him in such good dispositions, I asked whether he did not put all his trust in the- merits of Christ and in the mercy of God. ' Surely!' said he; 'did I not do so, and did not that mercy give me salvation, I should have been condemned to the pit of Hell: in myself I find no ground of hope, but rather of trembling. But I feel great hope in the mercy and goodness of God, Who has so long waited for me, and now has called me when I deserved—aye, and thought of—anything but this !' Then he took my hand and said, ' Father, I cannot express how much I am indebted to you, for you were sent by God to give me this happiness.' I found, moreover, that he had no temptation against faith, but most firmly believed and confessed every point, and I saw most clearly that God had poured into his soul the habits of many virtues. Then I erected an altar in his chamber with the ornaments which I had brought, and I said mass, while he assisted with great devotion and comfort. I afterwards gave him the Viaticum, which he received with the utmost reverence. When I had finished everything, I gave him some advice that would be useful should he fall into his agony before my return, and I left him full of consolation. Now, see the providence of God : but a few hours after my departure, as he was persevering in petitions for mercy, and in acts of thanksgiving for the mercy he had received, he rendered up his soul to God. But before his death, he asked the bystanders whether certain purple and red robes could be applied to the use of the altar, which he had received from the King when he was created a Knight of the Order of the Bath. The investiture of this Order takes place only at the coronation of the King, and the knights enjoy precedence before all other knights except those of the most Noble Order of the Garter, almost all of whom are earls or other peers. He, however, was a Knight of the Bath, and he wished that the robes with which he had been invested at the Coronation should be devoted to the use of the altar; for he said that he had derived great comfort from seeing my vestments, which were merely light and portable, but yet handsome, of red silk embroidered with silver lace. So after his death they gave me his suit of the peculiar robes of that Order, and out of them I made sets of vestments of two colours, one of which the College of St. Omers still possesses. Thus is the pious desire of the deceased fulfilled, in whose conversion I could not fail to see God's great goodness and providence."

A careful examination of the list of the Knights of the Bath created at the coronation of James I., given by Nichols in his Royal Progresses, has established a strong probability that the knight whose death is here recorded by Father Gerard was Sir William Browne of Walcot, who died in 1603, the very year of James' accession.

1 Probably Sir Edmund Lenthall of Lachford in Oxfordshire, whose mother was Eleanor Lee. His wife was a Stonor.

2 Father Walpole in a letter to Father Persons dated the 29th of November, 1590, says, "Hart is come to me, one sent from Father Southwell to be admitted Coadjutor. If Father Provincial should make difficulty here, the Province being charged, I pray you write your advice, for he is a very fit man, of forty years, long time companion to priests, lastly to Mr. Gerard, great virtue, no impediment." Father Walpoles Letters, edited by Dr. Jessopp. The date is enough to show that the Hart who, as Father Walpole shows, wished to be a lay-brother is not the same person as Father William Hart, of whom Father Gerard speaks.

3 Collins' Peerage of England, Supplement to the fifth edition, p 126

4. Probably of one of the higher grades of knighthood, as a Knight Banneret. The dignity of Baronet did not exist before 1611.

5 This is evidently the "house in the fields behind St. Clement's Inn," as Guy Fawkes calls it—" behind St. Clement's," as it appears in Winter's confession—where the oath of secrecy was taken by the conspirators before the Powder Plot.