Monday, 3 November 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 36.


"The conversions which took place in the country were not few, and some were cases of heads of families; but I have already gone to great length, and I will here recount one only, the beginning and end of which I saw to be good.

" There was a lady, a kinswoman of my hostess, whose husband had now many years been a Catholic, yet neither her husband, nor any of her friends, nor my hostess herself, who loved her as a sister, could ever lead her to become a Catholic. She did not object to listen to Catholics, even to priests, and was fond of earnest argument with them ; but she would believe no one but herself, and indeed her talents were greater than I have often met with in a woman. My hostess often mourned over this lady, and grieved that no remedy could be found; she wished that I should once see her. She spoke highly in praise of her talents and amiable disposition, and of her life and behaviour in all respects, with the one solitary exception of her being an obstinate heretic. I asked my hostess therefore to invite her to pay us a visit, although she lived in a distant county. She came according to the invitation, and we took care that she should find me showing myself in public, and dressed as though I had been a guest just arrived from London. On the two first days we did but little, for we knew that we should have plenty of time afterwards, and I wished to remove all timidity from her; for though she had been accustomed to meet priests at that house, yet they had kept mostly to their chambers. But as soon as I judged her to be convinced that I was a Catholic but not a priest, I began slowly to turn my conversation with her often upon religion. At first I spoke little, but to such purpose that she could not answer me; and so I left her, not urging her, but rather leaving her with a desire to hear more. At length after a few days I judged her thoroughly prepared, and I arranged that my hostess should begin to talk seriously upon these topics, and that when she saw me enter into the conversation and carry it on, she should leave us in company with one or two of the lady's daughters, for she had brought three with her. This having been done, we began the combat with, as it seemed to her, various success, for one or two hours; and then she listened to me as I spoke without interruption for two or three hours more. She spoke little in answer, and did not like on the spot to acknowledge herself vanquished, but she thanked me heartily, and went away quite red and flushed in the face. She was truly moved, or rather changed interiorly, and straightway she ran to my hostess and said,' Oh, cousin, what have you done ?'

"' What have I done ?' replied the other.

"' Oh, who is it,' she rejoined, ' that you introduced me to ? Is he such a one as you represented to me ? At any rate he is—' and she spoke in much higher terms of my learning and language than I deserved, and she added that she could not resist what I had urged, nor answer it.

"On the following day God confirmed what He had wrought in her, and she surrendered at discretion, and accepted a book to help her to prepare for confession. Meantime with the mother's consent and assistance, I instructed her three daughters, and when they had learned the catechism, I heard their confessions. The mother, however, during the time of her preparation, began to be filled with trouble and sorrow, not on account of leaving her heresy, but through fear of confession. I, on the contrary, encouraged her to persevere, and adduced arguments against her timidity, but I could not rid her of it, and so seeing that she was ready as far as examination was concerned, but nevertheless put the matter off from day to day, and begged a little more time to prepare, I would not consent. I told her that this came from the enemy, who grieved to leave his habitation, and at length she saw and acknowledged this. For as soon as out of obedience she had made her confession, she felt relieved of a great burden and filled with consolation ; and she told me that now she was glad not to have delayed longer.

" I have often found this, that some souls experience great trouble when they first make confession on being reconciled to the Church of God. Some persons even fall sick and faint, so as to be forced to cease speaking for a time and sit down, until they have recovered a little and are able to continue; and this has happened even when at their first coming they were in sound health, and ready to confess. And then when they recommenced, they again fell ill, and this happened two or three times in the course of their first confession. But when the confession was finished they not only felt no sickness, but having received absolution they went away full of joy and consolation. Some in fact have remarked to me that did men but know what consolation is gained in confession, they would refuse to be deprived of so great a happiness.

" Among these was to be reckoned this lady, who came forth from confession full of consolation, and gave most hearty thanks to her cousin, for that by her means she had been admitted to share in so great a happiness. So great was God's mercy towards her, that thenceforth she gave herself wholly up to devotion. On her return home she devoted herself to making handsome vestments, and whenever she was able she procured the company of priests. And not content with this, she was anxious to return wholly to our house, and to dwell with us, in order to have more frequent access to the sacraments, and the opportunity of hearing the public and private exhortations that we had every Sunday and festival day. She stayed with us about two years, and all that time she gave herself up to devotion and to the constant reading of pious books. She was clearly led to this course of life by the special mercy and providence of God ; for at the end of the period I have mentioned, although she seemed stout and strong, she was suddenly attacked with disease, by which within a few days she was so weakened, that no skill of the physicians could restore her strength. She was warned to prepare for the life to come, and she repeated a good and careful confession of her whole life.

" At length finding herself in her last agony, she wished to write a letter to her brother, who was a heretic, and almost the greatest enemy the Catholics had in the county where he dwelt. To him then she wished to send a letter, written by her daughter's hand but subscribed with her own, to the following effect:—That he knew that she had long been a strenuous upholder of this new religion, so that he might be the more convinced that she would not have changed it without good grounds, and that she had certain and unanswerable authorities for the faith which she had adopted : wherefore she protested to him that ever since the time when she embraced the faith, she had lived in peace of conscience, and that never before that time had she enjoyed true internal consolation: finally she begged him to have a care for his soul, and proceeded thus; ' I, your sister, now at the point of death, by these my last words, beg and beseech you to embrace the Catholic and ancient faith; and I protest that there is no other in which you can be saved.' These were her sentiments when almost come into her last agony; from which I perceived that she was wholly converted from heresy, and full of charity towards her neighbour; so having asked her a few questions, and found that she was not troubled with any temptations of presumption or of despair, I gave her as much help as I could in forming and uttering acts of the opposite virtues. After which, when she was on the point of death, I offered her a picture of the Passion of Christ, and she embraced and kissed it with the greatest affection. I put also a blessed medal into her hands, and reminded her to invoke the Name of Jesus in her heart at least, in order to gain the indulgences, although she could not speak. I then asked her to give some sign to show that she did thus from her heart, whereupon she caught hold of the medal and kissed it, repeating this action several times. Observing she made answer to me my signs, I bade her conceive a great sorrow for having ever offended God, Who was so good in Himself, and had shown so great mercy to her, and to give a sign of it by raising her hand; she did so with great earnestness : then to conceive sorrow that she had ever been in heresy, and had resisted God and the Church, of which also she gave a sign: then to conceive the wish that all heretics might be converted, and that she willingly offered her life for their conversion, and she again made the signal with great earnestness, and also took my hand within her own, which were already chill, and held it firmly, repeating the signs that she was pleased with the suggestions I made to her. And I continued up to her last gasp, encouraging her, and exhorting her to praise God in her heart, to desire that all creatures should praise Him, and to offer her life for this end. And she gave me answer to everything, now raising, now lowering her hand, just as I asked her to do in assent to what I suggested. All the bystanders, who were numerous, and a priest also who was among them, were in great admiration, and declared that they never witnessed such a death as this. For she continued, as I have said, responding to my suggestions up to the very last breath, raising her hand slightly when she could no longer raise it much. In these interior acts she gave up her soul, without any trouble of mind or convulsion of body, but like one going off to sleep, she went to rest in peace.

"Her youngest daughter had already died holily in our house before her mother. The second daughter married a rich man, and brought him to me from a considerable distance to be made a Catholic. The eldest still lives in the same house, to be espoused not to man but to God, for she has a vocation to the religious state. In the meantime she lives there religiously, and devotes herself to the service of religious, as the lady of the house always did, and does still.

"It is now high time that I bring this narrative to a close, for I have far exceeded the limits which I first proposed to myself; what remains therefore I will state briefly.

" I gave the Spiritual Exercises in this house to many others, as well to those who formed part of the family as to others; and in each case the fruit which I hoped for was produced. There were two persons who made only the Exercises of the first week, with the view of leading a good and holy life. One of these, now the father of a family, practises many acts of charity, and is no small friend of ours. The other came to me, unasked and unexpected, to make the Exercises, and when I asked him whence he got this idea and intention (for he was a very young man, the grandson of an earl, and the heir of a large property), he replied, 'I read in a book put forth against the Society by one of its enemies, that by means of these Exercises you have induced many to embrace a religious life, and have robbed them of their property. Among other names mine was mentioned as that of one who had made the Exercises under you, and it was said that though you did not succeed in making me a religious, yet you wheedled me out of a large sum of money. Now I know,' he continued, ' that my wife is much devoted to you, because you made her a Catholic; but I know too, that neither from her nor from me have you ever received a penny. Since therefore they have done you so great a wrong, I have come to make good what they have falsely stated.'"

The book here quoted was evidently Watson's Deca-chordon of ten Quodlibetical Questions, which was " newly imprinted in 1602." And the sentence quoted is clearly, "He also gave the Exercise to the eldest son of Master Walter Hastings." The Earl, whose grandson this young man was, must therefore have been Francis Hastings, second Earl of Huntingdon. The name of the young man is mentioned in connection with Father Gerard's in Cecil's list, 1 so often quoted, of "the Jesuits that lurk in England." " John Gerard, with Mrs. Vaux and young Mr. Hastings." This "young Mr. Hastings" afterwards became Sir Henry Hastings, of Kirby, and then of Braunston, Knight, "who, like the rest of his kindred, was firmly attached to the royal cause during the civil wars, and paid 2072/. to the usurping party for redeeming his estates." 2 As his mother was Joyce or Jocosa Roper, sister of the first Lord Teynham, Henry Hastings was first cousin to Elizabeth Vaux, Father Gerard's hostess.

" So he made the Exercises, and with no slight profit; and he afterwards sent me word, begging me to provide him a priest who could join in society publicly, and without suspicion. I therefore provided one, and was about to send him, when suddenly all things were upset for a time, and all good hindered by the Powder Plot, as it is called. And if proof were wanting that I knew nothing of this affair, this alone would be sufficient, that at that very time I had sent several from England across the sea into these parts. One was a lady, who was going to be a nun in the Benedictine Convent at Brussels, whither I had sent two others not long before, who are now in high authority there. Another had been an heretical minister, whom I had brought to the faith and instructed. He was the last that I received into the Church before these disturbances. When these persons with certain others were on the point of crossing the Channel, orders were sent to allow no ships to leave; they were consequently all taken and thrown into prison, from which they were released two years ago. He who had been a minister is at present studying in the Roman College; and the lady of whom I spoke is now professed in the convent whither she was going when she was taken. Only one other minister, besides the one just mentioned, did I convert in England, and he is now a priest and is working in that vineyard. I also sent over many youths to the seminaries while I was in this last residence of mine, who will, by God's help, give their fruit in due season.

"But if we have received good things from God's hands, why should we not also bear with evil things ?—if those things can be truly called evil which are sent from Him, and therefore sent that He may draw good from them, for those who receive them well, and humbly recognize and adore His providence, both when He gives and when He takes away. He had indeed given me many and great consolations in this residence; interior consolations chiefly, from conversions and from the signal progress in virtue of many souls ; but exterior consolations also were not wanting. For in external matters everything was well and abundantly supplied me. I had several excellent horses for my missionary journeys, and all that I could wish for to carry on the work I had in hand. Then, in the house itself, the arrangements were made in the best way both for our health and our convenience. And for companion I had Father Strange, who is now in the Tower, 3 (for Sir Everard Digby had obtained Father Percy 4 from the Superior,) and another priest who resided a long time with us. We had moreover good store of useful books, which were kept in a library without any concealment, because they had the appearance of belonging to the young baron, and of having been left him by his uncle [Henry Vaux], who was a very learned and studious nobleman, and was well known for his piety. He had in fact resigned the right and title of the barony to his younger brother [George], the father of the present lord, in order that he might more entirely and securely devote himself to God and his studies. If he had lived a little longer, he would assuredly have been a member of our Society, for on his death-bed this was the only thing that caused him regret, viz., that he could not then be admitted into the Society, a thing he desired most earnestly.

" Our vestments and altar furniture were both plentiful and costly. We had two sets for each colour which the Church uses; one for ordinary use, the other for feast days: some of these latter were embroidered with gold and pearls, and figured by well-skilled hands. We had six massive silver candlesticks on the altar, besides those at the sides for the elevation: the cruets were of silver also, as were the basin for the lavabo, the bell, and the thurible. There were moreover lamps hanging from silver chains, and a silver crucifix on the altar. For greater festivals however I had a crucifix of gold, a foot in height, on the top of which was represented a pelican, while on the right arm of the cross was an eagle with expanded wings carrying on its back its young ones, who were also attempting to fly; on the left arm a phoenix expiring in flames that it might leave an offspring after it; and at the foot was a hen with her chickens, gathering them under her wings. All this was made of wrought gold by a celebrated artist.

" I had there also a costly ornament representing the Holy Name of Jesus, which my hostess had given me the first Christmas after I came to live in her house. The Name was formed of pins of solid gold, and the glory surrounding it had two pins in one ray and three in the next alternately. The whole was about twice the size of a sheet of this paper, and contained two hundred and forty of these gold pins, each pin having a large pearl attached :—not indeed perfectly shaped pearls, for in that case the value would have been something fabulous, yet as it was, the whole ornament, pins and pearls and all, was worth about a thousand florins [100/.]. There was also at the bottom of it a sort of cypher wrought in gold and gems by the artist, something in the shape of a capital letter, expressing the donor's name, and in the middle of the cypher was a heart, and from this heart there issued a cross of diamonds. This ornament then was given me by the devout widow on New Year's Day, in honour of the most Holy Name of Jesus, commemorated on that feast. All these ornaments are still kept there in trust for the Society; and in the meantime serve for the use of that domestic church and the residence of our fathers. But I who was not sufficiently grateful to God for these benefits which I have mentioned and many others, was compelled to leave them to others who could use them better and to greater advantage."

1 Troubles, 1st series, p. 191.

2 The Huntingdon Peerage, by Henry Nugent Bell, London,, 1821, p. 61.

3 Qui nunc in rure est.—MS. An evident mistake of the copyist for "in turre," as is clear from a former notice of Father Strange, supra, p. 350.

Cecil's list gives "Mr. Percie with Mr. Fittes in Essex." Troubles, 1st series, p. 191. "Fittes" must mean "Fitch," which family was closely connected with the Wisemans. If he was there at all, Father Percy must have been there before he became Father Gerard's companion at Harrowden.