[Taken from The Catechist by Very Rev. Canon Howe Imprimatur: Edm. Canonicus Surmont, January 26, 1922]
Saint Andrew and His Cross — Of St. Andrew it is related that when he was led out to be crucified, as soon as he perceived at a distance the cross on which he was to suffer, he cried out in a transport of love: “Hail, precious cross, that has been consecrated by the body of my Lord, and adorned with His limbs as with rich jewels. I come to thee exulting and glad; receive me with joy into thy arms, taking me from among men, and present me to my Master, that He, who redeemed me on thee, may receive me by thee.” So saying, he gave up his body to the executioners, and finished his holy life by a glorious death.
Saint Peter’s Crucifixion — The little chapel of the “Domine quo vadis, — Lord, where art Thou going?” situated on one of the roads that lead out of the city of Rome, brings to the mind of the traveler a beautiful incident that took place on that very spot eighteen hundred years ago. It is related in the life of St. Peter that the Emperor Nero, having raised a cruel persecution against the Church, the Christians of Rome earnestly entreated St. Peter to withdraw from the city for a while, that he might preserve a life so valuable to the whole Church. The Apostle, though unwilling, yielded to their entreaties, and under the darkness of night made his escape, and turned his back on Rome. He had not proceeded far when he met Our Blessed Lord bearing His cross, and toiling painfully under the weight of it, on His road towards the city. St. Peter, thunderstruck at what he saw, exclaimed: “Lord, where art Thou going?” on which Our Savior, casting upon him a look of gentle reproach, replied: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” St. Peter at once understood that it was the will of God that he should return to Rome and there suffer; he accordingly repassed the gate and reentered the city. Soon after, he was apprehended and being condemned to be crucified, and led to execution, he begged as a special favor that he might be crucified with his head downwards, saying that he did not think himself worthy to suffer in the same manner as his Divine Master. His request was granted, and thus he added to the glory of martyrdom the crown of humility.
The Martyrs of Japan — During the cruel persecution raised by the Japanese Emperor Taicosama against the true religion, a glorious band of twenty-six Christians were condemned to suffer the barbarous punishment of crucifixion. Among this noble company of heros were three young boys, the oldest of whom was not more than fifteen years of age. These generous youths showed no less courage than those who were more advanced in years; and the youngest especially, a boy of ten, named Louis, was remarkable for the extreme eagerness and joy with which he welcomed his cruel martyrdom. The Japanese general, touched with pity at his youth, offered him not only his life, but a place in his own household, on condition that he would abandon his religion; but Louis nobly answered: “On such a worthless condition as you propose, I reject the offer of life. Would you have me barter eternal happiness for a few fleeting years of temporal existence?” The same generous child, on arriving at the place of execution, as soon as the cross prepared for him was pointed out, ran eagerly to it and stretched himself upon it, exclaiming: “Paradise, Paradise!” The same cheerful readiness was displayed by the rest of this noble band, who esteemed themselves happy to die for Jesus, and to die on the Cross. At length the executioners approached, and pierced them through with their spears, sending their souls to the embrace of their crucified Savior. They were canonized by [Blessed] Pope Pius IX.
Apostolic Origin of the Sign of the Cross — Nicephorus writes that St. John the Evangelist made upon himself the Sign of the Cross, before dying. Hilduin says St. Paul used the same sign to restore sight to a blind man. Many even affirm that Our Lord Himself taught this sign to the Apostles, and that He used it to bless them on the day of His Ascension. The Sign of the Cross, says St. Ignatius, disciple of St. John, is the trophy raised against the power of the prince of this world: when he sees it, he is afraid; when he even hears of it, he is filled with terror.
Saint Anthony in Temptation — Though retired into the remote parts of a desert, St. Anthony often experienced the fiercest attacks of the devils: they would appear to him under a thousand frightful forms. The Saint laughed at their impotence, and to put them to flight, simply contented himself with making the Sign of the Cross, saying to his disciples: “Believe me, Satan fears prayer and humility and the love of Jesus Christ: the mere sign of the cross suffices to banish him.”
The Password — General Smith, of the army of the South, was coming in with his men too late to know the password. Knowing that if he went forward he would receive the fire of his own side, he presented himself before his men, and asked if anyone would sacrifice his life to save the rest. A soldier stood out of the ranks: after explaining the certain danger he would have to face, the general gave him a piece of paper, on which were written these words: “Send me the password. Genl. Smith.” He knew the soldier would be shot, and then searched, and thus the paper would be found, and read, and the sign made known. The soldier sets out, and reaches the outposts: “Who goes there?” “A friend.” “The word or sign?” But the soldier advances without reply, and at once the rifles are all raised and pointed at him. He thereupon makes on himself the Sign of the Cross, and to his surprise the rifles are lowered. The act of the Catholic soldier, in commending himself to God, was the very sign the Catholic Commander had that very morning given to the army.
Julian the Apostate — Julian the Apostate one day entered a pagan temple, in company with a noted idolater. The latter having invoked the demons, they at once made their appearance: Julian became alarmed; and forgetting, for a moment, that he had abjured the Christian religion, he made the Sign of the Cross, as he had been formerly accustomed to do when any danger was near. Immediately the infernal spirits disappeared — so powerful and efficacious was this sign, when made even by a Christian renegade! This miracle was the last effort of divine mercy to recall that wretched being to repentance; but the unhappy man’s heart was hardened and insensible to every call of God.
Saint Arsenius in His Agony — St. Arsenius, in his last agony, was seized with a great fear. He saw, in a vision, the judgement of God in all its majesty, and seemed as though he would die of the fear it caused him. On his disciples showing surprise, he said, “Yes, I tremble indeed, and not now for the first time: for forty years I have always feared the judgement of God. For, know, my brethren, the just man shall scarcely be saved: what then will become of the sinner!”
The Image of the Church — Of the Catholic Church God is the Founder, Jesus Christ the Savior, the Holy Ghost the Sanctifier, the Blessed Virgin the Queen, and the Angels the protectors. The Pope is the head, the Cardinals the counselors, the Bishops the pastors, and the Priests the voice. The Martyrs are the witnesses, and the Doctors her light. The Confessors strengthen her, the Religious orders uphold her, the Virgins are her adornment, and the Faithful her children. Baptism is her cradle, Confirmation her strength, the Eucharist her food, Penance and Extreme Unction her remedies. Order is her jurisdiction, and Matrimony her nursery. Faith is the gate of the Church, Hope the road, Charity the object: grace is her wealth, chastity her flower. The just are her joy, sin her aversion, sinners the object of her commiseration. The Jews are her living witnesses, the conversion of men her prayer and desire. The Blessed Trinity is the object of her adoration, the Son of God her sacrifice, the liturgical ceremonies her attire. The earth is her place of exile, the cross her lot, Heaven her country. Scandals are her sorrow, repentance her joy, the pardon of sins her liberality. Jesus Christ is her spouse, and His presence her honor. The end of the world will be her coronation day. Her struggles are on the earth, her sufferings in Purgatory, and her triumph in Heaven.
A Saying of Napoleon — One day Napoleon, from the rock of St. Helena, contemplated the heavens, the earth, and the sea; he was reviewing in his mind the empires of the world and their institutions, the great men of the past, and their works, and then exclaimed: “The nations of the earth pass away, and thrones fall to the ground, the Church alone remains.”
Priest, Jew and Parson — There is but one only true Church; and that is so evident that one possessed of even ordinary good sense cannot anywise doubt it. A Catholic priest and a Protestant minister were one day walking together; they chanced to meet a Jewish rabbi. “Hold!” said the Protestant minister, laughing, “we three are of so many different religions; now, which of us has the true one?” “I will tell you that,” said the rabbi; “if the Messiah is not yet come, it is I; if the Messiah be come, it is this Catholic priest; but as for you, whether the Messiah be come or not, you are not in the right way.”
The Protestant Convert — In the history of the foundation of the Society of Jesus, in the Kingdom of Naples, is related the following story of a noble youth of Scotland, named William Ephinstone: He was a relative of the Scottish king. Born a heretic, he followed the false sect to which he belonged; but enlightened by divine grace, which showed him his errors, he went to France, where, with the assistance of a good Jesuit Father, who was also a Scotchman, he at length saw the truth, abjured heresy, and became a Catholic. He went afterward to Rome, joined the Society of Jesus, in which he died a happy death. When at Rome, a friend of his found him one day very much afflicted, and weeping. He asked him the cause, and the young man answered that in the night his mother had appeared to him, and said: “My son, it is well for thee that thou hast entered the true Church; I am already lost, because I died in heresy.”
Thirty Years! — A certain religious, when about to leave this world, begged of a priest to say Mass for the repose of his soul immediately after his death. As soon as the holy man expired, the priest said Mass for him with great fervor and devotion. But scarcely had he finished Mass, when he saw before him the soul of the deceased religious. “O my friend,” he said to him, “why did you neglect to fulfil your promise? Why did you leave me in the torments of Purgatory for thirty years?” “What,” exclaimed the priest, “thirty years? It is not yet an hour since you died!” “Learn from this,” said the holy soul, “how terrible are the pains of Purgatory, since one hour’s suffering there appears as long as thirty years!”
A Mother’s Rash Prayer — There was once a mother who had an only child, a boy, for whom she had the greatest affection. It happened that the child became very ill. When the priest of the town was informed, he went to speak some words of consolation to the afflicted mother. Seeing that all he could say to her had no effect, he knelt down by the bedside of the dying boy, and began to pray. “O my God,” he said, “spare the life of this child, for the sake of the mother, if it be Thy most holy will.” When the mother heard him say these words she became very angry. “Do not say ‘if it be His will,’ but tell Him that He must make my boy better. Tell Him that He must not let my boy die.” God was pleased to listen to the rash prayer of the mother, and the child, contrary to all expectations, got well again. God wished to give us from this example a lesson, that it is best to submit ourselves to His holy will when we ask Him for anything. As he began to grow up and mix with other companions, he began also to learn evil. Time went on, and the boy became worse and worse. His mother was at length compelled to open her eyes, but it was too late. She now saw how much better it would have been, both for him and herself, had God taken him to Heaven in his baptismal innocence. She tried over and over again to correct him, but it was now of no use, and at the last, the unfortunate mother had the grief to see him die a criminal on the scaffold, on account of a murder which he had committed.
Saint Francis of Assisi — St. Francis found a sure means of keeping his mind during prayer free from all external preoccupation. Whenever he entered into a Church, he said: “Worldly and frivolous thoughts, stay you at the door till I return again.” Then he prayed as though he were alone on the earth; his devotion was so great that he seemed not to know what distraction was.
The Double Vision — St. Francis of Assisi went one day into the mountains of Alverno to spend time in solitude, and to meditate on the eternal truths of the next life. As he was making this meditation, the rocks and the trees around disappeared from his sight, and he saw the Heavens above him suddenly open. There he saw God seated on His throne, surrounded by an innumerable multitude of holy Angels and Saints. “O my God,” cried out St. Francis, “I see Heaven! Oh! how magnificent is the beauty of Thy house, O Lord! Indeed it is but a small sacrifice to give up all the goods of this world to secure for ourselves such a glorious dwelling place.” While he was saying these words to himself, this beautiful vision suddenly disappeared, and was followed by another one of quite a different kind. Beneath his feet he thought he saw an immense abyss. It seemed to be a bottomless ocean of flames, in which were plunged countless multitudes of the wicked, who were vomiting forth cries of despair, and curses and blasphemy. This sight filled the Saint with fear, and he cried out: “Oh! if people did but see this awful abyss, and the torments those have to suffer who are in it, they would never commit sin, that they might never be condemned to it.” This second vision also disappeared, and Francis having returned to himself, “between Heaven and hell. This is what God wanted to show me by this vision. One or other of these must most certainly be my dwelling place forever. O my God, grant me grace, while there is yet time, to secure Heaven, and deliver me from the greatest of all evils — the loss of Thee in hell.”
Angels on the Roof — One day St. Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence, was passing through the streets of that city. As he was going past a certain cottage, which had every mark of the greatest poverty, he saw a number of angels on the roof. They seemed to be watching over the people who dwelt within it. Filled with astonishment at this beautiful vision, he entered the cottage to see who the people were that dwelt there, and he found a widow with her three daughters. They were extremely poor, and were occupied, as he entered, in trying to gain for themselves, by their united labor, enough food to keep them from dying of hunger. The compassionate heart of the bishop was moved at their sad condition. He saw also their great piety, and their entire resignation to the holy will of God. He knew also that God must be in an especial manner pleased with them, since He had sent His angels to watch over them. “My dear children,” he said to them, “I see that you are in great need of assistance, and I beg of you to accept of what I now offer you.” Saying these words, he opened his purse, and gave them enough to supply all their present wants. He promised also to give them as much as would keep them in comfort all the rest of their lives, since they were so deserving of it. The family thanked their generous benefactor with tears in their eyes for having come to their assistance in their great need; and the bishop went home glad in heart at having been the means of delivering so deserving a family from the evils of poverty.