[Taken from The Catechist by Very Rev. Canon Howe Imprimatur: Edm. Canonicus Surmont, January 26, 1922. For the Help of the Catechist in the Explanation of Christian Doctrine.]
The Thundering Legion — Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor, was engaged in a disastrous war. His army had been hemmed in by the enemy within a narrow defile, and was on the point of perishing for the want of water. Among his troops were a large number of Christian soldiers, who, seeing the danger which threatened them, had recourse for help to the God of Heaven. Kneeling on the ground, they poured out earnest entreaties to God to rescue the army and their Emperor from destruction, by sending them a supply of water and enabling them to escape from their dangerous position. The enemy, and even their fellow soldiers, stood amazed at this unexpected sight, but they were far more astonished at the speedy answer which God gave to their prayers. They had not been long on their knees when suddenly the sky became dark, the wind howled through the forests, vivid flashes of lightning shot across the heavens, and torrents of rain began to descend. The Roman soldiers first received the refreshing drops in their mouths, being ready to die with thirst; they then caught them in their helmets; but while they were so engaged, the enemy, wishing to overpower them in the storm, began the attack. The violence of the tempest was now turned upon the forces of the enemy. Blinded with wind and rain, they were unable to follow up the attack, and soon fled in disorder. The Romans, refreshed and strengthened, pursued them with great vigor, and gained a complete and decisive victory. The pagan Emperor justly attributed this victory to the prayers of his Christian soldiers, and they were from that time known by the name of the Thundering Legion.
Sermon of a Judge — An English judge named Holt, a just and upright man, had the misfortune, during his youth, to form bad companions, which inspired him with a contempt for religion, so that he turned into derision the sanctification of Sundays and festivals, spending those days in the very worst company. Happily for him, he was withdrawn by circumstances from these evil courses; by degrees he became more regular in his life, and failed not to recover the esteem of his fellow townsmen. He was invested with the dignity of a judge. One day, while discharging the duties of his office, he was forced to pass a sentence of death on a man whom he recognized as one of his former associates. The sight of this criminal impressed him strongly and made him reflect on the danger to which he had exposed himself by leading a life similar to his. He could not help asking the wretch what had become of the other companions of their youth. “Alas!” answered the criminal, “there is not one of them alive, except you and myself; some fell under the sword of justice, others died a violent death.” The judge, unable longer to repress his emotion, sighed deeply and addressed to those present a touching and most edifying discourse, to show them that the profanation of the Lord’s Day makes man a wild beast, deadens the faith, and deprives him of all noble and generous feelings.
The Devil’s Reason — If you get hold of a bad book, the Devil will be sure to put some reason into your head why you should read it. A person was very sorry to see that a certain bad book was doing so much harm. He thought he would read it, that he might be better able to speak against it. So he read the bad book. The end of it was that, instead of helping others, he ruined himself. The Devil will whisper into your ear that a bad book will give you a knowledge of the world. It will give you a knowledge of Hell and lead you there.
Saint Teresa — Saint Teresa was a Saint even in her childhood. See what bad books did to her. “It happened,” she says, “that there were some novels and romances in our house. I began to read them, and I gave myself up entirely to this reading. Then I forgot my duties, and thought only of these novels, and I fell into many sins. I began to take a great pleasure in dress. I took great pains to appear nice and well dressed. I loved perfumes and scents, and suchlike vanities. So I remained many years, not knowing the harm there was in it. But now I know well there was great harm.”
The Soupers’ School — A very wonderful thing happened in one of the central towns of Ireland. The Soupers, one morning, made a bargain with a poor woman that they would give her a blanket and that she should send her little Bridget to the Soupers’ schools. Bridget was a very good child, and went to the school of the Sisters of Mercy. In the afternoon little Bridget came home from the convent. “Bridget,” said the mother, “the Soupers came here this morning, and said that if I would send you to the Soupers’ schools they would give me a blanket.” “I am sure you sent them away, mother?” said Bridget. “No,” said the mother, “we are very poor, so I promised that I would send you.” “What!” answered Bridget, “do you really mean that I must go to the Soupers’ school and become a Protestant for a blanket? The nuns told me that Jesus Christ bought my soul with His Precious Blood; and you will let the Soupers buy it with a blanket?” “No matter,” said the mother, “you must be ready to go to the Soupers’ school tomorrow at ten o’clock.” The child turned pale as death, and sank on her knees; she lifted up her little hands and eyes to Heaven, and prayed thus: “Dear Blessed Virgin Mary, the nuns always told me that you are my good Mother, and that you love me: then, for the sake of the Infant Jesus, do not let me go to the Soupers’ school and become a Protestant; let me die rather than be a Protestant.” The mother sent the child to bed. Next morning the mother called to her to get up and be ready to go to the Soupers’ school; but there was no answer from the child: she was dead! The Blessed Virgin had heard her prayer and her soul was in Heaven.
The Terrible Vision — Venerable Bede tells us that in his time there was a man who had once been very pious, but who had gradually fallen into a careless worldly life, and ended by being the scandal of the town in which he lived. After a time he became ill. People who came to visit him, and saw how dangerous his illness was, told him it was time to think of preparing himself for the great passage into eternity. “Oh! there will be plenty of time for that afterwards,” he said. “I am too sick and weary at present to think of that. I will think about it when I get better.” But he did not get better; every day he became worse. One day he seemed to see something terrible, for turning to those who were in the room, he cried out in a voice which froze the blood in their veins, “Alas! I have deceived the world! I have deceived myself! I am lost forever. God put me into this world to serve Him, and I did not do it. I have not even one good work to offer Him. So I am lost! I am lost!” “Oh! ask God for mercy,” they cried. “Say, ‘O Jesus, have mercy on me!’” “No! no! it is too late! I have just seen Hell, and in it I saw Cain and Judas, and near them a place prepared for me. It is too late! I am lost!” They tried again to speak words of comfort to him, and of God’s mercy, but all in vain; the poor man died in despair, because he would not ask for mercy.
Luther — One evening, towards the end of his life, Luther was walking in his garden, the stars shining brightly above him. “See how the stars are shining,” said his wife to him. “O beautiful light,” he replied, “but it is not for us.” “Why? are we then disinherited from Heaven?” “Perhaps,” Luther replied, “because we have abandoned our state: we cannot return, we are too deeply plunged in sin, and it is too late to repent.” In these sentiments Luther died, A.D. 1546.
Sacrilege Avenged — In the year 1834, upon the Eve of the Assumption of Our Lady, the Puritan population of Charlestown, in the United States, being excited by fanatics, rose up against the Catholics, and with cries of fury, rushed towards the Ursuline Convent. It was nighttime, and the inmates were reposing in peaceful slumber when they were aroused by the shouts of the mob and the smashing of the outer doors. Before the pupils had time to dress, the kindling flames flashed over their peaceful dwelling, and it was with difficulty they made their escape, while their invaders were engaged in plundering the church and convent. In the midst of the tumult one of the ringleaders ascended the altar, seized the ciborium, and, horrible to relate, emptied the precious particles into his pocket. He then repaired to an inn at Charlestown, where, surrounded by a throng of eager listeners, he related his sacrilegious exploit. In the midst of his recital he suddenly recognized among his audience an Irish Catholic, who was listening with intense horror. On perceiving him he drew from his pocket several hosts and, holding them forth, said in a sneering tone, “Here, behold your God! Why need you go any more to seek Him in the Church?” The Catholic stood dumb with horror. At the same moment the blasphemer turned pale, and, feeling himself seized with a sudden colic, left the apartment. A quarter of an hour, half an hour, elapsed, yet he returned not. A vague fear fell upon the bystanders. They followed him to the closet to which he had retired, and there found him — a corpse. He had died the death of Arius.
A Terrible Punishment — After the revolution that disgraced the close of the eighteenth century, a chaplain was called to attend a soldier who was very severely wounded. The priest found a man whose countenance showed the greatest calmness. He said to the wounded man: “My friend, I was told that your wounds were very serious.” Smiling sadly, the soldier answered, “Reverend sir, will you raise the bedclothes a little from my chest?” The priest did so, and then drew back with a shudder, for he saw that both arms were gone. “What!” exclaimed the soldier, “you start with horror at such a trifle; now raise the covering from my feet.” The priest did this also, and found that his feet had likewise been carried away. “Ah,” he said, “poor fellow, how I pity you; what a misfortune!” “Oh no,” answered the mangled form lying before him, “I suffer only what I earned for myself. Not long ago, in my fury, I cut off the limbs of a crucifix I chanced to see by the wayside, so that the image of my Savior fell to the ground; and in the next battle my own arms and legs were carried off by a cannon ball. As I treated him, so also has He treated me. But thanks be to God for punishing me in this world for my crime, that He may spare me in the next, as I hope and trust He will in His infinite mercy.”
A Sudden Punishment — A zealous priest relates the following terrible story: “I was preparing the children of my congregation for the first Communion. Amongst them there were two boys who were very wicked. I told them that if they did not change their conduct, I would be obliged to make them wait a year longer, for I could not permit them to receive Jesus Christ into their souls without seeing a great change in their conduct. This threat seemed to make no impression on them, they only laughed at it, and I was obliged to send them out of the Church that they might not distract the others. When they reached the street they began to quarrel, and were heard to blaspheme and to take God’s holy Name in vain. A workman who was passing at the time hearing the terrible words they were uttering, chid them and tried to make them cease; but, instead of obeying, they turned towards him and called him by many wicked names, at the same time cursing and swearing even more than before. The man continued on his way, but he had not gone far when he heard the noise of something heavy falling, and screams for help. He looked round and saw that a wall on the side of the street, on the spot where he had passed the boys, had fallen down, and that the screams must have come from them, and that they must at that moment be buried under the ruins. He ran back along with the crowds that were rushing to the place, and on removing the fallen stones and lime, they found the two boys crushed and dreadfully mangled. They were at once taken to a neighboring house, but they were both quite dead: the wall had fallen on them while the words of blasphemy were yet upon their lips, and they had to appear in this state before the dread tribunal of Jesus Christ to be judged.”
The Priest and His Angel Guardian — St. Francis de Sales, after having given the order of Priesthood to a holy ecclesiastic, perceived that on going out he stopped at the door as if to give precedence to another. Being asked by the Saint why he stopped, he replied that God favored him with the visible presence of his Guardian Angel, who, before he had received the Priesthood, always remained at his right and preceded him, but afterwards walked on his left and refused to go before him. It was in a holy contest with the angel that he stopped at the door.
The Priest Before the Angel — St. Francis of Assisi used to say that, “If I saw an angel and a priest, I would bend my knee first to the priest, and then to the angel.”
Saint Francis and the Rosary — A person having heard that St. Francis de Sales had made a vow when young to say the Rosary every day, wished to do the same, but not without consulting the Saint beforehand. “Don’t do any such thing,” he answered. “But,” said the other, “why deter others from doing what you yourself have done from the days of your youth?” “That word ‘youth’ settles the matter: in those days I did it without reflection: now that I am older, I say to you: don’t do it: I don’t wish to deter you from saying the Rosary: on the contrary say it regularly and fervently: but as a good practice, not as a vow, so that should you omit it, you will not offend God. It is not sufficient to make a vow, you must also keep it. I admit my vow has sometimes embarrassed me, and I have before now thought of seeking a dispensation.” The authority and example of such a Saint are worth pages of argument.
La Salette — On September 19, 1846, on Mount La Salette, in the south of France, Our Lady appeared to two young shepherds, Melany and Maximin. Her eyes were full of tears, and she complained to them that her Son’s arm was getting so heavy she could hardly prevent it falling and crushing the world for its sins, and she announced that punishments and evils would follow if men did not repent. The Blessed Virgin named three sins as causing the anger of Heaven: blasphemy, the profanation of Sunday, and disregard for the laws of fasting and abstinence.
Death of Voltaire — On February 25, 1758, Voltaire wrote to a friend: “In twenty years God will be a plaything!” On February 25, 1778, twenty years later to the day, the arch-blasphemer was seized with vomiting of blood that brought him to the grave. The violence of his disease soon made him belie his incredulity, and before one of those priests whom he had so often calumniated, he made a retraction of his impieties and scandals; he then asked for the last Sacraments, but his friends around him prevented any priest approaching, so that he did not receive them. His sneers and blasphemies of half a century seem to have worn out the patience of the Most High. The sick man falls into raging convulsions; with rolling eyes, pale and trembling, he throws himself into every position, devouring his own excrements, and tearing his flesh to pieces! That Hell which he had so much ridiculed he now sees open before him; he groans with terror, and his last sigh is that of a reprobate.
Result of Irreverence — Pope [Saint] Pius V had induced a Protestant to enter the Church, and was preparing him for Baptism. One day the latter was assisting at Mass, but, unfortunately, the Faithful then present were greatly wanting in respect, and the Protestant went away indignantly, saying: “No, Catholics do not believe in the Mass: they don’t believe in the Real Presence: if they did, they would behave differently in the presence of God.” And he remained a Protestant.