[Taken from The Catechist by Very Rev. Canon Howe Imprimatur: Edm. Canonicus Surmont, January 26, 1922]
Words of Diderot — One of the greatest enemies of religion last century was Diderot; yet he taught his daughter the Catechism. When one of his impious friends saw this, and laughed at him for doing it, he said: “I make Marie learn the Catechism and the Gospel. Is there anything better I could teach her, to make her a good girl, a devoted wife, a kind and affectionate mother?”
A Saying of Napoleon — Entrusting his son to the care of Mme. de Montesquieu, Napoleon said to her: “Madame, to you I confide my son, on whom rests the destiny of France, and perhaps of the whole of Europe: make him a good Christian.” Someone laughed at this, but Napoleon, in anger, apostrophized him, saying: “Yes, sir, I know what I am saying: my son must be a good Christian, or he will not be a good ruler.”
Word of the Cure of Ars — “I think that one who does not properly hear the Word of God will not save his soul: he will not know what to do for that. An ignorant person is like a dying man, lying unconscious: he knows neither the malice of sin, nor the beauty of grace, nor the value of his soul: he goes from sin to sin, like a rag dragged in the mire.”
“Shall We Go To Vespers?”— Such was the question someone asked in a gathering young people, as the bell was tolling for service. Some went to Church, while others ridiculed the idea, and went instead to the river; one of them plunged in for a bath, and in a few minutes was drowned; this nearly happened to two others who tried to save their companion. The bells tolled again, this time to ring the funeral service of the deceased, and invite the Faithful to pray for him!
Satan’s Answer — Cesarius tells of a holy priest to whom, as to St. Martin, the devil appeared as he lay dying. The priest commanded him to say what it was that chiefly kept souls from falling into his hands. After some delay, the devil replied: “There is nothing in the Church keeps so many souls out of our power as frequent confession.”
The Man and His Horse — A preacher seeing one day a man grooming his horse, accosted him, and asked him how much time he spent over his horse. “About two hours a day,” he replied. “And how much, may I ask, do you give each day to your soul, to purify it and make it better?” “Not much, I fear; I say my prayers in the morning, and on Sundays generally go to Mass.” “Then, my poor man,” remarked the preacher, “if I belonged to you, I would rather be your horse than your soul.”
The Astronomer’s Globe — A famous German astronomer, wishing to convince a friend who doubted the existence of God, had a magnificent new globe placed in the room where he soon expected his friend. The latter arrived, and, admiring the globe, asked whose it was and whence it came. “Oh!” replied the astronomer, “it belongs to no one, and it came there quite by chance.” “You are jesting,” said the visitor; but the other insisted he was serious. When he found his friend was somewhat annoyed, he took occasion to address him thus: “You will not believe that this globe exists of itself, and came there by chance, and you really think the Heavens and the stars are the results of pure caprice!” This simple argument convinced him of his folly.
The Saint Afraid to Die — A holy anchorite had the good habit of offering every day to God all his actions in Faith, Hope and Charity; this practice obtained him a special reward. When death drew near, he was filled with fear at the thought of the Judgement, and was almost cast into despair at the thought of his past sins, when suddenly his Angel guardian appeared to him and said: “Do not fear: you are now going to see that God in whom you have so firmly believed: to possess that God in whom you have trusted: and to be united to that God whom you have always loved.” These words consoled the dying anchorite, and passed away in peace.
St. Jane and the Heretic — A Calvinist went to stay with the parents of St. Jane de Chantal, and one day she heard him say he did not believe in the Real Presence. The child looked up and said: “So you don’t believe that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament!” “No, child, I do not,” he replied. “Yet, Christ has declared that He is, and the Church teaches He is,” continued Jane. “So you mean to say that Our Lord is a liar! Well, if you said that of the King in my father’s house, he perhaps would kill you. And will God not punish you for calling His Son a liar, and not believing what He tells you?” The Calvinist was confounded, and to pacify the child gave her some presents. But she threw them into the fire, and said: “So will they burn in hell who refuse to believe Jesus Christ and His Church.”
The Princess’ Dream — There was once a princess who, taught in her childhood the truths of Faith, like many others, in after years, began to neglect her religion, and gradually to lose her faith. One night she had a dream: even dreams, under God’s Providence, may inspire good thoughts. She seemed to be walking alone in a forest, when suddenly she came upon a blind man seated at the door of his cottage. “Have you always been blind?” she asked. “Yes,” he replied, “from my birth.” “Then you have never seen the beautiful sun and its light.” “No,” he answered, “and I have not the faintest idea what it is like, but I firmly believe that it must be very beautiful.” Then, becoming very serious, he added: “You say you will not believe, unless you see and understand: learn from my example, that many things are beautiful and beyond comprehension, which are just as true as those things you do see and understand.” The princess awoke and learnt the profitable lesson which her dream had taught.
Saint Ambrose and the Creed — St. Ambrose had a sister, who like himself was leading a holy life. Once she asked him how to overcome temptations against faith, and he wrote: “Every morning and night say with fervor the Apostles’ Creed, and when such temptations come, say it again, and you will easily overcome them.” She did this and found the value and truth of the advice.
The Benighted Traveler — A traveler arrived at nightfall at the entrance of a vast forest, where he met a shepherd, of whom he asked the way, and learnt it was not easy to find, there being so many paths crossing each other in every direction, and all, with one exception, leading to an abyss. “To what abyss?” anxiously asked the traveler. “To the abyss surrounding this forest,” answered the shepherd, “which moreover is filled with robbers and wild beasts, and infested by an enormous serpent, so that scarcely a day passes but many travelers fall victims to them. Hence, out of compassion, I have placed myself here at the entrance of the forest to assist travelers who have to pass through it; my sons are also stationed at intervals to assist in the same good work, and our services are at your disposal.” The traveler gladly accepted, and they set out on their journey. Feeling his strength fail, the traveler began to lean on the arm of the shepherd. Shortly, they saw the glimmer of a light at a distance, and reaching at length a small cabin, the door opened at the well-known voice of the shepherd. Here a fresh supply of oil was obtained for the night, a seat and some food were offered to the traveler, who, thus refreshed, set out again, accompanied by the shepherd’s son. At the dawn of day, he reached the boundary of the forest, and then perceived the greatest of the services that had been rendered to him. A frightful precipice lay before him, at the bottom of which he could hear the roar of an angry torrent, of which he was informed no one could tell the depth. “I cannot but feel grieved,” said the guide, “when I think of the thousands daily swallowed up in it! In vain do my father and my brothers offer help to travelers: though some accept our offer, most despise us and leave us. Thus they are soon lost, or murdered by the robbers, devoured by the serpent, or cast into the abyss: for there is but one little bridge known to us alone whereby to cross it. Pass over with confidence: on the other side is your true country.” The traveler deeply thanked his guide, and crossing the bridge, soon found himself in his own country, and in the bosom of his own family. The good shepherd is Our Lord; his sons the pastors of the Church, succeeding one another, to guide pilgrims safely through life. The only safe path is the Catholic Church, which alone leads to Heaven. The others lead to the abyss. The pilgrim is yourself; the lamp, the light of faith; the oil, God’s grace; the food and refreshments, the Sacraments. The great serpent is the devil; the robbers and wild beasts, wicked company and our passions; the forest is the world; the bridge, death; the abyss, Hell; and the pilgrim’s true country, Heaven.
The Child’s Argument — A widower had an only daughter, whose education he himself undertook. Teaching her history, geography, etc., he resolved to try a most dangerous experiment, viz.: he avoided absolutely ever pronouncing the name of God before his child, to see whether the knowledge of God’s existence would develop naturally, and this he continued for a long time. He at length began to notice that every morning she left her room and went into the garden to pray to the sun. He soon saw what it meant, and taking his daughter aside one day, he questioned her about it. The child replied innocently that she recognized nature must have an author, and had concluded the sun must be that author, because of his gentle heat and salutary influence on the world. The father hastened to withdraw his child from her error, making known to her the real author of all things — God, and was glad to find that the idea of God is given us almost at our birth.
The Hen and the Egg — A little girl, who had learnt her Catechism well, met in a fashionable drawing room in Paris a man who was saying he did not believe in God, and was trying to lead her to do likewise. “If there be no God,” she said, “please tell me whence comes an egg?” These words were said so loud that the company all heard, and gathered round the two. “From a hen,” said our young man. “And whence comes the hen?” — “You know as well as I do, the hen comes from the egg.” “Then which existed first, the hen or the egg?” — “Well, I hardly know, but I think the hen.” “So you must have a hen which did not come from an egg!” — “Oh, well, perhaps the egg existed first.” “So now we have an egg which did not come from a hen! Is it not so?” — “Well…but…you see…” “What I see is that you don’t know; try again, and tell me whence came the first hen, or the first egg?” — “Oh, you and your hens! You’ll take me next for a farmer’s wife!” “Not at all, but I should like to teach you that He who created the first hen, or the first egg, as you choose, is He who created Heaven and earth, and all things. What! You can’t without God explain the existence of a hen or an egg, and you pretend without Him to explain the existence of the universe!” The young man was glad to sneak out of the room, and get away as best he could.
Missionaries in Greenland — In 1721 the Danes sent missionaries to preach to the pagan inhabitants of Greenland, many of whom were converted and baptized. One of them, however, said to the missionaries: “Before you came, I often said to myself: ‘A boat does not make itself: it requires a skillful workman. A bird requires more skill than a boat, no one can make a bird. As for man, he is above all: who made him? And how do the sun and the stars exist, and the earth, and the sea? Whoever made them must be endowed with great intelligence, and power, and goodness.’ It was thus we reasoned as to the existence of God, even before you came to teach us.”
A Witty Reply — A man had been talking a great deal of his atheism to a lady, trying to convert her to his way of thinking. Annoyed at his want of success, he said: “I wouldn’t have believed that in a gathering like this, I should have been the only one not to believe in God.” “Oh, you’re not the only one,” replied the hostess. “My horses, and my dog and cat share the honor with you: only these poor animals have more sense than to boast of it! To say there is no God means, I am wicked and I fear there may be some One above to punish me!”
Where God Is and Is Not — A priest catechizing some children, among other things asked a little boy the question: “Where is God? Tell me where God is and I will give you an orange!” The child replied: “I will give you two oranges, if you will tell me where God is not!”
Death of Arius — The frightful death of Arius is a terrible example of the just anger of God against the teachers of false doctrine. Arius lived in the fourth century, and blasphemously asserted that Our Lord was not truly God. He had many followers and powerful support, and even secured that he should be solemnly received again into the Church. On the day appointed, a great procession was formed in Constantinople, and, with songs of triumph, Arius was led forth towards the Church, boasting of the victory he had over the Bishops. But suddenly he was seized with frightful spasms, which compelled him to retire, till he should be able to resume his journey. Time passed away and he did not reappear; his followers became alarmed, and at length went to his room. There a fearful sight awaited them: Arius lay stretched on the ground, his face pale and livid, his body stiff in death, and the floor covered with his blood and intestines. His body had burst asunder, like that of Judas.
Julian and the Temple of Jerusalem — Julian, the Apostate, attempted, in the fourth century, to falsify Our Lord’s prediction concerning the Temple: that there should not remain of it a stone upon a stone. He announced to the Jews that he was going to rebuild it; they flocked, therefore, to Jerusalem from every quarter, rejoicing in the hope that the Kingdom of Israel was soon to be reestablished. They set to work and easily removed what remained of the Old Temple, thus fulfilling to the letter Our Lord’s prediction. But as soon as the first stones came to be relaid, an earthquake cast them forth to a great distance, and a whirlwind carried away the sand and lime and other materials. But what was more supernatural, great globes of fire issued from the earth in all directions, killing the workmen, and destroying their tools. This terrible phenomenon was renewed several times, at each fresh attempt to continue the work, so that finally they were obliged to desist from their impious design, and this prodigy has been recorded by several historical writers.
Our Lord’s Crib — The crib in which Our Lord was laid was taken from the Holy Land to Rome, in 642. It consists of five small planks of wood, about two and a half feet long, by five inches wide. They are placed together and held by ribbons, duly sealed, covered with leaves of silver, and kept in a magnificent reliquary, in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of St. Mary Major’s, in Rome, and is one of the chief objects which pilgrims visiting the eternal city are always anxious to venerate. [Note: The reliquary is now in the “confession” of St. Mary Major’s, right beneath the high altar, not in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. I saw and venerated it there myself just over a week ago. –BAM]
Incidents of the Flight to Egypt — As the Holy Family passed by the chief towns and cities, the idols of the pagans fell and were shattered to pieces.
Until some years ago, a well was shown to travelers wherein Our Lady was said to have washed the Divine Child; it was held in great veneration, not only by Christians, on account of its associations, but also by the Saracens [Muslims] of the country, on account of its extraordinary power of making the land fruitful.
Another tradition tells how one night they rested in a robbers’ cave, received with rough, but kind, hospitality by the captain’s wife, whose child was white with leprosy. Mary asked for water wherein to wash her Divine Child. The captain’s wife thought she perceived something remarkable about her guests, and with a kind of faith, she washed her own child in the same water, and at once his flesh became as rosy and beautiful as ever mother’s eye could wish to see! Years passed away, and this Dismas, for such was his name, was led into Jerusalem, a captive, and condemned to death. He was one of the two malefactors crucified beside Our Lord, the one who received pardon for his sins as he died, paradise for his cave’s hospitality in the past!
Devotion to the Holy Family — St. Vincent Ferrer relates that a pious merchant was accustomed to give dinner every Christmas Day to three poor persons — a man, a woman, and a child — intending to honor thereby the Holy Family. As the merchant lay on his deathbed, Jesus appeared to him, along with Mary and Joseph, and said to him in his sleep: “Since you so often gave us to eat on Christmas Day, you shall now be our guest in Heaven.” The merchant awoke much refreshed, and inundated with spiritual joy; he fell asleep in the Lord shortly after, dying the death of the Just.
Godfrey of Bouillon in Jerusalem — Godfrey showed the greatest respect for the Crown of Thorns. When proclaimed first king of Jerusalem by the army of Christians, he refused the title, and would not allow a royal crown to be placed on his head. He thought it unbecoming to be crowned with gold and precious stones in the very place where the Son of God, King of kings, had borne a Crown of Thorns.