Nearly four hundred years after Our Lord had gone up to heaven, and left His disciples and their followers to carry on, a boy was born who was destined to be one of God's greatest Saints, and to bring thousands and thousands of pagans into the Christian Faith. This boy was St. Patrick, called the Apostle of Ireland, because he turned the whole of Ireland Christian. For many hundreds of years after St. Patrick had died, Ireland was like a fruitful garden in which sprang up hundreds of Saints and holy and learned men, who helped to spread the knowledge and love of Christ all over the world. So St. Patrick was truly an Apostle, and, like St. John and St. Andrew and the others, one of the foundation-stones of Christ's great Church.
But though he ended in being so very important, and doing things that made a great difference to the whole world, he began as an ordinary boy—and rather a naughty one, as he tells us himself. We know a great deal about St. Patrick, and we know it is quite true, because when he was over one hundred years old he wrote it all down himself. He called the book his "Confession," and though he told us such a lot about himself, beginning with the adventures of his boyhood, there is one thing he did not put down in the book. Can you guess what? Well, he did not put down how good he was. For, you see, the Saints never thought themselves good, because, instead of comparing themselves with people less good than themselves, as we are all so fond of doing, they kept on comparing themselves with Our Blessed Lord, and of course, that made them seem very, very far from perfect.
When St. Patrick was a boy he did not love God or believe all his Christian teachers told him, nor was he obedient or ready to do his best. One day some fierce pirates raided the land where he lived with his father and mother, and carried him off captive with lots of other boys. Sailing across the sea to Ireland, the pirates sold the boys as slaves.
St. Patrick was bought by a great chief called Milcho, and sent out on to the hill-sides to watch the sheep. Do you think he was lonely and afraid? No. For, when torn away from his home, from the friends who loved him, he had discovered that there is one Friend that you can't be dragged away from, and Who can be with you even in the midst of the tossing green sea, on a pirate ship. For, though Patrick had forgotten God, God had not forgotten Patrick. "The Lord," he says, "showed me my unbelief, and had pity on my youth and ignorance."
So when he trudged out on to the mountain-side, he was not sad and alone, but glad in the knowledge that his unseen Friend was with him. "Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ above me, Christ beneath me, Christ in the chariot, Christ in the fort, Christ in the ship."
That is a prayer St. Patrick made up himself. There, on the rough mountain-side, the boy St. Patrick spent all his lonely days talking to God, so that, he says, "more and more the love of God and His faith and fear grew in me, and my spirit was stirred." He tells us that he would recite one hundred prayers in one day, and nearly as many in the night.
He had to sleep out with the sheep in some rough cave or hut. "Before the dawn," he says, "I was called to pray by the snow, the ice, and the rain." But he did not mind this outward cold, because of the burning heart within him.
St. Patrick had learnt his lesson—the lesson of where to find the only comfort and friendship and help worth having. God wanted him, now, for the great work he was to do. One night a mysterious voice told him that if he went to a certain place he would find a ship ready to take him home. The place was about two hundred miles away, and St. Patrick had never been there. However, trusting in God's help, he started off. At last, after a long tramp, he reached the town, and, sure enough, there was a ship at the quay about to set sail. St. Patrick asked to be taken on board, but when the sailors heard he had no money they refused him a passage. St. Patrick went sadly away, but as he went he prayed. Before long he heard someone coming after him. Turning round, he found it was one of the sailors, who said after all they would take him.
I can't tell you now of the adventures St. Patrick had on his way home, but after being shipwrecked and nearly starved, and each time wonderfully saved by God, he reached his father's house. But though he was home again with those he loved, he did not forget the Friend Who had been his all in those cold, hard days in Ireland. He thought of Him all day, and of how best to please Him. He had already begun studying for a life in God's service, when he had a wonderful vision of the people of Ireland calling him to come to their help, and he knew it was a sign from God that this was the work he was to do. You can imagine how impatient he must have been to get a ship and go sailing back to Ireland to tell the people about the true God, and how Christ had died on the Cross for them, and all the rest; but for such a difficult and dangerous job he needed a lot of training—not only in learning, but in the strength and holiness and obedience to God which should make him able to face the task before him. How long do you think God kept him at his training? Thirty-eight years!
At the end of this time a holy man who was his friend and guide was sent to preach in Britain. St. Patrick went with him. This was the first step, and it ended in his being made a Bishop and sent—at last—to the lifework he had so long waited for, the conversion of Ireland.
When St. Patrick's ship came to shore, the wild men of Leinster would not let him land. So, trusting as usual to God, he sailed out again to sea, and landed a little farther to the south. There seemed to be nobody about, to stop him; and, tired out, I suppose, with a day of exploring in the strange land, St. Patrick lay down and fell asleep. A little Irish boy chanced to come along, and, seeing a stranger asleep, crept up on tip-toe to look at him. What a lovely, kind face he had! The boy thought to himself that he had never before seen anybody who looked so nice, and he longed to do him some good turn. He couldn't think of anything to do for someone who was asleep, but at last he got an idea. Picking all the best flowers he could find, he put them round St. Patrick for a surprise for him.
When St. Patrick woke up you can imagine how pleased he was with the flowers, and still more pleased to see a little Irish boy smiling at him shyly from among the bushes. Before long St. Patrick and the boy had become great friends, and the boy simply wouldn't go away, but stuck to St. Patrick. Then God made known a secret of the future to St. Patrick, and he said: "Some day he will be the heir to my kingdom." And, sure enough, the boy, whose name was Benignus, succeeded St. Patrick as Bishop of Armagh. Don't you wish you were that boy, always to stay with St. Patrick?
After this the most wonderful adventures began to befall St. Patrick; but even more wonderful than the adventures were the miracles by which he managed to escape out of them, not only alive, but victorious.
Getting into his ship again, St. Patrick landed farther north. Once more the fierce Irish set on him and his little band, and their chief, Dichu, raised his sword to bring it crashing down on St. Patrick's head. But, somehow, his arm stayed stiff in mid-air, and he could not strike the blow. Dichu was an honest man, and soon understood that such a miracle must be a sign from the true God. If once you believe in God—well, the only possible thing is to serve Him. So Dichu became a Christian, and humbly learned from St. Patrick how he should serve God.
Then St. Patrick went to the house of the very chief who had kept him as a slave, and converted his children to the true Faith. But it was at Easter that something very thrilling happened, and was the beginning of St. Patrick's real triumphs.
The Chief-King of Erin (as Ireland was called) was just going to hold his solemn festival at Tara. All the Irish princes and all the priests of the pagan religion had collected together. One of their ceremonies was the lighting of fire at dawn, with magic rites and ceremonies. It happened to be Holy Saturday, and on that day the Christians used to light a beacon. St. Patrick lit his holy fire, as usual. The King saw it blazing on a hill-top, and was very angry. One of his priests (or Druids, as they were called) said: "If that fire is not put out before morning, it never will be put out," and he meant the Christian Faith. So the King sent for St. Patrick.
Surrounded by his Druids and bards, and all the Irish princes, the King sat, fierce and proud, and awaited the strangers. It was Easter morning, so, as St. Patrick and his little band advanced, they chanted the Easter litanies. So noble and holy did St. Patrick look that one of the bards rose as he drew near. This little act of politeness on the part of the bard brought him special grace from heaven, and he accepted the Christian Faith.
Standing quietly in the midst of the circle of priests and princes, St. Patrick looked around him. He met countless pairs of fierce eyes fixed upon him, as the princes sat in silence, "with the rims of their shields against their chins"; and as he looked at them he longed to win them all for God, and he prayed for grace and power to do what was needed. Then he told them why he had come to Ireland.
The King left his Druids to reply. They did so by doing all sorts of horrible magic. And certainly they made things happen, much as people called "spiritists" do nowadays; but it was not by God's power, so it must have been the Devil who helped them. Whatever the Druids did, St. Patrick undid, and then did something more wonderful. The Druids were furious, and no one knows what might have happened had not St. Patrick caused an earthquake to happen, by God's power. So terrified were the Irish that they went half mad and began killing each other, and St. Patrick and his men escaped.
But the next day St. Patrick boldly came back, though he knew the King meant to kill him. He was given a cup of poisoned wine to drink. Well, what of that? Did not Our Lord say to His disciples, when He sent them out to convert the world, "If you drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt you"? St. Patrick made the sign of the cross over the cup and drank it, and nothing happened.
Then the Druids arranged a horrible test. They laid two great fires, one of dry faggots and the other of wet, green wood. On the dry wood they laid the boy Benignus, dressed in a Druid's white robe. On the green they put a Druid, clad in St. Patrick's cloak. Then they said they would set fire to both piles. St. Patrick accepted the challenge. (If you had been the boy, would you have "got the wind up," do you think, or would you have trusted St. Patrick?)
Well, they set fire to the two piles of wood. Strange to say, the green wood blazed up, with many sizzlings and cracklings and much smoke, but the dry wood simply wouldn't light. There was, however, a sudden flame, and the Druid's robe on the boy flared up and was soon burnt to ashes, leaving Benignus quite all right, and, I expect, very pleased with himself! Meanwhile, horrible noises had been coming from the other pile, and when the smoke and flames died down there were only charred cinders where there had once been a Druid. But St. Patrick's cloak had not been burnt at all.
As the King still would not believe, St. Patrick had to make another earthquake happen, which swallowed up so many of the King's subjects that he gave in, and said St. Patrick might preach, though he himself never accepted the Faith.
So, on the green plains of Tara, St. Patrick preached a wonderful sermon to the Irish, who by this time had come crowding round to see the stranger who could beat the Druids at their own game. During this sermon St. Patrick stooped down and picked a leaf of shamrock, and, holding it up, showed the people how the little green leaf was three and yet one. He said that would help them to understand how the Blessed Trinity is three—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost—and yet is really only one God. That is why the Irish wear shamrock on St. Patrick's Day (March 17th).
Many more miracles did St. Patrick which I can't tell you about now; and he went from place to place, winning thousands of men for Christ, and giving spiritual life to their souls by baptizing them.
One Shrove Tuesday St. Patrick went up on to the top of a lonely, rugged mountain above the sea, and there he stayed without any food all through Lent till Easter. And all the time he prayed and prayed and prayed for the men of Ireland and their fate on the Judgment Day. At the end of his long and painful time of prayer God sent an angel to tell him his request was granted. So, with his heart full of joy, St. Patrick knelt and blessed Ireland, and as he gave his blessing hundreds of poisonous snakes came out of their holes and went slithering away into the sea, where they were all drowned. (That is why you see pictures of St. Patrick with snakes.) And now, every year, thousands of Irish people go on pilgrimage up that mountain.
Before I end I must just tell you one little story about a young Irish Prince who didn't give in to himself. This Prince and his followers, after hearing St. Patrick preach, decided to become followers of Christ and be baptized. St. Patrick, being a Bishop, carried a thing called a crozier—a kind of long staff, like a shepherd's crook, because Bishop means shepherd. St. Patrick's crozier had rather a sharp point at the end, and during the ceremony of Baptism, somehow, by accident, he pierced the Prince's bare foot with it, but did not notice what he had done. The Prince said nothing, and did not wince or seem surprised. Afterwards, when St. Patrick found out what he had done, and asked the Prince why he had said nothing, the Prince replied: "I thought it was the rule of faith." A bit of poetry has been written about it, which puts it rather nicely. The Prince says, in it: "I thought, thus called to follow Him Whose Feet Were pierced with nails, haply the blissful rite Some little pain included."
Everywhere St. Patrick went he was loved, and soon the fame of him had spread through the whole country. The superstitious religion of the Druids altogether died down, and Ireland became a Christian country. St. Patrick made a set of wise laws, and by these the Irish were governed for a thousand years.
At last came the time when his great work was finished. The little boy, Benignus, had grown up and taken over St. Patrick's work. St. Patrick had written his "Confession." And now, at one hundred and twenty, he was quite ready for the rest and the reward of heaven. He was very happy; his great work had been accomplished. God had been very good to him. And so, satisfied, he lay down to die, knowing that all the men of Ireland were praying for their beloved father.
So, on March 17th, in the year 493, St. Patrick passed from this world into the glory of Heaven.
To understand the story of St. Antony you must picture yourselves in the beautiful, sunny land of Portugal. Oranges and purple grapes and all kinds of lovely fruits ripen in the old gardens. Galleys full of rich merchandise come sailing across the blue, blue sea and touch at the port of Lisbon. All along the banks of the River Tagus are the big houses of the nobility. It is in one of these houses that there lives a boy called Fernando.
Fernando is one of those boys who will always have a good time. He is very clever and quick, handsome, and full of life. He gets on wonderfully well at school, and he has a fine time in the holidays, for his people lead a gay life—feasts, sports, the chase, grand parties of every sort. Fernando has the chance of seeing a good deal of life, for he is the kind of boy the grown-ups are always ready to take out. He gets a lot of admiration, and he enjoys everything to the full.
But, do you know, when he is alone there is a certain idea that often comes to him, and he sits on his window-sill and gazes away across the purple hills, and thinks and thinks and thinks. The idea is this: that, after all, this pleasure and gaiety is not worth much; it's all rather selfish and greedy and stupid. There must be something more worth while in life. For one thing, there's God. How little we know of God! And yet there is a lot to be learnt and understood about Him if only there was time and quiet and books, and not all this bustle of parties and grand people. Surely God wants men to get to know Him, and not be so busy pleasing themselves that they quite forget all about Him. Then, again, how rotten it would be to die and feel you had done nothing in life but please yourself! After all, there's no end of things to be done to make the world a better, holier, wiser place. Fancy going out of the world knowing you were leaving it no better than when you came—or perhaps a little worse. Surely a man must feel rather nervous about dying, and about the Judgment Day, when he knows he hasn't ever done anything useful or kind. Why should God give such men the reward of heaven? Rewards are for people who have worked hard; and so is rest. And then, again, when God came to earth and lived among men, He didn't just spend His time seeking for pleasures; in fact, He seemed never to think of Himself at all, but always of other people. That thought held the boy Fernando more than all the others—the thought of Christ, Who could have made Himself a King if He had liked, spending His days for others, preaching and doing miracles, and the whole long night out under the stars, under the whispering olive-trees talking to God.
These thoughts used to come to Fernando when he was quite a little chap, and he had a kind of idea that when he was a man he would give himself to God. But when he began to grow up a bit, and got about thirteen or fourteen, he found that if he didn't look out he would get so keen on the life of pleasure that he would become like the gay young men about him, and quite forget all about God. He began to see that if he meant to stick to his good ideas he must do something about it before it was too late. So, after a very hard struggle, he promised God the whole of himself, with all his love and all the keen, strong desire within him to do great things. He knew it would mean giving up all the pleasures that filled his life, and all the riches and glory that would some day be his. But somehow nothing mattered so long as he obeyed this sense that God was calling.
Of course, his people told him he was a young fool, and did all they could to stop him; but he stuck to his idea, and at the age of fifteen he was admitted to a monastery of Canons, just outside the city, and exchanged his rich clothes for the white habit.
It was a beautiful monastery, full of holy men and hundreds of wonderful books, and in the quiet and peace young Fernando was very happy. He felt he had really got near to God. He worked so hard at his studies that by the time he had become a young man he was admired by all the Canons, who thought him very clever and gifted, and told each other that some day he would be a famous scholar and do great things. Fernando himself felt that God had given him the gift of preaching; and that if he went out and preached he would be able to attract great crowds to listen, and win souls for God; so he worked and worked to learn all he could, so as to be ready to stand up and defend the Christian Faith against heretics.
Fernando had gone to another great monastery at Coimbra, and had been there eight years, when something happened which was the beginning of a great change in his life—the beginning of a great adventure.
One day five dusty wayfarers tramped into the town and stopped at the little house of the Franciscans, not far from the monastery of the White Canons. The five strangers were really five heroes, for they were five of St. Francis's Friars, bound on a quest so thrilling and so dangerous that they felt quite sure they would never come back. They were going to Morocco, in Africa, to preach to the heathen, and with shining eyes they spoke of dying there, for the love of Christ, and winning the martyr's crown! Full of joy they went on their way; but without knowing it they had set on fire the heart of the young Canon, Fernando. In the quiet of his peaceful monastery he could think of nothing but Africa, the heathen, the chance of sharing Christ's suffering, and dying for His sake. It was really the Holy Spirit Who was stirring up those thoughts in Fernando's heart.
Well, some months later news came that the five brave Friars had been put to a most horrible death by the Saracens. They were first scourged till the whiplashes had almost cut their bodies to pieces. Boiling oil and vinegar was then poured over them, and they were rolled on the ground, over fragments of broken glass and pottery. They were then promised their lives if they would give up Christ; but as, of course, they wouldn't, they were beheaded. These were the first martyrs of St. Francis's Order.
Can you imagine what Fernando felt when one day a solemn procession stopped outside the church of his own monastery, and the coffins containing the bodies of the martyrs were laid within it for a while on their way to Spain?
Fernando now felt more sure than ever that God was calling him to be a poor Friar, and to set out barefoot for some hot, dusty land away beyond the seas, where cruel hands would torture him to death. Once again he offered himself to God, but this time it took an even harder struggle than it had before, for he loved his quiet life of prayer and study in the beautiful monastery even more than he had loved the gay life of his boyhood. Still, he did not give in to himself.
Next time the poor Friars came, in their old, patched habits, to beg at the rich monastery, can you imagine their surprise when one of the most learned and famous young Canons came out to them, in his stately white habit, his beautiful face lighted up with a great resolve, and asked them if they would give him a brown habit, and make him a Friar, and send him to the Saracen country to win a martyr's crown?
Of course, they were delighted, and promised to bring him a habit the very next day.
Fernando had a hard job to persuade the Canons to let him go. But at last they did; and once more he turned his back on a happy home and set out on an unknown adventure. As he left the monastery, one of the Canons, a great friend of his, called after him: "Go—go! You will doubtless become a Saint!" And Fernando called back to him: "When you hear that I am a Saint give glory to God!" for he knew very well that it is only God Who can make a man into a Saint, and that the man's own efforts can never do it.
It must have been a great change for Fernando to find himself in the poor little huts belonging to the Friars, and obliged to go barefoot, dressed in a rough habit and cord, with only scraps of food to eat, begged from the houses of the rich. These Friars were only poor, ignorant men—very holy, but with no learning or refinement. They did not know Fernando was a very clever man, a scholar. Of course, he did not tell them, but humbly took his place as the newest and least important of the brothers, never letting them see that he missed the wonderful library, or the beautiful music of the monastery, or the quiet cell where he had been able to pray and work in peace. So as to start life quite fresh, he even gave up his noble name, Fernando, and took the name of "Antony." So now we will begin to call him St. Antony. S. FRANCIS RECEIVES THE MARKS OF THE PASSION. S. FRANCIS RECEIVES THE MARKS OF THE PASSION. See page 81.
Of course, the one thing he kept thinking about was the quest of the martyr's crown, and at last he got his Superiors to send him, with one companion, to the Saracen country. But now came the greatest disappointment of his life, for no sooner had he got there than he fell ill. All the winter he lay between life and death, with a terrible fever, so ill that he could do nothing. He knew that he was now so weak that he would never be able to go and preach to the Saracens and be martyred. He would have to go home again, a failure. This was much harder to him than any danger or suffering, and the way he bore it, cheerfully and patiently for the love of Christ, made him much more pleasing to God than anything else. For God loves humble people, who are willing to do His Will, instead of choosing for themselves.
Seeing that God wanted his life rather than his death, St. Antony decided to go back to his own country and become as strong and well as possible. So he set sail. But when God sees that a man has altogether given up his own will, He takes full control of his journey through life, and makes things happen to show the man what to do. In this case God made St. Antony's ship get driven ashore on the island of Sicily. Here there happened to be a small house belonging to the Franciscans. It was while St. Antony was resting there that he heard that there was going to be a great chapter (or general meeting) of the Friars, at Assisi, and that St. Francis would be there; so he asked leave to go, and then set forth. This was to be the beginning of a new adventure.
When he got to Assisi he found two thousand Friars collected there for the chapter. The country people were providing all their food free.
You can imagine what St. Antony felt when he saw St. Francis! But when St. Francis called for volunteers to go on a dangerous mission to the fierce Germans, it must have cost him an awful lot to keep quiet. But he had learnt his lesson—God did not want of him a glorious death, only a patient life.
When the chapter came to an end all the Friars dispersed, some going gladly off on their dangerous quests, others collecting in little bands under their "ministers," as the head ones were called, and starting to tramp back to their friaries.
But St. Antony stood all alone. He had no brave quest to follow; no minister looked for him to go home with a party of cheerful Friars; no one cared what became of the young Portuguese stranger.
So St. Antony asked one of the ministers to take him and "form him in the practice of religious discipline." The minister little knew the wonderful gifts of this pale young stranger, with the beautiful, sad face, and sent him to a humble friary on the top of a steep, rocky mountain. There were only a few simple Friars there. One of them had hewed out a little cave in the rock. This he gave to St. Antony, who made it his cell. There he spent most of his day in prayer. But one job he specially made his own. What do you think it was? Why, washing up the plates and greasy dishes.
He didn't tell the Friars anything about himself, and of course they never guessed that their new brother, who always chose the meanest jobs, was a nobleman's son and a famous scholar of one of the greatest monasteries in Portugal.
For a whole year St. Antony lived like this. Do you think he wished himself back in the beautiful monastery in Portugal, with his books and his clever, interesting friends? No; for he loved what was God's Will for him above all things. People should not pine for the past, nor be impatient for the future; they should live heart and soul in the present, because the present is always what has just been provided by God, and so it is the best possible thing.
But God meant His faithful servant to be made known, and I will tell you, now, the wonderful way in which He made it happen.
In the town, not far from St. Antony's little friary, there was one day a meeting of Franciscan and Dominican Friars for an important ceremony. After the service the Superior asked the Dominicans, who were clever men and good preachers, to preach a sermon. But they all said they were not prepared; and so did the Franciscans. So the Superior turned to St. Antony, who had come as a companion of his Minister, and ordered him to preach. St. Antony tried to get out of it, but, finding he must obey, he walked slowly up into the pulpit.
The Friars did not expect much of a sermon. This was only poor Brother Antony, whose chief job was washing dishes.
St. Antony, ready to do his best for God, did not think of himself a bit. He just turned over in his mind what would be the best thing to preach on so as to help his brothers and bring honour and glory to his God. By the time he was in the pulpit the Holy Spirit had put a text into his mind. He gave it out in his clear, ringing voice: "For us Christ became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Then he began to preach.
The Friars sat up and stared. The young, unknown Friar was pouring forth a wonderful flood of eloquence, full of the deepest thought, and showing such learning as none of them possessed. Only a scholar could preach like that; and only a scholar who was full of the fire of the Holy Ghost could move the hearts of his hearers as this man did!
The Friars and their Superiors sat spellbound. They quite forgot the preacher, and were carried away by his words into a greater love of God. When at last he ceased, and walked quietly down from the pulpit, his eyes on the ground, deep humility in his heart, his hearers turned to each other in wonder and delight, and all said they had never heard such a preacher in their lives.
Of course, the Superiors hurried off and told St. Francis all about it, and you can imagine how delighted St. Francis was to hear he had such a wonderful man among his Friars. It ended in St. Francis sending St. Antony to do what many years ago he had longed to do—that is, preach to the heretics who were teaching wrong things about the Christian Faith.
Still as humble as ever, St. Antony set out to tramp along the roads to the places at which he was to preach. Through Italy he went, and then France, and then Spain, and back to Italy, and on these journeys the most wonderful things happened. Not only did God give him the power of preaching such marvellous sermons that the people crowded in thousands to hear him, but He gave him the power to do miracles, like He once gave to His Apostles. As to the heretics, they simply couldn't stand up against St. Antony, and thousands of them either had to stop their false teaching and keep quiet, or else were converted and came over to St. Antony's side. Because of this he got the name, "Hammer of Heretics."
But it wasn't only to the heretics he preached. The ordinary people used to come in such crowds that there simply wasn't room in the churches for them, and St. Antony had to preach out in the fields and plains. Rich and poor used to come, clergy and ignorant peasants. The shopkeepers used to shut up their shops. The people were so much moved by his sermons that enemies forgave each other, men paid their debts, or creditors forgave their debtors; wicked people gave up their sinful life, and started trying to do their best to become pleasing to God.
One day a band of twelve brigands who lived in the forest and robbed passers-by heard about the famous preacher. So they disguised themselves, and went to see if what was said of him was true. When he began to preach he completely won their hearts, and they repented of their sinful life. After the sermon they spoke to St. Antony, and confessed what wicked men they had been. He told them they must never go back to their robber life, and he said that those who gave it up would go some day to heaven, but that if any went back to it they would have miserable ends. And, sure enough, some who went back soon died horrible deaths. St. Antony told them to try and do something to make up for having been so wicked. One of them, he said, was to go twelve times in pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome. Years and years after, when this robber was an old, old man, he met a Friar on the road, and he told him how when he was young he had heard St. Antony preach, and how he had told him to go to Rome twelve times. "And now I am on my way back from Rome for the twelfth time," he said. That shows you what power St. Antony had.
There's no time now to tell you of all the miracles he did; but they were so wonderful that he came to be called the "Wonder-worker," and it showed everyone that God was with him.
And do you think all this honour and glory, and big crowds running after him, and great men praising him, made St. Antony proud or even the least bit pleased with himself? No; he stayed just as humble and retiring as he was in the days when he used to wash dishes in the mountain friary.
But St. Antony's hard life was beginning to tell on his health. For a long time he had secretly suffered from a very painful disease. It was now about nine years since the day he preached his first sermon and was sent forth by St. Francis on his great mission. As the summer drew on St. Antony ceased to preach, so as not to hinder the people's work in the vineyards. Also, he knew the end of his life was near. He longed for a little peace and solitude and silence; he longed to be alone with God to prepare for his great journey into the next world.
There was a nobleman called Count Tiso, who had a beautiful estate not far from Padua, a city St. Antony loved very much. Here St. Antony went for a time of rest. There was no rocky hill-side to make a cave which he might use as his cell, so he got Count Tiso to make him a cell in the great branches of a walnut-tree. These branches spread out not far above the ground, and between them Count Tiso wove reeds and willow twigs, and made a lovely little house for St. Antony. The thick, leafy branches above sheltered him from the hot sun; a few rough steps led up to it; and here St. Antony could spend his days in complete solitude.
But one evening when he had come down to have his evening meal with his companions, in the little friary near by, he was taken very ill, and his pain was so great that he could no longer sit upright.
He knew he was soon to die, and he longed to die at his beloved city, Padua. He was really much too ill to be moved, but when his companions saw how much he wanted this, they fetched a rough ox-cart and laid St. Antony in it.
I told you how St. Antony had longed to share Christ's sufferings and die a martyr's death—well, now was his chance. He was in such frightful pain that any tiny movement hurt him, and now he had to go mile after mile in a rough cart with no springs, jolting over the stony roads, the broiling Italian sun beating down upon him, the thick white dust choking his parched throat, the flies tormenting him. You can't imagine the agony he must have suffered. And yet he never grumbled—he was glad of this chance of suffering; he felt he was really taking up his cross and following his beloved Master along the painful way to Calvary.
When the cart had nearly reached Padua, a Friar who had been sent to inquire after St. Antony met the little procession. He saw at once that St. Antony would not live to reach the city, so he made the Friars lift him from the cart and carry him to a little house of the Friars near by. It had been St. Antony's last great wish to die at Padua; but even this he gave up patiently and gladly and without a murmur.
In the little cell he lay, his pain getting worse and worse, and his weakness greater and greater. The Friars gave him the last rites of religion. "Then, raising his eyes," the old book says, "he looked fixedly on high. As he continued to gaze steadfastly towards heaven, the Friars asked him what he saw. He answered: 'I see my Lord.'"
Not long after, like one falling quietly asleep, he breathed out his last breath. "His loving, holy soul quitted the body, and, conducted by the good Jesus, entered into the joy of his Lord."
The little cell where St. Antony died still stands, and people can go in and look on the very walls his eyes looked on, the very floor on which his body lay. It is such a holy spot that a church has been built over it, and the little square cell stands inside the church.
That is the story of one of the holiest and humblest men who ever lived.
I'm going to tell you the story of the Saint who was more thought about and honoured in the old days than, perhaps, any other Saint who ever lived. He was from the very earliest times—in fact, from directly after his death—called "the Great Martyr." He became the patron of many countries and orders of knighthood, but specially in England was he loved, and his feast was kept as a great holiday, equal to Christmas. Already, before William the Conqueror came to England, our forefathers had begun to build churches in honour of St. George. But it was King Richard Cœur de Lion who specially spread devotion to St. George in England, because he took him as his own patron, and used his name as his battle-cry. "For God and St. George!" he would shout, as he swung his mighty battle-axe in the air and charged at the head of his knights toward the Saracen lines.
St. George several times appeared on a white horse, and led the Crusaders to victory when it seemed as if the enemy were going to put them to flight and come off victorious.
Many people think of St. George as a knight on a prancing horse, who killed a dragon and rescued a maiden in distress. But this is only a kind of parable or picture of the real St. George and what he did. The dragon is a picture of the wicked, heathen religion that tried to kill the beautiful young Church that Our Lord had made. St. George fought this dragon, and gave his life in the battle, but he rescued the maiden (who represents the Church); for his death seems to have rallied the Christians and filled them with new courage to fight bravely and stick to it, until at last the heathen dragon was overcome, and the Church of Christ was able to fill all the world with joy and truth and light.
Well, now I will tell you what the old books say about St. George; but we have not many details about his life, as we have about St. Francis's.
St. George lived a bit more than three hundred years after Christ. He was the son of a Roman soldier, a Christian, stationed in Palestine, which was a Roman colony. St. George was one of those brave, straightforward boys who are afraid of nothing—neither of themselves and their weakness, nor of other people and their unkindness. He practised "not giving in to himself," like a good Cub; and he thought a great deal of his honour, like a good Scout. And he knew that everything brave or good that he ever did was by the grace of his Captain, Christ, and not because he was any better himself than anybody else. He could ride well, shoot an arrow straight, and use a spear or a broadsword as well as any Roman boy. But it was not so much this as his way of obeying quickly, and keeping his word, and never giving in to himself, which made him rise from promotion to promotion when he joined the Roman army.
He was still very young when he was made what we should now call a Colonel, and given a great deal of responsibility. In fact, the Emperor thought no end of him, and people whispered that some day he would be head of the army and one of the most important men in the Roman Empire. This was rather wonderful, because the Emperor, Diocletian, was a heathen and hated Christians, and, as I told you, St. George was a very good Christian.
In those days the Christian Church was no longer hiding in the Catacombs, but had come out into the open, and nearly half Diocletian's Empire was Christian. But something—probably pride—made Diocletian hate the Christians, and he decided to do all he could to destroy the Church of Christ, and force the people back into the old religion, and worship a god that was really not very different from Cæsar, the Emperor, himself.
So he first tried burning down the churches, and then imprisoning the priests and bishops. But one day he suddenly got mad, and gave an order that if the people would not worship the Roman gods and offer incense to them, and swear that they no longer believed in Christ, his soldiers would kill them like beasts and leave them in the streets, as a ghastly warning to any other fools who refused to obey.
So the soldiers went forth, sword in hand, and every man, woman, and child who refused to give up Christ was killed, or wounded and left to bleed to death.
Now, no one had thought that Diocletian would ever go as far as this, and when the horrible news was brought to St. George he was filled with rage. The Emperor was, of course, his master, but there and then he vowed that he would not stay in the service of a vile murderer, a coward who could stain his sword with the blood of women and little children; and he prepared at once to go to the Emperor, and say straight out all that was burning in his heart.
Now, his friends knew that nothing would more enrage the Emperor than this, because he thought a lot of St. George, and yet he was proud and obstinate, and nothing would make him stop persecuting the Christians. If St. George spoke as he said he would, it would certainly mean no chance of promotion, no becoming head of the army; perhaps, even, it would mean imprisonment; possibly death. So they simply begged St. George not to go. But do you think he was that sort? Not much! The last thing he wanted was promotion in the army of a man who was the cruel enemy of Christ and the murderer of his fellow-Christians. So he set spurs to his horse, and rode off for the Emperor's Court.
Diocletian was surprised to see him arrive suddenly, travel-stained and apparently in a great hurry; and still more was he surprised when, instead of speaking with reverence and respect, he let the words almost burst forth from his full heart, and told the Emperor that it would be better if he paid honour to the God from Whom he had received his sceptre, instead of murdering the faithful servants of that God.
Diocletian was first surprised and then angry. But he tried to laugh it off, because he was really fond of St. George. Then he tried reasoning with the young soldier, and explaining that he had to keep the Christians in good discipline in case they might revolt or get proud and rebellious. But St. George would listen to no reasons or excuses, and, unbuckling his sword, he laid it down, resigning his commission in the army of a man who could act so dishonourably.
Then Diocletian got very angry indeed. He gave orders that St. George should be put in a dark dungeon, and loaded with chains until his pride should be broken, and he should be willing to humble himself before the Emperor. So angry was he that he made up his cruel mind that now he would even force St. George to give up the Christian religion himself, and that no pains should be spared to make him do this.
Alone in the dark, dank, icy-cold dungeon, St. George lay in his heavy chains, and wondered what was going to happen next. It was very horrible, down there, and he ached in every limb, and he was very hungry; but somehow he felt kind of glad inside, because he knew he was suffering all this for Christ's sake.
One day, when his gaoler brought him his ration of hard bread, he told him that he had heard a rumour that the executioner was coming to the dungeon, and that if St. George did not give a satisfactory answer he would be put to torture. The gaoler said it would, he thought, be a very painful kind of torture, and St. George had better be reasonable.
When he had gone St. George sat in the darkness with his heart beating rather fast. He wondered what sort of torture it would be, and if he would be able to stick it. Then he remembered that Our Lord had suffered awful tortures, and had foretold that His friends would have to, as well. So he asked Our Lord to give him grace to be able to stick anything the Emperor should do, and then he felt quite happy again.
Well, the hours dragged by, and at last St. George heard the tramp of feet on the stone stairs. Then there was a creak as the great key was turned in the lock, and bolts were shot back. The door opened, and there stood the executioner and two soldiers, one carrying a lantern.
The executioner, who had known St. George as a Colonel in the army, spoke respectfully. He gave St. George a message from the Emperor, saying that if he would come back and offer incense to the gods, and apologize for his proud words, he would get his liberty and be given back his commission. St. George laughed, and said he certainly wouldn't. Then the executioner said that in that case the Emperor had commanded that he should be tortured till he agreed to do all he was told.
The soldiers loosened his chains, and he was led out and up the stairs. The blazing, blinding sun dazzled his eyes after the dimness of the dungeon. The pavement of the courtyard seemed burning to his cold, bare feet. Soldiers looked curiously at him as he passed, but of course didn't salute, now. He was taken away to the horrible place of execution, and there a new form of torture was applied to him—a great wheel full of spikes into which he was thrust. When he was dragged out his body was one mass of wounds, and his blood dripped down on to the floor. He was carried on a stretcher back to the dungeon; and the executioner felt quite sure that when he was well enough to answer he would agree to do anything the Emperor wanted.
St. George was dazed with pain and loss of blood. His body seemed to burn all over. The darkness made his eyes ache, and he lay hour after hour, wondering how soon he would die. He had got to the point when he thought he simply couldn't bear another moment, when he heard a Voice in the darkness, and It said: "Fear not, George, for I am with thee."
His heart seemed to leap up, for he knew for certain that it was Our Lord's Voice—he could not possibly mistake it. And suddenly all the pain seemed a thousand times worth while, and he was glad he had had it; and he didn't feel lonely any more; and he just lay in the darkness and talked to Our Lord, knowing that He was near. And he forgot his pain.
Well, when a Roman officer came to receive his message to the Emperor St. George was able to laugh—rather weakly this time—and say he had no message for the Emperor, except that he had better stop murdering Christians, and beg God's mercy before it was too late.
The officer thought St. George was rather a fool, and a very brave man, and he went back to the Emperor.
A few days later the executioner arrived once more, and again led St. George across the sunny courtyard. St. George remembered the Voice of Christ saying, "I am with thee," and he was not afraid. This time they rolled a great heavy stone over his body, so that his bones were crushed and bruised, and then they carried him back to the dungeon.
When the officer came for his answer he could hardly believe that St. George dared still to refuse. He told the Emperor what St. George had said. The Emperor was surprised and sorry, for he saw that St. George must be a very brave man. He also saw that it was no good waiting any longer, or trying to force him, so he sent the executioner once again.
This time the executioner told St. George that his last chance had come. Either he must give up Christ, or he must face death. The words sent a kind of thrill through St. George—a thrill of horror at the thought of death, which turned into a thrill of joy at the thought of going into the presence of Christ, and hearing His wonderful Voice again, only this time seeing Him, too. And he rejoiced, also, to think he would really be a martyr. So he whispered faintly—for he could hardly speak now—that nothing in all the world would make him give up Christ.
So the soldiers took off his chains and dragged him up to his feet, and he walked slowly, with weak, swaying steps, into the sun.
"Fear not." He said the words over to himself. No, he wouldn't fear! "I am with thee." How wonderful! "And soon," he said in his heart, "I shall be with Thee!" And so he knelt down and waited.
And the executioner's great axe flashed in the sun as he swung it aloft, and the next instant the blood of "the Great Martyr" was streaming across the white pavement, as St. George's Cross streams scarlet across the white ground of his flag.
The soul of "the Great Martyr" had entered Heaven, where the angels rejoiced at his coming, when the Christians picked up his poor, broken body and carried it away. It was buried in a beautiful tomb, and before long a great church had been built over it. On every hand people talked of "the Great Martyr," and the Christians rejoiced at his courage, and cheered each other on to resist bravely. Many of the heathen, seeing that St. George could suffer tortures and die for his faith, began to believe in the Christ he loved, and were baptized. Diocletian himself began to fear a little, and the butchering stopped.
And so it was that the maiden in distress, the persecuted Church of Christ, was saved by her brave knight, St. George.
The little church St. Francis had last restored was very wee, but it had a very long name. It was called the Portiuncola, which meant "the little portion." It was built all among the trees and long grass, and mossy, fern-covered rocks; and the birds sang around it. St. Francis loved the spot very much—it was like home to him—and he spent a lot of time there. Besides, it was not far from the leper settlement, and he had now taken on himself the rather horrible job of serving the poor lepers—a job that was very pleasing to Our Lord, specially as He saw St. Francis did it all for love of Him, and served each wretched man as if he was Jesus Christ. Then, too, the Portiuncola was not very far from the town where Francis begged his food.
Well, early one morning, while the sun shone outside on the dewy world, and the birds sang their morning hymns of praise, a priest said Mass in the little chapel, and St. Francis knelt praying with all his heart. Presently the priest read out the Gospel, and, as usual, St. Francis listened with great attention. And suddenly, as he listened, he felt that those words of Our Lord which the priest was reading out were a message from heaven for him—the very "orders" he had been waiting for! These were the words:
"Going forth, preach, saying: The kingdom of heaven is at hand. . . . Possess not gold, nor silver, nor money in your houses, nor scrip for your journey, nor two coats, nor shoes, nor a staff; for the workman is worthy of his meat. And into whatsoever city or town you shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and there abide till you go hence. And when you come into a house, salute it, saying: Peace be to this house. . . . Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents, but simple as doves. . . . But when they shall deliver you up, take no thought how or what to speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what to speak" (Matt. x. 7-19).
Here were clear orders. Something in St. Francis answered to that call, and this something was the Holy Spirit of God speaking in his heart, as He always does in those who really wait and listen and mean to obey should God speak.
When the Mass was finished, St. Francis got the priest to read the words over to him again. And then, feeling quite sure he had discovered God's Holy Will, he began to obey it at once. He took off his shoes; he laid aside his second garment, making himself a rough brown habit; he put down his staff, and he exchanged his belt for a bit of rope. Then, feeling full of joy, he set out along the stony road on his bare feet, towards the town—not to beg this time, but to give the greeting of "Peace," and to tell the people to make up their quarrels and forgive each other, and turn with all their hearts to the Lord Christ.
The people of the town did not laugh now, and jeer; they saw that St. Francis was speaking to them from the bottom of his pure heart—a heart on fire with the love of God—and that the grace of Jesus Christ, his Master, was upon him. And before long two men of Assisi had joined him as the first of the great company who were to follow him—for you remember how he was to be a leader, and that the palace of his dream had been promised to him and his followers.
This is the story of St. Francis's first recruit. His name was Bernard de Quintavalle, and he was a rich merchant, serious and God-fearing, and not a bit like the gay, eager St. Francis. But seeing how unselfish and hard-working a life St. Francis led, and that God's Holy Spirit was with him, he began to visit the young preacher, and to receive him in his house. St. Francis willingly gave his friendship to such a good man.
Bernard used to like St. Francis to sleep on a bed in his own room. Often at night he would lie awake, thinking; and he would notice that after a short sleep St. Francis got out of bed and knelt down, and spent the rest of the night praying to God. The only words Bernard could hear were just "My God and my All, my God and my All," which St. Francis repeated over and over again, as if his soul was really seeing God, and his heart was so full of love for Him that he could say nothing else. And Bernard understood the secret of St. Francis's holiness and purity, for to one who prays like that God pours out very much grace, so that he can begin to be all that he knows he ought to be if he is really to please the Lord Christ, his Master.
So one day Bernard told St. Francis that he wanted to give back to God all his riches and become his poor brother. So St. Francis said what they ought to do would be to go to the church and read in the Gospel, where the words of Jesus Christ would show them what to do.
Before going to the church, however, they called for another friend of theirs—a learned man called Peter Cathanii, who also wanted to serve God perfectly, and had been trying humbly to learn how from St. Francis.
But St. Francis, though holy, and Bernard, though rich, and Peter, though clever at his books, did not any of them know their way about in the big Bible that was kept open in the church for all to read (for there were no printed books in those days, and a Bible was very costly, so that few people had a copy of their own).
So St. Francis prayed that he might come on the right place, and then he opened the book. This was what he read out: "If thou wouldst be perfect, go, sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matt. xix. 21).
That seemed just right! But perhaps Our Lord had still another message. So he shut the big book, and opened it again, just anywhere, and it said: "Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor scrip, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats" (Luke ix. 3).
Splendid! "Just one more, please, Lord," he said in his heart, as he opened the book for the third time. And Our Lord told him something very wonderful and hard to follow, which was really the explanation of all the others:
"If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. xvi. 24).
So the three friends left the church very happy. And Bernard sold all his rich stuffs and his house and his land; and Peter sold all his precious books; and they carried all the gold to a square in front of the old church of St. George, and St. Francis sat on the steps with his lap full of money, and gave away great glittering handfuls to all the poor people who crowded round.
When none was left, the three poor brothers, smiling with delight at being really poor and true followers of Christ, went off to the dear little chapel in the woods and began the life of the Friars.
Not long after, a third recruit turned up, and I must tell you about him. He was a simple working-man called Giles. When he heard about St. Francis and his two Friars, and of this new way of learning to serve God perfectly, he laid down his tools, and left the vineyards and tramped into the town. He went to an early Mass at St. George's Church, hoping to find St. Francis there, as it was St. George's Day; but not doing so, he set out for the Portiuncola. He didn't know where that was, so when he came to the crossroads he stopped and began to ask God somehow to show him the way. And just then St. Francis came out of the wood. Giles was delighted that God answered his prayer so quickly, and, kneeling down at St. Francis's feet, "Brother Francis," he said, "I want to be with you for the love of God."
St. Francis saw at once that this was a true brother, so he said: "Knowest thou how great a favour the Lord has given thee? If, my brother, the Emperor came to Assisi and wished to choose one of the citizens to be his knight or chamberlain, many are they who would come forward to claim the honour. How much more highly, then, shouldest thou esteem it to be chosen by the Lord from out of so many, and to be called to His Court!"
Then St. Francis took him back and showed him to Bernard and Peter, and said: "See what a good brother the Lord hath sent us!"
Soon after this the four Friars set out, St. Francis and Brother Giles going together, and Bernard and Peter, to tramp the roads from place to place, and preach to the little knots of country or town people who collected round them in the market-places. So strange did they look, and so full of joy and love did they seem to be, that the people wondered at them very much, and though some believed them to be servants of God, others thought them mad.
When they returned to the Portiuncola three more men joined them. It was then that the townspeople began to get angry, and say that St. Francis was turning rich men into beggars. Even the Bishop spoke seriously to him. Now, if St. Francis had not been so sure that what he was doing was God's plan, and not his own, he might have got discouraged and given up trying to carry it out; but, relying on God's grace, he listened humbly while people spoke angrily, or scoffed, or argued, or pleaded, and then he bravely "carried on."
For the first few months the brothers lived in their little hut at the Portiuncola, and prepared themselves (by prayer and the studying of the perfect way of life and the correction of their faults) for the great work God held for them. Part of the day was spent serving the lepers and doing simple work in the fields. One more journey they went, and then, four more brethren having joined them, and St. Francis having had a wonderful vision which showed him that hundreds would soon be flocking to join his Order from France and Germany and England and all the countries, he set out for Rome, to get the Pope's approval of his work. At first the Pope would not listen to this poor, unknown beggar-man, full of eager new ideas, but in the end he received him kindly and, after hearing all he had to tell, said: "My son, go and pray to Jesus Christ that He may show us His will; and when we know His will more certainly, we shall the more safely sanction your pious purpose."
So the brethren all prayed hard.
When St. Francis went again, the Pope was even more kind, for he recognized St. Francis as the man he had seen in a dream. In his dream he saw a church nearly falling and being held up by a small man in a poor habit, and he knew it meant the Church of Christ was in trouble, and that this man was going to make it strong again through all the earth.
So the Pope gave the Friars his blessing, saying: "Go forth in the Lord, brothers." And he gave them leave to preach penance, and told them to come back to him later and he would do even more for them.
So the Friars went back to Assisi full of joy. For a time they lived in a kind of wayside shelter called Rivo Torto; but later on the monks on whose land was the Portiuncola gave the little chapel and the bit of land to St. Francis (or rather rented it to him, the payment being one basket of fish per year, caught in the river—for St. Francis did not wish the Friars to own anything).
Some more men joined the brothers, and now they lived as a very happy family in their little huts, built of branches, around their beloved chapel. St. Francis was like the loving Father of this family, always kind, patient, cheery, ready to comfort the sad or nurse the sick, or explain things to those who felt worried and did not understand how to get rid of their faults and serve Christ in perfect purity of heart. You Cubs would have loved St. Francis, for he was just like a boy himself. I wish I had time to tell you all the lovely little stories about him and the Friars at this time while his family was still small, but we must keep them for another time, and go on now to the time when the Order had grown so large that the Friars could no longer all live at the Portiuncola, and began to have their poor, simple houses all over the place, while hundreds of brothers set forth, tramping the world over, preaching the Gospel of Christ, not only to the poor, but to the heathen in barbarous countries. Some of the brothers were cruelly martyred, and all had to suffer a lot of hardships, for often people would drive them away, so that they had to go hungry and cold, with nowhere to lay their heads for the night.
We cannot follow all the brothers and hear all their adventures, so I will just tell you one or two which show what kind of men St. Francis and his Friars were. Here is one which shows you their obedience and humility. I daresay it will make you laugh!
The Friars had by now become quite noted for their preaching, and would often go up into the pulpits of the churches, where large crowds gathered to hear them, the Bishop even inviting St. Francis to preach in the cathedral. Now, among the brethren there was one called Ruffino, who was very shy and nervous and felt he simply couldn't preach and face a great crowd of people, all staring at him and waiting for his words. Now, St. Francis hated that any of his Friars should give in to themselves about anything. He also loved them to obey quickly, and do everything they were told at once, without a murmur. So one day he told Brother Ruffino to go to a big church in the city and preach. But Brother Ruffino, instead of obeying at once, begged St. Francis not to command him this, as he had not the gift of preaching. St. Francis was not pleased at this, and he said that, as Brother Ruffino had not obeyed quickly, he must now take off his habit and go to the city and preach, clad only in his breeches, and otherwise naked! So Brother Ruffino stripped, and went off humble and obedient. But, of course, when he went into the church and up into the pulpit dressed like that the men and children of Assisi began to laugh and say the Friars had gone mad. Meanwhile St. Francis presently began to be sorry he had sent off poor Brother Ruffino clad only in breeches, especially considering he had once been one of the noblest men in Assisi. He began to call himself names for having been so hard on him; and, saying he would do himself what he had told his poor brother to do, he stripped himself of his habit and also set out, half naked, for the town! When he got to the church, of course everyone laughed all the more to see another Friar in his breeches. Poor Brother Ruffino was in the pulpit struggling bravely to preach in simple words. Then St. Francis mounted the pulpit, and, standing by Brother Ruffino, preached a most wonderful sermon, so that all the people of Assisi were touched to the heart, and many wept to think of their sins and of the Passion of Christ. Then St. Francis gave Brother Ruffino his habit and put on his own (for Brother Leo had brought them to the church), and they returned home rejoicing.
Once when St. Francis was walking along the road he saw a great crowd of birds in a field, and saying he must go and preach to his "little sisters, the birds," he went among them and preached a wonderful sermon to them, telling them how they ought to praise God for all he had given them. And the birds didn't fly away, but all crowded round to listen. At the end St. Francis gave them his blessing and told them to fly away, and they rose up in the air and flew away in the form of a great cross, to north, south, east, and west. St. Francis loved all animals, even earthworms, which he would pick up tenderly from the path and put into safety. And he would never allow people to cut trees quite down, but made them leave the roots, so that they might grow up all green and beautiful once more. Little children he loved, too. Some day I will tell you the story of a little boy who joined his Order and became a little Friar, and had the great joy of seeing St. Francis at prayer one night out on the mountain-side, with a wonderful gold light all round him, and heavenly visions comforting him. But the little boy had to promise St. Francis he would never tell anyone what he had seen as long as St. Francis was living.
I must leave, too, the story of how St. Francis tamed a huge, fierce wolf; and of how he went right into the Saracen camp during a Crusade and preached to the Sultan of Turkey, and told him to be a Christian; and how he called a great gathering of the Friars at the Portiuncola, to which five thousand brothers came, and how the people of the cities round came with carts full of food and fed the Friars for more than a week's time, freely. All these stories and many more I must leave, and go on now to tell you of the wonderful, beautiful, and holy end of St. Francis's life, and of the mysterious thing that happened to him. I want you to remember that this mysterious thing is perfectly true, and really did happen to St. Francis, and is a sign of how very closely his soul had become united to Jesus Christ and His Passion on the Cross—for he had never forgotten the heavenly message he had found in the book of the Gospels: "He that will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
St. Francis's Order was now established, and his Friars were renewing the life of the Church by their wonderful preaching, their holy example, and their pure lives. St. Francis himself, though not really old at all, was almost worn out. His life of hardships; his great worries (for his enormous family gave him much trouble as well as joy); his burning zeal and passionate love of God and his fellow-men—all this had nearly used up his strength, and now he was in constant pain, and very nearly blind. He was always patient and happy—even merry, as of old. But at last came a day when he felt he must go away and be alone a little with God. So, taking a few chosen brothers with him, he retired to the top of a beautiful mountain, called Mount Alverna, which belonged to a nobleman who was a friend of St. Francis.
On this mountain, with only the sky and the rocks and the trees for company, with the lovely peaks of other mountains stretching away as far as eye could see, the six Friars made themselves a little camp of huts; but St. Francis had his hut right away from the other Friars, and across a little rocky ravine which was crossed by a plank. Here he could feel quite alone with God. Looking up, there was just the blue, blue sky and the steady clouds; and looking down, there was a steep rock falling away below him to a great depth, with little ferns and flowers clinging to it. In this rocky solitude lived a falcon who became a very dear friend of St. Francis, and for whom he had a great love. It knew the time he liked to rise and pray in the night, and it would come and flap against his hut and wake him at the right time, and then stay near him while he prayed.
The Friars were not allowed to come near the spot; only Brother Leo came with a little bread and water each day, and to join at midnight with St. Francis in the Divine Office.
At times St. Francis was very happy, and the joy that fills the Blessed in heaven seemed to glow in his heart, so that he understood the secrets of God; and wonderful visions he had too. But sometimes he was filled with sorrow and pain and temptation, for the Devil would torment him and try in every way he could to separate the heart of St. Francis from God.
One day, after he had had a very wonderful vision, he went with Brother Leo to the little chapel the Friars had made, and, casting himself on the ground before the Altar, he prayed to God to make known to him the mystery which He would teach him—for he felt there was some mysterious reason why God had made him come up this mountain and dwell apart. Then he told Leo to open the book of the Gospels three times, and see what it said. And each place Leo opened on was about Christ's Passion.
Then St. Francis felt quite sure that it was God's will that somehow he should share his Lord's pain, and reach the kingdom of God through suffering. And he longed very much for this, and also to have in his heart the love which made Christ so willing to suffer for men.
It was a few days after this that the strange and wonderful thing happened. St. Francis was kneeling, absorbed in prayer, when suddenly a wonderful Form came towards him, and stood on a stone a little above him. Bright and shining was the Form, with the most beautiful, beautiful face; and His arms were stretched out upon a cross, and feet joined together. And He had two great wings with which He flew, and two stretched up above His head, and two covered His body. And as St. Francis gazed upon this crucified Seraph with the beautiful face full of pain, a great throb of intense agony shot through his soul and his body, so that he had never felt such pain or sorrow before. And then the Seraph spoke to him as to a friend and revealed many mysteries. When He had gone St. Francis rose from his knees and wondered what it could mean; and then he saw what it meant. For in his own hands and feet had come the marks of the crucified Christ: his hands and his feet were pierced right through with red wounds, and in the palms of the hands and on the instep of his feet were the round black heads of the nails, and their points came out the other side, bent back. And in his side was a big wound, as if made by a spear. And the pain of them all was very great. And St. Francis understood that he had been allowed by God to share in Our Lord's Passion.
At first he said nothing to the Friars; but after a while he told them, but he did not show them the wounds, but kept his hands hidden in his big sleeves. Only to Leo did he show them, so that he might wash and bandage them because of the pain and the bleeding.
Then, leaving the Friars on the holy mountain, St. Francis went down with Leo; but he rode on a donkey, because of the nails in his feet.
He scarcely noticed the places he passed through or the people he saw, though he did several wonderful miracles. And at last he came home to his beloved Portiuncola.
St. Francis's body was almost worn out, and greatly weakened, too, by the bleeding from his wounds, but his soul seemed full of new life and joy and energy. So, riding upon a donkey, he set out for a last journey through the country he had loved so much, and along the familiar roads he had so often tramped. I cannot now tell you of all that happened on this journey and of the miracles that St. Francis performed; but it was a wonderful last journey, and already the people had begun to speak of him as "the Saint."
But towards the end of his journey St. Francis became so ill that he had to be carried in a litter; and so it was that at last he came back to the little Portiuncola chapel to die. As you can imagine, he was not only brave in the face of death, but gay and cheerful. Many Friars had gathered round their beloved Father, and he spoke comforting words to them and blessed them; but he gave a very special blessing to Bernard, who had been the first man to come and join him in those early days when he was still alone. And he made the brothers sing, joyful and loud, the song he had himself made up on his last journey, called "The Canticle of Brother Sun"—a beautiful song all about Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and the stars, and flowers, and birds, and grass, and Brother Wind, and how they must all praise God Who made them. And when he knew he must very soon die, he cried, "Welcome, Sister Death!" And he made them lay him on the ground, without even his habit, and spread sackcloth over him and sprinkle ashes upon him, and read to him the story of Our Blessed Lord's Passion and Death from the Gospel of St. John.
All was still, and outside in the twilight the larks had gathered, and were soaring up into the evening sky, singing with all their hearts, as if rejoicing that in a few minutes the soul of their brother Francis would be free to soar up with them, and away beyond even the reach of their swift wings, to the beautiful garden of God.
And in the house all was of a sudden marvelously still. And the brothers, bending down over the form on the floor, saw, through their tears, that their friend and father had gone. Only for themselves they wept, for they knew that St. Francis, beautiful and young and strong and gay once more, was already with his Friend and Master, the Lord Christ, Who with smile and outstretched hand would welcome him to his glorious reward. And the Divine Hand outstretched, and the hand of St. Francis, would bear the same print of nails, and St. Francis would understand the great and wonderful thing that God had granted him.
There was once a boy called Francis, who lived in a curious old town in the mountains of Italy. The town was called Assisi. It was all funny little up-and-down streets and flights of long, crooked stone steps; and there was a wall all round (to keep enemies out), and big gates in the wall that were closed at night. The purple hills and mountains spread away as far as you could see beneath a blue, blue sky, and all round the city there were vineyards, and lovely little rocky paths winding about among the silvery olive-trees.
Francis was the son of a rich merchant called Peter Bernardone. He was a regular Cubby boy—always laughing and singing, ready for mischief, but still more ready to do anyone a good turn. He was Peter Bernardone's only son, and he had a jolly good time of it, because his father had made up his mind that young Francis should make a success of life, and end by being a great man in the town. He used to smile to himself and rub his hands together as he saw what a clever, handsome boy Francis was growing up into, and how everybody loved him, and how he was always the ringleader in all the fun. As Francis grew to be a young man his father would encourage him to give lots of feasts to his friends, not minding how much they cost, and it pleased him to see that it was always Francis who was the life of these feasts, making jokes, leading cheerful singsongs, enjoying himself no end, and making everyone else enjoy themselves. But while Peter Bernardone chuckled to see young Francis so gay and popular, Francis' mother, Pica, used to notice little things that made her happy too, only in a different way. She noticed that Francis never really gave in to himself, like his wild friends; never overate himself in a greedy way or drank enough wine to make him drunk; never thought it funny to tell nasty stories or swear; and if ever God's name was mentioned, it seemed to make him serious for a moment. "One day," she said, "he will become a son of God." But her friends thought it a silly remark to make, for Francis seemed to be living just to please himself and have a jolly time. But mothers are generally right in what they prophesy about their sons, and Pica's remark was really a very true one. This story is all about how Francis gave up being a rich merchant's son and became a poor man who found all his joy and his riches in calling God his Father. The change did not come easily, and a great many wonderful adventures befell him, which I am going to tell you now.
It all began with a war between Assisi and another city. Of course, Francis and his pals joined in the fray and thought it great sport, till they got captured and carried off prisoners. It was not sport at all being shut up in stuffy old houses with only a little food and nothing to do. Francis used to cheer them up with troubadour songs and stories. But although he always seemed so cheerful, it was doing great harm to his health, and when, after a year, the prisoners were freed and returned to Assisi, Francis became very ill indeed. So ill was he that he came near dying, and this experience of nearly passing out into the next life made him begin to think seriously. When he was well enough to go out, walking slowly with a stick because of his weakness, he felt that life could never be quite the same; he must do something, take a man's place in the world.
Well, the chance soon came, for all the young Christian men were called out to fight in a Crusade. A certain nobleman of Assisi started getting up a party, and Francis decided to join him. He soon had all his kit—armour, a bright sword, a good horse, and all complete; and with a gay heart, full of a thirst for adventure and a determination to do great things, he waited impatiently for the start. He had been rather puzzled as to what to do with himself, and now he felt he had hit on the right plan. So it was a bit of a surprise when, his very first night away, something happened which unsettled his mind altogether and made him feel it was not God's will that he should go to the Crusades.
The night before the party set out Francis had had a very curious dream, about a beautiful palace, all hung round with knightly arms, which a mysterious voice told him was for him and his followers. This made him so happy that the next day, when someone asked him what good fortune he had had, he replied that now he knew for certain he was to be a great prince and leader of men. But the next night, as he lay in the hostelry on the first halt along the road, something still more strange happened. He was not asleep, and yet, through the still darkness, he heard the mysterious voice of his dream, and it said: "Francis, whom is it better to serve, the lord or the servant?" "Surely it is better to serve the lord," replied Francis, softly, into the dark. And the voice answered: "Why, then, dost thou make a lord of the servant?" Then it all seemed to flash on Francis, and he felt sure this was a Voice from heaven, and he replied very humbly: "Lord, what dost Thou wish me to do?" And the Voice said: "Return to the land of thy birth, and there it will be told thee what thou shalt do; for it may behove thee to give another meaning to thy dream." He felt so positive that the Voice was from heaven, that he felt he simply could not disobey it. So, although it cost him a lot to do it, he turned his horse's head northwards and rode home.
There was nothing to do now but wait for God to show him His Will. He tried to settle down again to his old life of feasting and gaiety, but somehow he couldn't throw himself into it. There was something he was feeling after, but he didn't know what.
One day something happened which was the beginning of great things.
Francis had been out for a ride beyond the city. As he turned his horse's head homewards and rode slowly back towards the golden sunset, he suddenly saw, a little way ahead, something that made him shudder and almost turn aside on to another path. It was a poor leper, his filthy rags only half covering his wretched body, with its horrible running sores. His face was swollen and disfigured, and his eyes full of the frightened misery of a hunted animal. Now, seeing lepers always made Francis feel quite sick. He hated horrible sights. But somehow, to-night, a new feeling woke up in him—a sudden feeling of brotherhood with this poor man, almost of love for him. It was such terribly bad luck that he had caught leprosy and become a ghastly sight, so that he could not earn any money nor come near the town. Francis felt in his wallet for a silver piece to give him, and then he thought how sad it must be to have money flung at you by strangers, who passed by with head turned away because they loathed the very sight of you. How the lepers must long for just a friendly look, a smile! A great idea suddenly leapt up in Francis's mind, and it took all his courage not to give in to himself. As he came up with the leper, he jumped off his horse, took a silver piece from his pocket, and held it out to the man. The leper, full of surprise, held out his poor swollen stump of a hand, with several fingers already rotted away, to take the coin. But meeting the man's eyes, and seeing in them the look of hunger for friendship, Francis took the poor hand in his, as he would the hand of his friend, pressed the coin into it, and then, stooping, pressed his lips upon it in a kiss. Then, with his heart full of joy, he remounted his horse and rode home.
With that kiss a wonderful new idea had sprung up in Francis's heart—a sense of love for the poor, of longing not only to help them, but to share their very lives, to be one of them. At first he tried to satisfy his longing to help them by making great feasts and serving his poor guests with his own hands. One day he went on a pilgrimage to Rome, and as he saw the crowd of beggars clustering round a certain shrine in hope that the pilgrims would give them money, he longed to become just one of them. So, taking one of them aside, he exchanged his fine clothes with the beggar for his dirty rags, and spent the whole day with his poor brothers in the dust and the scorching sun, enjoying the sense of being a mere outcast to whom rich men threw ha'pence.
Still, when he returned to his home he was as puzzled as ever as to what he should do. He took to spending long hours at prayer in a certain cave begging God to make known His Will; and at last God answered his prayer, and I will tell you how.
Francis had been for a long walk outside the city, and as he returned along the stony little mountain paths, the evening sunlight dazzling his eyes, and the olive-trees whispering to each other in the soft evening air, he noticed a tumble-down little wayside church. Something made him stop and turn in.
It was very dim and cool and quiet. There was no one there—except God. A lamp burned with a feeble flicker in the sanctuary. Francis knelt down and began to pray. Then, out of the stillness a strange, wonderful Voice spoke his name—"Francis." He knew directly Whose Voice it was—Our Blessed Lord's. "Yes, Lord," he answered, his heart beating rather fast, though he felt very happy. "Francis, go and repair My church, which thou seest falling," said the Voice. Then all was still.
The tones of that Voice seemed to vibrate through and through Francis. He was filled with a great desire to obey—to do anything, anything Our Lord wanted. "Repair My church," He had said. He must mean this poor little tumble-down house of His, that was certainly on the point of falling. So Francis jumped up from his knees and went out into the sunlight very happy. He found the old priest, who lived in a poor little house near by, and, telling him the wonderful thing that had happened, gave him all the money he had, and promised to return soon with enough to rebuild the church. Then he hurried home.
His father was away on a journey. So Francis went down to the warehouse and picked out the most costly bale of rich stuff he could find. Then he took a good horse, and, putting the bale of stuff on his back, set out for the town of Foligno. Here he sold both the stuff and the horse, and returned with a good sum of money. Full of joy, he hurried along the little mountain path to the old priest's house, and held out the heavy purse of gold to him. But the priest was afraid to accept it, for he was not at all sure that Francis's father would be pleased about it. Francis was disappointed. He had got the money for the church, and certainly wasn't going to carry it home again; so he threw it into the deep recess of one of the windows of the little church, and left it there. Then he told the priest he meant to stay, for here Our Lord had spoken to him, and he must stay and see to the building of the church.
The old priest was very kind, and let Francis share his little house and his poor fare, and Francis began to feel like a kind of hermit, living a life of prayer.
Meanwhile Peter Bernardone returned from his journey. When he heard what Francis had done, and his new, mad idea of living like a hermit on the mountain-side, he was furiously angry. Taking a stick in his hand, he set out, saying he would teach the young fool a good lesson and bring him home. But one of the servants ran ahead by a short cut and warned Francis. Francis had no wish to meet his angry father armed with a stout stick, so he fled and hid himself in a cave, and Peter Bernardone had to go home again, even angrier than he set out. For about ten days Francis stayed in hiding, the servant bringing him food. He spent this time in prayer. This made him braver, and he began to think that he had been a "funk" to run away and hide and not face the music, so he decided to make up for it by being braver.
His time of hiding in the dark, dirty cave, with little food, had made him look thin, untidy, and a bit of a scarecrow. The people of Assisi had heard what he had done, and they decided he must have gone mad. So when he appeared in the city the boys began throwing stones and rubbish at him, and calling after him. Francis bore it all patiently, and felt rather a hero. But presently Peter Bernardone discovered that his son was being insulted in the streets. It filled him with rage, and he rushed out, dragged Francis indoors, gave him a good flogging and shut him up in a little cell. Here he had to stay for some time, until his father went on another journey and his mother let him out. Of course, he went straight back to the little church on the hill-side, and here, when his father came back, he found him. Peter Bernardone stormed at him and demanded the money back, but Francis would not give it, saying he had given it to God. So Peter Bernardone went to the Bishop about it. The matter came up at the Bishop's Court, and the Bishop had to tell Francis to give back the money. Bernardone was so angry with his son that he then and there disinherited him, and said he would not own him as his son any more. So Francis took off his very clothes and gave them back to his father, saying, "Now will I say no more Peter Bernardone is my father, but only 'Our Father Who art in heaven.'" So, taking the bundle of clothes, old Bernardone stalked out of the Court.
Someone fetched Francis a rough habit, such as was worn by the farm-hands. On this Francis chalked a big cross, and, putting it on, stepped out joyfully, feeling that at last he was free to serve God, in whatever way He wanted him to, and share the life of the poor.
He felt somehow that he must get right away, alone; so he started walking up over the mountains, not caring where he went. Soon he was right up among the pines, and as night fell he found it was pretty cold, for the winter's snow still lay in the deep shade of the trees. But he was so happy that he did not care for anything, and as he went he sang aloud for joy.
Then, suddenly, out of the dark wood a band of robbers pounced on him. "Who are you?" they cried. "I am the herald of the great King!" answered Francis. So they stripped him of his habit, and threw him in a ditch full of snow.
Luckily, the next day he found a friend in a town the other side of the mountains, who gave him a pilgrim's cloak, a pair of shoes, and a staff. Then, after a bit more wandering, St. Francis returned to the little church and settled down with the old priest, meaning now in good earnest to build up the church.
Since he had no money to buy what was needed, the only thing was to beg. So he went out in the streets begging for stones to build up the little church. The poor people were very kind, and gave him stones, and some of them came and helped, and soon they and Francis together had begun rebuilding the walls. Every day Francis went begging, and sometimes it was very hard not to give in to himself and go skulking down a side-street when he saw a group of his old friends ahead. But he went bravely on, and faced their stares and laughter.
One day it struck Francis that he ought not to be eating the old priest's scanty store of food, which he noticed his kind old friend used to cook and try and prepare as nicely as possible for him. This was not what a true lover of poverty should do. "Rise up, thou lazy one," he said to himself, "and go begging from door to door the leavings of the table." So, taking a big dish, he went round the houses of the townspeople asking for scraps. They gave him broken bits of messy old food, and he returned with his dish full. But when he sat down to supper he didn't feel at all like eating from that pile of scraps—the very thought made him feel quite sick. But he was learning to conquer himself, and by the time the meal was done he felt he had really accomplished something, and was at last really a poor man and ready to live on what God's mercy would give him from day to day.
All this time he had been praying a great deal, and learning to know God very much better. More and more he felt that God meant to use him for something special—what he did not know.
At last the little grey church was all built up new and strong, and Francis felt the job Our Lord had given him was done. But as God had not shown him anything else to do, he set out and found another tumble-down little church to build up, and started on that. When that, too, was finished, he started on a third one. The third one had been restored, and a service was being held in it for the first time since its restoration, and Francis was assisting at this service, when something happened which sent him on a new adventure, and which proved to be the beginning of the great adventure which filled all the rest of his life.
A little more than three hundred years after Our Lord formed the Christian Church and then went back to Heaven, having promised always to be in spirit with His people, a boy called Martin was born in Hungary. This boy God chose to be a very great leader among His people, the Christians, and so He began to arrange Martin's life in such a way that he should be led, little by little, to the fulfillment of God's plans. Now, part of God's plan was that Martin should be given the chance of conquering himself, and, with the addition of a lot of God's grace, be made strong and able to bear bravely the terrible dangers and hardships that were bound to go with a high position in the Church of Christ in those days of persecution. This story I am going to tell you is the story of all the hard things and disappointments and adventures God sent to the boy Martin, in order to prepare him well, and bring him, at last, to the position he was to fill in the Church.
Well, the first thing that happened was that the Holy Spirit put into the little boy's heart the idea of praying to a wonderful, unknown being, Whom he called "the God of the Christians." You see, his father was a pagan, and Martin had never been taught anything about God, and must have picked up this idea all on his own. He had no church to go to, or anything, so he set to and built himself a little chapel on the top of a hill near his home, and there he often ran off and prayed to the God he knew so little about, but Who, he felt sure, was a kind and loving friend of little boys.
Well, God was pleased to see that Martin had answered so well to the idea He had sent into his heart, so He rewarded him by making something happen, which was the next bit of His plan, so to speak.
Martin's father was a soldier, and had risen from the ranks to the position of Colonel in the Roman Army. To repay him for his good services he was given a farm in Italy. And so, when Martin was ten years old, his father and mother moved to this farm, and Martin found himself living in a country where the Christian Faith was openly practised and people loved and served "the God of the Christians," Whom Martin had so much longed to know more about.
You can imagine how pleased the boy was; and before long he had discovered the house of the priests who taught young pagans all about the Christian faith, and had begun to go to them regularly to learn. His father did not take much notice of this, and thought his small son would soon forget all about it when he got old enough to enter the life his father had decided he should follow—the exciting life of a soldier.
But Martin was not dreaming of battles and the adventures of a soldier's life, for he had discovered that among Christians there was such a thing as specially giving yourself to God, and bravely breaking away from all the things you love by nature—like riches and fine clothes, and nice food, and friends, and adventures in the world, so as to love Christ only, and follow the adventures of the spirit to which He will lead His loyal soldiers. While still a boy Martin decided that this was the life for him, and he began to long to leave his comfortable home and go and join the hermits who lived in caves. So you can imagine that when his father began to talk about his starting his military training he was very much dismayed. Being a frank and honest kind of boy, he looked his father bravely in the face, and told him straight out that he wanted to be a Christian and give up his whole life to it.
Martin's father was very angry indeed. He stormed at the boy, and when he found that was no good, he thrashed him. But nothing could make Martin change his mind, and at last he decided the only way was to run away from home.
But I told you God meant Martin to become a leader. To have run away and lived with the hermits would not have given him just the kind of training he needed, and the chance of showing he could stick to God through real difficulties. So God let the next bit of His plan happen.
Martin's father told the Roman officials that his son had come to the age at which all boys had to undergo their military training (though he hadn't, really). And as Martin would not go and "join up," a kind of press-gang lay in ambush one day and captured him, and he was led away in chains and forced to take the oath of military allegiance.
His father being a Colonel, Martin was given a good position in the army straight off, and had his own horse and his own servant. Of course, nearly all his companions were pagans, and the life of the army was of a pretty low standard. But Martin stuck faithfully to the kind of life he knew was pleasing to God, and tried in his dealings with his fellow-men to do things in the brave, kind, generous, unselfish way Christ would have done them. Of course, this made all the soldiers and his fellow-officers love him, and they must often have wondered why he never got angry, or cheated, or grumbled and swore at unpleasant things; and why he was so very kind to his servant, and always ready to give up his place or any little privilege to other people. Though no one knew it, even his pay he gave away to the poor. And yet he was not yet a baptized Christian, for in those days people used to wait a long time and prepare themselves very carefully for the great honour of being made one of the children of God; and during this time of waiting they were called catechumens.
It was at this time, while Martin's regiment was stationed in France, that a very wonderful thing happened to him—for God was still planning his life and giving him chances; and, if he took them, rewarding him with special graces which should turn him gradually into a brave "soldier of Jesus Christ."
One cold wintry day, as the wind whistled down the narrow streets of Amiens, Martin's troop came clattering through the old gateway, the soldiers wrapping their great military cloaks close round them, for the bitter French winter seemed to freeze their Southern blood. By the gate of the city they noticed, as they swung by, an old, ragged man. The wind fluttered his tattered rags about, and he stretched out his thin hands, all blue with cold, hoping for a few pence to buy himself some food. The soldiers, however, passed him by and gave him nothing. But when Martin reached the corner and saw the piteous sight his heart was touched, and he reined in his horse. He felt in his pockets, but, alas! they were empty, for he had given away all he had to some other poor person. He was very sad, because he always felt the poor were a kind of chance given him by God of showing his love for the Lord Christ, Who had said that if you served the poor and naked and hungry and unhappy you really served Him. Well, Martin felt he simply couldn't pass on and give the old man nothing. And suddenly the idea came to him that he was warm in his big cloak, and the old man very cold. What if he gave his cloak? But it was his uniform, and he knew that he must not ride out without it altogether, so he took it off, drew his sword, slashed it in half, and then, bending down with a smile, put the warm folds about the old man's cowering shoulders.
Of course, the soldiers and other officers laughed; but Martin didn't care—he was willing to be what St. Paul calls "a fool for Christ's sake."
And now comes the wonderful thing. That night as Martin lay in bed, asleep, a wonderful vision came to him. Suddenly his room seemed full of angels, and in the midst of them was Christ. And—on His shoulders was Martin's half-cloak! Then Our Lord spoke. "Martin," He said, "dost thou know this mantle?" And then He turned to the angels, and He said: "Martin, yet a catechumen, hath clothed Me with this garment."
You can imagine what St. Martin felt! But besides the joy in him, there was a feeling that Our Lord was a little disappointed because he was only a catechumen still, and not yet baptized and made a real part of His Church, a real child of God. And so, feeling that God wished him to have the great honour of Baptism, he went to the priests, and started on the long, hard preparation that they used to have in those days. No meat might he have, nor wine, and he must pray a lot, and often watch in the church the whole night, and in many other ways practise not giving in to himself. Only at Easter and Whitsun were the catechumens baptized; and then they were clothed in white garments, which they wore for a week. These were meant to show the perfect purity of their souls, from which all stain of sin had been washed away by the waters of Baptism.
At last the great day came, and Martin received the wonderful Sacrament with great love and humility. But now he felt that he simply couldn't let his hands be stained with the blood of his fellow-men, and that the soldier's life was not for him. And so, when the Emperor came one day and inspected his regiment, which was shortly to go into battle, he asked him if he might leave the army. "Until now I have fought for you," he said; "let me henceforth fight for God. . . . I am a soldier of Christ, and it is not lawful for me to take part in a bloody battle." The Emperor was very angry. "Coward!" he cried. "It is not religion that causes you to refuse to fight—you are afraid."
So, to show them he was not afraid, Martin offered to go into battle in the very front rank, but to go unarmed (since he would not shed human blood). And, to show that he trusted in Christ as his protector, he said he would go without armour or helmet.
His challenge was accepted, and he was put under arrest, lest he might try to escape.
Of course, he spent the night praying, and the next day everyone was astonished by some strange news. The enemy had sent a despatch to sue for peace, and to say they would agree to the Emperor's terms. So there was no battle; and not only was Martin's life saved, but the lives of many other brave men. Probably the Emperor saw God's hand in the unexpected action of his powerful enemy, for he at once gave Martin leave to go free.
At last Martin found himself at liberty to follow the life he had always felt called to; and once again God sent him where things should happen to him which would finally lead to the accomplishment of God's great plan.
After making a pilgrimage to Rome, which was now not only the head of the worldwide Empire, but the kind of headquarters of the Christians, he returned to France, so as to put himself under the guidance of a very holy man, called St. Hilary, the Bishop of Poitiers.
St. Hilary soon saw that Martin was no ordinary young soldier, but was a very promising "soldier of Jesus Christ," and that his services would be very valuable. He saw, also, that he had received a special call from God, so he proposed to ordain him deacon. But Martin was very humble, and he refused the honour. In the end he let St. Hilary ordain him exorcist. But directly after this he was ordered by God in a dream to go back to his native land and visit his relations and bring them into the Christian Faith. St. Hilary was disappointed, but he let him go, making him promise, however, that he would return to the Diocese of Poitiers, to which he now belonged.
After many adventures, including falling into the hands of robbers and escaping in a marvellous way, which must have been through God's help, Martin reached his old home, and had the joy of seeing his mother received into the Church, as well as seven of his cousins and his two great-uncles.
At this time the Church was being persecuted by a very strong party called the Arians. They were heretics, who taught that Our Lord was only a man and not God, and as the Church turned them out on account of their false teaching, they did nothing but fight against her. Of course, Martin, the brave soldier of Christ, stood up for what he believed, so that one day he was seized by the Arians, beaten, and banished from his own country. He began to make his way back to St. Hilary, but when he reached Milan he learned that his friend had been banished from Poitiers, and that an Arian Bishop ruled in his place. So Martin stayed at Milan; and this, too, was a part of God's plan, because it was his stay here which started him on an idea which in the end developed into one of the most important things in his life.
This idea was to form a kind of little monastery outside the city, where he and a handful of other young men lived, and tried to do good and to live in a way specially pleasing to God, and more perfect than they could do in the busy rush of the ordinary world. But after a while the Arians got strong in Milan, and drove out Martin and his followers. For a while Martin and a friend of his lived as hermits on a wild little island off the coast of Spain. But, hearing that St. Hilary had been restored to his see, Martin went to Poitiers so as to fulfil his solemn promise. But once more St. Hilary was to be disappointed, for this time Martin begged to be allowed to continue his hermit's life. St. Hilary gave him leave, and Martin now withdrew to a forest about eight miles from Poitiers. Here he built himself a hut, and was soon surrounded by men who wished to lead the same kind of holy life. This was the beginning of all the wonderful monasteries of France, which civilized the whole country in time and taught it to be Christian.
That Martin's new life was really pleasing to God was soon shown, for God gave him the gift of doing miracles, and twice he even raised the dead to life. You will remember how Our Lord specially promised that His faithful followers, in the years to come, should do miracles like He had done, and even greater ones. Well, St. Martin was one of the men who showed that Our Lord's promise was fulfilled. All the men to whom the Church has given the title "Saint" have done wonderful miracles, that God's name might be glorified and people see that "with God all things are possible." St. Martin now lived in very close communion with God, and his miracles showed that he was not just an ordinary good man.
Besides training his monks, St. Martin was working very hard among the heathen Gauls. He would press forward through the forests and preach in the little villages, and do miracles, and, after instructing the people in the true Faith, baptize them all, and leave a happy Christian village where he had found a miserable, frightened, heathen one.
St. Martin's tender pity for all suffering things is shown by this little story. One day, as he walked in the country, he saw a poor, terrified hare dashing along with starting eyes, and nearly exhausted, for a party of huntsmen and their hounds were close upon it. St. Martin saw that in a few minutes it must be torn to bits by the hounds, for there was no cover for it. His tender heart longed to help it to escape, because it was weak and small and frightened. So he called out to the hounds to stop! And, strange to say, they pulled up short in their mad rush, and all stood still as if frozen to the ground, and the poor little hare scurried away into safety.
Now, this kind of life was just what suited St. Martin, and he was very happy. He lived apart with God, and yet had work to do in training his monks in the way of perfection and teaching the Faith to the ignorant pagans. But he had not yet arrived at the end of God's great plan for him. And if God now called him away from the life he loved to a life he did not want at all, we must not be surprised, for Christ said that those who would be His disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him, and that is what all good Christians must be ready to do—that is, live according to the way God wants instead of according to the way they want themselves.
Well, the change came when St. Hilary died; for of course the people wanted St. Martin to become Bishop in his place. To be Bishop was a very great honour, and one that many men would have been glad to accept. But St. Martin was humble, like all Saints; and he also felt that if he was to remain pure of heart and close to God he must live in the quiet solitude and silence of his monastery, so he refused to become Bishop. But that he should be Bishop was God's will, and also the people were quite determined to have him. They got him by making him think there was a poor sick woman who wanted him to come to her. He came out of his monastery, all unsuspecting, and the people carried him off by force to Poitiers, and he had to consent to be consecrated Bishop.
He did not look very like a Bishop as he was brought into the city. He was clad in a poor, thin old habit, and his head was closely shaved, as the monks were accustomed to do, and he was thin and pale with fasting and his hard life. But even his humble appearance made the people cheer him all the more; and the church was absolutely packed at the solemn service of his consecration as Bishop.
Now began a life in which his own will was altogether given up to that of God. He lived in a poor little hut adjoining the church—the poorness of it pleased him; but all day he was at it, doing things for people—now visiting a sick man to pray over him, now making peace between quarrelsome people, now blessing oils, that they might bring healing to the sick; preaching sermons, talking to people, and explaining Holy Scripture in the way he could do so wonderfully; visiting his priests, or listening to the worries and troubles they came to tell him; and when there was nothing else, there was always a crowd of people waiting just to see their beloved Bishop's holy face and go away cheered with a patient smile from him.
But just sometimes he slipped away for a little peace alone with God, at a beautiful monastery called Marmontier, which he formed near the city, and which later became very famous, and kept the Rule of St. Benedict I told you about before.
There were many things that were serious worries and very bitter sorrows and trials to St. Martin at this time, but I can't tell you all about these now. But there were also joys; and one of these I will tell you about, because it was the companionship of a little boy. He was nearly ten when St. Martin baptized him and then adopted him. As they travelled together soon after the boy's Baptism, and while he still had on the beautiful white robe I told you about, which showed outwardly the new purity of his soul, they came to the River Loire. A little way ahead of them they saw a poor blind beggar waiting for someone to help him across.
"Son," said St. Martin to the boy, Victorius, "go to that man; wash his face and eyes with water from the river; then bring him to me."
So the boy went and did as St. Martin had told him; and as soon as he had washed the poor man's eyes, the man opened them and found he could see! With joy he looked about at the blue sky and the river; and when he heard that it was the holy Bishop who had sent the white-robed boy to him, he praised God for what had happened, and ran and fell down at St. Martin's feet. The poor beggar was very excited about it all, and didn't know how to thank St. Martin and the boy. So St. Martin said:
"Calm thyself, cease talking, and come; for with me in this boat thou shalt cross the river."
So the beggar stayed with them three days, and Victorius was allowed to look after him, and, as the old book says, "eagerly brought him everything to eat that he liked best."
Victorius stayed always with St. Martin, and went about everywhere with him, scarcely ever leaving his side. Even to the church he would go with him for the night offices; or on his tours visiting the churches or preaching to the heathen. St. Martin taught Victorius, and in return the boy waited on him; also, I think, he must have cheered up the old Bishop, and often made him feel a boy again. But don't you think Victorius was a very lucky boy? He saw a great many wonderful miracles of the Saint, and was even allowed to have a hand in the doing of some of them, as in the case of the blind beggar. When Victorius was old enough, St. Martin made him a priest, and himself cut off the young man's hair in the way priests used to have it cut.
There are a great many more wonderful stories about St. Martin which I haven't time to tell you now; but gradually, gradually he was establishing the Christian Faith very firmly in France. God's great plan was being fully worked out, for, you see, St. Martin had never resisted God's will in any point; always he had done just what he felt God was gently leading him to do, never mind what it cost him at the time. And so he took each step that God arranged for him, and each one led on to the next, and all led on to the wonderful life of building up the Church of Christ, and making it bigger, stronger, purer, more healthy; and the great work, too, of turning a heathen land into a powerful Christian country.
At last came the day when the tired old Bishop felt, with unspeakable joy, that he was to go and receive his reward at the hands of Christ, Whom he had loved so faithfully and so long, and was to enter into his rest.
One day, after a long journey, St. Martin was thinking of returning to his beloved Marmontier, when a great weakness came over him.
"The moment of my deliverance is at hand," he said.
His monks and other faithful companions were nearly broken-hearted.
"Oh, Father, will you then leave us?" they cried. "Ravening wolves will fall on your flock, and who will protect it when the shepherd is struck? We know your longing to depart and to be with Christ, but your reward is assured and will be greater by delay. Have pity on us who must remain."
So St. Martin prayed a beautiful prayer, because he loved his children more than himself, and he was even willing to put off his reward and his longed-for rest for love of them.
"Lord," he said, "if indeed I still be necessary to Thy people, I refuse not the labour. Let only Thy will be done."
But it was not Our Lord's will that His faithful soldier should fight any longer. Christ was waiting for him, all ready to say, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
And so, lying humbly upon a bed of sackcloth, St. Martin, Apostle of France, finished the work that God had given him to do, and passed into the glory and eternal rest of the Blessed.