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For the Preservation of the Deposit of the Faith
For the Kingdom of God to come!
We borrow the following account which appeared in March 1846 in the Annales de la Propagation de la Foi.
A group of pious missionaries had embarked for pagan shores. Shortly after setting sail, God sent them three sailors who asked to be prepared for First Communion. Although they presented themselves, the missionaries judged it prudent not to undertake anything without the captain’s permission. Far from any religious practice himself, he heartily granted the priests permission to exercise their ministry in favor of those who requested it.
Our three sailors (the youngest was twenty years old) showed the greatest zeal every day in following the religious instructions, and this openly, without anyone finding fault with them. Things had reached that state when, one Sunday, having had the happiness of offering the Holy Sacrifice, the Fathers saw all the sailors gathered around the altar. This behavior of the crew made a deep impression on the captain’s mind. From that day on, our sailors did not fail to attend Holy Mass on Sundays when it was possible to celebrate it.
Finally, the beautiful month of Mary arrived. Seeing the sailors so well disposed, the Fathers obtained permission from the captain to spend each evening with the crew singing hymns to the Mother of God. At the end of the day, when the weather permitted, a little exercise took place, consisting of the recitation of a decade of the rosary, the evening prayer, and finally the singing of a hymn to Mary. Our sailors were ecstatic, and yet the entire month of May passed without any other token than these external signs of devotion. Only five or six approached the sacrament of penance. The captain, although he did not attend holy mass, nevertheless sometimes let out words that testified to the conflicts of his soul.
While he was thus struggling against the forces of grace, God inspired the missionaries to begin a novena to obtain his conversion. The novena ended on the third of June. Well, that same day, at nine o’clock in the evening, when one of the missionaries was walking alone on the deck, the captain approached him and, in an emotional voice, said: “Sir, I have a great favor to ask of you. – I am all yours, replied the priest. – And I want to go to confession, not this very evening, for it is not too much of a day to prepare myself for it, but not later than tomorrow.” The next day the captain attended Holy Mass, although it was not a Sunday. On seeing this, the whole crew was shaken, they could not believe their eyes.
The captain expressed his desire to receive communion with his sailors. To prepare himself for this event, he attended the missionaries’ instruction every day. It was a real joy to see the sailors so eager to hear the word of God. Sometimes they were soaked with water and sweat; however, they forgot their bodies to think only of the good of their souls. The captain, for his part, was not content with preaching by example, he also exhorted by word of mouth; his life, one could say, had become that of an apostle.
One evening, as he was leaving the holy tribunal of penance, he found a missionary reading by the light of a lamp; he approached him, and immediately began to speak to him about the good Lord, but in such an admirable manner that his dear confrere was delighted to hear him. Finally, they came to talk about the possessions of the devil. “But do you think, said the captain, that these kinds of possessions still exist? – Certainly, they are quite frequent in the countries of the infidels. – It is just as well, said the captain, I have pulled a bad trick on him: how he must gnash his teeth in the depths of hell!” As he said these words, a large tear escaped from his eyes, and came to wet his moustache.
On June 19, the general communion took place. From the captain of the ship to the last sailor, all had the privilege of receiving the Bread of Angels, and that at the same mass. How touching it was to see and hear these good sailors! How the sweet joy of heaven shone on their faces and was manifested in all their actions! When all was over, the captain came and threw himself around his confessor’s neck, saying, “The happiest moments of life are always mingled with some ulterior motive; but for today the heart is happy all right.”
The good priests wept with joy as they heard the sailors also make their reflections each on their own: “But how, said one of the older ones, we who did not want to do this even once a year! Ah! I’ll do it every day now! – You see, said another, if I were shipwrecked now, it would be as much to die as to eat this piece of bread.”
On the day of the communion, the sky, which in the morning was covered with clouds, cleared, the wind died down and the sea grew calm. No sooner had the singing of the Te Deum finished than the breeze picked up and the ship began to plough through the waves. An old sailor made a rather naive reflection on this subject: “Is it surprising, he said, that we are going fast? The ship is unloaded with an immense weight. I, myself, had more sins than the ship is big, and it all went over the port side.”