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For the Preservation of the Deposit of the Faith
For the Kingdom of God to come!
On July 16, 1766, a man of fierce character, named Philip Heisperger, was condemned in Amberg, a city in the Upper Palatinate, to die on a scaffold for the crime of homicide. As soon as this unfortunate man heard the first news of his sentence, he flew into a rage and lashed out at his judges, citing them shamelessly in the court of God, and would not hear of forgiving them his death. Every moment seemed to make him more furious. He broke everything he could get his hands on, gnashed his teeth in a terrible way, and what is worse, he often provoked the enemy of salvation to take him and his judges alive.
Fortunately for this sinner, I brought him one of those images in which the Savior is represented as offering His divine Heart to men, and inviting them to be grateful for the wound that love has made in His adorable Heart.
The wretched man hardly deigns, on the first day, to cast a glance at this tender image. The night passes in the same frenzy. In the morning, I renewed my pleas to him. I present him again the image of the Heart of Jesus and I beg him to want, at least once, to prostrate himself with me before it, to pay Him some homage. A violent struggle arose in his soul, and made him hesitate for a long time about what he would do. However I do not cease urging him at least not to divert his glances from such a lovable object. He gave in, and as soon as he gazed at this holy image, I saw him tremble from his feet to his head. – He finally prostrates himself, he prays, he groans. Tears flow from his eyes. The agitation of his soul prevents him at first from explaining himself, but soon after, in the midst of his sobs, he cries out, “O kind Savior! no, I can no longer refuse Thee my heart, seeing Thee offer me Thine with such love!”
Since this victory won by grace, this man was almost unrecognizable, so prodigious was the change that had taken place in his soul. He repeated that he forgave everyone, and that there was no kind of death that he was not ready to accept in order to satisfy the justice of God and of men. The same day, having wanted to confess all the crimes of his life, he confessed several times. The Heart of Jesus, which had touched the heart of this sinner, did not stop there, but penetrated him with such compunction that his eyes were opened to two springs of tears. On the morning of the following day, having gone to visit him to give him some consolation, I found him a little sad. However, he was holding the image of the Sacred Heart in his hands. I asked him the cause of this sadness: immediately, prostrating himself on the ground, I heard him imploring with great cries, and at intervals, the divine mercy. I thought at first that the fear of hell made him utter these words, but a much nobler motive animated him: the real cause of such groaning was the bitter regret of never having, he said, loved a Heart that so loved men, and of seeing that there was no more time left to love Him. He wished for a more rigorous death sentence, and wept with tears for the public scandal he had given. He often took the image of the Sacred Heart as a witness for the present disposition of his soul, protesting that he would willingly suffer the most terrible punishments of Purgatory until the day of judgment, in order to satisfy divine justice for his sins. And how grateful he was to the Sacred Heart of Jesus! How often he said to me, “O my dear Father, if you had not brought me this holy image, I would never, never have taken it upon myself to forgive my judges.”
The day before the execution, he begged me on his knees to go early in the morning to his judges to ask them to forgive him for all the horrors he had spewed against them.
However the hour of the end was approaching. Already the officers of the justice appear. He greeted them with humble respect, and in terms mixed with thanksgiving. He then begged them to be lenient in binding his hands, so that he would not be deprived of the consolation of holding and contemplating until his last breath the adorable image of the Heart of Jesus to which he owed his salvation, and of being able to kiss it as long as he pleased. He was gladly granted such a grace. During the whole journey, he kept such a presence of mind, that when we were in front of a church where a miraculous image of the Queen of Heaven is honored, he was the first to ask me to pay some homage to this holy Mother for the last time in this life. The whole city of Amberg saw this man, with his naturally fierce face, pay the most tender homage to Mary and the Sacred Heart. It was with his eyes fixed on the image of the Heart of Jesus that he went to the square in the palace where it is customary to read out the sentences of criminals after recounting their crimes. A scene such as this was certainly capable of disturbing a man of such a fiery character, and whom the least insult revolted, if the sight of the Heart of Jesus, whose image he had constantly before his eyes, had not stifled in his soul all the movements of anger and sadness, and had not obtained for him the continuation of that interior peace which he enjoyed.
I feared for a moment that patience would escape him. It was when, after the reading of his sentence, he asked me for permission to speak to his judge. I granted it to him nevertheless having seen that his face did not announce any emotion, and that his eyes remained always fixed on the sacred image. I had no reason to repent. All that the blessed convert said edified the people who were present and who did not cease to bless the Heart of Jesus of His infinite mercies. In fact, he only opened his mouth to thank his judge for the death sentence he had just heard, and to ask his forgiveness for the excesses he had allowed himself to fall into in his fury. He ended by recommending his wife to him; after which he joyfully surrendered himself into the hands of the executor of justice, protesting that never had the day been sweeter for him, that his greatest happiness was to die in the grace of God rather than to continue a life which he had used only to offend the God who was so good.