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A story for every day...

Our Lady of the Assumption

Punishment and forgiveness.

There was in the Pyrenees a learned and worthy doctor called Dr. Fabas. It is from him that I have heard what I am going to tell you, and I am not the only one who has heard it.

Doctor Fabas saw a man arrive (in Eaux-Bonnes, I believe) who had a wound on his leg made by a gunshot. The wound, already old, offered a particular character; worms were forming there. The doctor tried to make at least these worms disappear. No means succeeded. The patient said to him one day:

“Doctor, let’s leave it at that, don’t look any further; I will die with this horrible inconvenience.

– Indeed, answered the doctor, there is something extraordinary there. I have seen nothing like it, though I am old and many surprising cases have passed through my hands.”

And for the twentieth time he asked the patient:

“Where then did you receive this wound?

– In Spain, as I have often told you,” said the latter, “but I have not told you why I will not recover. I want you to know that at last.

I was twenty years old,” he continued in a hesitant voice, “and it was in 1793, when I was forced to join a corps that the Convention was sending to Spain. Three of us left our village, Thomas, François and myself.

We had the ideas of that time; we were incredulous, or rather impious like three bad little jokers who try to follow the fashion.

The road had been made cheerfully. We were about to arrive, when, crossing a village in the mountains, we saw a statue of the Virgin so venerated that, in spite of the revolution and the revolutionaries, it had remained unmolested on its pedestal at the church gate. One of us had the unfortunate thought of insulting this image, which we regarded as a superstitious object.

We had our rifles. Thomas suggested that we shoot the statue; François welcomed the proposal with a burst of laughter. Timidly, and fearing to show myself less bold than my companions, I tried to divert them from a plan that frightened me to the core. I remembered my mother. They laughed at me. Thomas loaded his rifle and fired. The bullet hit the statue in the forehead; François took aim in turn, and shot a hole in the chest.

– Come on, they shouted at me, to you!

I did not dare to resist. I adjusted while trembling. I closed my eyes involuntarily, and I reached the statue…

– At the leg, said the doctor.

– Yes, at the leg, below the knee; where I am injured! You see well that I will not heal… After this great feat, we were ready to resume our walk. An old woman, who had seen us, said to us:

– You are going to war, what you have just done will not bring you luck.

Thomas threatened her. I was angry at our action, François, less moved than I, was not inclined to be happy about it. We prevented our companion from following up on his resentment and we finished the day in silence, quite inclined to quarrel.

That evening we had rejoined our regiment; a few days later we met the enemy. I confess that I went to the fire without joy and that I thought of the statue of the Virgin more than I would have liked. However, everything went well. We had a marked advantage. Thomas distinguished himself. The action was over, the enemy was routed, and the colonel had just stopped the pursuit, when a rifle shot from a rock, which seemed to come down from the sky, was heard: Thomas turned on himself and fell stiffly, face down. François and I rushed to get him up: he was lifeless. The bullet had hit him in the middle of the forehead, between the two eyes, in the same place where his bullet had hit the statue a few days before. We looked at each other, François and I, without saying anything, paler than death.

At the bivouac, François was close to me. He did not sleep. I waited for him to speak to me to advise him to make a prayer; but he kept silent, and I did not dare to put the conversation on the thought that kept us awake.

The next day, the enemy returned in force. As soon as we saw him, François shook my hand and said:

– It is today my turn; you are happy to have aimed badly!

The unfortunate one was not mistaken. This time, we were pushed back. We beat a long retreat; François was like me without wound. Vain hope! A shot came from a ditch where a mortally wounded Spaniard was lying, and François fell, his chest pierced from side to side. Ah, doctor, what a death! He rolled on the ground, asking for a priest. Those who were near him shrugged their shoulders, and he expired. They left him on the road.

From that moment, I was convinced that I would soon be struck down, and I resolved to confess my sacrilege to the first priest I met. Unfortunately, I did not find one. However, several affairs having passed without mishap; little by little my fears ceased, and with them my good resolutions vanished. When we were recalled to France, I had a rank; I no longer thought about crime, repentance, or punishment. Everything was recalled to me on the border, a day’s walk from the village of the statue. By an inexplicable accident, a shot from our ranks hit me where you see. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of the old woman, who had said to us after the sacrilege, and I can still hear her: ‘You are going to war. What you have just done will not bring you luck!’ My two comrades were dead: I was returning wounded.

However the wound, at first sight, did not offer anything serious. The surgeon announced to me that I would be free of it for a few days of hospital. I believed him myself. His surprise was great, it equalled my fear when he saw in the wound those imperishable worms which disconcerted your science.

For twenty years, doctor, I have been dragging this wound, trying all remedies, and finding them all impotent. But though I ask God to heal me, though I hope for it from His mercy, I must not complain, I do not complain. This wound has been a remedy for many souls, especially for mine. I am not unaware that if I arrive at the end of life as I should, that is to say, Christian and penitent, I will owe it to my terrible wound. Then I will be glad to have limped; for I doubt that I will be healed, but I do not doubt that I will be merciful, and I firmly hope to die in the grace of God through the intercession of the One whom I have outraged.

“This, Ephrem continues, is the story I have from Doctor Fabas. I told it one day before an illustrious archbishop, a child of Béarn. He told me that Doctor Fabas was a good man, incapable of giving his testimony lightly, and that he knew for his part a good number of no less marvelous facts, which happened at the same time and in the same country, and to which he attributes the preservation of the faith among this excellent people. He then told us the following story. As a young man, he had seen and known the witnesses.

– The revolutionaries of a village where an ancient and beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin was venerated, found it advisable to remove this image from the pedestal it occupied, which they did with a thousand insults. One of them then, wanting to show his zeal, proposed to throw it in a well. The proposal was accepted in the middle of the astonishment of the honest people, and the inventor put the hand to the execution with more ardour than all the others. The statue was thrown down, but the shouts of joy and blasphemy did not last long. The principal author of the sacrilege lost his sight immediately. He had to be brought back to his home. This prompt punishment did not convert him. He remained impious and blind. A living lesson for the others who saw clearly.

Years passed, peace returned, the cult was re-established. However, the statue remained in the well, and all the honest people thought about it with pain.

One day the priest said to them:

“My friends, it will be necessary for us to make reparation to the Blessed Virgin, and to remove Her blessed image from the well where we have let Her be thrown.”

Everyone found that the parish priest was right. Arrangements were made, the day was indicated: it was a feast.

All the inhabitants were gathered around the well, except the priest, who was to preside over the work. He arrived, but not alone. He was leading by the hand a well-known blind man, who was not expected to be there. In the midst of the rumor, the priest signaled that he wanted to speak. He had no difficulty in obtaining silence:

“Christians,” he said, “this poor blind man came to me this morning, driven by his remorse, to obtain from me and from all of you a grace which I promised him in your name. He humbly desires that you allow him to pull with you all the ropes that will make the statue of the Holy Virgin rise again from this well where he contributed to precipitate it, ten years ago. He hates this sacrilege for which he was justly punished; he asks for forgiveness to God, to the Blessed Virgin and to all of you, Christians. I can tell you that God and the Blessed Virgin have forgiven; it is your turn, brothers.

– Yes,” said the blind man, stretching out his hands and crying, “I beg your pardon. I have no more rest. My conscience torments me; I ask forgiveness.

– Yes! yes! it is forgotten! may he come! may he come!” cried the good people with transports of holy joy. The blind man walked to the edge of the well and the rope he was to pull was put in his hand.

Men had already gone down to the statue, which by a miracle was not broken. It had been tied up securely. The work began with the singing of the litanies. Everything went well. The statue was raised without accident. When it appeared, there was an explosion of joy. But one cry dominated all these cries of enthusiasm, and silenced them. It was that of the blind man, on his knees, with his arms open, who repeated:

“I see! I see! I see!”

They ran to him: he saw indeed, and it was not an illusion. He saw and he continued to see. He followed without a guide the procession that brought the statue back in triumph from the well where it had been dragged with a rope around its neck to its former place; he worked to restore it there and he lived for several more years, an unquestionable witness to Mary’s mercies.

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