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For the Preservation of the Deposit of the Faith
For the Kingdom of God to come!
The Queen of Heaven, Mother of mercies, has more than once made use of the souls in Purgatory, either to convert sinners or to deliver Her devout servants from mortal perils. In a city of the kingdom of Aragon in Spain, a lord had married a lady in possession of all the advantages of nature and piety that one could wish for in the one whose intimate companion of one’s life one makes. The extraordinary beauty of this young woman struck the eyes of another cavalier, who also had for him singular gifts, and who began to pursue her, to address her, to court her. She, as fearful and as chaste as a Christian, took pains to avoid these encounters, which the suitor multiplied, on the contrary, as much as he could, in the promenade, in the world, at the very door and under the windows of the house. The thing did not remain secret, and the noise of it came to the ears of the husband. Jealousy immediately rose to his heart; he feared some treason, kept watch day and night, and, although he saw in his wife no correspondence to this passion, it seemed to him that he would have no rest except by taking the life of the importunate rival.
One morning, therefore, he pretended to be on business and left for a country house he owned some distance from the city, accompanied by his wife and a single servant. When evening came, he called her into a secluded room, locked the door, and, drawing a loaded pistol from his pocket, threatened to kill her immediately if she did not obey his orders. Disturbed, afraid, the poor woman promises to submit without hesitation. Then he takes a sheet of paper, puts it in front of her and orders her to write under his dictation. It was an invitation to the young man to come and find her in this place, during her husband’s absence; that such and such a night, at such and such an hour, he would see a ladder set up against the walls of the garden, which would lead him to a window, through which he would enter safely. The letter written, it was entrusted to the servant, with orders to deliver it to the addressee by hand and secretly, as if it came from his mistress. The servant fulfilled the commission exactly, which filled the imprudent young man with joy. He read and reread the letter, kissing it with transport, like a fool; then, when the time came, he took his country clothes, mounted a good horse, announced that he was going for a ride, and set off.
He was going quickly, at the great gallop of the horse, when he had to cross a place where several condemned persons were hung on the gallows, according to the custom of Aragon; they left the corpses exposed for a while, in order to inspire terror in the bandits. This sight reminded him that he had not recited the rosary that day, as was his habit in spite of his sad outbursts, and he began to pay this tribute of devotion to the Mother of Him whom he was about to offend seriously, and he did so in favor of the souls of these unfortunate tortured people, for whom no one was thinking of interceding. The reward was not long in coming.
A loud voice shouted at him, “Stop, rider, do not go any further!” He looked around, saw only the dead bodies, and spurred his horse on. The same voice begins again: “Stop, I tell you; go no further!” Fear was unknown to him; he dismounted and began to search, among these hideous remains, half eaten by the crows, if there were not some condemned man still alive. Indeed, from one of the gibbets comes down this plea: “Rider, I beg you for mercy to cut this rope that strangles me.” Touched with compassion as well as surprised, he gives a blow with his sword to this link, and the body falls to the ground, from where it rises again; and here is a man full of life, who pours out his thanks, and protests that he will no longer leave his benefactor, his savior, that he will serve him like a slave. The young adventurer flatly refused this offer of gratitude, and declared that he wanted to go alone. “But,” said the other, “do you not know that an extreme danger awaits you at the end of your journey, that your very life is at stake? I want to free you. Let me show you my gratitude.”
Seeing himself thus discovered, our rider made no further objection. He got back on his horse and took his new companion in his hindquarters. They did not delay to see the house; the ladder was prepared. The young man wanted to risk it at once. “No,” said his companion; “I suspect some scheme, and, if you believe me, you will let me go up first, so that I may be sure of everything. Just give me your hat and coat.” When he had them, he sprang to the ladder and entered through the half-open window. At the same moment there was a clatter of weapons, threats, angry shouts, and after a few seconds a body struck with a sword fell at the foot of the wall. He got up, however, and said to the stunned young man, “Quick! quick! get on your horse and let’s run away!” When they were at some distance: “Have you now,” said the companion, “seen and understood the fine reception that was intended for you? The husband was simply waiting to kill you with a dagger. And, tell me, if he had succeeded, where would your soul have gone? Give thanks, then, to the Mother of mercies, who delivered you because of your fidelity in saying the holy rosary every day. You must also bless the souls in purgatory, for you have obtained the deliverance of some of them while you were in a state of grace, and they are returning it to you today. Well, change your life and learn to fear God.”
As he finished this exhortation, they had returned to the place of the gallows. The stranger dismounted, tied himself to the gallows, and declared that he had been miraculously sent from the other life for what he had just done, and that he was returning to where God was calling him. A minute later, he was a corpse.
As for the young man, it is hardly necessary to say in what feelings he returned home. He devoted himself for the rest of his life to penance and works of piety, and became a model of holiness, as eager to mortify himself and win souls to goodness as he had once sought pleasures and counted the salvation of others as nothing.