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The Life Of Anne Catherine Emmerich

ANNE CATHARINE does not stand alone in her wonderful intercourse with one of God’s holy angels, for it is a well-known fact that many chosen souls who have been called upon to tread extraordinary paths of perfection, and gifted with supernatural knowledge by means of visions, have been made conscious of the visible companionship of an angel as their director and guide, who steered them safely through the innumerable dangers inseparable from so high a calling, and preserved in them the requisite purity of soul. We are all, from the hour of our birth, accompanied by a guardian angel, who inspires us with the wish and power to fulfil those designs which God’s providence has allotted to us and who enlightens us, strengthens our faith, and encourages our good impulses, accordingly as he sees us aspiring with greater or less fervour to the securing of our everlasting felicity as God’s faithful children: and the purer the soul, the keener its perceptions, and the higher the state of grace which it enjoys, so much the greater delight does its heavenly guardian take in its culture and adornment. No sight is so pleasing in the eyes of the holy angels as that of unsullied baptismal innocence, and it was the brilliancy of this indescribable beauty in Anne Catharine, which made her worthy of being the delight of her angelical companion, who, although he belonged to one of the highest of the nine Choirs, considered that his dignity was enhanced by his appointment as guardian to a being, who, too young as yet to understand the ways and doings of the world, was already ripe and prepared by her miraculous virtues for the comprehension of the mysteries of God, and for the fulfilment of His designs in those high and holy things which concern eternity and the salvation of mankind.

The first illuminations which he gave her were on the subject of faith and doctrine. He showed her pictures connected with the high and hidden significations of Catholic belief which impressed all the depth of its mysteries upon her soul with great clearness, and then she worked them out and subsequently corroborated them from her own meditations and the ordinary catechetical instructions she received. At the same time, he so interwove the practice of Divine Love with all his teachings, that Anne Catharine’s soul was soon bound up in such a close union with God, that it became natural to her to seek God in all things, to refer everything to God, and to look at all things from God’s point of view. The splendour of the angel, whose light shone round about her like that of the sun, from the day of her birth, was to her as the atmosphere in which she breathed, and drew her eyes away from the contemplation of those earthly charms and perishable possessions which occupy and distract the hearts of men in general, until her soul became so strong in love to God, that no created object had power to move her to the right or to the left away from Him, or engross her thoughts for one single moment. Every look of her angel which met her gaze was as a ray of light, or a kindling breath which renewed the fire of her love, and urged her on to do more and more and more for her Lord’s sake. All her strength, and all the impulses of her heart, were regulated by love, and were so peacefully ordered, that no suggestions of passion or exterior disturbance had power to affect them in the least degree, or bring them into confusion. In spite of Anne Catharine’s sympathetic soft-heartedness, and the natural timidity of a delicate child, the greatness of her soul possessed a strength which speedily overcame the most agitating sensations of terror, anxiety or grief, and was sustained by the early mortifications and bodily sufferings which she had brought herself quietly, simply, and persistently to endure. This greatness of heart the angel strengthened ever day by day, permitting nothing of earth to dim its brightness, no created fetter to bind its freedom or restrict its elasticity, that Anne Catharine might go on from strength to strength in the fulfilment of her heroic works of atonement and charity for her fellow creatures. She was aware that her whole being lay open to the gaze of her heavenly guardian, that he penetrated the deepest recesses of her heart, and therefore her unintermitting endeavour was to maintain the mirror of her soul as clear and undimned as he desired to see it; and hence the cause of her retaining the indescribable simplicity, innocence, and naïve candour of a child until the day of her death. Did nothing else testify in her favour, her humble childlike openness would be sufficient proof that she was guided by the spirit of truth, and that the extraordinary wisdom with which she was gifted came direct from God; for rarely has the gift of visions been accompanied with so deep a humility in the case of Anne Catharine, who so carefully concealed the wealth of Divine favours which God showered upon her, that she never once dreamt that there was anything wonderful about herself, and was always filled with a profound sense of her unworthiness. Such a frame of mind is neither an effect of nature, nor an instigation of the devil, but the unmistakeable consequence of a high state of grace and an extraordinary correspondence therewith.

The guidance of the angel was sent to Anne Catharine as a gift, whose fruit increased according to the use she made of it. Therefore, the greater were her endeavours to render herself worthy of so great a blessing, the greater inundation of light and grace she received from him, and the closer grew the links that united her to him; links that had their beginning and their end in a loving obedience to God. From her babyhood Anne Catharine had offered herself as a living holocaust to God, to work for Him, and to serve His creatures. This offering He was graciously pleased to accept, and therefore He sent His angel to mould her whole life, in its least as well as its greatest points, in perfect conformity with His will, so that obedience should be her watchword and the mainspring of her existence. Thus, therefore, she submitted her will to him to be governed, her mind to be illuminated, her heart, that by his directions in mortification and penance, it might be completely detached from creatures; and her body in the deprivation of rest and food, and in the taking upon herself the illnesses and sufferings of others. So faithful was she to these heavenly inspirations, that an untold flood of supernatural divine blessings and consolations were poured upon her, in compensation for her earthly deprivations and the loss of bodily comforts, health, and strength, which she endured. This love was the origin of her thirst for expiation, and led her to bear the woes of those who were not strong enough to carry their own burthen. Wherever her assistance was most needed, there her angel took her: to the bedside of the sick, to those in affliction, sin, or want, wherever aid was required, physical or spiritual, there was she ever to be found, with her heavenly guide, shedding a consoling, refreshing, vivifying, hallowing influence around her, out of the depths of her endless sympathy with mankind; and as true sympathy knows no limits and no reticences, so nothing could hinder the joyful ardour with which she obeyed these behests of her spiritual guide. When once questioned upon the subject, she related, “The angel calls me, and leads me hither and thither. Very often we make long journeys together. Sometimes he takes me to visit people I am acquainted with, or have perhaps seen once, but oftener to others totally unknown to me.

“Even across the sea I have been led, but it was done as quick as thought. He it was who took me to visit the poor Queen of France in her prison. When he comes to fetch me, I first of all behold a brilliant light, and then his form rises suddenly out of the darkness. It is always during the night that we travel. After passing through these regions that I know so well, we come to others far, very far off, sometimes along streets, sometimes straight across the open country, by mountain passes, plains, rivers, and the ocean itself, the whole way on foot. The steep hills I must sometimes climb on my hands and knees, which are often very sore and aching afterwards, and my feet bruised and burning, as I always go barefooted. Sometimes my guide goes on in front of me, and sometimes by my side. I never see that he moves his feet; he glides along very silently, hardly ever speaking, making a sign generally either with his head or his hands, in answer to my questions. In appearance he is quite transparent and radiant with light, his countenance beaming with love, and a sweet, solemn gravity; his hair is smooth, flowing and shining, his head is uncovered, and he wears a long white robe something like a priest’s alb. I talk to him quite boldly, but can never look him direct in the face, awe keeps me so bowed down before him; he teaches me everything, and I ask very few questions. I feel too overwhelmingly happy at being in his presence; and what he tells me he puts in the fewest possible words. When I am praying for other people, and he is not beside me, I call him and beseech him to go and speak to their guardian angels, saying to him, ‘Now I will remain here; do thou go and comfort those poor things;’ and he invariably goes at my request. If we come to a great sheet of water on some of our journeyings, and I am in dismay how to get over, I find myself suddenly on the other side without knowing how I got there. Often in winter time when I was returning from the Jesuit’s church in Coesfeld late in the evening, with pelting rain or snow driving in my face, I grew very frightened, and prayed to God to help me; and then I used to find myself enveloped in a brilliant light, which had the shape of my angel in a priest’s robe, the ground dried instantaneously under my feet, and the rain and the snow fell outside of this light, without a drop touching me, and thus I arrived dry and safe at home.”

Anne Catharine’s mission to the souls in purgatory was also under the care of the angel, who conducted her through the fiery realms in search of the souls whom she was to aid and console by the fruits of her innocent acts of penance. “We often used to descend into purgatory together,” she says, “where I witnessed the misery of the poor dear souls detained there, saw how helpless they were, and how sadly they were neglected and forgotten by people on earth. Ah! their distress is indeed beyond description. Once, whilst I was absorbed in gazing upon so much woe, I found myself suddenly separated from my conductor by a mountain, which caused me such an intense feeling of hunger and thirst after him, that I almost lost consciousness; I could see through the mountain, but could not get to him, and then he said to me: “Now you know what these poor souls feel, for as you long after me, so do they long incessantly for consolatory assistance.” He would often lead me outside caves and dungeons, and bid me pray without intermission for the poor imprisoned souls, and offer up for them all my privations and satisfactions, for as he said, they could do nothing for themselves; the blessed in heaven could no longer merit for them, and they were cruelly forgotten by men; then I prostrated myself on the ground beside these gloomy abodes, and wept and cried out to God with outstretched hands until He had mercy on them. The poor souls know that not a single good thought or earnest wish breathed forth to God by the living is without effect, and yet how few people think of this! A priest who says his office devoutly, and prays with the intention of shortening the purgatory of some soul, may be the means of sending untold relief and refreshment into that sad region. Yes, indeed! the priestly blessing extends its power even into purgatory, where it falls like a heavenly dew; and oh! what a sight is the release of a soul! I saw several set free on one of these journeys with my angel. Their joy was indescribable! As they arose from the scene of their imprisonment, their grey, indistinct forms were gradually invested with the likeness of their earthly bodies, only these were far brighter and more beautiful than anything earthly; and they all rested for awhile in a spot which seemed to be entirely surrounded by thorns, like the shape of our Lord’s crown of thorns, and here I lost sight of them. There are other souls who are neither in purgatory nor in heaven, but who are condemned to flit mournfully upon the earth, and are ever seeking in vain to do that which they left undone when living. These souls hover about desolate places, graveyards, ruins, and the spots in which they committed misdeeds, and are what are commonly called ghosts. Others again, whose punishment is light, remain in church about the altars and tabernacles, and oh! how they thirst for the prayers that will set them free, as they watch so many persons on their knees from day to day.

“Often I sent my guardian angel to the angels of such persons as I saw suffering in the world, that they might persuade them to offer up their pains for the poor souls. Whatever anybody does for them, whether by prayer or by suffering, gives them instant relief, and then they are so joyful and so thankful: if people only knew! Whenever I offer any pain I have to bear for them, they always pray for me. I am filled with terror when I think of the appalling contempt and misuse of the Church’s treasures, made by those to whom they are offered in such profusion, whilst these poor dear souls pine and thirst, and are consumed with longing for them!”

In one of these journeys to Palestine, Anne Catharine was accompanied by Our Blessed Lady as a child, as well as by her angel: “We were like two people really walking,” she says, “I asked her questions on the way, and she replied to them. I said to her, How is it that almost every night I have to make long journeys to distant places, where there is work for me to do, and all seems so natural and real; like at this moment I am with you walking in Palestine, and yet at the same time I am in my bed at home, ill and suffering?” Then Mary answered, “All that you really desire to do and to suffer for my Son, from the bottom of your heart, for His church and for your neighbour, you do really and truly in prayer; you can see how for yourself.” She told me also that her beloved Son was always quite close to us.

Another time Anne Catharine had to hinder a sacrilegious robbery, and to drive the thieves from a mortuary-chapel outside the church, into which they had crept. At the moment she entered this chapel in spirit, a violent fit of coughing seized her in bed, on account, as she afterwards explained, of some bad tobacco the robbers were smoking. Another time she began to cough violently, and explained that she had to travel so rapidly, and through so many different climates, that the current of air affected her seriously. This was not the only occasion on which she suffered physically from her mystical travels, as has been before mentioned; her feet were often torn and bruised, as she lay in her bed, from the rocky paths she had climbed, and in one of her visits to Jerusalem, where she was dragged at full speed through the uneven streets, she fell and injured one of her kneecaps severely, and was unable to walk with ease for some weeks afterwards.

There was no circumstance throughout her life for which Anne Catharine was not carefully prepared by her angel; he showed her in visions of the future the sorrows there in store for her, so that they might not take her by surprise; and he unfolded her whole life to her step by step, that she might be provided against all the manifold emergencies of this changeful world, and do nothing with which her conscience might hereafter have to reproach her, also that she might have time to gain the strength needful to bear her up in her path of toil, warfare, and suffering. Thus he put before her, distinctly and in detail, every important event, every meeting with fresh persons, every misfortune which should happen to herself, or to those with whom she was connected; he also gave her clear and definite instructions how she should act towards certain persons; whether she should be intimate with them, or have very little to do with them; and on certain occasions, when requisite, he went so far as to write down the words which she was to say. His care extended, moreover, to all her daily avocations, such as household and needlework, or the cooking. As she lived, so to say, in two worlds, the material as well as the supernatural, she had to work as unceasingly for the one as for the other. Her mission sent her from Almighty God required of her nothing short of perfection in the ordinary duties of daily life, befitting her condition, which she indeed fulfilled under an amount of weakness and suffering, which, with many persons, would have sufficed to absorb their whole lives, to the exclusion of aught else. Added to this days and weeks often passed when she was so entirely rapt in visions, which embraced the whole range of Christianity, every phase of belief in the world, and every vicissitude of the Church, as to be entirely dead to all that occurred around, and how could she then have maintained her usual demeanour, and taken her share (always an arduous one) of household labour, unless she had been assisted by angelic guidance, and supernaturally enabled to blend these two widely different existences into a harmonious unison?

The angel was her only spiritual guide during those years wherein she was not under the immediate direction of the church—but when once she had received the Holy Eucharist and placed herself under the direction of a confessor, to whose words she listened with the same reverence and submission she had always had for her heavenly teacher, she perceived that the angel himself submitted, as it were, his direction to that of God’s priest; taking the place of protector and guard over the supernatural treasures and gifts with which the soul of his charge was adorned for the good of the faithful, and leaving to the Church herself, through the medium of her priesthood, the spiritual direction of a soul destined to work out her salvation through those channels which God has left open to all comers, whether the ignorant or the learned, the peasant, or the prince, the ordinary Christian, or the gifted extatica. As her life, with its wonderful gifts of grace unfolds itself before us, we shall find with amazement what a mighty power the priestly office exercised over Anne Catharine and her gifts themselves, and how even her angel was pleased to manifest himself as standing under the command and might of the Church. He it was who when, in later years she would be so entirely absorbed in her heavenly contemplations as to be dead to all earthly impressions, and her spirit was far away in distant lands, awakened her soul, and brought her back into her natural state at the instant she received the command of her ecclesiastical superior. She herself relates, that when entirely absorbed in some vision or spiritual toil, which had been entrusted to her care, she would be called back suddenly into this dismal world by the force of some holy revered power, hearing the word “obedience,” whispered in her ear; “a word,” she says, “which often carries a sound of pain along with it, but which is yet the life and the root of the whole tree of supernatural vision!” Thus, whilst the angel left nothing undone which might prepare his charge for being a channel of blessings to the whole Church, he took care that these blessings should flow into the Church by the Church: in other words, by the hands of her priesthood.

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