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The Life Of Anne Catherine Emmerich

THE year of noviciate was drawing to a close, and the community were still undecided whether they would keep the poor novice and permit her to take the final vows or not. Her friend, the novice-mistress, in vain repeated the assurance that she found the girl entirely without fault, that she was always good and contented with God’s will. Her word alone was not sufficient to overcome the opposition of the rest of the nuns. Whenever the question of her reception or dismissal was discussed in chapter, the only grounds for the latter course which the sisters could find was the possibility, according to outward appearances, that Anne Catharine would soon be incapable of work, and would be a life-long encumbrance to the convent. Then again, on the other hand, the Reverend Mother was always obliged to confess that the young novice was extremely clever, and showed so much taste and skill in whatever she did that she might be of very great use to the convent after all. Finally, the community was obliged to give in, and came to the conclusion that there was no real reason why Anne Catharine should be sent away.

So at last all obstacles had apparently vanished, and the day of profession was to be deferred no longer; when it was once more rendered doubtful by the conscientious novice herself. Thus far the security she lent Cantor Sontgen for his ten thalers had never been returned to her, and she feared, with some justice, that she might be called upon for the money by his creditors.

She confided this perplexity to the reverend mother, who soon elicited from the Cantor that he was totally unable to meet the debt. Consequently the community announced their resolution of not allowing Anne Catharine to take the vows until that money was paid, and she herself freed from her obligation. Anne Catharine, nothing daunted, carried her heavy burden to her Lord as usual, praying Him to help her; but it pleased Him to be deaf to her supplications until she should have exhausted every natural means of procuring the sum. She thus describes her pitiable position: “I had not a coin in my possession. I appealed for help to my parents and relations, but no one would give me a farthing, not even my brother Bernard; on the contrary, they all fell upon me, and made a fuss and a storm as if I had committed the greatest crime in the world. The debt, however, had to be paid before I could become a professed nun. So I ceased not to call upon God till He had mercy upon me, and put it into the heart of a good man to make me a present of ten thalers. My brother has often wept since then, to think he was so unkind to me. After this great difficulty was happily removed, and all preparations were made for my profession, yet another difficulty arose! The reverend mother announced to me and to Clara that there was something still wanting, and that Cantor Sontgen had sent a messenger from Munster to say so, who would wait and take back the three thalers he required. I was terribly upset, for I had not any money at all.

“In my trouble I went and told my grief to the Abbé Lambert. He gave me two half-thalers, and when I got back to my cell I found six more thalers counted out on the table. Filled with joy and thankfulness, I ran with them to Clara, who was at her wit’s end where to get the money, as she had nothing any more than I had.

“Three years after this I was again in much difficulty about paying for my breakfast, as was the custom in the convent, when one day I discovered two coins placed on my window-sill, which the reverend mother allowed me to keep.

“Eight days before the Feast of the Presentation, the anniversary of the day upon which Clara and I had commenced a novena for our reception into the convent as postulants, we both made our profession in the year 1803, as Augustinian nuns in the convent of St. Agnes at Dülmen, and were accepted by Jesus Christ as His spouses under the rule of our holy patron. I was then nine-and-twenty. After my profession my parents became reconciled to me, and my father and brother paid me a visit, bringing me a present of a piece of linen.”

We must not pass over the good Abbé Lambert, above-mentioned, without a word, whom we here meet with for the first time, since he was the final stepping-stone to the fulfilment of Anne Catharine’s long-cherished hopes of profession. Originally parish priest in the diocese of Amiens, he was compelled, like many other priests of his nation, to leave his country on refusing to take the infamous constitutional oath, and was given gratuitous lodging in one of the buildings adjacent to the Convent of St. Agnes, in return for saying the daily Mass and hearing confessions. As Anne Catharine held the office of sacristan for some time, she learned to know the good abbé well, and to put great confidence in him, as she witnessed daily the deep devotion and recollection with which he offered up the Holy Sacrifice. Amidst all the secret troubles and interior distress which the hostile spirit of the community and the ignorance shown by the ordinary convent confessor respecting her spiritual condition occasioned her, she took heart to pour out her soul to the Abbé Lambert, and seek his priestly advice and assistance. As he was, unfortunately, as unacquainted with the German language as she was with the French, their mutual intercourse was considerably limited, and yet the pious intelligent priest soon gained so intimate a knowledge of the young novice’s character and inward leadings, that he felt himself bound to do all that lay in his power for so richly-favoured a soul.

He began by persuading the ordinary confessor to give Anne Catharine permission to receive Holy Communion more frequently, and even to command her so to do, when her humility made her hesitate, and was himself always ready to bring the Blessed Eucharist to the fainting exhausted girl the first thing in the morning. Although his own existence was precarious, and might be termed from hand to mouth, nothing pleased him more than when he could induce Anne Catharine to accept a little present from him to relieve her urgent wants, whilst she looked upon him as her greatest earthly benefactor, and eventually tended him in his last sickness with the affection and devotion of a sister.

The mixed feelings of joy and reverential solemnity with which, when the long awaited day arrived, Anne Catharine stood at the foot of the altar to make her vows—those vows for which she had suffered so much and thirsted and pined so long—can better be imagined than described by the feeble power of a human pen. The zeal and desire with which she now prepared herself for this happy moment were the same with which sixteen years ago she had made ready for her first communion.

On the morning of profession, although the preceding days had been devoted to renewed and cruel bodily penances, doubly mortifying to a frame scarcely recovered from the severe illness occasioned by mental care and distress, she stood up before the others strong and blooming, the rejoicing of her soul at the inexpressible happiness of her rapidly approaching espousals with her Divine Bridegroom, which were about to make her His for ever and ever and ever, communicating itself to her outward appearance. Her whole form seemed radiant; no one could look at her or be near her without rejoicing, and thus it was that her mystical wedding-day was a day of gladsomeness and peace to all about her. The light of deep inward joy shining on her countenance, which the fast-flowing tears had power neither to dim nor to quench, made her so sweet and dear in the eyes of her sisters, and the tender words in which she expressed her eternal gratitude to them for granting her permission to take perpetual vows, were so touching, that the entire community was pervaded for that day with a spirit of peace, love, and happiness.

After the solemn High Mass a breakfast was given, to which Anne Catharine’s parents were invited. Never once during all their unkindness and opposition to her entering a convent, had Anne Catharine felt a momentary bitterness against them She had contented herself with ceaselessly praying to God that He would give those so dear to her strength to acquiesce with all their hearts in her offering of herself to Him. Her prayer was now granted.

The two old people were so profoundly moved at the sight of their child on this joyful day, that they gave her to God with one accord as a cheerful and willing sacrifice. It came home to them quite clearly and plainly that God had called her to this state of life, and they feared to draw down His anger upon themselves, should they longer oppose His manifest will. Thus the universal joy crept into their hearts also, and filled them to overflowing. This gave their daughter yet another reason for looking back upon this memorable day with grateful thankfulness and consolation.

Henceforth the whole of Anne Catharine’s life in the cloister may be summed up in the following declaration, made by her a little while after its suppression, “I had resigned myself utterly into the hands of my heavenly Bridegroom, and He did with me what He willed. To suffer in peace has always seemed the most enviable lot upon earth, but I never could do that.” Sufferings, indeed, were never wanting to her, and she received them with thankfulness, as welcome gifts from God’s hand; but to suffer in private, in a quiet solitude, where no eye should observe her, never fell to her lot; and how should it have done so, since she was destined to a complete conformity with her Spouse, Who had to bear His own sorrows amidst perpetual turmoil, strife of tongues, exterior trials, and persecutions?

All the pains and sicknesses with which her childhood was visited by her own request, had had a deep mystical signification, whether as expiation for the sins of others, and reparation to God, or as the simple bearing of the burdens of others from motives of pure charity. From the date of her confirmation, and again from that of her solemn profession as a nun, these sufferings gradually assumed a higher and higher character and a wider extension. The maladies of the great body of the Church, the spiritual faults, the want of order and discipline, the imperfect following of the evangelical counsels by dignitaries and religious holding high and influential positions, were laid upon her, to bear and to expiate by various forms of disease, and by mental as well as physical anguish. Herein she followed closely in the footprints of the Blessed Lidwina of Schiedam, who, like the miraculous Christina of St. Trond, was one of the most wonderful instruments of atonement for sin of whom God has ever made use on behalf of His Church.

Besides her severe sufferings at the heart, which to the day of her death continued unabated in intensity, she had unintermitting illnesses of the most alarming and manifold natures: there was hardly an inch in her whole body healthy and free from pain. She had given all to God, every nerve, every muscle, every drop of blood, every breath she drew; and He had graciously accepted the gift, and now employed them all in His service, in a way of His own, a way by which strength and vitality were slowly ruined by disease and anguish, and the natural life consumed in a pain which burnt and devoured like a flame.

Her body resembled a vessel suspended over a fire, in which the Divine Physician, in the orderings of His vast love and justice, widely different from the narrow compass of human knowledge, prepared healing medicines for His entire flock. Not only physically did Anne Catharine suffer, her whole mental system was martyred by every sensation of pain to which the soul in its inseparable union with the body is susceptible:—terror, anguish, grief, oppression, dereliction, aridity, desolation, languor; every wound and bitter smart which the passions of a fellow-creature are capable of inflicting upon another, or the cunning and malice of the devil can cause to the soul, were permitted to do their utmost against her. The appalling sense of guilt and the trembling with fear which accompanies the dying bed, the mortal anguish of the poor sinner whose soul is on the eve of leaving the body to stand before its judge, were laid upon her in all their horror; yes, and even that terrible condition of mental alienation, the consequence of the fiery passions, hate, revenge, impatience, sensuality, and curiosity, she had to take upon her own devoted shoulders. She had to fight these out and overcome them, in order to impetrate the grace of repentance, or of a good death for the sinner.

Fearful as are all these sources of agony to contemplate, the martyrdom of love she endured for her heavenly Bridegroom, for His Church, and for all those treasures of grace and mercy scorned and trodden under foot by His own creatures, surpassed them all. Her greatest sufferings were those occasioned by the knowledge she possessed of the unutterable degradation and humiliation which was being prepared at this time for God’s priesthood by its own unworthy members, unbelievers in the great truths of eternal salvation, and opposers alike of their own salvation and that of others. Although perhaps Anne Catharine’s bodily sufferings do not appear to us so outwardly violent and terrible as those of St. Lidwina, they were no less deep, piercing, and continuous. It often happened that she contemplated herself and her pitiful condition as though she were observing some other person, when she would break out into involuntary bursts of compassion, exclaiming, “Ah! see, there is that little nun again with the pierced heart! she must be about my own age, but she has far worse sufferings than I, so I must complain no more!” As the blood flows from the heart, and after passing through all the veins returns to its original source, as though there to seek new life to start forth again on its endless course, so did her pains extend from her heart throughout every member of her body, returning to their fountain-head, in order only, as it seemed, to throb and quiver in every limb with yet greater intensity. One kind of unknown sickness succeeded another without intermission, and as to each one she was instructed in a vision why it was laid upon her, in order that her merit might be increased by its free acceptance. This gave her the supernatural knowledge of what she had to do, but the work itself had to be accomplished through the ordinary paths and circumstances of every-day life.

In these visions she beheld the meaning of each pain and its connexion with the state of the Church. But her ordinary daily life frequently came between them with so crude and startling an opposition, that exterior occurrences were often harder to bear than the heaviest interior trials. And yet these troublesome every-day occurrences were but the ceaseless completion or supplement of the latter, and were taken into account by Almighty God, down to the most insignificant and apparently casual circumstances. Her mission would have been faulty and imperfect had it not been rounded and worked out by the distractions, woes, contradictions, and helplessness of daily life provided for her in the forethought of God Himself. The patient enduring and persevering overcoming of all external hindrances, the conscientious fulfilment of all obligations and duties entailed upon her by her condition or by the exigencies of those around her, from whom her great interior sufferings were partially concealed and utterly impossible of comprehension, were precisely the means by which her humility, simplicity, and virtue were preserved intact. Her whole life in the convent, and afterwards until her death, would be an insoluble enigma to us, or a thing of no meaning, if we were to lose sight of this ordinance of God in the guidance of a soul so marvellously gifted.

“I had,” she once confessed, “to suffer much through doctors and physic for what was incurable by their art. Often I was brought very near death, for the medicines they gave me were always much too strong and powerful for me; but although I knew beforehand what harm they would do me, obedience commanded me to take them. If I ever neglected to do so, being far away in spirit at the time, the suspicion immediately arose that I did it on purpose, and was merely pretending to be ill. Then the medicines were so dear, and often I had hardly got halfway through one bottle that had cost very, very dear, before another prescription was ordered me. The cost of these I had to pay myself, and how I managed to do so I cannot understand, for the money always came. I certainly did a great deal of sewing, but the work was for the support of the house. Towards the end of the time the convent gave me half towards the account. I was often so wretchedly ill that I could do nothing for myself; and then it often happened that my sisters forgot all about me; but God provided for me in other ways. Once I was lying in a cold sweat, and falling from one fainting fit into another, when two nuns entered my cell, made my bed, lifted me back again, and tucked me up so gently and tenderly that I felt quite refreshed. After a time, the reverend mother and one of the sisters came in, and asked me, quite surprised, who had made me so comfortable? I thought by this question they must have done it themselves, and so thanked them for their kindness. However, they declared positively that neither they nor any of the other nuns had been in my cell, and were persuaded that my story of two nuns, dressed in our habit, having made my bed, was all a dream; but the fact was unmistakeable—my bed had been made, and I was wonderfully refreshed.

“Later on I got to know those two nuns, who often showed me great love and kindness: they were beatified souls who had formerly lived in our convent. Another time, when they were doing me a similar service, one of my sisters came in suddenly, and beholding me lifted up from my bed, lying on my back in the air without any visible support, she made such a screaming and fuss that I fell to the ground with fear, and hurt myself. In consequence of this a great talk was made in the convent, and I was perpetually teazed with questions by the older nuns as to how I managed to lie in the air like that; but I could not tell them, for I never thought much about such things, they came so naturally to me.”

In order, however, that Anne Catharine’s poor feeble body should not be utterly consumed in the fiery furnace of her pain, God deigned to send her mitigation from time to time in the shape of supernatural medicines, for an account of which we are indebted to some of the relations of her life which she was compelled to give to her directors under obedience to the unmistakeable commands of her spiritual guide. These narratives are short and incomplete, but they suffice to show us that in this again she resembled St. Lidwina, and was given the same sources of healing.

“All physic,” she says, “that did me any good was supernatural. The medicine the doctor brought almost cost me my life, but yet I was forced to take it, and pay dearly for it; however, God found the money, which never grew less. Everything I asked Him for He gave me—for myself, and also many things for the good of the convent. These medicines I sometimes received from my guide, sometimes from my heavenly Bridegroom, or from my Mother Mary and the saints. Sometimes they were given me in small, clear, shining flasks; at others they were in the form of flowers, buds, or herbs. At the head of my bed there was a wooden shelf, and on this shelf the miraculous medicines used to be laid. Often I discovered tiny, fragrant, green sprigs close to me in the bed, or after I had a vision, or else placed in my hand. As I felt the delicate leaves I knew how I was to use them. They either strengthened me by their sweet scent, or else I was to eat them, or sometimes to pour water over them and drink it afterwards. I was always immensely refreshed, and fit for any work, after this, and this strength sometimes lasted for a shorter or a longer time.

“I also received pictures, figures, or a kind of stone, and as they approached me I learnt what I was to do with each one. Sometimes these gifts were laid in the palm of my hand or upon my breast, and gave me instant strength and refreshment. Occasionally I was permitted to keep these presents, and to cure others with them; now and then I employed them upon others or gave them away, but I never told how they came into my possession. All these things are present and actual events of my life; but how they happen I cannot explain. I only know that they came to me as realities, and I made use of them as realities to the glory of Him Who sent them to me out of His pity.

“Once, when a novice, I was kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament with outstretched arms; and as I knelt, I found a beautiful picture of St. Catharine in my hand, apparently painted on parchment. I kept it a long time, till I gave it to a good girl who begged me for a remembrance, and who wanted to be a nun, but could not accomplish it. When the poor child died, that picture was found lying upon her breast in the coffin.

“In another illness I received from my heavenly Bridegroom a stone of about the size of a crown-piece, shaped like a heart, and transparent, in which was to be seen a picture of the Mother of God with the Child, in red, blue, and gold. The picture was very delicately drawn, and so refreshing to the eye that it quite cured me. I wrapped it up in a little leathern bag, and carried it about my person for a long time, until it was withdrawn from me. Some time later He gave me a ring, placing it Himself on my finger. The ring was formed of one precious stone, on which was graven the likeness of Our Lady, and I was allowed to keep it for a long while. Finally He withdrew it Himself from my finger. St. Augustin gave me once a similar present. It was upon his feast, and I was lying in bed in great pain. The hour drew near in which all the community were wont to go to Holy Communion. No one thought that I could possibly get up and go with them. I, however, felt as if I were called to the church, and I went and received the Holy Eucharist with the rest. After that I fell into a faint, and was brought back to my cell, I knew not how, and laid dressed upon my bed. Here St. Augustin appeared to me and gave me a transparent brilliant stone, the size of a bean, on the outside of which a red heart and a little cross were carved. He told me at the same time that my heart must shine as brightly as that stone. When I awoke, there it was in my hand. I laid it in a glass full of water, and then drank the water, which cured my illness. As soon as I had recovered the stone disappeared.

“Another time, when I was suffering too great pain to move from my bed, I was permitted to keep one of these divine gifts for more than seven months. At this time I could not swallow any sort of food, and it was a wonder to those about me how I kept alive; they brought me everything they could think of, but I could not eat.

“All the time I was fed by another kind of food, namely, a likeness of the Blessed Virgin, which I found in my hand one morning when I woke. It was in the form of a great white shining Host, only thicker and softer, on which letters were imprinted and the picture of our Gracious Lady. It had a sweet perfume, and at night was quite bright and glittering. I kept it hidden in my bed, and every day ate a tiny portion of it during seven months, which always strengthened me wonderfully. It tasted very sweet, but not with the same sweetness as the Blessed Sacrament. At last it vanished, and I was quite distressed at losing so heavenly a manna.

“One night, when I was kneeling by the table in my cell praying to Mary, I saw a brightly-shining lady glide through the door (which was shut), and kneel down as though to pray, on the other side of the table. I was startled, but I went on calmly with my prayers. Thereupon the kneeling figure laid down before me a little white, shining image of the Mother of God, resting her hand upon the table beside it for some little time. I drew back timidly, when she pushed the picture nearer to me and disappeared, leaving it lying on the table. It was a Madonna, standing upright with the Child in her arms. It was unspeakably beautiful, and seemed as though painted on ivory. I carried it about my person, filled with reverent love towards it for a long time, until inwardly admonished to give it to a foreign priest, from whom it was withdrawn at his death.

“Our Lady once gave me also a wonderful flower, which opened when placed in water. When shut it resembled a rose-bud, but when open it unrolled a number of delicate leaves, each of a different colour, and each having a distinct spiritual action, the working of which I was to experience through this flower. Its perfume was delicious. I was bidden to put it in my drinking-glass, and to drink the water it was in for rather more than a month. Finally I grew anxious where to place this treasure, that it should not be desecrated, and I received an interior command to make a new crown for Our Lady’s statue in the convent chapel, and to weave this flower in the crown. When I told this to the reverend mother and to my confessor, they advised me to save up my money and put off executing the order for the present. Nevertheless, I had been bidden not to delay, and so, with the confessor’s consent, I ordered the crown to be made at the Poor Clares’ Convent at Munster, and placed the flower in it myself. The Sister who had charge of Our Lady’s statue not being very scrupulous about its arrangement, I took the crown into my own charge. The flower remained therein until the suppression of the convent, when it disappeared, and I saw in a vision that it had been removed to another place.

“Another time I remember receiving a little flask of balsam from my good angel; the balsam was white and thick, like oil. It cured me of a deep wound I had received from the falling upon me of a basketful of wet linen, and I was able to heal many poor sick people with it also.”

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