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On the 24th September, 1833, the
Rev. Mr. Casault, secretary of the Bishop of Quebec, presented tome the official
letters which named me the vicar of the Rev. Mr. Perras, arch-priest, and curate
of St. Charles, Rivierre Boyer, and I was soon on my way, with a cheerful heart,
to fill the post assigned to me by my Superior.
The parish of St. Charles is beautifully situated about twenty miles south-west of Quebec, on the banks of a river, which flows in its very midst, from north to south. Its large farm-houses and barns, neatly white-washed with lime, were the symbols of peace and comfort. The vandal axe had not yet destroyed the centenary forests which covered the country. On almost every farm a splendid grove of maples had been reserved as the witness of the intelligence and tastes of the people.
I had often heard of the Rev. Mr. Perras as one of the most learned, pious, and venerable priest of Canada. I had even been told that several of the governors of Quebec had chosen him for the French teacher of their children. When I arrived, he was absent on a sick call, but his sister received me with every mark of refined politeness. Under the burden of her five-and-fifty years she had kept all the freshness and amiability of youth. After a few words of welcome, she showed me my study and sleeping room. They were both perfumed with the fragrance of two magnificent bouquets of the choicest flowers, on the top of one of which were written the words: "Welcome to the angel whom the Lord sends to us as His messenger." The two rooms were the perfection of neatness and comfort. I shut the doors and fell on my knees to thank God and the blessed Virgin for having given me such a home. Ten minutes later I came back to the large parlour, where I found Miss Perras waiting for me, to offer me a glass of wine and some excellent "pain de savoie," as it was the universal custom, then, to do in every respectable house. She then told me how her brother, the curate, and herself were happy when they heard that I was to come and live with them. She had known my mother before her marriage, and she told me how she had passed several happy days in her company.
She could not speak to me of any subject more interesting than my mother; for, though she had died a few years before, she had never ceased to be present to my mind, and near and dear to my heart.
Miss Perras had not spoken long when the curate arrived. I rose to meet him, but it is impossible to adequately express what I felt at that moment. The Israelites were hardly struck with more awe when they saw Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, than I was at the first sight I had of that venerable man.
Rev. Mr. Perras was then about sixty-five years old. He was a tall man almost a giant. No army officer, no king ever bore his head with more dignity. But his beautiful blue eyes, which were the embodiment of kindness, tempered the dignity of his mien. His hair, which was beginning to whiten, had not yet lost its golden lustre. It seemed as if silver and gold were mixed on his head to adorn and beautify it. There was on his face an expression of peace, calm, piety and kindness, which entirely won my heart and my respect. When, with a smile on his lips, he extended his hands towards me, I felt beside myself, I fell on my knees and said: "Mr. Perras, God sends me to you that you may be my teacher and my father. You will have to guide my first and inexperienced steps in the holy ministry. Do bless me, and pray that I may be a good priest as you are yourself."
That unpremeditated and earnest act of mine so touched the good old priest, that he could hardly speak. Leaning towards me he raised me up and pressed me to his bosom, and with a voice trembling with emotion he said: "May God bless you, my dear sir, and may He also be blessed for having chosen you to help me to carry the burden of the holy ministry in my old age." After half-an-hour of the most interesting conversation, he showed me his library, which was very large, and composed of the best books which a priest of Rome is allowed to read; and he very kindly put it at my service.
Next morning, after breakfast, he handed me a large and neat sheet of paper, headed by these Latin words:
"ORDO DUCIT AD DEUM."
It was the rule of life which he had imposed upon himself, to guide all the hours of the day in such a way that not a moment could be given to idleness or vain pastime.
"Would you be kind enough," he said, "to read this and tell me if it suits your views? I have found great spiritual and temporal benefits in following these rules of life, and would be very happy if my dear young coadjutor would unite with me in walking in the ways of an orderly, Christian and priestly life.
I read this document with interest and pleasure, and handed it back to him saying: "I will be very happy, with the help of God, to follow, with you, the wise rules set down here for a holy and priestly life."
Thinking that these rules might be interesting to the reader, I give them here in full:
2. Prayer and Meditation............6 to 6:30am.
3. Mass, hearing confessions and recitation of brevarium ..6:30 to 8am.
5. Visitation of the sick, and reading the lives of the saints......8:30 to 10am.
6. Study of philosophical, historical or theological books 11a.m. to 12.
7. Dinner.........................12 to 12:30.
8. Recreation and conversation.............12:30 to 1:30.
9. Recitation and vespers...................1:30 to 2pm.
10. Study of history, theology or philosophy........2 to 4 pm.
11. Visit to the holy sacrament and reading "Imitation of Jesus Christ" 4 to 4:30.
12. Hearing of confessions, or visit to the sick, or study..4:30 to 6pm.
13. Supper..................6 to 6:30pm.
14. Recreation..............6:30 to 8pm.
15. Chaplet reading of the Holy Scriptures and prayer.....8 to 9pm.
16. Going to bed............9pm.
Such was our daily life during the
eight months which it was my privilege to remain with the venerable Mr. Perras,
except that Thursdays were invariably given to visit some of the neighbouring
curates, and the Sabbath days spent in hearing confessions, and performing the
public services of the church.
The conversation of Mr. Perras was generally exceedingly interesting. I never heard from him any idle, frivolous talking, as is so much the habit among the priests. He was well versed in the literature, philosophy, history and theology of Rome. He had personally known almost all the bishops and priests of the last fifty years, and his memory was well stored with anecdotes and facts concerning the clergy, from almost the days of the conquest of Canada. I could write many interesting things, were I to publish what I heard from him, concerning the doings of the clergy. I will only give two or three of the facts of that interesting period of the church in Canada.
A couple of months before my arrival at St. Charles, the vicar who preceded me, called Lajus, had publicly eloped with one of his beautiful penitents, who, after three months of public scandal, had repented and come back to her heart broken parents. About the same time a neighbouring curate, in whom I had great confidence, compromised himself also, with one of his fair parishioners, in a most shameful, though less public way. These who scandals, which came to my knowledge almost at the same time, distressed me exceedingly, and for nearly a week I felt so overwhelmed with shame, that I dreaded to show my face in public, and I almost regretted that I ever became a priest. My nights were sleepless; the best viands of the table had lost their relish. I could hardly eat anything. My conversations with Mr. Perras had lost their charms. I even could hardly talk with him or anybody else.
"Are you sick, my young friend?" said he to me one day.
"No, sir, I am not sick, but I am sad."
He replied, "Can I know the cause of your sadness? You used to be so cheerful and happy since you came here. I must bring you back to your former happy frame of mind. Please tell me what is the matter with you? I am an old man, and I know many remedies for the soul as well as for the body. Open your heart to me, and I hope soon to see that dark cloud which is over you pass away."
"The two last awful scandals given by he priests," I answered, "are the cause of my sadness. The news of the fall of these two confreres, one of whom seemed to me so respectable, has fallen upon me like a thunderbolt. Though I had heard something of that nature when I was a simple ecclesiastic in the college, I had not the least idea that such was the life of so many priests. The fact of the human frailty of so many, is really distressing. How can one hope to stand up on one's feet when one sees such strong men fall by one's side? What will become of our holy church in Canada, and all over the world, if her most devoted priests are so weak and have so little self-respect, and so little fear of God?"
"My dear young friend," answered Mr. Perras. "Our holy church is infallible. The gates of hell can not prevail against her; but the assurance of her perpetuity and infallibility does not rest on any human foundation. It does not rest on the personal holiness of her priests; but it rests on the promises of Jesus Christ. Her perpetuity and infallibility are a perpetual miracle. It requires the constant working of Jesus Christ to keep her pure and holy, in spite of the sins and scandals of her priests. Even the clearest proof that our holy church has a promise of perpetuity and infallibility is drawn from the very sins and scandals of her priests; for those sins and scandals would have destroyed her long ago, if Christ was not in the midst to save and sustain her. Just as the ark of Noah was miraculously saved by the mighty hand of God, when the waters of the deluge would otherwise have wrecked it, so our holy church is miraculously prevented from perishing in the flood of iniquities by which too many priests have deluged the world. By the great mercy and power of God, the more the waters of the deluge were flowing on the earth, the more the ark was raised towards heaven by these very waters. So it is with our holy church. The very sins of the priests make that spotless spouse of Jesus Christ fly away higher and higher towards the regions of holiness, as it is in God. Let, therefore, your faith and confidence in our holy church, and your respect for her, remain firm and unshaken in the midst of all these scandals. Let your zeal be rekindled for her glory and extension, at the sight of the unfortunate confreres who yield to the attacks of the enemy. Just as the valiant soldier makes superhuman efforts to save the flag, when he sees those who carried it fall on the battlefield. Oh! you will see more of our flag bearers slaughtered before you reach my age. But be not disheartened or shaken by that sad spectacle; for once more our holy church will stand for ever, in spite of all those human miseries, for her strength and her infallibility do not lie in men, but in Jesus Christ, whose promises will stand in spite of all the efforts of hell.
"I am near the end of my course, and, thanks be to God, my faith in our holy church is stronger than ever, though I have seen and heard many things, compared with which, the facts which just now distress you are mere trifles. In order the better to inure you to the conflict, and to prepare you to hear and see more deplorable things than what is now troubling you, I think it is my duty to tell you a fact which I got from the late Lord Bishop Plessis. I have never revealed it to anybody, but my interest in you is so great that I will tell it to you, and my confidence in your wisdom is so absolute, that I am sure you will never abuse it. What I will reveal to you is of such a nature that we must keep it among ourselves, and never let it be known to the people, for it would diminish, if not destroy their respect and confidence in us, respect and confidence, without which, it would become almost impossible to lead them.
"I have already told you that the late venerable Bishop Plessis was my personal friend. Our intimacy had sprung up when we were studying under the same roof in the seminary of St. Sulpice, Montreal, and it had increased year after year till the last hour of his life. Every summer, when he had reached the end of the three months of episcopal visitation of his diocese, he used to come and spend eight or ten days of absolute rest and enjoyment of private and solitary life with me in this parsonage. The two rooms you occupy were his, and he told me many times that the happiest days of his episcopal life were those passed in this solitude.
"One day he had come from his three months' visit, more worn out than ever, and when I sat down with him in his parlour, I was almost frightened by the air of distress which covered his face. Instead of finding him the loquacious, amiable and cheerful guest I used to have in him, he was taciturn, cast down, distressed. I felt really uneasy, for the first time, in his presence, but as it was the last hour of the day, I supposed that this was due to his extreme fatigue, and I hoped that the rest of the night would bring about such a change in my venerable friend, that I would find him, the next morning, what he used to be, the most amiable and interesting of men.
"I was, myself, completely worn out. I had traveled nearly thirty miles that day, to go to receive him at St. Thomas. The heat was oppressive, the roads very bad, and the dust awful. I was in need of rest, and I was hardly in my bed when I fell into a profound sleep, and slept till three o'clock in the morning. I was then suddenly awakened by sobs and halfsuppressed lamentations and prayers, which were evidently coming from the bishop's room. Without losing a moment, I went and knocked at the door, inquiring about the cause of these sobs. Evidently the poor bishop had not suspected that I could hear him.
"`Sobs! sobs!' he answered, `What do you mean by that. Please go back to your room and sleep. Do not trouble yourself about me, I am well,' and he absolutely refused to open the door of his room. The remaining hours of the night, of course, were sleepless ones for me. The sobs of the bishop were more suppressed, but he could not sufficiently suppress them to prevent me from hearing them. The next morning his eyes were reddened with weeping, and his face was that of one who had suffered intensely all the night. After breakfast I said to him: `My lord, last night has been one of desolation to your lordship; for God's sake, and in the name of the sacred ties of friendship, which has united us during so many years, please tell me what is the cause of your sorrow. It will become less the very moment you share it with your friend.'
"The bishop answered me: `You are right when you think that I am under the burden of a great desolation; but its cause is of such a nature, that I cannot reveal it even to you, my dear friend. It is only at the feet of Jesus Christ and His holy mother, that I must go to unburden my heart. If God does not come to my help, I must certainly die from it. But I will carry with me into my grave, the awful mystery which kills me.'
"In vain, during the rest of the day, I did all that I could to persuade Monseigneur Plessis to reveal the cause of his grief. I failed. At last, through respect for him, I withdrew to my own room, and left him alone, knowing that solitude is sometimes the best friend of a desolated mind. His lordship, that evening withdrew to his sleeping room sooner than usual, and I retired to my room much later. But sleep was out of the question for me that night, for his desolation seemed to be so great, and his tears so abundant, that when he bade me `good-night,' I was in fear of finding my venerable, and more than ever dear friend, dead in his bed the next morning. I watched him, without closing my eyes, from the adjoining room, from ten o'clock till the next morning. Though it was evident that he was making great efforts to suppress his sobs, I could see that his sorrow was still more intense that night, than the last one, and my mental agony was not much less than his, during those distressing hours.
"But I formed an extreme resolution, which I put into effect the very moment that he came out of his room the next morning, to salute me.
"`My Lord,' said I, `I thought till the night before last, that you honored me with your friendship, but I see today that I was mistaken. You do not consider me as your friend, for if you would look upon me as a friend worthy of your confidence, you would unburden your heart into mine. A true friend has no secret from a true friend. What is the use of friendship if it be not to help each other to carry the burdens of life! I found myself honored by your presence in my house, so long as I considered myself as your own friend. But now, that I see I have lost your confidence, please allow me frankly to say to your lordship, that I do not feel the same at your presence here. Besides, it seems to me very probable that the terrible burden which you want to carry alone, will kill you, and that very soon. I do not at all like the idea of finding you suddenly dead in my parsonage, and having the coroner holding his inquest upon your body, and making the painful inquiries which are always made upon one suddenly taken by death, particularly when he belongs to the highest ranks of society. Then, my lord, be not offended if I respectfully request your lordship to find another lodging as soon as possible.'
"My words fell upon the bishop like a thunderbolt. He seemed to awaken from a profound sleep. With a deep sigh he looked in my face with his eyes rolling in tears, and said:
"`You are right, Perras, I ought never to have concealed my sorrow from such a friend as you have always been for more than half a century to me. But you are the only one to whom I can reveal it. No doubt your priestly and Christian heart will not be less broken than mine; but you will help me with your prayers and wise counsels to carry it. However, before I initiate you into such an awful mystery, we must pray.'
"We then knelt down, and we said together a chaplet to invoke the power of the Virgin Mary, after which we recited Psalm li.: `Miserere mihi.' Have mercy upon me, O Lord!
"Then, sitting by me on this sofa, the bishop said: `My dear Mr. Perras, you are the only one to whom I could reveal what you are about to hear, for I think you are the only one who can hear such a terrible secret without revealing it, and because, also, you are the only friend whose advice can guide me in this terrible affliction.
"`You know that I have just finished the visit of my immense diocese of Quebec. It has taken me several years of hard work and fatigue, to see by my own eyes, and know by myself, the gains and losses in a word, the strength and life of our holy church. I will not speak to you of the people. They are, as a general thing, truly religious and faithful to the church. But the priests. O Great God! will I tell you what they are? My dear Perras, I would almost die with joy, if God would tell me that I am mistaken. But, alas! I am not mistaken. The sad, the terrible truth is this' (putting his right hand on his forehead), `the priests! Ah! with the exception of you and three others, are infidels and atheists! O my God! my God! what will become of the church, in the hands of such wicked men!' and covering his face with his hands, the bishop burst into tears, and for one hour could not say a word. I myself remained mute.
"At first I regretted having pressed the bishop to reveal such an unexpected `mystery of iniquity.' But, taking counsel of our very fathomless humiliation and distress, after an hour of silence, spent in pacing the walks of the garden, almost unable to look each other in the face, I said; `My lord, what you have told me is surely the saddest thing that I ever heard; but allow me to tell you that your sorrows are out of the limits of your high intelligence and your profound science. If you read the history of our holy church, from the seventh to the fifteenth century, you will know that the spotless spouse of Christ has seen as dark days, if not darker, in Italy, France, Spain and Germany, as she does in Canada, and though the saints of those days deplored the errors and crimes of those dark ages, they have not killed themselves with their vain tears, as you are doing.'
"Taking the bishop by the hand, I led him to the library, and opened the pages of the history of the church, by Cardinals Baronius and Fieury, and I showed him the names of more than fifty Popes who had evidently been atheists and infidels. I read to him the lives of Borgia, Alexander VI., and a dozen others, who would surely and justly be hanged today by the executioner of Quebec, were they, in that city, committing one-half of the public crimes of adultery, murder, debauchery of every kind, which they committed in Rome, Avignon, Naples, ect., ect. I read to him some of the public and undeniable crimes of the successors of the apostles, and of the inferior clergy, and I easily and clearly proved to him that his priests, though infidels and atheists, were angels of pity, modesty, purity, and religion, when compared with a Borgia, who publicly lives as a married man with his own daughter, and had a child by her. He agreed with me that several of the Alexanders, the Johns, the Piuses, and the Leos were sunk much deeper in the abyss of every kind of iniquity than his priests.
"Five hours passed in so perusing the sad but irrefutable pages of the history of our holy church, wrought a marvelous and beneficial change in the mind of Monseigneur Plessis.
"My conclusion was, that if our holy church had been able to resist the deadly influence of such scandals during so many centuries in Europe, she would not be destroyed in Canada, even by the legion of atheists by whom she is served today.
"The bishop acknowledged that my conclusion was correct. He thanked me for the good I had done him, by preventing him from despairing of the future of our holy church in Canada, and the rest of the days which he spent with me, he was almost as cheerful and amiable as before.
"Now, my dear young friend," added Mr. Perras, "I hope you will be as reasonable and logical in your religion as bishop Plessis, who was probably the greatest man Canada has ever had. When Satan tries to shake your faith by the scandals you see, remember that Stephen, after having fought with his adversary, Pope Constantine II., put out his eyes and condemned him to die. Remember that other Pope, who through revenge against his predecessor, had him exhumed, brought his dead body before judges, then charged him with the most horrible crimes, which he proved by the testimony of scores of eye-witnesses, got him (the dead Pope), to be condemned to be beheaded and dragged with ropes through the muddy streets of Rome, and thrown into the river Tiber. Yes, when your mind is oppressed by the secret crimes of the priests, which you will know, either through the confessional or by public rumour, remember that more than twelve Popes have been raised to that high and holy dignity by the rich and influential prostitutes of Rome, with whom they were publicly living in the most scandalous way. Remember that young bastard, John XI., the son of Pope Sergius, who was consecrated Pope when only twelve years old by the influence of his prostitute mother, Marosia, but who was so horribly profligate that he was deposed by the people and the clergy of Rome.
"Well, if our holy church has been able to pass through such storms without perishing, is it not a living proof that Christ is her pilot, that she is imperishable and infallible because St. Peter is her foundation, `Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portae inferi non prevalebunt adversus eam.'"
Oh, my God! Shall I confess, to my confusion, what my thoughts were during that conversation, or rather that lecture of my curate, which lasted more than an hour! Yes, to thy eternal glory, and to my eternal shame, I must say the truth. When the priest was exhibiting to me the horrible unmentionable crimes of so many of our Popes, to calm my fears and strengthen my shaken faith, a mysterious voice was repeating to the ears of my soul the dear Saviour's words: "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. vii. 18 20), and in spite of myself the voice of my conscience cried in thundering tones that a church, whose head and members were so horribly corrupt, could not, by any means, be the Church of Christ.
But the most sacred and imperative law of my church, which I had promised by oaths, was that I would never obey the voice of my conscience, nor follow the dictates of my private judgment, when they were in opposition to the teachings of my church. Too honest to admit the conclusions of Mr. Perras, which were evidently the conclusions of my church, I was too cowardly and too mean to bravely express my own mind, and repeat the words of the Son of God: "By their fruits ye shall know them! A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit!"