The Struggle before the Surrender of Womanly Self-Respect in the Confessional
THERE are two women who ought to be constant objects of the compassion of the disciples of Christ, and for whom daily prayers ought to be offered at the mercy-seat -- the Brahmin woman, who, deceived by her priests, burns herself on the corpse of her husband to appease the wrath of her wooden gods; and the Roman Catholic woman, who, not less deceived by her priests, suffers a torture far more cruel and ignominious in the confessional-box, to appease the wrath of her wafer-god.
For I do not exaggerate when I say, that for many noble-hearted, well-educated, high-minded women, to be forced to unveil their hearts before the eyes of a man, to open to him all the most secret recesses of their souls, all the most sacred mysteries of their single or married life, to allow him to put to them questions which the most depraved woman would never consent to hear from her vilest seducer, is often more horrible and intolerable than to be tied on burning coals.
More than once, I have seen women fainting in the confessional-box, who told me afterwards, that the necessity of speaking to an unmarried man on certain things, on which the most common laws of decency ought to have for ever sealed their lips, had almost killed them! Not hundreds, but thousands of times, I have heard from the lips of dying girls, as well as of married women, the awful words; "I am forever lost! All my past confessions and communions have been so many sacrileges! I have never dared to answer correctly the questions of my confessors! Shame has sealed my lips and damned my soul!"
How many times I remained as one petrified, by the side of a corpse, when these last words having hardly escaped the lips of one of my female penitents, who had been snatched out of my reach by the merciless hand of death, before I could give her pardon through the deceitful sacramental absolution? I then believed, as the dead sinner herself had believed, that she could not be forgiven except by that absolution.
For there are not only thousands but millions of Roman Catholic girls and women whose keen sense of modesty and womanly dignity are above all the sophisms and diabolical machinations of their priests. They never can be persuaded to answer "Yes " to certain questions of their confessors. They would prefer to be thrown into the flames, and burnt to ashes with the Brahmin widows, rather than allow the eyes of a man to pry into the sacred sanctuary of their souls. Though sometimes guilty before God, and under the impression that their sins will never be forgiven if not confessed, the laws of decency are stronger in their hearts than the laws of their cruel and perfidious Church. No consideration, not even the fear of eternal damnation, can persuade them to declare to a sinful man, sins which God alone has the right to know, for He alone can blot them out with the blood of His Son, shed on the cross.
But what a wretched life must that be of those exceptional noble souls, which Rome keeps in the dark dungeons of her superstition? They read in all their books, and hear from all their pulpits, that if they conceal a single sin from their confessors they are forever lost! But, being absolutely unable to trample under their feet the laws of self-respect and decency, which God Himself has impressed in their souls, they live in constant dread of eternal damnation. No human words can tell their desolation and distress, when at the feet of their confessors, they find themselves under the horrible necessity of speaking of things, on which they would prefer to suffer the most cruel death rather than to open their lips, or to be forever damned if they do not degrade themselves forever in their own eyes, by speaking on matters which a respectable woman will never reveal to her own mother, much less to a man!
I have known only too many of these noble-hearted women, who, when alone with God, in a real agony of desolation and with burning tears, had asked Him to grant them what they considered the greatest favor, which was, to lose so much of their self-respect as to be enabled to speak of those unmentionable things, just as their confessors wanted them to speak; and, hoping that their petition had been granted, they went again to the confessional-box, determined to unveil their shame before the eyes of that inexorable man. But when the moment had come for the self-immolation, their courage failed, their knees trembled, their lips became pale as death, cold sweat poured from all their pores! The voice of modesty and womanly self-respect was speaking louder than the voice of their false religion. They had to go out of the confessional-box unpardoned -- nay, with the burden of a new sacrilege on their conscience.
Oh! how heavy is the yoke of Rome -- how bitter is human life -- how cheerless is the mystery of the cross to those deluded and perishing souls! How gladly they would rush into the blazing piles with the Brahmin women, if they could hope to see the end of their unspeakable miseries through the momentary tortures which would open to them the gates of a better life!
I do here publicly challenge the whole Roman Catholic priesthood to deny that the greater part of their female penitents remain a certain period of time -- some longer, some shorter -- under that most distressing state of mind.
Yes, by far the greater majority of women, at first, find it impossible to pull down the sacred barriers of self-respect which God Himself has built around their hearts, intelligences, and souls, as the best safeguard against the snares of this polluted world. Those laws of self-respect, by which they cannot consent to speak an impure word into the ears of a man, and which shut all the avenues of the heart against his unchaste questions, even when speaking in the name of God -- those laws of self-respect are so clearly written in their conscience, and they are so well understood by them, to be a most Divine gift, that, as I have already said, many prefer to run the risk of being forever lost by remaining silent.
It takes many years of the most ingenious (I do not hesitate to call it diabolical) efforts on the part of the priests to persuade the majority of their female penitents to speak on questions, which even pagan savages would blush to mention among themselves. Some persist in remaining silent on those matters during the greater part of their lives, and many prefer to throw themselves into the hands of their merciful God, and die without submitting to the defiling ordeal, even after they have felt the poisonous stings of the enemy, rather than receive their pardon from a man, who, as they feel, would have surely been scandalized by the recital of their human frailties. All the priests of Rome are aware of this natural disposition of their female penitents. There is not a single one -- no, not a single one of their moral theologians, who does not warn the confessors against that stern and general determination of the girls and married women never to speak in the confessional on matters which may, more or less, deal with sins against the seventh commandment. Dens, Liguori, Debreyne, Bailly, &c., -- in a word, all the theologians of Rome own that this is one of the greatest difficulties which the confessors have to contend with in the confessional-box.
Not a single Roman Catholic priest will dare to deny what I say on this matter; for they know that it would be easy for me to overwhelm them with such a crowd of testimonies that their grand imposture would forever be unmasked.
I intend, at some future day, if God spares me and gives me time for it, to make known some of the innumerable things which the Roman Catholic theologians and moralists have written on this question. It will form one of the most curious books ever written; and it will give unanswerable evidence of the fact that, instinctively, without consulting each other, and with an unanimity which is almost marvellous, the Roman Catholic women, guided by the honest instincts which God has given them, shrink from the snares put before them in the confessional-box; and that everywhere they struggle to nerve themselves with a superhuman courage, against the torturer who is sent by the Pope, to finish their ruin and to make shipwreck of their souls. Everywhere woman feels that there are things which ought never to be told, as there are things which ought never to be done, in the presence of the God of holiness. She understands that, to recite the history of certain sins, even of thought, is not less shameful and criminal than to do them; she hears the voice of God whispering into her ears, "Is it not enough that thou hast been guilty once, when alone in My presence, without adding to thine iniquity by allowing that man to know what should never have been revealed to him? Do you not feel that you make that man your accomplice, the very moment that you throw into his heart and soul the mire of your iniquities? He is as weak as you are, he is not less a sinner than yourself; what has tempted you will tempt him; what has made you weak will make him weak; what has polluted you will pollute him; what has thrown you down into the dust, will throw him into the dust. Is it not enough that My eyes had to look upon your iniquities? must My ears, to-day, listen to your impure conversation with that man? Were that man as holy as My prophet David, may he not fall before the unchaste unveiling of the new Bathsheba? Were he as strong as Samson, may he not find in you his tempting Delilah? Were he as generous as Peter, may he not become a traitor at the maid-servant's voice?"
Perhaps the world has never seen a more terrible, desperate, solemn struggle than the one which is going on in the soul of a poor trembling young woman, who, at the feet of that man, has to decide whether or not she will open her lips on those things which the infallible voice of God, united to the no less infallible voice of her womanly honor and self-respect, tell her never to reveal to any man!
The history of that secret, fierce, desperate, and deadly struggle has never yet, so far as I know, been fully given. It would draw the tears of admiration and compassion of the whole world, if it could be written with its simple, sublime, and terrible realities.
How many times have I wept as a child when some noble-hearted and intelligent young girl, or some respectable married woman, yielding to the sophisms with which I, or some other confessor, had persuaded them to give up their self-respect, and their womanly dignity, to speak with me on matters on which a decent woman should never say a word with a man. They have told me of their invincible repugnance, their horror of such questions and answers, and they have asked me to have pity on them. Yes! I have often wept bitterly on my degradation, when a priest of Rome! I
have realized all the strength, the grandeur, and the holiness of their motives for being silent on these defiling matters, and I could not but admire them. It seemed at times that they were speaking the language of angels of light; that I ought to fall at their feet, and ask their pardon for having spoken to them of questions, on which a man of honor ought never to converse with a woman whom he respects.
But alas! I had soon to reproach myself, and regret those short instances of my wavering faith in the infallible voice of my Church; I had soon to silence the voice of my conscience, which was telling me, "Is it not a shame that you, an unmarried man, dare to speak on these matters with a woman? Do you not blush to put such questions to a young girl? Where is your self-respect? where is your fear of God? Do you not promote the ruin of that girl by forcing her to speak with a man on such matters?
I was compelled by all the Popes, the moral theologians, and the Councils, of Rome, to believe that this warning voice of my merciful God was the voice of Satan; I had to believe in spite of my own conscience and intelligence, that it was good, nay, necessary, to put those polluting, damning questions. My infallible Church was mercilessly forcing me to oblige those poor, trembling, weeping, desolate girls and women, to swim with me and all her priests in those waters of Sodom and Gomorrah, under the pretext that their self-will would be broken down, their fear of sin and humility increased, and that they would be purified by our absolutions.
With what supreme distress, disgust, and surprise, we see, to-day, a great part of the noble Episcopal Church of England struck by a plague which seems incurable, under the name of Puseyism, or Ritualism, and bringing again -- more or less openly -- in many places the diabolical and filthy auricular confession among the Protestants of England, Australia and America. The Episcopal Church is doomed to perish in that dark and stinking pool of Popery -- auricular confession, if she does not find a prompt remedy to stop the plague brought by the disguised Jesuits, who are at work everywhere, to poison and enslave her too unsuspecting daughters and sons.
In the beginning of my priesthood, I was not a little surprised and embarrassed to see a very accomplished and beautiful young lady, whom I used to meet almost every week at her father's house, entering the box of my confessional. She had been used to confess to another young priest of my acquaintance, and she was always looked upon as one of the most pious girls of the city. Though she had disguised herself as much as possible, in order that I might not know her, I felt sure that I was not mistaken -- she was the amiable Mary * *
Not being absolutely certain of the correctness of my impressions, I left her entirely under the hope that she was a perfect stranger to me. At the beginning she could hardly speak; her voice was suffocated by her sobs; and through the little apertures of the thin partition between her and me, I saw two streams of big tears trickling down her cheeks.
After much effort, she said: "Dear Father, I hope you do not know me, and that you will never try to know me. I am a desperately great sinner. Oh! I fear that I am lost! But if there is still a hope for me to be saved, for God's sake, do not rebuke me! Before I begin my confession, allow me to ask you not to pollute my ears by questions which our confessors are in the habit of putting to their female penitents; I have already been destroyed by those questions. Before I was seventeen years old, God knows that His angels are not more pure than I was; but the chaplain of the Nunnery where my parents had sent me for my education, though approaching old age, put to me, in the confessional, a question which at first I did not understand, but, unfortunately, he had put the same questions to one of my young class-mates, who made fun of them in my presence, and explained them to me; for she understood them too well. This first unchaste conversation of my life plunged my thoughts into a sea of iniquity, till then absolutely unknown to me; temptations of the most humiliating character assailed me for a week, day and night; after which, sins which I would blot out with my blood, if it were possible, overwhelmed my soul as with a deluge. But the joys of the sinner are short. Struck with terror at the thought of the judgments of God, after a few weeks of the most deplorable life, I determined to give up my sins and reconcile myself to God. Covered with shame, and trembling from head to foot, I went to confess to my old confessor, whom I respected as a saint and cherished as a father. It seems to me that, with sincere tears of repentance, I confessed to him the greatest part of my sins, though I concealed one of them, through shame, and respect for my spiritual guide. But I did not conceal from him that the strange questions he had put to me at my last confession, were, with the natural corruption of my heart, the principal cause of my destruction.
He spoke to me very kindly, encouraged me to fight against my bad inclinations, and, at first, gave me very kind and good advice. But when I thought he had finished speaking, and as I was preparing to leave the confessional-box, he put to me two new questions of such a polluting character that, I fear neither the blood of Christ, nor all the fires of hell will ever be able to blot them out from my memory. Those questions have achieved my ruin; they have stuck to my mind like two deadly arrows; they are day and night before my imagination; they fill my very arteries and veins with a deadly poison.
"It is true that, at first, they filled me with horror and disgust; but alas! I soon got so accustomed to them that they seemed to be incorporated with me, and as if becoming a second nature. Those thoughts have become a new source of innumerable criminal thoughts, desires and actions.
"A month later, we were obliged by the rules of our convent to go and confess; but by this time, I was so completely lost, that I no longer blushed at the idea of confessing my shameful sins to a man; it was the very contrary. I had a real, diabolical pleasure in the thought that I should have a long conversation with my confessor on those matters, and that he would ask me more of his strange questions.
"In fact, when I had told him everything without a blush, he began to interrogate me, and God knows what corrupting things fell from his lips into my poor criminal heart! Every one of his questions was thrilling my nerves, and filling me with the most shameful sensations. After an hour of this criminal tete-a-tete with my old confessor (for it was nothing else but a criminal tete-a-tete), I perceived that he was as depraved as I was myself. With some half-covered words, he made a criminal proposition, which I accepted with covered words also; and during more than a year, we have lived together on the most sinful intimacy. Though he was much older than I, I loved him in the most foolish way. When the course of my convent instruction was finished, my parents called me back to their home. I was really glad of that change of residence, for I was beginning to be tired of my criminal life. My hope was that, under the direction of a better confessor, I should reconcile myself to God and begin a Christian life.
"Unfortunately for me, my new confessor, who was very young, began also his interrogations. He soon fell in love with me, and I loved him in a most criminal way. I have done with him things which I hope you will never request me to reveal to you, for they are too monstrous to be repeated, even in the confessional, by a woman to a man.
"I do not say these things to take away the responsibility of my iniquities with this young confessor, from my shoulders, for I think I have been more criminal than he was. It is my firm conviction that he was a good and holy priest before he knew me; but the questions he put to me, and the answers I had to give him, melted his heart -- I know it -- just as boiling lead would melt the ice on which it flows.
"I know this is not such a detailed confession as our holy Church requires me to make, but I have thought it necessary for me to give you this short history of the life of the greatest and most miserable sinner who ever asked you to help her to come out from the tomb of her iniquities. This is the way I have lived these last few years. But last Sabbath, God, in His infinite mercy, looked down upon me. He inspired you to give us the Prodigal Son as a model of true conversion, and as the most marvellous proof of the infinite compassion of the dear Saviour for the sinner. I have wept day and night since that happy day, when I threw myself into the arms of my loving merciful Father. Even now, I can hardly speak, because my regret for my past iniquities, and my joy that I am allowed to bathe the feet of the Saviour with tears, are so great that my voice is as choked.
"You understand that I have forever given up my last confessor. I come to ask you to do me the favor to receive me among your penitents. Oh! do not reject nor rebuke me, for the dear Saviour's sake! Be not afraid to have at your side such a monster of iniquity! But before going further, I have two favors to ask from you. The first is, that you will never do anything to ascertain my name; the second is, that you will never put to me any of those questions by which so many penitents are lost and so many priests forever destroyed. Twice I have been lost by those questions. We come to our confessors that they may throw upon our guilty souls the pure waters which flow from heaven to purify us; but instead of that, with their unmentionable questions, they pour oil on the burning fires which are already raging in our poor sinful hearts. Oh! dear father, let me become your penitent, that you may help me to go and weep with Magdalene at the Saviour's feet! Do respect me, as He respected that true model of all the sinful, but repenting women! Did our Saviour put to her any question? did He extort from her the history of things which a sinful woman cannot say without forgetting the respect she owes to herself and to God! No! you told us not long ago, that the only thing our Saviour did, was to look at her tears and her love. Well, please do that, and you will save me!"
I was then a very young priest, and never had any words so sublime come to my ears in the confessional-box. Her tears and her sobs, mingled with the frank declaration of the most humiliating actions, had made such a profound impression upon me that I was, for some time, unable to speak. It had come to my mind also that I might be mistaken about her identify, and that perhaps she was not the young lady that I had imagined. I could, then, easily grant her first request, which was to do nothing by which I could know her. The second part of her prayer was more embarrassing; for the theologians are very positive in ordering the confessors to question their penitents, particularly those of the female sex, in many circumstances.
I encouraged her in the best way I could, to persevere in her good resolutions, by invoking the blessed Virgin Mary and St. Philomene, who was, then, the Sainte a la mode, just as Marie Alacoque is to-day, among the blind slaves of Rome. I told her that I would pray and think over the subject of her second request; and I asked her to come back in a week for my answer.
The very same day, I went to my own confessor, the Rev. Mr. Baillargeon, then curate of Quebec, and afterwards Archbishop of Canada. I told him the singular and unusual request she had made, that I should never put to her any of those questions suggested by the theologians, to insure the integrity of the confession. I did not conceal from him that I was much inclined to grant her that favor; for I repeated what I had already several times told him, that I was supremely disgusted with the infamous and polluting questions which the theologians forced us to put to our female penitents. I told him frankly that several old and young priests had already come to confess to me; and that, with the exception of two, they had told me that they could not put those questions and hear the answers they elicited, without falling into the most damnable sins.
My confessor seemed to be much perplexed about what he should answer. "He asked me to come the next day, that he might review some of his theological books, in the interval. The next day, I took down in writing his answer, which I find in my old manuscripts, and I give it here in all its sad crudity: -- "Such cases of the destruction of female virtue by the questions of the confessors is an unavoidable evil. It cannot be helped; for such questions are absolutely necessary in the greater part of the cases with which we have to deal. Men generally confess their sins with so much sincerity that there is seldom any need for questioning them, except when they are very ignorant. But St. Liguori, as well as our personal observation, tells us that the greatest part of girls and women, through a false and criminal shame, very seldom confess the sins they commit against purity. It requires the utmost charity in the confessors to prevent those unfortunate slaves of their secret passions from making sacrilegious confessions and communions. With the greatest prudence and zeal he must question them on those matters, beginning with the smallest sins, and going, little by little, as much as possible by imperceptible degrees, to the most criminal actions. As it seems evident that the penitent referred to in your questions of yesterday, is unwilling to make a full and detailed confession of all her iniquities, you cannot promise to absolve her without assuring yourself by wise and prudent questions, that she has confessed everything.
"You must not be discouraged when, through the confessional or any other way, you learn the fall of priests into the common frailties of human nature with their penitents. Our Saviour knew very well that the occasions and the temptations we have to encounter, in the confessions of girls and women, are so numerous, and sometimes so irresistible, that many would fall. But He has given them the Holy Virgin Mary, who constantly asks and obtains their pardon; He has given them the sacrament of penance, where they can receive their pardon as often as they ask for it. The vow of perfect chastity is a great honor and privilege; but we cannot conceal from ourselves that it puts on our shoulders a burden which many cannot carry forever. St. Liguori says that we must not rebuke the penitent priest who falls only once a month; and some other trustworthy theologians are still more charitable."
This answer was far from satisfying me. It seemed to me composed of soft soap principles. I went back with a heavy heart and an anxious mind; and God knows that I made many fervent prayers that this girl should never come again to give me her sad history. I was hardly twenty-six years old, full of youth and life. It seemed to me that the stings of a thousand wasps to my ears would not do me so much harm as the words of that dear, beautiful, accomplished, but lost girl.
I do not mean to say that the revelations which she made, had, in any way, diminished my esteem and my respect for her. It was just the contrary. Her tears and her sobs, at my feet her agonizing expressions of shame and regret her noble words of protest against the disgusting and polluting interrogations of the confessors, had raised her very high in my mind. My sincere hope was that she would have a place in the kingdom of Christ with the Samaritan women, Mary Magdalene, and all the sinners who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.
At the appointed day, I was in my confessional, listening to the confession of a young man, when I saw Miss Mary entering the vestry, and coming directly to my confessional-box, where she knelt by me. Though she had, still more than at the first time, disguised herself behind a long, thick, black veil, I could not be mistaken; she was the very same amiable young lady in whose father's house I used to pass such pleasant and happy hours. I had often listened, with breathless attention, to her melodious voice, when she was giving us, accompanied by her piano, some of our beautiful Church hymns. Who could then see and hear her without almost worshipping her? The dignity of her steps, and her whole mien, when she advanced towards my confessional, entirely betrayed her and destroyed her incognito.
Oh! I would have given every drop of my blood in that solemn hour, that I might have been free to deal with her just as she had so eloquently requested me to do -- to let her weep and cry at the feet of Jesus to her heart's content; Oh! if I had been free to take her by the hand, and silently show her the dying Saviour, that she might have bathed His feet with her tears, and spread the oil of her love on His head, without my saying anything else but "Go in peace: thy sins are forgiven. "
But, there, in that confessional-box, I was not the servant of Christ, to follow His divine, saving words, and obey the dictates of my honest conscience. I was the slave of the Pope! I had to stifle the cry of my conscience, to ignore the inspirations of my God! There, my conscience had no right to speak; my intelligence was a dead thing! The theologians of the Pope, alone, had a right to be heard and obeyed! I was not there to save, but to destroy; for, under the pretext of purifying, the real mission of the confessor, often, if not always, in spite of himself, is to scandalise and damn the souls.
As soon as the young man who was making his confession at my left hand, had finished, I, without noise, turned myself towards her, and said, through the little aperture, "Are you ready to begin your confession?"
But she did not answer me. All that I could hear was: "Oh, my Jesus, have mercy upon me! I come to wash my soul in Thy blood; wilt thou rebuke me?"
During several minutes she raised her hands and her eyes to heaven, and wept and prayed. It was evident that she had not the least idea that I was observing her; she thought the door of the little partition between her and me was shut. But my eyes were fixed upon her; my tears were flowing with her tears, and my ardent prayers were going to the feet of Jesus with her prayers. I would not have interrupted her for any consideration, in this, her sublime communion with her merciful Saviour.
But after a pretty long time, I made a little noise with my hand, and putting my lips near the opening of the partition which was between us, I said in a low voice, "Dear sister, are you ready to begin your confession?"
She turned her face a little towards me, and said with trembling voice, "Yes, dear father, I am ready."
But she then stopped again to weep and pray, though I could not hear what she said.
After some time of silent prayer, I said, "My dear sister, if you are ready, please begin your confession." She then said, "My dear father, do you remember the prayers which I made to you, the other day? Can you allow me to confess my sins without forcing me to forget the respect that I owe to myself, to you, and to God, who hears us? And can you promise that you will not put to me any of those questions which have already done me such irreparable injury? I frankly declare to you that there are sins in me that I cannot reveal to anyone, except to Christ, because He is my God, and that He already knows them all. Let me weep and cry at His feet: can you not forgive me without adding to my iniquities by forcing me to say things that the tongue of a Christian woman cannot reveal to a man?"
"My dear sister," I answered, were I free to follow the voice of my own feelings I would be only too happy to grant your request; but I am here only as the minister of our holy Church, and bound to obey her laws. Through her most holy Popes and theologians she tells me that I cannot forgive your sins if you do not confess them all, just as you have committed them. The Church tells me also that you must give the details which may add to the malice or change the nature of your sins. I am also sorry to tell you that our most holy theologians make it a duty of the confessor to question the penitent on the sins which he has good reason to suspect have been voluntarily or involuntarily omitted."
With a piercing cry, she exclaimed, Then, O my God, I am lost -- forever lost!"
This cry fell upon me like a thunderbolt; but I was still more terror-stricken when, looking through the aperture, I saw she was fainting; I heard the noise of her body falling upon the floor, and of her head striking against the sides of the confessional-box.
Quick as lightning I ran to help her, took her in my arms, and called a couple of men who were at a little distance, to assist me in laying her on a bench. I washed her face with some cold water and vinegar. She was, as pale as death, but her lips were moving, and she was saying something which nobody but I could understand --
"I am lost -- lost forever!"
We took her home to her disconsolate family, where, during a month, she lingered between life and death. Her two first confessors came to visit her; but having asked every one to go out of the room, she politely, but absolutely, requested them to go away, and never come again. She asked me to visit her every day., "for," she said, "I have only a few more days to live. Help me to prepare myself for the solemn hour which will open to me the gates of eternity!"
Every day I visited her, and I prayed and I wept with her.
Many times, when alone, with tears I requested her to finish her confession; but, with a firmness which, then, seemed to be mysterious and inexplicable, she politely rebuked me.
One day, when alone with her, I was kneeling by the side of her bed to pray, I was unable to articulate a single word, because of the inexpressible anguish of my soul on her account, she asked me, "Dear father, why do you weep?"
I answered, "How can you put such a question to your murderer! I weep because I have killed you, dear friend."
This answer seemed to trouble her exceedingly. She was very weak that day. After she had wept and prayed in silence, she said, "do not weep for me, but weep for so many priests who destroy their penitents in the confessional. I believe in the holiness of the sacrament of penance, since our holy Church has established it. But there is, somewhere, something exceedingly wrong in the confessional. Twice I have been destroyed, and I know many girls who have also been destroyed by the confessional. This is a secret, but will that secret be kept forever? I pity the poor priests the day that our fathers will know what becomes of the purity of their daughters in the hands of their confessors. Father would surely kill my two last confessors, if he could know how they have destroyed his poor child."
I could not answer except by weeping.
We remained silent for a long time; then she said, "It is true that I was not prepared for the rebuke you have given me, the other day, in the confessional; but you acted conscientiously as a good and honest priest. I know you must be bound by certain laws."
She then pressed my hand with her cold hand and said, "Weep not, dear father, because that sudden storm has wrecked my too fragile bark. This storm was to take me out from the bottomless sea of my iniquities to the shore where Jesus was waiting to receive and pardon me. The night after you brought me, half dead, here, to father's house, I had a dream. Oh, no! it was not a dream, it was a reality. My Jesus came to me; He was bleeding; His crown of thorns was on His head, the heavy cross was bruising his shoulders. He said to me, with a voice so sweet that no human tongue can imitate it, "I have seen thy tears, I have heard thy cries, and I know thy love for Me: thy sins are forgiven; take courage; in a few days thou shalt be with me!"
She had hardly finished her last word, when she fainted; and I feared lest she should die just then, when I was alone with her.
I called the family, who rushed into the room. The doctor was sent for. He found her so weak that he thought proper to allow only one or two persons to remain in the room with me. He requested us not to speak at all: "For," said he, the least emotion may kill her instantly; her disease is, in all probability, an aneurism of the aorta, the big vein which brings the blood to the heart: when it breaks, she will go as quick as lightning."
It was nearly ten at night when I left the house, to go and take some rest. But it is not necessary to say that I passed a sleepless night. My dear Mary was there, pale, dying from the deadly blow which I had given her in the confessional. She was there, on her bed of death, her heart pierced with the dagger which my Church had put into my hands! and instead of rebuking, and cursing me for my savage, merciless fanaticism, she was blessing me! She was dying from a broken heart, and I was not allowed by my Church to give her a single word of consolation and hope, for she had not made her confession! I had mercilessly bruised that tender plant, and there was nothing in my hands to heal the wounds I had made!
It was very probable that she would die the next day, and I was forbidden to show her the crown of glory which Jesus has prepared in His kingdom for the repenting sinner!
My desolation was really unspeakable, and I think I would have been suffocated and have died that night, if the stream of tears which constantly flowed from my eyes had not been as a balm to my distressed heart.
How dark and long the hours of that night seemed to me!
Before the dawn of day, I arose to read my theologians again, and see if I could not find some one who would allow me to forgive the sins of that dear child, without forcing her to tell me everything she had done. But they seemed to me, more than ever, unanimously inexorable, and I put them back on the shelves of my library with a broken heart.
At nine A.M. the next day, I was by the bed of our dear sick Mary. I cannot sufficiently tell the joy I felt, when the doctor and the whole family said to me, "She is much better; the rest of last night has wrought a marvellous change indeed."
With a really angelic smile she extended her hand towards me, that I might press it in mine; and she said, "I thought, last evening, that the dear Saviour would take me to Him, but He wants me, dear father, to give you a little more trouble; however, be patient, it cannot be long before the solemn hour of the appeal will ring. Will you please read me the history of the suffering and death of the beloved Saviour, which you read me the other day? It does me so much good to see how He has loved me, such a miserable sinner."
There was a calm and a solemnity in her words which struck me singularly, as well as all those who were there.
After I had finished reading, she exclaimed, "He has loved me so much that He died for my sins!" And she shut her eyes as if to meditate in silence, but there was a stream of big tears rolling down her checks.
I knelt down by her bed, with her family, to pray; but I could not utter a single word. The idea that this dear child was there, dying from the cruel fanaticism of my theologians and my own cowardice in obeying them, was as a mill-stone to my neck. It was killing me.
Oh! if by dying a thousand times, I could have added a single day to her life, with what pleasure I would have accepted those thousand deaths!
After we had silently prayed and wept by her bedside, she requested her mother to leave her alone with me.
When I saw myself alone, under the irresistible impression that this was her last day, I fell on my knees again, and with tears of the most sincere compassion for her soul, I requested her to shake off her shame and to obey our holy Church, which requires every one to confess their sins if they want to be forgiven.
She calmly, but with an air of dignity which no human words can express, said, "Is it true that, after the sin of Adam and Eve, God Himself made coats and skins; and clothed them, that they might not see each other's nakedness?"
"Yes," I said, this is what the Holy Scriptures tell us."
"Well, then, how is it possible that our confessors dare to take away from as that holy, divine coat of modesty and self respect? Has not Almighty God Himself made, with His own hands, that coat of womanly modesty and self-respect, that we might not be to you and to ourselves, a cause of shame and sin?"
I was really stunned by the beauty, simplicity, and sublimity of that comparison. I remained absolutely mute and confounded. Though it was demolishing all the traditions and doctrines of my Church, and pulverizing all my holy doctors and theologians, that noble answer found such an echo in my soul, that it seemed to me a sacrilege to try to touch it with my finger.
After a short time of silence, she continued, "Twice I have been destroyed by priests in the confessional. They took away from me that divine coat of modesty and self-respect which God gives to every human being who comes into this world, and twice, I have become for those very priests a deep pit of perdition, into which they have fallen, and where, I fear, they are forever lost! My merciful heavenly Father has given me back that coat of skins, that nuptial robe of modesty, self-respect, and holiness, which had been taken away from me. He cannot allow you or any other man, to tear again and spoil that vestment which is the work of His hands."
These words had exhausted her; it was evident to me that she wanted some rest. I left her alone, but I was absolutely beside myself. Filled with admiration for the sublime lessons which I had received from the lips of that regenerated daughter of Eve, who, it was evident, was soon to fly away from us, I felt a supreme disgust for myself, my theologians, and -- shall I say it? yes, I felt in that solemn hour a supreme disgust for my Church, which was so cruelly defiling me, and all her priests in the confessional-box. I felt, in that hour, a supreme horror for that auricular confession, which is so often a pit of perdition and supreme misery for the confessor and penitent. I went out and walked two hours on the Plains of Abraham, to breathe the pure and refreshing air of the mountain. There, alone, I sat on a stone, on the very spot where Wolfe and Montcalm had fought and died; and I wept to my heart's content, on my irreparable degradation, and the degradation of so many priests through the confessional.
At four o'clock in the afternoon I went back again to the house of my dear dying Mary. The mother took me apart, and very politely said, "My dear Mr. Chiniquy, do you not think it is time that our dear child should receive the last sacraments? She seemed to be much better this morning, and we were full of hope; but she is now rapidly sinking. Please lose no time in giving her the holy viaticum and the extreme unction."
I said, "Yes, madam: let me pass a few minutes alone with our poor dear child, that I may prepare her for the last sacraments."
When alone with her, I again fell on my knees, and, amidst torrents of tears, I said, ' Dear sister, it is my desire to give you the holy viaticum and the extreme unction; but tell me, how can I dare to do a thing so solemn against all the prohibitions of our Holy Church? How can I give you the holy communion without first giving you absolution? and how can I give you absolution when you earnestly persist in telling me that you have many sins which you will never declare either to me or any other confessor?
" You know that I cherish and respect you as if you were an angel sent to me from heaven. You told me the other day, that you blessed the day that you first saw and knew me. I say the same thing. I bless the day that I have known you; I bless every hour that I have spent by your bed of suffering; I bless every tear which I have shed with you on your sins and on my own; I bless every hour we have passed together in looking to the wounds of our beloved, dying Saviour; I bless you for having forgiven me your death! for I know it, and I confess it in the presence of God, I have killed you, dear sister. But now I prefer a thousand times to die than to say to you a word which would pain you in any way, or trouble the peace of your soul. Please, my dear sister, tell me what I can and must do for you in this solemn hour."
Calmly, and with a smile of joy such as I had never seen before, nor seen since, she said, "I thank and bless you, dear father, for the parable of the Prodigal Son, on which you preached a month ago. You have brought me to the feet of the dear Saviour; there I have found a peace and a joy surpassing anything the human heart can feel; I have thrown myself into the arms of my Heavenly Father, and I know He has mercifully accepted and forgiven His poor prodigal child! Oh, I see the angels with their golden harps around the throne of the Lamb! Do you not hear the celestial harmony of their songs? I go -- I go to join them in my Father's house. I SHALL NOT BE LOST!"
While she was thus speaking to me, my eyes were really turned into two fountains of tears; I was unable, as well as unwilling, to see anything, so entirely overcome was I by the sublime words which were flowing from the dying lips of that dear child, who was no more a sinner, but a real angel of Heaven to me. I was listening to her words; there was a celestial music in every one of them. But she had raised her voice in such a strange way, when she had begun to say, "I go to my Father's house," and she had made such a cry of joy when she had let the last words, "not be lost," escape her lips, that I raised my head and opened my eyes to look at her. I suspected that something strange had occurred.
I got upon my feet, passed my handkerchief over my face to wipe away the tears which were preventing me from seeing with accuracy, and looked at her.
Her hands were crossed on her breast, and there was on her face the expression of a really superhuman joy; her beautiful eyes were fixed as if they were looking on some grand and sublime spectacle; it seemed to me, at first, that she was praying.
In that very instant the mother rushed into the room, crying, My God! my God! what does that cry 'lost' mean?" -- For her last words, "not to be lost," particularly the last one, had been pronounced with such a powerful voice, that they had been heard almost everywhere in the house.
I made a sign with my hand to prevent the distressed mother from making any noise and troubling her dying child in her prayer, for I really thought that she had stopped speaking, as she used so often to do, when alone with me, in order to pray. But I was mistaken. That redeemed soul had gone, on the golden wings of love, to join the multitude of those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, to sing the eternal Alleluia.