Chapter XLIX




Among the learned and holy brethren and sons of St Francis, who, as Solomon says, form the glory of their Father, was the venerable and holy Brother John of Fermo, of the province of Ancona, who lived in our times. Having spent the greater part of his life in the holy house of Alvernia, he died there, and was known by the name of Brother John of Alvernia; he was man of great holiness and great sanctity.

This Brother John, when he was a child, greatly loved the ways of penance, which preserve the purity both of the body and of the soul; and at a very tender age he began to wear a belt of iron, and to observe great fasting and abstinence; more especially he used these mortifications when he was residing with the Canons of San Pietro di Fermo, who lived in great luxury; he avoided all pleasures, and macerated his body with great severity. His companions, being against such penitential ways, tried by every means to turn him from them, taking from him his instruments of penance, and preventing him from fasting; wherefore the holy child, inspired by God, resolved to leave the world and its worshippers, and to put himself in the arms of his crucified Lord, taking the habit of the crucified St Francis; which he did. Being received into the Order so young, and confided to the care of the master of the novices, he grew so spiritual and so devout, that whenever he heard the said master speak of God, he felt his heart to burn within him, as if it had been on fire, so that it was impossible for him to remain quiet, and he ran to and fro in the garden, in the forest, and even in the church; for so sweet was the sensation he experienced, that it seemed to him as if his heart was melted like wax before the fire. As time went on, this holy youth advanced from virtue to virtue, and his soul was adorned and enriched with spiritural gifts; he was often rapt in ecstasy, so that his mind was raised at times to the splendours of the cherubim, at times to the ardour of the seraphim and the joys of the beatified. At one time this ecstasy of divine love, which seemed, as it were, to set his heart on fire, lasted for three years, and this took place on the holy mountain of Alvernia.

But as God takes especial care of his children, sending them at divers times consolation or tribulation, adversity or prosperity, according to their need, in order to preserve in them the grace of humility, or to awaken in their hearts a greater thirst after spiritual things, so it pleased his divine bounty, when the three years were ended, to withdraw from Brother John this flame of celestial love, and take from him every spiritual consolation. Then was Brother John most disconsolate and sorrowful, and this great trial made him so miserable, that he wandered about the forest, crying out with sighs and tears for the beloved Spouse of his soul, for without his presence his soul could enjoy neither peace nor rest. Yet nowhere could he find his Beloved, or recover those sweet spiritual sensations to which the love of Christ had accustomed him. Now this trial lasted several days, during which time he persevered in prayer, weeping and sighing, and imploring the Lord to take pity on his soul, and restore to him his Beloved. At last, his patience having been sufficiently tried, as he was wandering one day sorrowfully in the forest he sat down, overcome with fatigue; and as he was gazing up to heaven, with his eyes full of tears, Jesus Christ, the blessed one, appeared to him, standing in silence on the path by which he himself had come. Brother John knew him to be the Christ, and throwing himself at his feet he burst into a flood of tears, and thus addressed him: "Help me, O my Lord! for without thee, my sweet Saviour, I am all in sorrow and in darkness; without thee, gentle Lamb, I am in anguish and fear; without thee, Son of the most high God, I am in confusion and in shame; without thee, I am despoiled of every good, for thou art Jesus Christ, the true light of my soul; without thee, I am lost and damned, for thou art the life of souls, the life of life; without thee, I am sterile and unfruitful, for thou art the foundation of every grace; without thee, I can have no consolation, for thou, O Jesus, art our Redeemer, our love, our desire, the bread of comfort, the wine which rejoices the hearts of angels and of saints; enlighten me, O pitying Shepherd, for I am thy lamb, albeit most unworthy." When the Lord delays to grant the desires of holy men, their love towards him greatly increaseth; for the which reason Christ, the blessed one, left Brother John, going from him without granting his request, and without speaking to him. Then Brother John arose, and running after Him threw himself again at his feet, imploring him not to leave him, and crying out: "O Jesus Christ, most sweet Saviour, have mercy on me in my trouble; by the truth of thy salvation and the multitude of thy mercies, restore to me the joy of thy countenance, and cast upon me a look of pity; for the earth is full of thy mercy"; but the Lord Jesus went from him without saying a word, or leaving him any consolation.

Then Brother John followed him with great fervour, and when he came up to him, Christ, the blessed one, turned round, and looking at him most sweetly, he opened his holy and merciful arms and embraced him; and when he opened his arms Brother John saw rays of light come from his holy bosom, which lighted up all the forest, as well as his own soul and body. Then Brother John knelt down at the feet of Christ, the blessed one, who, as he had given his foot to Mary Magdalene to kiss, so now gave he it to Brother John. Then Brother John, taking it with great reverence, bathed it with his tears like another Magdalene, saying most devoutly, "I pray thee, my Lord, look not at my sins, but, by thy holy Passion and by the precious Blood which thou hast shed, awaken my soul to the grace of thy love; for thou hast commanded us to love thee with all our heart and with all our strength; which commandment none can fulfill without thy help. Help me, then, beloved Son of God, that I may love thee with all my heart and all my strength."

And as Brother John was thus praying at the feet of Christ his prayer was granted, and the flame of divine love which he had lost was restored to him, and he felt himself greatly comforted. Then knowing that the gift of divine grace had been restored to him, he began to return thanks to Christ, the blessed one, and devoutly to kiss his feet. Then standing up, and looking on the Saviour's face, Jesus Christ gave him his holy hands to kiss; and having kissed them, Brother John approached the bosom of Christ, and embraced him. Christ, the blessed one, received him in his arms; and as Brother John embraced the Saviour, and was embraced by him, the air was filled with the sweetest perfumes, so sweet that no other perfume in the world could be compared with them. Thus was Brother John consoled, enlightened, and rapt in ecstasy, and this sweet perfume lasted in his soul for many months; and thenceforth from his lips, which had drunk at the fountain of divine wisdom on the sacred bosom of the Saviour, there fell most wonderful and celestial words, which changed the hearts of those who heard them, producing great fruit in souls; and for a long time, whenever Brother John followed the path in the forest where the blessed feet of Christ had passed, he saw the same wonderful light and breathed the same sweet odour. When Brother John came back to himself after this vision, though the corporal presence of Christ had disappeared, his mind was so enlightened and so imbued with divine wisdom, that although he was not a learned man or versed in human studies, he explained most wonderfully the most difficult questions on the Holy Trinity and the profound mysteries of Holy Writ; and when speaking before the Pope, the cardinals, the king, the barons, the masters, and doctors, they were surprised at his sublime discourse, and at the words of wisdom which he pronounced.