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The 15th of August, 1850, I preached
in the Cathedral of Montreal, on the Blessed Virgin Mary's power in heaven,
when interceding for sinners, I was sincerely devoted to the Virgin Mary. Nothing
seemed to me more natural than to pray to her, and rely on her protection. The
object of my sermon was to show that Jesus Christ cannot refuse any of the petitions
presented to Him by His mother; that she has always obtained the favours she
asked her Son, Jesus, to grant to her devotees. Of course, my address was more
sentimental than scriptural, as it is the style among the priests of Rome. But
I was honest; and I sincerely believed what I said.
"Who among you, my dear brethren," I said to the people, "will refuse any of the reasonable demands of a beloved mother? Who will break and sadden her loving heart when, with supplicating voice and tears, she presents to you a petition which it is in your power, nay, to your interest, to grant? For my own part, were my beloved mother still living, I would prefer to have my right hand crushed and burned into cinders, to have my tongue cut out, than to say, No! to my mother, asking me any favour which it was in my power to bestow. These are the sentiments which the God of Sinai wanted to engrave in the very hearts of humanity, when giving His laws to Moses, in the midst of lightning and thunders, and these are the sentiments which the God of the Gospel wanted to impress on our souls by the shedding of His blood on Calvary. The sentiments of filial respect and obedience to our mothers, Christ Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Mary, practiced to perfection. Although God and man, He was still in perfect submission to the will of His mother, of which He makes a law to each of us. The Gospel says, in reference to His parents, Joseph and Mary, He 'was subject unto them' (Luke ii. 51). What a grand and shining revelation we have in these few short words: Jesus was subject unto Mary! Is it not written, that Jesus is the same today, as He was yesterday, and will be for ever? (Heb. xiii. 8). He has not changed. He is still the Son of Mary, as He was when only twelve years old. In His divine humanity, He is still subject unto Mary, as He was then. This is why our holy Church, which is the pillar and fountain of Truth, invites you and me, today, to put an unbounded confidence in her intercession. Remembering that Jesus has always granted the petitions presented to Him by His divine mother, let us put our petitions in her hands, if we want to receive the favours we are in need of.
"The second reason why we must all go to Mary, for the favours we want from heaven, is that we are sinners rebels in the sight of God. Jesus Christ is our Saviour. Yes! but He is also our God, infinitely just, infinitely holy. He hates our sins with an infinite hatred. He abhors our rebellions with an infinite, a godly hatred. If we had loved and served Him faithfully we might go to Him, not only with the hope, but with the assurance of being welcomed. But we have forgotten and offended Him; we have trampled His blood under our feet; we have joined with those who nailed Him on the cross, pierced His heart with the lance, and shed His blood to the last drop. We belong to the crowd which mocked at His tortures, and insulted Him at His death. How can we dare to look at Him and meet His eyes? Must we not tremble in His presence? Must we not fear before that Lion of the tribe of Judah whom we have wounded and nailed to the cross? Where is the rebel who does not shiver, when he is dragged to the feet of the mighty Prince against whom he has drawn the sword? What will he do if he wants to obtain pardon? Will he go himself and speak to that offended Majesty? No! But he looks around the throne to see if he can find some of the great officers, and friends, or some powerful and influential person through whose intercession he can obtain pardon. If he finds any such, he goes immediately to him, puts his petitions into their hands, and they go to the foot of the throne to plead for the rebel, and the favour which would have been indignantly refused to the guilty subject, had he dared to speak himself, is granted, when it is asked by a faithful officer, a kind friend, a dear sister, or a beloved mother. This is why our holy church, speaking through her infallible supreme pontiff, the Vicar of Christ, Gregory XVI., has told us, in the most solemn manner, that 'Mary is the only hope of sinners.'"
Winding up my arguments, I added: "We are those insolent ungrateful rebels. Jesus is that King of kings against whom we have, a thousand times, risen in rebellion. He has a thousand good reasons to refuse our petitions, if we are impudent enough to speak to Him ourselves. But look at the right hand of the offended King, and behold His dear and divine mother. She is your mother also. For it is to every one of us, as well as to John, that Christ said on the cross, speaking of Mary, 'Behold thy mother' (John xix. 27). Jesus has never refused any favour asked by that Queen of Heaven. He cannot rebuke His mother. Let us go to her; let us ask her to be our advocate and plead our cause, and she will do it. Let us suppliantly request her to ask for our pardon, and she will get it."
I then sincerely took these glittering sophisms for the true religion of Christ, as all the priests and people of Rome are bound to take them today, and presented them with all the earnestness of an honest, though deluded mind.
My sermon had made a visible and deep impression. Bishop Prince, coadjutor of my Lord Bourget, who was among my hearers, thanked and congratulated me for the good effect it would have on the people, and I sincerely thought I had said what was true and right before God.
But when night came, before going to bed, I took my Bible as usual, knelt down before God, in the neat little room I occupied in the bishop's palace, and read the twelfth chapter of Matthew, with a praying heart and a sincere desire to understand it, and be benefited thereby. Strange to say! when I reached the 40th verse, I felt a mysterious awe, as if I had entered for the first time into a new and most holy land. Though I had read that verse and the following many times, they came to my mind with a freshness and newness as if I had never seen them before. There was a lull in my mind for some moments. Slowly, and with breathless attention, supreme veneration and respect, I read the history of that visit of Mary to the sacred spot where Jesus, my Saviour, was standing in the midst of the crowd feeding His happy hearers with the bread of life.
When I contemplated that blessed Mary, whom I loved, as so tenderly approaching the house where she was to meet her divine Son, who had been so long absent from her, my heart suddenly throbbed in sympathy with hers. I felt as if sharing her unspeakable joy at every step which brought her nearer to her adorable and beloved Son. What tears had she not shed when Jesus had left her alone, in her now, poor, and cheerless home, that He might preach the Gospel in the distant places, where His Father had sent Him! With Jesus in her humble home, was she not more happy then than the greatest queen on her throne! Did she not possess a treasure more precious than all the world! How sweet to her ears and heart were the words she had heard from His lips!
How lovely the face of the most beautiful among the sons of men! How happy she must have felt, when she heard that He was, now, near enough to allow her to go and see Him! How quick were her steps. How cheerful and interesting the meeting! How the beloved Saviour will repay by His respectful and divine love to His beloved mother, the trouble and the fatigue of her long journey! My heart beat with joy at the privilege of witnessing that interview, and of hearing the respectful words Jesus would address to His mother!
With heart and soul throbbing with these feelings, I slowly read "While He yet talked to the people, behold His mother and His brethren stood without, desiring to speak with Him. Then one said unto Him: Behold, Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with Thee. But He answered and said unto him that told Him: Who is My mother? and Who are My brethren? And He stretched forth His hands towards His disciples, and said: Behold My mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in Heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother."
I had hardly finished reading the last verse, when big drops of sweat began to flow from my face, my heart beat with a tremendous speed, and I came near fainting; I sat in my large arm-chair, expecting every minute to fall on the floor. Those alone who have stood several hours at the falls of the marvelous Niagara, heard the thundering noise of its waters, and felt the shaking of the rocks under their feet, can have any idea of what I felt in that hour of agony.
A voice, the voice of my conscience, whose thunders were like the voice of a thousand Niagaras was telling me: "Do you not see that you have preached a sacrilegious lie this morning, when, from the pulpit, you said to your ignorant and deluded people, that Jesus always granted the petitions of His mother, Mary? Are you not ashamed to deceive yourself, and deceive your poor countrymen with such silly falsehoods?"
"Read, read again these words! and understand that, far from granting all the petitions of Mary, Jesus has always, except when a child, said No! to her requests. He has always rebuked her, when she asked Him anything in public! Here she comes to ask Him a favour before the whole people. It is the easiest, the most natural favour that a mother ever asked of her son. It is a favour that a son has never refused to a mother. He answers by a rebuke, a public and solemn rebuke! It is through want of love and respect for Mary that He gave her that rebuke? No! Never a son loved and respected a mother as He did. But it was a solemn protest against the blasphemous worship of Mary as practiced in the Church of Rome."
I felt at once so bewildered and confounded, by the voice which was shaking my very bones, that I thought it was the devil's voice; and, for a moment, I feared less I was possessed of a demon. "My God," I cried, "have mercy on me! Come to my help! Save me from my enemy's hands!" As quick as lightning the answer came: "It is not Satan's voice you hear. It is I, thy Saviour and thy God, who speaks to thee. Read what Mark, Luke, and John tell you about the way I received her petitions, from the very day I began to work, and speak publicly as the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world."
These cries of my awakening intelligence were sounding in my ears for more than one hour, before I consented to obey them. At last, with a trembling hand, and a distressed mind, I took my Bible and read in St. Mark: "There came then His brethren and his mother, and standing without, sent unto Him, calling Him. And the multitude sat about Him and they said unto Him, Behold, Thy mother and Thy brethren without, seek for Thee. And He answered them, saying, Who is My mother, or My brethren? And He looked around about on them which sat about Him, and said, Behold My mother and My brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and My sister, and mother" (Mark iii. 31 35).
The reading of these words acted upon me as the shock of a sword going through and through the body of one who had already been mortally wounded. I felt absolutely confounded. The voice continued to sound in my ears: "Do you not see you have presented a blasphemous lie, every time you said that Jesus always granted the petitions of His mother?"
I remained again, a considerable time, bewildered, not knowing how to fight down thoughts which were so mercilessly shaking my faith, and demolishing the respect I had kept, till then, for my Church. After more than half an hour of vain struggle to silence these thoughts, it came to my mind that St. Luke had narrated this interview of Mary and Jesus in a very different way. I opened the holy book again to read the eighth chapter. But how shall I find words to express my distress when I saw that the rebuke of Jesus Christ was expressed in a still sterner way by St. Luke than by the two other evangelists! "Then came to Him His mother and His brethren, and could not come at Him for the press. And it was told Him by certain which said, Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to see Thee. And He answered and said unto them, My mother and My brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it" (Luke viii. 19-21).
It then seemed to me as if those three evangelists said to me: "How dare you preach with your apostate and lying Church, that Jesus has always granted all the petitions of Mary, when we were ordered by God to write and proclaim that all the public petitions she had presented to Him, when working as the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world, had been answered by a public rebuke?"
What could I answer? How could I stand the rebuke of these three evangelists? Trembling from head to foot, I fell upon my knees, crying to the Virgin Mary to come to my help and pray that I might not succumb to this temptation, and lose my faith and confidence in her. But the more I prayed, the louder the voice seemed to say: "How dare you preach that Jesus has always granted the petitions of Mary, when we tell you the contrary by the order of God Himself?"
My desolation became such, that a cold sweat covered my whole frame again; my head was aching, and I think I would have fainted had I not been released by a torrent of tears. In my distress, I cried: "Oh! my God! my God! look down upon me in Thy mercy; strengthen my faith in Thy Holy Church! Grant me to follow her voice and obey her commands with more and more fidelity; she is Thy beloved Church. She cannot err. She cannot be an apostate Church." But in vain I wept and cried for help. My whole being was filled with dismay and terror from the voices of the three witnesses, who were crying louder and louder:
"How dare you preach that Christ has always granted the petitions of Mary, when the gospels, written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, tell you so clearly the contrary?"
When I had, in vain, wept, prayed, cried, and struggled from ten at night till three in the morning, the miraculous change of water into wine, by Christ, at the request of his mother, suddenly came to my mind. I felt a momentary relief from my terrible distress, by the hope that I could prove to myself that in this case the Saviour had obeyed he demands of His holy mother. I eagerly opened my Bible again and read:
"And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and His disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto Him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it" (John ii. 1-5).
Till that hour I had always accepted that text in the sense given in the Church of Rome, as proving that the very first miracle of Jesus Christ was wrought at the request of His mother. And I was preparing myself to answer the three mysterious witnesses: "Here is the proof that you are three devils, and not three evangelists, when you tell me that Jesus has never granted the petitions of His mother, except when a child. Here is the glorious title of Mary to my confidence in her intercession; here is the seal of her irresistible superhuman power over her divine Son; here is the undeniable evidence that Jesus cannot refuse anything asked by His divine mother!" But when, armed with these explanations of the church, I was preparing to meet what Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke had just told me, a sudden distressing thought came to my mind; and this thought was as if I heard the three witnesses saying: "How can you be so blind as not to see that instead of being a favour granted to Mary, this first miracle is the first opportunity chosen by Christ to protest against her intercession. It is a solemn warning to Mary never to ask anything from Him, and to us, never to put any confidence in her requests. Here, Mary, evidently full of compassion for those poor people, who had not the means to provide the wine for the guests who had come with Jesus, wants her Son to give them the wine they wanted. How does Christ answer her requests? He answers it by a rebuke, a most solemn rebuke. Instead of saying, "Yes, mother, I will do as you wish," He says, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" which clearly means, "Woman, thou hast nothing to do in this matter. I do not want you to speak to me of the bridegroom's distress. It was My desire to come to their help and show My divine power. I do not want you to put yourself between the wants of humanity and Me. I do not want the world to believe that you had any right, any power or influence over me, or more compassion on the miseries of man than I have. Is it not to Me and Me alone, the lost children of Adam must look to be saved? Woman, what have I to do with thee in My great work of saving this perishing world? Nothing, absolutely nothing. I know what I have to do to fulfill, not our will, but My Father's will!"
This is what Jesus meant by the solemn rebuke given to Mary. He wanted to banish all idea of her ever becoming an intercessor between man and Christ. He wanted to protest against the doctrine of the Church of Rome, that it is through Mary that He will bestow His favour to His disciples, and Mary understood it well when she said, "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it." Never come to me, but got to Him. "For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts iv. 12).
Every one of these thoughts passed over my distressed soul like a hurricane. Every sentence was like a flash of lightning in a dark night. I was like the poor dismantled ship suddenly overtaken by the tempest in the midst of the ocean.
Till the dawn of day, I felt powerless against the efforts of God to pull down and demolish the huge fortress of sophisms, falsehoods, idolatries, which Rome had built around my soul. What a fearful thing it is to fight against the Lord!
During the long hours of that night, my God was contending with me, and I was struggling against Him. But though brought down to the dust, I was not conquered. My understanding was very nearly convinced. My rebellious and proud will was not yet ready to yield.
The chains by which I was tied to the feet of the idols of Rome, though rudely shaken, were not yet broken. However, to say the truth, my views about the worship of Mary had received a severe shock, and were much modified. That night had been sleepless; and in the morning my eyes were red, and my face swollen with my tears. When at breakfast, Bishop Prince, who was sitting by me, asked: "Are you sick? Your eyes are as if you had wept all night?" "Your lordship is not mistaken, I have wept the whole night!" I answered. "Wept all the night!" replied the bishop. "Might I know the cause of your sorrow?" "Yes, my lord. You can, you must know it. But please come to your room. What I have to say is of such a private and delicate nature, that I want to be alone with your lordship, when opening my mind to the cause of my tears."
Bishop Prince, then coadjutor of Bishop Bourget and late bishop of St. Hyacinthe, where he became insane in 1858 and died in 1860, had been my personal friend from the time I entered the college at Nicolet, where he was professor of Rhetoric. He very often came to confession to me, and had taken a lively interest in my labours on temperance.
When alone with him, I said: "My lord, I thank you for your kindness in allowing me to unburden my heart to you. I have passed the most horrible night of my life. Temptations against our holy religion such as I never had before, have assailed me all night. Your lordship remembers the kind words you addressed to me yesterday about the sermon I preached. But, last night, very different things came to my mind, which have changed the joys of yesterday into the most unspeakable desolation. You congratulated me yesterday on the manner I had proved that Jesus had always granted the requests of His mother, and that He cannot refuse any of her petitions. The whole night it has been told me that this was a blasphemous lie, and from the Holy Scriptures themselves, I have been nearly convinced that you and I, nay, that our holy church, are preaching a blasphemous falsehood every time we proclaim the doctrines of the worship of Mary as the Gospel truth."
The poor bishop, thunderstruck by this simple and honest declaration, quickly answered: "I hope you have not yielded to these temptations, and that you will not become a Protestant as so many of your enemies whisper to each other."
"It is my hope, my lord, that our merciful God will keep me, to the end of my life, a dutiful and faithful priest of our holy church. However, I cannot conceal from your lordship that my faith was terribly shaken last night.
"As a bishop, your portion of light and wisdom must be greater than mine. I hope you will grant me some of the lights which will brightly shine before your eyes: I have never been so much in need of the counsels of your piety and the help of your scriptural knowledge as today. Please help me to come out from the intellectual slough in which I spent the night.
"Your lordship has congratulated me for having said that Jesus Christ has always granted the petitions of Mary. Please tell me how you reconcile that proposition with the text;" and I handed him the Gospel of Matthew, pointing to the last five verses of the twelfth chapter, I requested him to read them aloud.
He read them and said: "Now, what do you want from me?"
"My lord, I want respectfully to ask you how we can say that Jesus has always granted the requests of His mother, when this evangelist tells us that He never granted her petitions, when acting in His capacity of Saviour of the world.
"Must we not fear that we proclaim a blasphemous falsehood when we support a proposition directly opposed to the Gospel?"
The poor bishop seemed absolutely confounded by this simple and honest question. I also felt confused and sorry for his humiliation. Beginning a phrase, he would give it up; trying arguments, he could not push to their conclusion. It seemed to me that he had never read that text, of if he had read it, he, like myself and the rest of the priests of Rome, had never noted that they entirely demolish the stupendous impostures of the church, in reference to the worship of Mary.
In order to help him out of the inextricable difficulties into which I had at once pushed him, I said: "My lord, will you allow me to put a few more questions to you?"
"With pleasure," he answered.
"Well! my lord, who came to this world to save you and me? Is it Jesus or Mary?"
"It is Jesus," answered the bishop.
"Now, please allow me a few more questions."
"When Jesus and Mary were on earth, whose heart was most devoted to sinners? Who loved them with a more efficacious and saving love; was it Jesus or Mary?"
"Jesus, being God, His love was evidently more efficacious and saving than Mary's," answered the bishop.
"In the days of Jesus and Mary, to whom did Jesus invite sinners to go for their salvation; was it to Himself or Mary?" I asked again.
The bishop answered: "Jesus has said to all sinners, 'Come unto Me.' He never said, come or go to Mary."
"Have we any examples, in the Scriptures, of sinners, who, fearing to be rebuked by Jesus, have gone to Mary and obtained access to Him through her, and been saved through her intercessions?"
"I do not remember of any such cases," replied the bishop.
I then asked: "To whom did the penitent thief on the cross address himself to be saved; was it to Jesus or Mary?"
"It was to Jesus," replied the bishop.
"Did that penitent thief do well to address himself to Jesus on the cross, rather than to Mary who was at his feet?" said I.
"Surely he did better," answered the bishop.
"Now, my lord, allow me only one question more. You told me that Jesus loved sinners, when on earth, infinitely more than Mary; that He was infinitely more their true friend than she was; that He infinitely took more interest in their salvation than Mary; that it was infinitely better for sinners to go to Jesus than to Mary, to be saved; will you please tell me if you think that Jesus has lost, in heaven, since He is sitting at the right hand of His Father, any of His divine and infinite superiority of love and mercy over Mary for sinners; and can you show me that what Jesus has lost has been gained by Mary?"
"I do not think that Christ has lost any of His love and power to save us now that He is in heaven," answered the bishop.
"Now, my lord, if Jesus is still my best friend, my most powerful, merciful, and loving friend, why should I not go directly to Him? Why should we, for a moment, go to any one who is infinitely inferior, in power, love, and mercy, for our salvation?"
The bishop was stunned by my question.
He stammered some unintelligible answer, excused himself for not being able to remain any longer, on account of some pressing business; and extending his hand to me before leaving, he said, "You will find an answer to your questions and difficulties in the Holy Fathers."
"Can you lend me the Holy Fathers, my lord?"
He replied, "No, sir, I have them not."
This last answer, from my bishop, shook my faith to its foundation, and left my mind in a state of great distress. With the sincere hope of finding in the Holy Fathers some explanations which would dispel my painful doubts, I immediately went to Mr. Fabre, the great bookseller of Montreal, who got me, from France, the splendid edition of the Holy Fathers, by Migne. I studied, with the utmost attention, every page where I might find what they taught of the worship of Mary, and the doctrines that Jesus Christ had never refused any of her prayers.
What was my desolation, my shame, and my surprise to find that the Holy Fathers of the first six centuries had never advocated the worship of Mary, and that the many eloquent pages on the power of Mary in heaven, and her love for sinners, found in every page of my theologians, and other ascetic books I had read till then, were but impudent lies; additions interpolated in their works, a hundred years after their death. When discovering these forgeries, under the name of the Holy Fathers, of which my church was guilty, how many times, in the silence of my long nights of study and prayerful meditations, did I hear a voice telling me: "Come out of Babylon!"
But where could I go? Out of the Church of Rome, where could I find that salvation which was to be found only within her walls? I said to myself, "Surely there are some errors in my dear church! The dust of ages may have fallen on the precious gold of her treasures, but will I not find still more damnable errors among those hundreds of Protestant churches, which, under the name of Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, ect., ect., are divided and subdivided into scores of contemptible sects, anathematizing and denouncing each other before the world?"
My ideas of the great family of evangelical churches, comprised under the broad name of Protestantism, were so exaggerated then, that it was absolutely impossible for me to find in them that unity, which I considered the essentials of the church of Christ. The hour was not yet come, but it was coming fast, when my dear Saviour would make me understand His sublime words: "I am the vine, and ye are the branches."
It was some time later, when under the beautiful vine I had planted in my own garden, and which I had cultivated with mine own hands, I saw that there was not a single branch like another in that prolific vine. Some branches were very big, some very thin, some very long, some very short, some going up, some going down, some straight as an arrow, some crooked as a flash of lightning, some turning to the west, some to the east, some to the north, and others to the south. But, although the branches were so different from each other in so many things, they all gave me excellent fruit, so long as they remained united to the vine.