He smelled. Of course he did. He slept in caves and crevices, but could always see the heavens. He sweated through his day’s work and yet was constantly in the river’s current. Wiry, yet exceedingly strong. Wild-eyed, yet disarmingly clear. The Baptist. When he looked at you, it was impossible to hide. And part of you was relieved to know that you had been found out. He knew, and you knew, it was time. Time to quit hiding. It was time to change.
St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
“Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”
She was naive. Of course she was. What did she know? What could she know? She was only a child, ignorant of the ways of the world. In the innocence of youth, one had the luxury of dreamily hoping and praying for a soul of the inkiest blackness. But we know this is foolishness. Adults know. France’s Henri Pranzini was a ruthless killer, a heartless thief who made off with pilfered jewels just after he slit the throats of two women and a twelve year-old girl. He wanted no redemption. He admitted no crime. There is no mercy to be granted him, authorities reasoned. Only swift, severe justice.
But as the sensational trial ended – punctuated by an impending death sentence by guillotine – the fourteen year-old French girl prayed. Contrary to the reason of the day, she prayed fervently for Pranzini’s conversion. She prayed rabidly for his soul.
“Need I say that in the depths of my heart I felt certain my request would be granted? But, that I might gain courage to persevere in the quest for souls, I said in all simplicity: ‘My God, I am quite sure that Thou wilt pardon this unhappy Pranzini. I should still think so if he did not confess his sins or give any sign of sorrow, because I have such confidence in Thy unbounded Mercy; but this is my first sinner, and therefore I beg for just one sign of repentance to reassure me.’ My prayer was granted to the letter…[I found out later that] Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing or receiving absolution, and the executioners were already dragging him towards the fatal block, when all at once, apparently in answer to a sudden inspiration, he turned round, seized the crucifix which the Priest was offering to him, and kissed Our Lord’s Sacred Wounds three times. I had obtained the sign I asked for, and to me it was especially sweet.”
He was crazy. Of course he was. How else do you explain it? He was a faithful husband. Nurturing father. Respected lawyer. Celebrated statesman. Entrusted confidante of the King of England. And now, separated from family, stripped of power, deprived of status, he was a dead man walking. How did this come to be? It was over words. A silly oath of fealty to a Sovereign. Words that could be uttered and never believed. And all those flattering, meaningless words would cost? Nothing. Except your soul. For to swear this oath would be to turn your back on the tenets of your faith and the Church that defends it. That’s all. After months languishing in an unforgiving Tower prison and penning penetrating works such as Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation and Treatise Upon the Passion, he mounted the executioner’s scaffold and uttered his Credo in nine immortal words,
Portrait of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein
“I die the King’s good servant and God’s first.”
These are God’s Revolutionaries. And what do they revolt against? A proud self-sufficiency that replaces God’s will with our own. A world that forgets the ineradicable dignity of a soul even when it is buried under the blackest of sin. A culture that revels in self-serving dishonesty at the expense of enduring Truth.
God’s Revolutionaries are strengthened by Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice. They are armed with Faith, Hope and Charity. They are blessed with the keenest of vision. After all, God’s Revolutionaries are Saints. And they are glorious. As Georges Bernanos would remind,
“Our Church is the Church of the saints. To become a saint, what bishop would not give up his ring, his mitre and his crozier; what cardinal his purple; what pope his white robe, his chamberlains, his Swiss Guard and all his temporal power? Who would not want to have the strength to embark on this wonderful adventure; it is indeed the only adventure.”
God’s Revolutionaries are Saints on the only adventure. Extraordinary Saints.
Of course they are.