Jacques and His Charge
In Paris at the time of the terrible French Revolution, around 1790, there were evil men who hated God, His Church, the King and everything that was good and orderly. These men persecuted good people. The king, the queen, many nobles, and many priests and nuns lost their lives in those dark days.
Still, there were also many stories of faith and courage and miracles. One of these is the story of Jacques and his sister. Jacques was a ten-year-old boy who lived with his parents and little sister in a modest but comfortable house in one of the suburbs of Paris.
One day, Jacques’ parents said to him: “Jacques, we are going to have a good priest stay with us for a while. We will make him a bed in the attic of our house, but no one must hear that he is there. Do you understand, son? If the Sans-culottes (the revolutionary police) hear that we are hiding him, they will have him killed and throw us all into prison.”
“But, why? Why do we have to hide him if he’s a good priest?” asked Jacques.
“Because the new government does not like priests who obey the Pope, Jacques. They want only those who have given up their obedience to the Pope and obey this government that overthrew our King. But the priests who obey the Pope in Rome are the only true priests in the eyes of God, so we must help them.”
So it was that Father Pierre came to live with Jacques’ family. He was a wise and patient priest, and he taught Jacques many beautiful things about his Faith and told him and his sister, Anne, many a good story.
One day Father Pierre invited Jacques upstairs to his room and showed him a small chalice and a cross.
“Do you know what I use these for?” asked Father Pierre, who continued without waiting for the answer: “To say Holy Mass. Would you like to learn how to serve Holy Mass, Jacques?”
“Oh yes, Father!” answered wide-eyed Jacques, who remembered watching the altar boys when they could still go to Mass at their parish church. Now, all the churches had been closed.
So, Father Pierre taught Jacques how to serve Mass while little Anne watched in awed silence. For several months, Jacques assisted Father Pierre at Mass. Every day, up in the attic, where Father slept, a small table was transformed into an altar. There, with the small family gathered around, Father consecrated the white hosts and offered the family the Body and Blood of their God. The family considered it a tremendous privilege to have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass everyday in their home, especially in those times of persecution when it was almost impossible to attend a true Mass.
One night, however, as Jacques was awakened by someone shaking him gently yet urgently:
“Jacques, Jacques, it is Father Pierre, wake up!”
“Whaaat is it…Father? What happened?” stammered the lad as he fought off sleep and rubbed his quivering eyelids.
“The Sans-culottes are here, Jacques. They have come for me…”
“Father! What are we going to do?”
“There is little to be done, my boy. There is no time. But take this.”
As he spoke, Father Pierre pressed a small metal box into the frightened boy’s hand.
“These are consecrated Hosts, Jacques. You and your sister are small. Take her and get away. You won’t be noticed. Go to your uncle’s, taking this pyx with you. Guard it with your life. Keep it with you until you find a true Catholic priest who has not sworn to the new constitution. Then, and only then, hand these sacred Hosts over.
Goodbye, Jacques, God keep you!”
That done, the priest was gone, and Jacques was left there clasping the golden pyx, his head whirling as rough voices shouted downstairs. Hearing the terrible cacophony of curses and insults below, Jacques understood what was happening. Someone had let onto the Sans-culottes that his parents were hiding a priest in their house. Yes! The revolutionaries had now invaded their house and would take Father Pierre and Jacques’ good parents away!
Jacques looked down at the small golden box he held. Here was the same Body and Blood that Father Pierre had so often held in his hands for his parents, his sister, and him to adore.
The terrible shouts and other noises continued. Jacques’ first impulse was to join his parents and get arrested with them. But he could not forget the pyx clasped in his fingers.
“I must save Him. Father Pierre entrusted Him to me. He is my responsibility now.”
In a flash, Jacques had awakened his little sister and thrown a warm wrap over her, and both had made their way down a back staircase, out to the backyard, and over the fence. One pained look back at their house and they were gone.
Goodbye, Father Pierre – “He” is safe
After that terrible night, Jacques and his sister lived with their uncle and aunt. They heard no more of their parents or Father Pierre.
No one but Jacques and his sister knew of his secret. In their room, in a small cupboard, Jacques kept his precious Charge wrapped in a clean linen handkerchief. Early each morning, the two went out looking for a church in the hopes of coming across a good and true Catholic priest to whom they might hand over their awesome responsibility. But, how were they to recognize a true priest? All of them were in hideouts these days; when they ventured out, they always wore some sort of disguise.
Each night, before going to sleep, the two knelt and prayed that God would send them or lead them to a priest to whom they could give the consecrated Hosts. And so the months wore on.
One day rumors began to circulate that a certain priest who had been harbored by a young couple was going to be executed.
“It must be Father Pierre!” thought Jacques. “Anne,” he whispered to his little sister that night, “Anne, we must meet Father Pierre somehow before he is executed. I must see him and show him that the hosts are still safe. He must know that before he goes to God.”
“I can’t do it, Jacques,” answered little Anne, “I will be too frightened, and afraid of losing you in the huge, shouting crowds that gather for these executions. You go; it will be easier for you to go through the crowd without me. I’ll stay here praying for you all the time.”
Jacques was a shrewd boy. By asking here and there, he soon knew the exact day of the execution. Early that morning he made his way to a street through which he knew Father Pierre must pass on the way to the scaffold.
Standing at the edge of the sidewalk, Jacques waited. Soon, there were people all around him: curious people who had heard of the priest and wanted a glimpse of a condemned man; hateful people who sided with the evil men of the Revolution and wanted to insult the holy man as he passed; good people whom the good priest had helped and served and who wanted to stand by him to the end.
And then there was the boy who wanted to console the priest with the knowledge that the Body and Blood of Our Lord was still safely in his care. Without realizing it, however, Jacques was doing much more than that for Father Pierre: He was providing the Presence and the blessing of Our Lord to the martyr on his last walk.
Jacques must have stood several hours on that sidewalk when, at long last, he noticed a commotion at the far end of the street. Father Pierre was coming.
Jacques vainly sought the familiar stocky figure of the priest; he was shocked when he finally recognized him in the thin, grayed, and much-aged man now approaching between two Sans-culottes. Yes! It was he. The features, though pale and drawn, were certainly Father Pierre’s. Above all, there was no mistaking the eyes that suddenly were upon Jacques.
The boy lost no time. Gently, so that no one noticed the gesture, he pulled the pyx from within his shirt; just enough for Father to catch a glimmer of it. Then, there it was, the familiar smile in the tired eyes and a slight nod of the head. Father had seen and understood. And Jacques, despite the terrible weight on his heart, was immensely happy.
As the priest passed, Jacques made his way through the crowd and back home where he told Anne all that had happened. They both knelt and prayed that God would help Father Pierre in his last battle.
Finally, in the best of hands
As the days and weeks wore on, Jacques and Anne continued praying every night to find a true priest to whom they could hand over their precious Charge. But they never heard of one, much less saw one. Nevertheless, they persisted.
One day they entered an abandoned church and knelt on the broken marble floor to pray, as so many times before, in the faint hope of finding a priest.
After a time, they noticed someone ascending the steps of the altar. He was dressed in white and his bearing reminded them of Father Pierre’s.
Rooted in their place, the children watched and listened. The priest began praying. Jacques immediately recognized the prayers of the Mass, having served so many.
Keeping still and silent, the two children watched and prayed as the Mass progressed, seemingly unnoticed by the white-robed man. But behold! As the time of Communion approached, the priest slowly turned in their direction and began to walk toward them.
When he stood directly in front of Jacques and his sister, they looked up into his face. Luminous, calm, kingly eyes looked down on them, assuring them that this was not only a true priest but that, in some way, they had come home. They felt a great peace and total trust in this man’s presence.
Jacques suddenly knew that he had come to the end of his search. Not a word was spoken, but he understood. Reaching into his shirt, he brought out the golden pyx and held it out to the priest. As the man in white reached for the small box, both children noticed a deep wound in the palm of his hand.
Then, as he solemnly opened the pyx, the children heard the words: “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world...” Then, both received Holy Communion from the wounded hand.
When Jacques and Anne lifted their heads from their thanksgiving, the church was completely quiet and there was no sign of the man in white. Looking at each other, they knew their Charge was in the best of hands.
By P. Sanders
Illustrations by - A.F. Phillips
DAILY QUOTE for July 4, 2020
SAINT OF THE DAY
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
I walked into the kitchen and saw my mother hang up the phone, a worried look on her face.