Ichthys.ie
THE WORLD FROM THE CATHOLIC ANGLE

CrucifictionSometimes strange things happen to people who are considered irredeemable. Sometimes they redeem. Sometimes crooks, murderers, and thugs come back to sanctity. Remember the Good Thief from the Luke's Gospel? Jesus was crucified along with two criminals. According to Luke one of the criminals started to mock Jesus but was reprimanded by the other one:
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, 'Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!' But the other rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come intoyour kingdom.' He replied, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.' (Luke 23:39-43)
The fragment tells us that there is no sin that couldn't be forgiven. Until we breathe we have a chance to be redeemed.


The cutthroat


MTBcropEgypt of the 4th century, then a province of the Roman Empire, was a place where Desert Fathers and bandits lived along with ordinary people. Christianity had been legalised in the Roman Empire only few decades earlier when a black ex-slave (a government official discharged him for theft and possibly for a murder) of Ethiopian or Nubian origin called Moses, started his career of a gang leader and a cutthroat. Thanks to his ill-tempered, revengeful and violent nature as well as enormous physical strength and huge posture he soon became famous, marauding the Nile valley with his gang of seventy something thieves.
As such an extensive criminal activity simply could not pass unnoticed by local authorities Moses soon was forced to postpone his notorious life and to find some place to hide. He ended up in Scetis Valley near Alexandria (present day Wadi al-Natrun), in a monastic community, where he began a slow process of conversion to Christianity. Nothing was easy though, Moses the criminal didn't just become Abba Moses, one of the Desert Fathers. He struggled with his violent nature through his whole monastic life, always tempted to come back to his old ways. Life didn't help either. One day four thieves came to his cell to rob him. Fortunately for them, at that time Moses already thought that killing someone was somehow inappropriate for a Christian. Confused what to do with the villains, he stopped at heavily beating them, whipping, tying with ropes, and eventually dumping them on a cold floor of the church where other brothers were praying in order to ask other community members what to do with the captives. After learning that they had attacked the famous Moses the Black himself the four thieves repented and stayed in the community.
Monastic life changed Moses. Despite his temper he learned to live a peaceful life thanks to fasting, praying and wise advises from the old abbot of the monastery, St Isidore. Eventually Abba Moses became a role model of reticence and non-violence, and a leader of the monastic community.
Around the year 407, the hermits were warned that a group of nomads was about to attack the monastery. The brothers wanted to defend themselves but Abba Moses ordered them to retreat. He stayed in the colony with seven other brothers to greet the invaders with open hands. All of them were martyred by the attackers and the monastery was raised to the ground.
Saint Moses the Black is now venerated as an apostle of non-violence.


Heretics


Domenichino13th century, Milan, Lombardy, north Italy. Pope Innocent IV appointed st. Peter of Verona, a Dominican friar, as an inquisitor of Lombardy in order to fight Catharism in the region.
Contrary to popular belief neither the Catholic Inquisition nor Dominican friars were torturers or witch hunters. They rarely used those famous fancy torture tools and techniques for extracting testimonies from the accused (by the way, vast majority of those tools and techniques was actually invented in 19th century along with the black legend of Inquisition). Surely the Inquisition law conduct would be considered a grieve breach of human rights today but in times the organisation was born Church justice was the most fair, just, progressive, and modern. The difference between the lay and Church courts of law in times of Inquisition was so significant that common criminals when caught often attempted to prove heretic connections to their deeds in order to be tried by the Church rather than by state officials.
Peter of Verona, as the whole Dominican order, was mainly a preacher. He had been appointed by pope Gregory IX as a General Inquisitor of Italy and had been so successful in preaching and evagelisation of Italy that pope Innocent IV made him an Inquisitor of Lombardy, the region particularly struck by Catharism.
Cathars (from Greek "the pure ones") were the sect believing in two gods, a good one and an evil one. The world according to them was a creation of the latter so everything material was evil, including procreation, wealth and authorities. No wonder they caused riots and uprisings here and there to the point that the Church decided to fight them.
Peter was an inquisitor of Lombardy for about six months. During that time he declared clemency for all those who confessed heresy. His sermons were so powerful that many Cathars came back to the Church and crowds followed him wherever he appeared. His successes didn't pass unnoticed by the high rank Milanese Cathars. They eventually hired a well known thug, Carino of Balsamo, to assassinate Peter.
On 6th of April 1252 Carino and his accomplice Manfredo followed Peter and another Dominican friar, Domenico, on the road from Como to Milan. At a lonely spot they attacked the friars, or, to be more precise, Carino attacked and Manfredo instantly fled. Peter died from the blow which ruptured his skull (he is usually portrayed with a knife in his head), and Domenico, fatally wounded, passed few days later.
The details are not known but somehow Carino failed to flee the crime scene and was apprehended by a villager and subsequently handed over to authorities. Imprisoned in Milan, he exposed the Cathars conspiracy and provided a detailed account of the assassination. And ten days later he managed to escape his custody.
In Fiorí where he fled, he was struck by an illness which he believed was terminal. He confessed his sins to local Dominican prior, Giacomo Salomoni (now a blessed of the Catholic Church), who, instead of handing him over back to authorities absolved him and eventually received him to his order as a lay brother. Carino spent about 40 years in the order in Fiorlí where he died with reputation of holiness in 1293. He is venerated now as a blessed of the Catholic Church.


La guillotine


Jacques Fesch. Murderpedia.orgBorn in 1930 to a wealthy family of Belgian origin, Jacques Fesch was the child of a wealthy banker, a black sheep in the family, a playboy, an adulterer who had abandoned his wife and children, both a legitimate daughter and an illegitimate son.
Jacques had a dream. There is nothing wrong with having a dream, unless the dream leads one to the guillotine. Jacques' dream was to abandon his life filled with fast cars, parties and women and perfect his hedonism to a science by sailing to the South Pacific and live a fairytale life there. The only problem was that his parents somehow lacked enthusiasm to his scheme and refused to provide funds for it. Jacques decided to find cash for the boat on his own. Unfortunately, when someone is rotten to the core, allergic to work, and extremely impatient, things with finding funds for a South Pacific quest for pleasure are quite unlikely to go right. It wasn't unlike in Jacques' case. He decided to rob a bureau de change belonging to Alexandre Sylberstein.
Equipped with a gun, on 24th February 1954 Jacques Fesch entered Mr Sylberstein's money charger, struck the proprietor with the pistol and fled the scene. Sylberstein made it to the door and alarmed a passing by police officer, 35-years-old Jean Vergne. During an attempted arrest Vergne, a widower with a 4-years-old daughter, was gunned down.
Killing a policeman those days in France was regarded even more nasty than now. The outraged crowd started to pursue Jacques despite that he fired another shots wounding one of the pursuers in the neck. Subsequently he was apprehended and arrested. He was to spend over three years in prison. At the initial court hearing Fesch showed no remorse whatsoever. With his head bandaged (the police wasn't as nice those days as now) he claimed to be sorry only for not carrying a sub-machine gun instead of a pistol. He often called his lawyer, Paul Baudet, a devote Catholic, "Pope Paul" and "Torquemada".
During his imprisonment he was fortunate to meet few people thanks to whom he returned to the Church. They were the Dominican prison chaplain, Father Devoyod O. P., his lawyer Paul Paudet, the Benedictine Brother Thomas who knew Fesch's wife and corresponded regularly with Jacques, and his mother-in-law, Mrs Polack.
Sometimes helpless situations give us an impulse or opportunity to seek for help where we even don't expect to find it. It wasn't unlike with Jacques Fesch. He also evolved from playing tough to fear and guilt so powerful that he cried to God he'd claimed to not believe in. And God responded. It was exactly on 22nd of February 1955.
Ever since he an ascetic life which he recorded in his journal. His fear of death was slowly superseded by fear of bad death.
Over three years later the court case took place, which was pretty quick and easy (took only four days). On 6th of April 1957 he was sentenced to death. He was guillotined on 1st of October 1957.
His beautification process began in 1993, initiated by cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, then archbishop of Paris.


The chance


The penitent criminal from Luke's Gospel, St Callixtus of Rome, St Pelagia, St Moses the Black, St Mary of Egypt, St Olga, St Vladimir, blessed Carino of Balsano, St Camillus de Lellis, St Margaret of Cortona, Jacques Fesch, and many others. Murderers, rapists, seductresses, mercenaries, bandits, con men, fops, prostitutes, bloodthirsty rulers. All of them met God. All of them repented. All of them repaired their lives and died a good death exploiting God's mercy. All of them given the chance that everybody can have.

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