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Wafted o'er waves or creeping through close trees,
When her sweet voice, that instrument of love,
There are the naked clothed, the hungry fed,
This Saint Bega is made out by her Catholic biographer to be a very lovely personage. She was an Irish princess, who left her father's house to avoid a marriage which he had planned for her; and, assisted by the virtue of a miraculous bracelet, which was given to her in a vision, she gained the English coast, though not without great danger of shipwreck among the rocks, which she escaped by a vow to build a holy house upon the same inhospitable headland on the Cumberland coast. There she constructed a cell, or, as some think, lived in a cave.
“ Beyond those beautiful mountains, St. Oswald was ruling in sanctity and peace, and St. Aidan making his episcopal visitations on foot, [it was in the seventh century,] entering the scattered farms, teaching the little children, and leaving heavenly peace behind him wheresoever he went. The king in his bright crown, the weary, foot-sore bishop, each in his way, doing the work of God, and spreading the Redeemer's kingdom. And Bega too — she in her way is doing the same work. While she sings the Divine praises, and her meditations are differently attended, sometimes by the heavy thunder of the rolling sea, sometimes by the scarcely-whispering winds, or deep voices of the wood-pigeons in the trees, she is spreading the Redeemer's kingdom. Her prayers, her intercessions, her acts of austerity, her selfimposed loneliness, her virginal sacrifice, are communicating secret vigor to the whole church, and have power in the invisible world to bring out gifts for her fellow-men. For to love God is the first commandment, and activity for our neighbors, without the love of God, is not the keeping of the second.”
Truly, this is a maxim sometimes overlooked in our philanthropic times.
But Bega did not omit the kindly duties that show the quality of this goodly trunk of love. She was skilled in medicinal plants, and applied them to the curing of the poor about her; and it is said that she tamed the sea-birds, and even the wolves, who gratefully brought her of their spoils. One hardly requires that this should be literally true, so beautifully does it typify the power of feminine gentleness and Christian love.
After some years of deep seclusion, Bega was forced to fly her sea-side caves by the incursions of pirates, and she sought and found St. Aidan, to whom, says her biographer, " as to the brideman of her Bridegroom, Bega, the bride of Christ, drawing near, disclosed every secret of her soul, and those things that were wrought about her; and sought counsel from him, after what manner she might draw the bands of love and obedience toward her heavenly spouse more tightly." St. Aidan made the recluse into a nun, subject to the rules of an order. “ No sooner was she clothed in her black dress than she entered a haven of peace; she was like a pilot resigning the helm to another, now that the mouth of the harbor is gained. For obedience is like Eden, a place, if not of carelessness, at least of child-like security.”
Bega built a great monastery and filled it with nuns. While it was rising, though she was not able to work in stone and timber, she made herself the servant of the workmen, cooked their provisions for them, and carried them to them with her own hands; "ever ministering," says the record, "and running backwards and forwards, like a bee laden with
honey.” (“He that would be great among you, let him be your minister.”)
“Soon the place was full of gentle nuns, spinning and weaving and copying patterns, yet all the while silent and recollected, their hearts stayed on God, and occupied with the sweets of celestial meditation. For she urged them most fervently to the keeping of fasts and watchings, to the singing of hymns and psalms and spiritual songs, and to the study of holy reading. Thus she did Martha's work, that she might not neglect Mary's holy rest, nor, on the other hand, contemn a necessary service on account of Mary's sabbath.”
The monastery grew so large and important that Bega's conscience would not let her continue to rule over it; and she importuned St. Aidan till he permitted her to resign it in favor of the holy Hilda, better known, by name at least, to the profane world, if the world of poetry may be so called, than her predecessor. After this, Bega retired to a hermitage, making, however, an annual visit to her friend Hilda and the beloved monastery. Hilda died first, and Bega saw, in a glorious vision, the beatified soul carried to heaven, but in what semblance the chronicler does not tell us. Not long afterwards, she herself was called away, on the 31st of October, "while she was observing the vigil of All-Saints, quitting the world to join their society; that, winter coming upon the earth, all winter might pass away from her, leaving it; and the rain might cease and depart; that eternal spring might shine upon her, and the bloom of roses and the lilies of the valley might appear to her in heaven."
Some such life may have been the model of Mrs. Eliza A. Seton, the daughter of a New York physician of some eminence, who, born an Episcopalian under the spiritual reign of Dr. Hobart, became, în middle life, the foundress and first
Superior of the “ Sisters of Charity” in America. The immediate or more obvious cause of her conversion to the Romish faith seems to have been a residence of some months in Italy, whither she had gone with her husband, for the benefit of his health, but without success, for he died at Leghorn, in December, 1803, after a month's confinement in a wretched lazaretto, where Mrs. Seton and her dying charge had suffered
a whole life of tortures, both of body and soul. Her journal of the period is most touching.
“ The matin bells,” she says, “awakened my soul to its most painful regrets, and filled it with an agony of sorrow which could not, at first, find relief even in prayer. In the little closet, from whence there is a view of the open sea, and the beatings of the waves against the high rocks at the entrance of this prison, which throw them violently back, and raises the white foam as high as its walls, I first came to my senses, and reflected that I was offending my only Friend and resource in my misery, and voluntarily shutting from my soul the only consolation it could receive. Pleading for mercy and strength brought peace, and with a cheerful countenance I asked William what we should do for breakfast. The doors were unbarred, and a bottle of milk set down at the entrance of the room. Little Anna and William ate it with bread, and I walked the floor with a crust and a glass of wine. William could not sit up; his ague came on, and my soul's agony with it. My husband on the cold bricks, without fire, lifting his dim and sorrowful gaze in my face, while his tears ran on his pillow, without one word.
My William, wearied out, was asleep; Anna, with a flood of tears, said her prayers, and soon forgot her sorrows, and it seemed as if opening my prayer-book and bending my knees was the signal for my soul to find rest.
Our capitano brought us word that other five days were granted, and that on the 19th of December we were free. Poor William says with a groan, 'I believe before then.' We pray and cry together until fatigue overpowers him, and then he says he is willing to go. Cheering up is useless; he seems easier after venting his sorrow, and always gets quiet sleep after his struggle. A heavy storm of wind, which drives the spray from the sea against our window, adds to his melancholy. If I could forget my God one moment, at these times, I should go mad; but He hushes all. •Be still, and know that I am God, your Father.' Dear home dearest sisters - my little ones well ! either protected by God in this world, or in heaven. It is a sweet thought to dwell on, that all those I most tenderly love, love God, and if we do not meet again here, there we shall be separated no more. If I have lost them now, their gain is infinite and eternal. How often I tell my William, When you awake in that world, you will find nothing could tempt you to return to this ; you will see that your care over your wife and little ones was like a hand only to hold the cup which God himself will give, if he takes you. Heavenly Father, pity the weak and burdened souls of thy poor creatures, who have not strength to look to thee, and lift us from the dust, for His sake, our resurrection and our life.”
After recounting a vision of youthful days at home, she says,
“ All this came strong in my head this morning, when, as I tell you, the body let the spirit alone. I had prayed and cried heartily, which is my daily and hourly comfort, and, closing my eyes, with my head upon the table, lived all those sweet hours over again — made believe I was under the chestnut tree — felt so peaceable at heart, so full of love to God such confidence and hope in him. The wintry storms of time shall be over, and the unclouded spring enjoyed forever. So you see, with God for our portion, there is no prison in high walls and bolts ; no sorrow in the soul that waits on him, though beset with present cares and gloomy prospects. For this freedom I can never be sufficiently thankful, as in my William's case, it keeps alive what in his weak state would naturally fail; and often when he hears me repeat the psalms of triumph in God, and read St. Paul's faith in Christ with my whole soul, it so enlivens his spirit that he makes them also his own, and all our sorrows are turned into joy. O well may I love God, and well may my whole soul try to please him; for what but the pen of an angel can ever express what he has done and is constantly doing for me?”
Laboring incessantly for the body and soul of her sinking charge, she saw always light, bright as that which shone round Peter in his dungeon. Gifted with the warmest heart and the tenderest sensibility, she feels the sufferings of him she loved with a sympathy which left her no thought for her own, yet she was even more solicitous for his acceptance than for his comfort.
“ The dampness about us would be thought dangerous for people in health, - and my William's sufferings, -oh! well I know that God is above! Capitano, you need not always point your silent look and finger there. If I thought our condition the providence of man, instead of a weeping Magdalen you so graciously call me, you would find me a lioness, willing to burn your lazaretto about your ears, if it were possible, that I might carry off my poor prisoner to breathe the air of heaven in some more seasonable place.... No one ever saw my William without giving him the quality of an amiable man; but to see that character exalted to the peaceful, humble Christian, waiting the will of God with a patience that seems more than human, and a firm faith that would do honor to the most distinguished piety, is a happiness that is allowed only to the poor little mother who is separated from all other happiness connected with this scene of things. No sufferings, no