A closer acquaintance with the thrice-happy parents to whose care Almighty God had confided so precious a treasure, affords a fresh proof of the wonderful vigilance of Divine Providence in arranging even the least details connected with His chosen ones, that all things may concur in the fulfilment of the mission assigned them.
Anne Catherine was the child of truly pious souls who, contented in their poverty because it was consecrated to God, found a rich indemnification for the want of material goods in the heavenly blessings shed upon them.
Their whole life presented to the child a perfect model of Christian faith, and she received, thanks to their gentle firmness, an education best suited to her high vocation.
Her father's house was a school of piety for his children;even in her last years, Anne Catherine gratefully recalled the advice given her by her good parents and the pious and regular habits to which they had trained her.
She loved to speak of them. Their whole life might be written from the words of their child.
" My father was very pious and upright, of a serious disposition, but by no means morose or inclined to sadness.
His poverty obliged him to hard labor, but he was not actuated by the love of gain.
He had a childlike trust in God and performed his daily toil like a faithful servant without anxiety or cupidity.
His conversation was full of beautiful, homely proverbs, interspersed with pious, simple expressions.
One day he told us the history of a great man named Hun, who travelled all over the globe. That night I dreamed that I saw this great man wandering over the earth and turning up with an immense spade good and bad soil.
As my father was very laborious himself ? he taught me to work hard even in my childhood. Summer and winter, I had to go out to the fields before daybreak to catch a vicious horse which kicked and bit and used to run away from my father.
The vicious creature used to let me catch him;indeed, he sometimes came himself to meet me. I used to climb on a stone or mound, get on his back, and ride home in triumph.
If he took a notion to turn his head to bite, I would give him a blow on the nose, which made him trot on quietly as before. I used to haul manure and produce with him. I cannot now understand how I managed him at all."
" We often went into the fields before daybreak. At the moment of sunrise my father used to uncover his head and say some prayers;then he would speak to me of the great God who made His sun rise so gloriously above us. "
He often said it was a shameful thing to lie in bed whilst the sun rose high in the heavens, for it leads to the ruin of whole families, countries, and nations.
Once I replied : 'Yes, but that does not mean me,for the sun cannot get near my little bed!' and he answered : 'Even if you cannot see the rising sun, he sees you — he shines evervwhere.' I thought over these words a long time. "
"On another occasion, he said to me : 'See, no one has yet trodden in the dew ! We are the first and, if we pray devoutly, we shall draw down blessings upon the earth. It is good to walk on the morning dew before anyone else has touched it. There is a blessing upon it then, entirely fresh.
No sin has yet been committed in the fields, no bad word has been spoken. When the dew has been trodden under foot, it seems as if the freshness and beauty of morning had flown.'
" Although very small and delicate, yet I always had to work hard, either around the house or out in the fields with my brothers and sisters. Once I had to load a cart with about twenty sacks of corn.
I did it without stopping to rest, and more quickly than a strong boy could have done it. In the same way I used to reap and mow."
" Sometimes I led the horse for my father, sometimes I harrowed the ground.
I did all kinds of field labor. Occasionally when we paused a moment to rest, my father would exclaim :
Ah ! how fortunate ! Look ! We can see straight ahead to Coesfeld. There is the church ! We can adore Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
He watches us and blesses our work.' When the bell rang for Mass, he would take off his hat and say a little prayer.
Then he would say : ' Now we must follow the Holy Mass,' and still continuing his work, he would utter a few words from time to time, such as : 'Now the priest is at the Gloria, now the Sanctus — we must say such or such a prayer and make the sign of the cross,'and sometimes he would sing a verse from the Holy Scriptures, or whistle a tune.
Whilst I went on harrowing,he would say : ' They make great account of miracles, and yet we live only by miracles and the pure goodness of God.
See the grain of wheat in the ground ! There it lies and sends up a long stalk that reproduces it a hundred-fold. Is not that a great miracle?’
"On Sunday afternoons he used to rehearse the sermon of the morning for us, commenting upon it in the most edifying manner, and end by reading aloud an explanation of the Gospel."
Anne Catherine's mother was equally good and pious. In twenty-one years of married life she had given birth to nine children,the first in 1766,the last in 1787.
She was a happy, contented, and faithful wife. Her life of incessant care and toil had stamped her countenance with rather a grave expression, without, however, embittering her heart;that was kind and gentle toward all.
The incessant struggle to procure a suitable maintenance never brought a complaint to her lips ;on the contrary, in a spirit of prayer, she looked upon the necessity to labor as a favor from Heaven, and thought only of being in the eyes of God a faithful stewardess.
In after years,Anne Catherine thus spoke of her: "It was my mother who gave me my first lessons in Catechism.
Her favorite ejaculations were : 'Lord, give me patience, and then strike hard!' — 'Lord, may Thy will, not mine, be done !' I have never forgotten them.
When I played with my young companions, my mother used to say :
‘If children play together innocently, the angels join them;sometimes even the little Infant Jesus comes, too.'
I looked upon this as literally true, and it did not in the least astonish me. I often cast a searching glance up at the sky to see if they were coming.
I sometimes imagined them present, although we could not see them.
That they might not fail to come, we always played innocent games.
My mother taught me to walk last and to say my prayers on the way when I went out with other children to church or elsewhere.
She said that by doing so I should neither hear nor see anything bad.
When I made the sign of the cross on my forehead, lips, and breast, I said to myself that these crosses were the keys to lock up my heart against everything hurtful, and that the Infant Jesus alone should hold them.
All goes well when He has charge of them."
Anne Catherine saw nothing in the whole life of her parents that was not in accordance with the commandments of God and the Church.
The only joys that lightened their labors were those they found in the celebration of her festivals.
These simple souls were well suited for such happiness ;for never was their work so pressing, their fatigue so great, as to prevent their making any sacrifice for the good of their neighbor.
Bernard Emmerich after his long day's toil never neglected to remind his little ones, as night closed in, to pray for travellers, for poor soldiers, for their fellow creatures in distress, he himself saying particular prayers for such intentions.
During the three days of Carnival, the mother accustomed her children to prostrate and with extended arms to say four times the Our Father, in order to avert all attacks upon innocence during those days : “Children,”she used to say to them, " you do not understand it, but I know it well. Pray !"
The following incident shows how God blessed the words and example of these good parents :
“When we were very small, my eldest brother and I slept in the same room. He was very pious, and we often prayed together, kneeling by our little beds, our arms extended in the form of a cross. I often saw the room all lighted up.
Sometimes, after kneeling a long while in prayer, I was suddenly jerked up with violence by some invisible force, and a voice cried : ' Go to bed ! Go to bed!'
This used to frighten my brother very much, but its only effect upon me was to make me pray the longer.
My brother himself did not escape these attacks of the evil one who often tried to trouble him during his prayers.My parents once found him kneeling with his arms extended, perfectly stiff with the cold."
As these good people were too humble to Iook upon the unremitting practice of their Christian duties as anything extraordinary, so neither did the phenomena they witnessed in their child arouse in them feelings of pride.
They beheld with grateful emotion the gifts of grace with which she was endowed; but they concealed their wonder and continued to treat her as they did their other children.
The mother chided her little Anne Catherine as severely for her faults as she did her brothers and sisters, and, even in her babyhood, she was not exempt from her share in the family duties.
She was thus kept in happy ignorance of herself.
Her simplicity and humility were never endangered by praise, admiration, or indiscreet curiosity. Her rich interior life remained hidden and unknown, expanding with ever increasing beauty under the conduct of her angel guardian, who regulated all her sentiments, thoughts, and words, and restrained her ardent nature by the constant practice of obedience.
Her parents, it is true, felt more than ordinary affection for this child, but it was contrary to their nature to manifest it by exterior marks or caresses.
It was almost a necessity for Bernard Emmerich to have his winning, discreet little girl near him when he worked in the fields. Her childish remarks, her answers to his questions, her whole demeanor were so pleasing to him that he could not bear to have her absent from his side.
Her mother was too much occupied with the care of her younger children to give as much of her attention to Anne Catherine as her husband.
The father's sprightly disposition had been inherited by the child, who cheered his daily toil by her innocent sportiveness.
She was naturally gay, as might be expected of one admitted to so familiar intercourse with God and His saints.
Her forehead was high and well-formed, and the sweet light of her clear brown eyes shed an air of serenity over her whole countenance.
Her dark hair was thrown back either in braids or coils around her head, and her silvery voice and vivacity of expression revealed the intelligence of her mind.
She spoke with ease and fluency of things that seemed mysterious and unintelligible to her hearers ; but her modest and humble reserve soon dispelled the impression produced by these unexpected flashes of superior gifts.
She was so sweet, so kind, her eagerness to be of service to others was so charming that young and old flocked to little Anne Catherine to receive assistance and advice.
Although ignorant of her high gifts, none could help loving her.
These simple peasants knew well that there was no sacrifice that she would not make for their good, and they were as much accustomed to the blessings that emanated from her as to the perfume of the rosemary in their own gardens.
" When I was a child,"she said,"the neighbors used to come to me to bind up their wounds, because I tried to do it carefully and gently. I was skilful at such things.
When I saw an abscess, I used to say to myself : 'If you squeeze it, it will get worse ; the matter must, however, come out in some way.' Then I sucked it gently and it soon healed.
No one taught me that. It was the desire of rendering myself useful that led me to do it. At first, I felt disgust, but that only made me overcome myself, for disgust is not compassion.
When I promptly surmounted the feeling, I was filled with tender joy. I thought of Our Lord who did the same for all mankind."
Sometimes her color changed from a bright red to a livid pallor, her sparkling eyes grew suddenly dim, her simple gayety was exchanged for gravity, and a shade of inexplicable sadness passed over her countenance — she was hardly recognizable.
Her parents anxiously questioned each other :
'What is the matter with the child ?'' The cause of this sudden change lay in the sad sight of the miseries of mankind presented to her mind.
As she could not hear the name of God or a saint without falling into contemplation, so neither could mention be made in her presence of any accident or misfortune, without her soul's being irresistibly borne to the scene of suffering by her desire to relieve it at any cost.
Her friends, as may be supposed, could not account for her singular conduct, and her mother's uneasiness soon gave way to displeasure on beholding the child's languor disappear as quickly as it had come.
She ascribed these unaccountable changes to caprice,and thought reproofs and punishments the best remedy to apply to them ; therefore she sometimes chastised the little girl severely when the latter,overwhelmed by interior sufferings, was scarcely able to stand.
But the undeserved treatment was received with such patience and submission, the child was still so bright and loving, that the father and mother gazed at each other in amazement, saying: " What a strange child ! Nothing ever appears to intimidate her. What will become of her !"
It was not only the angel's admonitions that influenced Anne Catherine to bear this harsh treatment for the love of God, it was her own conviction that she deserved all kinds of punishment.
"In my childhood," she says, "I was irritable and whimsical, and I was often punished on that account.
It was hard for me to repress my capricious humor. My parents often blamed and never praised me; and, as I used to hear other parents praising their children, I began to look upon myself as the worst child in the world.
What disquieted me most was the fear of being an object of abhorrence in the sight of God also. But one day I saw some children very disrespectful toward their parents, and, though pained at the sight, yet I felt somewhat reassured, as I thought I might still hope, for I could never do so bad a thing as that."
Anne Catherine found the greatest difficulty in repressing her vivacity, crushing self-will, and submitting entirely to that of others.
Her tender heart, her exquisite sensitiveness, ever alive to a thousand things which others would pass over unheeded, her ardent zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of her neighbor, obliged her to repeated efforts to acquire meekness founded upon self-forget-fulness and obedience so perfect that the first movements of resistance were stifled in their birth.
Her courageous soul gained the victory, however,and her fidelity was so freely recompensed that she could say in later years :
—"Obedience was my strength, my consolation. Thanks to obedience, I could pray with a peaceful, joyous mind.
I could commune with God — my heart was free."
She not only thought herself the least and last of creatures, she actually felt herself such and regulated her whole conduct by this inward conviction.
Her angel tolerated no imperfection ; he punished every fault by reprimands and penances.
In her fifth year, she one day saw through a garden-hedge an apple lying under a tree, and felt a childish desire to eat it.
Scarcely was the thought conceived when her contrition for this covetousness was so great that she imposed upon herself as a penance never again to touch an apple, a resolution to which she ever faithfully adhered.
On another occasion, she felt a slight aversion for a woman who had spoken disparagingly of her parents, and she resolved not to salute her the next time she met her.
This resolve she acted on, though not without an effort.
The next moment she was so contrite that she instantly turned back and begged pardon for her rudeness.
When she began to approach the Sacrament of Penance, her delicate conscience gave her no peace after faults of this kind until she had bitterly accused herself of them to her confessor and received penance and absolution.
That these early interior sufferings and her penitential life might not banish the innocent gayety of childhood from her heart, God in His goodness amply indemnified her by the joy she derived from the uninterrupted contemplation of the greatness and magnificence of creation and by her constant intercourse with irrational creatures.
When alone in the woods or fields, she would call the birds to her, sing with them the praises of their Maker, and caress them as they perched familiarly on her shoulder.
If she found a nest, she peeped into it with beating heart and spoke the sweetest words to the little ones within.
She knew where the earliest flowers bloomed, and gathered them to weave into garlands for the Infant Jesus and His Mother.
But her eye, enlightened by grace, saw far beyond the senses.
Other children are amused by picture-books.
They take more delight in painted flowers and animals than in the glowing colors of animated nature.
But for Anne Catherine creatures were themselves the pictures in which she exultingly admired the wisdom and goodness of the Creator.
She knew their nature and varied properties, as she intimates in her account of her visions of St. John the Baptist: — "What John learned in the desert of flowers and animals never surprised me ; for, when I myself was a child, every leaf, every tiny flower, was a book which I could read.
I perceived the beauty and signification of color and form ; but when I spoke of it, my hearers only laughed at me.
I could entertain myself with everything I met in the fields.
I understood everything, I could even see into the flowers and animals. how charming it all was !
I had a fever when I was young which, however, did not prevent my going about.
My parents thought I would die, but a beautiful Child came and showed me some herbs which would cure me if I ate them.
He told me also to suck the sweet juice of the bind-weed blossom.
I did both, and I was soon quite well.
I have always been exceedingly fond of camomile flowers.
There is something agreeable to me in their very name.
Even in my childhood I gathered them and kept them in readiness for the sick poor who came to me in their ailments.
I used to think of all sorts of simple remedies for them."
The beauty of the sacred discipline of the Church was also manifested to her, as the following lines will prove :
—" The sound of blessed bells has always been to me like a ray of benediction which banishes hurtful influences wherever it reaches.
I think such sounds terrify Satan.
When I used to pray at night in the fields, I often felt and, indeed, saw evil spirits around me ; but, as soon as the bells of Coesfeld sounded for matins, they fled.
I used to think that, when the voices of the clergy were heard at a great distance, as in the early ages of the Church, there was no need of bells ; but that now these brazen tongues were necessary.
All things ought to serve the Lord Jesus, promote our salvation, and protect us against the enemy of our soul.
God has imparted His benediction to His ministers that, emanating from them, it may penetrate all things and make them subservient to His glory.
But when the Spirit of God withdraws from the priests and the bells alone diffuse His benediction and put the evil one to flight, it is like a tree which appears to flourish.
It receives nourishment through its bark, but the heart-wood is rotten and dry.
The ringing of blessed bells strikes me as essentially more sacred, more joyous, more animating, and far sweeter than all other sounds, which are in comparison dull and confused ; even the music of a church organ falls far short in fulness and richness. "
The language of the Church made a still more lively impression upon her.
The Latin prayers of Mass and all the ceremonies of the divine service were as intelligible to her as her mother-tongue, and it was long before she discovered that all the faithful did not understand them as well as herself.
"I was never conscious of any difference," she said, "between my own language and that made use of by the Holy Church.
I understood not only the words but even the various ceremonies themselves."
She had so keen a perception of the power and beneficent influence of the priestly benediction, that she could tell when a priest was passing the house.
She felt herself involuntarily drawn to run out and get his blessing.
If she happened to be minding the cows at the time, she quickly recommended them to her angel -guardian, and set off in pursuit of the priest.
She always wore around her neck, in a little bag, the Gospel of St. John. On this point she says :
"The Gospel of St. John has ever been for me a source of light and strength, a real buckler.
When frightened or in any danger, I used to say confidently : And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
I never could understand how some priests could call these words unintelligible, and yet I have really heard them say so."
As Anne Catherine was keenly alive to whatever had received the blessing of Holy Church, she was, on the contrary, seized with horror at the approach of anything evil or accursed.
She was immediately impelled to prayer and penance on such occasions. She relates the following incident of her youth:
"At a short distance from our house, lying in the midst of a fertile field, was a little piece of ground where nothing would grow, When I was a child, I never crossed it without a shudder.
I used to feel myself pushed by some invisible power, and sometimes I was even thrown down.
Once I saw two black shadows wandering about, and I noticed that the horses became uneasy at their approach.
I felt that there was something sinister about the place and I tried to get information concerning it. Fearful stories were told of it, and many pretended to have seen strange sights there;but this was all false.
At last my father told me that at the time of the ' Seven- Years' Wars,a Hanoverian soldier had been condemned by a military tribunal and executed on that spot.
The poor man was innocent : two enemies had been the authors of his misfortune.
I did not hear this till after my First Communion. I went by night to pray there with my arms extended.
The first time I had to force myself, I was so afraid; the second time a horrible phantom appeared to me in the form of a dog.
It stood at my back resting its head on my shoulder. If I turned my head, I could see its snout and flaming eyes.
I was terror-stricken, but I tried to hide my fear. I said in my heart : 'Lord, when Thou were in agony on the Mount of Olives, Thou didst pray the longer!
Thou art by me!'
The evil spirit could not harm me.
I began to pray and the horrible figure disappeared.
On another occasion, whilst praying in the same place, I was lifted up violently as if about to be cast into the ditch close by.
I renewed my confidence in God, and exclaimed : ' Satan thou canst not harm me!'
He ceased his attacks, and I went on with my prayers.
I never again saw the two shadows, and from that time all appeared quiet.
"I often felt repugnance for places in which there had once been pagan graves, although I had never heard anything about them.
A short distance from home there was a sandhill in the middle of a meadow.
I never liked to keep my cows there, for I always saw a black, ugly-looking vapor, like the smoke of smouldering rags, creeping over the ground.
A strange obscurity hung over the spot, and sombre figures, enveloped in darkness, moved here and there and, at last, disappeared underground.
I used to say to myself, child that I was, 'It is well the thick grass is above you, for that keeps you from hurting us !'
When houses are built over such places, a curse issues from the pagan bones resting beneath them, if their occupants do not lead lives sanctified by the benediction of the Church and so counteract its baneful effects.
If they should happen to make use of superstitious means condemned by the Church to rid themselves of the curse, they enter, though without knowing it perhaps, into communication with the powers of darkness, which then acquire fresh strength. It is hard for me to make this understood.
I see it really, with my bodily eyes, but my hearers can only see it in thought.
It is far more difficult for me to comprehend how it is that so many people see no difference between the holy and the profane, the believer and the unbeliever, the pure and the impure.
They see only the external appearance. They do not trouble themselves as to whether it is lawful to eat certain things or not, whether they may turn them to profit or not ; but I see, I feel quite differently.
That which is holy, that which is blessed, I see all luminous, diffusing light and benediction ; while that which is profane, that which is accursed, I see spreading around darkness and corruption.
I behold light or darkness springing like corporeal things from what is good or bad, each producing its own fruits. Once, on my way to Dulmen, I passed the hermitage near the grove in which the peasant H — dwelt.
Before it stretches a heath. As I drew near with my companion, I saw rising from it a vapor which filled me with horror and disgust.
In the middle of the heath several such currents arose and floated in waves over the ground, but I could see no fire.
I pointed them out to my companion, saying: 'What smoke is that over there ? I see no fire.' But she could see nothing.
She seemed astonished at my question ; she thought something was the matter with me. I said nothing more although I still saw the vapor and felt my terror increasing.
As we approached nearer the spot, I distinctly saw a similar vapor rising from the opposite side.
Then I understood that unhallowed bones were interred there, and I had a rapid view of the abominable, idolatrous practices that had formerly been carried on in the place."