Anne Catherine Receives the Crown of Thorns. —
Her Entrance among the Augustinians, of Dulmen.
When Anne Catherine had completed her bridal outfit by the practice of the most abject poverty and self-abnegation, the Heavenly Bridegroom Himself added to it the last and most precious jewel, the Crown which He had Himself worn on earth.
One day about noon, during the last year of her residence in the Soentgen family, she was kneeling near the organ in the Jesuits' Church, at Coesfeld. Clara was by her side.
Immersed in contemplation, she beheld the tabernacle door open and her Divine Betrothed issue from it under the form of a radiant youth.
In His left hand He held a garland, in His right a Crown of Thorns, which He graciously presented to her choice. She chose the Crown of Thorns.
Then Jesus laid it lightly on her brow ; and she, putting up both hands, pressed it firmly down.
From that instant, she experienced inexpressible pains in her head.
The apparition vanished, and Anne Catherine awoke from her rapture to hear the clicking of the sacristan's keys as He closed the church.
Her companion was wholly unconscious of what had happened.
They returned home.
Anne Catherine, suffering acute pains in her forehead and temples, asked Clara if she could see anything.
The latter answered in the negative. But the next day, the forehead and temples were very much inflamed, although there was, as yet, no appearance of blood.
That began to flow only in the convent where she tried carefully to conceal it from her companions.
As St. Teresa in her waking moments saw herself adorned with the jewels, the ring, and the girdle, received in vision, so too on days dedicated to the Sacred Passion the Thorny Crown was visible to Anne Catherine.
She described it as composed of three different branches : the first was of white flowers with yellow stamens ; the second like the first, but with larger leaves ; the third was like the wild eglantine, or sweet-brier.
In the fervor of her prayer, she often pressed it down upon her head, and each time she felt the thorns penetrating more deeply.
The wounds began to bleed in the convent and, at times, the red punctures were visible through the soaked bandages.
The religious thought them mildew stains on the linen, and asked for no explanation.
Once only did a sister surprise her wiping the blood from her temples, but she promised secrecy.
The moment was approaching for Anne Catherine to attain the long-desired end. The circumstances attending it were, in the sight of God, the most suitable termination to her persevering and laborious efforts, a proof of the fidelity with which the Bridegroom had waited for the bride.
Some days before she bade adieu to the world, she repaired for the last time to Flamske to take leave of her parents.
She thanked them with tears for their affection toward her, and begged their pardon and that of the rest of the family for the pain she gave them in following her vocation.
Her mother replied only by tears. Her father, usually so indulgent, was quite overcome at the prospect of losing his child.
When she humbly asked a little money for her journey, he answered bitterly: " Were you to be buried tomorrow, I should willingly defray the expenses of your funeral; but you shall get nothing from me to go to the convent."
In tears, poor, despoiled of everything, but interiorly joyful, she quitted Flamske to follow the call of God.
Next day she and Clara were to start for Dulmen some leagues distant from Coesfeld. But, at the last moment, fresh difficulties arose.
The organist Soentgen needed ten dollars and he could get the loan of this sum only on condition of Anne Catherine's going his security.
He explained his embarrassment to her and ceased not his importunities until she, trusting to Divine Providence, gave her signature for the required amount.
She had no money and only what was absolutely necessary in the way of clothing.
This with her scanty bedding was packed in a wooden chest into which her mother had secretly slipped a piece of linen for her beloved child.
When the latter discovered it, she would not keep it, but gave it to Clara Soentgen in gratitude for her admission to the convent.
This generous act was richly rewarded.
The mysterious book of prophecies was restored to her, and she took it with her to Dulmen.
Never since its foundation had there entered this convent a maiden so poor in earthly goods, so rich in spiritual treasures.
She humbly begged the Reverend Mother to receive her as the last and least in the house and to employ her in whatever she saw fit; but her gentle and retiring manners could not calm the general discontent at the reception of a subject so poor and, besides, in bad health.
The very fact of her asking such a favor proved, as was thought, her audacity.
Agnetenberg, the Augustinian convent of Dulmen, founded toward the middle of the fifteenth century had received its first religious from the convent of Marienthal.
It remained up to the time of its suppression, under the spiritual direction of the Augustinian Canons of Frenswegen, and toward the last it was under the Canons of Thalheim, near Paderborn.
It had always been in very straitened circumstances, and during the Seven Years' War it was in great distress.
The community would have been forced to disperse, were it not for the alms of the people of Dulmen.
Their circumstances did not improve with time.
The convent was never again able to provide for the wants of its inmates, or to restore community life in its perfection.
The religious supported themselves individually, some by their dowry, others by their labor.
They who had not these resources, or who received no help from strangers, fared badly enough.
Under the spiritual direction existing at the time of Anne Catherine's entrance, the convent of Agnetenberg shared the same fate as most of the poor female cloisters throughout the whole country of Munister at that period.
The Rule was no longer punctually observed, in truth, it was almost forgotten.
The cloister, once so rigorously closed, was now thrown open to all visitors without distinction ; the peace and silence of a religious house no longer reigned.
The Sisters lived as persons whom chance had thrown together, each as best she could, rather than as members of a religious community strictly bound by vows and rules to a life of perfection.
Custom and necessity indeed still kept up a certain order and regularity ; but it was the habit alone and not the spirit of religion that distinguished the inmates from their fellow- Christians in the world.
Anne Catherine was introduced by Almighty God into the midst of this relaxation that she might attain the highest religious perfection ; but these unfavorable surroundings were to be no more an obstacle to that end than the fruitless attempts she had hitherto made to effect her entrance.
Her expiatory mission had this one peculiar characteristic : all that might be for another an occasion of sin and damnation, became for her a means of proving her fidelity to God.
The decadence of conventual discipline, the loosening of the bond of obedience, the absence of enlightened direction, in a word, all the miseries of communities at this period, miseries which called down the sentence of universal suppression upon them, became for Anne Catherine so many means of reaching perfection ; they did but arouse her zeal in the service of her God.
We now turn to a new page in her prophetic book.
The vision of the espousals familiar to her from her sixteenth year and by whose direction she labored at her spiritual dowry, takes a new character.
She sees herself in the house of the Bridegroom or, as she was accustomed to express it, in the Nuptial House, and thither also her bridal out-fit was removed.
She entered the convent with an empty purse and a scanty wardrobe, and her poverty, though dear to God, drew upon her the contempt of the nuns at large, who little knew that by this very treatment they were opening for the poor peasant-girl the door of the inner chamber of the Spouse.
She no longer lives in the symbolical pictures which hitherto guided her, but really in a house of God, a religious house, in the midst of which He Himself dwells in the Most Holy Sacrament.
From the tabernacle He calls upon the religious to serve Him by day and by night, in the holy Office and ceremonies of the Church ; thence He regulates by the monastic constitutions not only their various practices of piety and mortification, but even their daily occupations.
He notes every step, every look, every gesture, in a word, their whole life, upon which He stamps the seal of consecration to His service.
Anne Catherine saw all this most clearly.
The higher her estimation of the incomparable dignity of such a life, the more sensitive was she to each infraction of the Rule, every indication of indifference, indolence, or worldliness ; and in corresponding proportion did she deem herself unworthy of so great a dignity.
She indulged in no figure of speech when, on her entrance, she asked the Superioress to be treated as the last and least of all.
We shall see that, by Almighty God's permission, her petition was fully granted.