Anne Catherine's Novitiate.
Anne Catherine passed her first months in the convent as a postulant in the secular dress, she and Clara Soentgen occupying the same cell.
She had no security of being permitted to remain in the community, but God gave her during this time strength sufficient to render herself useful.
She earned, besides, by her needle sufficient to supply her few necessities and to defray the expense of her reception to the habit.
She thus escaped being sent away under the plea of uselessness, and on Nov. 13, 1802, she was clothed with the habit of the Order and formally admitted to the novitiate.
The worst cell in the house was assigned her.
It had two chairs, one without a back, the other minus a seat ; the window-sill served as a table.
"But," she declared years after, "that poor cell of mine appeared to me so well furnished, so grand, that it was to me a perfect heaven !"
We can readily imagine what the spiritual training of novices would be in a community in which the exercises employed in happier times for this end had fallen into disuse.
Anne Catherine sighed for the humiliation and obedience prescribed by the Rule, but there was no one to impose them.
She knew that the humility that springs from obedience is infinitely more efficacious and meritorious than self-imposed penance.
But such occasions of meriting would never have been hers had not her Divine Betrothed intervened as Master to conduct His pupil to the highest perfection, and this He did precisely by those very circumstances which seemed so unfavorable to spiritual progress.
Everything was to be a means of attaining this end and, in the same measure, a means of advancing the glory of God and the good of His Church.
A prudent mistress, one experienced in the spiritual life, would soon have discovered her novice's sublime vocation and would have directed her in accordance with it, tolerating in her no imperfection, no defect.
Anne Catherine was naturally hasty. She had a keen sense of injustice, and resented it accordingly ; but to the mortification of these dispositions she could not attain without proper direction.
Almighty God, however, furnished the occasions for self-victory in these very points.
From the beginning of her novitiate, He permitted her to be unjustly suspected, accused, reprimanded, and penanced all which she bore without murmur, excuse, or reply.
We shall cite one instance among many of the kind.
The convent possessed but a Blender revenue from its lands ; and in order to increase its funds, it boarded for a trifling sum a few poor French nuns, emigrees, and an old gentleman, the brother of the Superioress.
The nuns, learning by chance that the old gentleman paid less than they, grew dissatisfied and accused the Superioress of injustice.
Then the question arose as to how the nuns had come by this information.
No Sister, of course, acknowledged herself guilty, and so the blame fell on the unfortunate novice, who was known to take a lively interest in the destitute religious banished on account of their profession.
Anne Catherine could say most truthfully that she knew not what either party paid and, consequently, she had nothing to reveal on the subject.
But this was of little moment in the estimation of her accusers.
She was reprimanded by the Superioress in full Chapter and she underwent the penance imposed.
At once there arose loud complaints in the community against the galling ingratitude, as they styled it, of this miserable peasant-girl.
The innocent victim of all this clamor had to bear not only unjust suspicion and severe punishment, but she endured also the bitterness of having been, although involuntarily, the cause of such uncharitableness.
There was no one in the house to whom she might unburden her heart, no one to pour into her wound one drop of consolation.
She overcame her feelings so far as not only to forgive them who had injured her, but also to render thanks to God for what she tried to look upon as a merited chastisement.
The effort was, however, too trying on her delicate sensibilities. She fell seriously ill and recovered but slowly.
About Christmas, 1802, she felt around her heart acute pains which prevented her attending to her customary duties.
In vain did she struggle against her sufferings, they did but increase ; it was as if she were being pierced by sharp arrows and she was, finally, obliged to keep her bed.
In her humility, she dared acknowledge neither to herself nor to others the real cause of her malady, although she knew it from a vision vouchsafed her at the time of her clothing.
The signification of the ceremony, as well as of every article of the religious dress, had been shown her.
She had, in consequence, received it with deep respect and gratitude. St. Augustine, patron of the Order, had shown her his heart burning with love, had clothed her with the habit, accepted her for his daughter, promised her his special assistance.
At this sight so great a fire was enkindled in her breast that she felt herself more closely united to the community than with her own blood relations.
The significance of the religious dress became then as real to her as the dress itself.
She was actually conscious of the spiritual union it established between her and the rest of the sisterhood.
It was like a current flowing through the whole body, but ever returning to herself as to its source.
Her heart had become, so to say, the spiritual centre of the community.
Hers was the terrible mission of enduring the wounds inflicted upon the Heart of the Bridegroom by the sins and imperfections of its members.
She could advance but slowly in this way, for love did not render her insensible to pain and sorrow, and every infraction of vows or rules pierced her heart like a burning dart.
No one understood her state.
The physician of the convent was called in.
He pronounced her sufferings purely physical.
It was the first time in her life that she had been subjected to medical treatment.
In her own home certain simple herbs, of whose virtues she herself possessed the knowledge, and a little repose quickly wrought a cure ; no one thought of having recourse to medicine.
Now it was very different.
The Rule imposed it as a duty to declare herself sick and to receive the care of the physician appointed.
Although knowing her illness to be purely spiritual, to be relieved only by spiritual means, yet, as an obedient novice, she could refuse no remedy offered her.
She quietly allowed herself to be treated, happy in having an occasion to practise obedience.
That her submission might be still more perfect, Almighty God permitted the evil spirit to lay all kinds of snares for her.
He appeared as an angel of light, and exhorted her to return to the world.
It would be sinful, he reasoned, to desire longer to bear a burden above her strength, and he pictured to her what she would have to endure from the Sisters, etc.
But the sign of the cross put the tempter to flight even before he had finished his wily speech.
Again he sought to rouse her resentment and make her murmur against Superiors, or he tried to inspire her with such fear of them as to force her to leave the convent.
One night he threw her into an agony of terror.
It seemed to her that the Superioress and the Novice-Mistress suddenly entered her cell, reproached her in unmeasured terms, declared her absolutely unworthy of their holy vocation, and ended by saying she should be expelled from the community.
Anne Catherine received their rebukes in silence, acknowledged her unworthiness, and begged them to be patient with her.
Then the angry nuns left her cell, abusing her as they went.
The poor novice wept and prayed till morning, when she sent for her confessor, told him what had occurred during the night, and asked him what she should do to appease the Superioress.
But on inquiry, it was proved that neither the Superioress nor any other Sister had entered her cell at the time specified.
The confessor saw in it an attack of the evil one, and the novice thanked God for the deep feeling of unworthiness by which she had overcome the tempter.
After some weeks the physician's visits were discontinued.
The community thought her cured ; but, in reality, it was not so.
She was so weak and infirm that again the hue and cry was raised against the convent's burdening itself by the profession of such a member.
"Send her away at once," they said,"do not incur the obligation of keeping her altogether."
These whispers, although perhaps at the other end of the building, were heard by the poor invalid as if spoken in her cell.
All the little plots, all the thoughts of her Sisters against her, pierced her soul like so many fiery sparks, like so many red-hot spears, wounding her to the quick.
The gift of reading hearts which she possessed from her infancy, but which had never given her pain among the simple peasants, who all loved and reverenced her, now became for her a source of exquisite suffering.
All this was in accordance with the designs of God.
He willed that only by the perfection of virtue, should she surmount the obstacles she was to meet in her task of expiation.
She saw the passions of her fellow-sisters, inasmuch as she had to struggle against them by her own prayer and mortification ; and by humility, patience, and charity she had to disarm those who opposed her making the religious vows.
If a word of complaint, a sign of dissatisfaction escaped her, she tearfully implored pardon with expressions of sorrow so touching that the Sisters became more kindly disposed toward her.
Then she would run before the Blessed Sacrament and beg for strength to perform her duties.
"She redoubled her efforts to render herself useful and stilled the anguish of her heart with these words : "I will persevere, even if I should be martyred!"
On a certain Friday in February, 1803, as she was praying alone before the Blessed Sacrament, there suddenly appeared before her a cross, eight inches in length, on which hung an image of the Saviour covered with blood.
" I was," she says, "greatly agitated by this apparition.
I flushed and trembled, for I saw everything around me and the bloody crucifix before me.
It was not a vision, I saw it with my bodily eyes. Then the thought struck me that by this apparition God was preparing me for extraordinary sufferings.
I shuddered ! — but the pitiable sight of my blood-stained Jesus banished my repugnance, and I felt strong to accept even the most fearful pains if Our Lord only granted me patience to bear them."
The presentment was soon realized. The gift of tears was bestowed upon her that she might weep over the outrages offered her Divine Betrothed and find in it for herself a fruitful source of humiliation.
Whenever anything was presented either to her corporal or mental sight which called for supernatural sorrow, it was impossible for her to restrain her tears.
When she considered the sufferings and tribulations of the Church, when she saw the Sacraments conferred or received unworthily, her heart was so wounded that torrents of bitter tears flowed from her eyes.
If she beheld spiritual blindness, false piety veiling evil dispositions, grace despised or obstinately resisted, the truths of faith set aside, her tears flowed involuntarily, bathing her cheeks, her neck, her breast almost unknown to herself.
In the chapel, at Holy Communion, at meals, at work, at community exercises, her tears would gush forth to the extreme displeasure of the religious. During Mass and Holy Communion, all eyes were turned upon her.
This was all the notice she received, at first ; but, as her tears became more abundant, she was taken aside and reproached for her singular behavior.
She promised on her knees to correct ; but soon, next day perhaps, it was remarked that during Mass even the kneeling-bench was wet with her tears, a fresh proof as it was thought that the novice was still indulging wounded self-love.
Again was she reprimanded, again was she penanced ; but her humility and submission were such that the Superioress was forced to acknowledge the poor novice's tears a greater mortification to herself than to others.
They were, in the end, ascribed to constitutional weakness and not to discontent or caprice.
As to Anne Catherine, so far from looking upon them as supernatural, she anxiously examined whether they did not proceed from some secret aversion to the Sisters.
She dared not decide for herself, and disclosed her fears to her confessor, who quieted her with the assurance that they sprang not from hatred but from compassion.
She hoped that time would mitigate the intensity of her feelings and that her tears would cease to flow.
But this was not the case; they rather increased than diminished.
In her distress she applied to the other confessors appointed for the religious, but from all she received the same answer.
Dean Overberg says on this point : —
“Anne Catherine so tenderly loved her Sisters in religion that she would willingly have shed her blood for them individually.
She knew that several were against her, yet she did all in her power to propitiate them and rejoiced when any one asked her assistance.
She hoped by kindness to win them over to their duty.
"God permitted that she should not be appreciated by the Superioress and Sisters who saw in all that she did either hypocrisy, flattery, or pride, and they failed not to reproach her openly.
At first she tried to justify herself; but afterward she merely replied that she would correct.
She wept over the deplorable spiritual destitution of the religious; for whether at exercises of piety or other conventual duties, it was ever before her eyes.
" The tears she shed during the Holy Sacrifice were particularly displeasing to the nuns, and they held little whispered councils as to the most effective means of curing her of what they termed her sloth and caprice.
All this added to her desolation, since she clearly knew what was passing in their inmost thoughts.
"She assured me that she knew all that was said or planned against her.
' I saw then even more clearly than I do now.'she said (April 22, 1813), l what passed in souls, and sometimes I let them see that I knew it.
Then they wanted to know how I came by the knowledge, but I dared not tell them, and they straightway imagined that some one had told me.
I asked my confessor what I should do.
He told me to say that I had spoken of it in confession and to give no explanation on the subject."
On another occasion, she again alluded to her gift of tears : —
"I would willingly have given my life for my sister-religious and, therefore, my tears could not be restrained when I saw them so irritated against me.
Who would not weep at seeing himself a stumbling-block in the house of peace, among the chosen of God? I wept over the poverty, the misery, the blindness of those whose hard hearts languished amidst the superabundant graces of our Holy Redeemer."
When, in 1813, Ecclesiastical Superiors demanded the testimony of the community of Agnetenberg concerning Anne Catherine, the Superioress, the Novice-Mistress and five of the other religious unanimously deposed as follows : —
"Anne Catherine was affable and cordial, very easy to deal with, humble, condescending, and exceedingly preventing.
In sickness she was admirable, ever resigned to the will of God.
She quickly and cheerfully forgave every offence against her, always asked pardon if she herself were in fault, never harbored ill-will, and was always the first to yield."
And Clara Soentgen told Dean Overberg : —
"Anne Catherine was never so happy as when serving the Sisters.
They might ask what they pleased, she never refused she gladly gave them even what she needed most herself.
If she had a preference, it was only for those that she knew disliked her."
Dean Rensing of Dulmen deposed, April 24, 1813: —
"I had been told of Anne Catherine having rendered great services to one of the Sisters during an illness, and I asked her why she did it.
She answered : 'The Sister had sores on her feet and the servants did not like to wait on her as she was hard to please.
I thought it a work of mercy, and I begged her to let me wash her blood-stained bandages.
She had the itch, too, and I used to make up her bed, as the servants were afraid of catching her disease.
But I confided in God and He preserved me from it.
I knew that this whimsical Sister would not thank me when she got well, that she would again treat me as a hypocrite as she had often done before.
But I said to myself, 'I shall have so much the more merit before God,'and so I went on, washing her linen, making her bed, and taking the best care I could of her."
Anne Catherine understood so perfectly the signification of the religious vows, she so ardently longed to practise obedience in all things, that the fact of not being exercised in it by the commands of Superiors was a very grievous trial to her.
She often begged the Reverend Mother to command her in virtue of obedience that she might practise her vow.
But such requests were looked upon as singular, the effects of scruples, and she received no other reply from the weak and indulgent Superioress than : " You know your duty" and thus she was left to herself.
This want of training afflicted the novice even to tears. It seemed to her that the blessing attached to the religious state was not for her, since blind obedience to Superiors, so pleasing to her Divine Betrothed, was not permitted her.
In 1813, the Superioress deposed as follows: — "Sister Emmerich cheerfully and eagerly fulfilled the injunctions of obedience, especially when enjoined upon her individual! ."
The Novice-Mistress says ;—
" She practised obedience perfectly. Her only regret was that Reverend Mother laid no commands upon her."
If occasions of practising obedience were for the most part wanting, she tried to supply the loss by her interior submission and untiring attention to regulate all her actions according to the spirit and letter of the Rule.
She would not live in religion in the mere practice of the still existing observances ; she aimed at moulding her whole interior and exterior life by its animating principle.
With this view she made it a careful study, and so great was her respect for it that she read it only on her knees.
Sometimes whilst thus engaged, the light by which she was reading would be suddenly extinguished and the book closed by an invisible power.
She knew well by whose agency this was affected so, quietly relighting her candle, she set to work more earnestly than before.
These attacks of the demon grew more sensible and violent, and amply indemnified her for the want of other trials.
If he maltreated her for seriously studying her Rule, she applied thereto more assiduously ; if he excited a storm against her in the community, it only gave her an occasion to practise blind and humble obedience as the following incident will prove :
A rich merchant of Amsterdam had entered his daughter as a boarder in the convent. When about to return home, the young lady presented a florin to each of the nuns.
But to Anne Catherine, for whom she had a special affection, she gave two, which the good novice immediately handed over to her Superioress. A few days after the whole house was up in arms.
Anne Catherine was cited before the Chapter, accused of having received five thalers from the young Hollander, of giving only two to the Reverend Mother, and of having handed over the other three to the organist Soentgen, who had just paid a visit to his daughter.
They appealed to her conscience, and Anne Catherine truthfully declared all that had passed.
The nuns redoubled their accusations, but she firmly denied having received five thalers.
Then sentence was passed upon the poor novice, She was condemned to ask pardon on her knees of each Sister.
She gladly accepted the undeserved penance, begging God to grant that her Sisters might pardon not only this imaginary fault, but all they saw displeasing in her.
Some months after the merchant's daughter returned, and the novice asked the Superioress to inquire into the affair.
But she received for answer to think no more of what was now forgotten. She obeyed and reaped the full benefit of the humiliation.
We see by this circumstance how prone these imperfect religious were to dislike and suspect their innocent companion, and also how quickly the storm was lulled even when at its height.
Their novice's demeanor produced impressions so varied upon them that we can scarcely wonder that, in their inexperience, their obtuseness to all beyond their every-day existence, they sometimes went astray.
And, although Anne Catherine's sweetness and patience under such trials, her earnestness in begging pardon, could not fail to soften even the most exasperated, yet new suspicions, fresh charges soon arose against her.
There was in the richness of her supernatural life, in the varied and wonderful gifts imparted to her, in a word, in her whole being something too striking to remain hidden, or to allow her to tread the beaten paths of ordinary life like the other religious.
However great the simplicity and modesty of her bearing, there shone about her a something so holy, so elevated, that all were forced to feel, though they might not acknowledge her superiority; consequently, they regarded her as singular, tiresome, and disagreeable.
Anne Catherine was drawn to the Blessed Sacrament by an irresistible force.
When some errand took her through the church, she fell as if paralyzed at the foot of the altar.
She was ever in a state of contemplation and interior suffering which, in spite of every effort on her part, could not be wholly concealed.
To all around her she was simply a mystery, to some quite insupportable.
Clara Soentgen deposed on this point as follows : —
"Anne Catherine did her best to conceal the attraction which impelled her to extraordinary devotion ; but nothing could escape me, I knew her so well. I often found her in the chapel kneeling or prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament.
She was so powerfully attracted to contemplation that, even in the company of others, I could see that she was quite abstracted.
She was much given to bodily mortification.
At table I used to notice that she took the worst of everything, leaving dainty dishes untouched, or passing her share to her neighbor, especially if the latter had any ill-will toward her, and she was so pleased when a chance presented itself to do this that I was filled with astonishment."
The Novice-Mistress says : —
"Several times during Anne Catherine's novitiate, I removed little pieces of wood from her bed.
She had put them there to render her rest uncomfortable, for she was much given to corporal mortification.
I was sometimes obliged to make her leave the chapel at ten o'clock in winter and send her to bed ; otherwise she would have remained too long."
On various occasions, Anne Catherine herself spoke of her early days in the convent. Clement Brentano, who carefully collected all her communications and reduced them to writing, gives us the following : —
"From the very beginning of my novitiate I endured incredible interior sufferings.
At times my heart was surrounded by roses and then suddenly transpierced by thorns, sharp points, and darts, which arose from my perceiving much more clearly than I do now every injurious thought, word, or action against me.
Not one with whom I lived, no religious, no confessor, had the least idea of the state of my soul or the particular way by which I was led.
I lived wholly in another world of which I could make nothing known.
But, as on some occasions, in consequence of any interior direction, things appeared in me not in conformity with everyday life, I became a cause of temptation to many, a subject for injurious suspicion, detraction, and unkind remarks.
These mortifying opinions and speeches entered my soul like sharp arrows, I was attacked on all sides, my heart was pierced with a thousand wounds.
Exteriorly I was serene and cordial, as if ignorant of their cruel treatment ; and, after all, I really did not know much from without, for the suffering was all within.
It was shown me in order to exercise my obedience, charity, and humility.
When I failed in these virtues, I was interiorly punished.
My soul appeared to me transparent ; and, when a new suffering assailed me, I saw it in my soul under the appearance of fiery darts, red and inflamed spots, which patience alone could remove.
My condition in the convent was so singular, so perfectly abstracted from outward things that my companions can hardly be blamed for their treatment of me.
They could not understand me, they regarded me with distrust and suspicion ; however, God hid many facts from them that would have perplexed them still more.
As for the rest, in spite of these trials, I have never since been so rich interiorly, never so perfectly happy as then, for I was at peace with God and man.
When at work in the garden, the birds perched on my head and shoulders and we praised God together.
My angel was ever at my side. Although the evil spirit raged around me, although he heaped abuse upon me in the quiet of my cell and sought to terrify me by frightful noises, yet he could never harm me; I was always relieved in good time.
I often thought I had the Infant Jesus in my arms for hours at a time ; or, when with the Sisters ; I felt Him by my side and I was perfectly happy.
I beheld so many things which roused feelings of joy or pain, but I had no one to whom I could impart them, and my very efforts at concealing these sudden and violent emotions caused me to change color frequently.
Then the sisters said that I looked like one in love. They were, indeed, right for I could never love my Affianced enough, and when His friends spoke well of Him or of those dear to Him, my heart beat with joy."