The worthy servants of the Saints are not those who content themselves with invoking their help in the time of trouble and need, but those who imitate them in the practice of those virtues which are most worthy of admiration. And this admiration is a sure means of interesting the Saints in our favor. We have already, in several places, spoken of the virtues practiced by our dear and good St. Anne; the remainder of our month shall be devoted to a fuller consideration of them. We will begin by the theological virtues.
Faith is the foundation, the source or the root of all supernatural life and of all Christian virtue. It is the want of faith or the weakness of their faith which causes so many Christians of the present day to live as heathens. Faith, and the hope that springs therefrom, were, according to St. Paul, the two virtues which shone the brightest in the Saints of the Old Testament. In fact, if these eternal truths are occasionally somewhat obscured to us, they must have been still more obscure to them, for JESUS-CHRIST had not yet come on earth to preach these truths to them.
Religion was then composed of shadows and figures, its sacrifices represented JESUS- CHRIST, but did not contain Him; its sacraments, its ceremonies did not confer grace as ours do, but only served to awaken piety. Like us the people of those days looked to JESUS-CHRIST for salvation, like us they hoped for Heaven; but, unlike us, they did not possess JESUS-CHRIST; they had no Blessed Eucharist, that pledge and foretaste of Heaven on earth; and also the gates of Heaven were shut against them. If, as our Lord JESUS-CHRIST says, a tree is known by its fruits, St. Anne’s faith and hope must have been great indeed, since they bore such excellent fruit.
What was that fruit? It was Mary! For the greater glory of that holy woman and in order that the birth of the Mother of God might be attributed to her virtue rather than to any natural cause, so that the whole human race and JESUS Himself the chief of the human race should be indebted to her, divine Providence ordained that the blessed Anne should be barren like Sara, Rebecca, Rachel and the mother of Samuel; and the Holy Ghost inspired in her a lively desire of obtaining an offspring from the divine goodness, so that the noble and holy life of Abraham might be continued. But in vain did Anne pray, watch, fast, give alms; God seemed to be deaf to her prayers. Did Anne become discouraged? No; her confidence seemed to increase in proportion as her trial was prolonged, and as her prayers became the more fervent, the more did God apparently refuse to grant her petition. She thereby made herself worthy of an incomparably more excellent grace than the one she was asking for: she asked for a child as an heir to Joachim’s name, she obtained a Daughter through whom she herself became heir of the benediction promised to Abraham, and Grand mother of the Savior of men, of the Son of God.
Let us learn from this, in the first place, that when God delays granting our petitions, He does so out of His Goodness for us. Let us take an example, and for the consolation of pious souls, let us take it in the spiritual order. You have some notable fault, some weakness, some imperfection prejudicial to your progress in the spiritual life ; for many long years you have been asking God to deliver you from it, and He has not yet done so. Why? For your greater benefit. This fault humiliates you, disconcerts you, enables you to recognize your own powerlessness, the inutility of all your resolutions of doing better, if those resolutions are not aided by grace; this fault makes you pray, and consequently causes you to make many acts of faith and confidence; it strengthens these two virtues in you, putting them to the proof; it intensifies your hunger and thirst for righteousness. If God had at once granted your prayer, you might perhaps have attributed your victory to your own strength; now, the very slightest particle of pride would do you more harm than all your repeated falling into a fault which you detest and which humiliates you.
Let us also learn that a prayer worthily offered is always heard, as we are infallibly assured by JESUS- CHRIST, although not always according to our desires. St. Anne probably asked for a son, and God gave her a daughter. But in truth, was not this Daughter infinitely more worth to her and to us than the twelve sons of Jacob? Every prayer, that is worthily offered, is a means of eventually obtaining salvation and the graces necessary for attaining thereto. After we have prayed then, let us leave the Holy Ghost at liberty to amend our petitions, if He judges best so to do; and if, in the place of the milk and honey of temporal graces, which we have asked, He gives us the bread of the strong man, i.e. some grace more beneficial for our eternal salvation, let us rejoice thereat. Now this is what always takes place when we do not obtain what we have asked for; for our Savior’s promise assures us that an humble, confident and persevering prayer is always granted.
Pierre van Tomme, born at Bottelaere, near Ghent, living in Tournai, and employed in Casterman’s printing-office, was struck with paralysis and became so completely helpless that he had to be waited on like a little child. In this lamentable state, he passed two years at the hospital and two others in his own house, after which he perceived some slight improvement in his right leg and arm. Aided by two crutches, he had managed to apply himself to some out-of-door occupations when, to add to his misfortune, he was attacked by an acute chest-affection, which lasted two years and was declared to be incurable by the physicians. During all this time, he had not been able to leave the house. Not knowing where to seek relief, he thought of returning to his native village, where St. Anne is specially honored, and, if possible, of making the circuit of the sanctuary dedicated to her. His desire to undertake this pilgrimage increased, and he, although three weeks previously he had received the last Sacraments, finally resolved on undertaking it. Taking his crutches and, aided by a friend, he arrived with great difficulty at the railway-station, where his wife took leave of him weeping, for she feared he would die on the road and that she would never see him again. He soon arrived at Ghent but how could he proceed to Bottelaere which was at two leagues distance? After three days of most painful efforts in dragging himself along, he succeeded in arriving there, on July 22nd, 1857.
We will here remark that the devotion to St. Anne at Bottelaere dates as far back as 1543, and its parish-priest writing to the Bollandists in 1727, speaks of the many and divers miracles there performed through her powerful intercession. A curious fact, worthy of remark, is that in spite of its great age, the holy statue has no signs of decay and, what is most singular, by passing a handkerchief over it, we can at any time attest that it is never defiled by a .particle of the dust that is necessarily occasioned by the thronging of pilgrims and the necessary cleaning of the church.
Nor has the devotion to St. Anne in Belgium in any way diminished with the lapse of years. In the year 1860 at Alost and at Bottelaere, a magnificent jubilee was celebrated in her honor, amid crowds of people who flocked there from all parts of Flanders.
About twenty years ago, the town of Ghent built a superb basilica under the invocation of St. Anne, and in Antwerp, the Redemptorist Fathers celebrate Mass in her honor every Tuesday, at which there is always a large concourse of the faithful. To return to Van Tomme. From July 22nd until the fol lowing Sunday, he fasted rigorously, only taking a little milk for nourishment. His intention had been to visit the church the following Tuesday, in order to hear the Mass which from time immemorial has always been celebrated there every Tuesday in honor of St. Anne. But having learned on the Saturday that the following day was St. Anne s day, he changed his mind. On the Sunday morning he made one last effort and taking his crutches and aided by his friends, he arrived at the church, where at the sight of the miraculous statue of St. Anne, he felt a shivering in all his limbs. Hardly had he seated him self than he felt himself growing worse and worse, and he changed color to such a degree that those present hastened to his assistance. Not being able to understand what was the matter with him, Van Tomme thought his last hour had come. In the meanwhile the Mass had begun and suddenly he heard a voice of extraordinary sweetness whisper in his ear: Walk without your crutches. He asked one of his friends, who it was that had spoken to him. The latter, seeing no one, begged of him to be silent. The thought then occured to Van Tomme that the voice which he had just heard must be St. Anne’s and begging the Saint to repeat her words and tell him what to do, he again heard the same voice saying a second time: Walk without crutches. Van Tomme at once took his crutches and hastening to the statue of St. Anne, deposited them at its feet and, returning unaided to his seat, threw himself on his knees, a thing he had not been able to do for ten years. Every one present at the High Mass witnessed this miracle and many were so impressed by it that they wept and sobbed. After the Mass the venerable parish-priest, Rev. G. Van der Maeren, sent for Van Tomme to the sacristy: "Father," were his first words, "I am cured! JESUS, Mary, what have I done to deserve such a favor" In the afternoon, Van Tomme returned to the church to Vespers and every day of the novena he attended Mass, walking quite upright and with great facility. Thousands of people flocked from all quarters to ascertain the reality of this miraculous cure.
On August 4th, Van Tomme returned to Tournai in perfect health.
Great Saint , how far am I from resembling thee! I am so ready to lose patience and courage, to give up praying when God does not see fit immediately to grant my prayers! And this is why I remain in such misery and so poor in virtue. Prayer is the key of all the heavenly treasures, and I know not how to pray, because my faith is so weak and my wavering confidence fails me at the slightest delay. My powerful Protectress, come to my aid, grant that, trusting in the promises of JESUS-CHRIST, my confidence and fervor may be increased in proportion to the delay which it pleases God, in His goodness, to subject me to, that, like thee, I may obtain more than I dare ask for. Henceforth I desire constantly to recall to mind that I was created for Heaven and not for this earth, not for time but for eternity; that, consequently, what I ought to ask for above all, is the salvation of my soul, which salvation is assured to all who pray well and persevere in prayer.
St. Anne, obtain for me a lively faith and an unlimited confidence in the divine goodness.
One of the greatest graces we can ask of God through St. Anne’s intercession is an unshaken confidence in the promises made by JESUS-CHRIST to prayer.