Uncovering his head, and bowing with great respect, he answered, “Certainly, madame.” They walked on for a little in silence. Then she said, “What must I do to be saved, mon père?”
“Keep the ten commandments,” he answered at once.
“But the rich young man who came to Jesus could say with his hand on his heart that he had kept them all, and yet had no assurance of salvation. He was in great trouble. He said, ‘What must I do to be saved?’”
“Oh, then you must take the holy Eucharist very often.”
“But those who take it are they saved from sinning? Are they not the victims of the power of evil, the same as others?”
“Oh! Yes, madame, but then there is the Confessional.”
“But does not the same thing apply to the Confessional, mon père? You must know that there are tens of thousands in France who confess, but fall again the next day. They have not found rest. Is not Christ ready to save us if we are ready to be saved?”
“Alas! Madame, we shall sin always, always, to the very end of our lives.”
“But, my father, were not St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, and many others, delivered from the slavery of sin and self? They attained to something definite—to holiness.”
He turned with vehemence and said, raising his voice, “Ah! Madame, but those were extraordinary lives. Those people were saints.”
“No, my father, they were men and women like you and me. What God did for St. Augustine and St. Catherine of Siena, can He not do it for me if I am ready to fulfil the conditions which He lays down? What does religion do, what is it worth, if it cannot deliver us from sin?” He did not answer. He was silently thinking.
She went on, “Is Christ a Saviour, yes or no?”
“Oh, yes, yes, He is!”
“Has He saved you, mon père?” They stood still for a moment and he turned his face away, with a look of poignant sadness. Then followed a confession—one of the deepest, most heartfelt cries she had ever listened to—ending with the words, “Alas, alas! All the days of my life I sin, and I expect to sin to my latest breath.”
The Maréchale was profoundly moved, and felt that she stood upon holy ground. At last she spoke, “Then Calvary is the greatest fiasco the world has ever seen.”
Stretching out his hand, he said, “Oh, madame, do not say that; it is blasphemy.”
“But, my father, we are in the presence of facts, not fancies. You have left what men prize most. You have lived up to your light. And what do I find? Torment instead of rest, conflict instead of assurance, bondage instead of deliverance. Surely my father, Jesus did not come to increase our burdens, but to relieve them. You remember His word, ‘Come unto me and I will give you rest.’ He said, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Are these theories to be preached in pulpits, or are they realities?” By this time they stood on the summit of the hill, and she asked, “You are going to preach tonight?”
“Would you like that we should go down the hill together and resume our conversation?”
“It would be a great pleasure, madame.”
He preached one of the best sermons she had ever heard, partly inspired, she could not help thinking by their intimate talk.
As the congregation moved out, she stepped into a Confessional box to wait for him. She saw him turning this way and that with a look of disappointment, and stepping out, said to him, “I am here, mon père.”
They began to descend the hill together. “I greatly enjoyed your sermon. But how can you show others the way of deliverance if you have not found it yourself? How can you unbind if you are not unbound? How can you heal if you are not healed? How, my father? Do you not see that all this is only from the head, not from life, the heart?”
“It is true! But I try, oh my God, I try!”
“But it does not come in that way—by our struggles.”
“Then how?” he exclaimed in a tone of despair.
“Does He not say, ‘Abide in me, and ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you’? Does not St. Paul testify, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ How many have given praise to Him who is ‘able to save to the uttermost’ and ‘able to present us faultless’! Put Him to the proof. If anyone has the right to salvation, surely you have.”
They paused under a tree in the stillness of evening, and, while he stood with bowed head, she knelt beside him and prayed.