|A Soldier Converts - Part 2
Manuel Pereira Joins the
Army of St. Francis -
Fr. Manuel Souza Pereira, O.F.M.
An excerpt from the book
The Admirable Life of Mother Mariana of Jesus Torres, Vol. 2
Translated and edited by Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.
Seeing my great content, my commanders asked me: "What has happened to make you so happy? Perhaps the General, your uncle, has arranged a marriage for you, undoubtedly with some noble and prudent young lady, who will make you very happy."
"My state of spirit has nothing to do with marriage," I responded, "for I do not have this vocation. I am called to the celibate life. Something else has happened. I have received a marvelous book, written by Padre Alácano, a Friar Minor, which relates the life of a Franciscan Conceptionist nun, Spanish by birth and one of the Founders of the Convent of the Immaculate Conception in the Colony of Quito, whose foundation was made in the name of the King in the year 1577. If you would like, it can be read aloud in the barracks, for it is a fascinating and true story."
The Conceptionist Church in Quito, the first to be established in the royal city
These commanders were good, upright men. They strove to see that morality and order prevailed in the barracks. They were also Catholics, even though they did not always make their Easter duty. However, they all prayed to the Blessed Virgin, invoked God and the saints, and never failed to hear Mass on all the days of obligation. Among the ranks, there were some young dissolute soldiers, it is true, but they would only commit their depraved misdeeds out of the sight of the commanders.
My superiors, therefore, with curiosity and pleasure, approved the public reading, which I immediately commenced.
Like a spark, enthusiasm for the work caught fire among all, so much so that some would beg for the reading not to stop. I would read until the hour to retire, and, generally speaking, all showed the greatest interest. The life of Mother Mariana was the topic of general discussion. All admired the heroism of this young Spanish religious who had suffered so many trials.
As the reading continued, a change was noted in the barracks. By the time it ended, all unanimously requested a spiritual retreat, which proved most profitable, with great fruit reaped in souls so given to vices.
During the days of the retreat, which was given by the Franciscan Friars, including my confessor, the beautiful Spanish nun in her blue and whiter-than-snow habit appeared to me every night in dreams. Drawing near my bed, she would repeat her command:
"Manuel, leave this earthly army and enlist under the banner of Francis, my Father, who has need of valiant champions to combat vice and save souls. You are a person most fitting for this army, and you will do much good for souls."
I would awaken, frightened. Piously moved, I felt myself inclined to abandon the temporal militia and enlist in that of Francis, but I could not make the decision to do so. I saw mountains of obstacles before me that, humanly speaking, seemed insurmountable. By the end of the retreat, I had become quiet and thoughtful, my mind occupied by this matter. I was well disposed to make a complete change of life. However, I could not come to any definitive resolution.
Mother Mariana appeared to Manuel Pereira every night in dreams during the retreat.
It was then that I again saw the Spanish nun - but this time not in a dream. Her appearance was identical to that of the vision in my dreams. With a serene countenance, she stood before me and said:
"Manuel, young soldier, why are you so slow and heavy of heart? Listen at last to the voice of God. Leave the army, the world and all its foolish vanities, and enlist yourself under the banner of the Seraphim of Assisi. There God awaits you. For if you do not listen to the divine voice and show yourself to be deaf to so many inspirations, you will surely lose your soul, which will fall like lead into the most profound depths of the infernal abyss. To convince you of this, see now the place where you will stay for all eternity."
Then I saw the infernal abyss in the center of the earth opening in front of me. In it, there was an empty place, filled with fire and the most atrocious torments, around which the infernal spirits were dancing amid dreadful clamor, anxiously awaiting their prisoner.
One demon cried out to the others:
"This is the place of the soldier Manuel Sousa Pereira, because he did not listen to the voice of the Lord, Who called him to perfection on the path of the nauseating Francis of Assisi, my enemy, who snatches uncountable souls from me. Let us all strive diligently to impede this soldier from becoming a Friar Minor. Then, when he comes here, we will torment him without compassion."
I returned to myself as if roused from a dream, but completely changed and determined to leave the world forever, happen what may.
I entrusted the matter to the holy Spanish sister with these words:
This painting of the demons tormenting souls in Hell is in the Jesuit Church in Quito
"O holy virgin, if it is true that you are in Heaven, having lead the life of fidelity that we have read about here, you yourself must dispose things so that I can enlist without difficulty under the banner of Francis to fight in the shadow of the standard of the Cross."
I had hardly finished pronouncing the last word when I again saw her, as beautiful as before. With a sweet and gentle voice, she said to me:
"Manuel, my predilect brother, finally you have given your heart decisively to God. Do not fear, all will go well. Do not doubt the veracity of my life, for some day in the near future you yourself will write another biography of me. And in it you will also tell the story of your vocation and call to the Seraphic Order.
"You have just seen how an eternity of torments awaits you if you do not respond to the divine call. If you are sensible, you will do now what you will wish to have done at the hour of your death.
When morning came, I was panic-stricken and confused, but decided. I spoke with my confessor and told him all that had taken place. I told him that I was resolved to leave the world and enlist in the Army of the Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi without delay in order to guarantee my eternal salvation, since it was no longer possible to doubt all that had happened to me during the preceding weeks.
My confessor listened attentively. With his eyes overflowing with tears, that venerable old religious told me:
"What you have seen is no illusion, Manuel. It is God Who is calling you by means of my holy sister.
"O! If it were only given to me to travel to Quito, that Spanish colony, and to pray before the tomb of the Spanish virgin Mariana de Jesus Torres, as well as before the venerable remains of all the Spanish Founding Mothers of that fortunate convent! But, because of my old age, I cannot hope for that consolation. I will see all my holy Conceptionist sisters in Heaven, and there I will enjoy their presence.
The bodies of Mother Mariana and other Founding Mothers remain incorrupt to this day
"Do not fear. This very day I will speak to the Superior of my monastery so that when the retreat ends, you might pass from the human militia to the divine one. After you enter the monastery, we will arrange for your departure to Spain so that you might begin your studies there to become a priest."
"Yes, Father," I responded. "Enlist me this very day in the Seraphic Militia. I promise that there I will be a better soldier than I have been here. For there, indeed, to fulfill my duties will be a an ever greater point of honor."
His Uncle's consent
At the end of the retreat, the whole barracks made their Easter duty with extraordinary fervor and enthusiasm. Soldiers who had strayed from the Sacraments for ten, 20, and even 25 years made their confessions. All were enthusiastic about the holy Spanish sister.
When the retreat ended, my uncle, who had participated in it with great fervor, called me aside and proposed that we take a short stroll. During the walk, he said to me, "Manuel, my son, what is worrying you? I see you pensive and withdrawn. Nothing entertains you. You seem overcome by sadness. Do you feel ill? Speak frankly to me, for I am your father."
We were in a beautiful meadow. Seats placed here and there by nature herself invited us to rest. We accepted the invitation and sat together under a sprawling tree whose shade protected us from the ardent rays of the sun. I replied:
"My uncle, I know that you are a good Catholic. And for me you are truly a father, for I was raised under your protection and custody and you provided my excellent Catholic formation. Various times your counsels saved me from falling into degrading vices, into which there is such a great propensity to slide in a military career.
I then told him all that had taken place from the time that I had been missing from the barracks. I ended by saying:
"We have just received the gifts of God in a deluge of graces during these days of retreat. With our hearts thus disposed to make sacrifices to God, I want to ask your blessing and license to embrace the state to which I clearly discern that I have been called.
"First, however, I want to relate all that has happened up to this point so that you will know everything. Then, with your experience, judgment, and prudence, you can weigh the matter well, and not attribute my firm and unwavering resolution to a puerile burst of emotion or some imprudent recklessness motivated by spite, which I most absolutely do not harbor."
"Our good God, magnanimous in His gifts and graces, overwhelmed this holy Spanish nun with remarkable favors, as you well know from reading her biography, which, I noted, you greatly enjoyed. From Heaven, this holy spouse of Jesus Christ continues to attract and win souls to the service of God, and to induce them to renounce the madness of the thankless world. I am one of those fortunate souls. I perceive that I am called to fight under the standard of the Cross in the militia of the Seraphic St. Francis. I must leave, therefore, the human militia, where I am exposing my soul to serious risks.
Surprised and confused, my uncle embraced me, weeping so strongly that his tears bathed my forehead. Amidst his sobs, he said:
"Will you, my uncle and my father, accompany me now to the very threshold of the Franciscan monastery to enclose me there, where I will serve God and assure myself of my salvation? Until now, there has been an emptiness in the depths of my soul that I have not known how to fill, for the things of the world could not satisfy me. But I see that the religious life will fill this void. My resolution is firm and irrevocable. No one - nor anything - can make me desist in it. I have already spoken with my confessor, and tomorrow I will know if I have been admitted."
"Manuel, my most beloved son, I feel my father's heart breaking in two. You have been for me my favored son. I had thought that you would close my eyes in death and make the funeral arrangements for my body, but since you are certain that God is calling you to the perfect life, I cannot offer resistance. Go and be happy, but do not forget those who were like parents for you and who love you so dearly. Only a short time remains to us in this life. When you learn that we have died, do not forget to pray for our souls. And just as I enlisted you in the earthly militia, I myself will accompany you to enlist in the militia of the Seraphim of Assisi, as you desire."
Interview with the Father Guardian
The following day, I requested permission to go to the Franciscan monastery. I greeted my confessor, who received me with open arms:
"Manuel, my son, your request to be a Friar Minor has been accepted Let us go, and I will present you to the Father Guardian [the Superior of a monastery in the Franciscan Order]. Respond with simplicity to all the questions he will ask you."
We passed through various corridors until we arrived before a door. My confessor knocked on it.
From within a gentle, serious voice responded: "Advance." We entered.
I found myself in the presence of an old religious, tall and thin, still vigorous and strong. His blue eyes, which revealed sanctity of life and discernment of vocations, fixed themselves on mine. Touching my shoulders, he asked me: What need brings you here, young soldier?"
"Father," I responded, "I come to pray, submissive at the feet of Your Reverence, who has had the great mercy to accept my request to be a Franciscan religious, for I have discovered this to be my vocation. I assure Your Reverence that, with the grace of God, I will be a better soldier in the Seraphic Militia than I have been in the human militia."
St. Francis in Glory, by Sassetta.
"My son, can you fast, obey, and lead a life of continuous sacrifice and austerity, without respite, for your whole life from morning to night? Do you have the courage to travel to distant lands - when you least expect it in accordance with the disposition of your Superiors - in order to evangelize ignorant souls? Can you live alone and apart from your family, friends, and acquaintances, occupied in meditating on the last ends of men, carrying out the charges that your Superiors choose to give to you, whether they be to your liking or not, without opposition or excuses?"
"Yes, Father, all this is what I seek. Only this can fill the vacuum in my soul. For I was not made for life in the world."
"Very well, then," he responded. "If you believe you have the strength for all this and you feel yourself called by God to the religious state in the Seraphic Family, you may come to the monastery. Here you will subject yourself to the observance of the Rule from the moment that you become a member of the Order.
I left the presence of the Father Guardian filled with enthusiasm. I conferred a short while with my confessor and, quite content, returned to the barracks, where my uncle came to meet me. I told him what had happened and asked him to take the necessary steps to end my military career. I also asked to go to his home to prepare for my entry into the Franciscan Order. He attended to all that I had requested.
"You are admitted. But if you delay more than a week in entering, then the doors of this monastery will not open for you. This is how we shall know if you are indeed called by God. The monastery will pray for you, and I give you my blessing."
After this, I made my final adieu to my companions in the barracks. No one dared say a single word of opposition. The officers, who esteemed me so greatly and thought I would be happier as a soldier than a friar, lamented my departure and suggested that I give the matter more thought. With my intelligence and military background, they pointed out, I could soon ascend to the position of general, like my uncle.
I, however, thanked them for their kindnesses and took my leave. I went then to the home of my uncle and aunt, who were like parents to me, and in the company of their children, whom I loved as brothers and sisters. There I made arrangements to leave to them my paternal inheritance, after reserving a third portion of it for the poor.
On the third day of my stay, at four o'clock in the afternoon, I addressed them with these words:
"My dear parents, my brothers and sister, my beloved family. The hour has arrived for my leave-taking, which will be forever. For I will pass this very night into the sweet solitude of the Franciscan cloister. Everything has been arranged, and I possess nothing in this world. Now that I am a indigent beggar, nothing stands in my way from my joining my religious brothers. There I will find my daily succor from Divine Providence, asking the Lord to die rather than be unfaithful."
I knelt before my aunt and asked her blessing. I did the same before my uncle, and then embraced my brothers. Accompanied by them and my uncle, I joyfully made my way to the monastery. The way seemed long to me, so anxious was I to see myself there.
Entering the Monastery
I pulled the cord of the bell. The brother porter inquired who I was and what I desired. I responded:
"Brother, I am the soldier who leaves the world and comes to this holy asylum. Open the doors to me, for I have already delayed too long."
The brother replied, "Very well, but first I must advise the Father Guardian of your arrival. Wait one moment."
In a short while, the door opened, and the Father Guardian, accompanied by other Fathers, came out to receive me. Quite pleased, they greeted my uncle and brothers, and made us all enter. After a period of conversation, the Father Guardian directed himself to me, asking,
"My son, then you have come to stay?"
My uncle then spoke: "Father, here you have my beloved son, who has made his final farewell to me. But since it is God Who asks this sacrifice of separation, it is not possible to deny it." Copious tears ran down his cheeks as he said these words.
"Yes, Father. I no longer have anything in the world. All my bonds have been broken."
The Father replied: "Senhor General, you should consider yourself fortunate to leave your son in the cloister, for thus will your family be blessed by God."
Directing himself then to me, he commanded:
"Ask your father's blessing, embrace your brothers, and enter."
I did so, and the religious led me to my cell, while the Father Guardian remained with my uncle and brothers. From that moment I no longer felt that emptiness in my soul, that vacuum which nothing in the world had been able to satiate. Everything around me seemed to be smiling.
Part One l Part Three l Part Four
Copyright 2002 (c) Marian T. Horvat
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Posted January 9, 2005