Paralyzed with Scorn
Yesterday’s story concerned a man connected with the Revolutionary War. Today’s story shares that characteristic.
General Ethan Allen is renowned for his capture of Fort Ticonderoga and is one of the more memorable American figures from his era. His views on religion, however, were decidedly independent, to put it kindly. In 1784, he published Reason, the Only Oracle of Man. Espousing his own form of deism and a religion based on natural law, he strongly questioned the reliability of the Bible and openly attacked Christianity. In particular, he took a rather negative view of the Catholic Church. Its respect for revelation and awe in relation to miracles were scored as superstition. Priests were referred to as “holy cheats” and equated with practitioners of witchcraft, save in one respect. The difference was that the latter had been discredited in the eyes of the public, while the same could not yet be said sufficiently as to the former.
It is not General Allen himself who is the focus of this narrative, but rather his daughter, Fanny. Into a household populated by the views of her father was she born, in the year 1784. When she was in her early twenties, in 1807, she desired to satisfy a curiosity and visit a convent in Montreal. She had no intention of becoming a nun herself, but wanted to go and see how they lived.
After several weeks, the Reverend Mother had already decided to send her back home. Fanny openly mocked the rites of the sisters and it was feared she would disrupt the community. One nun, however, pleaded with the Reverend Mother and several more weeks were secured for Fanny to stay.
When her last day had almost arrived, Fanny was asked to take a vase of flowers to the chapel and place it on the altar. She was also reminded to adore the Lord present there, but Fanny just laughed at the suggestion.
She arrived at the chapel and opened the gate of the sanctuary, but then, strangely, found that she could go no further. She tried to move her feet, but could not. She tried a third time, with no more success.
Then, finding herself somehow compelled to do so, she fell to her knees and began to pray. The prayer that came to her mind was an Act of Faith, which avows belief in the Holy Trinity, in the death of Christ for our sins and in all the teachings of the Catholic Church.
She knelt for some time, close to the Real Presence. Finally, she rose and, with no difficulty, approached the altar and placed the flowers there.
Not able to dismiss what had happened to her, Fanny discarded her past, converted to Catholicism and became the first New England Catholic nun. Her family was not at all pleased, but her mother did accept her decision.
This Lent, let us be open to whichever way God may choose to speak to us.
(Adapted from an account in Moments Divine Before the Blessed Sacrament by Rev. Frederick A. Reuter, K.C.B.S.)