The Hard Heart and the Hard Host
Today we have a story to relive that comes to us from hundreds of years ago. Whenever the year for such a story is given, we are often prone to some degree of automatic suspicion. The people from such times were not as sophisticated as we are today. They would believe things that did not actually happen. Yet, as we have shown from many other stories reported previously on this site, there are events occurring today for which we have no earthy explanation.
With that in mind, we go to Assisi, Italy, in 1649. John Frederick, the Duke of Brunswick and Hanover had just been to Rome. He had asked for and received from Pope Innocent a letter of introduction to a convent there. At this convent, there was a renowned holy man the Duke wanted to meet. His name was Joseph of Copertino. The Duke was not Catholic. He was travelling with two counts. One was Catholic; the other belonged to a Protestant faith. At the time of their arrival, Joseph was saying Mass. No one had been informed of their coming, including Joseph.
Joseph was in the act of breaking the Host when the Duke and the two counts entered the church. Suddenly, he let out a deep sigh and put the Host down.
After Mass, the Duke asked the superior of the convent to seek out Joseph and inquire what had happened upon their arrival. The superior knew of Joseph’s reluctance to explain such things, but required him to respond under the rules of obedience. Joseph replied: “Ah, the strangers whom thou didst send to hear my Mass are of a hard heart and do not believe all that the Catholic Church teaches. On this account, the Lamb became hard in my hands this morning, and I could not break it.”
The Duke was struck by this reply, as one might imagine, and proceeded afterwards to converse with Joseph for some time. The next morning, the Duke attended Mass again. When he elevated the Host for adoration, a cross appeared on it. It was black. Also, as had been witnessed of Joseph on other occasions, he was raised in the air. He remained this way for a short period of time. At this second surprising event, the Duke cried out. He wailed that he had known peace in his own country, but that since coming here, all he had known was anguish and turmoil.
After Mass, the Duke conversed with Joseph again, at length. He wanted to do so still more, but Joseph told him to pray at the altar of St. Francis and engage in the practices of the friars that day. The Duke obeyed.
Later, before the Blessed Sacrament, the Duke exclaimed: “The King of the whole world is adored in this church. I acknowledge and believe all the Catholic Church acknowledges and believes.”
The next day, the Duke left for his home, but promised to come back the following year and make a public reparation for his sins. The Duke kept that promise.
Joseph of Copertino is a Catholic saint. He was canonized July 16, 1767.
This story has been preserved by those who were there and handed down to us because of the impact it caused among them. In the same way, there are stories being witnessed and told by those among us now that have caused an impact in their lives. They understand there are times when the inexplicable happens. They understand there are times when He who is Divine Mercy reaches down to us. They understand there are times when He does this because of His Love and His desire for us to approach closer. This Lent, let us not have a heart that is hard, like that which once belonged to the Duke. Let us have a heart that is open to the message of this story and the Love that caused it.
(Adapted from Moments Divine Before the Blessed Sacrament, by Rev. Frederick A. Reuter.)