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Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi
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CHAPTER XLV


OF THE CONVERSION, LIFE, MIRACLES, AND DEATH OF THE HOLY BROTHER JOHN DELLA PENNA


When Brother John della Penna was still in the world as a boy in the province of Ancona, a beautiful child appeared to him one night, and calling him, said: “John, go to Santo Stefano, where one of my Friars Minor is preaching; take heed to his words, and believe the doctrine he teaches, for I have sent him to me.” Then the boy John arose, being greatly troubled in mind, and reaching Santo Stefano, he found a great multitude of men and women waiting to hear a sermon. Now he who was about to preach was a friar named Philip, who was one of the first brethren to visit Ancona, for as yet there were but few convents established in the province. And the said Brother Philip stood up to preach; and he did so most devoutly, not with words of worldly wisdom, but, inspired by the Spirit of Christ, he announced the kingdom of eternal life. The sermon being ended, the boy went to Brother Philip, and said to him: “Father, if thou wilt receive me into the Order, most willingly will I do penance, and serve our Lord Jesus Christ.” And Brother Philip seeing the great innocence of the child, and his earnest desire to serve God, said to him: “Come to me on such a day at Ricanati, and I will receive thee.” Now a provincial chapter was to be held at Ricanati, and the boy in his simplicity fancied that this was the journey he was to make according to the vision, and that after having accomplished it he would go to heaven which he thought likewise would be as soon as he had been received into the Order by Brother Philip. Seeing that it did not happen to him as he had expected, and the Minister having said in chapter that if anyone wished to go to the province of Provence, for merit of holy obedience, he would most willingly give him permission, and Brother John feeling a great desire to go there - thinking in his heart that that would be the journey he was to make before he went to heaven, but lacking courage to say so - he confided his wish to Brother Philip, and entreated him to obtain for him permission to go to the province of Provence. Then Brother Philip, seeing his purity and the holiness of his intentions, obtained for him the permission he wished for; and the little Brother John set out on his way most joyfully, as he believed that, his journey being ended, he would go to heaven. But it pleased God that he should remain in the said province five-and-twenty years, always looking forward to the day of his departure, living in great sanctity, setting a most holy example, and increasing in virtue and in favour with God and man; so that he was much beloved by seculars as well as by the brethren. Now Brother John being one day in prayer, weeping and lamenting that his wish was never accomplished, and his pilgrimage here below so lengthened, Christ, the blessed one, appeared to him, and he felt his soul melt within him. Then said the Lord to him: “My son, Brother John, ask of me what thou wilt.” And he answered: “My Lord, I have naught else to ask thee but thyself, as I desire naught else; but I ask thee to forgive my sins, and to grant me the grace that I may see thee once more, when I shall have the greatest need of thy presence.” And Christ the blessed answered: “Thy request is granted”; and having said these words he departed, leaving Brother John much comforted. At last the brothers of the province of Ancona, having heard of the fame of his sanctity, persuaded the General of the Order to command him, out of holy obedience, to return to Ancona. No sooner had the order reached him than he set out most joyfully, hoping that on arriving he would go to heaven, according to the promise of Christ. On arriving in the province he lived there thirty years, not being recognised by any of his relations; and every day he expected that, through the mercy of God, the promise would be accomplished. During this time he often filled the office of guardian with much discretion, and the Lord performed many miracles through him. Amongst other gifts that he received from God was the spirit of prophecy. Being once absent from the convent, one of his novices was so strongly tempted by the devil that he determined to leave the Order as soon as Brother John should return. On this Brother John, being informed, by the spirit of prophecy, of the temptation and of the decision of the novice, hastened back to the convent, and calling the novice, ordered him to go to confession; but before he did so he related to him all his temptations, as the Lord had revealed them to him, and ended by saying: “My son, as thou hast waited for me, and wouldst not go away without my blessing, the Lord has had pity on thee, for not only wilt thou not leave the Order, but thou shalt die in it, in the grace of God.” And the said novice remained in the Order, and became a holy brother. These things were related to me by Brother Ugolino. The said Brother John, albeit his mind was so happy and so calm, spoke but seldom; he was a man of prayer, and rarely returned to his cell after Matins, but remained in the church till morning. One night after Matins an angel of God appeared to him, saying: “Brother John, thy life is ended, for the moment thou hast desired so ardently is come; and I make known to thee from God that thou mayest ask of him what grace whatsoever thou wilt; likewise I announce to thee that thou mayest choose between one day in purgatory, or seven days of suffering in this world.” And Brother John, having chosen the seven days of suffering in this world, immediately fell ill, and was afflicted with divers diseases; for he had a great fever, and the gout in his hands and feet, besides a pain in his side, and many other sufferings; but, worse than all this, a devil stood before him, holding a large paper on which were written all the sins he had ever committed in thought, word, or deed. Then said the devil to him: “Because of these sins which thou hast committed, in thought, word, and deed, thou art condemned to the depths of hell.” And it seemed to him as if he had never done any good actions; he even forgot that he was in the Order, or ever had been in it, believing that he was damned, as the devil said; so that when the brothers asked him how he was, he answered: “I am most unhappy, because I am damned.” The brothers seeing this, sent for an aged friar named Brother Matthew of Monte Robbiano, who was a holy man and a great friend of Brother John. When the said Brother Matthew arrived, the seventh day of his sufferings was approaching, and going near him he asked him how he was. “I am in evil case,” was the answer, “because I am damned.” Then said Brother Matthew to him: “Dost thou not remember that thou hast often confessed to me, and I have absolved thee of all thy sins? Dost thou not remember likewise that thou hast served God for many years in this holy Order? Dost thou not know that the mercy of God is greater than all the sins in the world, and that Jesus Christ, the blessed one, our Saviour, gave himself for our salvation? Have good hope; for I know of a certainty that thou wilt be saved.” And as he spoke the end of the trial arrived, and the temptation disappeared; then was Brother John greatly comforted, and he said to Brother Matthew: “My dear brother, thou art tired, and it is late; I pray thee go and take a little rest”; but Brother Matthew would not leave him. Yielding, however, at last to his prayers, he went to take a little rest, and Brother John remained alone with the friar who served him. And lo! Christ, the blessed one, appeared in great glory, as he had promised to appear to him once more when he should be in most need of him, and he healed him of all his infirmities. Then Brother John joined his hands, thanking God for having permitted him to end the long journey of this present miserable life in the arms of Jesus, to whom he confided his soul, passing from this mortal life to life eternal with Christ, the blessed one, whom he had so long awaited and desired to see. The said Brother John was buried in the Convent della Penna di San Giovanni.


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