St. Vincent Ferrer




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Extraordinary Miracles


As a good Dominican, Master Vincent loved to proclaim the all-powerfulness of the Rosary.  "Who observes this practice," he said, "is beyond the reach of adversity." He told the case of a very pious merchant who would say the rosary from morning to night, even to the neglect of his business.  One day he was captured by brigands and, knowing that his hour was come, he humbly asked for a little moment to pray.  Hardly had he begun when the Blessed Virgin came to him accompanied by St. Catherine carrying a tray of roses and St. Agnes with a needle and a ball of thread. The brigands, need I tell you, opened their eyes wide.  At each Ave the prisoner recited, the Blessed Virgin took a rose from the plate, pierced it with the needle, slipped it on to the thread.  Thus, she made a wreath, which she placed on the prisoner's brow.  As he happened to have his eyes closed, he did not see the wreath, but he smelt its fragrance.  The Virgin and the two saints went off and the merchant offered them his neck, saying, "Now you can strangle me." "Strangle you?"  said the brigands.  "Who were those beautiful women?  You must be a holy man; remember us in your prayers." Then they restored his goods and went away converted.  When he spoke of the Mother of Men, Vincent was transfigured.  He used to tell the case of a schoolboy who wanted at all costs to see her. An angel warned him that if he did so, he would lose an eye.  He accepted and lost an eye.  Then he asked to see her again, though it meant the loss of the other, and this also took place.  But when he was thus completely blind, the Blessed Virgin restored both eyes.


The people had recourse to him in every difficulty:  The smallest villages fought to have him.  In one place they took his hat, which assured pregnant of a safe and easy delivery; in others, he drove away a cloud of grasshoppers and a whole army of weevils with holy water.  Once he came to the point of utter exhaustion.  He could go no further.  And heaven came to his aid. In the very heart of a wild lonely forest an excellent hotel appeared suddenly from nowhere to shelter him; leaving it next day, he happened to forget his hat.  One of the penitents went back to the inn to get it, but there was no inn – the hat was hanging on the branch of a tree at the very spot where the inn had stood.  The following year he came to Murcia.  According to the Bishop's report, which has come down to us, almost no one remained untouched by the grace of the Spirit that filled all the air. In that province there was an end for that time of gambling, debauchery, conspiracy, quarreling, and murder. How could anyone fail to follow the example of a Moor who promised to embrace the faith if the pyre he had lighted in the main square was extinguished at Vincent's prayer? Vincent prayed; the flames went out.


"It is an immense enterprise," as one historian has noted, "to write a life of which every incident was a miracle." Yes, everything in that life, ordinary things as well as extraordinary, was touched with miracle, and the greatest miracle in his life was that life itself in its daily texture:  It was so burdened, toil-filled, various, so continuously under fire, yet so steady and undeviating – in the midst of schism, in the midst of anarchy, under the sulfurous illumination of the Last Judgment, whose tragic coming his own life may very well have helped to postpone. Consider the framework of his days.  He rose usually at two in the morning for the night office, recited his psalms, prayed, meditated, went to confession – each morning – and scourged himself, thus purging his soul and chastising his body.  Mass was at six o'clock, then three hours preaching, visits to the sick, mediations between parties in lawsuits and families at odds, final words of advice to souls he has just converted or brought back to grace:  Then once more on the road.  Picture him on the road:  In rain or sunshine, his feet in wooden stirrups attached to the saddle by cords which cut into his legs, the unending dust from the trampling of the crowd, the chanting of psalms and the never ending crunch of feet, and the incidents and the accidents and the care he must have for all his vast company.  There was one meal a day – soup and a tiny piece of fish, washed down with wine liberally watered.  He never had an evening meal. 


Then he arrives at the next village to be won to our Lord, the next town to be set in order.  The usual tumult and acclamations and idle questions and plain annoyances besieged him – clipping pieces out of his habit, kissing his hands – and everybody taking possession of him – a hundred people if there were a hundred, a thousand if there were a thousand, more if there were more, as many as there might be.  Then there was the usual platform where he must say in the evening what he had said in the morning, differently phrased but just as fresh and convincing, and the usual miracles which he must always be asking of God when his eloquence gained nothing or not enough – for unless it gained everything. There always remained something still to gain:  God must attend to it – and that meant miracles.  The crowd was at last disposed of, but, before going to bed – five hours sleep, never more, and no siesta, not even in Spain – he still had to make his meditation, get his office said, instruct and direct his companions, prepare tomorrow's sermons, deal with his post, get off answers to bishops, princes, city magistrates, directors of confraternities, priors of convents, the Pope himself and any number of mere nuisances – on every conceivable subject, by no means always concerned with religion.  And, in addition, you should reckon the time he loved to devote to religious ceremonies – for he was a convinced liturgist and would have his ceremonies as correct and as magnificent as possible.  This gives some idea of the routine of his days – week after week, month after month, for twenty years.  And he held and did not break.  He said one day to a group of priests:  "The moment you wake, to God's work!  Identify yourselves with Christ.  At such an hour, He was brought before Pilate, at such an hour the Jews cried out against Him, at such another hour, He gave up the ghost."


That indeed was the secret of his own resistance.  We may be certain that he followed to the letter the precious counsel he gave others, followed it hour by hour exactly, passionately and simply.  Living the passion of Christ in his body, heart and mind, he found all things come easily, almost pleasantly.  Christ was the other self within him:  His words, works, sufferings, flowed as freely from Christ as his miracles.  Hence the humility that lived within his awareness of his greatness; hence his patience against all the difficulties of life, all the trials of faith, and all the disappointments of Charity; hence the superabundance of gifts which on the human plane overflowed in achievement and on the divine plane blazed forth in miracles.


He came one time to the bedside of a sinner, to assist him in his last agony.  The sinner clung to the saint; he felt that his tardy remorse, his imperfect contrition, his absence of penance, were insufficient to save him unless St. Vincent threw the whole of himself into the scale.  He begged Vincent to make over to him a good share of the treasures of grace he had compiled.  The saint had pity on his despair.  He said:  "I give God all my merits to be applied to you."  "Is that true?"  The dying man was mistrustful:  He did not know that what a saint says is definite. "Then write it down for me on a slip of paper.  The saint cheerfully did what he was asked and the man died clutching his precious document. Logically, Vincent had nothing left – he must begin to pile up another lot of graces to himself.  But a few days later, while he was preaching, a paper whirled in the air above the heads of the crowd, like a dead leaf blown along by the wind.  Finally it settled on the preacher's cloak.  I need not tell you what it was.  God had decided to pay for the sinner's salvation in a different coin.  He returned Vincent his merits along with his check.  For you never lose by the gift of one's self unless you only half give it.


Whoever approached Vincent felt something about him, like the hot breath of a hidden fire.  So it was with the boy at Caen, possessed by devils from the day when a careless barber had pierced a tumor.  The boy had lost the use of speech, did not eat or drink, and had no bodily motions except the blood that spurted from his nostrils whenever he was angered.  If they beat him, he felt nothing.  He grew physically, but in a frightful solitude of a human being who knew no human contact or communication, nor pain nor pleasure.  Then Vincent came to him and touched him.  "What do you feel, my son?"  he asked.  And the child, set free of what had possessed him, cried:  "Father, I feel God's good pleasure which is accomplished at this moment." God's good pleasure passed through that hand which He never withheld.


At Pampeluna they had just condemned an innocent man to death.  Vincent pleaded for him in vain.  As he was being led to the scaffold, they passed a corpse being taken to burial on a stretcher.  Vincent suddenly addressed the corpse:  "You who have no longer anything to gain by lying, is this man guilty?  Answer me!"  The dead man sat up and affirmed, "He is not." Then Vincent, to reward him for that service, offered the dead man, who was settling down again on the stretcher, to give him back the burden of earthly life.  "No, Father," he replied, "for I am assured of salvation." And he went off to sleep again and was carried to the cemetery.


There is another episode stranger still if not more marvelous.  It happened at Gerona.  In the thick of the crowd stood a man somber, glowering, rage stamped on every feature:  Near him was his wife with an infant in her arms, still at the breast.  The man was devoured by a frenzy of jealousy.  Brother Vincent saw him, saw what fire burned in him, and preached upon Jealousy. Suddenly he turned to the man.  "You doubt your wife's faithfulness, do you not?  You think this child is not yours?  Well, watch!"  Then he cried in a great voice to the child:  "Embrace your father!"  The infant stirred, stood upright, turned towards the man and held out its arms.  And thus was the man cured and the family peace restored.


It seems that he touched each heart at the point he chose, the point that charity suggested to him, and invariably at the precise moment.  He knew for example that a shepherd in the heart of the mountains had so great confidence in him that he came to hear him, leaving his flock, only staying to draw a circle round them with his staff – counting on the saint to see that the sheep did not go out of the circle or the wolves come into it. Vincent knew it, whether he had guessed it or read it in the man's eyes; or perhaps God revealed to him the poor shepherd's naive arrangement and let him know that He meant to grant his prayer.  At any rate, Vincent told him before all the crowd:  "Your sheep are safe; God is watching over them." Similarly, we are told that mothers did not hesitate to leave their babies to come to his sermons:  They confided the infants to the angels – as Vincent advised them to.  He doubted nothing, this man – God least of all.


There was the very famous miracle of the wine cask which would not run dry while the crowd of Vincent's followers still needed to drink.  It is worth adding that ten years later, the owner of the cask, the Seigneur Saint-Just, met a man who gave evidence in the canonization process and assured him that in all those years he had given that miraculous wine to the sick:  That no matter what their malady, they were cured:  That the wine grew no less though he drew from the cask every day.  It would seem that charity once installed in that cask was unwilling to leave it.  Charity indeed he left behind him everywhere, impregnating everything he touched. Once, for lack of alms – his purse being empty – he gave a poor woman his hat.  "Thank you...  But what do you expect me to do with it?"  Anyhow she took it away with her and that evening, at the gates of Valencia, it struck her to put it on the head of an inn-keeper who was unwilling to give her lodging.  He was in an evil temper, having a raging headache. "Perhaps Master Vincent's hat will cure it." It did.  The inn-keeper put it aside to use when the need should arise again.  The hat was to be seen for long after but in a pitiable condition – for he had had the notion of soaking it in water from time to time and it seems that this incredible hat-broth had cured his customers of all sorts of minor ailments.


Sometimes one asks oneself if it is possible to believe, so enormous are some of the things we are told he did.  The miracle at Morella, for instance, is an exact reproduction of the famous miracle of St. Nicholas when he brought back to life the three children in the salting-tub.  One is tempted to think that some unscrupulous biographer made the whole thing up.  Here is the story.  There was a certain woman of great virtue but subject to attacks of nerves which came very close to madness.  One day, in the absence of her husband who had the preacher lodged in the house and had gone out to hear him preach, her mental affliction came upon her and she cut her small son's throat.  She then went on to chop him up and roasted a portion of him.  This she gave to her husband on his return from listening to the sermon.  The man found out somehow what had happened, and at the last point of horror and disgust, rushed out to tell the saint.  Vincent realized at once that heaven could not have allowed a happening so monstrous save as an occasion for a most signal manifestation of God's power.  He came, prayed, gathered together the bleeding pieces of the child and said to the father:  "If you have faith, God who created this little soul from nothing can bring him back to life." He fell on his knees and the impossible happened.  The child was alive again, whole and entire.


Consider the story of the two men consumed at Zamora.  These were two criminals before whom Master Vincent preached for three hours in the presence of an enormous crowd.  We know that he brought them to such a horror of their crime, depicted with such cruel and gripping realism the flames of hell, that when the guards came to bring them back to prison they found only two charred corpses.  Remorse – and, we may hope, repentance – had literally consumed them.  They were buried in front of the steeple beneath two stones which stood for centuries to attest the fact.  One day a Portuguese who passed that way and to whom the story was told, shrugged his shoulders skeptically.  "I will believe it," he cried, "when one of the immense stones splits." He tapped one with the toe of his boot and it split clean in two from top to bottom.  Since that is the story we are told, why not?  At any rate, when you are dealing with miracles, do not commit the vulgarity of dragging in the question of likelihood.


Yes, the blind see; the deaf hear; paralytics walk; the plague-stricken are healed; the faithless believe; sinners repent; the unstable grow steadfast; the idle find energy; sworn enemies embrace; the hard of heart find their hearts on fire.  And beside the miracles that affect men, storms are stilled, rain stops, rocks are split, lightning flashes from the sky.  Heaven itself opens and saints, angels, the Mother of God and her Son come forth.  What must be must be:  God will have it so.  The prayer of a saint is omnipotent – if God decides to grant it.  "Christ can do nothing," cried an obstinate sinner in Brothers Vincent's face.  "I shall lose my soul if I please." There was the claim of human liberty.  "I shall save you by Him, in spite of yourself," replied the preacher.  There was the claim of the omnipotence of a redemption purchased by the blood of God.  Vincent leaned over the crowd.  "Say the Rosary!"  The Creed was said and the Our Father.  The Hail Mary’s followed one another on the beads.  From Heaven, thus stormed by prayer, the Virgin Mother in person descended, holding in her arms the Child Jesus – sobbing.  At that sight the sinner broke down, surrendered.  The will for evil was conquered without a struggle by the will of Grace.



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Last modified: 07-Feb-2008

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