TORINO. Tip. dell'Oratorio di S. Francesco di Sales 1866.
Because I am writing about something that really happened and that refers partly to people still living, I judge it better not to mention names of people and places referred to in this story. There were two parents, somewhat advanced in age, who had only one child called Valentino, the sole heir to their considerable fortune. The mother, a good Christian woman, was fully intent on giving her son a sound upbringing. For many years she herself was his teacher. While he was still very small she taught him his prayers and the Little Catechism, along with the rudiments of reading and writing. She was well educated and had learned much from experience and was very careful to see that her son was far removed from wayward types and from idleness.
“Dear Valentino,” she would tell him “Never forget that idleness is the father of all vice and that bad companions lead themselves and whoever follows them to ruin: woe to you if you allow these two fatal enemies to control your life.”
But the good mother found her husband to be something of an obstacle. Osnero, her husband’s name, was a courteous and upright individual who did good to anybody he could and evil to no one, but he did have one seriously erroneous idea in his head. He believed he could make his son a virtuous and upright citizen without being first of all a good Christian.
“Dear Valentino,” he would sometimes tell him “be good and everyone will always respect you. One’s honour, esteem and good name must never be overlooked in this world.”
Given his tender age Valentino did not take a great deal of notice of his father’s advice. To both correct and ennoble her husband’s teaching, the virtuous mother would often tell Valentino:
“My child, remember that God sees everything. He blesses virtuous youngsters in this life and rewards them in eternity; on the contrary he brings bad luck on the wicked, shortens their life and punishes them forever in the next world.”
Each morning she took him by the hand and led him off to church where she gave him holy water and showed him how to make the sign of the cross properly. Then she knelt down beside him, opened a prayer book and pointed out the prayer used for Mass. She always took him with her on Sundays to Mass, Catechism, instructions and Benediction. When it was time for him to receive the Sacraments she prepared him some days beforehand and then took him to the confessional.
After his Confession she helped him with his thanksgiving, adding advice that any good and affectionate mother would find appropriate for her children. She would be upset if she saw him begin eating without first making the sign of the cross and saying the grace that all good Christians are accustomed to saying on such occasions. One day Valentino did forget and his mother reproached him severely.
“Dear Valentino,” she told him “you should know that only dumb animals begin gorging themselves without reflecting on where their food comes from. We are given life and food from the Lord, so we must always be grateful but especially when we make use of his blessings: meaning when we take food to preserve our life.”
While Valentino was sometimes a bit careless he forgot none of the loving advice his affectionate mother did her best to sow in his tender heart. But so her son would not get bored, she knew how to temper piety at the right moment with good fun. Games, walks, presents, toys, sweets and other eats were things the good mother used to encourage and reward her son’s good behaviour. So the mother won over his heart, and he took great delight in going with her for walks, talking and spending time with her.
Then tragedy struck! Valentino lost his mother just when he had greatest need of her.
He was barely twelve when his beloved mother was struck down by serious illness and died a few days later. There was just time for her to receive the comforts of religion then she called Valentino to her bedside and spoke to him thus:
“Dear Valentino, I must leave you at a time that you are most at risk. Remember to always avoid idleness and bad companions. Whoever advises things that are to the detriment of your soul is an enemy and you should avoid him like a snake-in-the-grass. I will no longer be your mother on earth, but I hope to help you from Heaven; from now on Our Lady will be your Mother, so pray to her often; she will not abandon you. God bless you…..”
And the severity of her illness prevented her from continuing. She was but a corpse a few moments later.
Valentino was distraught at her loss and was so overcome by sadness for several months that his very life seemed to be in danger. He could find consolation only in prayer, alms giving, penance, and by attending Mass in suffrage for his beloved mother’s soul. He never forgot her throughout the many and serious events that he experienced throughout his lifetime.
Osnero also felt the serious loss of his wife, especially for his son’s upbringing which he could not give much time to. Running his business, markets, fairs, his celebrations at cafes and inns did not allow him to take up the matter of his son’s upbringing.
Valentino had already finished primary school and since there was no high school in his town it was necessary to send him to boarding school to pursue his studies. He chose a school well-known for its teaching, standing in society and behaviour. The pupils and parents at the school were very pleased with the uniform and the cap with its fancy trimmings.
Valentino agreed with this proposal and set off for a new kind of lifestyle at boarding school. At first he found it difficult to settle in. Instead of his mother’s tender voice there was a director who seemed kind enough but his orders were clear and severe and he was a strict disciplinarian. Nevertheless Valentino soon won the affection of his new superiors and applied himself well to fulfilling his duties.
He paid attention to orders, was punctual for class and wasted no time while studying. But there was a great gap in terms of practices of piety. Up until now he had gone to Mass each morning and done some spiritual reading of an evening with his mother; he had gone to Confession every fortnight and to Communion whenever his confessor allowed him to.
It was not like that at school. There was no meditation or spiritual reading; prayers were said in common but only once a day, with everyone standing, and they were said hurriedly. The pupils only attended Mass on Sundays, and Confession was once a year at Easter time.
This caused a great deal of anguish for Valentino. Also, in the past he had never heard bad language but his new class mates were very free in their language, tolerated any kind of jokes and things had even reached a stage where dirty books and papers were being freely swapped amongst the pupils. Afraid of the risks he was facing Valentino wrote his father a letter where he pointed out in detail the risks to his soul, noting that boarding school life was dangerous for him. But in the letter he also complained about the discipline and how the school was run, so the director thought it best to hold on to it and not send it to its destination. Some time later Osnero went to visit his son who was then able to inform him of his concerns. His father did not take a great deal of notice and told him not to be scrupulous; he needed to be more open-minded.
“If you can’t pray, go to confession, attend Mass every day,” he told him “you can make up for it all when you come home for holidays. But for now you should imitate your more cheerful school mates and also copy their attitude to life.”
Valentino had a mild and malleable nature, so he calmed down at his father’s words and without worrying too much about what the future held he settled down to reading anything that came his way. He mixed with all kinds of company including their off-hand conversations, which was rarely good and often bad.
Only a few weeks had passed and not only did he no longer feel any repugnance at this life style but anxiously sought out all kinds of wanton behaviour. No surprise then that with such a disorderly existence he thought no more of Confession and Communion. But despite his wanton approach to life he could not stop thinking of his mother’s reminders and felt much remorse for not putting them into practice. One evening, between regret for his wrongdoing and the good he was ignoring he became so emotional that he broke down and cried, and cried. But it made no difference — he continued with his unruly existence. The only thing he had not forgotten was to pray for his mother’s soul, and he did this every evening before going to bed.
How were his studies going?
When good behaviour goes out the window studies go down the drain. Little by little, as Valentino began to enjoy his ’open-minded’ approach, as his father had advised him, he began to dislike studying and the last five months of that year became a lost cause. He had received good marks for the semester exam and his father had rewarded him with a nice watch. But his final exams went poorly and he was not promoted to the next level. When he heard this Osnero was upset both for the money wasted and the year that had been lost. He felt even more sorry because Valentino had always done well and he knew that even a mediocre effort would have been enough for him to be promoted.
But Osnero’s displeasure grew even more when Valentino came back from college. He saw his son arrive home, almost without bothering to greet him. When Osnero made some comments on his poor school performance this was the reply he got:
“I did what could and nobody could have done more; had I known I would be chastised for it I wouldn’t even have come home.”
That evening of his arrival he went to bed without even saying his usual prayers nor making the sign of the cross. In the morning, instead of going to Mass and serving with the pleasure he had in the past he slept in till very late. After having something to eat he went off to have fun with some friends whom his mother had once forbidden him to mix with.
One day his father wanted him to come for a walk with him, but Valentino refused, saying he had an appointment with some friends, therefore he couldn’t go with him. He did not even want to open the Lives of the Saints, for years his favourite book. Instead of his favourite reading he had some dirty novels a friend had given him before he left college. Osnero was astounded at the change in his son, and although in the past he had not loved piety very much, he would still have liked his son to have remained religious so he could stay good.
He thought of taking him to the parish priest, whom Valentino had been fond of earlier, but Valentino refused saying that everyone had to go to him at Easter for Confession and it was not good to disturb him during the year with useless visits. One day while Valentino was with some friends the parish priest walked past, but Valentino turned the other way pretending not to have seen him and wanted to go without even greeting him. The priest noticed all this but pretending that he hadn’t noticed he went up to him.
“Valentino,” he said “Did you have a good trip? Are you OK? Is your father well?”
Valentino gave him a hasty reply, and saying that he would soon come and see him, continued on his way talking to his mates. As well as this Osnero saw that Valentino had adopted some dangerous habits like lying, gambling and stealing from home. Filled with sorrow his poor father told Valentino one day:
“My dear son, whatever has caused such a shocking change in you?”
“You told me not to have any scruples, and to be more open-minded, so I think I have obeyed.”
“I did not mean…”
“That’s what I understood, and if you don’t want me at home then I know where else I can go.”
Osnero advised him, often corrected him and also punished him, but without result. One day he would answer back, another disappear, and he spent three days away from home.
For Osnero it seemed impossible that in just ten months such a religious, obedient and affectionate child would have changed so much as to answer his father back, want to know nothing more of religion, and had become a domestic thief. He was on the point of taking the desperate decision to put him in a correctional institution, but did not want the term ’correctional’ or ’prison’ to stain the family’s honour so he tried a milder approach.
“Last year,” he said to himself “I chose a fashionable college but was tricked by appearances, and these were not based on learning or behavour. I should choose another boarding school where religion is properly taught, recommended and practised. Unfortunately, I have to confess, without religion it is impossible to raise a child. But how can I get Valentino to attend a school like this now that he has already contracted so many bad habits?”
The end of October was fast approaching and he needed to make a decision on what to choose for Valentino.
One day Osnero, in order to begin persuading his son to agree with his idea, took him to a meal out in the country; there he ordered the kind of dinner that he thought he would like, gave him some presents, a hug, and promised various things that the boy asked for. In the evening back home the father called him to his room and spoke to him thus:
“Dear Valentino, do you still remember your mother?”
“Yes I do and I will always remember her, and I never go to bed without saying a prayer for her.”
“Do you still love her?”
“Very much so. How could one ever forget a mother who was so good and worthy of being loved?”
“Would you like to do something that would please her and be of great advantage to you?”
At those words Valentino felt moved and tears came to his eyes, then weeping copiously he hugged Osnero saying: “You know how much I owe my mother and how I loved her when she was alive; if she were still alive I would go through water or fire for her. Do you want to propose something she would dearly want? Speak, tell me; I am ready for any sacrifice that might please her.”
“Valentino, I would like to propose that you go to a boarding school your mother had told me about before she died, a school where you can study and practise piety just like you used to in the good times when your late and beloved mother was alive.”
“Father, I am in your hands; whatever you believe pleases my mother pleases me and I am ready for any sacrifice to do it.”
Osnero did not think he would have changed his son’s mind so soon, and recognised it as a blessing from Heaven. In case any hesitation might cause problems, on the following day he sought to take him to the school to see the director and talk about admission.
The director was not a little surprised when he saw Valentino for the first time. New, elegantly made clothes, a plumed hat, cane in hand, a shiny chain on his chest, hair nicely parted and spruced up, all suggested the spirit of vanity that reigned in Valentino’s heart. His father agreed easily on conditions for admission, then saying he had other things to do he left the boy to talk with the director. At the sight of a boy with airs like this the director considered it would be best not to begin talking about religion but spoke instead of walks, athletics, gymnastics, fencing, singing, playing music. Just listening to him talking about these things made the fatuous young lad’s blood boil. When the father returned, and when he could speak freely with Valentino, he asked him what he thought, if he liked the place and what the director had said.
“I like the place a lot, and the director seems nice, but there is one thing I didn’t like about him.”
“What’s that? Tell me. There is still time to do something different.”
“I like everything about him except that he’s a priest, and this gives me the shivers.”
“You don’t need to take any notice of his priestly qualities but the other qualities he has.”
“But going with a priest means praying, going to Confession, Communion. From some of the things he told me I gathered he already knew what I have been up to. But that’s enough ... I promised. I will keep my word and we will see.”
A few days later Valentino went to the new boarding school. His father had judged it best to tell the new director what had happened to the boy and of the affection he had for his mother. Away from his other friends, with none of the bad reading, then by being with good class mates in class, the music, recitals, some stage plays he soon forget the unruly lifestyle he had been leading for a year. His mother’s reminders about fleeing idleness and bad companions often came to mind. He easily returned to his earlier habit of practices of piety. The real problem was deciding to go to Confession. He had already been at college for two months. There had already been novenas, feast days when the other pupils had been to the Sacraments, but Valentino could not decide to go to Confession. One evening the director called him to his room and mindful of the impression the memories of his mother had on him, he began by saying:
“Now my good Valentino, do you know what commemoration we will have tomorrow?”
“Yes, I certainly do. Tomorrow is the anniversary of my mother’s death. O my beloved mother, if I could just see you once more or at least hear your voice once again!”
“Tomorrow would you like to do something that would please her very much and also be of great advantage to yourself?”
“Oh yes I would! Whatever it might cost!”
“Go to Communion tomorrow in suffrage for her soul and she will be helped so much if she should still be suffering the flames of Purgatory.”
“I would gladly do so but before going to Communion I would have to go to Confession….. But if this pleases my mother I will do it, and if it’s ok with you I will make my confession to you immediately.”
The director, who only wanted this, praised his decision, let him calm down a little then prepared him and helped him make his confession; and the following day Valentino went to holy Communion and prayed much for his late-lamented mother.
From that day on, his life was one of real satisfaction for the director who did not let his newly acquired spiritual son out of his sight.
Valentino had still kept some books that were partly forbidden, partly harmful for young boys, and he brought them all to the director to be burned, saying: “I hope that by burning these they will no longer be cause for my soul to burn in Hell.”
He had also kept some letters from his former friends and they contained bad advice, so he tore them into pieces.
He picked up on his studies again, and on the covers of his books he wrote down the reminders from his mother: flee idleness and bad companions.
He sent his father a letter wishing him a Happy New Year and that gave him great consolation, seeing him return to the kind of thinking that he had nurtured for so many years. This was how his time in senior school passed.
Recalling that there were a number of bad books and papers back home Valentino wrote many letters to his father, and was so nice to him especially during holidays, made so many promises, that his father decided to destroy them all. His father also used to eat meat on Fridays at any simple pretext, although it was forbidden. Valentino’s behaviour, his words, the exemplary stories he told, and then finally a humble request to his father, succeeded in getting him to stop that and encouraged him to observe the Church’s vigils as any good Catholic should do.
Valentino spent five years at the college to the great satisfaction of his father and his superiors. He had earlier found some difficulty adjusting to the new discipline, but reflecting that this was like his earlier life with his mother he was content and got much pleasure from it. During holidays he was also of comfort to his father and pleased him; the older he got the more he felt affection for and placed his hopes in his dear son. Meanwhile Valentino was in his final year, with behaviour that left nothing to be desired, though over the five years he had not spoken once of his vocation. More than once he had asked the college director what he advised him to do when he had finished school. “Be good,” he had replied “study, pray, and in his own time God will let you know what is best for you.”
“What must I do for God to make it known what my calling is?”
“St Peter says that we can be certain of our vocation and choice of state through our good works.”
At Easter time in this fifth and final year, before the retreat, he said that this time he would like to deal with his vocation and although for some time he had felt attracted to the ecclesiastical state, just the same he felt impeded by his earlier bad behaviour. So he came to the director over those days and had a long talk with him, notes of which we have found amongst his letters; here they are:
Valentino. “What are the signs that show if a young man is called or not to the ecclesiastical state?”
Director. “Moral integrity, learning, ecclesiastical spirit.”
“How do you know if you have moral integrity?”
“Moral integrity is known especially by victory over vices which run contrary to the sixth commandment, and for that you need your confessor’s opinion.”
“My confessor has already told me that in that respect I may go ahead in the ecclesiastical state in all tranquility. And for learning?”
“For learning you have to listen to your superiors’ judgement and they will have you sit for the appropriate examinations.”
“What is meant by ecclesiastical spirit?”
“By ecclesiastical spirit we mean the tendency and the pleasure we feel when taking part in Church functions compatible with our age and what we have to do.”
“There is one aspect of ecclesiastical spirit that is more important than anything else. It consists in having a leaning towards this state by which one wants to embrace it in preference to any other state that could be more advantageous or bring greater glory.”
“I have all these things. My mother really wanted me to become a priest and I was even keener than she was. I was against it for two years, the two years you know about, but now I don’t feel inclined to do anything else. I will meet some difficulties from my father who would like me to take up a civil career but I hope God will help me overcome any obstacles.”
The director also let him know that wanting to be a priest meant rejecting earthly pleasures, renouncing wealth and the world’s honours, not looking for career advancement, being ready to put up with the scorn of mockers, and being ready to do anything, put up with anything to promote the glory of God, to win souls and firstly to save ones own soul.
“It is precisely these observations,” Valentino replied, “that urge me to embrace the ecclesiastical state. Because in other states in life you are wading in a sea of risks of which there are far fewer in the state we are speaking about. But the difficulties are likely to come from my father.”
In May that year Valentino wrote his father a letter in which he spoke of his decision and asked his permission. “Father,” he said, “I have given careful consideration to my vocation, and I have asked the advice of my superiors and especially my confessor, after which I have decided to embrace the ecclesiastical state. I know that you love me and want my true good, therefore I hope that you will be as content as I am about this. When I was a small boy my mother brought me before the altar to Our Lady in our church, and after many prayers I heard her say more than once: ‘Mary, may my child always be yours, and if it is not against what is good for his soul, make him a zealous priest.’ I hope my mother’s wish is also yours.”
When he read this letter Osnero was deeply troubled. He had a substantial fortune; Valentino was the only son and heir and given his more than ordinary intelligence, his love for work, lively character, kindness and his malleable nature he could take up one of the more glittering civil careers. His affectionate father wanted him to take up a secular career so he could be his support, his crutch, so to speak, in old age, and maintain his name and family. He wrote him a letter in which he said he was angry and regretted ever putting him in the college; he criticised his superiors for having taught him too much religion and ordered him to return home immediately forbidding him to ever speak to him again of his vocation. But reflecting on the serious consequences the letter might have, did did not send it, writing another instead that had the following milder tone.
My dear son.
I have understood from your letter that you intend to embrace the ecclesiastical state. This is an immature decision since your age means you are not capable of understanding what you have decided to do. You should depend on me, not on others. I am your father and only I can and want to make you happy. You will not lack things at home, a bright career is yours to have and a happy future awaits you. Only take notice of your father. Write back to me immediately and tell me what you sincerely think and want to do.
Valentino read the letter and calmly replied to his father thus:
Your letter confirms the great affection you have always had for me. Father, you seek my happiness and I see this happiness in the ecclesiastical state. No honour, career or other wealth can make me happy outside the ecclesiastical state. Father, the God of Heaven and earth is our master. If He wants me to be His minister, would you oppose it? Is not the dignity of the priesthood superior to all of earth’s dignities? I we can ensure the salvation of our souls, will we not have gained the greatest treasure man can gain on earth? I can also assure you that whatever I do I will never abandon you. While I am still alive I will spare nothing to comfort you in your old age, love you and respect you and give you a happy life.
Osnero understood he would get nowhere through opposition so he thought it better to hide his opinions and wait for the holidays. So he wrote that he had received the letter with pleasure, to cheer up, and that once the exams were over he should come home quickly. Then he wrote about things at home and said they could talk about other matters at the end of the school year.
Valentino passed his exams brilliantly, but could not decide whether or not to go home for fear that his father would continue to oppose his vocation. When Osnero saw that his son had not come home, he went off himself to bring him home for his holidays. There was a quite emotional scene at this point.
Valentino wanted his father to agree to him becoming a priest before he would leave; his father wanted to promise nothing of the kind, so his son did not want to go with him. In the end Osnero put it this way: “If your vocation comes from Heaven I will not oppose you and will give you my full and absolute consent. But since I fear that you do not know what you are doing, I want you to come home; after a few days of holidays we can both open our hearts to one another freely and if you persevere in the same desire I will leave you completely free, indeed will spare no effort on your behalf in supporting your noble plan.”
At those words and with such promises Valentino gave in. When he said goodbye to the director at the college the latter said to him:
“Good Valentino, you have a significant battle ahead of you. Watch out for bad companions and bad reading. Let Our Lady always be your mother have often have recourse to her. Let me know soon how things are.”
Valentino was all emotional, and promising to do all this, left with his father to return home.
The saddest thing that can possibly happen to a young man is to have poor guidance and this is what Valentino fell victim to. The pen is shaking in my hand as I write this, and I would not believe it was true had not the story left me in no doubt of its truth. Let this disaster at least serve as a warning to others.
When Valentino arrived home he was left free for a few days to do his own thing without any word being said about vocation. Meanwhile, his father was blinded by the desire that his son be the support for his name and that he would continue the family tree, so he wanted, at any cost, to alter his plans for his vocation. So he thought up a diabolical plan to entrust him to a man of disreputable character so he could teach his poor son some more wicked ways. What a wretched father — for some miserable temporal advantage he was prepared to ruin his son’s home, honour, body, and soul!
So Osnero entrusted Valentino to a certain Mari so he could introduce him to the world and get him to know its ways well, and then he could make a decision about his vocation. This Mari was an elderly individual who had spent his life wasting his time and in vice. He had only stopped because of his age. Osnero told him:
“Dear Mari, you have always been a sincere family friend; I now have something very important for you to do. Valentino wants to become a priest and I do not want that ...You understand me? Take him with you, take him around and let him see and enjoy what the world has to offer. Any expenses I will pay, just look after his health.”
“Leave it to me,” Mari replied, smiling “I fully understand. You could not have chosen a better person for this job, and I will try to keep your son happy and render you the service you want.”
They left, and when they left Mari saw to it that Valentino would have no prayer books with him. But to help relieve the boredom of the journey he told him a thousand stories of friars, priests, monks — harmless enough to begin with but gradually involving shameless behaviour. Then he gave him books filled with filthy material, which Valentino at first recoiled from in horror but little by little began to read to pass the time, then out of curiosity and by the time a month had gone by poor Valentino was almost accustomed to any kind of reading and conversations.
Perhaps at that moment a single word from a friend could have pulled him back from ruin, but he had no such friend.
So, malicious Mari, after taking poor Valentino to hotels, gambling, cafés, balls, theatre, and taking him around villages and towns, finally succeeded in seducing him and engulfing him disastrously in the vice St Paul never wanted even mentioned amongst Christians.
Valentino saw the abyss he was plunging into and at the beginning felt deep remorse. He often sought to go to Confession but his wicked guide always prevented it. One evening he wanted at any cost to go to a nearby Capuchin Monastery and Mari gave him wrong directions, leading him to a house of ill-repute.
Valentino was sorrowful and felt much regret. He had arrived at such a point of desperation that he was about to throw himself out of the third floor window of a hotel had not Mari run and held him back by his clothes.
“Just then,” Valentino said later “I thought death would be a lesser evil than the remorse of conscience I was embroiled in then.”
But the remorse did not last long. Almost without his being aware of it Mari accustomed Valentino to bad talk, all kinds of perverse reading, and recalling the good fun he had had in his first year at college he abandoned himself to all kinds of vice, indeed after six months of a thoroughly dissolute lifestyle he no longer not only did not oppose Mari, but followed his every wicked wish.
Seeing where things were at this stage, and believing he had carried out his diabolical mission, Mari brought Valentino back to his father.
“I believe I have done what you want,” Mari said, greeting Osnero.
“Thank you, Mari, you have always been a family friend and now there is one more reason for me to be grateful to you.”
“Father,” Valentino said, running to him and embracing him “Father, I am now very much of your opinion.”
“You don’t want to be a priest?”
“Certainly not. I will do anything else, but not a priest.”
“Heaven be praised, what a lucky father I am! Tomorrow I want to invite all my friends and we will have a party to celebrate your return.”
Osnero was like someone walking softly on a bed of flowers, not noticing the deep abyss beneath, nor could he have imagined that Valentino’s return would have boded so badly for him.
Osnero was much consoled at the news that his son was no longer thinking of the ecclesiastical state but did not think that the time spent with Mari would have led to such abominable debauchery. Valentino no longer spoke of the Sacraments, took up bad reading, gambling, drinking and other detestable vices. But where was he to get money to satisfy all these passions?
At first his father gave him the money but when he refused, Valentino began by pawning his watch then selling clothes and sacks of wheat. One day he even succeeded in prizing open his father’s safe and filled his purse with gold pieces. His father then realised the bad state his son had reached and to keep him away from his mates and even Mari himself he sent him off to study philosophy in another city. But he did not keep at that for long. Valentino took up a dissolute lifestyle again. He spent his accommodation money on billiards and when he had no money left he racked up one or another debt which Osnero paid so his son would not be dragged before the courts. His sorrowful father, despite his old age, went off to the city many times, prayed, advised his son, recommended he return to religion and the happy life he had once enjoyed.
“Father,” Valentino replied “Mari’s lessons have had their effect on me and I cannot turn back. I know I am on the road to ruin but I need to push on.”
“But dear Valentino,” his father said, weeping “Listen to me. Come home, do what you want so long as you abandon this wicked path you have set out on. Your life will lead to disgrace, poverty, infamy, and will lead me to the grave.”
Valentino’s gaze bored right through him, and as if he really wanted it to strike home, he asked him: “Then why did you get in the way of my vocation?” And having said that he left his father standing in the middle of the square, went off down the road to contract another debt larger than the first ones, then returned to his wretched friends.
This was a like a sword plunged into Osnero’s heart. It was then that he understood the fatal consequences of an obstructed vocation, detested the fact that he had ever known the perverse Mari, deplored the very moment he had entrusted his dear Valentino to him, but it was repentance that bore no fruit. Plunged into sorrow he began weeping and walking through the city streets crying out: “If Valentino were to come home I would be happy for him to be a priest, friar, anything so long as he turns away from the road to disgrace!” What an unhappy father I am and what an unfortunate son you are! What a sad future lies ahead for you!"
When he got home he begged his parish priest to give him enlightenment and advice. The priest tried writing Valentino a letter, but there was no reply. He asked some friends living in the same city to try any means to persuade his son away from his descent into debauchery. But when they tried, news came back that Valentino was now mixing with criminal types who were involving him in the worst kind of activities. He was caught red-handed and thrown into prison with them. Osnero could not deal with this last fatal blow given his age and his weak heart and he went out his mind. He collapsed into the arms of a friend who had come to bring him comfort. Regaining his senses for a moment he shouted:
“Cursed Mari, you have ruined me and my son! I am going to have to give account to God…..for an obstructed vocation.”
And having said that he became delirious again and with a violent shudder, died.
When Osnero died, Valentino’s creditors all wanted to be paid, so a part of the family inheritance was put up for auction. The rest went to the internal revenue office to pay legal costs, debts, and to indemnify some people that Valentino had caused serious harm to. That left nothing. About Valentino we had only heard that he had been shifted from one prison to another, that his case was judged to be a serious one and his very life was in danger. Then years went by and nothing more was heard of him. Finally, a letter came to the director of the college where Valentino had done his final years of secondary schooling. In it he gave an account of his sentencing and some news that I believe should be repeated here in its entirety:
My beloved Director,
The one writing is an old friend and a dear pupil who has now been condemned to hard labour. You may be horrified, but forgive me, and read on.
When I left you to go on holidays with my poor father, you were kind enough to give me some reminders which would have helped me had I put them into practice; but idiot that I was, I ignored them to my irreparable harm. You told me to write soon. But once through my own fault and then quite unable to, I never did. Now I am sending this to you by secure means and so fulfilling my duty. I want to pour out all the bitterness of my soul into your fatherly heart, as I once used to tell you all the secrets of my conscience - How sad are the things that happened after we separated! To block my vocation my unfortunate father entrusted me to a wicked individual who in one way or another seduced me and led me into all kinds of vice.
Remorse, horror at my wickedness always went with it but I could never decide to turn back.
The final crime, I am ashamed to say, was murder. Heavens above! What a shocking word! A pupil of yours who had gained first prize for good behaviour, who wanted to embrace the ecclesiastical state or take up a brilliant secular career is now covered in the worst kind of infamy and calls himself a murderer. Hear me out.
After spending some years gambling and in revelry I found myself weighed down by debts and being pursued by creditors. Hoping to win something I spent a night gambling with some criminal types. When we all found ourselves completely broke one of them suggested entering a house where the owner was asleep, and commit robbery. Everyone stared at the man who was making this dreadful suggestion and trembled at the thought of it, since he seemed to everyone to be from an upright family, but nobody dared make any comment.
With some false keys and by breaking in we had already reached one room, opened a safe and put our hands on a considerable sum of money when the owner awoke and began shouting “Thieves, thieves,” then the servants started yelling “Thieves” and they soon arrived with wooden planks, sticks, forks or whatever else they could lay their hands on. One of my friends, to quieten them down and out of self-defence, unfortunately fired his pistol and hit the arm of the owner’s wife who was still in bed, where she had been lying ill. With everyone shouting we tried to escape but there was no longer time. The security forces had blocked the exits and the five of us fell into the hands of the police. The poor woman, whether it was because of the wound or her illness, or perhaps the fright of it all was in a serious condition and died the following day. Meanwhile we were taken to one, then another prison. Finally, after two years one of us was condemned to hard labour for life; I and another three to fifteen years of the same. I have now been here for three years and in view of my good behaviour they have reduced my sentence by two years. Who knows if some favourable event might not further reduce my sentence!
Dear father of my soul, who could ever have imagined that one of your pupils, who had so gladly accepted your advice and was often comforted by you, would one day become, horrible as it is to say it, a jailbird? Now you can see where all my family comforts ended up and what condition I now find myself in. From morning to evening I am condemned to hard labour without any reward other than constant beatings and often being whipped. My bed is a hard straw mattress; I get a ladle of soup, a slice of bread and some water as my only daily nourishment.
But this is nothing. There is the hatred, contempt, the cursing, obscenities, blasphemies in your ears that make this place like Hell. The disgrace I have brought on my family, the infamy my name now has, my sad future, the expected death of my father all bring me remorse both day and night.
Maybe you will ask: “How could you have become so wicked when you were so good with us for five years?” I have never been, nor am I even now a wicked person. I am an unhappy young man, an unfortunate one, but not a perverse one. My father’s opposition to my vocation, and a wicked guide led me first of all to go with bad companions and then into the abyss I now find myself in. But religion was always with me and whatever I was doing wrong I could never forget the kind words you often whispered in my ear: “If you lose your soul everything is lost; if you save your soul you will be saved for eternity.”
Now that I know the enormity of my crimes I adore the hand of the Lord that has struck me and I accept my woes in repentance for my misdeeds. I do not know what my future will be but if one day I can come out of this place of disgrace I will run to your feet immediately; your counsel will guide my actions for the rest of my life; indeed I have the firm hope that with your great kindness you may be able to give me some work, no matter how menial it is, so long as I can work, do penance and save my soul.
Meanwhile you should warmly advise parents of other young students to see that they put their children where they will be brought up in religion and good behaviour, and never oppose their choice of vocation. Never cease to recommend two things in particular to my old friends or to any boys who are still under your fatherly control:
1. Avoid bad companions as terrible enemies who will lead body and soul to ruin;
2. When deciding on their vocation to give it serious consideration and after praying about it to accept the advice of a pious, learned and prudent guide. And when they encounter difficulties from their parents, they should not follow my example, but calmly pray, insist in all peace and tranquility with their parents until obstacles are removed and then act in accordance with the adorable will of the Lord.
I ask God to grant me the grace to be able to see you once again and be guided by your fatherly advice, and make up for my scandal with a Christian life so that through the Lord’s great mercy I may leave this exile and vale of tears to fly to the bosom of the Creator to praise and bless him for eternity.
Mari had been present at Osnero’s death, and while the latter was cursing him he had glared at him so threateningly and cruelly that he had left him utterly terrified. That stare seemed to be saying: “Mari, you are the reason for all this catastrophe and for my death” and although the real cause was Osnero himself, who should never have entrusted his son to a person of such disrepute, it is also true that Mari was the fatal instrument of iniquity and should never have agreed to his friend’s ill-advised idea by employing such wicked means.
Now you should note that Mari boasted of being very open-minded where religion was concerned, and had never given any sign of fear either of the living or the dead; but after Osnero’s death he felt that that last terrible glare would be with him night and day. He was sometimes seen leaving his dinner and running out terrified by the stark appearance, as he used say, of Osnero threatening him.
And it was not rare for him to awake at night shouting and calling his servants to come and keep the ghost of Osnero from haunting him. This shade, this ghost, I believe, was nothing but the remorse of conscience which evildoers feel.
Mari himself, unable to convince himself that it was more than imagination, sought relief in gambling, big dinners, parties with friends, but he could not improve his lot because as soon as he got home these spectres, shades, imaginings would terrify him more than ever.
One of his former friends suggested one day that he go and ask the parish priest for some wise counsel. “Priests,” he told him, “have certain secrets or counsels or blessings, as they say that are often very effective for calming inner disquiet.” Mari was not familiar either with the parish priest or any other priests, but he did know how to treat anyone kindly and courteously; nor had he ever shown any particular aversion to the parish priest other than what any worldly man usually has for ministers of religion.
Nevertheless he delayed for some days but seeing his woes and concerns increase, he decided to take up the idea of visiting the parish priest. The man of God kindly welcomed him and heard the whole story of Mari’s anguish and ills. At the end the good pastor sought to calm him, observing that it was the result of the deep impression that his friend Osnero’s death had made on him. Then taking Mari affectionately by the hand, he said to him: “Nevertheless, Mari, I think I can suggest an effective remedy for your ills that will also bring you real advantage.”
“Yes, tell me and I will take up the remedy you suggest; I have much respect for you and confidence in you.”
“You have never given much thought to religion in the past. Maybe your serious business concerns have been the reason for that. But listen now to your pastor, prepare yourself and make a good Confession and you will find powerful relief for your woes in this.”
At these unexpected words Mari’s face altered colour, then looking severely at the parish priest, and taking his hat, he stood up. “Father, I am your servant, but these are not the kind of things to be telling Mari.”
And having said that, he left before he became really angry.
When he arrived home, to his great surprise he found a letter there from Valentino. The letter reproached him in hard and resentful terms for the wicked way he had led him into disgrace and desolation. “Your twisted advice,” the letter ended, “led my home to ruin, sent my dear father to an early grave, and made a criminal of an upright young man.”
These reproaches were like a lightning bolt that struck Mari’s already distraught mind and he felt even more haunted by Osnero’s ghost and by the remorse for what he had done to Valentino. He then fell into a state where he could not touch any food at all and in a short time he became exceedingly weak. Fever, inflammation of the intestines, ulcers were added to his already existing ills.
In that pitiful state Mari began to think seriously about his affairs, and noting that the ulceration in his bowels had advanced to his throat. With his tongue covered in blisters and swollen so much that he could hardly talk, he had no further illusions as to the seriousness of his condition.
“Poor Mari,” he was heard to exclaim to himself “it is all about to end, you must leave this world — but to go where? Your body will go to the cemetery, but your soul? Poor Mari! Had you thought about this moment in good time, how you would now be comforted!” He then asked for a drink but was unable to swallow it. He sent his servants and friends away so he could rest for a while but as soon as he began to enjoy a few moments of sleep he began yelling out and calling for help.
“Right at the moment I fell asleep the terrible ghost of Osnero appeared, revealing that I would soon die and appear before the Supreme Judge. Perhaps there will not be time but all the same I would like to make one last attempt; go quickly to the parish priest and tell him I am close to death, but to come quickly.”
The parish priest usually wanted to find out about Mari each day but had always been prevented from coming to his bedside. and there he was right at that moment at the door to the house, asking to enter. He was immediately brought to the sick man.
“Father,” Mari told him emotionally and marvelling that he was there so quickly “Forgive my offences; I have insulted you ...”
“Don’t speak of forgiveness, I was never offended by you. I have always loved you and even more so now that you have allowed me to come to you.”
“Father,” Mari said, breaking down “do I still have a hope of being saved?”
“Yes, dear Mari, God’s mercy is infinite. He has given you time, the desire and seen that I am here to help you. Have courage. You are in the hands of a friend.”
“Will God forgive all my iniquity?”
“Yes, Mari, I assure you in the name of our Saviour whose immense kindness you see represented here on the crucifix.” And saying that he showed him the crucifix he always carried on his visits to the sick.
“What do I do now?”
“You make a good Confession.”
“I cannot do that any longer, I have no strength left.”
“Do not worry, I am your parish priest and I will help you, so you only need to reply to my questions.”
And with zeal and charity he began to hear his Confession. One was asking questions, the other replying, and when Mari was confused the priest played the part of both confessor and penitent with admirable self-confidence.
But then… “What the…?” And a few minutes later Mari so seemed so lacking in strength and his tongue was so swollen that he could barely speak. He was able to finish his Confession, though not without serious difficulty.
When that was over Mari felt very peaceful, and even given his illness seemed happier than anyone had ever seen him. He called his relatives and friends and making a huge effort, spoke thus: “I have given scandal, so forgive me. My illness and death are penance for my sins. My God I thank you, you are a merciful God. I would very much like to receive Viaticum, but the ulcers in my throat and my swollen tongue prevent me.”
He lived another two days in that anguished and suffering state but fully conscious, fully resigned to the divine will, though unable to speak. His parish priest stayed with him day and night, and any time he tried to leave, Mari would quickly take him by the hand, kiss the hand affectionately and indicate that he should stay. He often kissed the crucifix and would say, as best he could, the brief aspirations that were occasionally suggested to him.
A few hours before he breathed his last he seemed very agitated: he wanted to speak but couldn’t, kissed the crucifix, then looked at those standing around him, and being unable to speak, began to cry. The people standing there were concerned because they could not understand what he wanted to say so they brought him a pen and paper to see if he could write down his thoughts in some way.
Mari showed how pleased he was, took the pen and supported by his friends and resting his hand on the parish priest’s arm, wrote:
“Valentino, forgive me for the scandal I gave, live as a good Christian and you will be happy until you die. I die repentant; may divine mercy be mine and yours, and I shall wait for you in eternity.”
Then he let the pen fall and with a kind of smile, like someone with a great wish that has been satisfied, he lay back on his bed, entered his final agony and gave no further indication that he was conscious. The parish priest, who a few moments earlier had anointed him, gave him the papal blessing, then while he was reading the prayers for the dying, Mari left this mortal coil to enter into eternity where we hope he found mercy in the Lord’s sight.
With Ecclesiastical approval.
Sweet Jesus, Divine Master! You always frustrated the wicked machinations of the Pharisees, dispelled the advice of the wicked and the fainthearted who sought to deceive people through their false arguments. Let the light of your grace shine on us, your disciples, so that we will never be corrupted by the guile of those who are worldly wise, and who spread their pernicious thinking to draw others into their errors. Grant us the light of faith that we may recognise the lures of the wicked, and that believing steadfastly in the Church’s teachings, we may continue to reject false arguments masquerading as truth.
His Holiness, Pope Pius IX by Divine Providence, this 22nd October 1866 graciously grants 100 days indulgence in the Church’s customary form to those who piously and devoutly recite this prayer.
AL. CARD, BARNABÉ
Pref. of the Sacred College of Propaganda Fide.