It was on a winter's morning,
In the days of old --
In his cell sat Father Henry,
Sorrowful and cold.
"O my Lord, I am aweary,"
In his heart he spake,
"For my brethren scorn and hate me
For Thy blessed sake.
If I had but one to love me,
That were joyful cheer --
One small word to make me sunshine
Through the darksome year!
But they mock me and despise me
Till my heart is stung --
Then my words are wild and bitter,
Tameless is my tongue."
Then the Lord said, "I am with thee,
Trust thyself to Me,
Open thou thy little window,
Mark what thou shalt see."
Then a piteous look and wistful
Father Henry cast
Out into the dim old cloister,
And the wintry blast.
Was it that a friend was coming,
By some angel led?
No! a great hound, wild and savage,
Round the cloister sped.
Some old mat that lay forgotten,
Seized he on his way --
Tore it, tossed it, dragged it wildly,
Round the cloister grey.
"Lo, the hound is like thy brethren."
Spake the voice he knew;
"If thou art the mat, beloved,
What hast thou to do?"
Meekly then went Father Henry,
And the mat he bare,
To his little cell to store it
As a jewel rare.
Many a winter and a summer,
Through those cloisters dim,
Did he thenceforth walk rejoicing,
And the Lord with him.
And when bitter words would sting him,
Turned he to his cell,
Took his mat and looked upon it,
Saying, "All is well.
"He who is the least and lowest,
Needs but low to lie;
Lord, I thank Thee, and I praise Thee,
That the mat am I."
Then he wept for in the stillness
His Beloved spake,
"Thus was I the least and lowest,
Gladly, for thy sake.
Lo, My face to shame and spitting,
Did I turn for thee;
If thou art the least and lowest,
Then remember Me."
HE had now had to suffer as a thief, a heretic, and a murderer. To sleep on a cross studded with thirty nails, and to wear a hair-shirt, were sufferings far more creditable. To be canonised and worshipped might be the end of such tortures. But to be counted as a heretic and a villain, could lead to no such high distinction. His family, and his mother's name, had been disgraced and dishonoured by the sister he loved. And another reproach was yet to fall upon him, which would touch him in a tender point.
In a certain town was a cloister, in which was a stone crucifix, with an image the size of life. One day it was reported that fresh blood was to be seen flowing from this image, under the wound which was carved upon the side. The whole town ran together to see this marvellous sight, and amongst the first who came was Father Henry, who at that time was passing that way. When he saw the blood, he went near, and touched it with his finger. For this impious act he was seized by the crowd, who bid him confess before all the people assembled, that he had been a witness of the miracle. He said he was willing to confess that he had seen and touched the blood, but as to its being a miracle, he must leave it to others to judge.
The anger of the people was very great, and as they could not compel him to say it was a miracle, they declared that he had cut his finger, and smeared the blood upon the image, in order to make money by showing this pretended wonder to the townsfolk.
So great was the wrath of the citizens who heard this tale, that he was compelled to fly from the town by night. But his flight was discovered, and he was pursued by a maddened crowd, from whom in the end he escaped. A price was now set on his head, to be paid to any who would bring him dead or alive, and in consequence, the evil report of his sacrilege spread far and wide, and his name was held up to reproach and contempt.
It may be that if he had still been sleeping upon the old door, and daily thrusting nails into his wounded flesh, such evil rumours would never have gained credit. But his reputation for holiness was gone, and he was scorned and spurned by the monks his fellows and by most men besides.
Many other troubles and sufferings followed, but the Lord did not leave His servant without consolation, in the midst of perils in waters, and perils by robbers, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, and in perils among false brethren. But a time of rest came, during which Father Henry made a journey to a convent of nuns, to visit some of his spiritual children. For the Lord had made him to be the means of the conversion of many sinners, and he watched over them as one that must give account.
"When he came to the convent," says the story, "his children asked him, How goes it with thee?' Then answered he and said, I fear that it goes ill with me, for this reason; four weeks have now passed by, in which I have suffered neither in body nor in reputation, which is a strange thing to me. I fear that God has forgotten me.' And he went to sit down for a while by the window.
"And at that moment there came a brother of the Order, beneath the window, and called to him, and said thus, I have just been at a castle, where the lord of the castle asked after you, and desired to know where you were. And many a hard word did he speak, and he lifted up his hand, and swore a great oath, that wheresoever he might find you, he would run you through with his sword. And this oath has been sworn also by several evil-disposed men, who are his nearest friends, and they have sought you in several cloisters, that they might wreak their vengeance upon you. Therefore take warning, and keep out of the way, if life is dear to you.'
"Then was he in great fear, and said to the brother, I should like to know what I have done to deserve death.'
"Then answered the brother and said, It has been told to the lord of the castle, that you have led away his daughter, and many other people besides, into strange and peculiar ways, which they call being in the Spirit, and they say that such people, who say they are in the Spirit, are altogether the wickedest people who walk upon the earth. And yet more, another wrathful man was there, and he also spoke of you saying, "He has robbed me of my wife whom I dearly loved. She walks about with a veil on, and takes no notice of things around her, she says she only desires to look within. All that comes from the monk, and well shall he pay for it!" '
"And when the servant of the Lord heard these things, he said God be praised!' and he turned him from the window, and said to his children, Good tidings, my daughters, rejoice with me! God has thought upon me, and has not forgotten me.' And he told them the tale he had heard, how he was to be rewarded with evil, for the good that he had wrought.
"And in those days it befell him also, that when at times he went into the infirmary, to rest his weary body for a little while, or when he sat at table silent as was his wont, he was assailed with mockery and with unseemly words. And at first these things were very grievous to him, and he pitied himself so sorely, that the hot tears would sometimes run down his cheeks, and mingle with his food and drink.
"He would then look up to God, and say with an inward sigh, O God, is it not enough that I suffer in my hours of labour? Can I not eat my little morsel in peace?'
"This befell him often and sorely. And once when he could endure it no longer, he went away from the table, to the place where he could be alone with God. And he spake to the Lord, and told Him how he had at all times felt pity and tenderness for all men who suffered, and how he had been grieved at all times when he heard hard words spoken of others, either before their faces or behind their backs. And how he had always defended those who were falsely accused, or entreated for them if they were guilty, and how he had wept with the mourners, and rejoiced with those who rejoiced. And how it had grieved him to see even a bird or beast, however small, suffer pain or hunger.
"And yet, Lord,' he said, Thou dost permit those whom the beloved Paul has called false brethren, to treat me cruelly, as Thou, Lord, knowest.'
"And when he had thus unburdened his heart to God, a still sweet rest fell upon him, and the Lord shone into his heart and spake, saying, The child-like reasoning which thou hast set forth before Me, cometh from this, that thou hast not rightly observed the words and ways of the rejected Christ. Thou shouldest know that it is not enough in the sight of God that thou hast a kind heart, for this thou hast by nature. The Lord looketh for more from thee than this. He desireth for thee not only that thou shouldest suffer patiently, when men are hard with thee, but that thou shouldest take no rest nor sleep until thou hast gone to thine adversary, to soften his angry heart, if so it may be, with tender words, and ways. For with such lowliness and meekness thou takest from him knife and sword, and he is powerless to harm thee. Behold, this is the old and perfect way which Christ has taught His own, saying, Lo! I send you forth as sheep amongst the wolves.'
"But when the servant of the Lord," continues the story, "considered this, it seemed to him that this perfect way was far too toilsome, and that even to think of it was hard, and harder yet to follow it, yet he yielded up his heart to the Lord, that he might begin to learn it.
"It happened shortly afterwards, that there was a lay-brother, who spoke to him with insolence, and reproached him before all present. Then did he take it silently and patiently, and desired to think that he had done enough.
"But he was warned in his heart by the Lord, that he must do yet further. And when it was evening, this brother went into the infirmary to have his supper. And the servant of the Lord went to stand outside the door of the infirmary, to wait for the brother to come out. And when he came out, the servant of the Lord fell down before him, and spake humbly to him, saying My dear and good father, give honour to God by looking kindly upon me. If I have grieved you in any matter, forgive me for the Lord's sake.'
"Then did the brother stand still, and looked at him in amaze, and said with a voice that was nigh to weeping: What marvellous ways are thine! Thou hast never done me any harm, nor hast thou ever harmed any other that I know of. But it is I who grieved thee, and that before all present, with my wicked words. It is for thee to forgive me, and that I entreat of thee.'
"Then was the servant at rest in his heart, and he went away in peace.
"And another day, when he sat at meat in the refectory, there was a brother who turned upon him with bitter words. Then did he turn to the brother and smiled upon him in friendliness, as if he had given him some precious jewel. And the brother was pricked in his heart, and was silent, and smiled at him again. And after dinner, when this brother went into the town, he said, I was put to shame to-day at the dinner table as never before in my life, for when I railed at the servant of the Lord, he bent his head towards me, and smiled sweetly upon me, so that I was crimson with shame. And this shall serve me as a lesson from this day forth.'"