CHAPTER XXV:'LITTLE FLOWERS' CONTINUED . . .
HOW ST FRANCIS HEALED MIRACULOUSLY A LEPER BOTH IN HIS BODY AND IN HIS SOUL, AND WHAT THE SOUL SAID TO HIM ON GOING UP TO HEAVEN
The true disciple of Christ, St Francis, as long as he lived in this miserable life, endeavoured with all his might to follow the example of Christ the perfect Master; whence it happened often, through the operation of grace, that he healed the soul at the same time as the body, as we read of Jesus Christ himself; and not only did he willingly serve the lepers himself, but he willed that all the brethren of his Order, both when they were travelling about the world and when they were halting on their way, should serve the lepers for the love of Christ, who for our sake was willing to be treated as a leper. It happened once, that in a convent near the one in which St Francis then resided there was a hospital for leprosy and other infirmities, served by the brethren; and one of the patients was a leper so impatient, so insupportable, and so insolent, that many believed of a certainty that he was possessed of the devil (as indeed he was) for he ill-treated with blows and words all those who served him; and, what was worse, he blasphemed so dreadfully our Blessed Lord and his most holy Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, that none was found who could or would serve him. The brethren, indeed, to gain merit, endeavoured to accept with patience the injuries and violences committed against themselves, but their consciences would not allow them to submit to those addressed to Christ and to his Mother, wherefore they determined to abandon this leper, but this they would not do until they had signified their intention to St Francis, according to the Rule. On learning this, St Francis, who was not far distant, himself visited this perverse leper, and said to him: “May God give thee peace, my beloved brother!” To this the leper answered: “What peace can I look for from God, who has taken from me peace and every other blessing, and made me a putrid and disgusting object?” St Francis answered: “My son, be patient; for the infirmities of the body are given by God in this world for the salvation of the soul in the next; there is great merit in them when they are patiently endured.” The sick man answered: “How can I bear patiently the pain which afflicts me night and day? For not only am I greatly afflicted by my infirmity, but the friars thou hast sent to serve me make it even worse, for they do not serve me as they ought.” Then St Francis, knowing through divine revelation that the leper was possessed by the malignant spirit, began to pray, interceding most earnestly for him. Having finished his prayer, he returned to the leper and said to him: “My son, I myself will serve thee, seeing thou art not satisfied with the others.” “Willingly,” answered the leper; “but what canst thou do more than they have done?” “Whatsoever thou wishest I will do for thee,” answered St Francis. “I will then,” said he, “that thou wash me all over; for I am so disgusting that I cannot bear myself.” Then St Francis heated some water, putting therein many odoriferous herbs; he then undressed him, and began to wash him with his own hands, whilst another brother threw the water upon him, and, by a divine miracle, wherever St Francis touched him with his holy hands the leprosy disappeared, and his flesh was perfectly healed also. On this the leper, seeing his leprosy beginning to vanish, felt great sorrow and repentance for his sins, and began to weep bitterly. While his body was being purified externally of the leprosy through the cleansing of the water, so his soul internally was purified from sin by the washing of tears and repentance; and feeling himself completely healed both in his body and his soul, he humbly confessed his sins, crying out in a loud voice, with many tears: “Unhappy me! I am worthy of hell for the wickedness of my conduct to the brethren, and the impatience and blasphemy I have uttered against the Lord”; and for fifteen days he ceased not to weep bitterly for his sins, imploring the Lord to have mercy on him, and them made a general confession to a priest. St Francis, perceiving this evident miracle which the Lord had enabled him to work, returned thanks to God, and set out for a distant country; for out of humility he wished to avoid all glory, and in all his actions he sought only the glory of God, and not his own. It pleased God that the leper, who had been healed both in his body and in his soul, after having done penance for fifteen days, should fall ill of another infirmity; and having received the sacraments of the Church, he died a most holy death. His soul on its way to heaven appeared in the air to St Francis, who was praying in a forest, and said to him: “Dost thou know me?” “Who art thou?” asked the saint. Said he: “I am that leper whom our Blessed Lord healed through thy merits, and to-day I am going to life eternal, for which I return thanks to God and to thee. Blessed by thy soul and thy body, blessed by thy holy words and works, for through thee many souls are saved in the world; and know that there is not a single day in which the angels and other saints do not return thanks to God for the holy fruits of thy preaching and that of thy Order in various parts of the world. Be comforted, then, and thank the Lord, and may his blessing rest on thee.” Having said these words, he went up to heaven, leaving St Francis much consoled.