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How St. Francis de Sales converted a hardened criminal sentenced to death and without hope in God

5 min • Digitized on March 5, 2022

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 204
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley


He was once asked to visit in prison a poor criminal already condemned to death, but who could not be induced to make his confession. The unhappy man had committed crimes so terrible that he despaired of the forgiveness even of God, and having often during his lifetime met death face to face in battle and in duels, he appeared to be quite ready again to meet it boldly; nay, so hardened was he by the devil that he even spoke calmly of hell, as of the abode destined for him for eternity.

Our Blessed Father finding him in this frame of mind, and altogether cold, hard, and reckless, proclaiming himself the prey of Satan and a victim prepared for hell, thus addressed him: “My brother, would you not rather be the prey of God and a victim of the Cross of Jesus Christ?” “What,” cried the criminal, “do you think that God would have anything to do with a victim as repulsive as I am?”

“Oh, God!” was the silent prayer of Blessed Francis, “remember Thine ancient mercies and the promise which Thou hast made never to quench utterly the smoking flax nor wholly to break the bruised reed. Thou who willest not the death of the sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live, make happy the last moments of this poor soul.”

Then he spoke aloud replying to the despairing words of the poor wretch, for, horrifying though they were, they had proved to the skilled workman that there was something left to work upon, that faith in God was not yet wholly dead in that poor heart. “At any rate, would you not rather abandon yourself to God than to the evil one?” “Most assuredly,” replied the criminal, “but it is a likely thing indeed that God would have anything to do with a man like me!” “It was for men like you,” returned the Bishop, “that the Eternal Father sent His Son into the world, nay for worse than you, even for Judas and for the miscreants who crucified Him. Jesus Christ came to save not the just, but sinners.”

“But,” cried the other, “can you assure me that it would not be presumption on my part to have recourse to His mercy?” “It would be great presumption,” replied our Saint, “to think that His mercy was not infinite, far above all sins not only possible but conceivable, and that His redemption was not so plentiful, but that it could make grace superabound where sin had poured forth a flood of evils. On the contrary, His mercy, which is over all His works, and which always overrides His justice, becomes so much the greater the greater the mountain of our sins. Upon that very mountain he sets up the throne of His mercy.”

With words such as these, kindling, or rather re-animating the spark of faith not yet wholly dead in the soul of the wretched man, he relighted the flame of hope, which up to that moment was quite extinguished, and little by little softened and tamed the man’s natural temper, rendered savage by despair. He led him on at last to resignation, and persuaded him to cast himself into the arms of God for death and for life; to deal with him according to His own good pleasure, for his whole future in this world, or in the next.

“But He will damn me,” said the man, “for He is just.” “No, He will pardon you,” replied Blessed Francis, “if you cry to Him for mercy, for He is merciful and has promised forgiveness to whoever implores it of Him with a humble and contrite heart.” “Well,” replied the criminal, “let Him damn me if he pleases—I am His, He can do with me what the potter does with his clay.” “Nay,” replied the holy Bishop, “say rather with David, I am Thine, O Lord, save me.”

Not to make the story too long, I may tell you that the holy Bishop brought this man to confession, repentance, and contrition, and that he died with great constancy, sincerely acknowledging his sins and abandoning himself entirely to the most holy will of God.

The last words which our Blessed Father made him utter were these: “O Jesus, I give myself up to Thee—I abandon myself wholly to Thee.”

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