“Great sinners make great Saints. God has big plans for you”- Servant of God Fr. John Hardon SJ.
I really love every story of conversion because each one is unique just like all of our human stories. But what each one has in common is the glorious power of God to touch our lives in an instant and transform them sometimes instantly.
In a meditation of the day in the Magnificat I came across a piece about Jacques Fesch who is now a Servant of God on a path possibly to Sainthood. Jacques was born in 1930 in France to a father who was an avowed atheist while the mother was at least nominally Catholic. He seemed to be a troublemaker from an early age, neglected his homework, disrupted classes and made mischief until he was eventually expelled. As he grew older, he did not improve, failed to practice any semblance of faith, soon living a life of crime and hedonism.
Although his father got him a job in a bank, Jacques wasted the opportunity by his laziness and bad attitude eventually being fired. His father found him other jobs but all ended the same way. His life spiralled into deeper immorality. He fell into a shambles of unsavoury results as his main objective in life was to enjoy the pleasures of this world not caring what the consequences were. He rarely took responsibility for his actions.
Before he was 24, he had fathered a child out of wedlock by his girlfriend, Pierrette (she seems to be an amazing lady), whom he married before his daughter was born. This marriage quickly ended in divorce and Jacques felt no compunction to care for either his wife or his daughter.
Once again, after this relationship ended Jacques continued his womanising and fathered an illegitimate boy, a son who never knew his father until years after he was executed. Jacques avoidance of God and his total abandonment to worldly pleasures cast him into deep depression. He decided to sail to the South Pacific dreaming of buying a yacht and living an idyllic life of constant pleasure on a tropical island. But he had no money and couldn’t get any from family. So he decided to steal the money! In an inept robbery in February 1954 he beat an old man in a currency shop with his pistol. He was cornered by a policeman and ended up shooting him dead. But he was wrestled to the ground and arrested. At his trial the jury had no difficulty finding him guilty and he was sentenced to death by the guillotine.
As he sat in solitary confinement for three years he had time to reflect on his life which led to his conversion and repentance. Three people helped him towards this miracle. His lawyer was a devout Catholic, the prison Chaplin and a monk friend of his wife Pierette who didn’t abandon him. His conversion took time but after reading a book about Our Lady the sheer horror of what he had done struck him. He wrote in a journal that he started to keep “The Spirit of the Lord seized me by the throat. Within the space of a few hours I came into possession of faith, with absolute certainty. I believed Grace came over me. A great joy flooded my soul, and above all a deep peace.” Immediately he asked for the prison Chaplin so that he could make his Confession after so many years. He began a deep prayer life as his journals indicate even becoming a mystic. Jacques also sought to repay the many and deep hurts he had caused his family. He reconciled with his wife and daughter. He also wrote many letters to his family, including his brother and stepmother.
During his last two years he wrote much in his journal about his conversion, his love of God and the Blessed Virgin Mary and his repentance. At the end he serenely accepted his death and his letters reveal a man who had turned away from seeking pleasure to instead comforting others and seeking to convert them. With his new found faith he had a deep hunger for the Eucharist, only infrequently relieved. His day began by studying the words of the mass from his Missal in the early morning longing for those words to become a reality. Given a Bible he was to study it like a cloistered contemplative! In fact in his letters he joked that his prison life had become little different from that of a Carthusian monk! It was in such letters that the fruit of the huge conversion revealed itself.
Conscious that time was running out, he spoke of the joy in finding Christ — echoing St. Paul in decrying as worthless all the world had to offer. Above all he was concerned for the conversion of his loved ones particularly his wife and daughter. At their civil marriage ceremony, Pierette’s faith had been as weak as his. But he now persisted in prayer urging her to turn to God. He hoped for a religious marriage ceremony in prison and there are two conflicting reports on whether it happened. He had a deep desire for his daughter to be brought up in the faith and to have character formation unlike his youth.
His mother died while he was in prison but his father continued to visit him but was unchanged from the hard atheism that Jacques could see was destroying his life. Jacques stated that he would change nothing in his life because he recognised the Hand of God in all that had happened to him. Through the tragedies of his life in which he was the main player he had come to witness the Grace of God enter his life, shattering the illusions that had captivated him wrecking his life and so many others.
He was executed on 1st October the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. He woke at 3am and asked the guard for a light as he said he must prepare. He studied his missal and prayed awaiting the arrival of the Priest at 5.30. Jacques then made his last confession and received Holy Communion. He told the Priest that he offered up his life for the conversion of his father, for those he loved and for the man he had killed. His last journal entry before he dies was “in 5 hours, I will see Jesus.” In his last words Jacques asked the Blessed Virgin to have mercy on him. After his death his wife Pierette obtained his spiritual journal and read it from cover to cover the same day. Pierette worked with Sr. Veronica, a Carmelite nun and Fr. Augustin-Michel Lemonnier to publish the writings of Jacques Fesch. Since 1970 his writings have brought comfort and encouragement to many souls. Many plays have been written about him. In 1993 Cardinal Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris, opened the preliminary inquiry for the beatification of Jacques Fesch saying he hoped one day that “he would be venerated as a model of sanctity.
Some of his writings indicate the complete transformation that took place in him;
I am saved in spite of myself; I am being taken out of this world because I was lost in it. The punishment that awaits me is not a debt that I have to repay, but a gift that the Lord is giving me.
My death is redeeming, even if it appears unfair. We must not struggle against what has been decided by God… and which is owing to His great mercy.
To his daughter Veronica…”What I have, I give you for the day when, after you are an adult, you will, through these words, be able to follow the life of the man who was your papa and who never stopped loving you for one second”. The journal ends with these words…”If by the end of these pages I have succeeded in making you understand what life can be, real life, that begins in this world in order to bloom where everything is light, if you have been able to sense the worth of the soul, and of what little importance worldly success is, these lines will not have been written in vain and maybe one day, faced with God knows what ordeal, you yourself will draw from this example so close to you the strength and the courage to distinguish which direction the light comes from”
A letter to the Chaplin…”Dear Father, here I am at the close of my life, my soul at peace and my heart steady. In a few hours a new and eternal dawn will break for me, if our Lord judges me worthy to be counted among his children. In these last moments I can hardly help reviewing all the scenes of my past life in the radiance of the new light that is mine as I stand at the threshold of life. They are not sad, because they have led up to the love of Jesus, thus taking on a meaning I never suspected. Some are even happy, and here I am thinking of those hours I spent at the foot of an improvised altar in a prison cell, or the time passed in reading the spiritual books your goodness knew how to choose for me — always the best! I owe you my heartfelt thanks, Father, for your kindness and the care you have always taken for my soul’s welfare, nourishing it faithfully with its one need: Our Lord Jesus Christ. I am trying to thank you at least in part here below, but although I may seem presumptuous in saying this, I cannot hide from you the fact that it is from heaven, whence all blessings flow, that I should like to be able to thank you. I shall carry your name to heaven with me, written in my heart, and when the Lord allows me to cast a glance down to earth, I shall gaze into a dark little cell where a priest is celebrating the greatest of all possible sacrifices, uniting himself each day to crucified love, and then I shall ask our Lord to cast a gracious glance on his faithful minister and fill him with blessings. Peace be with you, my Father, and may the eternal light soon shine upon you also. Until we meet in God, your humble and grateful sheep, Jacques.”
What can we learn from this life story?
What we see plainly in this story is the parable of Jesus about the Prodigal Son. In God’s awesome and unlimited love for us He is always seeking to redeem us from our stupidity, our rebellion, our grievous sin. Jacques had a horrible childhood because he was deprived of Truth and therefore deprived of love. Truth and Love are completely wrapped up in God.
But God was never absent! Jacques refused to acknowledge Him and in his life of reckless irresponsibility he ruined so many lives even killing an innocent policeman who was a young father.
In a sense Jacques is a poster boy for the sexual revolution which really came into full bloom in the late 1960’s. But he is also a poster boy for the Glory of God!
The horrendous decline into grievous immorality has accelerated since the 1960’s and the key driver of that was the chemical contraceptive pill which has literally destroyed the moral compass of huge swathes of people globally, sadly including Catholics. The rebellion of Catholics both lay and clergy since 1968 when Humane Vitae was issued by Pope Paul VI has directly led to our acceptance of abortion which has slaughtered billions of beautiful babies created in the image and likeness of God.
The story of Jacques can be seen all around us now in the huge decline of faith practice and the demanding of “rights”! When society buys into crazy ideologies of rights, equality, freedom, etc. what they are doing is rejecting Truth and asking God to change the rules for human existence! And that simply cannot happen. We must conform our lives to God, obey the ten Commandments and live with a sense of True purpose which is to focus on our Eternal reward which is to be in Heaven with God for all eternity.
Once society becomes immersed in sin and its focus is on the pleasures of this world we destroy ourselves, our families, our communities and our Church. Because the faithful family of a mother and father rearing in selfless love the children that God blesses them with is the foundation stone of the Church in action. G.K. Chesterton, an amazing Catholic convert and prolific writer said, “there is nothing so wonderful as the ordinary man and his ordinary wife and their children whom they love and nourish”. And that is why the real aim of communism is the destruction of the family unit as the bedrock of our society. Sadly they have been hugely successful in their endeavours.
We have given our power away because we failed to appreciate that without God there is no life. Jesus told us very clearly that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that without Him we are the living dead. As it says in the prayer, Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen. God is the Creator of life, the giver of life and God sustains us in every moment. God breathes in us and pumps the blood around our bodies. God decides when we are born and when we die – we have no control over this. So to deny God by serious sin is simply the great delusion.
All the things we have seen as solid and certain in our lives have been swept away in a few short months with a supposed pandemic which seems to have killed no more than a seasonal flu. Yet the propaganda around it has filled millions of people globally with irrational fears and the psychological warfare on humanity seems certain to ratchet up with mandatory vaccines, digital chips etc.
Job security has been swept away and people are so fearful of close contact with other human beings. And in the midst of this fear there is no right reason! Trust is being put in politicians, media and medical people all driving an agenda which is global to keep people in fear so they will allow all of their powers to be stripped away in the name of “what is right”!
Right for who? Right for the Globalist elites who want to destroy humanity and enslave all of us like in China! These are the same people who have already destroyed our world with pushing grievous immorality.
Now they are driving the Great Reset which is all pure Communism devoid of God, devoid of Truth.
So the question is simple do you trust in Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world or do you trust the minions of Satan who want to enslave you?
Please stop buying into the vicious and unrelenting propaganda! In our Bibles we are instructed to have no fear — not once but 365 times!
Throw out you TV and be very wary of what you trust on the internet!
Double up on your prayer life and live life full out with NO FEAR.
God loves you. But equally, Satan hates you!