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The Fire Of Love by Richard Rolle

LECTION VIII. Also this holy hermit, Richard, out of the abundance of his charity used to showà

Also this holy hermit, Richard, out of the abundance of his charity used to show himself very friendly to recluses and to those who were in need of spiritual consolation, and who suffered disquiet and vexation in soul or body through the malignant work of evil spirits. God granted him singular grace in helping those who were troubled in that way. And thus it once happened that when a certain lady was drawing nigh to death -- in whose manor Richard had a cell (but a long way off from the family), where he was wont to live alone, and give himself to contemplation -- a great multitude of horrible demons came to the room where the lady lay. It was little wonder, therefore, that when she saw them visibly she fell into great fear and trembling. Her attendants sprinkled holy water in the room and made devout prayers; nevertheless, the demons departed not, but still continued to vex her greatly. At length, by the wise and discreet advice of her friends, the blessed Richard was called to the room, so that, if possible, he might bring the said lady the aid of comfort and peace. And when he had come to her consolation, and had admonished her holily, and had urged her to place all her hope in the superabundant mercy of God and in His overflowing grace, he then set himself to pray God with a fervent heart that He would take from her the fearsome sight of the demons. And the Lord heard him instantly, and at the prayer of His beloved Richard was pleased to put all that terrible troop to flight. Yet as they fled they left behind them astounding traces of their passage; for all the bystanders saw that in that rush-strewn floor of the room where the demons had passed the rushes seemed to be burned and reduced to black ashes, and in these ashes there were marks impressed like the hoof prints of oxen.

But when the demons had lost the prey which they had sought in that place, they tried to take vengeance on Richard, who had put them to flight. Accordingly, they went forthwith to his cell and disturbed him so much that for the time they made the place unfitted for his contemplation. But the saint of God, being stedfast in his faith, fled repeatedly for refuge to the sanctuary of prayer, and by his entreaties once more prevailed with the Lord to put them to flight. And, to the comfort of the aforesaid lady's friends, he told them that she was saved, and that after quitting this life she would be a joint-heir in the kingdom of heaven.

After this the saint of God, Richard, betook himself to other parts, doubtless through the providence of God so that dwelling in many places he might benefit many unto salvation, and sometimes also that he might escape impediment to contemplation, as we read in the book of the Lives of the Fathers that many of the most holy fathers in the desert used to do. For frequent change of place does not always come from inconstancy; as in the accusation of certain who are given to quick and perverse judgment of their neighbours, but whose crooked interpretations and habits of detraction ought not to make a sensible person neglect those things which he has found by experience to be good and conducive to virtue. For in the canon and decrees of the Church many causes sometimes are assigned for which change of place may be made; of which the first is when pressure of persecution makes a place dangerous; secondly, when some local difficulties exist; and thirdly, when the saints are harassed by the society of evil men.

When, therefore, this holy man, for urgent and most practical reasons had betaken himself to dwell in Richmondshire, it befell the Lady Margaret, who had once been a recluse at Auderby in the diocese of York, on the very day of the Lord's Supper was so overcome by a grave attack of illness that for thirteen days continuously she was utterly deprived of the power of speech. Moreover, it caused her such pains and prickings in her body that she could not rest in any position. Now a certain goodman of that town, knowing that the holy hermit Richard loved her with a perfect affection of charity -- since he was wont to instruct her in the art of loving God, and to direct her, by his holy teaching, how to order her life -- quickly hastened on horseback to the hermit, who was then living twelve miles from the dwelling of the recluse, and besought him to come to her with all speed and bring her consolation in her great need. And when he came to the recluse he found her unable to speak and troubled with very grievous pains. And as he sat by the window of her dwelling and they were eating together, it befell at the end of the meal that the recluse desired to sleep; and so, oppressed by sleep, she drooped her head at the window where Richard, the saint of God, reclined; and after she had slept thus for a short time, leaning slightly upon Richard, suddenly a violent convulsion seized her in her sleep with fearful vehemence, so that it seems as if she wished to break the window of her house. And being still in this most terrible convulsion, she awoke from sleep, and the power of speech being granted her, with great devotion she burst forth with these words: Gloria tibi Domine,' and blessed Richard finished the verse which she had begun, saying: Qui natus es de Virgine,' with the rest which follows in the compline hymn. Then he said to her: Now thy speech is restored to thee, use it as a woman whose speech is for good.'

A little while after, when she was again eating at the aforesaid window, in exactly the same way as before, after dinner she fell asleep, and leaning upon the saint aforesaid, the same convulsions returned, and she became, as it were, mad, and was shaken by extraordinary and violent movements. But when the holy Richard was trying to hold her with his hands, lest she should rend herself or strive in any way to injure the house, she suddenly slipped from them, and in her fall was shaken out of sleep and thoroughly wakened. Then Richard said to her: Truly I thought that even if thou hadst been the devil I should still have held thee; nevertheless, I give thee this word of comfort, that as long as I shall remain in this mortal life thou shalt never again suffer the torment of this illness.'

None the less, when the courses of several years had passed, the same illness -- except that she had her tongue free for speech -- returned to her. Therefore the recluse sent for the goodman aforesaid, and asked him to hasten quickly on horseback to the house of the nuns at Hampole -- which place was far distant from her own dwelling -- where the said Richard at that time led a solitary life, and to see what had befallen him. For she doubted not that he had passed from this world, because she knew that he was faithful to his promise; and he had promised her that as long as he lived in the flesh she should never again suffer such torment. So the said man came to Hampole, and he learnt that the saint was dead to this world; and after diligently inquiring the hour of his passing, he found that the aforesaid illness had returned to the recluse shortly after the hour of Richard's departure. But afterwards the recluse betook herself to Hampole where the holy body of the said hermit was given burial; and never afterwards was she afflicted with the suffering of this horrible illness.

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