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Greater Things The Story Of Saint Stanislaus Kostka by William T. Kane

CHAPTER VIII IN DANGER OF DEATH

Two years of loneliness; when his brother and his cousins and his tutor, who should have been his comrades, were his persecutors; two years in which he was always under a strain, always having to control his anger, to be patient and sweet-tempered amidst a thousand vexations; two years, moreover, in which the bodily exercise he was used to, and which he needed as every growing boy needs it, was cut down to a minimum; two such years would have broken the health even of a grown, strong man. And Stanislaus was not a grown, strong man, but a boy of sixteen. It is remarkable that he should have held out so long. It shows what courage and goodness and trust in God can do. But finally, towards the end of November, 1566, his body and brain could stand it no longer. He fell sick, with fever.

He was not a baby. He did not complain, or even tell any one that he felt unwell. He kept to his feet for weeks, trying to go on as usual with his work and his prayers. The feast of Saint Barbara, who had been the patroness of the boys' sodality in Vienna, was drawing near. Stanislaus prepared for it with particular care and devotion. Saint Barbara was the patroness of a happy death and her clients always besought of her the special grace of receiving the Holy Viaticum when dying.

December 4th, the feast of the Saint, came and passed. Stanislaus grew weaker, his fever increased. About the middle of the month he had to keep his bed, and his condition quickly became serious. Then Bilinski and Paul forgot their anger against the boy. They called in the best physicians of the city, they spared no pains or expense. The servants, who had always loved this gentle master, were all kindness and attention. But despite the efforts of all, Stanislaus became steadily worse.

He was entirely at peace, not at all afraid. Yet he felt that death was coming near. He prayed whole hours, smiling gladly in talk with our Lord, with the Blessed Virgin, with his guardian angel. He was ready, even eager, to go home. The evil spirit wondered at this boy of sixteen, who had fought him off so bravely through his life and who was dying now so fearlessly.

One day, when his people and even the servants had left him for a little while, Stanislaus saw an enormous black dog with glaring eyes and hideous foaming jaws rush across the room toward his bed. The door was closed. It was impossible for the beast to have entered the room in any ordinary way. Stanislaus had no notion how it could have come there. But if he was frightened for the moment, he did not lose his wits. With an effort, he sat up in bed and made the sign of the cross. |In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost!| he cried aloud. Instantly the huge, snarling dog fell to the floor with a thud as if struck by a sword. But after a few moments he sprang up again, and first circling the room, came crouching to the bed, howling as no mortal dog could howl, making ready to spring at the sick boy. Again Stanislaus made the sign of the cross. Again the terrible dog was stricken to the floor. A third time he came, only to be beaten back in the same way. And then, standing with bristling hair and horrible cries in the middle of the room, he vanished from sight. Stanislaus fell back on the bed, fearfully exhausted, and with tears in his eyes thanked God for his deliverance.

The shock of this dreadful incident prostrated him. He failed more and more. The doctors, coming several times a day, shook their heads in despair.

|We can do no more,| they said, |the end is now only a question of time.|

For seven days and nights Bilinski sat by his bed, snatching only a few hours' sleep now and then, for he feared that Stanislaus might die any moment.

Yet in all this long time they had brought no priest to the dying boy. Every day he begged them earnestly that he might receive the Holy Viaticum. But they lied to him. Bilinski said:

|You will soon be well. The doctors will cure you. Don't think of death or go frightening yourself.|

|I am not afraid,| said Stanislaus. |But I know I am dying. Do not let me die without Holy Communion.|

But Bilinski still put him off, and tried to tease him jokingly with charges of cowardice.

The fact was, Bilinski and Paul were afraid of their Lutheran landlord, the Senator Kimberker. His anti-Catholic prejudice was intense. They feared he might put them, sick boy and all, out of his house, if they dared to bring a priest and the Blessed Sacrament into it.

That was a hard trial for Stanislaus. But he met it as he had met every difficulty, bravely, hopefully, cheerfully. He remembered Saint Barbara, of whom he had asked 'the grace of not dying without the Holy Viaticum. He renewed his prayers for her intercession. He laid his whole case with confidence before God, and with confidence waited.

Bilinski still sat by his bed, watching anxiously. The day passed, the light failed, darkness and night came on. Stanislaus all the time had lain quiet, his face smiling as ever, his lips moving in prayer. Suddenly he turned to Bilinski, radiant, glowing with joy.

|Kneel down, kneel down!| he said, in a clear but low voice. |Two angels of God are bringing the Blessed Sacrament, and with them comes Saint Barbara!|

Then, worn out though he was by his long sickness, Stanislaus raised himself, knelt on the bed, and struck his breast as he three times repeated:

|Lord, I am not worthy!|

Then he raised his face, and opening his lips received his sacramental Lord. Bilinski looked on with awe and almost terror, unable to say a word. Stanislaus, when he had received the Blessed Sacrament, lay down again in bed and began his thanksgiving.

He was more than ever ready for death now. But still death held off. All the next day he passed in quiet. The doctors said:

|Now is the end. He may die at any moment.|

But he was not to die yet. Toward evening our Lady herself came to him, carrying in her arms the Infant Jesus. The sick boy looked up in wonder and delight. There was his Mother, smiling at him, and in her arms the laughing Infant. The divine Child stretched out His little hands to Stanislaus, and Stanislaus, sitting up in his bed, took Him into his arms.

What passed in his soul then, what joy filled his heart, we cannot know until we shall come to heaven and taste for ourselves of that joy.

And the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus spoke to him and comforted him. But Stanislaus was too overcome to say anything. Only tears streamed down from his eyes as he pressed the Infant Savior to his breast.

Our Lady said to him:

|You must end your days in the Society that bears my Son's name. You must be a Jesuit.|

But so soon as he had taken the Infant into his arms, Stanislaus felt that the fever left him, his strength came back, the blood coursed through his body with a new sense of vigor and vitality.

Then our Lady received her Child back from his hands, smiled at him and blessed him, and so vanished from his sight.

Stanislaus called for his clothes, dressed and got up. Bilinski and Paul and the doctors were astounded.

|It cannot be!| they cried.

|But you see that it is,| said Stanislaus. |I am as well as ever. Our Lady and the little Jesus came and cured me. And now I must go to the church and thank them.|

Nor did the fever return. He was entirely recovered.

The house in which this occurred is now a sanctuary, and in the room in which Stanislaus had received such favors from God an altar stands, and above it a statue of the Saint.

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