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Christian Stories of Wisdom is the perfect antidote to our busy, modern lives. It serves as a daily companion that one can return to again and again for a moment of spiritual sustenance. The 70 stories in this uplifting collection can be read in solitude or shared with others. Among them are “Saint Francis and the Wolf,” “Saint Peter’s Mother,” “The Mantle of Christ,” “The Angel and the Hermit,” and many others.
Nathalie Leone has been an actress, mask creator, puppeteer, and storyteller. Along with her career in the performing arts, she is the author of Souffle, a collection of poems, and several children’s stories. She lives in France.
Table of Contents
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This book has not been written to be read,
but to be consulted as a close and secret friend.
You can ask it
for nourishment, and it will feed you,
for enlightenment, and it will enlighten you,
to move you, to play with you, and with you it will play
in the most mysterious way the game of chance
that does not exist.
You may ask it a question full of hope or anxiety, and at all events, an intimate one—one of those questions which are out of the reach of intelligence and which are usually asked with one's heart, with closed eyes. Open the book at random and it will be there to speak to you. It does not only say something more or less interesting—no. It also answers the question that you have not even uttered aloud. It responds in its own fashion, which is perhaps disconcerting. But do not wince. What you are told always turns out to be surprisingly sensible.
It is a game that has been played for centuries with books, which need to be constantly loved to remain alive and to continue to be effective, despite the accumulation of time. Before unfurling their banners, innumerable princes consulted the Bible in this way, or the Koran, or the Vedas. Many spiritual wayfarers, or people who are momentarily lost, or alone, or just anxious to avoid an obstacle—in short, you and I—have thus asked these fairy tales for light to fill their beacon lamps. And these tales have thereby given them the light they needed.
Why, how, and from where do the answers spring? You should not explain that. Neither should you speak too much of them. I know from lifelong experience that tales are immemorial and benevolent older people. They know the music of the world's pulse. They always answer our questions, as long as these are asked with the innocence by which they themselves are shaped.
Keep this book close to you. Open it from time to time, as one visits a friend. And should you need advice from a luminary soul on your innermost path, consult it just by way of a game. Close your eyes. Open the book. Open your eyes. Thank whomever you wish.
Bernard and Francis
Francis had just withdrawn from the world and had embraced complete poverty. But the people of Assisi, his friends, his parents, and his acquaintances of long standing all thought him mad. They held him in contempt. When he went into town, people jostled him, threw nuts at him, and scolded him. They insulted him to his face and hurled at him all abuse they could think of.
Francis bore everything, without getting angry. He never even answered them.
Now a man was observing him from the window of his house. He was surprised to see him put up with such scorn so readily. "Either he really is completely mad," he said to himself, "or he has received special grace from God."
This man's name was Bernard of Assisi, and he was one of the noblest and richest citizens in the town. He sent for Francis, inviting him to spend the night in his home. He had a comfortable room prepared for him and in the same room had a bed set up for himself behind a drape. He wanted to watch this man of God and see whether he gave in to the comfort. He placed a large lamp on a chest of drawers, with sufficient oil in it to shine throughout the night. By evening the humblest of men and the richest man in the town slept in the same room. But rather than enjoying the fresh sheets and soft mattress, Francis soon got up again and prayed through the night. Like a litany, as if to spur his soul to be fruitful, he repeated: "My God and Everything, my God and my Everything; may God be Everything. May God be Everything." By the first glimmer of daybreak, Francis appeared to be illuminated too, and Bernard was deeply moved. Thanks to the lamp, which was still lit, but above all thanks to Francis's glowing devotion, nothing in the scene had escaped him. The rich man wished to be similarly ablaze with such passion.
"Brother Francis, let me take leave of the world and follow you," Bernard begged.
"I don't know…," replied Francis, "you will have to consult Our Lord.… It is a serious decision.… You are powerful and accustomed to being honored."
But he looked steadily into the rich man's eyes and added these words:
"Follow me. Let's go see the priest at the bishop's palace. After the service we will pray until terce. Then we will ask him to open his missal three times in succession. And according to the words to emerge from the book, we will know what to do."
They listened to the service, and prayed until terce; the priest approached them and, at their request, opened his missal three times.
On the first occasion the book said:
"If you wish to attain perfection, sell everything you possess and give the proceeds to the poor."
On the second occasion they read:
"Let he who comes after me give himself up, take up his cross, and follow me."
On the third occasion the sentence ran:
"Do not take anything with you along the road."
Brother Francis turned to Bernard of Assisi and said, "God has given you his advice;… now it is up to you to prepare."
Bernard hurried home, settled his affairs, and sold all his possessions that same day.
In the evening he joined Francis in the poor district of the town, dragging behind him a big chest that contained his entire fortune.
They halted in a small piazza. There they took off their robes and filled the piazza with the many coins from the chest. A few onlookers drew near. These were the first to benefit, for the two men were scattering the golden coins around them as a peasant sows his seeds. Bystanders ran to and fro, their steps unpredictable, their eyes wild, and their hands grasping greedily. Jubilation spread throughout the town.
Once the chest was empty, Francis and Bernard left Assisi and set off on their journey.
A Conscientious Monk
A monk, having at a very young age entered the monastery where he spent twenty years, had misgivings as to his progress. He decided to visit Father Joseph, who welcomed him warmly and listened to him.
"Father," began the monk, "I am trying to follow the rules. I fast, I observe the contemplative silence, I carry out the work in monastery, I pray, I endeavor to banish vain thoughts… What more can I do?"
The old man stood up, looked at the sky, raised his arms, and, stretching out his fingers that resembled rays, said to him, "Why don't you turn yourself into a flame completely?"
The Desert and the Locust
A young monk who had just reached the desert decided to consult an elder.
"Father, I have been living here for one year and locusts have come six or seven times already. You know what a scourge they are. They infiltrate everything, enter the tents, slip between the blankets, make their way into clothing. They even hop into food… I am at my wit's end."
The elder, who had been living in the desert for forty years, answered him:
"The first time a locust fell in my soup I threw away the lot. On the second occasion I threw out the locust and kept the soup. The third time I ate everything—soup and locust. Now when a locust attempts to get out of my soup, I put it back in."
In a monastery in the Loire region, there lived twelve monks under the lax law of their father abbot. Lulled by the rhythm of the seasons, working in the fields, transcribing manuscripts, and fulfilling duties, they were quite happy and had no other desires.
But one day the father abbot died. After respecting the mourning period, the twelve monks gathered one morning in the common hall, where they looked at one another in dismay.
Having entered the monastery at almost the same time, they were like true brothers. So who amongst them was going to take the place of father abbot?
"No," Brother Jacques moaned in response. "I… I… would never be able to. I… I… stammer."
"What about you, Brother François?"
"If you don't mind, I feel more at ease where I am…"
"That leaves you, Brother Anthony."
"Which Brother Anthony? The very thought of it! I can't even remember my name. Why not Brother Denis?"
"Knowing my bad luck, the monastery would be struck by lightning before the end of the month."
"So who then?" bemoaned Brother Mathew.
"Why not you?"
"Me? I can never remember anything. How do you expect me to recite prayers by heart?"
And one by one each monk shrunk from responsibility.
The meeting lasted a long time. One by one the monks, depleted of their strength, slumped down in their chairs. Never had they spent so much time in conversation…
Suddenly, one monk who had fallen asleep sat up:
"I've got it. God has just whispered the answer to me."
"So who?" asked Brother Mathew.
"I don't know."
"Do you or don't you know?" asked Brother Anthony, somewhat agitated.
"I'll be back."
Brother François left the room. He gave a sigh of pleasure, for the meeting had tired him out and he felt extremely stiff. He stretched himself and greeted the warm shining sun. He walked along the passageway as far as the porch and left the monastery.
He went down the little pebble path and reached the wood. Below in a glade a young shepherd was sitting in the shade while watching his flock grazing. The monk approached him and asked: "Could you give me…?"
"I possess nothing," replied the shepherd bluntly.
"I only want a louse. You won't be any the worse off with one less louse."
"Why do you want a louse?"
"We are short of lice."
Without understanding, the young shepherd rummaged in his matted hair, and from amongst the microscopic mites that occupied his beard, chose quite a big louse.
The monk, overjoyed, took it gingerly between his fingers and went back to the monastery.
"Look, my brothers," he said as he went through the door of the great hall. "I have a louse here. Place your beards on the table and I shall put the louse in the middle. The louse will choose the beard, and the beard will indicate the father abbot."
Some of the monks were a little shocked. Two or three flicked their beards over their shoulders. But since most of them found the idea an excellent one, their beards were already spread on the big wooden table. Brother François, with his hand in the air, holding aloft the louse, waited for everyone to comply.
Eleven beards were laid out on the table, side by side. With a solemn gesture Brother François placed the louse in the middle of the table and hastened to spread out his own beard at the place left for him, his chin on the table.
The louse set about smoothing out its back, under the noses of the monks who were examining and eyeing it. Then slowly it stood on its legs, scratched its belly, and began to notice the beards on display. For a louse this sight was the land of milk and honey. It inspected grey hair; jet black, bushy, disheveled, and dull hair; glossy and shiny hair; long beards, as well as those that scarcely showed below the chin; the greasy and the unremarkable. Finally it settled on the three hoary bristles of brother Jacques, the stutterer. The louse clung with love for a long-term visit.
The monks stood up respectfully and broke into a Benedictine chant.
So Brother Jacques, acting under coercion, became the abbot, elected by the louse.
At the beginning he stammered a little, but in the end he spoke quite clearly. Some said this was the effect of the louse that had taken up lodgings in his beard. No one knew exactly how this miracle was wrought. Let us say that thanks to the Almighty, the louse enabled the man to reach the heights of his calling.
Two men in conversation were seated on the edge of a public fountain whose fine jet of water splashed them gently.
The first man said:
"When I need a favor, either for myself or others, I ask for it on my knees, behaving with the good Lord as I would with a merchant who seeks only to dispense his surplus knowledge. And I pray, ask, and beg."
"Are your prayers always answered?" asked the other man, skeptical.
"Always. Either the favor is granted or I feel my will merge in such a manner with God's will that, at that very moment, I wish for everything he wishes for."
A priest had shut himself in his cell to write a sermon on divine providence.
Suddenly he heard an explosion. The dam that protected the small town had just given way and the river burst its banks in a roar of flood water that swept along everything in its path.
The priest, distraught, was about to give way to panic when he caught sight of his sermon on divine providence. He pulled himself together and calmed down.
The village was flooded and most people stayed cloistered indoors. Some of them, however, did venture out, waist-deep in water, in search of help. A rescue boat soon arrived under the presbytery windows.
- On Sale
- Feb 16, 2016
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Black Dog & Leventhal