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Snatched From The Brink

April 2, 2021 Frontpage No Comments

By JOE SIXPACK

Fr. William Doyle (1873-1917), known best as Fr. Willie, is one of Catholic Ireland’s most shining gems. This holy priest served as a military chaplain in World War I and was killed in action, but that isn’t even the beginning of his claim to sacred fame. There are many stories told about this great priest from his short life, and this is one such anecdote.
One night during a mission, Fr. Doyle was returning to the rectory after Confessions in the church when he happened to meet a very young woman in the street. He stopped her and asked, “My child, aren’t you out a wee bit late? Won’t you go home?” Then looking directly into her eyes he added very gently, “Don’t hurt Jesus; He loves you.” Then Father moved on and soon forgot the incident.
Then two years later, Fr. Doyle received a telegram from his superior, telling him to go to Dublin. It read: “Please send Father Doyle to prison. Woman to be executed tomorrow. Asks to see him.”
Fr. Doyle caught a late boat that night and arrived at the prison at five the next morning. The warden told him about Fanny Cranbush, a girl of the poor and criminal class who had been convicted of murder for her part in poisoning someone. When she was brought to prison, she had asked for the priest who had given a mission in Yarmouth two years before, and it took them a while to figure out that priest was Fr. Doyle.
When Fr. Doyle entered the cell, he saw a girl, in her early twenties sitting with bowed head on the edge of her narrow bunk. She sprang to her feet and exclaimed, “Oh Father, thank God you’re here!”
“But I don’t know you,” said the priest.
“Don’t you remember, Father? Two years ago you stopped me in the street one night in Yarmouth. I was a bad girl and have been all my life. You said to me, ‘My child, aren’t you out a wee bit late? Won’t you go home? Don’t hurt Jesus; He loves you.’ The look on your face and the words you said stunned me. Had I hurt Jesus? Did He love me? Who was He? I knew so little about Him. I’d never prayed…never even been baptized.
“For weeks I kept off the streets, but then hunger drove me out again. I sank lower and lower, until now I’ve come to this end and will be hanged today. I came here defiant and wanted nothing to do with any priest or minister. Then your words came back to me. Something seemed to snap inside me, and I broke down in tears. My hardness melted, and I felt this overwhelming desire to see you. Now that you’ve come, will you tell me more about Jesus?”
“Do you mean you wish to become a Catholic?”
“Yes, Father, that’s what I want with all my heart. Please!”
The essential articles of the faith were very quickly explained. Fanny was then baptized in her cell, and all her evil past was washed away. A tiny altar was erected in the cell, and Fanny heard her first and last Mass, and received Jesus in Communion for her first and last time. She refused her last meal, saying, “I’ve just eaten the Bread of Life.”
As Fanny walked to the scaffold with Fr. Doyle beside her, she whispered to him, “I’m so happy, Father. Jesus knows I’m sorry for having hurt Him, and I know that Jesus loves me.”
A moment later Fanny Cranbush, her newly baptized soul perfectly white and unspotted by sin, was in the arms of Jesus.
The lesson we can learn from this story comes from what transpired between Fr. Doyle and Fanny two years before her execution. All Catholics, by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation, are required by God to share our holy and ancient faith with non-Catholics so they can also have the joy of knowing Jesus in the true faith He Himself established with the New Covenant. Fr. Doyle had only a brief encounter with Fanny on the street, probably lasting less than thirty seconds, but God used that encounter when it mattered most to the soul of Fanny Cranbush.
I’ve been a lay evangelist for thirty years. I’ve actively worked to convert souls to Catholicism, and have been blessed by the Holy Spirit with many converts. However, not everyone is called to do what I do, but we’re all called to do whatever we can. Perhaps a half dozen times over the last three decades, I’ve dealt with certain people and tried to interest them in the faith, only to fail in reaching them…at least, I thought it was failure.
In these specific cases, years later I’ve heard from these folks because they wanted to thank me for sharing with them, letting me know they were never able to shake my words and eventually became Catholic. Who knows how many others I’ve tried to reach experienced the same thing, because the Holy Spirit used the words He put into my mouth to gradually lead them home to Rome?
The point is this: You don’t have to be a lay evangelist. You don’t even have to be able to teach the faith or be the saintly sort of person Fr. Doyle was in order to reach people. You just have to be a Catholic who knows the faith so you can live the faith, then show God you love Him by letting your faith be an example to others. When non-Catholics know you’re a Catholic who lives the faith, God uses the little things we say and do to reach into their souls. It may not have an effect then, but years later, and without you ever knowing it in this life, the Holy Spirit will offer those people the graces of conversion . . . thanks to you living the faith as you ought.
Have you ever looked at something that has been embroidered? If you look at the back side of an embroidery, the side not intended to be seen, it’s ugly and confusing and looks like a real mess. But when you turn it over to the side that’s intended to be seen, that’s when you can see the beauty created by the designer and artist who made that embroidery.
Our lives are a divine embroidery. All throughout our lives, all we see is the chaos and disorder of the back side. It’s not without beauty, because the thread used is colorful and pretty, but there is no order and the crossing of all the threads seems senseless and chaotic. And that’s all God allows us to see in this life, because He expects us to live by faith and to be faithful to Him in that faith.
It’s only when we leave this life and enter the next, assuming we’ve been judged worthy by Him because we died free of mortal sin, that we get to turn over the embroidery that has been our life and see how all the beauty of God’s masterful work came together for our own good and the good of others. In other words, that’s when you get to see all the good you did and how it helped others . . . even when you didn’t know it.
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey was given a tremendous opportunity to see what his world would have been like had he never been born. Without George, life in his town would have become ugly.
It’s amazing the influence one man can have on those around him. We can’t have that opportunity, but you can be sure that, if you live your life the way all good Catholics should, God is using you to embroider a beautiful work of art on the face of mankind…even if it’s only a small one. More often than not, the small embroideries are the best ones.
If you have a question or comment you can reach out to me through the “Ask Joe” page of JoeSixpackAnswers.com, or you can email me at Joe@CantankerousCatholic.com.
Hey, how would you like to see things like this article every week in your parish bulletin as an insert? You or your pastor can learn more about how to do that by emailing me at Joe@CantankerousCatholic.com.

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