By Michael H. Brown
HIDDEN IN ‘CHASTISEMENT’ WAS LESSON ON GOD’S PROTECTION NO MATTER WHAT SWIRLS AROUND US
A number of times it has been indicated that when we are devout, faithful, and forsake the snares of worldliness — when we seek the Blessed Mother — we’re afforded a special bubble of protection.
That protection is particularly potent — as we shall see in a moment — when we’re dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament. For it is the Force of God. It is administered by angels.
Earlier this week we discussed the incredible firestorm propelled by hurricane-force winds in Peshtigo, Wisconsin in October of 1871 (about which the Virgin had warned during a Church-approved apparition to a young woman near Champion). This fantastically intense and historic fire (which torched 1.2 million acres and was so hot it burned logs floating on a river, calcinated bodies, and turned sand to glass ) surrounded a shrine dedicated to the apparition but never entered it. Anyone who has read about that fire (and the simultaneous one to the south in Chicago, the same day, the same hour) knows it was a miracle the shrine (and seer, who was praying inside) survived the conflagration.
As it turns out, it was not alone as a “miracle of protection.” There is also what was recorded by a priest, Father Peter Pernin, who had survived by seeking refuge in the Peshtigo River as massive fire “tornadoes” swept across the region. We’ll let Father Pernin recount it himself (from his booklet, The Great Peshtigo Fire: An Eyewitness Account).
“I left them at their mournful task [of tending to corpses], and returned to the site where our church had so lately stood,” he wrote of ministering to the dead and desolation immediately after the holocaust. “There also all was in ashes, nothing remaining save the church bell. The latter had been thrown a distance of fifty feet; one half was now lying there intact, while the other part had melted and spread over the sand in silvery leaves. The voice of this bell had been the last sound heard in the midst of the hurricane. Its lugubrious note yet seems at times to strike on my ear, reminding me of the horrors of which it was a forerunner.
“The graveyard lay close to the church, and I entered and waited there; for I expected momentarily the arrival of a funeral. It was that of a young man who had died the evening previous, in consequence of the terrible burns he had received. I left the graveyard with a heavy heart, and turned my steps in the direction of the river, which I had to cross in order to seek for my tabernacle with whose ultimate fate I was unacquainted. A bright ray of consolation awaited me and seldom was consolation more needed.
“I crossed the river on the half-charred beams of the bridge which had been joined together so as to offer a means of passage, though a very perilous one, to those who chose to trust themselves to it. I had barely reached the other side when one of my parishioners hastened to meet me, joyfully exclaiming: ‘Father, do you know what has happened to your tabernacle?’
“‘No, what is it?’
“‘Come quickly then, and see. Oh! Father, it is a great miracle!’
“I hurried with him to that part of the river into which I had pushed as far as possible my wagon containing the tabernacle. This wagon had been blown over on its side by the storm; whilst the tabernacle itself had been caught up by the wind and cast on one of the logs floating on the water. Everything in the immediate vicinity of this spot had been blackened or charred by the flames; logs, trunks, boxes, nothing had escaped, yet, strange to say, there rose the tabernacle, intact in its snowy whiteness, presenting a wonderful contrast to the grimy blackness of the surrounding objects.
“I left it in the spot where it had thus been thrown by the tempest for two days, so as to give all an opportunity of seeing it. Numbers came, though of course in that time of horror and desolation there were many too deeply engrossed with their own private grief to pay attention to aught else. The Catholics generally regarded the fact as a miracle, and it was spoken of near and far, attracting great attention.
“Alas! Nothing is more evanescent than the salutary impressions produced on the mind of man by Divine blessings or punishments. Time and the preoccupations of life efface even the very remembrance of them. How few there are among the rare survivors of the fire that swept Peshtigo from the face of the earth who still see the power of God in the calamity that then overwhelmed them as well as in the preservation of the tabernacle, events which at the time of their occurrence made so deep an impression on their minds.
“When the duties which had detained me three days amid these mournful scenes were completed, I took the tabernacle from the place which it had occupied of late and sent it on to Marinette where I intended soon saying Mass. When the right time arrived, I forcibly opened the tiny door. There — circumstance as wonderful as the preservation of the tabernacle in the midst of the conflagration — I found the consecrated Host intact in the monstrance while the violent concussions the ciborium must have undergone had not caused it even to open.
“Water had not penetrated within, and the flames had respected the interior as well as exterior, even to the silky tissue lining the sides.
“All was in a state of perfect preservation!
“These sacred objects, though possessing in reality but little intrinsic value, are nevertheless priceless in my eyes. I prize them as most precious relics, and never look at or touch them without feeling penetrated with sentiments of love and veneration such as no other holy vessels, however rich and beautiful, could awake within me. In the little chapel at Marinette, which replaces the church burned there more than two years ago, the same tabernacle is on the altar and contains the same monstrance and ciborium which were so wonderfully preserved from the flames, and, daily, during the holy sacrifice, I use them with a species of religious triumph as trophies of God’s exceeding mercy snatched so marvelously from destruction.”
[Today, the tabernacle may be seen at the Peshtigo Fire Museum, the original site of Father Pernin’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The museum is open from Memorial day to October 8th. Also note that a charred bible found after the holocaust was opened to Psalm 106-107, about sinful Israel and its chastisement; just before that is Psalm 105: “He spoke, and there came swarms of flies; gnats, throughout all their borders. For rain He gave them hail, with flashing fires throughout their land.” After the Peshtigo fire had come a plague of army worms. There is also Psalm 102: “LORD, hear my prayer; let my cry come to you. 3 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn away as in a furnace.”]
[resources: Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help video
[After note from Father Pernin: “I must beg my readers to return with me for a little while to the banks of Peshtigo River — but not to linger there long. Before removing the tabernacle I was busily occupied three days and two nights, now in seeking for the dead, then in taking up from the water various objects which I had thrown by armfuls, at the moment of leaving my house, into the wagon and which had been overturned with it into the river. The most precious of all these was the chalice, which I was fortunate enough to find, together with the paten. My search was greatly facilitated by the opening of the dam and letting out of the waters which were here fifteen or twenty feet in depth. This step was necessary for the finding of the corpses of those persons who, either seized by cramps, or drawn in by the current, had been drowned during the night of the hurricane.”]