Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Man who Poisoned his Own Mother

            One of the most well-known stories about St. Luigi Orione is the confession of the man who put poison in his mother's soup. Here, Don Orione lived what he preached, forgiving and being merciful with that poor sinner.

In the life of Don Orione the apostle there happened at one and the same time an impressive and most pleasant episode.
One winter evening he was preaching in the parish church of Castelnuovo Scrivia. It was absolutely full with a congregation who had come also from nearby villages. The subject was God's mercy, a favorite topic in many of his sermons.  To indicate the greatness of the sacrament of Confession he came out with this sentence: "Even if a child were to reach such a degree of wickedness as to put poison into his mother's soup in order to kill her, he would obtain forgiveness from God if he repented sincerely for his wrongdoing."

At the end of the service he rushed off to the tram stop to go home, but arrived too late and had to start walking towards Tortona, which was about eight kilometers away.
It was getting dark and a short distance away a cold mist was engulfing the trees of the deserted and silent countryside beyond the last houses of the village.
A man wrapped up in a cloak had stopped by the side of the road as if he were waiting for someone. As he approached him Don Orione noticed his features: he was tall with a healthy complexion and a black beard growing to two points.  He was wearing a wide-brimmed hat and his eyes were lost in thought which completely occupied him.  He seemed a suspicious type.
To be on the safe side and keep on the right side of him Don Orione spoke:
"Hello, my friend. Are you going to Tortona?"
The reply was immediate and determined: "No, I am not going to Tortona."
"Good evening then," said Don Orione, setting off again.
"No, good evening," replied the other with a bitter smile. "Stop for a second. Was it you preaching?"
"Yes, that was me."
"You were speaking of confession."
"Yes, I was speaking of confession."
"Do you believe in what you were saying?"
"Yes, I do believe in what I was saying," replied Don Orione slowly.
"You said," the other went on, "that a child who put poison into his mother's soup could be forgiven. Do you believe that that is possible?"
"I certainly do believe it, because it is true. On condition obviously that the guilty person repents."
"So, if a child has poisoned his own mother and confesses, he can be forgiven?"
"Yes, provided that he has repented."

There was a pause. In the misty half darkness that was coming down over the countryside there was a deep sense of expectancy.
"Do you know me?" continued the man finally, staring at the priest.
"No, I don't know you."
"Yes," insisted the other, almost as if annoyed, "You do know me."
"Honestly, I don't know you. Perhaps if you tell me I may be able to remember, but for the moment I don't know you," Don Orione assured him in sincere tones.
"Yet you do know me, because you spoke of me."
"No, I cannot have spoken of you."
"You did, I tell you," protested the man, becoming more and more excited as he saw his own belief being contradicted.
Then he turned his eyes as if he feared that some stranger would pop out of the veil of darkness that was about to enfold him.  Lowering them before Don Orione he declared: "I am the person you spoke of this evening. I put poison in my mother's soup."
A shiver ran through Don Orione who instinctively withdrew. Another pause followed, more laden with unease than the first one.
"Tell me," continued that unfortunate person who had finally found an outlet for his remorse, "tell me, can I still be forgiven?"
"If you have repented..." replied Don Orione in a faint voice which echoed the trembling of his soul.
"You're asking me if I have repented? If you only knew how much I have suffered..."
He described how, since the day of his mother's funeral, although no-one had the slightest suspicion of him, he had never found peace. Several years had gone by. That evening, as he chanced to pass by the church, a place where he had not set foot for a long time, he was seized with an irresistible need to go in:
"I went in at the very moment you were talking about the child who had poisoned his mother. And I thought that those words were directed at me."
He then added in a hushed voice that had become softer because of the indescribable hope that was welling up in his heart: "If I can have God's pardon and you can give it to me, well then, I am here, please forgive me."
(At this point the seal of the sacrament came in and Don Orione's account, not recounted until many years afterwards, came to a stop.)

So it happened that, on the side of the road hardly visible in that winter's evening, while not far away the fires in the houses crackled happily, casting their light on the families who may have been gathered together in a spiritual communion with that man who just a few hours earlier had moved so many souls, the Priest of Christ heard the confession of a penitent who was the most needy and appropriate for representing the triumph of grace in the hearts of mankind.
After receiving the final blessing the man of the soup got up to leave. First, however, in a rush of emotion he wanted to embrace his consoler, hugging him with such an irrepressible force of affection, that Don Orione felt he was dying of suffocation in his arms. Immediately afterwards he disappeared.[1]

[1] D. Sparpaglione, Il Beato Luigi Orione7, Roma, Ed. Paoline, 1980. [Unpublished translation].

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