All That I Have Written Is Straw. . .

Meanderings of a Catholic Devout

Excerpt of Jacques Fesch

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Bl. Jacques Fesch (1930-1957)

I am currently reading a book called Light Over the Scaffold and Cell 18: The Unedited Letters of Jacques Fesch.   He was executed in France for the murder of a police officer on October 1, 1957 at the age of 27, a crime he never denied, although he did shoot his gun without his glasses on and could not see that it struck anyone.  What makes him special?  He’s being considered for beatification by the Church.

At first, I was a little weary about reading about a potential saint who was executed for murder, especially when he claims to have converted.  But geesh, upon reading his letters, I have rethought this attitude, and  I find his letters are so sincere.  He never tries to get out of his punishment.  In fact, I would almost claim him as a mystic.  But a conversion in such a short period of time?  I read his letters and weep, because they are written so eloquently and, somehow, I know exactly what he is writing about when he speaks of his conversion.  As when I talk about my own conversion, some people want to know what logical proof I had.  But I just could never quite articulate it because I lacked the words and frankly, I am not sure my conversion is even complete.  It’s not something you can explain, per se.  But you know it when you have it.  It is not logical, because it is above logic and it is entirely out of love.

Here’s my favorite excerpt thus far (I have not yet finished).  It was written shortly after his trial in which he was found guilty and condemned to death, but before his appeal:

  The murder?  Guilty, yes. It is right and just that I should pay the price for a crime which resulted from a previous criminal action. What can I say? That I simply should not have fired?  Impossible. I can no longer even remember what happened. And if I had been able to see the face of this man, fallen, and mortally wounded, what image would have haunted me?  Impossible question again. It was night time. . . Remember Rousseau’s mandarin.*

   The reckless drunken driver who kills a passerby could just as well be condemned to death. And then, there are other opinions. One says, “All the same, you did assault a money-changer, you killed a policeman, and you fired on the crowd.  Can’t you put yourself in their place?” Of course, but these are the facts.  Does God judge facts?

   The social usefulness of capital punishment is understandable and yet it offends the consciences of those involved. A person may think, “Condemned to death in France, yes. . . but if it were somewhere else?” Then he remembers all the countries where capital punishment is no longer allowed.  This illustrates the weakness of human institutions, as Pascal would say.

   And further, one thinks, doesn’t the social structure have a bit of responsibility for all that happened?  It is there to protect people, granted, but it is also there to help those who have perhaps received less than others. The character without mercy professes to be shocked.  He is not prone to very generous attitudes.

   There is only one thing left to do: ignore all this hatred, and search within and without for the One who waits unwearyingly for the bruised and desperate soul, to give him a treasure denied to the world. . . To encounter Christ, whose voice falls clearer perhaps in the solitude of a cell than elsewhere: “And others will lead you where you do not want to go. . . “

   But I am human, and I protest, “Lord, take away Your hand, for I am smothering. . .”

“And I, who did nothing, did I not endure the nails and the thorns?”

Then I reply impulsively, “But You were God.”—

“God, yes, but it was My flesh that was crucified.”

   And then these words come to mind, so moving and so full of meaning for the man who suffers:

“Father, take this chalice from Me. . .”


“Woman, I don’t know what you are saying; I do not know the man.”

   At the last, in the light of faith, I accept the cross, which gradually becomes so light I scarcely feel it.  I offer up my suffering, the injustices done to me. I love those who strike me, and I know that one day I shall hear these words, like the good thief on the cross,

“Amen I say to you, this day you will be with Me in paradise.”

*An allusion to this paradox attributed to Rousseau: “If all you had to do in order to become the wealthy heir of a man you never saw, never heard of, and who lived at the farthest extremity of China—if all you had to do to cause his death was to push a button, which of us would not push that button?”

I could go on and on with beautiful passages like that.  He was brilliant in his writing.  He never once really has a logical reason for his conversion, or his faith, considering he was atheist prior to his conviction.  But apparently, even the rather uncompromising powers that be at the Vatican are convinced of his sincerity enough to nominate him for beatification.  Perhaps this is sincere because he had no idea his letters would be published 60 years post mortem.  He was writing to a friend, a monk, and to his wife and mother-in-law.  But as we say, “every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.”  As the editor/compiler remarks, in the final letters before his death, when he is apparently full of grace, “it is almost as if the Word of God, through Jacques, is writing them.”

And then I recalled so many other saints who were guilty, too.  Saul of Tarsus persecuted Christians before becoming St. Paul. Saint Dismas was the good thief on the cross–the first to arrive in Paradise.   St. Augustine–playboy. St. Olga–mass murderer. King David–adulterer. . . need I name more?


Written by Written Straw

February 8, 2010 at 11:02 pm

One Response

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  1. I believe there is more to the story then we read concerning St Dismas. To be allowed to enter into paradise would mean he did have a good heart and accepted Jesus in his lifetime. I do not think Jesus would let a murderer and defiler of the innocent enter into paradise so easily.

    St Dismas follower

    September 2, 2012 at 11:06 am

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