Saturday, May 28, 2011

LIGHT UPON THE SCAFFOLD: THE PRISON LETTERS OF JACQUES FESCH


Jacques Fesch,1930-1957, was a murderer who spent three years and eight months in solitary confinement and experienced a profound conversion before his execution,by guillotine, in a French prison.

“The cross I carry, so shameful in men’s eyes, is no less glorious than that of monk or missionary. But those who live in the world find all this very difficult to comprehend…There is no coherence in it to the eye of the mere spectator.
            It’s only a short time since I really understood what the cross is. It is simultaneously miraculous and horrifying. Miraculous, because it gives us life, horrifying because if we do not bring about our own crucifixion, we have no access to life. This is great and blessed mystery for those who are persecuted." 

"I am sad indeed. Is it a lack of humility that is making me insensitive? I could easily become violent, and at the least contradiction my hackles go up. Pride: the worst of evils and the one that most separates us from the Lord. I have plenty of reasons to be humble, but I’m not. The more I’m knocked down, the more I stiffen my neck and cling to the pride that is my form of courage. 'Brother Leo,' said St. Francis, 'do you know what perfect joy is? Suppose that on our return to the monastery the brother porter receives us like shameless rogues, insults and strikes us, tosses us into the snow and leaves us outside there without shelter and food. If we find the strength to think that this brother has treated us as we deserve, and if we praise the Lord for it, that is perfect joy!'”

"You have to be here to understand what a deadly effect imprisonment can have on a person. He may succeed in submitting outwardly, but interiorly he festers in a frightful way. Wild beasts wait for the beast-tamer to make a false move, and then they leap on him. But do not be alarmed, dear brother; I've been through similar crises and survived."


"Here is where the cross and its mystery of suffering make their appearance. The whole of life has this piece of wood as its center…Don’t you think that, whatever you set out to do in the short time that is yours on earth, everything worthwhile is marked with this seal of suffering? There are no more illusions: you know with certainty that all this world has to offer is as false and deceptive as the most fantastic dreams of a six-year-old girl. Then despair invades you, and you try to avoid the suffering that dogs your heels and licks at you with its flames, but every means of doing so is only a rejection of the cross. We can have no genuine hope of peace and salvation apart from Christ crucified! Happy the man who understands this…” 

--all from Light Upon the Scaffold: The Prison Letters of Jacques Fesch, ed. by Augustin-Michel Lemonnier, trans. Matthew J. O'Connell




People too often confuse morality and law. I did evil and I know it, but I also know how and way I acted as I did. I am perfectly aware that I was not free. My real guilt is not in this area, and it is not the actions for which I am now in prison that are the most serious ones. The real issue is not actions as such--which are indeed atrocious and irreparable--but the deeper responsibility of the man named Fesch. He knows that his responsibility lies elsewhere than where the law puts it. The people before whom I feel guilty are not the civil authorities, but others; and if the day ever comes when true judgment is passed upon it, it is these others who will weigh in the balance against me: Pierrette and Veronica [his wife and daughter]. It is for them that I must give an account.

Our real sins, in other words--which is why we are all criminals--are failures of love.

MOZART'S GREAT MASS IN C MINOR: KYRIE

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

3 comments:

  1. I needed to get back to your writings Heather.
    It's been a hellish few weeks.

    Barbara

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  2. Heather--I check your blog almost every day. Add me to the 400 readers. I appreciate your reluctance to step on board with advertisers. Please just keep doing what you're doing and thank you for the quotes from Jacques Fesch and your many other postings. I seldom comment but I am always reading.

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  3. The last paragraph struck a chord with me. I've had my own share of addiction, doing horrible things, but coming toward the light at the end of the tunnel one day it hit me that the worst part was not the addiction and acts per se. Like Jacques, I also felt a humiliating and relieving knowledge that I was not free. But the worst part I thought was my absence from those who deserved my love all the while I had locked myself away.

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