In a provincial asylum, there was, a few years ago, a child about eight years of age, who was known only by the designation of “N° 4.” His state was one that can hardly be described. Such was his deformity – whether resulting from malformation or from disease – that his misshapen legs touched his neck; he was so emaciated that his bones protruded, literally, through his skin; his whole body was one continuous sore, and his sufferings were atrocious. He was of a poor Jewish family, and he remained in this sad state for four years. He was remarkably intelligent for his age; his gentleness, patience, and resignation excited the admiration of all about him. The physician, in whose ward he was, touched with compassion for the neglected little creature whose relatives came but seldom to see him, took much interest in him, often talked with him, and was so much charmed with the precocious intelligence of the poor little sufferer, that, when he could find a moment of leisure, he used to read to him, and was constantly surprised by the clearness of his comprehensions and the correctness of his judgment in regard to subjects apparently beyond his years.
One day, the little fellow said to him, “Doctor, please give me some more pills, like those you last ordered for me.” – “And why so, my child?” replied the physician; “those you have already taken were enough. I should be afraid of doing you harm if I gave you any more of them.” – “I wanted them,” returned the boy, “because I suffer so dreadfully that it is in vain I hold my breath not to groan, that I beg of God to give me strength to avoid disturbing the other patients who are near me; it is often impossible for me to help doing so. Those pills make me sleep, and while I sleep I disturb no one.”
That request suffices to show the elevation of the soul enclosed in that deformed body. Whence had the child derived such sentiments? It could not have been from the surroundings amidst which he had been brought up, and, besides, at the age at which he fell ill, he was still too young to understand any teaching on the subject, even had such been attempted; they must, therefore, have been innate in him. But, in that case, why, if he were born with such noble instincts, did God condemn him to a life so painful and so miserable? Why, if He created his soul at the same time as his body, did He create for him a body that could only be the instrument of such terrible suffering? We must either deny the goodness of God, or we must attribute this anomaly to some cause anterior to the formation of so miserable a body; that is to say, the preexistence of the soul and the plurality of our lives. The child in question died, and his last thoughts were of God and of the charitable physician who had taken pity on him:
Some time afterwards, having been evoked by the Paris Society, he gave the following communication (1863).
“You have called me; I have come, that my voice, passing beyond these walls, may strike other hearts, and may say, to those who hear me, that the sorrows of Earth are a preparation for the joys of heaven; – that suffering is only the bitter rind of a delectable fruit, when borne with courage and resignation; – that, on the hard and narrow bed of pain and poverty, are often to be found the envoys of the Most High, whose mission is to teach men that there is no suffering which they cannot bear with the help of God and of their good-spirits; and that the groan wrung from them by pain, but mingled with the accents of prayer and of hope, offer a harmony of very different augury from that of the rebellious complaints that are mixed with the utterances of rage and blasphemy!
“One of your Guardian-spirits, a great apostle of Spiritism, * has kindly given me his place, this evening, in order that I may say a few words respecting the progress of your doctrine, which is destined to aid all those who are incarnated among you in accomplishment of their mission, by teaching them how to suffer. Spiritism will be the guide-post that will show them their way; it will teach them, both by reasoning and by example; and the sighs of those who have accepted a mission of suffering will thenceforth be changed into songs of gladness.
Q. It would appear, from what you have just said, that your sufferings were not an expiation of the faults of a former existence?
A. They were not a direct expiation, but be very sure that there is a just cause for every sorrow. He, whom you have known so deformed and so miserable, was a formerly handsome, great, rich, the object of general adulation; I had my flatterers and my courtiers; I was vain and haughty. I was very guilty, for I forgot God and wronged my fellow men. But I had expiated that life by terrible sufferings, first in the spirit-world, and then upon the Earth. What I endured, in my past life, during a few years only, I had already endured in a previous life, from infancy to extreme old age. Through repentance, I was at length restored to the favor of the Lord, who deigned to confide to me various missions, the last of which is known to you. I had solicited it, in order to finish the work of my purification.
Farewell, my Friends; I shall return sometimes among you. My mission is not to instruct but to console; there are so many who suffer in your world, and who will be very glad of my visits. MARCEL
*St. Augustine, through the medium by whom he habitually communicates with the Society.
COMMENTARY OF THE MEDIUM’S GUIDE
Poor little sufferer, puny, ulcerated, and deformed! How sad was his situation in that refuge of wretchedness and tears! And yet, despite his youth, how resigned he was, how well he understood the true aim of suffering. He felt, intuitively, that a reward was awaiting him, beyond the grave, for so many complaints repressed! And how fervently did he pray for those who had not, like him, the courage to bear their sufferings, for those, especially, who hurled blasphemies against Heaven, instead of praying!
Though the agony of this sufferer was prolonged, his departure was easy. Those who stood round him beheld a little deformed body struggling convulsively against death, in obedience to the instinct of the flesh that clings to life up to the very last moment; but an angel hovered above the couch of the dying child, breathing words of encouragement and hope, and, when all was over, he bore away, in his loving arms, the purified soul that had quitted the wretched body, whispering, “Glory to God!” with its latest sigh. And this soul, ascending towards the Almighty, radiant and happy, cried joyously, “Behold me, O Sovereign Ruler! Thou gavest me the mission of showing how men should suffer! Have I fulfilled that mission worthily?”
And now, the spirit of the suffering child has regained its true proportions; he speeds through space, with the power and the brightness of the sunbeam, visiting the weak and the humble, and saying, to their hearts, “Hope and Courage!” Freed from the materiality and purified from the soil of the past, he is near you, addressing you, no longer with the painful and plaintive voice of his last incarnation, but in clear and resonant accents; and he says to you, “Those who saw me upon the Earth beheld a child who bore his load of suffering without a murmur; from his patience they learned to bear their own sorrows with resignation, and their hearts were filled with confidence in God. Such was the aim of my short sojourn upon the Earth.” SAINT AUGUSTINE.