Alphonse Ratisbonne and the Miraculous Medal. A ‘test’ that changed his life. Part One
1842. A young French Jew, Alphonse Ratisbonne, was due to get married, but spent some time travelling on the continent. When he arrived in Rome, he met Baron de Bussieres, a Protestant who had converted to Catholicism. Ratisbonne was candid with the devout Catholic Baron de Bussieres and declared, ‘a Jew was I born, and a Jew shall I die."
"Well then, since you are so strong-minded and so sure of yourself," said the baron to Alphonse, "promise me to wear something I am going to give you."
"We shall see. What is this?"
"It is only a medal." Then the baron showed him a Miraculous Medal. After some discussion, he challenged Alphonse to wear it and placed it around his neck. Alphonse giggled, but did not say no to it. This was just a dare, a test of belief, thought Ratisbonne.
"Now," said the baron, "you must not shirk the rest. Each morning and evening you must say the Memorare, a very short and effective prayer written by St. Bernard in honour of Our Lady."
To Alphonse this deed seemed bizarre, but appealed to his humorous nature, "Very well! I promise I will say your prayer; if it does me no good, at least it will not do me any harm!"
During the days that followed, the baron accompanied Alphonse when he was sightseeing the ‘eternal city’, and they visited many churches and masterpieces of art depicting the key events in the life of Christ. The baron used these trips as a way of introduction to Catholicism. Ratisbonne thought the baron’s efforts a bit too obvious and frankly, quite amusing, he treated it all as if it was a bit of a funny game. He was, however, thankful for seeing the pope in the Vatican (it was a once in a lifetime experience).
More days passed, and the baron was losing hope; "Ratisbonne has not advanced one step in the direction of the truth."
But the ways of grace were at work, even while the baron was despairing. One night, Alphonse awakened from his sleep "to see before me a large cross of a special shape without the body of Christ being attached to it."
The next day, Ratisbonne went with the baron to the Church of St. Andrea della Frate. The baron was rather down, and grief stricken as a friend of his had passed away, and he was visiting St. Andrea della Frate to check on funeral preparations of this friend.
Alphonse described the scene, "The Church of Saint Andrew seemed to me small, poor and forgotten. I felt as if I were alone in it. There were no works of art to draw my attention. I walked about aimlessly, without seeing anything to arouse a thought. I can recall only that a black dog sprang into my path... but soon he was gone! Then the church itself seemed to disappear; and I saw nothing at all... or I should say, O my God, that I saw one thing alone!"
"How can I speak of this? No! Human words cannot even try to convey what is beyond expression... When M. de Bussieres recalled me to myself, I was in tears and was unable to answer his questions... But I seized the medal that was on my breast and I fervently kissed the image of the Virgin... Oh! It had indeed been she! I did not know where I was; I did not know if I were Alphonse or someone else. I felt so deep a change in me that I believed myself to be another; I sought to regain my consciousness of self, and I could not... I was not able to speak; I did not wish to discuss what had happened; I felt within myself something so solemn and so sacred as to require me to ask for a priest."