The Forgiven Insult

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXV (6) start of chapter

A Sister was passing through the streets of Boston with downcast eyes and noiseless step, reciting a prayer or thinking of the poor family she was about to visit. As she was passing on her errand of mercy, she was suddenly addressed, in language that made her pale cheek flush, by a young man of remarkable appearance and free swaggering gait. The Sister, though grievously outraged, uttered no word, but raised her eyes, and looked at the offender with calm steady gaze, in which volumes of rebuke were expressed. Time passed on; the war intervened; and when next they met it was in a ward of a military hospital in Missouri. The once powerful man was now feeble as an infant, and had not many days to live. The Sister, seeing his condition, asked him if he belonged to any Church; and on his replying in the negative, she asked if he would be a Catholic. 'No—not a Catholic—I always hated Catholics,' he replied. 'At any rate, you should ask the pardon of God for your sins, and be sorry for whatever evil you have done in your life,' urged the Sister.

'I have committed many sins in my life, Sister, and I am sorry for them, and hope to be forgiven; but there is one thing that weighs heavy on my mind at this moment —I once insulted a Sister in Boston, and her glance haunted me ever after: it made me ashamed of myself. I knew nothing then of what Sisters were, for I had not known you. But now that I know how good and disinterested you are, and how mean I was, I am disgusted with myself. Oh, if that Sister were here, I could go down on my knees to her and ask her pardon!'

'You have asked it, and received it,' said the Sister, looking full at him, but with a sweet expression of tenderness and compassion.

'What! Are you the Sister I met in Boston? Oh, yes! you are—I know you now. And how could you have attended on me with greater care than on any of the other patients?—I who insulted you so!'

'I did it for our Lord's sake, because He loved His enemies, and blessed those who persecuted Him. I knew you from the first moment you were brought into the hospital, and I have prayed unceasingly for your conversion,' said the Sister.

'Send for the priest!' exclaimed the dying soldier; 'the religion that teaches such charity must be from God.'

And he did die in the Sister's faith, holding in his failing grasp the emblem of man's redemption, and murmuring prayers taught him by her whose glance of mild rebuke had long haunted him like a remorse through every scene of revelry or of peril.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

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