Today's date is normally associated with the Feast Day of St. Augustine, a great saint and doctor of the Church. We all know the story of how worldly Augustine was until experiencing conversion due to his mother, St. Monica's, continuous prayers and tears to Our Lord that he might change his life and ways. It is a wonderful day to examine the lesser known Hermann Cohen, child music prodigy of Europe, who experienced a deep conversion after witnessing a blessing by the priest with the Blessed Sacrament in hand, while he was directing and playing the music.
His conversion is described as follows, "In May, 1847, Prince Moscowa asked Hermann to substitute as choral director for a service at the church of S. Valère (now demolished). At the close of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, (le Salut), when the priest raised the monstrance in blessing Hermann experienced a deep motion, sweet and powerful. Overwhelmed, he felt like the Prodigal Son, totally unworthy and in need to return home. Liszt had once given him a bible when they were in Geneva. In it the Master had inscribed, "Blessed are the pure of heart." Hermann knew he did not qualify.
The same phenomenon occurred the following week and, even when he was off to Germany for a concert at Ems, Hermann burst into a flood of tears as he attended services in a little country church. Hermann had never known any priest except the Abbé Lamennais and was apprehensive about approaching one. A series of positive experiences, however, eventually led him to Father Theodore Ratisbonne, also a Jew, who would become his confidant and confessor.
At his baptism on August 28, 1847, Hermann experienced what he called an "apparition" of Christ, Mary, and the saints in a "brilliant light" and an "ecstasy of love." By November of that year he had already resolved to become a priest. Before he could undertake this whirlwind venture, however, it was necessary to wipe out the considerable gambling debts he had acquired. It took him two years of teaching at the Collège Stanislas and private lessons with young ladies who were not at all happy at his turn from the world. During this time he lived in modest quarters and spent hours in prayer with young men who shared his enthusiasm. Once during this period he chanced to meet George Sand who formerly had lavished such affection on him. She turned away in disgust, "Get lost! You’re nothing but a vile monk." (see http://www.users.cloud9.net/~recross/why-not/Cohen.html)
He would in fact become instrumental in restoring the Discalced Carmelite Order in England and establishing perpetual Adoration. He was even known to have been cured of an eye disease at Lourdes and to have assisted at one of the earliest Masses said there.
In closing, Fr. Augustine-Marie of the Blessed Sacrament is another more recent example of how Our Lord can turn the stoniest hearts into natural ones filled with holiness through His grace and the prayers of others. What hope this is to all of us as we continue our spiritual journeys! I will leave you with these quotes about him. Enjoy!
Fr. Hermann was candid about himself. "When you knew me" he said to one of his friends after his conversion, "I was a prey to every sort of intemperate pleasure-seeking, irregularity and excess". He recognized that after baptism he remained eager, domineering and inclined to exaggeration, but little by little his character was modified and transformed by divine grace. Gentleness and kindly indulgence took the place of eagerness and severity. As his biographer observed: "He concurred generously and constantly with the action of divine grace until the hour when God, finding him purified and sanctified according to his will called his faithful servant to his reward".
Of himself Fr. Hermann said:
"I have a certain power of initiative, a certain vigor in overcoming obstacles, in short, the requisites, aided by divine grace, for the organization of works; then, scarcely are they set on foot, than Our Lord sends me away to a distance from them. ‘Leave to others’ he seems to say to me ‘the care of their development, the pleasure of gathering in their fruit; you, leave Lyons, Bagnères, London and set yourself to some new task’. And thus you see how, in spite of my conversion, I am always the Wandering Jew".
"I am detached from everything, even from my own works and I daily tell Our Lord that I am completely indifferent either to their success or their ruin. I put all into his hands and have regard only to his good pleasure".