On the 7th of October, 1613, Don Juan de Silva, Governor General of the Philippines, had ordered two galleons and some minor escorting boats to carry some reinforcements to the Spanish garrisons at Ternate. In one of the galleons – the Guadalupe – Francisco López formed part of the crew.
Somehow everyone on board this ship had manage to dodge Francisco’s company. Was he not an utterly immoral man? True, he had one redeeming feature: strangely enough, he daily prayed the Rosary. And yet….
The unleashed fury of a monsoon typhoon off Mindoro wrought havoc upon the fleet, sinking all the vessels but one. Only a fraction of the crew managed to reach the shore safely. A few men had saved themselves by swimming ashore, Francisco among them and some other Spaniards, but the rest were recently converted natives – soon took to the hills. They were pursued by the Spanish officers, but overpowering these, the former made good their escape. Of those left behind, it seems Francisco alone was spared death, if seriously wounded.
So, the poor Francisco lay on the flooded ground, unable to move; all his bones being broken and his whole body crushed to a pulp; the brute rain washing away the blood as fast as he shed it. And what with the cold, the rain, the exhaustion, and the loss of blood; he knew he must die in an instant.
And straightaway he fell to dwelling, not on the salvation of his soul, but on the things of earth his sense had enjoyed and would never enjoy again: thinking with anguish of food and drink and warm women, and of his home in Málaga… And was it not a monstrous injustice (thought Francisco) that, while the sun shone in those places and men ate and drank and were merry, he should be dying here in the mud, wracked by pain and cold, his bones broken and no part of his flesh un-bruised? And he begun to pity himself, lamenting himself as the most ill-used creature on earth…
Francisco feeling he was near his end, called on the Virgin of the Rosary. He felt he had been faithful to her in his fashion, saying her beads daily and saluting her at the angelic hours. She had always seemed near and clear to him; he had known her all his life. He had only to call on her and she would surely come and save him, thought Francisco – whereupon he began praying her name aloud.
Straightaway he was shaken to the bone by a terrific blast of lightning. The earth reeled and his senses blurred. Through stunned eyes he saw towering above him a woman robed in sunlight and crowned with the stars. But her face blazed with so fearful an anger she seemed the wrath of the storm made manifest. Seven swords plunged their cold steel in her heart but her left hand clutched a sword of fire. Silent she gazed at him, stern and beautiful – and he shook and sweated and shut his eyes against her, whimpering that he knew her not, that he had never known her, that it was not on her he had called. When he dared to look again She was gone and the rain had ceased but the night was gathering fast all about him and the chilly wind whistled through the ruins of his bones.
And now did fear grip him in earnest: despair enhanced his torments. He was lost. He could almost hear the devils chuckling. So, he had known the Virgin all his life? But she had appeared before him and it seemed he did not know her after all and he realized how vast the mysteries were he had taken so lightly. He had felt too safe, too sure. He had dared to take Heaven for granted! And meanwhile, he had followed his appetites wherever they had led him. And they had led him far indeed; they had lost him utterly…
Here at the ends of the earth, alone under the skies, he had been stripped naked to the bone and cracked open to the marrow,that the act of dying, at least, he might do honestly: knowing himself evil; knowing himself doomed to hell; and knowing the judgment just.
A great weariness possessed him. If he was damned, then damned he was! He felt no bitterness, only a desire to die quickly and perish in hell. And so exhausted was he in flesh and spirit he was sure he would die instantly if he but held his breath. But though he held it, though he relaxed his will, though he surrendered himself completely to dying – he could not die. Something seemed to stop him, to hold him back.
He was not alone. The night was alive with presences. And with the clairvoyance of the dying, he knew what they were: people out in the world were praying for him. The night hummed with their voices, he could almost see their lips moving. Girls in school, old women by the wayside, priests at the altar, farmers in the field, and families gathered round the hearth – were praying, were praying for him, and for all sinners, now, and at the hour of their death.
From the towns and cities of Spain, from Europe and from Africa, from the new worlds in the West and from the old worlds in the East – came the voices: clamoring and imploring God to forgive him his trespasses as they forgave those who trespassed against them.
And the poor Francisco, though desiring intensely to die, found himself unable to do so, for the whole world seemed to have gathered around him, in choir upon choir of soft voices; determined to prevent him from dying.
And how could he ever have thought himself alone, wondered Francisco. He thought that he had set himself against the world, against the human community of which he was part but had always rejoiced to play the outlaw and outside of which he now desired to place himself eternally, by dying unrepentant, by dying in despair – the last gesture of utter egoism.
And the world labored to save him now as it had labored to save him all his life. Monks were rising in the cold night to worship – because he had worshiped so little. They respected silence – because he had babbled so much. They enslaved their flesh – because he had been enslaved by his. Nuns went hungry (to atone for his greed) and were chaste (to atone for his lust) and humiliated themselves (to atone for his pride). For such is human solidarity that where any of us lack others may supply and the virtue of a single member nourishes the entire body.
And remembering how he had never done anyone good but rather had corrupted many of his infection, he marveled that the world should still care to save him, that its prayers should be clamorous about him, soaring in the night to the stars and to the very skies, knocking at Heaven itself on his behalf until he quaked to think how precious was a human soul and how shamefully he had wasted his own, and how full the world was of lovers, of God’s lovers.His heart ached with love for them; his heart ached and glowed so warmly with love, contrition flamed a flower in it and, crying out in a loud voice, he prayed God to have mercy on him and to forgive him his sins.
In that instant the voices vanished, and looking down the still shore were ragged palms leaned wearily on each other, their long boles black against the moonlit sky and the shattered glass of the sea, he saw coming towards him a woman with a child. His heart leapt. He knew her at once: he had known her all his life. How many times had he sought solace at her shrine in Manila! Up the shore she hurried, he robes trailing in the mud and radiating the moonlight. And now she had arrived at his side; now she was kneeling down in the mud; and now the two holy faces were bending over him, warm and fragrant and luminous. But what poignant sorrow was in those lovely faces! What a world of grief! And knowing himself the cause, he burned with shame, he ached with anguish.