Frei Genebro

Pai, Convento, Porta, Hospitalidade

Eça de Queiróz


At that time, in his solitude in the mountains of Umbria, the divine Francis of Assisi still lived – and throughout Italy, the holiness of Brother Genebro, his friend and disciple, was praised. Friar Genebro, in fact, had completed perfection in all evangelical virtues. For the abundance and perpetuity of the Prayer, he pulled the smallest roots of the little one out of his soul, and made it clean and white like one of those heavenly gardens in which the soil is watered by the Lord, and where only lilies can sprout. His penance, during twenty years in the cloister, had been so hard and high that he no longer feared the tempter; now, with just the shaking of the mango of habit, he rejected the temptations, the most dreadful or the most delicious, as if they were just inopportune flies. Beneficial and universal in the manner of a summer dew, his charity was poured out not only on the miseries of the poor, but on the melancholy of the rich. In his most humble humility, he considered himself not like a worm. The brave barons, whose black towers crushed Italy, reverently welcomed and bowed their heads to this barefoot and badly patched Franciscan who taught them meekness. In Rome, in S. Jroão de Lateran, Pope Honorius had kissed the chair wounds that had remained on his wrists, the year that in Mourama, for the love of the slaves, he suffered slavery. And as in those ages angels still traveled the earth, with their wings hidden, leaning on a staff, often treading an old pagan road or crossing a jungle, he met a boy of ineffable beauty, who smiled and murmured: – Good days, Brother Genebro! Now, one day, when this admirable beggar from Spoleto went to Terni, and seeing in the blue and in the morning sun, on a hill covered with oaks, the ruins of Otofrid’s castle, he thought of his friend Egidio, a former novice like him in the monastery Santa Maria dos Anjos, who had retired to that wilderness to get closer to God, and there lived in a thatched hut, next to the collapsed walls, singing and watering the lettuces in his garden, because his virtue was mild. And since more than three years had passed since he had visited Egidio, he left the road, passed under the valley, over the stepping stones, the stream that ran through the flowering aloendros, began to slowly ascend the leafy hill. After the dust and burning of Spoleto’s path, it was sweet and long shade of chestnut trees and the grass that refreshed his aching feet. Halfway up the slope, on a rock where hisses sneaked in the damp grasses, a man was sleeping, snoring comfortably, who certainly kept pigs there, because he wore a thick leather whip and hung a pig’s horn on his belt. The good friar drank lightly, chased away the mosquitoes that buzzed over the rough sleeping face and continued to climb the hill, with his saddlebag, his staff, thanking the Lord for that water, that shadow, that freshness, so many unexpected goods. Soon he saw, in effect, the herd of pigs, scattered under the fronds, snoring and
roots, some thin and sharp, with hard bristles, others round, with the short snout drowned in fat, and the little pigs running around their mothers teats, shiny and pink. Frei Genebro thought of the wolves and lamented the careless shepherd’s sleep. At the end of the forest the rock began, where the remains of the Lombard castle were raised, covered with ivy, still preserving some bumpy arrow over the sky, or, in a corner of a tower, a leak that, stretching the dragon’s neck, lurked through of wild brambles. The hermit’s hut, thatched roof that splinters of stone held, could only be seen, among those dark granites by the green garden in front, with its cabbage plots and feijoal cuttings, amid fragrant lavender. Egidio would not walk away because his pitcher, his pruner and his hoe had rested on the loose stone wall.

And sweetly, so as not to disturb him, if at that hour of the siesta he was collected and praying, Frei Genebro pushed the door of old planks, which had no loquette to be more hospitable. – Brother Egídio! From the bottom of the rough hut, which looked more like an animal pit, came a slow groan: – Who calls me? Here, in this corner, in this corner dying! … Dying, my brother! Frei Genebro helped with great pity; he found the good hermit stretched out on a pile of dry leaves, curled up in rags and so emaciated that his face, once rich and pink, was like a piece of old parchment, very wrinkled, lost among the flakes of white beards. With infinite charity and sweetness, she embraced him. – And how long, how long ago, in this abandonment, Brother Egídio? Praise God, since the day before! Only the day before, in the afternoon, after looking at the sun and his garden for the last time, had he stretched out in that corner to finish it off … But for months he had been tired with it, he couldn’t even hold the full pitcher when he came back the source. – And say, Brother Egidio, since the Lord has brought me, what can I do for your body? By the body, I say; what you have done for the soul by virtue of this solitude! Groaning, bringing the dry leaves on which he lay, as if they were folds of a sheet to his chest, the poor hermit murmured: – My good Father Genebro, I do not know if it is a sin, but all this night, I really confess to you, I felt like eating a piece of meat, a piece of roasted pork … But is it sin? Frei Genebro, with his immense mercy, soon reassured him. Sin? No, certainly not. He who, through torture, refuses his body an honest contentment, displeases the Lord! Did he not command his disciples to eat the good things of the land? The body is a servant; and it is in the divine will that your forces be sustained, so that you may render to your spirit, your master, good and loyal service. When Frei Silvestre, already so sick,
he had felt that longing for muscat grapes, the good Francisco de Assis soon led him to the vineyard, and by his hands he took the best bunches, after blessing them to be more juicy and sweet … – It is a piece of roasted pork that you want ? – exclaimed the good Friar Genebro, caressing the transparent hands of the hermit – For peace of mind, dear brother, I know how to please you And immediately, with his eyes shining with charity and love, he grabbed the sharp trimmer that was resting on the wall from the garden. Rolling up the sleeves of his habit, and lighter than a deer, because that was a service of the Lord, he ran up the hill to the dense chestnut trees where he had found the herd of pigs. And then, walking sneakily from trunk to trunk, he surprised a stray piglet that was the acorn, and collapsed on him, and while he choked on his snout and screams, he cut off, with two accurate blows from the trimmer, the leg by which he grabbed it. Then, with his hands splattered with blood, leaving the dog to pant in a pool of blood, the pious man climbed the hill, ran to the hut, shouted inside happily: – Brother Egídio, the piece of meat the Lord has already given it! And I, in Santa Maria dos Anjos, was a good cook. In the hermit’s garden, he pulled out a stake from the feijoal, which, like a bloody trimmer, sharpened on a skewer. Between two stones he lit a fire. With zealous affection he roasted the leg of the pig. His charity was so great that in order to give Egidio all the antiquities of that banquet, which was rare in a land of mortification, he announced with festive voices and good promise: – It is already turning the piggy, Brother Egídio! The skin is already toasted, my saint! He finally entered the hut triumphantly, with the roast that smoked and rescinded, surrounded by fresh lettuce leaves. Tenderly helped to seat the old man, who trembled and drooled with greed. The hair that the sweat of weakness had plastered around the poor macerated faces. And, so that the good Egidio would not vex with his voracity and such a carnal appetite, he kept saying while leaving his fat fevers, that he too would eat regally of that excellent pig if he had not had a hearty lunch in Locanda dos Três Caminhos! – But not even now could I enter, my brother! I got stuck with a whole chicken! And then an egg fry!

And white wine, a little room! And the holy man was lying holy – because, since dawn, he had tasted nothing more than a meager broth of herbs, received by alms at the gate of a farm. Fed up, comforted, Egídio sighed, fell on his dry leaf bed. What good it had done him, what good it had done him! May the Lord, in his justice, pay his brother Genebro that piece of pig! … And the hermit, with folded hands, Genebro kneeling, both fervently praised the Lord who, from every lonely need, sends from afar the help.
Then, having covered Egidio with a piece of blanket and placed, next to him, the pitcher filled with fresh water, and covered, against the breeze of the afternoon, the crack in the hut, Frei Genebro, leaning over him, murmured: – My good brother, you cannot remain in this abandonment … I am carried away by the work of Jesus, who admits no delay. But I will pass by the Sambricena convent and send a message for a novice to come and take care of you with love, in your trance. God watch over you, my brother; God calm you and support you with his right hand. But Egidio had closed his eyes, neither moved, either because he had fallen asleep, or because his spirit, having paid that last wage to his body, as to a good servant, had gone forever, his work on earth ended. Frei Genebro thought how magnanimous the Lord was in allowing the man, made in his august image, to receive so easy a consolation from a leg that was certainly roasted between two stones. He returned to the road, marched to Terni. Since that day, the activity of his virtue has been prodigious. Throughout Italy, without rest, he preached the Eternal Gospel, sweetening the harshness of the rich, extending the hope of the poor. His immense love went beyond those who suffer, even those who sin, offering relief from every pain, extending a pardon to every fault: and with the same charity that treated lepers, he converted the bandits. During winters and snow, innumerable times he gave beggars his tunic and espadrilles; the abbots of the rich monasteries, the devout ladies again dressed him, to avoid the scandal of his nakedness through the cities; and, without delay, at the first corner, in front of any ragged, he stripped himself smiling. In order to redeem servants who were suffering under a ferocious master, he entered the churches, cheerfully affirming that it is more pleasing to God for a liberated soul than a lit torch. Surrounded by widows, hungry children, he invaded bakeries, butchers, even the tents of money changers, and imperiously claimed, in the name of God, the part of the disinherited. Suffering, feeling humiliation were, for him, the only complete joys: nothing delighted him more than arriving in the night wet, hungry, shivering, to an opulent feudal abbey, and being repulsed from the concierge like a bad vagabond; only then, crouched in the muds of the way, chewing a handful of raw herbs, did he truly recognize himself as a brother of Jesus, who had also not, as even the animals of the woods have, a den to shelter. When one day, in Perusa, the confraternities came out to meet him, with festive flags, at the ringing of the bells, he ran to a pile of dung, where he rolled and got dirty, so that from those who came to magnify him, he would only receive compassion and scorn. In the cloisters, in the open spaces, in the midst of the crowds, during the heaviest hours, he prayed constantly, not out of obligation, but because in prayer he found a lovely delight. The greatest delight, however, was, for the Franciscan, to teach and serve. Thus, long years he made mistakes among men, pouring out his heart like the water of a river, offering his arms like tireless levers; and as quickly, on a deserted slope, a poor old woman was relieved of her load of firewood, as in a revolted city, where weapons gleamed, she stepped forward, with an open chest, and tame discord.

Finally, one afternoon, on Easter Eve, while resting on the steps of Santa Maria dos Anjos, he suddenly saw, in the smooth white air, a vast luminous hand that opened and sparkled over him. Thoughtfully, he murmured: – Here is the hand of God, his right hand, which reaches out to reap me or to repel me. He immediately gave to a poor man, who there said the Hail Mary, with his bag on his knees, all that was left in the world, which was a volume of the Gospel, much used and stained with his tears. On Sunday, at church, when he lifted the Host, he passed out. Then, feeling that he was going to end his earthly journey, he wanted to be taken to a corral and laid on a layer of ash. In holy obedience, to the guardian of the convent, he consented to be cleaned of his rags, to put on a new habit: but, with his eyes flooded with tenderness, he begged to be buried in a borrowed sepulcher, like that of Jesus, his lord. And, sighing, he only complained about not suffering: – The Lord, who suffered so much, why don’t you send me the blessed suffering? At dawn he asked to open the corral gate very wide. He contemplated the clearing sky, listened to the swallows that, in the coolness and silence, began to sing on the roof overhang and, smiling, remembered a morning with Francisco de Assis by the lake of Perusa, the incomparable master had stopped before a tree full of birds and fraternally recommended that they always praise the Lord! “My brothers, my little birdies, sing well to your Creator, who gave you that tree so that you can live in it, and all this clean water to drink in it, and those very warm feathers to wrap you and your children up!” Then, humbly kissing the sleeve of the monk who supported him, Frei Genebro died. As soon as he closed his carnal eyes, a great angel entered the corral diaphanously and took the soul of Friar Genebro in his arms. For a moment, in the fine light of dawn, he slid across the front meadow so lightly that he did not even touch the dewy edges of the tall grass. Then, spreading his wings, radiant and level, he transposed, in a serene flight, the clouds, the stars, the whole sky that men know. Nestled in his arms, as in the sweetness of the cradle, Frei Genebro’s soul preserved the shape of the body that remained on the earth; the Franciscan habit still covered it, with a remnant of dust and ash in the rough folds; and, with a new look, which now pierced and understood everything, she contemplated, in a dazzle, that region where the angel had stopped, beyond the transitory universes and all the sidereal rumors. It was a space without limit, without contour and without color. Above, a light began to rise, spreading like an aurora, increasingly white, and brighter, and more radiant, until it shone in a glow so sublime that a coruscating sun would be like a brown stain. And underneath there was an increasingly dull shadow, more beetle, more
gray, until it formed like a thick twilight of deep, unfathomable sadness. Between that rising glow and the lower darkness, the angel remained motionless, waiting, with wings closed. And Frei Genebro’s soul perfectly felt that he was there waiting, too, between Purgatory and Paradise. Then, suddenly, in the heights, the two immense plates of a scale appeared – one that shone like a diamond and was reserved for his good works, the other, blackening more than coal, to receive the weight of his bad works. In the angel’s arms, the soul trembled … But the diamond plate began to descend slowly. Oh! contentment and glory! Loaded with his Good Works, he descended, calm and majestic, spreading light. So heavy did it come, that its thick ropes tightened, creaked. And among them, forming like a snow mountain, they were targeting the countless alms he had sown in the world, now blooming in white flowers, full of aroma and light. His humility was a summit, aureoleed by a flash.

Each of his penances sparkled more clearly than pure crystals. And his perennial prayer went up and wrapped it around the strings, in the manner of a dazzling golden mist. Serene, having the majesty of a star, the dish of Good Works finally stopped with its precious cargo. The other one, up there, didn’t move either, black, the color of coal, useless, forgotten, empty. Already from the depths, loud bands of seraphim flew, waving green palms. The poor Franciscan was going to enter Paradise triumphantly – and that was the divine militia that would accompany him singing. A thrill of joy passed in the light of Paradise, which a new Saint enriched. And Genebro’s soul foresaw the delights of bliss. Suddenly, however, on the top of the black plate he oscillated as if with an unexpected weight that would fall on him! And it began to descend, hard, fearful, casting a sad shadow across the celestial light. What Genebro’s Bad Action was he carrying, so small that he couldn’t even see it, so heavy that it forced the luminous plate to rise, to reassemble slightly, as if the mountain of Good Actions, which overflowed in it, was a lying smoke? Oh! hurt! Oh! hopelessness! The seraphim retreated, their wings trembling. Frei Genebro’s soul ran a tremendous shiver of terror. The black dish descended, firm, inexorable, with the ropes tight. And in the region that was dug under the feet of the angel, gray, with inconsolable sadness, a mass of shadow, softly and without noise, gasped, grew, rolled like the wave of a devouring tide. The saddest dish that night had stopped – had stopped in dreadful balance with the dish that shone. And the seraphim, Genebro, the angel who had brought him, discovered, at the bottom of that dish that made a Saint useless, a pig, a poor little pig with a severely cut leg, panting, dying, in a pool of blood … the mutilated animal it weighed just as much on the scales of justice as the luminous mountain of perfect virtues! Then, from the heights, a vast hand appeared, opening the sparking fingers. It was the hand of God, his right hand, that had appeared to Genebro on the stairs of Santa Maria dos Anjos, and that now supremely reached out to welcome him or to repel him. All the light and all the shadow, from the shining Paradise to the twilight Purgatory, contracted in a gathering of
inexpressible love and terror. And in the static mute, the vast hand, through the heights, launched a gesture that repelled … Then the angel, lowering his compassionate face, extended his arms and let Frei Genebro’s soul fall in the darkness of Purgatory.

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