Mary Saves Her Servants from Hell
by Saint Alphonsus de Liguori
In the year 1604, in a city in Flanders, there lived two young students who, instead of devoting themselves to their studies, gave themselves over to a life of drink and debauchery. One night, when they both had been together in the house of an evil woman, one of them, named Richard, remained but a short time and then went on home, while his companion stayed behind. When he got home and had begun to prepare for bed, he remembered that he had not said the few Hail Mary's which he was accustomed to saying every day. Feeling very drowsy, he was inclined to skip them, but he forced himself to recite them anyway, sleepy as he was. He said the prayers without any particular devotion. Then he fell asleep.
But while he was still in the first stages of sleep, he heard a violent knocking on the door. The door remained closed, but the figure of a young man passed through it, ugly and deformed. Who are you? Richard said. His companion replied, Don't you recognize me? Yes, but how you've changed! You look like a devil. I know I do, exclaimed the poor fellow, for I am damned! How did that happen? As I was leaving the evil house a devil came up and strangled me. My body lies in the middle of the street, but my soul is in hell. And the same fate was in store for you, but because of those few Hail Mary's the Blessed Virgin saved you. If you are not a fool, you will profit by this warning which the Mother of God sends you through me!
After saying this, he opened his cloak so that Richard could see the flames and the serpents that were tormenting him. Then he vanished. Richard threw himself on the floor and with many tears thanked Mary for having saved him. While he was thinking about how he intended to change his life, he heard the bell in the Franciscan monastery ringing for matins and said to himself: God is calling me to do penance!
At once, even though it was very early in the morning, he went to the monastery and begged the Fathers to receive him. Knowing his evil reputation, they were, of course, reluctant to do so. So, with tears in his eyes, he told them all that had happened. Two of the Fathers went out into the street and there they found the corpse of Richard's companion, strangled and black as coal. Only then would they accept Richard into their community.
From that day on, he led an exemplary life. In the course of time he went to India to preach the faith, and from there to Japan, where he finally had the good fortune and grace to die a martyr for Jesus Christ by being burned alive.