The year 1777 was peacefully running its course in the small village of Bouzillé, in the dominions of the Lords of Bonchamps. Michel Pajot, who was only six years old, lived there with his fervent Catholic family. While they were not wealthy folk, their home was comfortable and cozy.
In his bedroom there hung only one picture, but it was a beautiful painting that had been the gift of the Lady of Bonchamps to his grandmother. It depicted a child crossing a bridge that had fallen into disrepair. The youngster was about to step on a rotted plank, and was in danger of falling into the churning and foaming river below. A watchful and smiling Angel hovered by the child’s side, ready to save his young charge from harm.
Madame Pajot, Michel’s mother, had taught him the traditional prayer to his constant friend and guide: “Angel of God, my guardian dear…” She told him that St. Michael was his patron, for he had been given his name, and she had consecrated him to this Angel at his birth. Every night, before nodding off to sleep, the boy knelt down and repeated that prayer.
The years went by and as Michel grew older the picture was deemed too childish to hang in his room. After it was taken down, the boy often forgot to pray to the Angel, and soon the presence of his protector became but a hazy childhood memory.
When Michel turned 21, irreligion and ruthless persecution had spread through all of France, and not even the little hamlet of Bouzillé was spared. The church bell no longer tolled, the children did not go to the sacristy any more for religious instruction, and they were even afraid to play in the streets. After being subjected to many humiliations, the old and kindly priest of the parish church was finally arrested by the Jacobins and whisked away from the village.
One Sunday morning, feeling downcast about not being able to attend Mass at the parish church, which the revolutionaries had turned into a warehouse, Michel stepped out of his house to gather a few potatoes for dinner. As he was coming back from the garden, an unknown voice called him:
He spun around and saw a man who must have been about middle age. He was dressed as a peasant, but his accent was different from the country folk he knew…
“I’m travelling through these parts. I’ve walked the whole night, and I need to take some rest. Will you open your door to me?”
It was not an ordinary request, especially under the circumstances. How could a stranger expect to find hospitality in a time of terror? So Michel asked the man:
“Who are you, and where do you come from?”
“I am Pierre and I am from around Nantes,” replied the stranger.
“And how are things that way?”
“Sad times and ‘cloudy skies’...”
Michel understood that the stranger was speaking in figurative terms. By his manner of speech, he seemed not to be one of the treacherous revolutionaries. Could he be a man of Faith? In the same tone, he replied:
“Just so, my friend, here in Bouzillé, the skies are ‘promising rain’ even though it hasn’t yet clouded over entirely. What do you say we seek cover in the house?”
Michel went inside with Pierre, who spied a small slip of paper at the feet of a statue of the Blessed Virgin, upon which written in an almost childlike hand: “Dieu et le roi – God and the king.” They were the intentions of the family prayers: the glory of God and the liberation of the French monarch, who had just been taken prisoner by the revolution. Nodding toward the little altar, the unusual visitor said:
“I see that your family is strongly Catholic, eh?”
Michel bit his lip and wondered if he could reveal his convictions to the stranger. He seemed to be a good person, but he may have been sent by the Jacobins… a careless word could cost him his life!
“Don’t worry,” continued Pierre, “today, if you want, you will be able to attend Holy Mass. Would you be so kind as to furnish me a little wine and some bread?”
Michel was struck speechless with astonishment. Who was this man who promised a Mass, if the parish priest had been arrested? In fact, rumour had it that he had been taken aboard one of the filthy galley ships in La Rochelle.
Seeing Michel’s hesitation, the traveller opened his satchel, and took out the material necessary for the Holy Sacrifice: a small golden chalice and paten, and a variety of other necessary liturgical items – all very simple but impeccably clean: a stole embroidered with crosses and a carefully folded chasuble. Michel needed no further explanation. He called his parents and everyone piously attended the Mass of that mysterious fugitive priest.
When the time came to give the homily, Fr. Pierre, directed himself to the youth:
“Michel, do not think that I came to this house by chance. I was travelling toward Marseille, when an extraordinary young man fell into step alongside me. His words captivated me, and even though it seemed a risky thing to do, I immediately acted on his request to change my course and to come here to celebrate a Mass. He said that his name was Michael and that he was a very close friend of your family.”
The embers of childhood devotion stirred into flames in Michel’s heart. He had let the memory of his holy protector wane with time, but the great St. Michael had never left his side. He wept for emotion as he heard the priest’s words, and devoutly received the Holy Eucharist. After the celebration, he made a long Confession, accusing himself of his coldness and ingratitude. On the following day, he tearfully bid the priest farewell.
Within a few months’ time, the “skies clouded over” in Bouzillé as well… Some of the more valiant youths fled the hamlet in order to avoid conscription by the revolutionary militia; others, the less courageous ones, renounced the religion of their forefathers as the price to pay for staying in the village.
Michel stayed in his home town, but he did not renounce the Faith. Filled with confidence in the aid of his angelic protector, he feared no evil. And when a horde of ruthless Jacobins arrived, bent on profaning the statue of the Blessed Mother that was still venerated in the church by some of the more valorous villagers, he fought like a lion until death to defend her. Thanks to his heroic resistance, some pious ladies managed to stow it away in a nearby hideout.
And in Bouzillé they say that when he received his deathblow, Michel fell peacefully, having made a solemn Sign of the Cross. At his side, some people saw a youth surrounded by light who held him gently, and, as he breathed his last sigh, soared with his beautiful soul to Heaven. ″
Extracted from Heralds of the Gospel Magazine