Gemma Umberta Pia Galgani
Gemma Galgani should have died unnoticed, for she left no children or family, no hospitals, schools or any human achievement bearing her name. Often sickly in her 25 years of life, disappointments marked her life at every turn. She never got her wish to enter the Passionist Nuns or any other religious community.
Yet, at the news of her death on Holy Saturday, 1903, in the city of Lucca, Italy, neighbors gathered quickly in the city’s ancient streets proclaiming “A saint has died.” Today we’re celebrating her feast.
Gemma died appropriately on the eve of Easter, for she lived a life of intimacy with the Risen Jesus and shared in his passion and death. The young woman spoke familiarly with him in prayer and bore his wounds in her body. Many think the spiritual world faraway; for Gemma it wasn’t faraway at all– saints and angels, Jesus himself, were ever at her side.
“Poor Gemma”, she called herself; but she was not poor. Frail in body and mind, she was no failure. In declaring her a saint, Pope Pius XII said that Gemma experienced what the great apostle Paul experienced: “I have been crucified with Christ and the life that I live is not my own: Christ lives in me.”
Gemma said of herself: “Often I seem to be alone; but really I have Jesus as my companion…I am the fruit of your passion, Jesus, born of your wounds. O Jesus, seek me in love; I no longer possess anything; you have stolen my heart.”
In Gemma’s time, “enlightened” thinkers like Freud and Jung saw only human answers to the mystery of the human person. Little concerned about God’s presence in human life, they would probably have dismissed Gemma and her spiritual experiences as delusional. Some of Lucca’s “enlightened” people had that same opinion of her.
But Gemma’s Passionist spiritual director, Father Germano, saw God working in her, and the church concurred in his judgment by declaring her a saint in 1940.
As humanity today defines itself increasingly in human terms and sees success here on earth as our ultimate goal, Gemma is a strong reminder of God’s presence in ordinary people, even in unsuccessful, imperfect people. Devotion to the Passion of Christ gave Gemma a deep sense that Jesus loved her and lived in her. She saw her life fulfilled in him and his promise of life beyond this.
We’re not alone. Jesus Christ is our companion as well.
You can get St. Gemma’s Autobiography or a The Life of St. Gemma Galgani by writing to the Passionist Nuns, 1151 Donaldson Highway, Erlanger, Kentucky 41018
“Then one day I became very discouraged because I saw that it was impossible for me to become a Passionist, because I have nothing at alI: all I have is a great desire to be one. I suffer much seeing myself so far from realizing my desires. No one will be able to take this desire away from me. But when will it come about?” Letter to Germano
Gemm’a buried at the Convent of the Passionist Nuns in Lucca, Italy. The house where she lived before she died has been turned into a museum honoring her. Both places worth a visit.
Her feast day is May 16th.
MAY 16 Mon Easter Weekday, St. Gemma, Acts 14:5-18/Jn 14:21-26
17 Tue Easter Weekday Acts 14:19-28/Jn 14:27-31a
18 Wed Easter Weekday [St John I, Pope and Martyr] Acts 15:1-6/Jn 15:1-8
19 Thu Easter Weekday Acts 15:7-21/Jn 15:9-11
20 Fri Easter Weekday [St Bernardine of Siena, Priest] Acts 15:22-31/Jn 15:12-17
21 Sat Easter Weekday [St Christopher Magallanes, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs]
Acts 16:1-10/Jn 15:18-21
22 SUN SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29/Rv 21:10-14, 22-23/Jn 14:23-29
The gospel readings for the remainder of the Easter season are from the Farewell Discourse of Jesus from John’s gospel. He is going to the Father, Jesus says. What does that mean his disciples wonder?
“I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus says, yet he will not be with them as he was before, but he will be with them as God is always with them. The Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, will teach them all things. Jesus will be present to them in signs.
“I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus says to them– and to us.
The Acts of the Apostles continue to describe the church’s journey in time. This week’s readings describe the successful missionary efforts of Paul and Barnabas among the gentiles in the Asia Minor cities of Lystra, Derbe, and Pisidia. Their success raises question among some in Jerusalem. Are the gentiles taking over? To meet what some consider a threat and others an opportunity, a council was called in Jerusalem, which has enormous consequences for the church. (Wednesday-Friday)
Councils are important in the church. Can we say the Second Vatican Council has enormous consequences too?
Conflict causes the church to grow, Pope Francis commented some time ago: “But some in Jerusalem, when they heard this, became ‘nervous and sent Barnabas on an “apostolic visitation”: perhaps, with a little sense of humor we could say that this was the theological beginning of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: this apostolic visit by Barnabas. He saw, and he saw that things were going well.”
Recent changes in the Roman Curia approved by Pope Francis indicate where Pope Francis himself might stand in conflicts like this. The curial body on evangelization, headed by the pope himself, appears before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The pope is looking for a synodal Church, “ a Church, that is, of mutual listening, in which everyone has something to learn: the faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: each listening to the other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit…to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.”
Morning and Evening Prayers Week 1 here.
For this week’s homily please watch the video below.
May 14th is the Feast of St.Matthias, chosen by lot to take the place of Judas. He brings the number of apostles back to twelve, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel who await the promises of God. The Spirit comes after Matthias is selected in Luke’s account. j
The qualifications for a new apostle seem simple enough. Peter says it should be someone “who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us. He joins us as a witness to his resurrection.”
Two have those qualifications. Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias.
Then, they pray:
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen.”
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.” (Acts 1,15-17, 20-25)
Yet, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. For Matthias to be a witness to Jesus it wasn’t enough to get all the details right about what Jesus did or said, as a reporter or witness at a trial might do it.
In John’s gospel read for Matthias’ feast, Jesus describes a disciple as one who abides in him, who remains in him– a friend committed to him. So, a disciple cannot be just an on-looker, but one who enters the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He’s one who weathers doubts and uncertainties as the disciples listening to Jesus’ Farewell Discourse did. He’s like Thomas who sees the wounds in the Lord’s hands and side and learns to trust and believe through them.
Rembrandt’s wonderful portrayal of Jesus showing his wounds to Thomas (above) presents Thomas, not as a lonely skeptic, but someone representing all the disciples. All the disciples must come before Jesus’ wounds.
Pope Francis in a homily spoke of the importance of the wounds of Christ for a disciple of Jesus. We’re on an exodus beyond ourselves, he said, and there are two ways open for us. “one to the wounds of Jesus, the other to the wounds of our brothers and sisters.”
“If we are not able to move out of ourselves and toward our brothers and sisters in need, to the sick, the ignorant, the poor, the exploited – if we are not able to accomplish this exodus from ourselves, and towards those wounds, we shall never learn that freedom, which carries us through that other exodus from ourselves, and toward the wounds of Jesus.”
The wounds of Christ and the wounds of our brothers and sisters– we learn from both to see victory of death and to trust in the passion of Jesus.
Like Matthias, we’re called to be witnesses..
When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth she said “all generations shall call me blessed, the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” All generations know her; occasionally over the years Mary visits some in apparitions.
Three prominent apparitions of Mary have occurred in the last 500 years commemorated in major Marian shrines –in Mexico City, Lourdes and Fatima. In 1531, she appeared to the Mexican peasant Juan Diego on a hillside outside of Mexico City. In 1858 Mary appeared to 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes in France as she was gathering firewood. In 1917 Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima in Portugal. These are major pilgrimage sites today. Three liturgical feasts in our church calendar honor these apparitions.
The depictions of Mary in art follow closely, if not perfectly, the accounts the visionaries gave of the apparitions. Mary, arms folded in prayer, prays for her children on earth and she encourages them to pray with her.
The statue of Our Lady of Lourdes made by Fabisch in 1864 and placed in the grotto at Lourdes in France is a model for the many statues of Our Lady of Lourdes in churches and shrines throughout the world. We have one in our Lourdes Grotto in Jamaica, NY. (below)
Various images of Our Lady of Fatima exist; we have one in our monastery chapel.(above) Her bright white garments witness to the glory the visionaries saw surrounding her. She brings the glory of heaven to brighten the earth, as Jesus did at his transfiguration. “And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.” (Mark 9:2-3)
Images of Our Lady of Guadalupe show her in the native dress of the time; she identifies with the native peoples then under colonial subjugation.
Contemporaries of Bernadette and the children of Fatima faced trials of another kind than the native peoples of Mexico. Secularizing governments promoted unbelief in society and wars were increasing in number and intensity. Mary’s appearances were not only the occasion of physical cures and healing. To ordinary people then and afterwards Mary’s appearances brought reassurance and renewed faith in the promise of God’s glorious power and presence. Their faith was real.
In his letter Laudato si’ Pope Francis calls upon Mary to visit us today as we struggle to care for the earth we have neglected. I like this image of Mary, holding her Son, which we have in our Mary Garden. Creation seems to raise its voice in praise. Her Son, Jesus Christ, offers us life-giving Wisdom. “We can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom,” the pope says. May she hold in her hand our wounded world.