Gemma Umberta Pia Galgani
Gemma Galgani died on Holy Saturday, 1903 in Lucca, Italy. Her death should have been completely unnoticed. She was often sickly in her 25 years of life and had to be taken care of. She left no children or family/. No hospitals, schools or any human achievement bear her name. 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, her neighbors gathered quickly in the Lucca’s ancient streets proclaiming “A saint has died.” Today in the Easter season we’re celebrating her feast.
Holy Saturday, the day after Jesus suffered and died, is the day before Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples. They report that he ate and drank with them for some days before ascending into heaven. He showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. He appeared to them, not just to prove he was alive, but affirm his love for them and for the whole world. He promised life.
Gemma knew the mysteries of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a special way. She spoke familiarly with the Risen Jesus, as we see from her writings, and in a unique way she bore his wounds in her body.
“Poor Gemma”, she called herself; but she was’t poor. Frail in body and mind, she wasn’t a 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.
The stigmata, the bodily experience of the wounds of Christ, is a rare experience. It was not reason Gemma was declared a saint. Her heroic life of faith, patience and humility revealed her union with Christ, living in her.
The stigmata is a rare experience given to individuals, but it’s not meant for individuals themselves; it’s given to strengthen the belief of many. In Gemma’s time, “enlightened” thinkers like Freud and Jung were beginning to explore the human person. They were little concerned with God’s presence in human life. They would likely have dismissed Gemma’s spiritual experiences as delusional. A number of Lucca’s “enlightened” people had that opinion of her.
Gemma’s Passionist spiritual director, Father Germano, was introduced to her while preaching in Lucca. He saw God working in her. The church concurred in his judgment by declaring Gemma a saint in 1940.
Many today still define humanity in human terms and sees success here on earth as our ultimate goal. Gemma is a strong reminder of God’s presence in humanity, in ordinary people, even in unsuccessful, imperfect people. Her devotion to the Passion of Jesus gave her a deep sense that Jesus loved her and lived in her. She saw her life fulfilled in him and she believed his promise of life beyond this.
Many today think the spiritual world faraway; for Gemma it wasn’t faraway at all– saints and angels, Jesus himself, were ever at her side. She once wrote: “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.”
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.
She had great desire to become a Passionist. Yet that did not happen due to her il health. By her actual living the Passion she fufilled her desire. Often I am show another path besides the one I desire, a choice between two goods. May the Holy Spirit guide each one of us as we journey. She is the patron saint for those with back pain. Her doctor detected a lumbar abcess and that she had scoliosis.
I have share this info with my 90 year old brother who has severe scoliosis, bent over, head turned to one side. Yet he makes the effort to get to the main building on Saturday afternoon to clebrate Mass with others who reside in his complex. He uses a walker, and after Mass, there’s a golf cart waiting to take him and others back to their buildings. Thankfully a retired priest moved into this continuing care community a few months ago. Now the residents who have gone with Mass during the pandemic are able to gather conveniently. They used to have a bus to take them to nearby church. I share this to affirm how God enters our iives in special ways to meet our special needs.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 11, 11-29
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Sorry, edit please, “residents who have gone WITHOUT Mass during pandemic.”
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