Saint Gemma Galgani (1878-1903)
People ask about modern day Saints. I do not believe you can find one more so than St. Gemma Galgani. She was born at the end of the 19th century and died at the very beginning of the 20th. When she was born, many people were immigrating to the New World, with hopes in their hearts for a new and better life for their families. In the century in which she died, the world would become so self-centered and sinful, it would develop means of destruction that would kill 26 million babies in a matter of sixteen years (by abortion), rulers would turn deadly gases and bombs on innocent people, including their own countrymen, and dare to call it a "holy war." We tell you this, as this is a story about the battles of St. Gemma's Guardian Angel and the fallen angels. I believe, without our Guardian Angels, we would not be writing this and you would not be reading it.
The various gifts Gemma possessed and the very apparent involvement of her Guardian Angel in her life, were tested and retested by her very reliable and holy Spiritual Director, Fr. Germano di S. Stanislao.
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Bob and I, along with our family, first heard of St. Gemma when we visited Lucca, Italy, in the late 1970's. We saw first hand many of St. Gemma's writings that had been smeared by the devil. There is on display in her convent, till today, a page where you can see a black hoof print on one of her letters; again, visibly present to attest to what she wrote in her autobiography.
St. Gemma had a personal relationship with her Guardian Angel. She could see him with her own two eyes, those of her body. They were friends. They talked to each other. They prayed together. He watched over her, as she napped. She wrote, Jesus, true to His Promise that He would never leave us alone, gave her a Guardian Angel who never left her side.
She made an entry in her diary, "This evening after my confession to Father Vallini, I felt agitated and disturbed: it was a sign the devil was near..." She went on to say he was very small. But what he lacked in stature and girth, he more than compensated for in his revoltingly hideous appearance. St. Gemma felt herself becoming paralyzed by fear. She continued to pray, only more so. Then she felt punches pummeling her back and shoulders. Although, at times, she thought she would faint from the pain, she never stopped praying. The enemy did not let up for a good half hour. It seemed her Guardian Angel was not with her, she thought, or as St. Catherine of Siena said to Jesus, how could this have happened.
When her Angel finally appeared, he asked her why she was so upset. She begged him to stay awake as she slept; she pleaded that she was terribly frightened. He argued playfully, he had to sleep, too. She countered, "Angels do not sleep." He insisted, a twinkle in his eye, that he had to rest, Angel or no, and he wanted to know where. As she slept, he spread his wings above her head and remained there all night. When she awakened the next morning, always true to his word, there he was. St. Gemma wrote of these experiences in her diary, at the direction of her Spiritual Director. She was twenty-two years old and had already received the Stigmata.
As with so many of us, to whom the Lord gives gifts of one kind or other, St. Gemma thought everyone could see their Guardian Angel. She was quite shocked, when she discovered this was not so. At times, it is necessary to know that God treats each one of us individually or else we do not appreciate the magnitude of every gift He bestows upon us.
She made an entry in her diary on July 23, 1900. She wrote of a bout she had had with the devil. She spoke of the disgusting temptations she'd suffered. She said she found all temptations repulsive, but those against holy purity made her feel even more miserable. Having taunted her, the devil left her, and her Guardian Angel returned. He consoled her; he told her, she had done nothing wrong. The sin is not in the temptation, but in the saying yes to it.
Relieved, she turned to him! Where had he been? He was supposed to stay with her at all times, protecting her. Fine Guardian Angel, he was! It was at times like this, she complained, when she most needed him. Smiling at her, as if she was but a little child, he said that he was with her during the entire battle; he is always with her hovering over her, protecting her. He promised her that our Lord Jesus would visit her that evening.
The Angel dictated to Saint Gemma some very simple guidelines on how to conduct her life, what he expected of her. One of the things that I found notably interesting was, he said, to never offer your opinion unless you are first asked for it. He instructed her, it was wisdom to admit you are wrong before someone else brings it to your attention. Another admonition was to be cautious what she looked at. With what we watch on television and see in the magazines, the Angel's words pierce us like an arrow. The eyes are the mirror of the soul, but they are also the lens of the soul. What they see is recorded in our memory. We do not often know why we are depressed, at times. Suddenly, a married man or woman says to his or her spouse, "I no longer want the responsibility of family life. I have to live for me! I deserve more." I,I,I, the ego, the looking at self to the exclusion of others.
One day, our young priest told a second grade class preparing to receive their first Sacrament of Penance, that the cause of all sin is selfishness. And yet, that's all our eyes see and learn on television. He also said that these eyes that we expose to all subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, forms of sin are the same eyes that one day will gaze upon Heaven and our Lord and His Mother. It makes you want to cry. Can I look into Your Eyes, Jesus? Will You see what I have seen? We know He will and does now. Will that stop us? As you walk closer to the Lord, on the way to His Kingdom, you will find your spirit becoming more and more troubled by what you see and hear, to the point of so much pain, you will no longer be able to watch what you have been viewing in the past. Do you perhaps have a Guardian Angel who wants to warn you? Or is he warning you, right now?
Saint Gemma's Angel did not go easy with her. Nothing passed by him; no transgression was too small or too trivial. He knew her every thought; whenever her mind wandered as she prayed, he punished her promptly and thoroughly. He did not hesitate to reprimand her, when he judged it was necessary. Was it that the Angel knew he did not have that much time, as this little Saint would not live to an old age?
One day, the Angel looked at her so severely, she began to cry. "How could you commit such faults in my presence," he scolded, his eyes boring a hot coal into her soul. When she looked up at him later, during mealtime, he still glared at her. When she tried to avert his eyes, he commanded her to look at him. It got so unbearable, she pleaded to Jesus and His Mother to take her away; she could not stand the Angel's rejection any longer. In the daytime, he'd come up to her over and over again, and say, "I'm ashamed of you." His manner was so severe, she was afraid to say anything to him, to even question what she had done so wrong. At night, still feeling his disapproval, try as she might, she could not fall asleep. Finally, at three in the morning, her Angel came up to her and said, "Go to sleep, naughty girl."
You might say, and rightly so, if a Saint of the magnitude of Saint Gemma could be considered naughty by an Angel, what are we? Remember, to whom more is given, more is expected. We, as Catholics, have the Grace and the strength of our Sacraments.
The Angel was not always cross with Saint Gemma. On the contrary, her Spiritual Director said he always knew when Saint Gemma was looking at her Angel. She had a look of radiant happiness. She glowed, her eyes fixed on something or someone beyond, as if she was in ecstasy. She seemed to be far off in another place, in another time. But, when she turned her eyes away from the Angel, back to him, her Director, she was her old self again.
Padre Pio was known to tell his spiritual children to send their Guardian Angels to him. In the case of Saint Gemma, she not only sent her Angel to her Spiritual Director with a message, but her Angel would return with a reply. He travelled as far as from Lucca to Rome (approximately 226 miles), and at times even farther.
It seems, with all the true Mystics, we have studied, they always were ready to have their visions tested; they prayed the apparitions were of God and not a manifestation of the devil, or of their own minds. Any doubts, whether their own or someone else's, they always turned to their Spiritual Directors for advice. When someone implied that possibly this gift, that of her Angel delivering messages to, and bringing back responses from her Director, might be the work of the devil, Saint Gemma immediately brought the matter up to her Director, for his discernment. He told her exactly what to do to block any interference from the devil.
Testing her Angel, he directed Saint Gemma to order her Angel not to deliver any more messages! But, the Angel continued to do so. This disturbed the Director. He enjoined Saint Gemma to pray to Jesus and her Angel that some signs be sent, so he might believe this was the work of the Lord and not the enemy. Needless to say, he received the signs, and the Angel continued to deliver Saint Gemma's messages like clock work.
The day Saint Gemma received the Five Bleeding Wounds of our Lord Jesus, her Angel was not only by her side, he gently and lovingly cared for her needs. She wrote in her diary, "There was pain in my hands and feet and side, and when I got up I saw they were dripping blood. I covered them up as best as I could and, with the help of my Angel, climbed into bed."
He was always there for her. She spoke often of their times together, as you would speak of a best friend or a brother. In one of her letters, she spoke of the Angel coming to her just before she began to suffer, one night. She said, she and her Angel had been adoring the Lord in all his Glory and Magnificence. Suddenly, she felt such remorse for her sins, she wanted to run away from her Angel; she was so ashamed. She agonized for what seemed like an eternity. Then, her Angel lifted her up, comforting her, arming her anew with strength for the battles ahead. He held two crowns out to her; one of lilies and one of thorns. He asked Saint Gemma which crown she chose. She replied, she desired "that of Jesus." He handed her the crown of thorns. She wept tears of happiness; she had been chosen to share the Lord's Crown. She kissed the crown over and over, again. Oh Lord, what are our crowns of thorns, and would we cry tears of joy upon receiving them? Would we choose them? Or would we turn on You?
Saint Gemma was not only in the company of her Angel, but others would come to be with her as well; the Angels would bless her in the Name of the Lord; they would pray together. One morning, when she awakened, her Director's Angel was still not there. Having had the Angel with her and her Angel, the night before, when she had fallen asleep, she started to weep uncontrollably. She asked her Director if he would please tell his Angel, if she had done anything to offend him, she was sorry and would never do it again. Would he please send him back? She said, she loved him even though he was more strict with her, than her own Angel.
Have you ever been in a situation where you did not want to go somewhere or see some show, but felt helpless to get out of it? Well, the Saints before you also had these struggles. One night, Saint Gemma's aunts and sister asked her to join them. They said, the distraction would be good for her. She wanted to stay home and pray. She was torn between her family and her Angel. She knew the wishes of her Angel, but she felt obligated to obey her family. She later wrote to her Director, she judged her Angel was not happy with her decision, as he did not accompany her.
She had such a close relationship with the Angel, at times, she was overheard by her Director arguing with him, insisting upon having her way. She took such liberties, her Director cautioned her to use respect when she spoke to her Angel. After all, he held a position above all humans (except Mary). From that time on, she was more careful.
Her Angel was with her when she was preparing to go to Confession, reminding her of faults she had not confessed. One time, he gave her those same severe looks we spoke of before. This time, it was that she had hidden some of her visions and experiences from her confessor. She had not wanted to talk about herself, judging this might be construed an act of pride. The Angel's looks sent her back to make a new and more complete confession. When she met the Angel, as she stepped out of the confessional, he was smiling. The night before she had not been feeling well. His smile now brought new life to the death she felt overtaking her, during the night.
The devil appeared to her, dressed as a Guardian Angel. She later told her Angel, although the devil was dressed like an Angel, she had not obeyed him. Had she some knowledge of who he really was? She did not hesitate to remonstrate the Angel, at this time, "Do not loan him your clothes anymore; let him dress as the devil he is." In the lives of the Saints and those trying to become Saints, the devil very often comes disguised. He does not even have the courage to appear as he is; he has to cheat and lie.
Saint Gemma lived her twenty-five years on this earth with the gift of seeing, hearing and feeling her Angel beside her. Her story is one of pain and ecstasy, not unlike that of the other Saints. She suffered emotionally from those who made fun of her, disbelieving her ecstasies, judging her mad, at best, and a fraud, at worst. She had never-ending physical suffering, as a result of very poor health. Once on the point of death, she was cured by an apparition of St. Gabriel of the Sorrows. She was disappointed in life. She had wanted to be a Passionist Nun, but although she had been cured, her medical record prevented her from being admitted into the Order.
At the end, after a long and very painful illness, our Lord and His Mother called Saint Gemma Home. Saturday, April the 11th, 1903, Saint Gemma peacefully breathed her last sigh. Because of the accounts of her life, written by her Spiritual Directors, people began to pray for her intercession, shortly after Saint Gemma's death.
Rather than enhance her cause, it met much opposition because of the phenomena and extraordinary occurrences in her life. Although it seemed it would delay all attempts to proclaim her a Saint, the Congregation of Rites did declare that Saint Gemma was worthy to be declared part of the Communion of Saints because of the the Christian virtues she practiced in a most heroic fashion. They have never passed judgment on any of the phenomena, or, as we like to say, the miraculous occurrences in her life.
In 1933, she became Blessed Gemma. In 1940, the Church had a new Saint. Saint Gemma has a tremendous following and not only in her native Italy, but in the rest of the world.
There are many saints and beatas who have had experiences with the Angels, as well as religious and laity. We could dedicate an entire book to the intercession of the Angels in the lives of humans here on earth. Perhaps we will, one day, if the Lord gives us time. We pray that you'll read about these saints' lives in their entirety. We have only been able to give you thumbnail sketches of their lives, with particular emphasis on their encounters with the Heavenly Hosts. Most of the saints we've either written about, or will be writing about them in our forthcoming books. Remember, they are your heritage, your relatives. Take advantage of the gift of their lives. They were lived for you.
Knock: where our Lady appeared August 21, 1879 (you can read about it in the chapter in this book, Mary and the Angels at Knock and in The Many Faces of Mary, a love story by Bob and Penny Lord).
See chapter on St. Michael and the Cave of Gargano
according to Irish legend passed down over the centuries to this day.
This part we added ourselves
Celano First Life no. 94
Seraph is the name of the Angels of the Angelic choir of Seraphim, which is one of the choirs who adore before the throne of God. The word comes from the Hebrew "fiery" (Is 6: 1-4).
Insert taken from "Saints and other Powerful Men in the Church"
Summa Theologica-the fullest exposition of theological teaching ever given to the world. (Butler's Lives of the Saints)
Marotta-became converted by her brother St. Thomas Aquinas and she later became a Benedictine Nun and Abbess at Capua, Italy. After her death, she appeared to St. Thomas and asked him to offer Masses for her release from Purgatory.
charisms-gifts of the Holy Spirit
short excerpt from chapter-St. Catherine of Siena, "Saints and other Powerful Women in the Church"
At that time, Domremy may have been part of Lorraine, the Holy Roman Empire, or Burgundy.
The only legitimate heir to the French throne, but he was in hiding for fear of being executed by the British.
Transverberation-(a)Teresa's mystical experience of the piercing of her heart which occurred in 1559. (b)On May 25, 1726, Pope Benedict XIII appointed a festival and office for the Transverberation, which is observed on August 27th. It was first instituted by the Carmelites and then later celebrated throughout all Spain.
On October the 4th, 1970, Pope Paul the VI proclaimed Teresa and Catherine of Siena Doctors of the Church.
Mastiff - a mixed breed - a large, powerful, smooth-coated dog with hanging lips and drooping ears - very often used for watchdogs.
many Saints saw Jesus and the Angels with the eyes of their heart, as a blind man sees.
the Five Bleeding Wounds of Christ
an experience of the Holy Spirit whether at Marriage Encounter or at a Curcillo weekend, or at a Charismatic Renewal.
except on holy, solid programming like Mother Angelica and EWTN
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”