Victim Soul Chapter Six

 

Gemma-14
[Author’s Note: This chapter will focus on Gemma’s commitment to chastity, a virtue that was near and dear to her heart.  Satan would attack her chastity by using his powers to “rep­resent lurid objects to her imagination and appeared to her himself, uttering vile words…” Upon reading this, I knew that there was a danger of becoming graphic in my descriptions.  I came to the idea that I should keep my description of the devil’s temptations as broad as possible, focusing more on Gemma’s reactions and determination to overcome them. My research cites these incidences in broad terms, so how the temptations occurred is my interpretation.  During these attacks, Gemma would call out to Jesus, the Virgin Mary, her guardian angel, and her patron saints for help, and one (or more) of them would come to her aid.  Because I reestablish (then-Venerable) Gabriel Possenti’s character in the chapter’s opening, I decided to have her call out to him to end the attack].

Sitting on her bed, Gemma turns the page of “The Life of the Venerable Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother.”  She holds it tenderly to protect the worn pages.  Her fingers settle on Gabriel’s picture.  His soft brown eyes give a quizzical expression, as if to ask her a question.  Her mouth lifts into a peaceful smile as she focuses on her “bookmark,” which is the woolen heart badge of the Passionists.  She sets the book down on her lap and rubs the badge, feeling the soft wool pressed under her fingertips.  Placing it to her heart, she closes her eyes and remembers how it came into her possession.

1899
A soft light slipped through her closed eyelids.  Sighing heavily, Gemma slowly rose from sleep, opening her eyes to a blur of white incandescence.  Her eyes made out a silhouette standing at the foot of her bed.  Her vision cleared to reveal that the silhouette was Venerable Gabriel Possenti.
“My protector,” she said in a hushed breath.  As she sat up, a million thoughts swirled through her mind. Gabriel smiled and approached the side of her bed.
“Gemma, make willingly the vow to become a religious.”
“Why?”
Gabriel leaned forward and kissed her forehead.  “My sister,” he whispered as he reached his hand to his habit and removed the Passionist heart badge.  He placed it on the sheet above her chest.  As he vanished into thin air, his parting words etched into her mind: “My sister!”

“Huh?  What’s this?” Gemma opens her eyes when she notices that she can feel her hair on her shoulders.  She reaches back to retrieve her hair tie only to feel talons drumming against her back.  She hunches forward, away from the talons.
“Daydreaming, are we?  Never let the devil catch you idle, Gemma!  You of all people should know that.”
She looks up and sees that Satan’s hand is outstretched with her hair tie in his waiting palm.  She places her hands on her legs, keeping her body still as stone.
“What, you can’t take a hair tie from me?” He drops it to the floor.  “It is not going to turn into a snake, I promise.”
Gemma keeps her eyes on her pillow, even as it darkens with his shadow.  She clutches her book, keeping it guarded near her heart.
“Why am I not surprised that you are reading about that boy again?” Satan hisses, his disgust directed at the young man who had saved her from darkness once before.
Gemma grimaces when she feels the sleeve of her mantellette robe being tugged.
“Please don’t touch me,” she says in a firm voice.
“Your precious Jesus has given me permission to treat you however I want!” he snaps.
“You still have to obey Him, though.” She smiles at the knowledge that he could only attack her within the boundaries set by the Almighty.
She knits her brow at the devil’s sudden silence.  No hurtful remark, no unsettling growl, only an abrupt quiet.  Before she can question whether he was still there, she flinches when she feels a tap on the side of her head.
“You still haven’t gotten past that one time I gave you a migraine!” Satan laughs.
Gemma holds her head, waiting for pain.  She raises her eyebrow when it doesn’t come, but her curious expression is short-lived.  Within her mind’s eye, she sees a vile image of of unclothed people engaged in sin, accompanied with a sinister cackle.
“STOP!” She shakes her head and holds up her hands.  “Keep your mind under control, Gemma,” she whispers.  Resting her palms on the top of her thighs, she takes deep breaths and relaxes her shoulders.
As she exercises detachment, the tension gripping her is relieved and tranquility sets in. She redirects her thoughts to a reassuring Jesus reaching out His pierced hand to her, to a smiling Mother Mary opening her mantle to wrap her in, to anything holy she can think of.  A warmth rises within her soul, creating the sensation of pure light caressing her.  This interior exercise causes the image to dissipate until there is not a single trace of it within her memory.
She opens her eyes to a scowling Satan.  His sudden sly smile frightens her, but her poise remains.  “You think you can resist my most powerful method of temptation?” With the wave of his hand, Satan causes Gemma’s chair to move from her table to the middle of her room.  “You are strong, Ms. Galgani, but no one is invincible against lust…” An unseen force pushes her off the bed and thrusts her into the chair.  “…not even you.”
Gravity presses down upon her, rendering her immobile.  Her calm breaths change to hyperventilation.  She sees Satan approaching her slowly, his piercing eyes stare directly into her soul.  “Yes, I can see your soul right through those luminous blue eyes of yours…” Her throat tightens while her forehead pounds with a migraine caused by the weight of evil.
I’m not going to hurt you, Gemma,” his soft voice, dripping with malice, is sickening to listen to.  She feels his talons on her tense shoulders.
“You are too old to remain as innocent as you are.  Allow me to open your eyes…” With the wave of his hand, strange figures appear and perform impure dances in front of her.
Immediately Gemma shuts her eyes and turns her head away.  She clenches her fists, digging her fingernails into her palms to distract herself with discomfort.  She grinds her teeth when she feels a powerful curiosity creep into her mind.
“Your mind is wandering, isn’t it?  You’re curious about the image I am projecting…” She keeps her head down.  “Be with me, Jesus.  Please be with me…” she begs in a hushed voice.  “What are you so upset about?  There would be no shame in taking a quick look. It’s not like you would physically committing the sin of fornication.” Feeling a pit in her stomach, she endures his shameless chuckle.
She hears Satan snap his fingers.  In seconds, suggestive words escape the mouths of the impure figures.  Gemma tries to cover her ears, but the force that is holding her down keeps her arms pinned to her sides.  “Oh, I’m sure the good Lord wouldn’t smite you for taking a quick peek…”
She wishes she had her cross, rosary, scapular; any of her sacramentals to hold onto. She clutches the sides of her mantellette robe, focusing her attention on the smooth fabric. She feels his talons grab her by the chin and lifts up her head.
“OPEN YOUR GODFORSAKEN EYES, YOU SPINELESS WRETCH!” She jumps at the furious volume of his voice, but her eyes never open.
“Very well…”
She feels his sharp talons pinch her ear.  She cringes at the provocative utterances he whispers to her.  As her mind spins, she feels as if her soul is swimming the stormy seas with reckless abandon.  Her racing heart thrusts itself against the inside of her chest like a prisoner pounding at the cell door.  When she dares to open her eyes, the Passionist heart badge is lying near her feet.
“VENERABLE GABRIEL, HELP ME!” She musters the strength to throw herself off of the chair and runs to the wall.
“You…” the devil growls.
She turns around and sees Venerable Gabriel’s back turned to her.  Reaching out his talons, Satan tries to tower over him, but the young holy man remains unmoved.  His head raised, his soft brown eyes stare directly at the evil one.  Satan leans in on Gabriel’s face, as if trying to intimidate him with snarls and threatening looks.  Never flinching, never looking away, Gabriel stands his ground.
Gemma clutches to her heart, where within she can feel the clash of two forces; the conflicting sensation when chaotic darkness and peaceful light collide.  When her pounding heartbeat calms, she rises to her feet.
Venerable Gabriel disappears, but Gemma is ready.  “Satan, I rebuke you in the Name of Jesus Christ!” she makes the Sign of the Cross.
“AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!” Satan collapses to the floor.  Gemma makes the Sign of the Cross a second time, causing him to trip over himself as he struggles to get away.
“YOU FOUL WITCH!” Satan curses as he covers his ears and violently shakes his head in rage.
“Be gone!  You have already been defeated by Christ’s mighty sacrifice!”
“I will come back for–“
“Leave!” Her face is stoic as she faces her weakened foe.  As sheer hatred spews from his eyes like venom, his muscular body trembles when she makes the Sign of the Cross for a third time.
A chuckle escapes her as she catches the contorted look of dread on his face.  Her laughter is all that drowns out the faint echo of his deep growl as he disappears.

A Lamb Among Lions: Saint Agnes of Rome

Saint Agnes holds a special place in my heart.  She was the first Saint I ever learned about.
As a little girl, I remember being inspired by her strength and faith in Jesus.  Whenever a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would reply, “I want to be like Saint Agnes.” As you can imagine, the response was usually a polite smile from the teacher and snickering from my classmates.
As a teenager, when it came time for me to pick a Confirmation Saint, Agnes was my very first choice.  Granted, the winner was Saint Monica, but I still consider Agnes to be my spiritual sister.  Honestly, if it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have a devotion to the Saints in the first place.
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to my spiritual sister, Agnes of Rome.

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In 291 AD, a Christian family of Roman nobility was blessed with a beautiful baby girl.  The child was named Agnes, which comes from the Latin agnus, meaning “lamb.”
Little is known about Agnes’ childhood, but what we do know is that she was very beautiful.  It has been said that she was graced with a cascade of silky hair that draped over her shoulders like a shawl and a tender smile.  By the time she was twelve, she already had a good amount of high-ranking men competing for her hand in marriage.
However, when she was approached by a potential suitor, her answer was always, “Jesus Christ is my only Spouse.”

As a child raised in a devout household, Agnes had come to know Jesus as her Savior.  In an era where daughters were married off for advantage and power, Agnes made a countercultural choice: She claimed Christ as her spouse.  Her body, mind and soul belonged to the One who created her.
Her commitment to Jesus did not go over well with the men who wanted her.  For example, a man named Procop saw Agnes’ purity as a challenge for him to conquer.  He showered her with flowers, jewels and the finest clothes.  He filled her ears with promises of power, wealth and pleasure.
Agnes fought back with this defense, “I am already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and He has said He will never leave me!” Her body belonged to no man; only God.

Another rejected suitor was the son of Prefect Sempronius.  The Prefect himself tried to persuade Agnes to accept his son’s hand in marriage.  As expected, Agnes kept her eyes on Heaven and turned away from the prospect of earthly matrimony.
It is unclear who ratted her out to the authorities.  Some have guessed it to have been Procop, others say that Prefect Sempronius himself was the catalyst of Agnes’ demise.  What we do know for sure is that Agnes was arrested for professing Christianity.

Agnes was ordered to pray to the Pagan gods in exchange for her freedom.  Filled with resolve, she stayed faithful to her Spouse and refused to worship any other god.  The brave twelve-year old was thrown into a brothel to be violated.  When the men attempted to have their way with her, Agnes’ hair grew to an exponential length and shielded her body.  Within minutes, their lustful eyes were struck blind.  Some accounts have claimed that among the would-be rapists was Prefect Sempronius’ son and that Agnes healed him with a prayer.
The next trial Agnes faced was being stripped naked and burned at the stake.  Just like in the brothel, Agnes’ Rapunzel-esque hair cloaked her body.  Then when the soldiers tried to ignite the flames, the wood surrounding her wouldn’t burn.  This miracle shocked the onlookers and the sympathy of the citizens turned to Agnes.
It was a sword to the throat that brought an end to Agnes’ life.

In our modern world, people use “choice” as a buzzword for expediency.  Agnes, whose expedient choice would have been to give in to societal expectation, chose the more difficult path, one that led to great suffering and to Eternal Life.  In many respects, Agnes was a woman ahead of her time.

Saint Agnes of Rome, pray for us.

Let’s Talk about Chastity!

I was thirteen when I was given my chastity ring and made a promise to God that I would save myself for marriage.  Now that I think about it, making this promise wasn’t hard at all because as a teenager, I was never interested in sexuality.  I was that girl who would write a short story during Sex Ed instead of taking notes on human anatomy.  A book about Helen Keller was more interesting to me than a magazine with scantily-clad models.
I misplaced my chastity ring during my first year of college.  I couldn’t find it until the night before I broke up with my first boyfriend, who couldn’t handle my “no-sex-till-marriage” rule.  The tiny golden ring shimmered at the bottom of my jewelry box.
It was on my finger when I told him that we were done.
I’ve worn it every day ever since.

After ending a relationship that had posed a threat to my promise to God, I decided to investigate the true meaning of chastity.  “I should be good to go.  I always dress modestly, I never watch steamy movies, so I’m fine,” I thought.  Mind you, this was before I became a movie-reviewing blogger, which requires me to watch movies with some steamy content, but that’s another story for another day.   Reading the segment on chastity in the Catechism (talk about “light reading,” huh?) was a major eye-opener for me.  I learned that chastity is so much more than just dressing modestly and not watching movies that contain sex scenes.

Chastity is the successful integration of sexuality into the individual’s innermost being.  In other words, the natural sexual urges and desires are something that you control and not the other way around.
The Catechism points out that, “Chastity is an apprenticeship in self-mastery, which is training in human freedom.  The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” (CCC 2339, pg. 562).
Here’s an example: A wife is too tired for intimacy and just wants to go to bed. Now while the husband may want to be intimate with her, the self-mastery brought on by chastity allows him to control his urges and respect his wife’s wishes.
Some argue that chastity contrasts with human freedom, but part of being a free person is being free within yourself.  For instance, no one is free from becoming angry, but if you let that anger overpower you and cause you to scream at a loved one or start throwing things, then you’re not really free within yourself.
No one is free from sexual desire.  Sexuality is a gift from God that is a part of our biology.  What you do with those natural desires is where self-mastery or lack thereof comes into play.
Now there are those who argue that chastity falls in line with sexual repression.  To that, I say not necessarily.  Chastity doesn’t call for an all-out embargo on desire, but rather a mastery over them.  You acknowledge that they are present, but you don’t let them rule your life.  You give yourself the freedom to choose whether to control your hormones or let your hormones dictate you.
Self-mastery in chastity is like self-mastery in every other arena of your life.  The self-mastery to stop eating when you’re full instead of gorging yourself, the self-mastery to have one or two drinks instead of getting ridiculously drunk, the self-mastery to get yourself up for your 6 am job instead of sleeping in and being late for work.
Is chastity a difficult proposition?  Yes, especially in our culture, which has a stalker’s obsession with sex.  However just because something is difficult doesn’t make it impossible.
The world defines the body as a tool for lust; Chastity says the body is a temple.  Chastity allows us to see each other not as objects for pleasure, but as the unique, multifaceted human beings that God created us to be.