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.

Victim Soul Chapter Five

 

Saint Gemma Galgani with Jesus (2)[Author’s Note: In this chapter, Gemma refers to Satan as “Chiappino,” which means “burglar.”  The only artistic liberty is that while my research states that one of the devil’s tactics was to attempt to turn her against her spiritual director Father Germano, it is not clear whether this happened as one incident or a series of incidents.  For the sake of brevity, I will be depicting this as one event.  My research states that Satan resorted to violence when Gemma “persevered in writing.”  However I decided to have Gemma politely tell him off for the sake of her character development.  Finally, this chapter will be the first time that Gemma looks Satan in the face.  Up until this point, I have had Gemma refuse to stare at her attacker.  However, in the upcoming chapters she will be seeing him in different forms (a dog, a giant, etc.) so I figured that now is the time to have her (and the reader) see the prince of darkness in the flesh].

A black bird sits on the window frame, whistling a cheerful melody.  From her table, Gemma glances up at the feathered creature, greeting it with an affable smile.  “You can go wherever you like.  Why here?” she asks softly.  The bird tilts its head, as if puzzled by her words.  She looks back down at her paper and resumes working on her letter to Father Germano.

“For some days, Chiappino has pursued me in every guise and way, and has done all in his power against me…”

She jumps when the bird lands itself near her candle.  She takes deep breaths as she carries on with her writing.  The endearing pitter-patter of the bird’s sticklike feet fills the silence of her bedroom.

“This monster keeps on redoubling all his efforts to ruin me and tries to deprive me of whomever directs or advises me.  But even should this happen, I am not afraid…”

“By the way you jumped just now, I would have thought that the little bird was one of my minions…” The bird darts out the window and into the morning light.
Gemma lowers her head when she feels him standing next to her.  Chills run down her spine when he places his talons on the table, dangerously close to her elbow.  She feels the weight of his infernal shadow looming upon her.
“Ignoring me is not going to make me disappear.”
Gemma ponders her options.  Within her mind, she remembers Jesus in the desert, facing the temptations of the evil one.  She rubs her trembling hands.  “If my Jesus had to face you, then I must do the same.”  She rises from her chair and turns around, looking directly at the prince of darkness.
“Dear God…” she steps back as tension’s grip takes hold of her body.
Satan’s ashen lips curve into a sinister grin.  “Your God isn’t here, child.  Only me.”
Gemma keeps a stoic expression on her face as she watches the demonic creature with skin the color of shadows pace around her.  She swallows, trying not to think of the pain that he could inflict upon her with his sturdy fingers.  She shudders at his black, tattered wings; wings that had once been magnificent, but lost their beauty once he rebelled.  When she notices the seething lust in his iridescent eyes, she turns her head to the crucifix on the wall.
“I notice that you don’t own a mirror.  Are you afraid that I’ll send my demons after you through the glass?”
Gemma keeps her focus on her Lord.  ‘My Jesus, I trust in Your protection.’ she thinks to herself.
“What a shame.  If only you could see what a beautiful girl you are…”  The devil reaches for her chin, but Gemma turns her body away.  Satan rolls his eyes and focuses his gaze upon her letter.  He pricks at the paper with his talons as he skims through it.  “Oh, Father Germano, Father Germano, please come and save me, for I am but a poor and helpless child being tormented by big bad Beelzebub!” His mocking spiel is accompanied with dramatic gestures.
Gemma looks at her letter, inhaling through her nostrils.  In a split second, she snatches the letter off of the table.  She rushes to her drawer and pulls out a cross.  She holds it up between her eyes.
Satan laughs, “You and your guardian angel need to learn to relax.”  He walks away from her and lounges against her door with his muscular arms crossed.  “Go ahead, work on your little letter.”
Setting down her cross, Gemma holds up her head.  For a moment, her eyes narrow with contempt.  ‘I shouldn’t give him the power to upset me,’ her conscience speaks.  She softens her face into a nonchalant expression.  Her heart continues to race, but she maintains her poise.  With her back turned to the devil, she sits herself down and begins writing.
“Now I may be the ‘father of lies,’ but even I know when a certain spiritual director may not be the best one for you.”
The pen in her hand never stops moving.  She glances up at the window, almost wishing that the little bird would come back.  A silent creature would make better company than the corrupter of souls.
“One of my fellow demons was listening in on dear old Germano’s homily, and he told me that the man is quite fanatical.  I can see why he would have you feeling so stressed and uptight…”
Gemma dips her pen into the ink.  After letting the ink settle on the pen’s tip, she starts writing again.  She hears Satan tread across the room.
“You excelled in music, French and arithmetic as a child, am I correct?”
She responses with a careless, “Mm hmm…”
“So you’re obviously intelligent, despite acting like a dumb mute,” his words “dumb mute” emphasized with a threatening snarl.  “It is a travesty that such a refined woman like yourself is being subjected to the ‘counsel’ of the delusional Germano.”
She sighs and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.  His growl frightens her, but not a single bead of sweat is visible on her face.  She feels his talons grip at the back of her chair.
“Say, has your precious spiritual father given you any strategies that could help you deal with me?” She hears him drum his talons against her chair as he waits for an answer.  She rubs her nose to relieve an itch and says nothing.  “I’m going to take your irritating silence as a ‘No…'” Satan shrugs, “Seems to me that Germano may be a good listener, but not the best advisor.” Gemma leans forward to keep her back from making contact with his talons.
“I was able to open Eve’s eyes to a wealth of knowledge in the Garden…
“And all of humanity fell because of it,” she laments in a hushed breath, repulsed by his pride in the downfall of mankind.
“I could open that sweet and innocent little mind of yours to a world of knowledge if you allow me to be your teacher…”
She feels his talon pressed against the side of her head.  She tenses, bracing herself for a violent migraine.  “You can relax.  I’m not going to induce another headache,” he assures with an unsettling chuckle.
Gemma bites her tongue when he runs his talon down her hair.  As her heart pounds, she sits up straight and folds her arms on the table.  She tilts her head slightly to where she can only see the devil from the corner of her eye.
“Excuse me, but are you finished speaking?” she asks politely, catching the look of surprise on the devil’s face.   “You may do what you wish, but please let me write.”  Her shoulders loosen as she finishes up her letter.  The peace that follows lasts longer than expected.  She is almost tempted to look over her shoulder to see if the devil is still there, but shakes her head, deciding to enjoy the silence instead.
Her pen is ripped from her hand in a fierce swipe.  She sees it released from Satan’s hand as it flies across the room.  His face contorted in rage, Satan grabs her letter and proceeds to tear it in half.  As he rips it to shreds, his piercing eyes bore into hers.
Before she can do anything, he grabs the back of her chair and pulls it out from under her.  The wind is knocked out of her as her back hits the floor.  As she tries to collect air into her lungs, she feels his claws scratch against her scalp as he pulls her by the hair.  She grits her teeth as her scalp burns from being dragged by the hair.  With great force, he throws her against the wall.
“WAR, WAR AGAINST YOUR FATHER, WAR AS LONG AS HE LIVES!” Satan screams as he disappears into a burst of flames.
Some time passes before a shaken Gemma is able to stand up.  As her beating pulse calms, she collects the shreds of paper from the floor and disposes of it.  She walks to her drawer and pulls out a new sheet of paper.  Sitting down at her table, Gemma flexes her quivering fingers.  All is quiet as she rewrites her letter, though the devil’s words remain in her mind.
“Believe me, to hear this despicable wretch, one would think that his fury was rather against you than against me,” she writes to Fr. Germano, her spiritual father.
She folds up her letter and slides it under her candle.  Rising from her chair, she looks around the room.  There are no demons coming for her, only deep shadows in every corner.  Fixing her gaze into the darkness of her bedroom, Gemma lifts her cross from the table and presses it against her heart.

Presidential Candidates Won’t Save You

US-presidential-candidates-2016 (2)

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on a megalomaniacal rant about how I can’t stomach any of the candidates.  This post would be longer than Tolstoy’s War and Peace if I did that.
As I watch the debates (yes, both the GOP and the Dem debates), read articles online and listen in on conversations about the candidates among my family and friends, there is a theme that strikes me.  Mr. Trump continuously promises to “Make America great again,” while Mr. Sanders swears to hold big corporations responsible.  Miss Clinton vows to uphold the rights of women and other minority groups, while Mr. Cruz pledges to protect religious liberty.
What do these four people have in common?  They promise to be a savior in some capacity.

Even in our secular society, the concept of a savior still appeals and rings true for many people.  While the savior complex has always been prevalent in past presidential elections, the idea of electing a man (or woman) who can “save our country” from the path we are currently on is especially strong during this presidential season.  If you talk to a supporter of Mr. Trump, Miss Clinton, Mr. Cruz or Mr. Sanders, there is definitely a sense that they truly believe in their candidate’s ability to save our land.

During this past Lenten season, I found myself really pondering Jesus’ sacrificial offering and its meaning.  By His death and resurrection, He redeemed humanity and paved a way for us to obtain Heaven.  Our Risen King stripped the prince of darkness of his hold over mankind and gave us a lifeboat.
The idea that a single presidential candidate can bring about salvation of any kind does in fact benefit someone; a particular entity whose goal it is to keep our attention off of the True Savior.
I truly believe that Satan uses political rhetoric to his advantage, to take people’s eyes off the state of their own souls and keep them distracted with the state of the political climate.

I am in no way telling you to not vote.  I am not trying to discourage you from participating in the political process.  What I am saying is that a politician can only impose legislation, not salvation.  A president can improve the economy, but not shield us from Hellfire.  Presidents come and go, but Jesus is the One who stands between us and the deception of the evil one.

Stand by a candidate if you wish, but keep your eyes to Jesus always.

Saint John Vianney, pray for us.

Victim Soul Chapter Three

St_Gemma_Galgani

[Author’s Note: The first artistic liberty taken is that Satan’s words to Gemma, “Do you not see that this Jesus does not hear you, and wants to have no more to do with you.  Give up, and be resigned to your unhappy lot” have been inserted into the opening scene.  My research confirmed that this is one of the many insults hurled at her by the prince of darkness, but when exactly it was said is unknown.  The second artistic liberty is that after Gemma fails to receive Communion, she sees Satan’s silhouette in a dust fog.  This sequence has been created to foreshadow the epilogue of Victim Soul, which involves a stare-down between the two characters].

“Dear Monsignor Volpi, I must I tell you what happened last night.  I never went to bed, because the Devil frightened me with his blasphemies, and I thought he was in the room; I could neither sleep nor pray.”

“AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”
Watching the candle’s restless flame, Gemma sits frozen at her desk as the screeching, maniacal laughter of the devil pierces her eardrums.  Her trembling body trapped in a hunched position, her lips are pressed against her folded arms.  Gripping her scapular in her hand, she dares not to look for her adversary.
“Do you not see that this Jesus does not hear you, and wants to have no more to do with you.” 
The darkness infused with his words shake her to her core.  Gemma shuts her eyes, which swell with coming tears.  She slowly turns her head to the crucifix, from where her beloved watches her.  “My Jesus, I know You are with me now,” she whispers.  She takes deep breaths as she struggles to fight the dread and loneliness that threaten to consume her troubled heart.  She jumps when she feels a tug at her hair, but refuses to turn around.
Give up, and be resigned to your unhappy lot!” The devil’s words are a diabolical hiss that seep into her conscience, furthering her fright.  His presence ceases, but the sting of his cruelty settles in her bones.

Fingers of morning light peer through the stained glass windows.  The altar ahead is a blur in her line of vision.  Gemma’s head turns to the stained glass window next to her pew.  She rubs her eyes.  “Wake up, wake up,” she murmurs to herself.  She freezes when she feels a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you all right, Ms. Galgani?” asks a female voice.  As Gemma glances at her shoulder, for a moment she sees not a hand, but dark talons clutching her.
She shakes her head and looks back at her shoulder.  There are no talons, only the hand of a woman with a round face.  ‘Just like mother,’ Gemma bites her lip. “Yes, signora,” she answers with a meek nod.  She switches her gaze to the altar before she can be questioned further.

1885
“Come here, my darling Gemma…”
Seven-year old Gemma sat herself on Mother’s lap.  She rested her head against mother’s sturdy shoulder. 

“I have prayed so much that Jesus would give me a little girl,” Mother stroked Gemma’s hair.  “He has given me this consolation; it is true, but too late.  I am ill…” her mother’s chest rises as she inhales.  Tears begin to swell, making her eyes look like small pools of grief.  “…and I must die.  I must leave you.” Mother gripped Gemma’s tense shoulders, “Oh, if I could only take you with me!  Would you come?” 
“And where are you going?”
“To heaven with Jesus and the angels…”

A single tear escapes from her eyes.  Gemma wipes it away as quickly as it came.
It is time to receive the Eucharist.  Gemma’s face lights up with a peaceful smile.  Standing at the very end of the small line of parishioners, she raises her eyes to the large crucifix, placing her hands over her heart.  She turns her head to the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which stands by the stained glass, shimmering in colorful incandescence.  “Oh, my Heavenly Mother,” she says in an affectionate whisper.
Looking back at Jesus on the crucifix, she lowers her head as an aching sadness begins to overwhelm her.  As she draws nearer to the priest, the sensation of sinking oppresses her.  ‘My sins, my imperfections put Him there…’ “I put Him on that cross…” she closes her eyes, envisioning Mary cradling the mangled body of her Son.
When the Precious Body is held before her eyes, she turns her head away.
As if her body is moving without her, Gemma realizes that she is running out of the church.  Throwing open the doors, she is blinded by the scorching rays of daylight.  She whirls her body back and forth, trying to remember where she is.  A sudden gust of wind kicks a cloud of dust into her face.
“AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”
Rigidity takes hold of her.  Within the fog she sees a dark silhouette.  Time seems to have come to a halt.  For what feels like an eternity, the world consists of a frightened girl and an entity of darkness standing opposite of each other with only a fog of dust dividing them.
Gemma turns her head, then pauses.  Inhaling air and dirt, she slowly looks back and straightens her shoulders.  The silhouette has vanished, but the cackle continues to ring as a faint echo.
Tightening her lips, she holds up her head.  As her racing heart calms and the tremors throughout her body cease, she moves ahead to the church.  She opens the doors and returns to the line.
The minute the Eucharist passes her lips, her heart is kindled with a tender flame that burns as passionately as her love for her King.

Back at home, Gemma carries a bucket filled with water to the house.  Her eyes downcast, she watches her step to avoid spilling.  Her nostrils fill with the crisp air of springtime.  Opening the door, she treads down the hall, where she stops at a portrait of the Sacred Heart.  Closing her eyes, she places her hand over her heart.  “Jesus, make haste, give me the grace to be ever united with You, in such a way that I may never be separated from You!”
There is a whooshing sound, which is followed by what feels like an array of fiery fists striking her shoulder.   Overcome by white hot pain, Gemma collapses to the ground. Though the fearsome rage of the evil one is palpable, she dares not to look and see if he is physically present. When she finally does look up, she sees that the bucket remains intact with the water perfectly still.  She smiles as she lifts her gaze to the Sacred Heart.

Gemma’s letter to Monsignor Volpi verbatim:

“I must I tell you what happened last night.  I never went to bed, because the Devil frightened me with his blasphemies, and I thought he was in the room; I could neither sleep nor pray.  I did not make my meditation, nor pray from 11 am to 12:00.  I went to church, but when the time came I felt I could not go to Holy Communion. I came out of the church and I heard the Devil laughing very loudly. I understood why, went back to church again and received Holy Communion.  Jesus told me had I not conquered that morning I should never have done so…Yesterday morning my aunt asked me to draw a bucket of water; I filled it and bringing it back had to pass before the picture of the Sacred Heart. I saluted Jesus with these words: ‘Jesus, make haste, give me the grace to be ever united with You, in such a way that I may never be separated from You!’  Just after I had said this I felt a series of sharp blows on my shoulder, so that I fell to the ground, but without breaking anything.”

Victim Soul Chapter One

Santa-Gema-Galgani-8

[Author’s Note: Some artistic liberties have been taken.  Gemma’s letter to Father Germano is verbatim, but because we do not know anything about the night before the devil began his Hellish campaign against her, the opening scene is my interpretation of how Gemma would come to terms with what awaits her.  The flashback to 1899 is also accurate with two exceptions.  Satan did offer to cure her, but what exactly was said was not documented.  Also, Gemma called out to then-Venerable Gabriel Possenti twice, but in the flashback, I shortened it for the sake of brevity].

“Jesus, make haste, give me the grace to be ever united with You, in such a way that I may never be separated from You.”
–Saint Gemma Galgani

Lucca, Italy – 1902

“Dear Father Germano…”

Her pen gripped in her trembling hand, Gemma Galgani begins her letter.

“During the last two days Jesus has been telling me after Holy Communion: ‘My daughter, the devil will soon wage a great war against you.’”

She pauses, lifting her eyes to the dancing firelight of her candle.  She rests her jaw in the palm of her hand, listening to her own increasing heartbeat.  After a moment, she resumes writing:

“These words I hear in my heart continuously.  Please pray for me….”

A sudden chill overcomes the room.  Gemma rises from the small table.  She wraps herself in her black mantellette robe.  The cold persists, but the fabric of the mantellette keeps in the warmth.  She sits herself down and presses on with her letter:

“Who will win this battle: the devil or my soul?  How sad this thing makes me!  Where will the war come from?  I am for ever thinking about it instead of praying Jesus to give me strength and help.  Now I have told you, and I leave this matter to you, that you may help me.

Your poor,

Gemma.”

The pitch blackness of nightfall makes her window look like a square hole into an unknown abyss.  Gemma stands up and walks to the window, focusing her eyes on the scattered stars.  She leans forward and rests her arms on the window frame.  Ashen clouds curtain the full moon, engulfing the stars.
Her head lowers, “Jesus, am I truly ready for this coming trial?” She places her hand on her forehead as anxiety races through her mind.  “What if–” she hunches forward, crossing her arms.  “What if the devil overcomes me?” As her eyes swell with coming tears, she looks at her bed.  “To think that I almost gave in…” she closes her eyes as the memory of her weakest moment overwhelms her, a seemingly ancient time when illness had crippled her and made her susceptible to the darkest temptation.

1899
“My, my, you poor thing…” a wicked voice echoed from the shadows of her room.
Gemma sat up, turning her head as her weary eyes scanned the room.  “Who…who is th-there?” Succumbing to the pain in her spine, she lay back down.
“Tsk tsk tsk, to say that you are not looking well would be an understatement, now wouldn’t it?” The dark figure took form.  Gemma forced her eyes open and stared at the being, a muscular angel with folded wings and small horns.  His skin and talons the color of shadows, his fiery eyes bore into hers.
Gemma couldn’t stop her body from shaking.  “You–you’re…Lucifer.”  Her blood froze at the sound of his laughter.  “Ah, I haven’t heard that name in a long time,”  Satan reached out his hand to touch her forehead.  Gemma turned her head away.  Were it not for her afflicted spine, she would have turned her back to him.
“I mean you no harm, dear child.  Quite the contrary,” Satan wandered around her room.  Relaxing her body, Gemma watched him cringe at the crucifix on her wall.  She looked away when he faced her.
“Ignoring me is not going to make me disappear, little one,” Satan narrowed his eyebrows, staring her down the way a lion faces its weakened prey.  He paced back and forth, “As a fallen angel, I may not be on good terms with your friend,” he pointed at the crucifix, “…but I still have all kinds of powers.  If you were to give me a chance, I could cure you.”
Beads of sweat drenched her forehead and ran down her deathly pale face.  Clutching onto the sheets, Gemma grinded her teeth as she endured the terrible pain.  Her eyes watered as her vision blurred from the pounding migraine.
Satan’s mouth lifted into a sinister grin, “I can take away your suffering, Gemma.  Whatever you desire, I will grant you.  If you submit to me, obey me, do as I say, I will see to it that your body never betrays you again.”  He opened his palm and reached out to her.  “Just take my hand and I will free you from your misery.”
Gemma kept her eyes on the ceiling.  Desperation began to drown her.  As if her body was moving without her consent, her hand lifted.  She pulled back, clenching her fist.  She relaxed her hand, leaving it mid-air.
At that moment, a face appeared before her mind’s eye. 
St_Gabriel_Possenti_CP

Venerable Gabriel Possenti…the holy boy she had read about.  His figure covered in light, his soft brown eyes gazed into hers.  For a moment, she forgot that the prince of darkness was standing at the foot of her bed.
Gemma inhaled through her nostrils.  With a cold-stone expression on her face, she realized that she was at a crossroads and only one path could be chosen.
A guttural cry escaped from her, “Venerable Gabriel, save my soul first and then my body!”  With that hand that almost ended up in Satan’s grasp, she made the sign of the cross as fast as she could.
There was a flash of light, followed by a furious scream.  When the light disappeared, so had the enemy.

Gemma raises her eyebrow.  “Hmm, how odd, I don’t remember blowing out the candle…” she looks curiously at the extinguished candle.  The frail line of smoke disappears into the air as it floats from the charred wick.
She gasps as she looks around the darkened room.  She takes a deep breath to calm her nerves.  “All right, if this is what You want, Jesus…” she pauses, staring straight into the shadow that has engulfed her door.  “…then I want it, too.  So long as You give me the strength to stand my ground against him.”
Gemma curls up on her bed.  Weariness presses down on her, pushing her into a deep slumber.  The last thing she sees is a shadowy figure standing by the window.

Equals, Not Enemies: How Men and Women Complement One Another

original

It has occurred to me that there is a hostility between men and women these days.  In one corner, you have self-proclaimed feminists who reject their body’s ability to carry life and view men as either cheating oppressors or dimwitted and lazy.
In another corner, an underground generation of disgruntled men who loathe the advancements of women in modern society and believe that women should be submissive sex objects (I’m looking at you, Return of Kings) has formed.
Both of these mindsets show that our seemingly “progressive” society has not advanced in teaching boys and girls how to relate to one another.

As a millennial woman, I feel the need to say that men should not dominate over women and women should not dominate over men. Neither of the sexes should compete for superiority over one another.  Both men and women are human beings deserving of dignity and equality. Masculinity and femininity are beautiful and are unique in their own way.  Both genders have different roles to play.  No, I’m not talking about stock gender roles imposed by society.  Actually, by “different roles,” I’m talking about something much deeper and beyond the surface.
In the words of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “A man may stand for the justice of God, but a woman stands for His Mercy.” Now this quote does not mean that “men are strong and women are weak.” Quite the contrary, my friends.  Let’s take a look.

Interpreting the first part of the quote, “A man may stand for the justice of God,” we see that men do have a natural inclination to protect. It’s just something that lies within the heart of men. Ask any man who is a husband, boyfriend, father, brother or uncle. Their first instinct is to protect the important women of their lives (wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters, nieces, etc.)  Saint Pope John Paul II once said, “It is the duty of every man to uphold the dignity of every woman.” Now there are men in our world who commit horrendous acts against women, there’s no denying that. However acting against your true nature does not make the natural inclination disappear. The exception does not change or invalidate the rule. Men are called to uphold and protect the human dignity of women and when a man objectifies a woman, he is acting against justice and violating his true nature.

Interpreting the second part of the quote, “but a woman stands for His mercy,” we must first address that mercy does not mean weakness or subservience. Mercy is compassion and tenderness. Ever wonder why many women (not all women, but a good number of women) are more likely to show leniency towards someone who makes a dumb mistake than men are?  It’s because there’s something within the feminine heart that leans towards mercy. With mercy comes nurturing and we should note that it is not sexist to say that within the heart of every woman is the inclination to nurture. Again, nurturing is not a suggestion of weakness. In fact, one of the definitions of nurture is “to feed and protect” (You can check it out here if you are so inclined http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nurture). Within the nurturing inclination is to protect, so women are also called to protect the people of their lives, which includes the men.  Just as men are tasked with defending the dignity of women, women are also tasked to uphold the dignity of men.

The men and women of today need to rise above this “us vs. them” mentality. Both of the sexes must build one another up instead of tearing each other down.  Men and women are called to affirm and uphold one another.  When men and women work together for the sake of human dignity, this is how peace will be achieved.

Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica, pray for us.

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.

8bc38818b3523be0b93fd06a07c3b438

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.

What We Stand For: A Brief Reflection on The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood Shooting

newborn-3

I’m sure by now you have heard of the Planned Parenthod shooting that took place in Colorado Springs yesterday.  However, just for emphasis, I will summarize it:
At 11:38 local time, 57-year old Robert Lewis Dear burst into the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and opened fire. The staff and patients took cover in closets and bathrooms.
Police were engaged in a standoff with Robert Lewis Dear that some sources say lasted five hours while other sources state lasted for six hours. Officers continued to encounter gunfire as they evacuated the people who had taken cover.
The standoff ended when Robert Lewis Dear surrendered.

Since yesterday I have been taking to Facebook and joining the flood of pro-life groups and advocates who have been condemning Robert Lewis Dear’s act of violence against Planned Parenthood.  However, that hasn’t stop detractors from using this tragedy to blame pro-life activists and smear our cause.  For me, the biggest blow came when Buzzfeed posted an article entitled, “Some Abortion Foes Cheered the Planned Parenthood Shooting.”  http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelzarrell/some-pro-life-supporters-cheered-planned-parenthood-shooting?utm_term=.uoAz1YPPe#.ggM0eMww9

After that, I just logged off and took some time to take a breath.  My heart was already heavy from what happened in Colorado Springs, and to see a cause I care for being slandered was even worse.
I went to our living room and sat in front of the Christmas tree, staring at the ornaments and lights.  “Why should I even bother?” I asked myself. Why should I even bother to keep posting about how pro-life groups have condemned what happened in Colorado Springs if people will continue to paint us as violent extremists anyway?
I looked at our pictures of Jesus and Mary that hang side by side on our wall. I bore my eyes into Jesus’ image, concentrating at his upward gaze, his purposeful expression.

Then, somehow, I came to a distressing thought: ‘Why did Jesus even bother to die on the Cross?’

I had to sit down.  Jesus died for our sins, but we still sin anyway, so why would He bother?
The answer: Because Jesus’ mission was to save us.

This conclusion lifted me from my drained state.  Why should I bother to be vocal about defending the pro-life cause?
Because defending every life is our mission.

What others say about us doesn’t matter.  How society paints us is irrelevant.  Pro-life does not exist to please others.  Pro-life exists to protect the dignity of every single life.

Pro-life means defending the humanity of the unborn baby.
Pro-life means reaching out to the single mother.
Pro-life means offering hope to the pregnant teenager.
Pro-life means supporting the rape victim.
Pro-life means showing mercy to abortion clinic workers.
Pro-life means feeding and clothing the homeless.
Pro-life means welcoming the refugee.
Pro-life means standing up for the death row inmate.
Pro-life means giving shelter to abandoned animals.
Pro-life means every beating heart matters.
I will say this as many times as I need to: Pro-life does not stand for violence or extremism.  We do not stand for shaming women or abortion workers.  You cannot call yourself pro-life if you do not condemn violence against clinics or the people who work there.  Oppose abortion, but do no harm to those who support it.

Pro-life is pro-peace.
Period.

 

How Do You Solve a Problem like Cecilia?: Saint Cecilia

This Saints post exists because I owe Saint Cecilia a favor.  First, here’s some backstory:
Last weekend, I was on a LifeTeen retreat (not as a teen, of course.  I’m a Core member).  On Friday my throat felt scratchy and by “lights out” time, my voice was heading down the drain.  All day Saturday, I had a raspy, chain-smoker voice and it hurt to talk.  As luck would have it, I had to give a teaching on authentic prayer.  Normally Saint Blaise is an obvious person to go to for throat trouble because that’s his patronage, but then Saint Cecilia, patroness of music, came to mind.  I said, “Okay, Cecilia, if you can help me deliver my talk in the exact way that I had practiced it, I will bump you up in my posting schedule and you will be the next CGB Saints post.”

I delivered my talk without forgetting a single word.  Remember when I said that it hurt to talk?  As I gave my teaching, my throat felt just fine.

The hills are alive with the sound of Cecilia!
The hills are alive with the sound of Cecilia!

Saint Cecilia has the typical 2nd century A.D. Roman girl backstory; she was born into a wealthy family.  They were all Christians, but she had been betrothed to Valerian, a Pagan man who had a brother named Tibertius, who will be important later, so remember him.  Anyway, between this and my Saint Lucy post, you have figured out by now that in those days, love was not a central ingredient to marriage.  It takes two prominent families to get their younglings to tango.

Of course, Cecilia had promised God that she would be His bride, consecrating her virginity to Him alone.  Instead of adorning herself in the fine dresses and jewels that her family could afford, a sackcloth was her clothing of choice.
Cecilia and Valerian were married and so began the wedding night.  I’m just gonna paraphrase how I think their conversation went:

CECILIA: Honey, I know I’m your wife now and I have to fulfill my duty to you, BUT…I consecrated my virginity to God and because of that, my guardian angel will be standing guard to protect my purity.
VALERIAN: Uh…all right, prove it.  I want to see the angel.
CECILIA: Tell you what; you go visit Pope Urban and get yourself baptized.  When you get back, you will see my angel.
VALERIAN: Well, it is fashionable to see the Holy Father and such a visit could benefit our families, so why not?

I came so close to referring “the angel of music” from Phantom of the Opera as I was typing this.

Valerian visited Pope Urban and was baptized.  When he returned, his jaw hit the floor.  A magnificent angel was standing alongside his new wife while she played the piano.
I’m just gonna go ahead and sing this: “Then I saw her face.  Now I’m a believer!  Without a trace or doubt in my mind…I’m a believer, I couldn’t leave her if I tried!”
The angel had two crowns, one for Cecilia and the other for Valerian.  The crowns were placed on the heads of husband and wife.

Earlier I told you to remember Valerian’s brother Tibertius.  That’s because Tibertius also became a believer once he saw the crowns on Cecilia and Valerian’s heads.  Two is plenty, but three’s a crowd.

Now in their day, Christians were being martyred left and right.  The prefect of their city had a serious case of bloodlust; not only were Christians were being killed off faster than a Game of Thrones character, but their bodies were left on the streets as a warning to Roman citizens.  Valerian and Tibertius were persuaded by Cecilia to bury the martyrs.  When onlookers would approach them, the brothers would direct them to Valerian’s home, where Cecilia would tell them about Jesus Christ.  A woman in love with Jesus, her eloquence and compassion for nonbelievers brought visitors to their knees as they converted to Christianity.

There is no exact timeline of when shiz went down, but we do know that the prefect of the city put a stop to Valerian and Tibertius’ martyr-burial operation.  The brothers were captured, brought before the prefect, and joined the dead.

Preparing her home to be a church, Cecilia turned around when she heard the door open, thinking it was her husband and brother-in-law.  Her smile left her face when Roman soldiers stood at her door.  She took a breath, entrusting her fate to God.

Standing before the prefect as Valerian and Tibertius had, Cecilia was ordered to be executed by suffocation in the bathhouse.  Thrown into the bathhouse, she was locked inside and the flames arose, whipping at her skin and hair.  The guards waited for the agonizing screams of the woman caged in the inferno.
They didn’t hear a peep from her.
Then the fires were cooled, the doors unlocked and reopened; Cecilia stood very much alive.

His mind blown from this incident, the prefect ordered her to be beheaded.  The executioner approached her, armed with a sword that promised to impale flesh and bone.
The first strike hit her neck, but was ineffective.
The second strike cut through skin and nothing else.
The third strike caught the jugular, but her vocal cords remained.
He ran away after the third blow.

Mortally wounded, Cecilia was left to die in a cell.  She was in dire pain, but continued to preach the Gospel as blood flowed down from her maimed neck, soaked up by the sponges and cloths of those who came to hear her speak.  She used her final breath to share the Good News.

Saint Cecilia, pray for us.

Heaven’s Eye Doctor: Saint Lucy of Syracuse

When I started Catholic Girl Bloggin’, I chose my six favorite Saints to be patrons of the blog.  One of those patrons is Saint Lucy of Syracuse.  She came into my life when I was a senior in high school, and she has been my spiritual sister ever since. Lucy is the patroness of eye issues.  She healed my mother when she had pink eye a few years ago.  Last year, when I had a case of dry eyes, I prayed to Saint Lucy and in three days my eyes were healed.

download

Saint Lucy was born in Syracuse, Sicily.  She entered the world when the Roman Empire was in some serious shiz.  Heads were rolling, and I do mean that literally because Christians were being executed left and right.  Her father died when she was five, so her mother Eutychia raised her alone.  Lucy embraced her mother’s Christianity and at a young age made a promise to Jesus that she would consecrate her virginity to Him.  In other words, she would never marry and instead be a single bride of Christ for the rest of her life.   However in her day, unmarried women were either left begging on the streets or taken captive by enemies of the Roman Empire.  Out of fear for Lucy’s future, Eutychia did the only thing she could do: She arranged for Lucy to be married off to a young man from a wealthy Pagan family.

The turning point in Lucy’s life came when Eutychia learned she had a blood disorder.  Lucy was able to convince her mother to make a pilgrimage to Catania, where the main attraction was the tomb of Saint Agatha (patron saint of those who suffer from breast cancer).  As Lucy prayed at the tomb, Saint Agatha appeared to her in a vision.  I’m just going to paraphrase how their conversation went:

AGATHA: Lucy, your mother will be cured, but you will be called to martyrdom.

LUCY: Just cure my mother, and I will do whatever He asks of me.

As Agatha promised, Eutychia was cured and after some persuasion from Lucy, she allowed her daughter to serve the poor and the family wealth was used to help those in need.  As time went on, Lucy made a name for herself with her charitable works to the less fortunate, and later, her aid to Christians who were hiding in the catacombs.  She would carry food and drinks to them, unaware of informants who sought to betray the persecuted Christians.

Now Lucy was known to have been very beautiful.  She had striking eyes that sparkled with the light of Christ within her.  I mention this because her former fiancee, the young man from the wealthy Pagan family, wanted her as his wife. But remember, she had made a vow of perpetual virginity to Jesus, so that wasn’t going to work.  Also after her mother was cured, the betrothal had been called off. So the angry ex-fiancee went to Governor Pascasio.  As a result, Lucy was caught and became a prisoner of the Empire.  Her martyrdom took place in Syracuse’s magnificent amphitheater, where Pascasio sat along with politicians and general.  It was Lucy vs. All of Rome.

I used to think of Lucy as a sweet, docile Saint.

I was wrong.

When she refused to worship the Pagan gods, Pascasio ordered that she be forced into prostitution.  The Roman guards gathered to take her to the brothel, but to their surprise, her body was suddenly immovable.  No, seriously, she was like a statue.  More guards came to try and move her.  Even a team of oxen was used to try and haul her, but the thin girl was now heavy as a boulder.  By the power of Christ she was protected from the house of sexual sin.  Pascasio’s next move was to have her burned at the stake.  As she stood in a bundle of twigs, soldiers began to ignite the twigs, but they wouldn’t burn.  Even when they were soaked with oil, no fire would come.  As you can imagine, Pascasio was not happy being one-upped by a young Christian girl.  In desperation, he ordered that her eyes be gouged out, which is why she is the patron saint of eye problems.  As blood ran down her face from where her sparkling eyes used to be, Lucy did not scream or cry.  She simply stood there, professing faith in Jesus Christ.  It is said that her bravery and the miracles surrounding her inspired many Pagans to convert to Christianity.  Lucy was then stabbed in the neck by a soldier.  She had won the battle and went to Heaven as a victor on December 13th, 304 A.D.