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.

Victim Soul Chapter Four

St_Gemma_with_Angel_22

[Author’s Note: Gemma’s guardian angel is introduced in this chapter.  Originally, he was going to be an off-to-the-side character, but after learning of Gemma’s deep bond with him, I asked God to help me incorporate her guardian angel into the story.  My research confirms that one evening, after taking a particularly terrible beating from the devil, Gemma was unable to move.  Her guardian angel picked her up and put her to bed, then stood watch for the rest of the night.  There are three artistic liberties taken.  The first is the conversation that takes place between the guardian angel and the devil.  This sequence has been created to develop the guardian’s angel character.  The second is the insertion of Gemma’s quote “Oh God, I am weak….give me…a little strength.  No matter what will happen to me, all is for You.”  This is a documented quote from her.  It was said while she was in a state of ecstasy.  However, I made the decision to insert it here to show Gemma’s resolve.  Finally, the third liberty is what Gemma says to her guardian angel about almost giving in to the devil’s temptation when she was ill.  This was created to reestablish Gemma’s motivation for remaining strong against the devil’s abuse.  In addition, I realized that I needed to show their rapport].

Her face swells from where his fist struck.  The bruises pulsate with a throbbing pain that spreads throughout her body.  Pressing her worn hands against the cold floor, her fingers quiver as she struggles to support her own weight.  She feels blood trickle from her nostrils, creating miniscule crimson puddles on the floor.
“That’s enough for one night, wouldn’t you say?”
Gemma can feel his fiery eyes cast down at her.  She glances up and sees his immense shadow looming over her.  “My–my Jesus…my Jesus, please…” she struggles between breaths.
Her body becomes rigid when he kneels down beside her.  She is too weak to stop him from cupping her chin into his talons.  “Your God does not care about what happens to you.” Satan releases her chin and stands up.  He turns to leave, but then stops and turns his head.  “My offer still stands, Gemma.”
She keeps her eyes on the floor.  “Just kneel before me.  Pledge your allegiance to me and I will protect you.  You won’t have to suffer for some dead carpenter if you just–“
“No.” Gemma raises her head and darts her eyes to the crucifix on the wall.  “Oh God, I am weak….give me…a little strength.  No matter what will happen to me, all is for You.”
A sudden force pins her to the floor.  Staring up at the ceiling, she clenches her fists, bracing herself for more pain.
“Hmph, suit yourself, little one.”
She shuts her eyes the minute his body whirls around, his fist aimed high.  The thud rings against her ear.  She opens her eyes and sees that his fist has just barely missed her face.  As he disappears into a swirl of smoke, the echo of his vicious cackle remains.
Weakness has rendered her immobile.  She turns her head and sees a sizzling hole where the devil’s fist landed.  Her beating heart drums in her ears.  She glances up at her extinguished candle as it sits barren and alone on her small table.
A flame flickers on the wick as warmth takes hold of the room.   A glowing set of feet stand on top of the sizzling hole.  Gemma sighs in relief to see her guardian angel.  She feels one of his feathers gently brush her bruised cheek.  “Angel, I can’t move.”
Her guardian angel kneels to the floor.  He wipes the blood from her nostrils with his sleeve.  The blood dissipates into the fabric until it completely disappears.  Reaching underneath her, he lifts her in his arms, cradling her.  Sleep, my child.  You have nothing to fear.” His ethereal light dulls every ounce of pain that has ravaged her body. Gemma takes deep breaths as she is lowered onto her bed.  A strange chuckle escapes her lips.
“What makes you laugh, Gemma?”
Lying flat on her back, her eyes bore into the ceiling.  “To think that I almost surrendered to that monster…” She closes her eyes, sinking into the painful memory.

“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.

When she opens her eyes, she sees her guardian angel holding up his hand, “Leave in the past what belongs to the past.  He will attempt to use your weakest moment against you, my dear.  Accept that you have been forgiven by our Lord and go forward.”
She turns her head to the candle’s dancing flame.  “If this is how he treats those who oppose him, imagine how he treats the ones who do exactly as he says.” A chill runs through her body at the thought of being a follower of darkness. The idea of the almost haunts her; almost taking his hand, almost pledging her allegiance to Hell, almost trading her eternal soul for temporary comfort.
Her guardian angel pulls the sheets up to her chin.  His hand touches her head. “Remember who are you and Who you belong to.” He points at the crucifix, “Before anything else, He is a savior.  He will not let you fall.”
Gemma looks at the crucifix, mentally absorbing every detail of Jesus’ body.  She touches her cheek, realizing that the swelling is gone.  Looking at her arms, she can see that the bruises are no more.  As tears of joy pool in her eyes, her face brightens with a tender, assured smile.  She places her hands over her heart, “Oh Jesus, I see You as greater than all the treasures on earth.  Yes, my sweetest God, my most lovable Jesus: to my eyes You are greater than the greatest treasures on earth.” She notices that her stoic angel’s mouth has lifted into a smile, as well.  As she drifts off to sleep, she hears his wings stretch out, shielding her from the terrors of the night.

Her guardian angel holds his sheath, ready to strike any demonic forces that draw near.
“And how is our little Gemma?”
The guardian angel faces the prince of darkness with a stoic expression.
“Oh, relax.  I’m not going to throw her across the room.”
The guardian angel crosses his arms, “You beat this woman for over an hour.”
Satan rolls his eyes, “You angels of God are no fun.  At the very least, allow me to check up on the poor girl,” he reaches out his claws for Gemma’s forehead.
The guardian angel grabs Satan’s wrist.  Within seconds, his light burns the devil’s skin.
“AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!” Satan recoils to the floor, clutching his bubbling wrist.
The guardian angel pulls out his sword and points it at the enemy.  A brilliant light shimmers off the blade, blinding the devil.
As Satan recovers, the guardian angel stands above him.  He looks back at Gemma, who is sound asleep.  He hears Satan beginning to stand and faces him.
“Hmph, you’re just as much of a menace as Michael!” Satan hisses as he props himself up.
“Why do you want this daughter of God?  Many people have fallen into your hands and the whole earth is yours.” The guardian angel places his sword back in his sheath.  “Are the ones who already reside in Gehenna not enough for you?”
Satan walks over to the candle.  He runs his talons over the small flame, releasing a dark plume of smoke into the air.  The guardian angel clears the smoke with the light of his sword.
“Hell is populated by my easiest targets.  Many of them made the quiet and comfortable journey into my hands.” He raises his talons and points at Gemma, “Imagine the glory of snatching away one of God’s finest…” A sinister smile plasters his face.  “I would love nothing more than to look a former servant of God in the eye and say, ‘Welcome to Hell.'” Satan narrows his eyes, his unflinching focus set on the holy woman.  “Hmph, I almost pity the poor child and how she allows herself to suffer for a being she cannot see.” The guardian angel tenses when he sees a spark of lust in the devil’s eyes.  “She is quite lovely…”
The guardian angel stands in front of Gemma, blocking her from the devil’s line of vision.  “Leave. Now.” The guardian angel once again withdraws his sword and presses the tip of the blade right at Satan’s throat.
Satan smirks as he steps back.  He glances at the crucifix, but can only look at it at a second before it burns his eyes.  “Whether it is a docile girl who prays or an abrasive drunkard who lies and cheats, I want everyone to be as far away from the Almighty as possible…” The devil turns his back to the guardian angel, then stops and tilts his head slightly.
“I won’t stop until everyone burns.”

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 Two

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[Author’s Note: The majority of my research states that Satan started his attacks by giving Gemma violent headaches to keep her from praying.  Just like the scene where Gemma ponders what awaits her in Chapter One, how Satan gives Gemma a migraine is my interpretation of the research I collected.  The artistic liberty I have taken is that while Satan did say to her on occasion, “How stupid you are to think of praying to a criminal. Look at the harm He does you, keeping you nailed to the Cross with Himself. How can you care for one whom you do not even know-who makes all suffer who love Him,” when this was said has not been documented, so I inserted the quote here.  In addition, I portray him attempting to engage her in conversation before triggering her agonizing migraine]. 

Gemma closes her bedroom door.  Undoing her hair, she hurries to the crucifix.  As she begins to kneel, she pauses and looks around the room.  All is calm, the room quiet and still.  Squinting her eyes, she peers at the shadowy corners.  No creature jumps out to grab her, no dark forces surround her.  The only chill in the air comes from the open window. She walks across the room and closes the window.  Within her being, there is no sense of disturbance rattling her soul.  “Maybe it is not time for the devil to harass me yet,” she hopes. She inhales slowly, allowing herself to relax.
Gemma stands in front of the crucifix.  She takes a moment to gaze in awe of Jesus’ purposeful eyes, the crown of thorns on His tilted head.  She places her hand on His nailed feet, its coldness pricks at her fingertips.  Her hand moves and presses to her heart as she contemplates His love, wondrous, sacrificial, everlasting.  Peace and joy consume her at once, which results in a beaming smile across her face.  Making the sign of the cross, she kneels on the floor and closes her eyes, immersing herself in the presence of the Lord.
“I see that you have regained the color in your cheeks…”
Gemma freezes.  The room is suddenly ice-cold, permeated by a dark heaviness in the air.  As her heart races, she keeps her eyes closed and her body kneeled on the floor.
Satan’s footsteps slowly draw near.  His gravelly chuckle send shivers down her spine.“It seems like only yesterday, I was attending to a deathly pale little girl who could barely lift her head as she lie on this very bed.” The condescension in his voice stings her, but she does not move.  She hears him take a seat on her bed.  “Now here you are; a healthy young lady kneeling on a wooden floor, praying to a person you have never seen.” Only the sound of her pounding heartbeat fills the deafening silence between them.  “It is rude to ignore a guest, little one.”
Don’t look at him, don’t look at him, Do. Not. Look…” says her conscience in a panicked whisper.  She raises her head and opens her eyes, the crucifix looming large in her tunnel vision.
In a clear, candid voice, she states, “Jesus is my guest, not you.” She closes her eyes and keeps her head downcast, bracing herself for whatever was to come.
There is a deep growl, followed by silence.  She hears Satan approach her side. “How is your head feeling, Gemma?” he asks.
Gemma feels a quick tap between her eyes.
A searing pain spreads inside her head like a cancerous tumor.  She lets out a visceral cry as her body hits the floor.  She clutches onto her forehead, which burns with white-hot intensity.  In spite of her agony, she is determined to keep her eyes closed.  ‘I will not allow his image to enter my mind,’ she vows internally.
“Oh, dear, you look very uncomfortable.  Why don’t you lay down?  That might help your poor head.”
Gemma feels his talons press down on her head, which makes the splitting pain even more excruciating.  She slightly opens her watering eyes to look up at the crucifix.
Satan releases her head, but the torturous migraine continues.  Gemma raises her body the best she can.
“It is almost midnight, child.  There is no shame in climbing into bed, closing your eyes and resting the headache away,” he taunts.
Even in her torment, Gemma mentally conjures the image of Jesus in her mind’s eye.  She crawls closer to the crucifix and grips her hands in prayer.  She anticipates what must surely come next: Blood trickling down from her throbbing head.
Satan’s howling laughter rings in her ears, “How stupid you are to think of praying to a criminal. Look at the harm He does you, keeping you nailed to the Cross with Himself. How can you care for one whom you do not even know-who makes all suffer who love Him?
In that moment, Gemma feels His presence.   It is a soft warmth that envelopes her.  As the furious migraine ceases, an enraged scream shakes the room.  All at once, both the warmth and the dark presence of the devil disappear.
Slowly rising from the floor, Gemma faces the crucifix and, with a gracious smile, whispers a relieved, “Thank you, my Jesus.  Thank you.”

Victim Soul Chapter One

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[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.

CGB Review/My Experience Watching The Young Messiah (2016)

Mary, did you know that your baby boy would get a movie about his childhood?

So this is both my review of The Young Messiah and a reflection on an experience I had during the film.

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Based on the book “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” by Anne Rice, The Young Messiah is a historical fiction about a year in the boyhood of Jesus.
While playing with another child, Jesus is bullied by a boy named Eliezer.  During this confrontation, Satan kills Eliezer in an attempt to frame Jesus.  Minutes later, Jesus uses His gifts to revive Eliezer.  In order to protect their Son, Joseph and Mary gather their relatives and the Holy Family journeys out of Egypt and back to Nazareth.  All the while, the child Jesus seeks answers about His birth and comes to terms with His coming destiny.
I was very anxious about this film.  There is very little written about Jesus’ childhood, so anything that happens in the film would be based on speculation.
During my viewing of this film, I had an experience that shook me to my core.  I will talk about it in a bit, but first, let’s see how The Young Messiah holds up.

The Hits
It is clear that actor Adam Greaves-Neal understood the significance of his role as young Jesus.  He brings the right balance of innocence and wisdom to the character.  Given the delicate subject matter, I feel that the filmmakers balanced Jesus’ divinity and humanity as well as they could have.  Jesus questions His abilities, but when it comes to spiritual matters that no child His age could have a grasp on, Jesus has all the answers.  I feel that Adam Greaves-Neal did a pretty good job conveying the internal struggle of being unlike others and the film serves as an admirable character study of one who is both human and divine.
The Holy Family is awesome in this movie.  They are righteous and just, but still feel like an authentic family unit.  Mary and Joseph argue about how they are to explain Jesus’ true identity to Him, but always agree to trust in God’s timing.  I think this might be the best portrayal of Mary and Joseph to date.  Kudos to Vincent Walsh, the actor who plays Joseph.  He gives us a seasoned and dutiful Joseph who has embraced his mission to protect the two most important people ever.  He frequently affirms Mary and wrestles with his own identity as the foster father of the Son of God.  Sara Lazzaro is terrific as Mary.  Sweet, protective and devout, she brings a nurturing tenderness to the Blessed Mother.  It is clear that the actress understands who she is playing, which explains her respectful performance.
This film has one of the most accurate portrayals of Satan since the movie “Black Mass.” He shows up in scenes unannounced and partakes in either staring at Jesus in an unsettling way or whispering deceit into unsuspecting ears, which is very much in-character for the devil.  I feel it was a wise choice to have him change into different robes, which serves as a reflection of how the prince of darkness is a master at disguising himself so that mortal eyes never figure out who he is.

The Misses
Similar to Risen, the film feels very stretched out at times.  There are a few scenes that serve next to no purpose other than to fill a 90 minute run time.   A few times, I thought to myself, “The point of this scene is…what?” It is obvious that the screenwriter drew a blank on how to progress the plot.
Build-up is a major issue in this film.  While not knowing where the plot is going is better than sitting through a bland and predictable story, it can also make the film itself seem aimless and pointless.  Investment is lost if the story lacks the sense of building up to something.  Even the climax of the film feels a tad rushed.
I kind of understand why the film includes relatives of Jesus, but I feel they were unnecessary.  They were just filler characters.  The dynamic between Jesus, Mary and Joseph is already interesting enough; we don’t need a made-up Uncle Cleo for comedy relief.
Sean Bean’s character Severus is very underwritten.  His conversion story is not developed very well.  His conflict with being assigned to find and kill the child Jesus is poorly conveyed.  This results in his character feeling like an obligatory villain, an antagonist for the sake of there being an antagonist.

Verdict
The Young Messiah is a noble effort to understand the psychology of Jesus.  Personally, I think that Risen is better than The Young Messiah, but that doesn’t mean The Young Messiah is a bad movie.  Much thought went into the humanistic portrayal of the Holy Family and that is worth commending.  While the actual plot is lacking and could have used a lot more polishing, the sincerity on the part of everyone involved make the Young Messiah a flawed but intriguing addition to the Christian film genre.

My Experience
In my book review of The Screwtape Letters, I mentioned that I’ve been dealing with spiritual attacks.  This past week has been particularly challenging.   Let me put it this way: Imagine a party guest who shows up even though nobody wanted to invite them and this person spends the entire evening criticizing the food you’ve prepared and the decorations you chose and just mocks your every move.  The devil has been that guy to me all week.
Two days ago, my mother told me that a friend of hers had seen the film and said that the movie begins with Satan killing a child and making it look like Jesus is the culprit.  Immediately my heart dropped to my stomach, so my mother prayed over me last night.
Fast-forward to my viewing of the film: The movie starts and we first see young Jesus.  Everything is fine and good…until the film cuts to a blond-haired man in black robes.  I scratched my head, “Why is there a blonde dude in Egy–oh, no, it’s him.”  As I said, the film never calls his character “Satan”, but in my heart, I knew exactly who the character was supposed to be.
There is one sequence in particular where Jesus gets a fever and is confronted by Satan.  The camera is shot from Jesus’ perspective, so Satan is staring down at Him (and at we, the audience).  I wanted to look away, but I forced myself to be brave and keep my eyes on the screen.  Satan taunts Jesus, pressing Him about His identity.  When Jesus remains strong, Satan shows Him a vision of Jerusalem on fire.  Moved to tears, Jesus kneels and begins to pray.  Satan moves closer to Jesus and begins hissing in His ear.
Fear gripped me.  I couldn’t stop my body from shaking.  I zipped up my jacket to keep in the warmth, but my body continued to tremble.  The scene ends with Satan telling Jesus, “Chaos reigns…and I am THE PRINCE OF IT!”
I began to cry.  I could feel the darkness infused with those words.  A sinking sense of loneliness enveloped me.  For the first time in my life, I actually thought to myself, “What if there is no God?”  The minute this thought crossed my mind, despair overwhelmed me.
A sinister laughter echoed in my ears.  I turned around and saw that the laughing didn’t come from the three other people in the theater, who all sat silently.
At that moment, I suddenly felt the presence of Saint Gemma Galgani, who knows all too well about the extent of the devil’s cruelty.  A warmth wrapped around my body, as if she was embracing me.   I took a deep breath and turned my focus back to the film.
The film ends with Mary explaining to Jesus His origins.  When she tells the story of Archangel Gabriel appearing to her, she says, “My room filled with light and it spoke to me, it said, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you…'” I whispered the Hail Mary as she spoke and as I prayed, the feeling of crippling loneliness disappeared.  In its place was a sense of peace, the feeling that God is with me, especially when I feel alone.

Where there is sin and darkness, there is light.  Jesus is that saving light.

Holy Family, pray for us.