Gemma Galgani is one of the Church’s mystics. She was born in Camigliano, Italy on March 12, 1878 of devout parents. The fifth child and eldest daughter in a family of eight, she was given the name “Gemma” meaning “gem”. The family later moved to Lucca where Enrico Galgani practiced as a pharmacist.
Gemma’s beloved mother was the first to show her the way of Christian piety. “It was Mamma,” Gemma was to say, “who made me desire to go to heaven”. But tuberculosis took Aurelia Galgani when Gemma was only seven. This great grief was softened by Gemma’s first mystical communication which assured the little girl that her mother was in Heaven.
Gemma began to attend school with the Sisters of St. Zita and was considered bright. She longed to receive Holy Communion and so begged and pleaded that she was granted the favour at age nine, then an early age for first communicants. “I feel a fire burning here” was her comment as she pointed to her heart.
At home, Gemma worked diligently to fill her mother’s shoes. She loved the poor, giving them what she could. She also taught religion to children, and visited the sick in hospitals.
By age nineteen, Gemma was doubly orphaned by the death of her father, and had also lost two brothers and a little sister.
All the while she made great strides in her spiritual life, her desire to suffer with Jesus for the good of souls increasing.
Gemma came down with a spinal meningitis that almost took her life, but was healed through the intercession of St. Gabriel Possenti of the Passionist Order who appeared to her and to whom she became greatly attached.
Refused entry into a Passionist convent, partially because of her health, Gemma submitted to God’s will.
From the time of her healing she began to experience mystical graces that eventually led to her receiving the stigmata of Christ. At this time she and other family members were living with an aunt, and as her ecstasies became more frequent, she had little privacy or understanding.
Through the influence of the Passionists, she was introduced to the exceptionally devout Giannini family, who ultimately adopted her as a daughter. The Gianninis became the “reliquary” that enshrined the “gem” so her sanctity could develop to the fullest.
Two other great friends were to accompany Gemma during her life: her confessor Fr. Germanus, who guided her wisely and securely, and her Guardian Angel, whom she saw often, and who instructed and admonished her, delivered letters and messages to Fr. Germanus for her, and who even brought her coffee in bed during her illnesses.
On Pentecost Sunday in 1902, Gemma was stricken with a mysterious illness which led to her death on Holy Saturday in 1903. She was twenty-five. Gemma was canonised by Pope Pius XII in 1940.
St. Gemma and her Guardian Angel
Saint Gemma Galgani enjoyed the grace of the constant sight of her guardian angel.
Gemma’s confessor and biographer provides us with details of her familiarity with her guardian angel.
“Gemma,” he writes, “saw him with her eyes, touched him with her hand as if he were a being of this world, remained talking with him as one friend with another. ‘Jesus has not left me alone,’ she said. ‘He makes my guardian angel stay with me always….’
“‘If I am sometimes culpable, dear Angel, don’t be angry with me. I want to be grateful to thee,’ she said to him.
“And the angel answered: ‘Yes, I shall be thy guide and inseparable companion. Dost thou not know who it is that gave me charge of thee? It is the merciful Jesus.’
“Unable to restrain her emotion at this, the angelic girl stood rapt in ecstasy with her angel. The angel sometimes let her see him raised in the air with outspread wings, his hands extended over her or joined in an attitude of prayer. At other times, he knelt beside her.
“I myself,” continues her confessor, “have often attended Gemma’s meditations with her angel.… I noted that every time she raised her eyes to look at the angel, listen to him, or speak to him, even aside from the time of meditation and prayer, she lost the use of her senses. At those moments one could prick, burn, or shake her without her feeling it.
“Her angel guardian was to Gemma a second Jesus, so to speak. She made known to him her own wants and those of others. In her sufferings she wanted him always by her side. She entrusted him to lay several matters before the throne of God, before the Divine Mother and her patron saints, giving him closed and sealed letters to them with a request to bring her the answers promptly. Those letters, as a matter of fact, disappeared.”
She also kept the angel busy with many letters to people in this world, often to her confessor.
“It was thus,” he writes, “that she kept the heavenly messenger continually on the move, and he most gladly favoured her. Even without being called, he hastened to her in every need and danger. He restrained the power and malicious ruses of the devil, who was always just as vigilant in his efforts to do her harm. Instances are not wanting of this blessed guardian’s constant watchfulness. Once when Gemma was at table with her family, one of those present did not hesitate to blaspheme the Holy Name of God. Upon hearing this, she fainted in horror and, falling, would have dashed her head against the floor had her angel not hastened to her aid. He took her hand, supported her, and with a single word restored her.
“The most important mission of Gemma’s angel was in what concerned her spiritual advancement. While he served on one side as her watchful protector, on the other she found in him a perfect master of Christian perfection.
“The holy guardian knew how to show severity when necessary. One day she told me of this in the following words: ‘My angel is a bit severe, but I am glad for it. During the past few days he called me to order as many as three or four times a day.’
“Seeing the great charity lavished on her, Gemma loved her angel immensely, and his name was always on her lips as well as in her heart. ‘Dear Angel,’ she would say, ‘I so love you!’
“‘And why?’ he would ask.
“‘Because you teach me to be good, to remain humble, and to please Jesus.’
“Another time, Gemma wrote: ‘I was in bed, suffering greatly, when I suddenly became absorbed in prayer. I folded my hands and, moved with heartfelt sorrow for my countless sins, I made an act of deep contrition. My mind was wholly plunged in this abyss of crime against my God when I beheld my angel standing by my bed. I felt ashamed of being in his presence, but he was more than courteous with me, and said kindly: “Jesus loves thee greatly; love Him greatly in return.” Then he added: “Art thou fond of Jesus’ Mother? Salute her very often, for she values such attention very much and unfailingly returns the greetings offered her; and if thou dost not feel that she does, know that thus she makes a proof of thine unfailing trust.” He blessed me and disappeared.’”
May Saint Gemma’s intimacy with her angel, so simple, spontaneous, and full of profound humility, be an example for us all.
Excerpts taken from Fr. Germanus C.P. (her spiritual director), Blessed Gemma Galgani, 1903, pp. 207-216.
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