Battles with temptation -St Gemma’s heroic chastity and purity.
Taken (with adaptations) from “The Life of Saint Gemma Galgani” by Venerable Father Germanus C.P.
Whoever wishes to follow Jesus and be perfect must deny self, that is, to renounce all things and take up the Cross, because without the Cross it is impossible to become like Jesus Christ; He who is God Crucified…..Therefore, it is impossible to become one with Jesus without embracing the Cross. Furthermore, in order to become like Jesus and be transformed into a lover of the Cross, man oppressed by sin must subjugate all his wicked appetites of heart and sense. This cannot be effected without doing great violence to self by means of assiduous mortification and self sacrifice. Hence the Divine Master Himself has said: "....the
Gemma wished to become like Jesus at any cost, having received this ardent desire as a young child while in her mother's arms. It went on increasing until it absorbed all others, and she no longer wished to know of anything else. Hence it was enough to look at her face or movements, or to hear her speak, in order to know that she lived in this one desire: to become like Jesus, to please Him alone. It was then to be expected that this child of grace would set herself to employ every means to the desired end, particularly that of self-mortification.
The first thing she gave evidence of in this undertaking was her uninterrupted diligence in bridling her senses. From her infancy she had become mistress of her eyes, and kept them habitually lowered. When traveling to Church for Mass or on errands, she constantly kept her eyes downcast. As she advanced in years and in virtue, she became more firmly established in this practice, owing to a resolution she made, when one day in church she happened to look with curiosity, for a moment, at the dress of a little girl who sat next her. Her guardian Angel immediately showed his displeasure and Gemma resolved never more to turn her eyes to look willfully at anyone in this world. From that day forward those innocent eyes remained closed to exterior things and subject to her will. In order to make her look at you, a formal command was needed. She then obeyed but only for a few seconds and again, modestly blushing, lowered her eyes once again. On this account, whoever desired to observe the beauty of her soul that shone in her eyes was obliged to do so while she was in ecstasy, as then she generally kept them raised to Heaven.
The freezing water incident
One day when rising from the table after dinner, the Devil appeared to Gemma in an impure form and threatened to overcome her at any cost. Gemma turned pale and then immediately ran out the back door to a deep water tank in the back garden. It was winter and the water was icy cold. There and then, making the sign of the Cross, she threw herself in the freezing water and certaintly would have quickly succumbed, had not some invisible hand drew her shivering from the water.
Although she was often tempted by the world, the Devil and the flesh, there reigned in the heart of this happy child a joy of paradise that could only be ruffled by the fear of offending her Lord, and the thought of His inscrutable judgments. Outside these limits nothing caused her disquietude. And this was quite evident in her exterior, always so bright and affable, and in her perpetual smile, that so strangely contrasted with the dignity of her countenance and the gravity of her bearing.
Sin, which contaminates the soul, is the effect of the three great concupiscences that reign in man: pride, sensuality and love of earthly goods. Gemma knew too well how full of contagion the air is that we breathe, and how corrupt the world in which we live. Hence she was always afraid of herself, and, not content with what she had already done in bridling the disorderly appetites of nature, she wished to continue without ceasing the work of her perfection. In this meritorious exercise she gave the first place to the avoidance of dangerous occasions. Clear-sighted though she was, and of accurate judgment, notwithstanding her childlike simplicity, she was able to discern the danger of such occasions at any distance. "Here," she used to say, "Jesus is not to be found; then Gemma, let us fly." Without thinking evil of anyone she normally feared all company, and desired to remain alone, and if it had not been necessary to go out to church and sometimes to the city on errands, she would never have left the house. The same may be said of talking, mixing in the affairs of others, making friends, writing letters and suchlike. She used to say: "Gemma, don't trust yourself; remember that every occasion may be dangerous to you; outside Jesus all is deceit; keep with Him alone and go on with your duties without attending to anything else."
Yet the most beautiful fruit that Gemma gathered from the tree of the Cross and from mortification was chastity. Adorable virtue, how rare thou art in this depraved world! And yet thou should be the dowry of every Christian soul, whose vocation according to the words of the Apostle is to be holy and immaculate. Our angelic Gemma learned how precious was purity while yet a child from her saintly Mother, and as from those first moments she began to love her Jesus she became aware of this priceless jewel and strove with all her energy to keep it untarnished in her soul. Among the practices to this end suggested by her solicitous mother, one was to recite devoutly every evening while kneeling on her hands under her knees, three Hail Marys to the Queen of Heaven in honor of her Immaculate Conception. The innocent child, though knowing so little at that early age, took keenly to this devotion and never omitted it. Rising from this prayer and joining her little hands she added these words: "Blessed Mother, never allow me to lose holy purity. Place me under your mantle, guard this treasure for me, and I shall become more pleasing to Jesus." A few days before her death, finding herself alone, although she had lost all strength and could not stand, she rose, and taken by surprise by a visitor, was found kneeling with her hands beneath her knees, reciting her usual 3 Hail Mary’s for purity.
As she advanced in years, her love of the angelic virtue of purity and her desire to preserve it without spot grew with her. This was a special object of her mortifications, penances and the custody of her senses. It seemed to her that any liberty, however innocent and insignificant it may be, might discolor this beautiful flower, and so as to avoid this she took every precaution. She never went near a mirror, not even to do her hair or wipe away the stains of blood that flowed from her forehead when crowned with mystic thorns, or to wipe the blood from her eyes during her dolorous contemplation. And when during impulses of Divine love, her heart took fire and burned the corresponding exterior part of her skin, and when by a dart of fire from the side of Jesus Crucified she felt a large wound open in her side; and when her heart itself by its mysterious throbbings greatly distorted and curved three of her ribs, although ignoring at first what such phenomena meant, she refrained from looking at or touching herself, and never did so on the frequent renewal of these various wonders.
We have seen already that from her earliest childhood she shrank from being touched by others, and from the most innocent caresses. In her childhood, she endeavored not even to allow her father to kiss her. When she lay on her deathbed and of her own accord she asked for Extreme Unction (Sacrament of the Sick -editor), great was her consternation at the thought of having to get her feet washed by someone elses hands. What was to be done? Her love of holy modesty gave her strength, and seizing on the first moment that she found herself alone, she put out her hand, took the basin, water and towel, and did all for herself; then full of joy, to those who came to do her the needful service she was able to say: "Thank you, but I don't need help; I have done all by myself."
During her first grave illness in 1898-1899, her family demanded that she be examined by physicians on several occasions. In her great modesty and purity, concerning this in her Autobiography she wrote-
"I never wanted to obey when they wished a doctor to visit me (for I never wanted anyone to touch me or see me.) One evening a doctor came unannounced, examined me by force and found an abscess on my body which he feared was very serious because he thought it had affected my spine.For a long time I had felt pain in that part of my body but I did not want to touch or look at it because when I was a little girl I had heard a priest say: "Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit." Those words had struck me and led me to guard my body as closely as possible. After he had visited me the doctor called a consultant. What affliction it caused me, dear Father, to have to uncover myself. Every time the doctor touched me I cried. After the consultation I grew steadily worse and I was forced to go to bed and was not able to move. Every remedy was used on me but instead of helping me they made me worse. While I was in bed I was ill at ease and a source of annoyance to all.The second day I was in bed I was not at peace and I wrote to Monsignor telling him that I wanted to see him. He came at once and I made a general confession, not indeed because I was so bad off but to regain peace of conscience which I had lost. After confession my peace with Jesus returned and as a sign of this, on that same evening I experienced a very deep sorrow for my sins.Then, dear Father, the pain became worse and worse and the doctors decided to operate on me (in that part of which I have spoken). Three doctors came (and what I suffered from the pain was as nothing). I felt pain and suffering only when I found myself in their presence almost entirely unclothed. Dear Father, how much better it would have been for me to die! Finally the doctors saw that all remedies were useless and they gave me up entirely. After that they came to see me only now and then through courtesy, so to speak."
Later, when Gemma was given the extraordinary grace of the Stigmata along with frequent ecstasies, her Confessor Monsignor Volpi requested that Doctors examine Gemma while in ecstasy, and also the stigmata, in hopes to document and authenticate their veracity. Concerning this, Gemma writes in her autobiography-
"Meanwhile the Friday occurrences continued and Monsignor thought it well to have a doctor visit me during one of them without my knowing it. But Jesus warned me saying: "Tell your confessor that in the presence of the doctor I will do none of the things that he desires." Following the advice of Jesus I told my confessor about this but he did as he had planned, and events turned out as Jesus had said, as you already know."
Concerning the Doctors examining Gemma's extraordinary charisms, Gemma's spiritual director, Father Germanus C.P. had a completely different opinion than Monsignor Volpi. He wrote to Cecilia Giannini stating:
“Please do not repeat the mistake of calling in the doctor. What would a doctor understand? He would say, 'Hysteria, hysteria' and that is all, and perhaps along with that a stupid laugh directed toward those who believe in the supernatural. And this ridicule the Catholic doctors know how to make even better that the unbelievers and freemasons. Therefore, absolutely no doctors! Tell Monsignor this in my name."
Father Germanus also wrote several letters to Monsignor Volpi, respectfully making the same request.
Gemma and the odor of sanctity
The angelic purity of Gemma's soul was reflected in her body, which in many ways presented quite unusual qualities. You would have said it was formed of some crystalline material. Although her body was neglected by her, it was resplendent in its exquisite regularity- not even during the trying maladies and illnesses that confined her to bed for such a long time did her body ever emit the least unpleasant exhalation. Some marvelled at hearing of this, and to satisfy their curiosity proved it by visiting her often, and remaining near her night and day. More than that, on several occasions those near her remarked how her person and also what she touched exhaled a delicious fragrance that certainly was not of this earth, since Gemma did not use unguents or perfumes, or even soap for washing except when necessary. Moreover, that grateful fragrance came quite unexpectedly and moved all to devotion. "Don't you perceive a fragrance?" said the bystanders one to another. "Our dear Gemma! Assuredly Jesus, or the heavenly Mother, or her Guardian Angel is here with her."
Of course, such a fact is not new in Christian hagiology; nay, it is told of many Saints, for example
Attacks from the Devil
A gift of such rare purity and chastity could not fail to be an object of hatred to the evil spirit, who certainly must have raged with fury against this angelic virgin so favored by God. An assault on so much virtue was a difficult undertaking, even for Hell. How was this simple dove to be assailed? She, so to speak, did not even know the name of vice. How then could this foul spirit insinuate his gross suggestions into a heart so pure and full of delicate sentiment? The wicked enemy himself foresaw from the start that he would have striven in vain, knowing for certain that God would not have given him power over her. Hence he employed all his guilty machinations in tormenting her externally. He represented lurid objects to her imagination and appeared to her himself, uttering vile words, and sometimes even coming to open violence. Although the saintly child quite often knew not what he meant by his wicked expressions, nevertheless through an instinctive sense of delicacy that penetrated her whole being, she felt that it was wrong. Accordingly, from the very outset she armed herself against her enemy and gave him determined resistance. And, although he found on trial the uselessness of his attempts, he nevertheless renewed his attacks merely to frighten and torment his innocent victim. Indeed it is impossible to express what a cruel torture it was for this angelic girl to see and hear such abominable things. Let her give us an idea of it herself in words spoken in tears at the feet of her spiritual Father-
"Oh Father, what terrible temptations these are! All temptations are painful, but these against holy purity torment me the most! What I undergo is known only to Jesus, who secretly guards me and"-note the sense of this expression-"He is pleased with me."
In order to avoid seeing those representations, the poor child, not knowing what else to do, used to shut her eyes and keep them so until the angel of impurity had gone. She also seized her Crucifix, called for aid to her dear Guardian Angel, to her patron Saints and above all to her Heavenly Mother. By these means, after long hours of fighting, being left free, she returned immediately to her soul's peace, and full of joy exclaimed: "Let us thank Jesus, that today also things have passed in the way most pleasing to Him."
But Gemma was not satisfied with this. Having learned that the Saints in order to repress similar temptations had resort to scourges, hair shirts, plunging into frozen water, etc., and believing that she ought to imitate those servants of God, she made up her mind to do so. And so earnestly did she set about it, that if obedience had not interposed, she would have cut her innocent body into bits. But, for all that, so great at times was her fear of being led in those horrible moments to offend against purity and chastity, that she lost sight of all else, even of the necessity to ask her confessor for permission, she took to the lash, the hair shirt; the knotted cord with sharp points, with which she tightly girt herself; and at times the pain of those sharp points penetrating her flesh caused her to faint.
Now, in the face of such heroic examples, ought we not blush? -We who professing to follow Jesus Christ in the ways of sanctity, yet show ourselves so tender towards our bodies, and so adverse to curbing its unruly appetities. Has not our Divine Saviour said- “…the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. ” (Matt 11:12).
"But to come to heaven requires purity of heart: give it to me, my Jesus....Yes, I so desire purity of heart!" -St Gemma GalganiClick here for a prayer to St Gemma for purity of heart