By: Glenn Dallaire
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's sufferings for the sake of his body, that is, the church” – St Paul to the Colossians (Col 1:24)
We read that St Gemma was a “victim soul”, but what exactly does this mean? Having read the lives of numerous mystics, the one’s that I have found most interesting are the “victim souls”, like St Faustina Kowalska, St (Padre) Pio of Pietrelcina, Therese Neumann, Blessed Alexandrina Maria da Costa, Marie Rose Ferron, Marthe Robin and finally my favorite and the subject of this website, St Gemma Galgani.
In the reading of these lives, I have caught glimpses of this great mystery of a “victim soul”. It is something that has always struck me, an explanation of which I will try to share in this article. It should be noted however, that I am not a theologian in any sense of the term, so I will try to avoid wading too deep into mystical and theological waters, of which I am not equipped or gifted.
Co-redeemers with Christ
A victim soul is a person especially called by God to sacrifice and suffer in union with Him for the conversion of souls, and in reparation for the sins of mankind. In other words, their mission is to lead souls to God. Most notably is the special union between Jesus and the soul victim. Jesus is not only with them, He is in them, and they are thus united to God in a special way for the conversion of sinners. Thus united, they are in a special sense, co redeemers with Christ. With this in mind we have St Paul who says-
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Galations 2:20).
Certainly the concept of a sacrificial victim is nothing new, as it has been in practice since the times of the Old Testament. In it, we read that the Jewish priests would make burnt offerings of animals as “victims” for sacrifice to God for expiation of sin (cf Lev. 16 for example). However, these victim sacrifices as sin offerings were really a prefigurement of the ultimate sacrificial Victim, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the King of victim souls. He is the perfect and unblemished offering- "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. Jesus is the redeemer of fallen humanity, and it is through Him that our sins are forgiven
Nevertheless, in the mysterious design of the Eternal Father, a certain reparation must still be made for sin. Thus St Paul states-
It is precisely in this strain that Gemma writes:
“I am happy in every way that Jesus wills, and if Jesus wants the sacrifice of my life, I give it to Him at once. If He wants anything else, I am ready. One thing alone is enough for me; to be his victim, in order to atone for my innumerable sins, and if possible, for those of the whole world”
The close union of Jesus with His victim souls is essential for the accomplishment of the reparation and redemption that He desires through them. It requires their free cooperation not only with His grace, but their complete abandonment to His holy Will. As I mentioned earlier, Jesus it seems, is not only with them, He is in them. And it is precisely through this close union with Jesus that the reparation and co redemption is accomplished through the sacrifices and in the sufferings of the victim soul. Thus Saint Gemma, for example, in union with the Passion of Jesus, suffered at times the stigmata, the scourgings, the crown of thorns etc. on Thursday evenings into Friday afternoons, that is, the time period that Jesus suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane until His death on the Cross at 3pm on Good Friday. It is precisely through this close association of the mystic with Jesus’ suffering that the accomplishment of the reparation is made.
As an example of such events we can read for example Ms. Cecilia Giannini’s testimony, St Gemma’s “adopted mother”, who writes:
“If you wish to form some idea of it, recall to mind the large Crucifix that we have in the house, before which Gemma was in the habit of praying; she [Gemma]was like that. The same livid marks, the same torn open gashes in the skin and flesh in the same parts of the body, equally long and deep and equally horrifying to behold. Blood came from her wounds in great abundance. When she was standing, it flowed to the ground, and when in bed it not only wet the sheets, but saturated the whole mattress. I measured some streams or pools of this blood, and they were from twenty to twenty-five inches long and about two inches wide.”
We will find this suffering in union with Jesus in the lives of all the victim souls. One of the countless examples we could offer could be the American mystic and stigmatist, Marie Rose Ferron. In Father O.A. Boyer’s excellent book “She Wears a Crown of Thorns” we read:
“One day, Rose made the following remark to her mother and a few friends who were sitting at her bedside- ‘How is it that I lose so much blood, when I have so little?’
[According to her spiritual director, Rev Father O.A. Boyer, due to her severe illness and overall poor health, Marie-Rose Ferron was reduced to perhaps 80 or so pounds in weight. Additionally, she often bled profusely through her stigmata, her crown of thorns and also the wound in her side. This is why she said ‘I have so little’ -editor]
“She had hardly said these words when she was rapt into ecstasy, and she began to talk [with Jesus] saying: ‘Oh, it is Your Blood that gushes out from my veins?....As for me, I am a mere nothing….nothing….Oh my Jesus!’
In their extraordinary love for Jesus, the victim soul has a great desire to suffer in union with Him. And so in a letter on Feb. 23rd, 1901, Gemma writes:
"Jesus knows of my disposition to suffer everything to make reparation for my sins. He sees once again the pain I feel at all my ingratitude and also the pain I suffer when I see Him so mistreated. On Friday then I propose to do this: with a contrite heart I will go in front of Jesus ready to receive from His hand anything that will please Him in reparation for the many outrages that He receives. Strike me; strike me Jesus. I will bless a million times the hand that will exert upon me a most just chastisement. So dear Dad, I ask Jesus to have me suffer; and to suffer much..."
And so, there we have an explanation and description of the special vocation of victim soul.
For those interested, here is an excellent article on the Virgin Mary's role in the lives of the Victim Souls and their battle against the demons. The article is based on the booklet "Mary Crushes the Serpent."
“...Therefore Jesus do not abandon poor sinners. I am ready to do something. You died on the Cross , make me die also on the cross. They [sinners] are all your children... do not abandon them. Jesus, I want to save them all... am I not the one that must suffer for them? Therefore cast Your anger at me. You have so many sinners, but You have so few victims." –St Gemma Galgani