Gemma's charity for others made her the angel of kindness and love. She practised this virtue over a wide field according to the circumstances in which she found herself. Gemma’s great love for God was the inspiring motive behind her charity towards her neighbour. 'Her life was a continual prayer,' said Father Gentile Pardini, a Franciscan who knew her very well and who often heard her confession. 'For her the Crucifix was a book.' According to another witness ‘Gemma's thoughts were always centered upon God. Every day she made a meditation upon one of the mysteries of Faith, most often upon the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ’. This witness further testified to the occasions where she found Gemma ‘in a chair rapt in profound recollection as she looked at a picture of Our Lady of Sorrows which she held in her hand.’ Ths love for Jesus and Mary inspired her to love others out of love for Them.
She wrote in her Autobiography:
“Every time I went out I used to ask father for money, and if, as sometimes happened, he refused I would take bread and flour and other things. And God arranged that I should often meet poor people, every time I left the house. To the poor who came to the door I gave clothes and whatever else I had. Then my confessor forbade me to do this, and I did not do it anymore, and by this Jesus worked in me a new conversion. For since my father no longer gave me money and I could not take anything from the house, when I went out and the poor came to me, I had nothing to give them. This was a great sorrow and always made me weep, that in the end I only left the house when it was absolutely necessary to do so.”
Elisa Galgani, Gemma’s aunt, had some interesting things to say about Gemma’s love for those suffering:
'She often visited the sick in the Hospital, to whom she brought a little money or something else, and whom she comforted especially by speaking of God. She also overflowed with charity for the poor and used every means in her power to help them. Sometimes she would take something from the house to take to an old man who lived at the corner of our street. At that time we ourselves were in reduced circumstances, so that I felt compelled to tell her:
"There will be nothing left for our own supper." Gemma used to answer: 'Providence will give us plenty.' And indeed, several times things were brought to us to give to the sick or the poor. She also used to work for the poor, made them stockings and mended for them. Naturally she could not spend much money upon these charities, but she was large hearted and longed for opportunities to work for her neighbour.'
Besides the old man already mentioned, there was I young country girl to whom Gemma gave a coat, and another person for whom she procured some Marsala wine when he was sick. These acts of charity made her Aunt Elisa uneasy, and she told Gemma that if she continued to be so liberal she would leave nothing for herself. Gemma replied calmly that one coat was all she needed.
Gemma was poor for a time herself
The death of her father and the poverty of the family in Gemma's own words
Gemma writes in her Autobiography"
"We entered on the year 1897, I alone, without heart [she used these words to hide what in her was heroic virtue], remained unmoved by so many misfortunes. That which most grieved the others [note: the others, not herself] after Papa's fatal illness, was to be left without means. I understood one morning the greatness of the sacrifice that Jesus required at once, and I shed many tears. But Jesus, during those days of sorrow, made Himself all the more sensibly present in my soul; and even from seeing Papa so resigned to die, I drew such strength that I bore this bitter separation with great tranquillity. The day he died, Jesus forbade me to give way to useless grief, and I spent it in prayer, fully resigned to the most Holy Will of God, who then became my earthly and heavenly Father."
"After Papa's death on November 11, 1897, we were left without anything, and had not even the means of supporting life. We had only enough to live on…”
But in her love of suffering in silence and her charity for others Gemma did not give all the details of what happened around the deathbed of that honest and upright man, while his seven children looked on helplessly, stunned by the blow they had received. It seems impossible that men should be so cruel, or that greed for money should so deaden the most elementary feelings of compassion.
Scarcely had the news of Enrico Galgani's death got abroad when his creditors arranged with the authorities to send police and bailiffs to close his shop and seize all his furniture. They went further. They searched the children's pockets and made them hand over every penny they had. In her autobiography, Gemma mentioned only this herself: 'They put their hands in my pocket and took the five or six soldi that I had.'
Cecilia Giannini, Gemma's adopted mother, who will be frequently met with in these pages, said:
‘Gemma knew the name of the man who had put his hand in her pocket but she would never tell me his name. I found it out later on, and I know that he died in the hospital. Nor did she ever speak of the other creditors.'
Gemma and her family are reduced to poverty and dire want
Thus the Galgani family was in the literal sense of the word thrown out on the roadside, with nothing left except their tears. To crown their misfortune their aunts, who had signed over their property to their brother, also lost all they possessed. This family of nine was therefore reduced to absolute poverty. The sad story is told by two witnesses. Cecilia Giannini deposed :
‘The family was ruined and at times reduced to such straits that it was necessary to solicit help from others ... to beg. Elisa Galgani told me that it was she who went out to try and get something for a family that was dying of hunger, and how she met a man who gave her a franc with which she bought a loaf of bread and a few things to bring home.
During the months in which Gemma came to us and returned home in the evening, she used not to stay for dinner, because we dined late, and I usually accompanied her home after Benediction. Once I said to her: "You won't be offended if I buy you a couple of eggs? You can eat them when you get home." She answered that she certainly would not be offended, so I bought them and gave them to her. I afterwards learnt that she had used them to make an omelette on which the family dined. But she told me this only when I insisted, and on condition that I would not divulge it. Having thus come to know of their poverty, I used to give things to the aunts, who willingly accepted what I gave. When about to set out to accompany Gemma home in the evening, I sometimes said to her: "Do you want anything? Have you something to eat when you get home?" And sometimes she would say: "Let me have a little wine and that will do for my supper." And that was all she wanted; she used to say even that it was too much. When she reached home she would say that she had already had her supper.'
Justina Giannini deposed the following statement during the official canonisation process:
'...the Galgani family was so badly off that often they had nothing to eat, and that it was said that collections were made throughout the city for these poor people who had once known ease and comfort, and who in consequence were ashamed to beg and thus make their poverty known.'
According to Elisa Galgani this state of affairs lasted a long time:
'We had nothing. The Court and the creditors took all. In the beginning we depended upon the charity of the good, but afterwards Guido [Gemma's older brother] got a position as chemist at the City Hospital.'
Gemma, however, was not appalled by the poverty to which she and her family were reduced, because she considered poverty and the sorrows of life as precious gifts from God-as an ignored inheritance reserved by Him for the elect.
'This is the state of life God desired for us,' she often said to the family, and was content thus to fulfil the will of God. 'And not only did she love to be poor,' continued her aunt, 'but she encouraged us to love it also. And at this time we were in want even of necessaries!'
According to her own account she tried to bear the heaviest burdens that arose from this state of affairs and to alleviate the sufferings which the others endured as a result of their poverty. 'No matter how small it was,' said Elisa Galgani, 'Gemma always reserved the smallest portion for herself.' And another witness declared I hat she ate very little in order to have more to give to her brothers.
Gemma knew how to inspire others with her own confidence in God. A domestic servant from her uncle's home at Camaiore, deposed:
'In these sad circumstances Gemma found a means of exciting even myself to have confidence in the Providence of God. She used to say to me: "Say the Rosary of five decades with these words: 'Providence of God, have mercy on me.' When you have said that ten times, add: 'Providence of God, Thou has provided for me,' or, 'Providence of God, He will provide.' "
Gemma also expressed the same sentiments to her Aunt Elisa, 'Have patience, have patience, God will provide.' And after reviewing the historical record of this time in Gemma’s life we see that God always did provide.
-Primary Source is the excellent book “Blessed Gemma Galgani” by Padre Amedeo, C.P. ,translated by Osmund Thorpe C.P., 1935.
-St Gemma, pray for us!
"Have no fear to approach Jesus; go to Him with confidence. Listen to what He says to you: 'I stay here waiting for thee: I am looking, longing, for thee: come to Me then, I am thy Father.'
Go and meet Him, then, with a loving embrace, hide Him in your little heart and close Him up there forever." -St Gemma Galgani