“Revenge Thyself upon me, but spare all sinners!" –St Gemma speaking to Jesus
-Below is excerpts from the rare book “Blessed Gemma Galgani” by Padre Amedeo, trans. by Osumund Thorpe C.P., 1935. This book is full of details about St Gemma not available in English elsewhere.
GEMMA SHARES IN THE SACRED PASSION
On one occasion Jesus said to Gemma: 'My daughter, there are a few of your age in Heaven to whom it has been given to share so largely in My sufferings.’
One by one Gemma experienced all the sorrows of the drama of the Sacred Passion, so that the prayer she had uttered was completely answered: ‘Jesus is the Man of Sorrows, and I desire to become the daughter of sorrow.' This was always the one desire of her heart. 'When will the time come when I can embrace the Cross, and feel the thorns, the nails, the pains . . . and be as it were immersed in the Wounds of my Saviour? . . .'
From the moment that Jesus appeared to her covered with wounds and wearing the crown of thorns Gemma intensely longed to help Him in the conversion of sinners that is, the redemption of humanity. She did indeed become so steeped in the Passion of Christ that she once said: 'I am fruit of Thy Passion, a flower of Thy Wounds."
THE SUFFERINGS OF GETHSEMANI
Before the Redeemer of the world suffered the awful torture of the scourging, the crowning with thorns, and the Crucifixion, He underwent the Agony in the Garden, in which He shed His blood so copiously. Among the causes that contributed to the Agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani were the sins and the ingratitude of mankind. The same considerations made Gemma not only sweat blood, but even shed tears of blood, as was testified by witnesses in the Processes for her Beatification. One of these, Mother Gemma Giannini, asserted that so great was Gemma's grief over the sins of the world and for those which she thought she herself had committed, that she often sweated blood and even wept tears of blood. 'She used to sweat blood because of the sins that gave such great offence to God,' declared Cecilia Giannini, 'and she often said in ecstasy:' "Revenge , Thyself upon me, but spare all sinners!"
Gemma would sweat blood on numerous occasions, often accompanied by the crown of thorns and/or the stigmata. This mysterious phenomenon manifested itself particularly once during a whole month when Jesus called her to suffer for priests. And she also experienced the deep sorrow of the Passion and would sweat blood (and on at least one occasion fainted) when anyone blasphemed God in her presence. But first we shall contemplate the crown of thorns.
THE CROWN OF THORNS
One of the most exquisite torments suffered by Jesus in His Passion was the crowning with thorns. For a long time Gemma desired to wear this diadem, and her desire grew all the more ardent when Jesus Himself allowed her to see Him crowned with thorns, and asked her whether she would like to be crowned in the same way.
The first time that she mentioned this matter in her diary was on July 19, 1900. She wrote:
‘This evening at last, after six days of suffering through Jesus withdrawing Himself from me, I am somewhat recollected. I began to pray as I am accustomed to do every Thursday. I began to think of the Crucifixion of Jesus. At first I did not feel anything, but after a few moments I became a little recollected, Jesus was near. To the recollection there succeeded what usually happens. I went into ecstasy and I found myself with Jesus Who was suffering excruciating pains. What was I to do, seeing Jesus suffer without being able to help Him? I felt then a great desire to suffer and I asked Jesus to grant me this grace. He granted my wish immediately and did what He had done on other occasions.'
And here, after having described how she received the crown of thorns from Jesus, she continued: ‘And so I remained an hour suffering with Jesus. I should have liked to remain there the whole night.' On the following day, July 20, she wrote again: 'At three o'clock I was again in the presence of Jesus .... He took off the crown from my head, and put it on His own head again, and I ceased to suffer pain.'
But Gemma began to live these 'sorrowful, but happy moments' long before this date.
Her own words imply this: 'He did what He had done on other occasions.' Perhaps the King had placed His precious diadem upon the head of His beloved Gemma before He had allowed her to bear the marks of His Wounds. If we are not to confuse it with the sweat of blood over her whole body, of which we have spoken, this phenomenon took place during her first stay with the 'Mantellate' nuns. It was deposed in the Processes that one of these religious on arranging Gemma's hair noticed to her great surprise that every hair had a drop of blood on it.
Besides, the several witnesses who spoke of the manifestations of the Stigmata also mentioned that blood flowed freely from her head. But the evidence given by the priest, Father Laurence Agrimonti, deserves to be quoted. In his account of the extraordinary things that happened to Gemma during the first months of her stay with the Giannini family, that is i It 1899 before she came to live permanently there, he writes: 'On August 20, I, the undersigned, saw Signorina Gemma Galgani, sitting in a chair, she being as in a trance, with her face and hands all stained with blood, and on her forehead certain marks in the form of a crown of thorns.'
Matthew Giannini, one of the older Giannini children deposed: 'I saw her and it seemed as if she had a drop of blood on every hair. It was her own blood. I saw the stains left on the cloths with which my sister wiped away the blood, and these cloths were afterwards sent to the laundry. At first the blood exuded from the skin near the hair. Afterwards it came out all over her forehead, as if there was a crown of small red drops dripping down upon her face.' Similar descriptions were given by other members of the Giannini family. Joseph Giannnini, the lawyer, gave the following evidence under oath:
‘I saw on one occasion, I believe it was on Good Friday... something like a circle of blood on her forehead. Some drops were running down her temples, and it really seemed to me that she was exuding blood from the skin, I did not touch her, but my aunt wiped away the blood with white cloths and these showed the true red stain of blood. The blood, however, continued to come. It was certainly a sweat of blood. She was in ecstasy, and suffered much. The circle of blood reached across her forehead from the hair on one side to the hair on the other. I do not know, and I did not try to find out, whether the circle continued its way through the hair. The width of this circle was some millimetres in the top part of the forehead, leaving unaffected a little space between the circle and the beginning of the hair, as well as the lower part of the forehead upon which the blood was dripping.'
'The wearing of the crown commenced on Thursday at the usual hour' said Mother Gemma Giannini [Euphemia Giannini's name in religion] 'and ceased on Friday evening.' This same religious likewise deposed that she heard certain words spoken by Gemma in an ecstasy that preceded the manifestation of this phenomenon. From this testimony one must conclude that her Guardian Angel appeared to her, holding two crowns, one of roses and one of thorns, and invited her to choose. In this ecstasy Gemma said: 'Better that which belongs to Jesus. As you well know, my dear Angel, I recognize that which is His. Give it to me....'
It was observed that on Thursday she suffered more than on Friday evening, and when she was asked why this was, she explained that on Thursday the thorns were driven in, and on Friday they were taken out. Once it was noticed that there remained for a short time in the middle of her forehead near her hair a triangular wound, very distinct and visible. The pain of this coronation was intense. 'She lay stretched out on the bed with only her head to be seen,' said Mother Gemma Giannini. 'Blood was flowing in drops from her forehead, from her eyes like unto tears which afterwards coagulated, from her nose even, and was running down upon her neck like two streamlets, so that gathering under her throat it formed a small mass of blood. In the morning she got up and washed and then not a trace of the phenomena I have described remained. She went to Mass and fulfilled her usual duties.'
Cecilia Giannini speaks of a special manifestation of this phenomenon which took place on Good Friday, 1902. Gemma was occupied with the devotion of the Three Hours' Agony, when there opened on her forehead a punctured wound which later on almost disappeared, only to come again every Thursday, and this continued until the end of June of the same year.
Cecilia Giannini, who more frequently than anyone was a spectator of these phenomena, in order to give an idea of how Gemma looked when she participated in the crowning with thorns, likened her to an 'Ecce Homo'. And what a martyrdom Gemma must have suffered at these times! Certainly it would melt a heart of stone to hear her repeat in ecstasy: 'Oh Jesus, my head! It is too much-I cannot bear it any longer, I cannot bear it any longer! ... My Jesus, help me !' Nevertheless she wanted all this pain, as a proof that Jesus loved her, and as a demonstration of the love she bore Him in return. She earnestly sought to share in His suffering out of her instense love for Him. 'Oh Jesus, show me that You love me. At other times when I asked Thee, Thou didst allow me to feel the Wounds of Thy Passion, the thorns ... I give myself to Thee, 0 Jesus. . . . Oh God, more, more, oh Jesus…still more! Now, Jesus, I know that You love me !' and in a letter she 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 WOUNDS AND SCOURGING
Gemma desired a still deeper participation in the Passion. She wanted to bear the wounds, and with the wounds, the pain of the scourging. 'Oh my God, give me Thy wounds; they are mine and no longer Thine; give them to me. Quick, oh Jesus; if Thou waits I shall die!' In her abounding love, she longed for a share, not in a few, but in everyone of the torments of the Passion. 'Oh Jesus, let me share in all Thy sorrows; let me suffer while I love, suffer for Jesus who loves, and die suffering for Jesus!'
God answered the prayers of Gemma, not only by satisfying these desires, but also by sharpening them still more. 'This morning after Holy Communion,' she wrote, 'Jesus said to me: "If it is true that you love Me so much as you say, I want you to bear My image impressed upon you. Look at Me! You will see Me ill-treated, despised by all, dead on a Cross. And I invite you also to die on a Cross for me.' Then He showed her the instruments of the Passion. How such a sight made her heart beat! This is how she writes to her spiritual Father: 'It seems impossible; Jesus is so determined. He came yesterday evening before I began to suffer. He came and He had in His hands all the instruments of the Passion. I do not know what He meant. He showed them to me one by one. When He had finished I wanted to say something, but at that moment I could not say a word, and Jesus went away and left me alone....'
But she consoles herself with the thought that Thursday is near. 'Father, this evening is Thursday evening !' And in another letter she explains why she looks forward with such joyous expectation to the Holy Hour: 'How happy I am after I have spent an hour compassionating Jesus! When Thursday evening draws near, I feel absolutely different, so happy: For me Friday is always a festival day.' [Lettere ed estasi, p. 30.]
These divine favours added new fuel to the fire of love that burnt within her, and she cried out to Jesus: 'Love has indeed slain Thee! My Jesus, make me also die of love! Life will be a torment. There is no one in the world who can satisfy my affections, only Thou. The thorns, the Cross, the nails, all are the work of love.' or again ' Yes, I love the Cross, the Cross alone, because I see it always on Thy shoulders. I see well, my Jesus, that all my love is for Thee and Thy sufferings.' or again 'The Wounds of Jesus speak to me with such sweet violence that I should like . . . Oh my Jesus, I should like my heart to be possessed with but one desire, such as the saints had, that I might be able in some way to love Thee.'
The phenomena which we have described continued to be manifested in Gemma until February, 1901, when by order of her spiritual director, she prayed to Jesus to be freed from them. Her prayers were heard. But although the Stigmata disappeared, a new torture took their place--the scourging. The following is the account she gave of it to Father Germanus, her spiritual director:
'Something has happened which I never experienced before....You know that on Thursday and Friday Jesus gives me a little present, and this week another still more dear to me was added. He allowed me to feel some of the blows of His scourging over all the body, very painful, Father, but it was nothing compared with the merciless blows which Jesus received. You remember, we prayed together that Jesus might take away every external sign, and behold Jesus has added another in its place. Viva Gesu! May He be infinitely thanked! Nevertheless He assured me that to please me He would take away the external signs . . . but He added: "Your sufferings will increase and a different life will begin for you....“
To Monsignor Volpi she afterwards wrote thus:
‘It was just at the time when I was praying Jesus to take away all external signs, but Jesus instead added another. He allowed me to feel a few blows of His scourging. To the pain in the hands, feet, head and heart, this was also added. May He be forever thanked! So about five o'clock I began to feel so great a sorrow for my sins that I seemed to be beside myself through fright; but to this there succeeded almost immediately a hope in the mercy of God which calmed me. I did not feel any pain yet.
'After about an hour I seemed to see my Guardian Angel who was holding two crowns in his hands, one of thorns made in the form of a hat, and the other made of the whitest lilies. The sight of the Angel caused me as usual to be a little afraid, but afterwards it caused me joy. Together we adored the Majesty of God...and then showing me the two crowns, he asked me which one I should like. I did not want to answer because the Father had forbidden me to do so, but he insisted, saying that it was he who was commanding it, he blessed me and made an offering of me to the Eternal Father, saying to me that I was to forget myself and think only of sinners that night. I was persuaded by these words, and I told the Angel that I would have chosen that of Jesus. He showed me the one of thorns.... I kissed it several times, and after he had placed it on my head the Angel disappeared.
'I began then to suffer in my hands, feet and head, and later on in all the body, and I felt heavy blows. I spent the night in that way, and in the morning I forced myself to get up, so that no one would know these things. The blows and the pain I felt until about two o'clock. At that time the Angel came back, and to tell the truth I could scarcely bear it any longer-and he made me feel well, saying that Jesus had had compassion on me because I was yet a little one, and incapable of suffering with Jesus until the hour in which He expired.... But I was worried about one thing, the marks had not disappeared. In the morning when I received Holy Communion I prayed very fervently to Jesus that the marks would be taken away, and He promised that on the day of His Passion He would take them away.'
From the documents quoted, it must be inferred that Gemma began to suffer the new torment of the scourging about February 7 or 8, 1901, and that the Stigmata ceased on February 12, the Feast of the Commemoration of the Passion. The phenomenon was repeated on the four Fridays of March, and on a few other occasions, as we can see from her letters, although we cannot say exactly how many times they occurred because they passed unobserved. The following is an account given by Cecilia Giannini of the phenomena that happened in March. We have compressed it somewhat :
‘Some weeks she suffered neither the Stigmata nor the crowning with thorns. I was pleased. One evening, however, I saw that she was suffering very much, and went to bed earlier than usual, and seeing this I watched her. I thought she was ill and I was not thinking of the extraordinary things, when suddenly I saw little streaks of blood on the backs of her hands. I uncovered her neck and her arms, turning the sleeves of her nightdress up a little. Gemma was in ecstasy. But I was not thinking of what it could be, and believing that it was her own blood that was trickling from her skin, I tried to wipe away the blood from the back of the hand with a cloth which became stained. It was her own blood. I could not imagine how the thing was happening, but I heard her say in the ecstasy: "Are these Thy lashes, Jesus?" And that made me think it was the scourging.
'This was on the first Friday of March, the manifestation having commenced on the Thursday evening before. It lasted until about four or five in the afternoon of Friday. This was repeated on the Thursday and Friday of the next three weeks of March. In these other ecstasies the scourging was more extensive. In the second I noticed that the skin opened under the streaks of blood. In the third the wounds were wider, and I counted eleven wounds of which three were near the neck, two on the knees, and the others on the calves of the legs and on the arms. I did not uncover from under the neck to the knees, but I noticed that her nightdress was all stained with blood. I did not uncover her shoulders nor her back. On the shoulder of the nightdress, on the right shoulder, I believe, there was a big blood-stain, and besides there was blood all over the bed....A few days after the fourth Friday I said to her: "But tell me this. At first there were only red streaks, and now there are cuts and wounds. Why?"
She answered : "At first they were whips, and now they are scourges." ,
As happened with the other wounds of which we have spoken, all signs of this phenomenon disappeared after two or three days. On one occasion Aunt Cecilia bandaged two of these wounds on her shin, but they would not heal and even festered, whereas left unbandaged they healed of their own accord.
The wound on her shoulder mentioned by Cecilia Giannini was so big and so deep as to compel her to walk bent over towards that side. She felt the effect of it longer than the effects of the other wounds. One witness deposed that having placed a hand a few times on Gemma's shoulder, she said that she felt great pain there.
These things happened until April 5 of the same year, when at the voice of obedience the phenomena disappeared.
The following extracts were taken down while she was in ecstasy contemplating the sorrowful mystery of the scourging.
‘Oh Jesus to what a state Thou art reduced! Oh, the holy Person of Jesus has become a plaything for all! They blaspheme Thee, my Jesus, they treat Thee roughly, they curse Thee .... Oh Jesus, I am surprised that although I see Thee in the midst of these humiliations, I do not wish to hear them spoken of. Oh, if I were able, Jesus, with my blood I should wish... I should wish to wash with my blood all those places where I see Thee outraged!... No more blows on Thee, 0 Jesus. Thou hast not deserved them; I, yes; Thou, no It is I who am the sinner, Thou art innocent.' ,
Tonight, oh Jesus, I wish to suffer all; if You also wisht to suffer, then let us suffer together. Let me be one victim with Thee. Are You pleased oh Jesus? Strengthen me for this, 0 Jesus; I do not ask Thee anything more. Poor Jesus! What a terrible number of blows, poor Jesus! Those men are not sparing Thee, but Thy patience is not exhausted. Leave Jesus alone, beat me! Why revenge yourselves upon Jesus; revenge yourselves upon me. More still, 0 Jesus; more, oh God!...Still more, Jesus-and more, Jesus, more! My Jesus, help me in this hour! Oh Jesus, to whom else do You wish that I go for help? '
And the blows rained down upon the sufferer, so that the spectators of this scene sometimes thought she would die of pain and suffering.
ADDED SUFFERINGS--GEMMA'S HEART OVERFLOWS WITH THE LOVE OF GOD
Although the exterior manifestations ceased God allowed her to suffer just as much as before in those places. She did not shed blood, but that very fact, made her pain all the greater, for the flowing of the blood had given her some alleviation.
God, however, did grant her relief in the mouthfuls of blood which came from her heart. This is how she writes to her spiritual director: 'My Father, my heart being small needs to be enlarged, but there is no room .... It desires to expand, but I am so small; Jesus is infinite. . .' And on another occasion: 'Live, Jesus! Towards half past one my little heart could not contain itself and I began to spit up blood in great quantities.' And again: 'I have disobeyed Monsignor. In forbidding me all those things on Friday, he has forbidden me also to spit blood. Until now I have obeyed, but this morning-it was the Feast of St. Paul of the Cross, who himself had suffered so much from the same most desirable infirmity-about an hour after Communion, in a violent movement of my heart, a little blood came forth.'
Gemma's heart, all on fire as it was with love, could not but be affected by such ardent desires, and indeed It was so affected that three of her ribs were displaced on that side, as was discovered after her death.. 'Imagine' she wrote 'Jesus told me some time back that they (the feelings of burning and oppression in her heart) would every day grow more painful so that I should become unconscious, that in one of these, I do not know how to explain it, I should die. Live, Jesus!'
GEMMA SUFFERS HUMILIATIONS
To make the image of Jesus Crucified in Gemma more complete something was yet wanting. Jesus had been despised, humiliated, mocked spat upon in His Passion, and so was Gemma. Let us take a few facts from the Processes. 'Imagine anyone paying attention to a hysterical girl like that!' These and similar comments are what she sometimes overheard by people whispering about the 'strange girl who dresses so oddly'. And there were times when she went to the church for confession and she was made to wait a long time because purposely ignoring her, those present would not tell the priest that she was there waiting, or at other times she was found fault with because she went to confession so frequently. At times during her long last illness when she was confined to bed, those attending her would call one or another priest to give her Holy Communion, and often her requests received this answer or one similar: 'Go and see whether you can succeed in bothering another priest.' Gemma, however, was always calm and patient, and excused them, saying: 'They [the priests] would come if they were able.'
But here is an ever greater example of outrageously scornful words which were cast at her in the Giannini home by a religious from whom she least expected them, which shows us clearly her love for humiliations--"You worthless consumptive and tiresome nuisance, when will you die and cease to soil this house with your presence?" Gemma, far from being upset, answered calmly: 'You are right; what you say is true.' These humiliations, far from upsetting her, united her all the more to Jesus. 'One evening' deposed Annetta Giannini, 'when Aunt Cecilia, Gemma and I were entering the Church, some boys began to cruelly tease Gemma, but she however was not in the least angry and said: "By being despised by the world I am hoping then to become a saint."
-St Gemma, pray for us!
"Love Me as much as you can, and I will give you all that you desire. Love Me will all your heart, and I shall forgive you of all your sins." -Jesus to St Gemma Galgani