Saint Gemma offers her life for others


A duty which she wished to be reserved for herself alone, was the care of the sick in the large Giannini family. For this provided her with an excellent means of showing her gratitude. 'When she was with me,' attests Aunt Cecilia, 'she looked after those who were sick and showed them the greatest care and attention, being always punctual with the medicine, visiting them regularly, taking note of their temperature. We should have forgotten many things, but she was always so attentive and so exact. She had no favourites. She acted just the same whether it was my sister-in-law who was often sick, or Father Laurence Agrimonti, or a servant, or one of the children. She was always prepared, but spoke very little, and all this she did for the love of God.'

On one occasion Signora Justina [the mother of the Giannini family who had twelve children] was seriously ill with what the physician felt was cancer in the stomach. Notwithstanding all the remedies that were tried, she grew worse from day to day, and it was feared that she was dying. On her own initiative Gemma spent a great deal of time caring for her. Justina herself deposed as follows in the Processes for Beatification:

‘During my long sickness, Gemma of her own accord undertook to write down every day an account of the progress of the disease and filled several pages of a day-book .... I asked Doctor Nerici to read Gemma's manuscript in order that he might know the history of my sickness, and when he had done so he said:

"One would think this had been written by a doctor."

In order to obtain Justina's cure a friend of the family had arranged for a triduum in honour of the Sacred Heart in the Church of S. Giovanni. All the household took part in it. But Gemma- she whose heart was burning to be near Jesus- remained with the sick woman, and recited with her the prayers that were being said in the church.

Gemma must have received a revelation from heaven because one day she simply said to Cecilia "it is not cancer" but nevertheless she seemed to know that it was life-threatening. According to the testimony of Signora Justina, Gemma sometimes spent entire days in the sickroom without saying a word. And what was she meditating in that long silence? She was praying and making a heroic resolve--she was thinking of offering to Jesus her own life which seemed to her of no account, in exchange for the life of her benefactress who was also the mother of twelve children. She therefore approached her confessor and her director to obtain their permission. Thus she wrote to the Ven. Father Germanus:

'Father, the mother is very seriously ill. I have been thinking this way: when I was sick she was ready to help me even more than she was able, but I have had no opportunity of showing them gratitude. Perhaps the time has come? The mother is sick and I cannot make any return for all she has done for me. Up to the present I have offered for her only a little suffering, some little mortifications. . . . This morning I spoke to Jesus, and afterwards I said to my confessor: "I should like to give my life for the poor mother!"
He said:
"No. Absolutely no." I then said: "Two years, at least? May I not give at least that much!" Jesus was satisfied, and [throuugh the confessor said: "Yes, you may. However, on condition that the Father director is also satisfied!"

I want to make this promise, this vow, tomorrow morning, but I cannot unless I get your permission. Father, you will not refuse, will you? Two for Serafina, and two for the mother, and more if needed. I am very anxious that you should reply immediately.'

Serafina was a friend of Gemma who had mentioned her to her spiritual director before. 'I have only about eight years to live,' she wrote to him. 'I should like to give three to Serafina and keep the others for myself.' After several refusals and many evasions, Gemma persisted and at length she eventually obtained the desired consent. Signora Justina was cured except for an inconvenience of another nature which Gemma herself had foretold. Gemma, however, became seriously ill with stomach trouble, and was in violent pain. It seems that she literally took upon herself the pains of Justina's illness. Aunt Cecilia realized how much she was suffering because Gemma said that the effect of 'swallowing a drop of water was like a burning fire in her stomach'. Father Germanus attests that both of the women mentioned above got better, but that Gemma died at the exact end of the period she had bargained to live. In the letter to Father Germanus she wrote "I have only about 8 years to live", and Gemma was 22 years old when she was given the permission to make the offering of 'three years for Serafina, and two years for Justina' and the fact remains that Gemma died exactly three years later, at age 25.

If the laying down of one's life out of love for a person who returns it, is according to the Gospel an act of the greatest charity, what must be said of that charity by which one is impelled to offer one's life and one's services on behalf of a person by whom one is actually despised? There was a servant in the house who had a disgusting wound in the leg, which was dressed by Gemma with every care even though she received only abuse in return. Euphemia Giannini (who later became a nun named Mother Gemma Giannini) said that when passing the room where the servant was ill, she saw 'Gemma on her knees kiss and then dress and bandage the sore.'

Here is another rare and sublime act of heroism on the part of Gemma. When Gemma used to go to the Convent of the ‘Mantellate' Nuns, she heard that one of the religious nuns frequently suffered greatly from terrible attacks of the Devil. What was she to do to help her? Gemma was not one to measure the extent of her generosity, or to hesitate at obstacles. She immediately decided to offer to take upon herself these diabolical attacks in order that the nun might be thereby released from suffering. Besides, she would have liked to undergo this kind of suffering on behalf of sinners. Having obtained Monsignor Volpi's permission, she asked Jesus to make the exchange. The nun was freed and Gemma was submitted to this new and awful suffering. There must have been many poor sinners who reaped spiritual profit from this extraordinary act of charity!

In fact throughout her life Gemma had long worked, suffered and prayed for the salvation of sinners when a few years before her death Jesus decided, as it were, to invest her solemnly with this mission of converting souls, and thereby consecrating her as an acceptable victim to His most Sacred Heart. Thus Gemma became a victim soul suffering in union with Jesus for the conversion of sinners. In fact, only two days before her death, she obtained one of her many conversions. It was her last. She had prayed long and earnestly for this man who was well known for his sinful actions. During her last illness she said: 'I shall bear him on my shoulders, all this Lent, but then I shall leave him alone.' And indeed she did leave him alone on Holy Thursday, the day he was touched with sorrow for his sins and returned to God by a humble confession, to the great surprise of all who knew him. And having brought this last sinner back to God, Gemma died two days later- on Holy Saturday, as the bells of the Easter Vigil where beginning to ring.

After her death Gemma continued to prove her gratitude to her benefactors. The patriarch of the family, Chevalier Matthew Giannini well recognized this and gave this testimony:
“For my part I must say this, that although my five sons were all at the war, exposed to the greatest dangers, they all came back safe and sound, and one who had been appointed to a very dangerous post, was not sent at th last moment. All this I owe, I believe, to the intercession of Gemma, to whom we have always prayed. And I think that it is to her I also owe the success of all my sons. They are a great consolation to me, for they go to Holy Communion every day, and are much occupied in promoting Catholic Action. Of my daughters, five are nuns, one has remained at home and one is married.'

Notwithstanding all this, Gemma feared that she was a source of scandal to her benefactors. Thus she wrote to a nun:
'Say a prayer for me, Mother, that Jesus may give me the grace to set a good example to this family and not to be a scandal to it.'

The reader of these lines will remember how charitable Gemma was as a child, how she was even still more charitable when her family fell from prosperity to absolute want. In the Giannini household, the desire she had of assisting the poor, did not meet with so many obstacles, and she was able to satisfy it to her heart's content. The Gianninis, knowing her kind-heartedness, made her the channel of their charities to the poor, and Aunt Cecilia's recollections give us an insight into this aspect of Gemma's virtue. The poor have a way of finding out where they will be well treated, and there was always a goodly number who knocked at the Gianninis' door. Gemma knew their knock, being able to distinguish it from others. She went, therefore, to offer whatever Aunt Cecilia had set apart for the poor. Sometimes, however, there was a disagreement between Gemma and her adopted mother. But we had better give Aunt Cecilia's own account:

“In order to be able to help her neighbour, Gemma was willing to go hungry. She would have liked to give away everything. On the contrary I did not approve of this and I scolded her because, I said, I did not want to encourage the poor to come to the house in a procession. Besides, in case of any trouble I should not have been able to help Gemma. At table she usually put aside something for the poor, and then when there was a knock at the door, she would ask my permission to give it away. I used to answer: "Yes, but you must not bring them into the house."

'She then took whatever she could and brought it to them. She used to sit with the poor person at the back of the stairs in the loggia, and it was while I watched from a window looking on to the stairs that I heard the good advice she gave her poor.'
Gemma used to give the poor short instructions in the Catechism, hoping thereby to raise their thoughts to Heaven and thus make the sorrows of life more tolerable.

Aunt Cecilia declared that Gemma often urged her to visit certain sick people who otherwise would never have been visited, and for this purpose put forward such arguments that she was obliged to yield, and Mother Gemma Giannini attests that it can truly be said that all her aunt's (Cecilia's) charities were inspired by Gemma.

In fact Gemma had to be closely watched, for she would have given away everything that belonged to her, although she was scrupulous in her care of the goods of the house. She had not much to give, however. Her furniture consisted of a rough chest of drawers in which she kept her linen, and a little table. Every month her aunt at Camaiore sent her five or six lire, but her various charities claimed this money immediately. When she first came to the Gianninis' she had about thirty lire which she had given to Palmira Valentini for safe keeping. A certain person in need asked for it, and Gemma would have given it away at once, only she was accustomed to ask permission in such circumstances from Aunt Cecilia. However, both Aunt Cecilia and her confessor Monsignor Volpi opposed this, and the former kept the money for the use of Gemma and her family.

But Gemma's charity was not confined to the material sphere. Matthew Giannini deposed that when she went with them to the country, 'she instructed the men and the boys, teaching them their catechism, and giving good advice to many of them.'
And Joseph, the lawyer, adds: 'She taught the little children to have devotion to the Blessed Virgin and to their Guardian Angels.'
Once when Euphemia gave way somewhat to vanity wearing a beautiful dress in hopes of being seen by others in going out for a walk with her father, Gemma met her on the stairs, and smilingly said: 'Whoever tries to please men, does not succeed in pleasing Jesus.'
These words haunted the girl during the whole walk. Gemma never let slip a chance of doing good. On another occasion Euphemia asked her to give her a thought that would serve as a line when practising handwriting, and Gemma suggested the following words: 'If everyone would endeavour to know and love God, this world would be changed into a Paradise.'

-Source for this article is the excellent book "Blessed Gemma Galgani" by Padre Amedeo, C.P., 1935.

“How good Jesus always is! I desire never to leave Jesus. I want to offer Him all that I have. I want to offer Him all of myself. But what do I possess? Nothing but my sins, my miseries and my great self-love. And this is the gift that I make to Jesus. But, He will have compassion on my misery. I fall and fall again, but Jesus is with me. He will give me strength. He will give me grace. Thy mercy, oh Lord, is the foundation of all my hopes. I know that the mercy of God is greater than my ingratitude.” –Words of St Gemma Galgani.

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