Showing posts with label St. Padre Pio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label St. Padre Pio. Show all posts

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wisdom from the Diary of St. Gemma Galgani

It's All Saints Day today. It seems appropriate to post about a saint. Recently I finished reading the Diary of St. Gemma Galgani. A little background on this saint, thanks to Glenn at Born in 1878, she was an Italian mystic, and at the time of her writing, she was 22. She was advised to write this journal at the prompt of her spiritual director. She passed away at age 25. I usually use an ereader now, and below are some of the highlights I made and additional reflections on this modern saint.

[E]yes that have been mortified will see the beauty of Heaven. (p. 10)

St. Gemma recalls numerous encounters she has with apparitions of Christ, saints, and her guardian angel. The previous quotation was told to her by her guardian angel. The eyes are often mentioned in Scripture for both good and bad. Job, feeling the torments of earthly life, cries out:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. (Job 19:25-27)
There is a certain goal for Job to "behold" God. Divine revelation gives another perspective on the "eyes" in the Gospels. For instance, in shocking language, it is written:
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matt. 18:9)
And so we are taught by the voice of God through Scripture 2 realities. 1) We must remove our "sinful eye"; and 2) The one who does this, in an ironic twist of sorts, ends up with the ultimate beatific vision in heaven. St. Gemma's angel encapsulates this idea in a tidy sentence.

The days pass and here I am always in the same worldly abyss. (p. 19)

It is not unique to St. Gemma to express grief in a Christian's place in the world. A few years ago, I read St. Padre Pio's letters to his spiritual director, and he often felt terrible weight and pain, particularly when he could not "feel" God's love. As I understand, Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta expressed similar sentiments in her letters. Some interpret this skeptically, as a pock mark of sorts against Catholicism or those who walk in the way of the Church. I see it entirely the opposite. I'm reminded of the words of Christ:
For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  (Matt. 5:46)
If we look at these saints, like St. Gemma, feeling the strife of the world in light of Christ's counsel, there is evidence of a phenomenon. These saints retained their faith in Christ even through the darkest hours. There were times when they rejoiced, but they didn't demand the constant feelings of joy in order to keep coming to Christ's table, to keep believing in his promises spoken as the Incarnate Son of God. St. Gemma repeated a paraphrase of this sentiment more than once in the diary. It speaks of a heroism in her resolve against the weight of the worldly pilgrimage. The idea can be inspiring rather than discouraging. Such saints exhibit love for Christ.

Later, she demonstrates exactly the kind of love born of conviction rather than emotion or feelings:

Sunday has arrived. What indifference, what dryness! Still, I do not want to abandon my usual prayers. (p. 24)

This is a similar aspect of love to which married couples are called. They vow to remain faithful "in good times and in bad." Both married and unmarried saints, as members of Christ's bride, the Church, are thus called to love in good times or bad. The inclusion of St. Gemma's heavy sentiments in her diary is rather an inspiration.

That night I suffered a lot because I too wanted to go to heaven, but no one thought to take me. (p. 29)

St. Gemma wrote this after telling of her vision of a Mother Giuseppa who appeared to her and thanked her for praying and offering penance to help Mother Giuseppa attain the heavenly joy. St. Gemma's longing to go to heaven is reminiscent of St. Paul:
I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Phil. 1:23-24)
You see how Paul, too, desires to "depart" and be "with Christ" in heaven. The Christian soul feels a sense of detachment to the world, belonging somewhere "else," so to speak. Yet, Paul, and St. Gemma, stayed true to their devotion, work, and prayers in accord with the call they received. There remains a certain importance in toiling in the world during one's life. As one of my professors noted, this is the time, the opportunity for "merit." Recently, I saw Dr. Peter Kreeft speak, and one of the lines he said that remains with me is, "Grace perfects nature." In Catholic theology, the world is not just some fallen place of evil, even if it is a pilgrimage "on the way" to point B. We remember that Christ came incarnate to the world. Mary, giving birth to personified grace himself, delivers grace into the terrestrial realm. As dwellers of this place, we can receive that grace made possible through his solidarity with mankind. Elsewhere St. Gemma wrote:

I find a little peace only in that bit of suffering Jesus sends me, offering it first for sinners, and in particular for me, and then for the souls in Purgatory (p. 23)

As members of "Christ's body, the Church" (eg. Eph. 1:22-23, Col. 1:24), we suffer in union with him. It is because we are "sharing" Christ's suffering that there is merit and power to our toil. You see in the second-to-last quote how St. Gemma, though she had an inward desire to depart this world and go to heaven, plods in this world for the sake of her soul and for others. This is another example of love working through this saint.

[H]e brought me a cup of coffee... (p. 31)

These words, St. Gemma spoke regarding her guardian angel. It got me thinking that I would not complain if my guardian angel did some chores for me, perhaps starting with laundry.

Whoever reads these things, I repeat again, should not believe, because they are all my imagination... (p. 43)

This, St. Gemma wrote after describing an encounter with the Virgin Mary in which the Blessed Mother cradled her. Read in isolation, the statement sounds like an admission that her mystic experiences are an illusion. But such is not the case in the context of the diary, or even the remainder of the sentence which says:

Whoever reads these things, I repeat again, should not believe, because they are all my imagination; nevertheless I agree to describe everything because I am bound by obedience, otherwise I would do differently.

St. Gemma expressed displeasure in her diary at having to write it. But what is revealed here is that her spiritual directors recognized something in her that they wished to preserve. Other times revealed that her visions went beyond something mental, such as when she wrote of attacks by the devil. On one occasion, she wrote that the

devil gave me such a strong shove that I fell off the bed, causing me to bang my head on the floor with such great force that I felt a sharp pain; I fainted and remained on the ground for a long time before regaining consciousness." (p. 31)

Additionally, she would sometimes speak that her "head would take off." I read this book in English, so I am not certain what the original Italian may have said, but she used this phrase in the context of having a vision. So when she wrote that one should not believe her story about the Virgin Mary holding her, she seems to refer to it occurring in her "imagination" as opposed to in some physical encounter. As well, she distinguishes at other times incidents where her "head would take off" with other visions:

When my guardian angel comes, I am awake, and my head does not take off; Jesus, my Mom and sometimes Brother Gabriel make my head take off; but I always stay where I am; I always find myself in the same place, it's just that my head departs. (p. 13)

It is statement such as these that shed light on her description of the Marian vision occurring in her "imagination."

Finally, I wanted to point out two other occasions in which St. Gemma's name has recently come across my path.

The first is in the previous "saint" book I read, Padre Pio: Under Investigation. The book re-prints an April 7, 1913 letter from Padre Pio to Fr. Agostino. After the letter, the author, Castelli, notes that this letter from Padre Pio was "one accused of being the product of plagiarism because of the consonance, of language and theme, with a private apparition to Saint Gemma Galgani." (e-location 875) The author produces the case, however, that Padre Pio's letter was authentic, not plagiarized, and that his experience was only similar to St. Gemma's. It is interesting to note once again, the similarity in the experiences of some saints, not only with suffering, but here with the character of an apparition and inspiration of words.

The second is from another book I reviewed, The Rite. The book opens with a vivid description of an exorcism and the dialogue exchanged between the demon and the priest. During the ordeal, the priest determines that the demon is writhing against the presence of some unseen saints in the room, and at times fought against these unseen figures at which it screamed. One was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. One was Bl. John Paul II. And the other was St. Gemma Galgani. The author, Baglio, determined from the possessed victim, that St. Gemma "was dressed in her traditional black, and looked very much as she had in her twenties." (p. 2)

It is what the saints do. They serve as members of Christ's body, members that do spiritual battle on behalf of the Church. All the more sense does Paul's analogy of the Church's "body" with parts of a human body having parts that work together. (cf. 1 Cor. 12) And some saints, it seems, are called to be part of the fighting hands of Christ's body.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book Review: Padre Pio Under Investigation

Padre Pio Under Investigation: The Secret Vatican Files by Fr. Francesco Castelli is a chronicle centered on a 1921 Church-sanctioned investigation of the mystical phenomena surrounding Padre Pio (Now St. Padre Pio). I give it 8 out of 10 stars.

The book is largely a catalog of the report presented by Bishop Raffaello Carlo Rossi who was assigned to the investigation. This report remained unpublished until the time of this book's publication in 2011. From this book, we get a window into Rossi's journey day-by-day over the period of one week as he interrogates various priests at Padre Pio's convent at San Giovanni Rotondo in the province of Foggia, Italy. We are also treated with first hand Q&A interrogations of Padre Pio including regarding his stigmata, the gift of perfumes, and instances of bilocation.

One of the greatest values of this book is the source material. These testimonies were taken during the third year (out of 50) of Padre Pio's visible stigmata. We learn how the vast majority of Padre Pio's acquaintances held him in high regard and how his detractors were a very small minority whose accusations were deemed faulty or unfounded.

Many accusations that still are echoed to this day are addressed in these 1921 interrogations. For instance, one would not be hard-pressed to find on the internet skeptics of Padre Pio's stigmata who claim he used acid at the convent to create the wounds. This was an issue directly asked to witnesses at the convent as well as to Padre Pio himself. For this particular question, we learn that "each convent kept its own healing herbs and medicines" (ebook Loc. 714) and according to witnesses and Padre Pio himself, carbolic acid was used for a time to disinfect smallpox during 1920 (Loc. 2123). Padre Pio himself was sanctioned to administer those injections (Loc. 3051).

Rebuttals to skeptics' accusations are not limited to convent residents alone. Two doctors and a professor of medical pathology had examined Padre Pio a combined four times prior to Bishop Rossi's investigation. The examinations of these medical professionals were referenced and considered multiple times during Rossi's investigation. He gives us detailed accounts of their recorded observations of Padre Pio's stigmata. Although I would like to have read more source material from those in the medical community who examined Padre Pio's body, Rossi does directly quote from their reports from time to time. For instance, Rossi quotes Professor Bignami's bewilderment at Padre Pio's wounds: "What is impossible to explain with the knowledge we have of neural necrosis is the perfectly symmetrical location of the lesions described." (Loc. 1669)

Throughout this investigation, we are also given a picture from the eyes of that time of those surrounding Padre Pio. This includes the convent-frequenting "Pious Women" who were significant witnesses to Padre Pio's gifts and value of his counsel.

We are also given an idea into Rossi's honesty as he includes many instances of supposed miracles some of his over-zealous fans of, or perhaps enemies of, Padre Pio that were unfounded, some even denied by Padre Pio himself.

This book may seem redundant to some readers. The first part of the book offers author Castelli's insights into the investigation, which quotes from Rossi's report numerous times. Then, in the core of the book, Rossi's report is provided, and to the reader, many of the quotations are now familiar.

Also of value is a following portion of the book. Castelli includes multiple letters of spiritual direction from Padre Pio's then-spiritual director, Father Benedetto Nardella, giving us a window into both Padre Pio's life as well as Fr. Benedetto's.

As well, the book is refreshing at a time today when the Church is painted in secular avenues as merely an evil institution of cover-up. The book provides a window into the seriousness with which the Church's Holy Office took the phenomena surrounding Padre Pio, and the reluctance that existed in affirming or promoting it. A timeline ends the book, chronicling many years in which Padre Pio was forbidden from publicly celebrating the Liturgy or hearing confessions. And these sanctions were applied despite Bishop Rossi's favorable report to Padre Pio's character and the merit of the mystical phenomena surrounding him.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in St. Padre Pio or the operations of the Church.