Thursday, July 12, 2012

St. Gemma's Passion

When I was choosing saints for My Peace I Give You, there were some saints whom I found, and there were others who found me. St. Gemma Galgani is one of those who found me.

I have no memory of why I chose to research Gemma's life for the book, as I did not know beforehand that she had experienced anything that would be relevant to readers seeking healing from childhood sexual abuse. Perhaps it was because she was dear to St. Maximilian Kolbe, who is one of my patrons. In any case, when I studied biographies of Gemma, as well as her autobiography, I discovered a true kindred spirit.

When discussing the sufferings of the saints—and especially those like Gemma who are known as "victim souls"—writers of popular literature often focus on their physical pain and discomfort. What moves me more deeply is their mental sufferings. In reading about Gemma, it was particularly affecting to learn that she endured the effects of post-traumatic stress, the result of a painful experience that occurred in the wake of her father's death. I write in My Peace I Give You about how, when she was on her deathbed, she relived her trauma in a flashback:
She was mentally transported six years back in time, to when she was nineteen and her father had just died. Her family home was invaded by creditors who closed her father’s pharmacy, seized what little furniture remained, and dumped out Gemma’s purse to snatch the two lire that were all she had to her name.
What is it about this story that makes Gemma's experience so meaningful to me? I think it is the fact that her extraordinary holiness did not prevent her having the flashback. It shows me that the feelings of sadness and distress that I feel from time to time, when the effects of my own past traumas rise to the surface, do not separate me from God. Rather, just as Gemma experienced her own Passion in union with that of Christ on the Cross, so too can my pain become an offering. The pain is still present, but it can no longer harm me. Instead, my open wounds, like those of Gemma as she experienced the gift of stigmata, become cracks where the light of Christ can get in.