"Lord, save me from gloomy saints." --Teresa of Avila


#1

Hello,

I am currently reading “The Life of St Gemma Galgani” after a series of coincidences have convinced me and the bookseller who managed to obtain the book for me that the Holy Spirit, if not St Gemma herself, wish for me to read this book in order to better myself in some way.

Saints, such as St Gemma, have always confused me because one moment these saints prove to be a beacon of virtue and example, loving God and neighbor with literally their *whole *mind, body and strength, enduring pain and requesting to share in more alongside the Crucified Jesus, working tirelessly for the betterment of sinners, the poor, and even the arrogant who mocked them, and, of course, some of the more simple virtues such as a devout prayer life; however, the next moment these men and women stand in front of a mirror and can hardly tolerate the sight of themselves. Not only do they deem themselves truly wretched and unlovable, but they tend to be scrupulous in their sins – blaming themselves for every little fault in the home, society, or even the world. For example, St Gemma once wrote to her spiritual director that

“Jesus scarcely looks at me any more, and if He does glance at me, He is so very, very serious that sometimes I am even obliged not to look at Him. It seems as though He drives me from Him. This is a real torment. Now, Father, I am almost abandoned by Jesus on account of my sins; and what shall I do? To whom shall I go?” (143)

Oh, the despair is too much! Not only that, but she considers herself a “cesspit,” a “worthless being,” and “repulsive in the eyes of God.” The Jesus of St Gemma is so just and exacting that it’s sometimes difficult to see the mercy, which hardly compares to St Theresa of Calcutta’s Jesus of her “I Thirst” meditation which contains such lines as,

I have followed you through the years, and l have always loved you - even in your wanderings. I know every one of your problems. I know your needs and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you - not for what you have or haven’t done - I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity My Father gave you by creating you in His own image.

Read the full text here.

Thus far, I have not encountered anything remotely similar to this in the biography of St Gemma. Thus far, with St Gemma, it’s been nothing but pain, isolation, and rejection by both God, man, and herself – and I’m tired of feeling worthless alongside her. I’m beginning to think that the coincidences by which I came into possession of this book were little more than just that, and maybe I should get back to reading my biography of St Francis of Assisi who actually seems to have enjoyed life even during his darkest hour.

Any enlightenment you folks can offer me would be appreciated.


#2

Saints are individual human beings. Not all individual human beings respond in exactly the same way to the grace of God.

Some saints are gloomy, like your St. Gemma.

Some are curmudgeonly (like Jerome, who said marriage was beneficial chiefly because it produced virgins :wink: )

Some are sweet, like Therese who dreamt of being the Baby Jesus’ little plaything.

Some are healthily sour, like Teresa of Avila, who grumbled that God must have very few friends if He treated them like this.

Every one is different, because God is not calling or creating robots. Each one of us is a slightly different color for the magnificent tapestry He’s weaving - and we’ll only see the results when He’s done! :thumbsup:


#3

My main issue with St Gemma isn’t that she happens to be different, but that she comes across as scrupulous. In fact, it’s her seemingly scrupulosity which drove me to write this thread, except this point about her scrupulosity got lost in all those other words I felt compelled to write. :o

Seriously, though, I want to like St Gemma – but the account of her is full of blood, pain, and this sense of scrupulosity that makes it sound as if she is ashamed to even be alive! Perhaps I exaggerate some, but it is not to be misleading or paint some false portrait of what I feel to be a very virtuous saint – it’s just that some saints dwell so much upon their sin, and sins which seem so trivial, sins for which my own priest would reprimand me for being unnecessarily scrupulous about, and yet so many of us read these accounts and fawn over how humble such and such saint was.


#4

**
“How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different the saints.” - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity**


#5

Saints are models of heroic virtue. Though I know nothing of Gemma, it sounds like she preservered in the faith despite scrupulosity and depression.

Saints aren’t perfect in every way, some would have been considered emotionally disturbed by modern standards.

That doesn’t make them less saintly, though.

It’s also worth mentioning that the biographers of many saints still like to stress the suffering their saints have done, including their ‘dark nights’. Some emphasize an abhorence of sin to a degree that probably crosses the line into scrupulosity because they think the rest of us aren’t scrupulous enough.

And we always have to remember that the style of self expression changes over time. I love the Victorian novelists, but find it so strange that married couples never used one another’s christian names in public [too intimate]. If unmarried people were do bold as to exchange letters, it was considered proof of being engaged.

Yet they could turn right round and write in the purplest prose about music and art and the political issues of the day. And the language used in the legislatures back then would disqualify you from higher office today.

So when you read about a saint behaving in a strange way, and there doesn’t seem to be a spiritual upside to it, then take it with a grain of salt.


#6

Scrupulousity (sp?) may be a particular temptation of the saints. It does seem true that the closer you get to God, the more you see your own shadow. Also, it seems that Satan tempts the saints through their weaknesses–and a saint’s weakness is waiting to please God. Wanting to please God is good, but God’s love is not earned: it is there for every sinner. I think some of the saints, being human and being subject to specific temptations, occasionally forget that. But they persevere.

Teresa of Avila, who you quote, had a way with words on this–almost constantly calling herself desperately unworthy. But she also retained the joy of Christ.


#7

I also have read the Life of St. Gemma and I know exactly where you are coming from. One thing to keep in mind is that Gemma definately had a meloncholic temperment and it showed in her spirutual life. It is also very clear that she was called to share in Our Lord’s passion in a very unique way through her love of the Cross and her stigmata. So perhaps her “gloomy” spirituality has a lot to do with how the Lord was calling her to live. I think she went overboard in her scrupulosity and self-loathing, but we’ve all go our spiritual hang-ups and she wasn’t perfect. I wouldn’t worry so much about trying to be like St. Gemma. She’s a wonderful role model and example, but God calls each of us differently. Your holiness is unique to you. God bless!


#8

Epistemes, I am discovering as well that coincidences often are God’s way of speaking to us. Sometimes it takes a little work to figure out what the message is. I think Sam Maloney may have the missing piece of the puzzle you’re looking for:

That is a major lesson you could take from Saint Gemma: perseverance in living the Christ life despite depression, bouts of despair, and difficulties in general. Based on some of your past posts, I’d imagine this definitely applies to you.


#9

Hmmm…

How coincidental that you said that! Only because just now – or not too long ago – I started feeling a bit down and unsatisfied, and I immediately began thinking about Gemma which caused me to reflect on how praying might help me feel better.

Curious. :blush:


#10

There is a huge difference between being scrupulous and having true humility.

Those Saints, while living on earth, they grew the virtue of humility. The true humility allows themselves to see more of who God is and who they really are and their relationship between God and themselves. This includes the recognization of God being just and merciful and His love for them despite of their unworthiness.

One who is being scrupulous tends to focus more on the past sins, his unworthiness and oneself, but has somewhat lack of the confidence in God’s mercy and love.


#11

“…unless a grain of wheat…”

It sounds to me as if you are being shown (through the reading of St. Gemma’s words) that despair is not necessarily the end, since after the depression there is/can be a union with Him, even unto Sainthood. It seems that you have been accorded a great Grace! (Were you, by any chance, praying for Hope?)
Each person has a somewhat different route to sanctity, but we can all arrive at enjoyment of His Beatific Vision.


#12

This is a very valuable point: it seems that when the great saints draw near to God, they realize more and more his infinite power and goodness, and realize how little any individual is in comparison.

So people like Mother Theresa can describe herself as a little stub of a pencil which God has graciously used to write a few lines in the world…

I think a decent working distinction between humilty and scrupulousness might be this: The humble person looks at God, sees His greatness realitive to all things, and is drawn to it. The scrupulous person looks at himself, sees evil and hides from God as a result, for he doubts that God could forgive.


#13

:yup:


#14

Hello,

First, thanks to everyone who has replied thus far. You’ve given me plenty to think about for the next several months, if not years, along my spiritual journey!

Upon believing that the Holy Spirit was directing me to this biography, I immediately assumed that I was to foster some great devotion towards this saint - but, after reflecting on your words, it seems that the direction is much more subtle than that. Upon reflection, I see a lot of myself in Gemma, aside from her degree of holiness, of course. I hate to say it, but Gemma actually makes me feel worse about myself because it’s almost like looking into a mirror having to examine all that I am and all that I’m not. I’m quite sure that I needed to take a look in the mirror.

Nonetheless, I’m quite amazed at how the very thought of this saint makes my soul ache, my spirit tremble, and my mind angry.


#15

Keep reading the book and praying that the Holy Spirit will guide you to learn what you need to learn from the book. Also, don’t forget to ask Saint Gemma to help you along. Take your time and pray before reading and do not try to finish the book before you should.

God bless.


#16

Good advice.

It certainly sounds as though the Spirit is using this book in your life, Epistemes, though not in the way you expected.


#17

Hi Everyone,

As was said, every saint is different, as we are all different, and have different journeys toward God.

It is certainly good to read and study, but when we come to a tough time, we need some help…or spiritual direction. Often writings of saints need help for the average person to apply properly in their own life. If you are suffering, it definitely is helpful to read of someone who suffered, and drew closer to Jesus in that suffering, but there are many different ways to accept suffering, and what is best for one, is not best for everyone.

At one tme I read St Faustina’s diary every day, and post her writings for the day. Then one day I came across this writing.

“O my Jesus, I understand well that, just as illness is measured with a thermometer, and a high fever tells us of the seriousness of the illness, so also, in the spiritual life, suffering is the thermometer which measures the love of God in a soul. (774)”

This may be very harmful to someone suffering with a curable illness, who may may interpret this as a though to refuse treatment because they don’t want to refuse God’s love (which they perceive the suffering to be–I did hear of such a case, which is why I feel depressed people should not read these writings)

My interpretation is that St Faustina is saying that a happy soul does not bask in the love of God. Jesus tells us that He wills us to be happy and healthy, and suffering is from the evil one. I find this very confusing and depressing.

Possibly some of these revelations are St Faustina’s private inspiration, and it would be better not to share them? This may also be true of other writings, which is why I strongly encourage spiritual direction when reading of saints who seem scrupulous or depressed.

Love, Joy & Prayers,
Lux


#18

Hello,

The pastor of my parish has delivered several homilies, and told me in person while in the confessional, not to go out seeking additional crosses because crosses always have a manner of finding us. How true this is! Therefore, what confuses me about the example of saints, such as St Faustina and St Gemma, who actively seek and voluntarily suffer in order to imitate Christ is that such saints are seeking additional crosses.

Now, I’m well aware of St Faustina’s vision of purgatory and Jesus asking her if she would rather suffer many years in purgatory or for a few years on Earth; she replied that she would suffer in both for the love of Jesus, but Jesus said that one would be enough so therefore she chose the fewest years. Regardless, St Faustina’s life seemed like a living hell - and, as you say, I found it all so depressing! Not only did she suffer from sicknesses and intense spiritual dryness, but she willingly practiced mortifications which caused her superiors great concern – which greatly mimics Gemma’s life. I can’t help but wonder if these saints were somehow masochistic or mentally disturbed.

Even though I try to remember that such suffering was desired in order to imitate Christ, such spirituality seems hardly in line with Mother Theresa’s “I Thirst for You” meditation (which I link above in the first post of this thread) or with Jesus’s own promise that he comes to offer us abundant life. True, saints are different and achieved sainthood through different methods, but their examples really make a person wonder…


#19

I just wanted to say I went back to read it that link, and it is an absolutely breathtaking meditation. I had never heard it before - thank you so much for sharing it.


#20

I think St. Faustina was right, and that Jesus’ will for us to be happy and healthy is also right. But Jesus’ will as expressed in that statement is only a general truth. Not a “particular” truth that covers all basis. Compare it, for instance, to Hebrews 12:1-13, which describe painful trials and the “shedding your blood” (v. 4) as “God . . . treating you as children” (v. 7). The scripture there says, "Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather healed.”

So we can see scripturally, as well as in the writings of the saints, that pain is given God’s children to discipline them “that they may share in His holiness.” For pain causes us to rely more completely on God, which in turn produces righteousness. It also creates unity in us to Christ in His suffering, which opens our eyes more fully to the mystery of His love and thus engulfs us more perfectly in His love.

This is definitely one of the glorious mysteries of God. Suffering born for Jesus’ sake is excellent.

On the other hand, if He gives us an avenue out of suffering, why not take it? Suffering isn’t always His will for us, though He can always use the suffering we endure to His glory, if we offer it to Him. He doesn’t want us to go looking for suffering or to necessarily pursue it. Rather, we are to pursue God and accept whatever He gives us, whether pleasure in life or sorrow. This is where depressed people who look for pain might go wrong. But when we endure trials that aren’t our own intentional making, we can offer that the sorrow we experience up to God for his greater glory, and we can know that this will only make our future delight the greater.

One day, we will all be free from sorrow completely.

Another important point is that if we get into deeper unity with God, we may learn to do what the disciples did and rejoice when considered worthy to bear suffering for Jesus’ sake. That is an extremely exciting point to be at. I envy the disciples such intimacy with God.


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