St. Gerard Majella
Wonder-worker and Patron of Expectant Mothers
Lay Brother of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
Thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion forever.
And the works that I do, he also shall do; and greater than these shall he do. John 14:12
So that even there were brought from his body to the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the wicked spirits went out of them. Acts 19:12
"To the honor of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, for the exaltation
of the Catholic Faith and for the spread of the Christian Religion, by the authority
of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul and by Our
own...We define and declare the Blessed Confessors Gerard Majella and Alexander
Sauli to be Saints, and We enroll them in the catalogue of Saints..."
Pope St. Pius X, December 11, 1904
The incredible life of St. Gerard Majella has been a great inspiration to the entire Catholic Church for over 200 years, and yet his story may cause some readers to become discouraged about their own salvation. But this should not be. As with so many great and notable Saints in the history of the Catholic Church, St. Gerard Majella is believed never to have committed a mortal sin; in fact, his spiritual advisers could not detect that he had ever committed even a venial sin. Undoubtedly, this level of sanctity was the basis for the many miracles that he worked during life, and even after death. And yet we read in Father Saint-Omers life of the Saint that he often had periods of great spiritual darkness, and even came close to despairing of his salvation. This fact could easily lead the reader to discouragement, for if St. Gerard, who was so very good, had periods of darkness, even to the point of despair, what about the vast majority of us, who are nowhere near so good, who oftentimes fall into sin, who perhaps even commit mortal sin, or who have in the past lived in mortal sin? Should not we be the ones inclined to despair? If one who was so obviously holy and blessed by Almighty God was worried about his salvation, what chance do we have? might well be our question.
An attitude of concern, of course, is typical of all who are truly on the road to salvation. St. Peter, no less, gives us the clue to this seeming paradox of sanctity combined with concern when he says, If the just man shall scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (1 Peter 4:18). In other words, if those true Christians who are avoiding mortal sin and who are striving for Heaven shall barely be saved, what about a) the open sinners, who knowingly and blithely (it would seem) commit mortal sin, and b) the ungodly, who have no real concern for their salvation and who mainly pursue worldly goals? Where shall they appear? The point is that people living without the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are in darkness about their eternal salvation.
Even regarding Catholics, the Curé of Ars could say, Some people are so profoundly ignorant that they do not recognize a quarter of their ordinary sins. This failure to recognize our sins arises from the spiritual darkness caused, on the one hand, by Original Sin, and on the other, by our own personal sins. When a person begins really to live by the teachings of Our Lord and to strive for perfection, there occur as a consequence moments wherein his mind penetrates the veil of this darkness, and in that spiritual insight, he perceivesif only for a brief timethe precarious state of mans salvation, that we have all sinned and do need the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23). Such periodic moments of clear insight can cause us almost to despair, as St. Gerard nearly did on a number of occasions.
Far from causing us to despair, however, these moments of spiritual luciditywherein
we perceive our great dangershould cause us joy. For as Holy Scripture
repeats in several places, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
(Psalm 110:10; cf. also Prov. 15:33; Eccles. 1:20, 22, 25, 34; 19:18). St. Paul
tells us, With fear and trembling work out your salvation. (Phil.
2:12). When once we who are earnestly striving for salvation become concerned
and fearful, this means that the scales of blindness covering our
spiritual insight are falling away and we are starting to see our situation
as it really is vis-a-vis pleasing God and attaining our salvation! And the
prospect is frightening, because we find ourselves, especially in our inclinations
and motives, to be far from really good. All the greatest Saints had this perception,
and they were humble as a result, for they could see their own weaknesses and
shortcomings. That is the reason, when one starts to receive this insight, that
confidence in God becomes such a necessary virtue.
The life of St. Gerard Majella throws these realities about the spiritual life into sharp focus. On the one hand, he was so good and worked so many miracles, and on the other, he was so profoundly concerned about his own salvation. Reading about this concern of his, one could say to himself, Whats the use? If St. Gerard had such trouble, I will never make it! But that is exactly the wrong reaction. Why? First of all, we must distinguish between ordinary and extraordinary Saints. You and I, probably, and most of us, are called to be ordinary Saints, people who work out our salvation pretty much in obscurity and, when we pass from this life, are forgotten by all save a few close loved ones. Extraordinary Saints are generally called by God to do some extraordinary work or to have their holiness manifested to the world as a great inspiration to others. St. Gerard, obviously, was an extraordinary Saint. The number of extraordinary Saints is relatively small, compared to the number who live in obscurity. But this does not mean that you and I cannot achieve great sanctity and find a high place in Heaven.
Sanctity depends on our interior state, upon the degree of our love of God, upon uniformity with His holy Will and upon the purity of our motives. Indeed, if we are so blessed as to gain Heaven, we shall likely find there in the highest places many who were obscure mothers and fathers and other lay people in this life. St. Therese the Little Flower stands in both campsordinary and extraordinary. In life, her sanctity was unknown to the world, unknown even to many of the nuns in her Carmelite convent. But it was not unknown to her own sisters, who, after her death, helped make her known to the world. She was so tremendous that Pope St. Pius X could exclaim that she is the greatest Saint of modern timesshe, a totally unknown nun who died at 24 and of whom a fellow sister commented to the effect: What shall we ever find to say about Sr. Therese of the Child Jesus in our announcement of her death to the other Carmelite convents? Now the whole world knows her. (Just ask her for a favor!)
Notable in St. Gerards life is the high level of sanctity he achieved in a relatively short time. He died at age 29. From this we can all take heart. For if we have till now delayed working seriously on our salvation, we can nonetheless make up for lost timeand in a hurryif we are truly contrite, ardent, sincere and constant in our efforts at reparation, virtue and love of God. Plus, we have in St. Gerard Majella a great patron Saint. Not only is he Patron of Expectant Mothers, for which he is famous the world over, but he is obviously one of those universal patron Saints, like St. Joseph, whom one can call upon in every need. Witness the great devotion to him that developed in Belgium. (Cf. page 237). Indeed, we could all make him our own personal Patron Saint of Rapid Growth in Holiness of holiness in a hurry, if you will. Yes, God is honored by the greatness of His Saints, and He wants us to approach Him with all our needs through these heavenly friends of His, who in their lives loved Him so truly and so well that they have been raised to the altars. The quintessential model of all Saints, of course, is Our Lady, whom Our Dear Lord wishes to honor and recognize at every turn and in all things, such that He allows all graces (theology teaches us) to come to us only through her. Yes, God wants to share His greatness, His goodness, His beneficence and His glory with His friends, the Saints and Holy Angels. As would a great, magnanimous earthly king, He wants to share His glory with His friends and servants who surround Him. Therefore, we can call upon St. Gerard Majella with utmost confidence. Surely all expectant mothers should do so, of whom he is the special patron, but also all other faithful people, in whatever need they might have.
St. Alphonsus LiguoriSt. Gerards spiritual father as founder of
the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemeroutlived St. Gerard by 32 years;
yet in miracles and lustrous sanctity, St. Gerard would seem to have oertopped
even that eminent Doctor of the Church and his own superior, a man whom the
whole Church knows and who is the most widely published author in history! Yes,
Dear Reader, the least can indeed become the greatest in the wonderful, paradoxical
reality of the Catholic Faith! And from the life of St. Gerard Majella, not
only can we derive great inspiration at the goodness and mercy of God as shown
through the life and ministry of so great and extraordinary a Saint, but we
can also be assured in all confidence that we too can ourselves rise to high
sanctity by employing the same humble means used by St. Gerard Majella and all
other Saints, viz., prayer, penance, sacrifice, good worksand confidence
in Almighty God, who desires our salvation above all else.
Thomas A. Nelson
December 17, 1998
A NOTE TO THE READER
From the Edition published c. 1907
This biography was taken by Father Saint-Omer from the beautiful Italian edition which appeared at the Beatification of the great Servant of God entitled Vita del Beato Gerardo Majella...Roma, Tipografia Vaticana, 1893. We have here reproduced it in full [translating it from Fr. Saint-Omers French], with the addition only of the chapter on the glorification of the Saint. We do not pretend, wrote Father Saint-Omer in 1893, to put forth a learned work. Our intention is to offer to the public an inexpensive book, so desirous are we to see the life of Brother Gerard introduced into the humble homes of the poor for their encouragement and edification. Our hero was a child of the people, an apprentice, a servant, a workman, a humble lay brother, whom grace transformed into a Saint. If we put aside the purely gratuitous supernatural gifts which God gives to whom He pleases, what Gerard became, every child of the people may become as well as he, by the practice of virtue, by suffering and by conformity to the will of God.
Preface to The Second Edition
SOME REMARKS ON THE MARVELOUS IN THE LIFE OF ST. GERARD
Sound reason, reason unbiased by prejudice, cannot but admit the possibility of miracles in general; and when a miraculous fact is proved, to reject it because it is miraculous and inexplicable to our feeble intelligence is not the part of a wise man, since the purely natural order is full of facts admitted by everyone, although no one, not even men of genius, can explain them; for instance, the germination of seed. Now, a miraculous fact is proved just as an ordinary one. We have said that right reason cannot help admitting the possibility of a miracle: No man making use of his reason, writes Cardinal Dechamps, will reject the marvelous found in the Lives of the Saints under the plea of impossibility. Only the unthinking dare to say that miracles are impossible andby reasoning as absurd as it is impiousto put a limit to the almighty power of God. Miracles are phenomena which interrupt the laws of nature and surpass the force of all natural causes. Reason alone is needed to make a man understand that God, whose power is infinite, can, when it so pleases Him, interrupt natures course directly by Himself or indirectly by the ministry of His creatures. (Dissertation upon the Marvelous in the Lives of the Saints.)
St. Augustine, that sublime genius, had said long before: All nature is full of miracles. We are not astonished at them because we are used to seeing them; their repetition makes them familiar to our eyes. Behold why God has reserved to Himself others out of the course of nature, that they may strike us by their novelty. (De Civit. Dei, L.X). But for the Christian, the possibility of a miracle is not a question; it is a point of Faith which he professes every day when he says: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, and which springs from these words of the Gospel: No word shall be impossible with God (Luke 1:37); and from these others: He that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do, and greater than these shall he do. (John 14:12).
But is it indeed certain that God has at times performed miracles? Here as above, the affirmative is of Faith for every Christian. What, in truth, is the whole history of the people of Goda history written under the dictation of the Holy Ghostbut a series of miraclesthe plagues of Egypt, the passage through the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud, the manna which fell from Heaven every morning for forty years in sufficient quantity to feed several million, etc.? Can God communicate to Saints the power to work miracles? Yes, since He is all-powerful. In fact, when a miracle is performed, it is always God who performs it at the request of a Saint. Has He at times done so? Yes, answers Holy Scripture. How many miracles were performed by the Apostles and their disciples under the eyes of all! To enumerate some: a paralytic cured at the gate of the Temple, Tabitha raised from the dead, the shadow alone of St. Peter curing the sick, etc. Long ago it was said: To suppose that the pagan world would have become Christian without being influenced thereto by the sight of great and numerous miracles is to suppose a miracle greater than those that fill the lives of the Saints.
Did God give St. Gerard this power of performing miracles? Yes, the history of his life proclaims it, a history as credible as any other historythat of Napoleon, for instance. The facts related had witnesses who were able to prove for themselves their genuineness, for the Life of Brother Gerard [by Tannoia, a contemporary of St. Gerard] appeared a short time after his death. Besides, the Acts of Beatification may be taken as a guarantee of their evidence. It is an enormous folio volume containing the depositions of a crowd of sworn witnesses. In fine, the Holy See itself has already juridically confirmed some of those miraculous facts. It first submitted them to the most severe examination, by minutely interrogating the witnesses and requiring the opinion of the most able physicians. It proceeded with its proverbial slowness in order to take time to examine the cause, and only after these proceedings did it pronounce.
Never do our tribunals of justice act with so much consideration nor take so many precautions, even in questions of life or death. But some say that the marvelous in the life of St. Gerard is so extraordinary that it scandalizes even good Catholics! Scandalizes them? No. Surprises them? Yes. They are astonished, but not scandalized, because they know that God is all-powerful, that He is the Master of His gifts and that His love for souls most faithful to Him sometimes far exceeds the greatest maternal tenderness.
After all that has been said, I ask whether there is a man of sense who will exclaim: The marvelous plays too great a part in the life of this Saint. I will have none of it! No, rather he will kneel down humbly before his Creator and say: O Thou to Whom everything is possible, Thou art worthy to be our God! I adore Thee! Have pity on me, dust and ashes that I am!
ST. GERARD MAJELLAS LIFE IN THE WORLD
1. THE SAINTLY CHILD
The Life that we are now writing is a long chain of marvels. When turning its pages, the reader will recall the act of faith which he makes every day: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, also the words of the Gospel, No word shall be impossible with God (Luke 1:37), and this promise of Jesus Christ, He that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do, and greater than these shall he do (John 14:12), for the Holy Spirit declares, God is wonderful in His saints. (Ps. 67:36). The blessed child whose virtues we are going to portray was born in April, 1726 at Muro, a little village about sixty miles south of Naples. His father, a tailor by trade, was Dominico Majella, and his mother was Benedetta Galellaboth admirable for their thoroughly Christian life. The newborn babe received in Baptism the name of Gerard. From the very cradle, he gave evidence of the high sanctity to which God destined him, for never did he weep, never did he demand nourishment by his cries, as do other children. On certain days, he even refused the maternal breast, a presage of the severe abstinence which he kept his whole life long. Benedetta wondered. She would say to him tenderly: God bless you, dear child! Prepared by grace from his earliest years, he found his only amusement in the little practices of devotion suited to his age. His two sisters, Brigida and Anna Elizabetta, tell us that Gerards only attraction when a child was to make little altars and imitate the ceremonies of divine worship.
He used to place on a table the pictures of the Saints, that of St. Michael in particular, and pass and repass before them, inclining and bowing. Then, kneeling down, he would recite some prayers, striking his breast or singing the pious canticles that he had heard in church. His growing piety astonished and delighted all who saw it. Gerards life convinces us of this truth, that God finds His delights among the children of men and in converse with them. A short distance from Muro stands the chapel of Capotignano, where a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Infant Jesus in her arms is venerated. When Gerard was not yet six years old, led no doubt by a heavenly hand, he made his way to this sanctuary. Scarcely had he knelt down when the little Jesus, leaving His Mothers arms, came to play with him and gave him a little loaf of extreme whiteness. The child joyfully carried the present home to his mother. In great surprise, she asked: Who gave it to you? It was a beautiful ladys Child with whom I have been playing. Attracted by the divine charms of his heavenly Friend, Gerard ran every morning to the chapel, and each time the Infant God came down to play with him and to present to him a little white loaf. Brigidas curiosity urged her one day to follow her little brother, and unknown to him, she became a witness of the prodigy. The prudent mother, Benedetta, did likewise and saw the same thing.
Following the example of her Son, the Blessed Virgin also desired to give Gerard
the miraculous bread. The child himself revealed to us this secret. Going one
day into the chapel with his mother, pointing to the statue of the Blessed Virgin,
he said: Mama, there is the Lady who gave me bread more than once, and
there is the Child with whom I have played. Years after, when he had become
a Redemptorist, his sister Brigida having come to see him, he said to her with
his usual simplicity: I now know that it was the Infant Jesus who gave
me the little white loaves. Well, replied his sister smiling,
come again to see the child. At present, said Gerard,
I find Him wherever I wish.
This was not the only miraculous fact in the childhood of St. Gerard. One day he was playing at forming a procession with some children of his own age. He attached to a tree a little cross that he had made and called upon his young friends to venerate it. But lo, a prodigy! The tree became sparkling with light, to the great amazement of the good people of Muro, and the little Child Jesus, coming down from it, again bestowed upon Gerard the tiny white loaf that He was accustomed to give him. Toward the age of eight, this child so favored by Jesus was already hungering for the Eucharistic Bread. One day when at Mass, he went up to the Holy Table to receive Communion with the other Faithful. The celebrant, seeing him so young, passed him by, and the child retired in tears. But on the night following, St. Michael the Archangel comforted him by bringing him the Bread of Angels. It was for this reason that Gerard preserved during his whole life a tender devotion toward this holy Archangel.
This was not the only time that Benedettas favored son was communicated miraculously. A priest, finding him one day kneeling near the altar, asked him what he was doing there. A little Child, answered Gerard, came out of the Tabernacle and gave me Holy Communion. This favor, so rare in the lives of even the most privileged Saints, Gerard merited, doubtless by his heroic temperance. Who would believe it? This little child took scarcely enough nourishment to support life. His mother, sometimes alarmed at the fact, used to say to her friends: My son eats almost nothing. For whole days he does not touch food.
2. THE SAINTLY SCHOLAR
While still very young, Gerard was sent to school in his native place, Muro. In a short time he learned to read and write, to count and even to express himself with facility. His special love was for the Catechism and all that concerned religion. Far from indulging in the levity of other children during class hours, he was quiet, silent and attentive to his lessons. His docility and application were so great that his teacher regarded him with tender affection and called him his delight. As soon as school was over, little Gerard promptly returned home, carefully shunning the company of such of his fellow scholars as were giddy and unreserved in their speech. It was above all in the Holy Place that the pious child of Muro appeared most admirable. His recollected exterior made him look like an Angel. All the sacred services of the Church attracted him wonderfully. His devotion during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was extraordinary in a child of his age, and he seemed to be entirely absorbed in the great Mystery celebrated at the altar. At the moment of Consecration, he bowed profoundly to the ground. His angelic piety, so charming to all who witnessed it, won the Heart of God and was recompensed by
the apparition of the Infant Jesus. Frequently during the Holy Sacrifice, Gerard beheld on the altar the Infant God under a visible form. His heart was inundated with joy, but when he saw Him disappear at the priests Communion, he shed tears of sorrow.
Even at this early age, he experienced a supernatural attraction for the House of God. It was his Paradise of delights. Just as the child is happy at the mothers side, so this holy boy found his greatest satisfaction at the foot of the Tabernacle. When the evening bell called the people to visit the Blessed Sacrament, he hastened to the church, taking with him his young companions: Let us go, he would say to them, let us go to visit Jesus Christ, who has made Himself a prisoner for us! This tender love for Our Lord was joined to a filial devotion to the Queen of Heaven. He recited her Rosary daily and performed different penances in her honor, especially at the approach of her feasts. For her part, Mary treated him as her privileged child. One day among others, Gerard took part in a pilgrimage from Muro to Caposele. But scarcely was the little pilgrim on his knees before the miraculous picture of the Mother of God than he was ravished in ecstasy, as if Mary had appeared to him.
Despite his youth, he was already favored with the gift of miracles. The care of a lamb had been confided to him. It happened that some robbers stole it and killed it. The childseeing that its loss was a great annoyance to his parents, since the animal did not belong to themsaid: Be assured the lamb will come back. Then he began to pray, and soon, by a prodigy of the Divine Goodness, the little creature was restored to its lawful owner.
Toward his tenth year, the holy child made his First Communion. His seraphic fervor filled with deep emotion all who saw him. From that time, the Eucharist became the food of his soul and the charm of his heart. His confessor hesitated not to grant him the favor of communicating every other day. This angel of earth soon understood that he could not share in the glory of Jesus without first participating in His dolorous Passion. Smitten with the holy folly of the Cross, he imposed upon himself a cruel scourging as the price of every one of the Communions that he received. God Himself was leading him on the way of Calvary.
3. THE SAINTLY APPRENTICE
About this time Gerard lost his father. This obliged his mother to place him as an apprentice to a tailor named Pannuto. The young apprentice devoted himself entirely to his work, meanwhile giving still more care to a faithful correspondence to grace and to following his attraction for prayer. Under the action of the Holy Spirit on his soul, he was sometimes seen ravished out of himself, and again, more freely to pour out his heart before God, he would hide under the worktable. His master loved him and was careful not to reprove him. Not so, however, the foreman. He looked upon such piety with a suspicious eye. One day, he dragged Gerard from the place in which he was praying and began to beat him severely. Strike, strike! said the holy apprentice, you are right in doing so.
On another occasion, the cruel man dealt him blows so violent that Gerard fell unconscious to the ground. Pannuto, appearing unexpectedly on the scene, indignantly demanded an explanation. The foreman, pointing to his victim, replied, Let him say. He knows very well. I fell from the table, said the youth gently. Another time, the brutal man gave him a rude blow on the ear, to which Gerard only responded by a quiet smile. What! You are laughing! exclaimed the barbarian in wrath, and seizing an iron instrument, he pitilessly struck the boy. The tender martyr, throwing himself at his feet, said in a tone full of sweetness: I freely forgive you for the love of Jesus Christ.
One morning, Gerard happened to arrive a little late, which fact furnished a pretext to this madman to beat him with fury. A sweet smile was all that he drew from the child. What! You are laughing! cried his infuriated assailant. Tell me, why are you laughing? It is because the hand of God has struck me, answered the angel of patience. Gerard never complained to his master of the bad treatment he received in his house. Pannuto regarded him with admiration. One day, he secretly followed the youth to church and there saw him after a long prayer lick with his tongue the pavement from where he was kneeling to the foot of the altar and then fall into ecstasy. From that moment he venerated him as a Saint and dismissed the foreman who had so persecuted him.
The following incident is a new proof of the patience of the young tailor. One day as he was passing through a lonely place, the sound of his footsteps frightened away a bird just as a sportsman was going to fire. The latter fell upon him furiously and dealt him a blow on the face. Faithful to the word of the Divine Master, Gerard presented to him the other cheek. The man in his anger beheld in that act only an insult to himself and redoubled his bad treatment. Fortunately, Pannutos son happened to come along and interceded for the innocent youth. The sportsman was appeased, and passing suddenly from anger to admiration, he went about making known everywhere the virtue of the young apprentice. About the time when the grapes were ripening, Pannuto asked Gerard to go one night with his son to guard the vine against robbers. The servant of God, desirous of meditating on the Passion, made a little cross, placed around it some tiny candles and began to chant the Miserere. Suddenly, the thatched shed that sheltered them caught fire. What have you done? exclaimed Pannutos son. It is nothing, responded Gerard quietly, and as he made the Sign of the Cross, the fire was instantly extinguished. Tradition relates another miracle wrought by the Saint when he was with Pannuto. The latter finished a coat for someone. But it proved a misfit; it was too short. Seeing the embarrassment of both the tradesman and the customer, Gerard said: Let me do it. It is nothing. And taking the coat in one hand, he drew it down with the other and at once gave it back widened and lengthened, a perfect fit in every way.
The young lover of the Crucified felt that he was not made for the world. He was drawn by a divine and imperative attraction toward the religious life. He went, therefore, to present himself at the convent of the Capuchins of San Menna, where he had an uncle, a very learned man, named Father Bonaventura de Muro. But Gerard was rejected on account of his poor health. On bidding him goodbye, his uncle, touched at seeing him so poorly clad, gave him a new coat. But hardly had Gerard left the convent when he met a poor man in rags and bestowed upon him the coat just received. His uncle reproached him, but the saintly young man replied: I have given it to one more needy than I.
4. THE SAINTLY DOMESTIC
While awaiting Gods hour for his entrance into religion, Gerard, then about sixteen, took service in the episcopal residence of Msgr. Albini, the Bishop of Lacedonia. He was a man of great merit, but of a hasty temper. God made use of him to exercise His youthful servant in the practice of the most sublime Christian virtues. Complaints, scoldings, humiliations, excessive laborthe humble son of Benedetta was of a nature to support it all. The respectful silence that he kept during and after the most unjust corrections, his manner of receiving themeyes cast down and countenance serenehis cheerfulness always sweet and amiable; his obedience to the least sign, and his love of laboreverything in him already denoted the heroic virtue of a Saint.
Despite his labors, Gerard continued in his new home the astonishing mortifications to which he was accustomed. One day the physician, noticing the pallor of his countenance, asked him whether he was sick. I am well, answered Gerard, smiling. The physician, incredulous, touched him on the breast and found that he was wearing a rough hairshirt. Affable toward all, good to the poor, tender toward the sick, the holy youth knew only one enemy, and that was himself. For his own nourishment, he allowed himself only a little bread and rarely any vegetables. Whatever else was given him in the kitchen, he reserved for the poor and sick. All who met him passing through the streets of the city were struck by his modest appearance. Little Gerard, they used to say, is not a man; he is an Angel, he is a Saint. But what edified the beholder above all else was his recollection, his piety when in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. When his occupations permitted, he was sure to be found in the Cathedral, paying court to the King of kings. At the sight of so edifying an example, many resolved to pay a daily visit to the Saviour in His Sacrament of Love.
God, who loves simple and pure souls, was pleased to fulfill the least desires of this earthly angel. One day, Gerard was so unfortunate as to let the key of the Bishops room fall down the well. Foreseeing the chagrin that this accident would cause the prelate, the poor boy was himself greatly troubled. What should he do to recover the key? In his perplexity, he began to pray. Suddenly, filled with confidence, he ran to get a statue of the Infant Jesus, which he let down into the well, saying, It is for Thee, Lord, to bring me the key, that the Bishop may not be put to trouble. O prodigy! In the sight of a crowd of bystanders, Gerard drew up the Infant Jesus holding in His hand the lost key. This well was thenceforth called, Little Gerards Well.
Three years after Gerards entrance into the service of the Bishop, the latter died. This was in 1744. The boy wept over the death of his master. Alas! I have lost my best friend, he exclaimed, so eager was he for mortifications.
5. THE SAINTLY WORKMAN
After the death of his master, Gerard returned to Muro, thinking to earn his living by his trade. But as he had not worked at it for three years, he entered upon an apprenticeship once more, with a very good man named Vitus Mennona, whose home he perfumed with the fragrance of his virtues. Vitus held him in an esteem that never diminished. He loved to recount the following prodigy: One day, a woman belonging to his family went to wash the linen at a fountain about a mile from the city. Gerard accompanied her. Suddenly, a deluge of rain forced them to seek shelter in a neighboring hut. As it grew late and the rain still continued, the poor woman began to lament and say, How shall we get home? At these words, Gerard stepped outside the door and, full of confidence in God, raised his eyes to Heaven, exclaiming, Lord, what shall we do? The words were scarcely out of his mouth before the rain ceased, the weather cleared up and they returned home.
His second apprenticeship over, Gerard took up his abode in his mothers home. Work was never wanting to him, his perfect honesty attracting many customers. With his mothers consent, he divided his earnings into three parts: one for the family, one for the poor and the third for the souls in Purgatory. Benedetta sometimes complained of the liberality of her son, but he would say, Fear nothing, Mother, God will provide for all our needs. He loved, above all, to work for the poor. One day, God manifested to him how pleased He was with his charity. A poor man had sent him some material for a garment, but far less than it would take to make it. In the hands of the servant of God, it so increased that when the garment was finished, some of the material remained over. The miraculous surplus was conscientiously returned to the man. He frequently had Masses celebrated for the Suffering Souls. They, too, are poor, he used to say. They earnestly call for our help. When work was not as brisk as usual, he was broken-hearted.
He then ate only dry bread, that he might be able to assist the poor of the good God and his dear souls in Purgatory. But what he gave, he took from himself, for he always had at heart the practice of mortification, and especially that of the taste. He ate so little that his existence seemed a miracle. When pressed to eat, he would reply: I am not hungry. He was ingenious, also, in discovering means to stifle the cravings of hunger. His mother asked him one day what he did with the roots that he always carried in his pocket. They serve, he answered, to chase away appetite. Benedetta shed bitter tears over the austerities of her son, but her friends consoled her by telling her that he was a child of Heaven.
At the age of twenty, Gerard went for about a month to San Fele, a little town not far from Muro. He had been invited to do so by one of his townsmen, who had opened there a school for the higher branches. This man had need of a tailor to attend to the clothes of his boarding pupils. His name was Malpiedi. It would be difficult to imagine all that the Saint had to endure in his house. The pupils, with precocious malice, were ingenious in tormenting him, not only by insults, but by blows brutally multiplied. In the midst of the most inhuman treatment, which was often very prolonged, the holy young man uttered only the words, Stop now! or O God! or What have I done to you? And who would believe that Malpiedi himself, wishing doubtless to see how far the patience of the humble workman would go, subjected him several times to the punishment of the whip. But the pain never drew a complaint from this soul thirsting for martyrdom.
6. THE SERAPH OF MURO
Love assimilates lovers. Deeply moved at beholding Jesus Christ treated during His Passion as a fool, Gerard under the influence of a supernatural inspiration, determined to imitate folly. This holy folly of divine love cost him dearly. The children ran after him in the streets of Muro, made sport of him, said a thousand insulting things to him, threw mud in his face and loaded him with blows. Some of them went so far as even to bind him with cords, drag him along the stony road and hold him up as a spectacle of derision to the multitude. Gerard bore all their cruel treatment, not as a fool, but as a Saint. With smiling and radiant countenance, he said: All this is little for the love of Jesus Christ, who became like unto a fool of love for my sake. It was at that moment the Lord placed upon his lips prophetic words: You despise me now, but a time will come when you will hold me in honor and kiss my hand. In the excess of his love for Jesus suffering, Gerard wished to undergo like Him the punishment of scourging. Often, relates Felix Farenga, the Saints friend and confidant, very often, I had to tie him to a post and strike him over his bare shoulders with wet cords. He bore it with joy, and when I expressed my repugnance at striking him so long, he earnestly begged me to continue, until his body was one wound and his blood flowed on all sides. The young lover of the Cross made use of another means to crucify himself. He had himself suspended from a beam, head downward, over some smoldering rags, that the smoke might torture his eyes and throat. We ought to suffer, he used to say, to please Him who suffered so much for us.
This torment of smoke seems to have had for him a special attraction. One day, at the Stella house, he bent down under the mantlepiece just as a volume of thick smoke was mounting up from the fire. Gerard, what are you doing there? asked someone. Smoke is good for beautiful eyes, he answered gaily. In all these circumstances, Gerard followed an interior attraction which was the manifest expression of Gods designs over him. They who inflicted on him such torture knew him well, and it was their good faith that excused them for having made him suffer so cruelly.
It is customary in Italy to re-enact the scenes of the Passion. One of these pious spectacles was organized in the Cathedral of Muro, but someone was lacking to represent Jesus Crucified. Gerard obtained this favor. At the appointed hour, the Cathedral doors were opened, and Gerard was seen hanging on the cross, his arms extended and as if in agony. At this sight, the people burst into tears, and Benedetta, unprepared to behold her son in such a situation, uttered a cry of anguish and fell fainting. If Gerard was smitten with the sublime folly of the Cross, he was not less so with that of the Eucharist. As during the day, he could not fully satisfy his heart, obliged as he was to labor for his living, he indemnified himself at night. The sacristan of the Cathedral, a relative of his, readily gave him the keys of the Holy Place. There Gerard, seraph of love, found his delight in spending whole nights in adoration at the foot of the holy Tabernacle. The Heart of the good Master, ravished by the touching simplicity and holy folly of the pious young man, gave him to understand, in order to try him, that He looked upon his conduct as worthy of a fool. But Thou, O my good Jesus, responded Gerard with holy familiarity, in which the most ardent love and the most filial respect were mingled, hast not Thou given me the first example of folly by thus imprisoning Thyself for me?
On another occasion, the Divine Master reproached him lovingly for the apparent extravagance of his piety. O my God, replied Gerard, how canst Thou address such a reproach to me? Is it not Thyself Who hast taught me these follies? He would have desired to inflame the universe with the burning ardor that consumed his own heart for the Blessed Sacrament. How often were these words heard to escape his lips: Come, let us go to see Jesus, our Prisoner of Love!
Hell was enraged at such piety. One morning, as Gerard was about to enter the Cathedral, the demon rushed upon him in the form of a horrible mastiff, barking furiously and seemingly about to devour him. The Saint made the Sign of the Cross, and the monster vanished. One night, Satan threw upon him a statue, which after wounding his arm, began to run after him in the church, as if it were alive. Unshaken in his confidence in Jesus, Gerard went on with his prayer and thus chased away the enemy.
His devotion to the Queen of Heaven was incomparable. If he knelt to pray before her statue or picture, he could not tear himself away. He loved to repeat: The Madonna has stolen my heart, and I have made her a present of it. The mere thought of her or the sound of her name made his heart thrill with love. A novena was celebrated at Muro in honor of the Immaculate Conception. Gerard, whose joy it was to assist at all the sacred services, had been on his knees for a long time. Suddenly, yielding to an irresistible inspiration of grace, he arose in the presence of the crowd, his countenance inflamed, and going up to the statue of Mary, placed a ring on its finger, exclaiming in a loud voice: Behold me betrothed to the Madonna! By this he desired to signify the consecration of his virginity to the Virgin of virgins, or to speak more properly, the betrothal of his virginity with that of Mary. He was so faithful to his engagement that he ever preserved unsullied the lily of chastity and the robe of baptismal innocence. His directors were unanimous in calling him an angel of purity.
It was about this time that Gerard consoled a poor mother by curing with the Sign of the Cross her child who had fallen into boiling water and whose heartrending cries touched all hearts with pity. Another time, when passing before a building, he saw that the laborers were disconcerted because the beams were not long enough to reach from one wall to the other. The servant of God told the men to pull them with ropes. The workmen obeyed, and the beams immediately lengthened to the dimensions desired.
Gerard was not for the world, and the world was irksome to him. Not being able to obtain admission among the Capuchins, he formed the project of retiring into the solitude of some mountain, far from the sight of men. There he would divide his time between prayer, labor and penance, living on herbs and roots, as did the ancient Fathers of the Desert. A young man, fervent like himself, offered to accompany him. Their plan of life was hardly put into execution when obedience constrained them to abandon it. Gerard was now twenty-two years old. God, who did not will him to be an anchorite, but a lay brother of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, was not slow in opening the way for him. In August, 1748, Father Garzilli passed through Muro with Brother Onofrio. Scarcely did Gerard see them when he felt inspired to join them. They told him that their Institute was not suitable for him on account of the rigor of its Rule and that his frail health would not permit him to observe it. But that is precisely what I am seeking, replied the austere young man.
The next year, the Redemptorists gave the exercises of the mission at Muro with marvelous success. Gerard, enraptured by the zeal and holiness of the missionaries, became so attached to them that he could not quit their house. He spoke of his vocation to Father Cafaro, the Superior, and begged for admittance to the Institute. The Father, seeing him so slight, judged him unsuited to the life of a lay brother and advised him to renounce his design. This refusal did not discourage Gerard. He renewed his petition, but in vain. Benedetta, on her side, did all in her power to persuade her son not to leave her. My son, she would say to him weeping and making allusion to the scene in the Cathedral related above, my son, I entreat you by the pain that you caused me when I saw you on the cross; give me not this new sorrow. His sisters united with his mother to dissuade him from his design. They went so far as to lock him up. But faithful to his vocation, the prisoner, by the aid of the sheets from his bed, escaped by the window. He left a note to this effect: I am going to become a Saint. Think no more of me.
On leaving his mothers house, Gerard ran after the Fathers, who had gone
to give a mission at Rionero, and in the most humble and touching manner reiterated
his petition. Try me first, he repeated in a suppliant tone and
shedding a torrent of tears, try me first, and then you can send me away.
If you do not receive me, he added, you will see me every day begging
alms at the convent gate. His admirable firmness softened Father Cafaro,
who decided to give him a trial. He sent him to the convent of Iliceto, bearing
with him a letter to the Father who was holding his place. It began with these
words: I am sending you a useless brother.
Taken from St. Gerard Majella by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.
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