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Catholic Heroes… St. Gerard Majella (1726-1755)

September 10, 2020 saints No Comments

By DEB PIROCH

Part 2

Last week’s column examined the basic outline of St. Gerard Majella’s life. Because so many are unfamiliar with just how exemplary this “saint of obedience” was, we have been asked to delve more into the life of the saint who died so young, at age 29. He attributed all the miracles he performed — too numerous to mention, even in a second column — to the virtue of obedience.
This religious brother was a Redemptorist, a relatively new order at the time St. Gerard joined it. Indeed, it was founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori a mere six years after Gerard’s birth. Its mission is primarily focused on “imitating the virtues and examples of Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer, consecrating themselves especially to preaching the word of God to the poor.”
St. Alphonsus was greatly devoted to Christ in the Eucharist and the crucifixion, and to the Infant Jesus. St. Gerard had similar traits. He prayed hours before the Blessed Eucharist, often through the night, and yet it was an effort to tear himself away. He wished to personify Christ crucified and at times scourged himself. Even the image of Christ crucified was said to bring him to ecstasy.
Indeed, just as there is joy in Christ, there is no Resurrection without the crucifixion. And St. Majella was perhaps happiest in uniting his sufferings to Christ.
Many born into poverty despise it. Not so St. Gerard. He embraced it. For instance: He sought his cell for its darkness, and no light was said to penetrate the inside; he slept on a straw mattress, which a brother found on examination was on a couch filled with stones; when ordered to sleep on a regular mattress, he begged and was allowed to sometimes sleep on planks, with nothing but tiles for a pillow and a rock tied to his feet.
He often wore a hair shirt and practiced added mortifications — like fasting and abstinence — beyond the already established holy practices of the Redemptorists.
Another of our greatest saints is Padre Pio. Like St. Gerard, he was most firm and devout in the practice of obedience. Ordered for years not to say the holy Mass in public, to hear Confession, or to advise his spiritual children, he suffered greatly. But in all things Pio’s answer? “Obedience!” He once stated, “Without obedience, there is no virtue.” Is it not obedience that we ourselves seek in praying the Lord’s Prayer and asking, “Thy will be done.” St. Faustina remarked, “The Devil can imitate humility but he cannot imitate obedience.” And to St. Margaret Mary, our Lord revealed:
“Satan is angry and will try to deceive you. So do nothing without the approval of those who guide you. Being thus under the authority of obedience, his efforts against you will be in vain, for he has no power over the obedient.”
Also like Padre Pio, St. Gerard was frequently attacked by the Devil. Not only could St. Gerard defeat or evade the Devil’s torments, he freed numerous persons from diabolical possession. Often, he was assaulted on Friday, the day of Our Lord’s Passion. One night when cooking, demons appeared as wild dogs, and fiercely attempted to drag him into the fire. St. Gerard addressed them: “You may bark, but as long as I have on my side Mary, my Mother, and Jesus Christ, my Savior, you cannot bite me.”
He is also documented to have been beaten (again like Padre Pio) and nearly stifled by attacks by devils, they so feared his power for the Good.
In reading souls, St. Gerard asked a certain Francesco how things had gone during his Confession. After he lied that it had gone well, St. Gerard responded, “Look what you have beside you.” Seeing a demon, Francesco ran straight back to the confessional to make a proper reparation for his sins.
Even St. Gerard’s cincture (belt) was holy enough to bind demons. In one case, two mothers approached him, desperate as both their daughters were possessed. Taking pity on them, he handed them his cincture and said to place it upon their daughters. As soon as the spirits departed, St. Gerard said, have them immediately repair to Confession and receive the Holy Eucharist. Both were delivered.
Mary’s blessed name, so dear to Christ her Son, also provoked ecstasy in St. Gerard. The Redemptorists had built into their rule many devotions to Mary. They were required to say the rosary daily, to visit the Virgin and say a certain number of Ave Marias. They also abstained each Saturday and fasted on her feast days. But St. Gerard did more. Every time he drank water, he prayed the Hail Mary. When the clock chimed the next hour, he did the same. And ordered at one juncture to document his thoughts by a superior, he wrote among the many devotions he added daily were six Hail Marys in the morning and six more at night, with his face prostrate to the ground. On one occasion he placed a ring on the finger of a statue of Mary, and said he considered himself betrothed in his purity to the Blessed Virgin.
On one occasion St. Gerard could not be located and had not been given permission to leave the premises, but apparently was also seen elsewhere. When his superior questioned him on the details, Gerard replied that he had been the whole time in the chapel, only he had requested God to allow him to be invisible so as to work undisturbed in two locations. His superior had to request that in obedience, St. Gerard cease making himself invisible!
Why, one asks, would the Lord allow so many countless miracles be documented to this saint or that — certainly there is a very long list attributed to St. Gerard Majella. One might as well ask why Christ multiplied the bread into loaves to feed the multitudes or raised Lazarus from the dead: “To restore all things to Christ.”
After the beatification of St. Gerard, there was seen no need to re-establish his holiness, as the miracles were so plentiful. Soon after, his case for canonization was therefore opened and two miracles sought for canonization. Two miracles were eventually approved by another saint, Pope Pius X, on what is now the Feast of the Assumption.
The canonization was done three days after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, by a visibly moved Holy Father, in 1904.
Much of this testimonial may be found in a biography from the late 1800s, in Italian, Life of St. Gerard Majella (1993), translated from a French version in 1907 by Fr. Edward Saint-Omer and granted duly both the nihil obstat and imprimatur at that time.

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