From - A Reluctant Sinner blog
St Veronica Giuliani: "I have found Love, Love has let himself be seen!" A mystic who kept her feet firmly on the ground!
Today is the feast of St Veronica Giuliani, one of the Church’s greatest mystics – known for having been graced with the stigmata as well as a large dose of practical common sense. St Veronica, whose deep desire to be utterly united to Christ’s loving Passion was granted to her by her Lord, is proof of the fact that gifts of sanctity usually only ever come to those who both know their own weaknesses and have their feet planted firmly on the ground.
Born in December 1660 at Mercatello, she was named Ursula by her parents, Francesco and Benedetta. Her family was both wealthy and pious, whilst her mother had an especial devotion to Our Lord’s Five Wounds. In fact, as Benedetta Giuliani lay dying, when Ursula was only a 7-year-old girl, she dedicated each of her five daughters to a particular wound of Christ. She offered Ursula to the wound below Jesus’ heart.
The young Ursula displayed signs of sanctity from an early age. Her first words were not those normally uttered by an 18-month old child, but were a warning directed at an unjust merchant who was selling false measures of oil. "Do justice, God sees you", said the saintly baby! As a 3-year-old, Ursula supposedly began showing great compassion towards the poor and vulnerable, giving a daily portion of her food and also her spare clothes to those locals who found themselves in need.
Before entering the convent in her teens, though, Ursula showed great humility in admitting publicly to her defects of character and other faults. She confessed that she had enjoyed the luxurious life she had been accustomed to in her father’s house, and also recognised that she had lacked compassion when dealing with those whom she thought were lacking in spirituality or faith. Realising she was prone to a dictatorial manner when confronted with others who did not share her particular form of piety, she was granted a vision in which she saw that her heart seemed "like steel". This vision led the young Ursula to embrace the religious life – in which she hoped that she would cease to be so harsh, wiping her heart with the veil of Christ’s compassion, so that she would become a ‘true image’ (Veronica) of the Sacred Heart.
Ursula’s father refused to give consent for his daughter to enter the religious life, as he wanted her to marry. In fact, he had already lined up a number of eligible bachelors for her to choose from. But the pious young girl had her heart set on being clothed in the habit and veil, and dearly wished to become a Poor Clare attached to the Capuchins. Francesco Giuliani, though, persisted with his intention to see Ursula married. Her earthly father's will caused Ursula to become severely ill. In fact, she became so sick that she was no longer attractive to any of the suitors her father had chosen for her. Seeing God’s hand in his daughter’s illness, Francesco relented and consented to Ursula’s desire to become a nun. Upon hearing this good news, his daughter was immediately restored to perfect health!
In 1677, Ursula was received into the monastery of the Poor Clares in Città di Castello, Umbria. She received the name Veronica, both in memory of the Passion and also, as mentioned above, because she had a deep interior desire to be so conformed to Christ that she would become his true image. It is reported that as she was taking her vows, the local bishop turned to the abbess and said: “I commend this new daughter to your special care, for she will one day be a great saint.”
Veronica’s first years in the monastery were marked by her absolute submission to the will of her superiors, but also by interior spiritual and mental trials. As she quietly worked in the kitchen, infirmary, and sacristy, Veronica was often tempted to return to the world – to the exciting and privileged life she had been accustomed to at home. Sometimes, her superiors in the convent could be as dictatorial as she herself had once been, and imposed burdensome disciplines on the young nun. But Veronica gently and joyfully did all that she was told to do. At the age of 34, she was made novice mistress for the convent, a position she held for many years. Three years later, as a 37-year-old, Veronica received the stigmata.
In 1693, the year before she became mistress of novices, Veronica received a vision of a chalice, which she interpreted as symbolising Our Lord’s Passion, which she had longed to be united to since her childhood. Yet, having always wanted to become a true image of Christ, when finally confronted with the reality of the Passion, Veronica shrank from accepting this cup of suffering – in so doing, she actually imitated Christ even more perfectly, when he said: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; but not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). After deciding to submit totally to the will of God, and to her most profound vocation of suffering, Veronica began to experience great spiritual and mental anguish. In 1694, she received the impression of the Crown of Thorns on her head (which usually symbolises mental suffering). On Good Friday, 1697, she received the impression the Five Holy Wounds on her hands, feet and side - and so began her physical, mental and spiritual passion.
Needless to say, Veronica’s superiors and the local bishop were weary of these mystical impressions on her body, and ordered her to live under medical supervision. In fact, Veronica was also stopped from attending daily Mass, lest she became a distraction to the younger nuns, whilst she was also temporarily deprived of her role as mistress of the novices. She also had her hands bound in special gloves, sealed by the bishop, and was even stopped for a while from talking with members of her own community. All this continued until the bishop and the abbess were convinced that the stigmata she bore was genuine. These deprivations must have added to the intense pain Veronica was already suffering from – the mental and physical anguish associated with Our Lord’s Passion. Often, it seems that some of our greatest saints have been hurt not by the world or those who persecute the Faith, but rather by the actions of those who are in authority within the Church – maybe this is why Veronica would often quote those famous words of St Paul: “who can separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rm 8:35).
Needless to say, Veronica’s mystical union with Christ was eventually accepted as being authentic and of God, and she returned to her work in the monastery. Although supernaturally and mystically united to Christ’s Passion for the remainder of her life, Veronica also lived a very practical and down-to-earth existence. She prudently discouraged her novices from following her particular vocation of suffering, and would not even allow them to read mystical books. She remained convinced that salvation and sanctity lay in doing the little things, being obedient to those whom Christ has placed in authority over us, and in trying to live to the best - with God's grace - that state of life we find ourselves in. When Veronica was elected abbess, against her own wishes, in 1716, she became an extremely practical and hands-on leader. Not only did she enlarge and develop the monastic enclosure, but she also installed a much needed system of water-pipes for the abbey!
St Veronica Giuliani died in her convent on 9 July 1727, leaving behind a great spiritual legacy – a vast wealth of writings, mystical treatises, poems, and a diary that is well over 22,000 pages long! Symbols of the Passion were found 'engraved' upon her heart immediately after her death. During the process of her canonisation, her body was discovered to be incorrupt after many years - though eventually deteriorated. She was beatified by Pope Pius VII in 1804 and canonised by Pope Gregory XVI in 1839. St Veronica is usually depicted with a Crown of Thorns and holding a crucifix.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated one of his December general audiences to reflecting upon the life and spirituality of St Veronica Giuliani. He specifically touched upon the particular and rare vocation of the stigmatist as well as on Veronica’s down-to-earth and grounded way of life, and her great contribution to the Church’s understanding of the role of suffering in the Christian vocation. Here is part of what the Holy Father said: -
St Veronica has a markedly Christological and spousal spirituality: She experienced being loved by Christ, her faithful and sincere Bridegroom, to whom she wished to respond with an ever more involved and passionate love. She interpreted everything in the key of love and this imbued her with deep serenity. She lived everything in union with Christ, for love of him, and with the joy of being able to demonstrate to him all the love of which a creature is capable.
The Christ to whom Veronica was profoundly united was the suffering Christ of the Passion, death and Resurrection; it was Jesus in the act of offering himself to the Father in order to save us.
Her intense and suffering love for the Church likewise stemmed from this experience, in its dual form of prayer and offering. The Saint lived in this perspective: she prayed, suffered and sought “holy poverty”, as one “dispossessed” and the loss of self (cf. Diary., III, 523), precisely in order to be like Christ who gave the whole of himself.
In every page of her writings Veronica commends someone to the Lord, reinforcing her prayers of intercession with the offering of herself in every form of suffering. Her heart dilated to embrace all “the needs of the Holy Church”, living anxiously the desire for the salvation of “the whole world” (ibid., III-IV, passim).
Veronica cried: “O sinners... all men and all women, come to Jesus’ heart; come to be cleansed by his most precious blood.... He awaits you with open arms to embrace you” (ibid., II, 16-17).
Motivated by ardent love, she gave her sisters in the monastery attention, understanding and forgiveness. She offered her prayers and sacrifices for the Pope, for her Bishop, for priests and for all those in need, including the souls in Purgatory.
She summed up her contemplative mission in these words: “We cannot go about the world preaching to convert souls but are bound to pray ceaselessly for all those souls who are offending God... particularly with our sufferings, that is, with a principle of crucified life” (ibid., IV, 877). Our Saint conceived this mission as “being in the midst” of men and God, of sinners and the Crucified Christ.
Veronica lived profound participation in the suffering love of Jesus, certain that “to suffer with joy” is the “key to love” (cf. ibid., I, 299.417; III, 330.303.871; IV, 192). She emphasizes that Jesus suffers for humanity’s sins, but also for the suffering that his faithful servants would have to endure down the centuries, in the time of the Church, precisely because of their solid and consistent faith.
She wrote: “His Eternal Father made them see and feel the extent of all the suffering that his chosen ones would have to endure, the souls dearest to him, that is, those who would benefit from his Blood and from all his sufferings" (ibid., II, 170).
As the Apostle Paul says of himself: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).
Veronica reached the point of asking Jesus to be crucified with him. “In an instant”, she wrote, “I saw five radiant rays issue from his most holy wounds; and they all shone on my face. And I saw these rays become, as it were, little tongues of fire. In four of them were the nails; and in one was the spear, as of gold, red hot and white hot: and it went straight through my heart, from one side to the other ... and the nails pierced my hands and feet. I felt great pain but in this same pain I saw myself, I felt myself totally transformed into God” (Diary, I, 897).
The Saint was convinced that she was already participating in the Kingdom of God, but at the same time she invoked all the Saints of the Blessed Homeland to come to her aid on the earthly journey of her self-giving while she waited for eternal beatitude; this was her undying aspiration throughout her life (cf. ibid., II, 909; V, 246).
With regard to the preaching of that time which often focused on “saving one’s soul” in individual terms, Veronica shows a strong “sense of solidarity”, a sense of communion with all her brothers and sisters on their way towards Heaven and she lives, prays and suffers for all. The penultimate, earthly things, although appreciated in the Franciscan sense as gifts of the Creator, were always relative, altogether subordinate to “God’s taste” and under the sign of radical poverty.
In the communio sanctorum, she explains the gift of herself to the Church, as the relationship between the pilgrim Church and the heavenly Church. “All the Saints”, she wrote, “are up there thanks to the merit and the Passion of Jesus; but they cooperated with all that the Lord did, so that their life was totally ordered ... regulated by these same works (his)” (ibid., III, 203).
In particular, Veronica proved a courageous witness of the beauty and power of Divine Love which attracted her, pervaded her and inflamed her. Crucified Love was impressed within her flesh as it was in that of St Francis of Assisi, with Jesus’ stigmata. “‘My Bride’, the Crucified Christ whispers to me, ‘the penance you do for those who suffer my disgrace is dear to me’.... Then detaching one of his arms from the Cross he made a sign to me to draw near to his side... and I found myself in the arms of the Crucified One. What I felt at that point I cannot describe: I should have liked to remain for ever in his most holy side” (ibid., I, 37). This is also an image of her spiritual journey, of her interior life: to be in the embrace of the Crucified One and thus to remain in Christ's love for others.
Veronica also experienced a relationship of profound intimacy with the Virgin Mary, attested by the words she heard Our Lady say one day, which she reports in her Diary: “I made you rest on my breast, you were united with my soul, and from it you were taken as in flight to God” (IV, 901).
St Veronica Giuliani invites us to develop, in our Christian life, our union with the Lord in living for others, abandoning ourselves to his will with complete and total trust, and the union with the Church, the Bride of Christ.
She invites us to participate in the suffering love of Jesus Crucified for the salvation of all sinners; she invites us to fix our gaze on Heaven, the destination of our earthly journey, where we shall live together with so many brothers and sisters the joy of full communion with God; she invites us to nourish ourselves daily with the Word of God, to warm our hearts and give our life direction. The Saint’s last words can be considered the synthesis of her passionate mystical experience: “I have found Love, Love has let himself be seen!” Thank you.
(For the text of the Holy Father's address in full, please see the Vatican website)
St Veronica Giuliani, pray for us!
In the traditional calendar, today also marks the feast of Ss John Fisher & Thomas More in England and Wales - may these two great martyrs of the Catholic faith continue to inspire us and pray for us who strive to live, as St Thomas More once said, according to "the general counsel of Christendom"!
With the kind permission of A Reluctant Sinner