Come, let us adore Christ Crucified,
whose mother Saint Gabriel cherished.
~ Invitatory Antiphon for the Feast of St. Gabriel
of our Lady of Sorrows
The Life of St. Gabriel
Gabriel’s life reveals that a profound love for the Mother of Sorrows is of the very essence of the Passionist charism, for it was Mary who appeared to young Paul Francis Daneo, the Passionist founder, and called him to found the Congregation.
Francisco Possenti was born in Assisi on March 1, 1838, the eleventh child of Sante Possenti and Agnes Frisciotti.
The first year of his life was spent away from his family with a nursing woman who cared for him because his mother was unable. In 1841 Sante moved the family to Spoleto where he was appointed magistrate. In that same year, the youngest Possenti child died at just six months old; Francis’ nine-year old sister, Adele, soon followed. Just days later, his heartbroken mother was too called to eternal life. Francis had lost his mother at just 4 years old.
Tragedy continued to plague the family during his youth. In 1846 Francis’ brother, Paul, was killed in the Italian war with Austria. Another brother, Lawrence, later took his own life. Such events, however, did not rob Francis of his spirit and cheerfulness. During his formative years, Francis attended the school of the Christian brothers and then the Jesuit college in Spoleto. He was lively, intelligent and popular at school. At sixteen, he suffered a life-threatening illness. Praying for a cure, Francis promised to become a religious. With recovery, however, Francis quickly forgot his promise. But God’s call would not be denied, and Francis soon turned his heart to the Congregation of the Passionists.
Sante Possenti was less than pleased with his teenage son’s decision. Determined to show Francis the joys of a secular life of theater and society parties, Sante continued to hope Francis would find pleasure in a social life. But the young man was not to be dissuaded. Immediately after completion of his schooling, he left for the Passionist novitiate in Morrovalle. In the novitiate, he cultivated a great love for Christ Crucified. Francis received the Passionist habit on September 21, 1856, which that year was the Feast of the Sorrowful Mother. He was given the name: Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother. A year later he took his vows. His monastic life preparing for the priesthood made Gabriel a secluded, non-public figure. His writings reflect his close relationship with God and His mother.
A Time of Strife
These were difficult and tumultuous times in Italy. The new Italian government issued decrees closing religious Orders in certain provinces of the Papal States. The new Passionist province of Pieta, to which Gabriel belonged, was in the center of this chaos. By 1860, the Passionists had ceased apostolic work due to the growing threats surrounding the community. During this period various Italian provinces were overrun by soldiers who robbed and terrorized the towns with little mercy.
For safety’s sake, the Passionist superiors transferred all their novices to an isolated monastery at Isola in the Abruzzi Mountains of the kingdom of Naples. Stories abound as to Gabriel’s brave encounter there with a soldier who had taken a young village girl at gunpoint. As the story goes, soldiers arrived in Isola and went about robbing buildings and burning houses. Gabriel asked permission to go into town in order to help the frightened townspeople. He soon encountered a soldier who had apprehended a young girl. The soldiers mocked the young monk. They seemed to think that an ordinary monk would not stand up to a soldier. But, eventually, Brother Gabriel forced the company to leave the village in peace.
An Early Death
The people of Isola would always remember him as “their Gabriel.” Struck with tuberculosis at the age of 24, Gabriel died before his ordination to the priesthood. His fidelity to prayer, joyfulness of spirit and habitual mortifications stand out in his otherwise ordinary life. Pope Benedict XV canonized Gabriel in 1920 and declared him a patron of Catholic youth. His patronage is also invoked by the Church for students, seminarians, novices and clerics. Thousands of divine favors are attributed to his intercession with Christ Crucified and the Sorrowful Mother Mary.
Found on the website of the Passionists of Holy Cross Province.
We wish to offer a very special thanks to all of you who joined us in praying for our novitiate. St. Gabriel certainly obtained many “vocation favors” for our community. May the Lord bless and reward you for the many ways you support our hidden monastic life!
A prayer for today’s feast
you gave Saint Gabriel
a special privilege of entering into
the passion of your Son
and the compassion of his Virgin Mary.
Teach us to contemplate with his eyes
the very mystery of salvation
and to grow in love in the spirit of joy.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
Our monastic Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday was a work morning for us and an afternoon of Lectio Divina led by Msgr. Bernard Powers. That evening we shared some recreation together. Certainly we must seek to live the holy gravity of the Season but that does not mean we give up laughter for Lent! As one of the saints said, “A sad saint is a sorry saint.”
Shannon had the most perfect ash cross by the end of the day. Let us pray for one another during this holy Season. Let us be warriors of prayer, penance and charitable deeds…
This calls to mind a poem of St. Therese…
“Smiling I brave the fire;
And in your arms, O my divine Bridegroom,
With a song on my lips, I shall die on the field of battle,
My weapon in my hand.”
Let us take up the weapon of prayer, weekday Mass, the Liturgy, the rosary, almsgiving, Scripture reading, etc.
St. Gabriel, St. Paul of the Cross pray for us to make a holy Lent!
Above drawing of St. Gabriel from Br. Rupert’s blog (A Norbertine with a great devotion to St. Gabriel!)