St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows
St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows is a wonderful saint to invoke for those tempted to succumb to “peer pressure” and those longing to become priests in those days but prevented by the lack of valid hierarchy. Never one to indulge in human respect, this saint braved the disapproval of his father and siblings to enter religious life. He would later systematically strip himself of everything that stood between himself and God.
Francis Possenti was born in Assisi, Italy on March 1, 1838, the eleventh child in his family. His father was the governor of Assisi, his mother a homemaker. Before he was three, Francis’ mother died. The boy’s father comforted him by repeating that his mother’s death was “…the adorable will of God.” It was to become the theme of Francis’ life.
Francis was a good student, an obedient and loving son. He was drawn to the religious life even as a child. While his family was devout, they also enjoyed the finer things of life. As a teen and young man Francis was known as a dandy, a fine dancer and a frequenter of parties and the opera house. It wasn’t until tragedy struck the Possenti family that Francis began to open his eyes. An older brother died fighting Italy’s war for independence, then a second brother committed suicide after becoming involved in a Masonic sect. Finally Francis’ favorite sister died at a young age. On the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Francis’ received a message from Our Lady begging him to follow his vocation. On the eve of his engagement, ignoring the objections of his family, Francis entered the Passionist Order, convinced it was God’s will.
As a brother studying for the priesthood, he chose the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows because the Blessed Mother stood close to the cross. Despite ill health, he performed strenuous penances and steadily purged his life of all earthly dross. In letters and in person, he repeatedly entreated his father and siblings to become more devout and abandon worldly things, refusing to discontinue the religious life as they advised.
St. Gabriel is a model saint for our times because he longed to be a priest but was prevented again and again, by circumstances and ill health, from advancing beyond first tonsure. He never complained or questioned the delay, humbly accepting it as God’s will for him. Truly his devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows marks him as one of our special saints for today. In a letter to his father, he wrote the following inspiring words: “That loving Virgin of Sorrows, who cannot behold our misery without compassion, holds us in peace beneath her mantle. The sword which pierced her most pure and loving heart is now wielded by her in our defense. If we show compassion for Mary in her sorrows, she will infallibly share in the grief of ours. Oh how sweet and safe it is to surrender ourselves to her care! If Mary be for us, who shall prevail against us?”
The following are excerpts from a prayer St. Gabriel wrote to the Mother of Sorrows for a happy death during his final illness:
“O Mother of Sorrows, by the anguish and love which thou didst stand by the Cross of Jesus, stand by me in my last agony.
“To thy maternal heart I commend the last three hours of my life. Offer these hours to the Eternal Father in union with the agony of our dear Lord in atonement for my sins.
“Offer to the Eternal Father the most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, mingled with thy tears on Calvary, so that I may obtain the grace of… the most perfect love and contrition before my death, that I may breathe forth my soul in the presence of Jesus.
“Dearest Mother of Sorrows, when the moment of my death has come, present me to Jesus as your child. Make him to receive me into the Kingdom of his glory to be united with him forever and ever Amen.”
Gabriel could have married and enjoyed an easy life in this world had he followed the advice of his family. Instead he obeyed the call of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to study for the priesthood. And when he became ill, he begged God for an early death, a request that was quickly answered. Having successfully overcome human respect, God received His son Gabriel into the heavenly kingdom on Feb. 22, just two days short of his 24th birthday. His dying words, accompanied by an angelic smile, were, “Mother mine, make haste, please hurry.” And you, St. Gabriel, please hasten us to heaven.