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St Gemma Galgani
(northern Italy) (entered heaven on this day, 1903)
There’s nothing wrong with an active social life. But that isn’t what I was referring to. I simply said that you seem to be falling victim to a very dangerous and subtle temptation. It’s called vanity. Vanity will suffocate your soul, unless you do something about it. Vanity is nothing less than deriving your satisfaction in life from the approval of other people. Some people are vain about their intelligence, others about their athleticism, others about their good looks. You know which one I’m referring to in your case, and you better watch out for it (I speak directly because you know I only speak out of my deep love for you).
Vanity is like popcorn: once you get a little taste it’s hard to stop until you finish the bowl. But in vanity’s case, finishing the bowl means losing your soul. Seriously. Because the more you value the frivolous and fickle opinions of other people, the less you care about what God thinks. Soon you may find yourself doing things that you know are wrong, that will wound your friendship with God, just to draw in that the guy you have your eye on. Trust me, it’s not worth it. Where is your happiness going to come from, the advances of some jock who’s going to go bald and have a potbelly in a few years, or the faithful love of the King who died for you? We’re not dealing with rocket science here…
You should talk to today’s saint about this. Gemma too was physically beautiful – she had received two marriage proposals by the time she was nineteen (way ahead of you, I believe). When she had been orphaned as a teenager, she went to live with some relatives who were well off (she herself came from a poor family of eight children) and who involved her in their active and titillating social life. She was so charming and attractive that they encouraged her to become more and more involved, but she knew that God had other hopes for her.
Gemma had been graced with special experiences of God in prayer, even from an early age. Here’s how she described her experience of first Holy Communion: “It is impossible for me to describe what passed between Jesus and myself in that moment. He made himself felt so strongly in my soul. I realized in that moment how the delights of heaven are not like those of the earth, and I was seized by a desire to make that union with my God everlasting.” As she grew, she followed that desire, and God kept leading her along. Although she suffered frail health and died when she was only 25 years old, for years she experienced frequent ecstasies, including the reception of the stigmata every Thursday night (they would last until Friday afternoon or Saturday morning). She had frequent conversation with her guardian angel, always obeyed her confessor, and constantly interceded with God for the salvation of sinners. Of course, the devil made plenty of appearances as well – sometimes throwing her to the ground, sometimes showing up in the guise of her confessor to deceive her. But amid joys and difficulties, she kept her heart set on true north: seeking deeper communion with Jesus, and not letting anything from this world disturb that.
You may not have a vocation to such a retired life (though, on the other hand, you may), but you, and I, and everyone, for that matter, certainly have vocations to seek Christ first. So why not make a visit to the chapel and peel off that ugly veneer of vanity that has been building up over the last few months? If it hurts, ask St Gemma to help you. You’ll be more beautiful by far without it – both now and forever.