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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Saint Veronica Giuliani (1660-1727)

Saint Veronica Giuliani (1660-1727)

It is not unusual for mystics to be fluent with the pen. Veronica
Giuliani indeed was no exception. Her manuscript Diary
contains twenty two thousand pages in which she relates the
dramatic and intense events of her journey towards God. The
saint wrote it “with mortification and embarrassment ... for the
sake of simple obedience.” However, the truth be told, it could
also be said that she wrote with great effort and loss of sleep since she
usually wrote these things through the course of the night, depriving the
body of its needed rest.

In practice the Diary ranges over a period of the sixty seven years of the
saint’s life. Starting with her memories of early childhood – and these are
discussed in five special tracts - the Diary continues up to 25 March 1727
when, as Veronica says, Our Lady said, “Time for a full-stop.” And her hand
put down the pen forever.

Veronica was born in Mercatello sul Metauro on 27 December 1660 and
was baptised Orsola the following day. He father commanded the local
garrison with the rank of ensign. Seven children were born to him and his
wife Benedetta Mancini. Two of children died quite young. Orsola was the
last, and like the other daughters, grew up within a very devout
environment created by her mother in particular. Her mother was deeply
religious and sensitive. She left her little brood of children and teenagers
on 28 April 1667, at only about forty years of age.

Before dying she gathered her daughters around. Showing them the Cross
she assigned a wound to each of them. Orsola, the smallest, received that
of His side. This action says a lot about the faith of the Giuliani family
where prayer in common, harmony and the practice of works of mercy
nourished everyday life. During the process of Veronica’s canonization
someone added, “In the Giuliani household they read the life of a saint
every evening.”

As in Mercatello so also in the years 1669-1672 at Piacenza where the girls
followed their father who had obtained the office of superintendent of taxes
in the service of the Duke of Parma, and then after their return to

Of this happy period of her life Veronica will remember the pranks, the
goodness of those who surrounded her, the tender devotion of the prayers
to Our Lady and the Baby Jesus, the first attractions to the religious life,
the long and exasperating resistance with which her father opposed the
fulfilment of this ardent wish of hers.

Francesco Giuliani had allowed his other four daughters to enter the
monastery freely. However, he was not prepared to cede to the request of
Orsola, his dearest, the most intelligent, and the one in whom he was the
most interested, the most spoiled and pampered of the daughters. He
wanted her to marry and stay with him. However Orsola had already
decided when she was nine years old and it was up to the old ensign to
capitulate to her immovable determination. So it was that on 28 October
1677, while she had not yet turned seventeen, Orsola was clothed in the
religious habit of the Capuchin Poor Clares in CittĂ  di Castello, taking the
symbolic name of Veronica.

But whose ‘true image’ or faithful copy will she be? Veronica’s enthusiasm,
an expression of her young age – for a long time in the monastery they
called her “la bambina” (the baby), did not countenance any doubts. With
all her being she longed to become a true image of Christ crucified.
On entering the Capuchin Poor Clares she brought her inestimable
spiritual riches: innocence, the habit of prayer, boundless enthusiasm, a
determination to live the life in earnest, and a large quantity of candour
that did not envisage any obstacles whatsoever to her burning thirst for
religious perfection. Veronica is ready and determined to reach holiness
heroically, as did her models, the saints, whose deeds she had learned to
understand since her childhood. The monastery is the gym that will enable
her to become generous like them. In her view she must run in pursuit of
them along the tracks of prayer and penitence, contemplation and

Veronica continued on this line for around twenty years, amid obstacles
and misunderstandings, resolved to succeed at all costs. Around her in the
monastery everything happened within the greyness of the ordinary day to
day life. However, her journey towards God was marked with important
milestones: I November 1678, religious profession; 4 April 1681, Jesus
places the crown of thorns on her head; 17 September 1688 she is elected
novice mistress, an office she will fill until 18 September 1691; 12
December 1693 she begins to write her Diary; from 3 October 1694 until
21 March 1698 she was novice mistress again; Good Friday, 5 April 1697
she receives the stigmata, and in the course of the same year she was
denounced to the Holy Office and in 1699 was deprived of active and
passive voice.

These are dates and events, which in themselves allow us to intuit that
something mysterious was happening within Veronica to which her
monastic world reacted with trust and admiration and also with open
warfare at the expense of her poor “humanity” subjected to privations,
difficulties and humiliations of every kind. The account of her sufferings,
whether those sought by her or imposed upon her, is somewhat horrifying.
Neither the modern hagiographer nor modern reader can manage to justify
or even understand such behaviour. In a certain sense Veronica herself will
renounce them when, after finally having surpassed that stage of her
fearful self-discipline, she spoke of “the crazy things that love had me do.”
From the moment she received the stigmata (1697), these “crazy things”
became less frequent and disappeared completely in 1699. From that time
Veronica will be satisfied with “suffering the difficulties and torments that
she saw and knew to be given her directly by the hand of God in order to
purify her still more.” This was a golden rule that she never failed to instil
in the young sisters: she wanted them “to moderate their desire to do

Veronica’s natural inclination meant she took more the part of Mary rather
than that of Martha. In her first years spent in the monastery she believed
she could quench her thirst for perfection by immersing herself in
contemplative meditation. Her repugnance for menial domestic tasks and
the lowly services of charity also pushed her in that direction. Then to fill
her sense of emptiness and discontent, she chose to serve. Moreover she
saw manual work as an aesthetical practice, like a penance, This unleashed
in her an indomitable revulsion because until that moment it had never
entered her mind that carrying out those actions would be more useful and
more altruistic than withdrawing to her cell in contemplation and
mortification. And yet she wondered if contemplation alone could resolve
the moral problem of life. This led her to argue within herself about which
had the greater spiritual value, the active life or the contemplative life.
And here we come across a revealing phrase: “you could have remained in
the world to do good and you would have been even more useful to others.”
Fortunately she quickly concluded that remaining within the monastery can
also be useful for others. So when speaking about living a life hidden in
God she writes, “I have to do this in prayer, in the things that happen,
everywhere; it is not by withdrawing into the cell but in the midst of the
entire community that I have to practise solitude with Jesus ... It seems to
me that what God requires of me becomes evident through works.”
Veronica had gained a practical insight, that the most efficient way to find
and adore God consists in seeking Him with sincerity in the midst of a
hundred different concerns. She will follow this practical rule of thumb
until her dying day and convincingly instil this in her sisters. 

On 7 March 1716 the Holy Office revoked itsdisciplinary measure imposed upon her. This allowed Veronica to participate with full rights in the elections for the various monastic offices. Then in fact a few weeks later, on 5 April, the sisters elected her abbess, the office that she held until her death. Those would be fourteen years of uninterrupted leadership, years blessed by God. They are years bathed in the light of marvels. Her martyrdom of love had meant that she had to endure many things. Love had kept her humanity in unmistakable suffering.
On 6 June 1727 her physical sufferings were sharpened even further. For thirty three days she passed through a triple purgatory – in body, mind and spirit. As we read in an account in her process, this holy woman called together many of her novices and young sisters and said, “Come here, for Love has let himself be
found: this is the cause of my suffering. Tell the others, tell them all.” Then
she asked to hear a song in praise of the Incarnation of the Word. During
the singing she broke into tears, “Who among you would not weep at such
Love?” Then with the obedience of the confessor who assisted her she fell
calm and breathed her last. It was the dawn of 9 July 1727. 

Given her reputation for holiness, the diocesan bishop Alessandro
Francesco Codebò opened the diocesan process five months later on 6
December. Veronica was beatified on 17 June 1804 and canonised on 26
May 1839. 

This translation is based on an article by MARIANO D’ALATRI in Sulle orme dei Santi, 2000, p.145-153

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