J.M.J. "I will attempt day by day to break my will into pieces. I want to do God's Holy Will, not my own!" This inspiring motto for daily living was expressed by Francesco Possenti (1838-1862), known in the religious life as "Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother." This youthful Saint, touched profoundly by the Holy Spirit, exemplified the burning desire to embrace the Lord's plans--regardless of the cost--rather than his own.
For various reasons but especially due to his remarkable abandonment to Divine Providence and to the care of his beloved Madonna, Saint Gabriel, whose Feast is February 27, is an excellent companion for us during Lent.
Francesco Possenti was born on March 1, 1838 in Assisi, Italy, one of thirteen children. His early life as a young adult was marked with a strong love for "the world": theatre and hunting were among his pursuits.
Having decided that the Lord had other designs for him, Francesco entered the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, commonly referred to as the "Passionists." He spent his days in prayer, sacrifice and contemplation of the Sacred Passion of Jesus and the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. In time, Gabriel received Minor Orders in preparation for the Holy Priesthood.
Gabriel cultivated a tender affection for the Mother of God. He wrote:
"Love Mary! . . . She is loveable, faithful, constant. She will never let herself be outdone in love, but will ever remain supreme. If you are in danger, she will hasten to free you. If you are troubled, she will console you. If you are sick, she will bring you relief. If you are in need, she will help you. She does not look to what kind of person you have been. She simply comes to a heart that wants to love her. She comes quickly and opens her merciful Heart to you, embraces you and consoles and serves you. She will even be at hand to accompany you on the trip to eternity."
This religious died of tuberculosis in the Abruzzi region of Italy on February 27, 1862, just two days shy of his 24th birthday.
Many miracles were attributed to Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother after his death. In fact, the extraordinary Gemma Galgani (1878-1903), who one day would also be raised to the glories of the Altar, was healed and consoled by his intercession and even his mysterious presence in several visions.
On May 31, 1908, Pope Saint Pius X (1903-1914) beatified Gabriel. On May 13, 1920, Gabriel was canonized by Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922), who exhorted young men and women to pattern themselves after his sterling example. And in 1959, Pope Blessed John XXIII (1958-1963) named him the Principal Patron of the Abruzzi region.
Saint Gabriel's love for Jesus and Mary as well as his continual surrender to the Divine Will is a challenge to all of us who are spending these forty days of Lent in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Our efforts are meant to make us, like Saint Gabriel, more conformed to the Crucified Christ Who laid down His life for each of us.
Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother, pray for us!