Last Saturday, the ninth of July, the universal Church celebrated the feast of the great and most humble Capuchin Poor Clares nun, abbot, mystic and stigmatist St Veronica Giuliani.
She was born Ursula at Mercatello in the Urbino Duchy on December 27, 1660, from a very religious background. Her parents, Francesco and Benedetta Mancini Giuliani, brought to the world seven sisters. Three of them entered monastic life. As a child, little Ursula showed extraordinary compassion to the poor. In fact, her life story tells us that she would reserve a portion from her food for the poor together with part of her clothes and handed them to poor children scantily dressed whenever she met them. At the tender age of seven years Ursula lost her mother.
In her Diary as the later Mother Veronica, Ursula writes about her First Communion which took place when she was ten years old. … It seemed to me that at that act I felt outside of myself. … I felt such a great heat that flared up inside of me, especially, my heart was burning…I felt that the Lord had really come to me, and with my whole heart I told him, “My God, it is now time to take complete possession of me. I give myself only to You and it is only You I want.” I seem to remember that He answered, “You are Mine and I am all yours.”
When she went home afterwards, she felt different, transformed, and she realized she had a vocation to the consecrated life, “Oh God! What joy! …I was left with an ardent longing to become a nun, and that I could not wait for the moment to marry God.” When her father was appointed superintendent of finance at Piacenza, the time seemed right for him that his daughter Ursula might marry. However, her marked resistance convinced him to let her embrace monastic life, the life she always wanted to live from that early age.
For the next fifty years Ursula Giuliani lived as Sister Veronica in the Capuchin convent of Città di Castello in Umbria, Italy. Strong determination coupled with humility led Veronica to be an exemplary novice mistress for some thirty-four years and then for eleven years as an abbess, leading the convent with great common sense. To help the young novices not to become enslaved by pride, the wise Veronica did not permit them to read from the great works of famous spiritual masters. On the contrary she asked them to first study books regarding fundamental Christian teaching. Her great charity for her sisters was greatly shown by enlarging the convent rooms and having the convent piped from the inside.
On the same lines of St Teresa of Avila, St Veronica had the most profound communion with God. The following long quote from her Diary shows how much she really struggled to express in words her experience of the divine presence.
While I was about to go to Holy Communion, I seemed to be thrown wide open like a door flung open to welcome a close friend and then shut tight after his entry. So my heart was alone with Him—alone with God. It seems impossible to relate all the effects, feelings, leaping delight and festivity my soul experienced. If I were to speak, for example, of all the happy and pleasant times shared with dear friends . . . , I would be saying nothing comparable to this joy. And if I were to add up all the occasions of rejoicing in the universe, I would be saying that all this amounts to little or nothing beside what, in an instant, my heart experiences in the presence of God. Or rather what God does to my heart, because all these other things flow from Him and are His works.
Love makes the heart leap and dance. Love makes it exult and be festive. Love makes it sing and be silent as it pleases. Love grants it rest and enables it to act. Love possesses it and gives it everything. Loves takes it over completely and dwells in it. But I am unable to say more because if I wished to relate all the effects that my heart experiences in the act of going to Holy Communion and also at other times, I would never finish saying everything. It is sufficient to say that communion is a . . . mansion of love itself.
Her great love for Christ crucified opened for her the way to receive the stigmata, the very wounds of our Saviour. In 1694, the marks of the crown of thorns appeared on her forehead, and, three years later, she received Christ’s five wounds. These experiences were a source of great suffering and humiliation, particularly by the bishop’s rigorous testing to verify the authenticity of her mystical experience. The bishop arrived to a point where he put her under his strict observation, removing her from her Capuchin monastic life. When everything showed that her experience was valid, he decided to reinstate her in her regular Capuchin monastic life as well as to serve her sisters through governance.
Veronica died of apoplexy in 1727, when she was sixty-seven years old. Her body remained incorrupt, and the figure of the cross was found impressed upon her heart. Veronica was beatified on June 17, 1804 by Pope Pius VII and canonised on Mary 26, 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI.
St Veronica’s life reminds us of the great need we have to be mediators between God and sinners as well as mediators and helpers for the suffering souls in Purgatory. Her loving heart was enlarged by God to take in all the needs of the Holy Church, living the desire for the salvation of “the whole world.” Additionally, St Veronica offered her prayers and sacrifices for the Pope, for her Bishop, for priests and for all those in need, including the souls in Purgatory.
In her Diary she wrote what she went through as a novice: Most nights I spent crying, but I did not know what I was crying about. It seems that thinking about the offenses committed against God and thinking about His Passion moved me to tears; but I don’t remember well the reason for crying so frequently. I seem to remember that I felt that there was an obstinate sinner that did not want to be converted to God and this pained me so much that I could not rest day or night, and I would tell the Lord, ‘My God, here I am ready for any suffering as long as you convert all those who offend you.’…Sometimes when I was going to rest, I heard like a real voice telling me, ‘It is not time to rest but to suffer.’ I would get up immediately and kneel in front of the crucifix saying, ‘My God, I ask you for souls. Let these Your Wounds be voices for me and say with me: O souls redeemed by the Blood of Christ, come to this source of love. I am calling you and these Holy Wounds speak for me, but all of you come.
St Veronica Giuliani, pray for us.