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Father Anthony Ho

Family tragedies led youth to Mary

Voices Nov. 28, 2018

Francis Possenti loved dancing and spending time with pretty girls but was also known for his charity and great concern for the poor and suffering. The shrine containing the body of St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother is in Isola del Gran Sasso in Italy’s Abruzzo region. (Wikimedia image)

St. John Paul II and St. Josemaria Escriva emphasized the universal call to holiness, and there are a number of modern saints who serve as good models of holiness for young people. One of the young modern saints is St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother.

Francis Possenti (the future St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother) was born in Assisi on March 1, 1838. He was the 11th of 13 children born to Sante Possenti and Agnes Frisciotti and was baptized in the same font used to baptize St. Francis of Assisi more than 600 years earlier.

In 1841 the family moved to Spoleto, a town about 50 kilometres south of Assisi. Francis' father had been appointed to be the new magistrate there. Soon the family began to experience a series of tragedies: the youngest Possenti child died at just six months old; Francis’ nine-year-old sister Adele soon followed. Just days later, his heartbroken mother was also called to eternal life when Francis was just four years old. A few years later, Francis’ brother Paul was killed in the Italian war with Austria. In 1853, another brother, Lawrence, took his own life.

Francis was so affected by family tragedies that when he was sick with a fever at the age of 12 (in 1851), he was convinced he would also die. Praying for a cure, Francis promised to become a religious. With recovery, however, Francis quickly forgot his promise. In August 1856, after an epidemic, there was a religious procession to honour Our Lady. During the procession, Francis looked at the icon of the Virgin Mary and clearly saw the Blessed Mother looking at him. He heard her ask why he had waited so long to answer the call to enter religious life. Francis soon turned his heart to the Congregation of the Passionists.

Francis had a warm and outgoing personality and always had lots of friends. He was always dressed in the latest fashion and was known to spend hours getting ready for parties. He particularly loved spending time with pretty girls and loved to dance. However, Francis was also known for his charity, and he had a great concern for the poor and suffering. He never neglected his morning and evening prayers, and he attended Mass every day.

Francis had three great loves: the Blessed Sacrament, the Passion of Our Lord, and the Sorrowful Mother. His devotion to these three holy loves transformed his life from a pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification to one of great sanctity in a very short period of time.

In September of 1856, Francis entered the Passionist Novitiate at Morrovalle. When it came time for him to make his profession, Francis took the name Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother.

He wrote to his father: “Reading through the lives of the saints, I see how a great number of them, tepid and sinful though they once were, became saints because they had, by some practice of devotion, won the favour of this tender Queen, always ready to grant it to those who ask.”

He wrote down a list of resolutions for himself, which included: 

  • “Faithfulness in little things” is the motto I will always follow in my efforts to reach holiness.
  • I will not utter a word that might, in the least, turn to my praise.
  • I will try to reproduce in myself whatever I see edifying and virtuous in the conduct of others.
  • I will give to God the best that I have – the entire affection of my heart.

Four years after entering religious life, Gabriel began to exhibit signs of tuberculosis. He suffered a great deal during the final two years of his life, but his last hour was very peaceful as he clasped his favourite picture of Our Lady of Sorrows and invoked her name. He died Feb. 27, 1862.


                                          年青人許諾渡修道生活

聖若望保祿二世和聖施禮華神父,均強調「成聖」乃天主對普世的召叫,而近代的一些聖人,確實給年青的一代,樹立了聖善的榜樣;其中一位是「痛苦之母」聖佳播。

聖人,原名方濟各.玻森諦,1838年3月1日出生於意大利的亞西西,他是家庭中十三名小孩中的第十一個;父親桑托.玻森諦,母親雅妮.菲索蒂。方濟各.玻森諦接受洗禮的聖洗池,正是六百多年前,聖五傷方濟各受洗的聖洗池。

1841年,由於父親被委任為斯波萊托的法官,整家遷到該處,離原來家鄉以南約五十公里。甫抵新地不久,玻森諦家庭經一連串不愉快的事情。首先,家中最幼六個月大的嬰兒夭折,繼之是九歲女兒阿黛爾;數天後,傷心欲絕的慈母亦離世 ── 當時的方濟各只是四歲。幾年後,方濟各的哥哥保祿,在對奧地利的戰事中陣亡;1853年方濟各的另一位哥哥樂倫輕生自殺。

幾個家庭成員的去逝影響了方濟各;所以,1851年,十二九的他生病時,以為自己亦會不久於人世,遂祈禱懇求痊癒,並答應康復後進入修院修道。不過,他痊癒後沒有履行對天主的承諾。

方濟各生性溫情,善於交際,朋眾甚廣。他衣著入時,常流漣舞會,結交美女,共舞盡興。不過,他本心良善,關心貧窮困苦的人;早課、晚課及每天的彌撒,在他的每日生活中都不缺。

1841年8月,在一塲疫情後,人民為謝恩而舉行聖母出遊;方濟各望著聖母像,猛然發覺聖母媽媽正凝望著他,並質問他為何遲遲不回應天主的召叫。方濟各深感愧悔,終於在1856年9月棄俗修道,進入莫羅瓦萊的苦難會初學院。

方濟各熱愛聖體,基督苦難和痛苦聖母,這不其然改變了他,使他在極短的時間內,從肆意尋找歡樂和自我滿足的陋習,脫胎換骨成為畜意成聖的年青人。

發聖願時,方濟各特意取名「痛苦之母佳播」。他寫信給父親,說:「我閱讀過聖人們行實,縱然他們很多本來是冷淡和有罪的人,他們卻成為聖人,是因為他們藉一些敬禮的實行而賺得溫良母后的喜愛,她時常準備給予那些請求的人。」

方濟各寫下他的志向。其中包括以下幾點:

  • 「小事上仍要忠信」是我成聖的座右銘。
  • 我不會說導致讚揚自己的言詞。
  • 我見到別人有啟 發性和有德行的行為,要嚐試 在我自己身上實踐。
  • 我要給天主我最好的東西 ── 我內心全部的愛。

四年的修道生活,隨著方濟各的是肺結核病,最後兩年的生命中,他承受著極大的苦痛。臨終時,方濟各平安地緊握著「痛苦之母」聖母聖相,呼喚著聖母。1862年2月27日方濟各與世長辭。