Today brought me learning about a young saint, St Germaine Cousin (1579 – 1601), who lived at the heart of terrible physical, mental and emotional abuse by the very people who should have loved, sheltered and cherished her, but who instead showed her what an earthly hell was.
After her birth mother died prematurely, her father remarried. Soon, the sight of the young, pitiable girl with a withered hand and scrofula – a tuberculosis infection of the lymph nodes, which, in her case, resulted in unsightly abscesses in her neck, drove her stepmother into a frenzy of hatred. Fearing the risk of contagion to her step-siblings, Germaine was isolated and banished to a narrow space in the stables, shared with the animals she had to tend to during the day. I cannot help but wonder if the deformed hand, and the fact that scrofula was then known as the King’s Evil, might have worsened the abuse. Did her stepmother, who made a habit out of severely beating, scalding the child with hot water, and administering other abuses, delude herself into thinking she was ridding the child of demons through her mistreatment?
Did her stepmother see demons where there were none? Did young Germaine’s purity of spirit agitate the darkness within the stepmother’s soul, worsening the whippings, food deprivations and humiliations? Driving the woman to a madness of violence, that perhaps, even she could not understand, much less contain?
Germaine’s father, by some accounts, was said to be a weak-willed man.
I think that’s too mild a word for someone who lived near such horrific abuse, but never suffered it himself, yet did nothing to halt it.
I cannot place him in a kinder light. I think he loved and cared much for his own self-preservation – to the point of excluding love for anyone else. Blood could pour out of his daughter, but nothing could be allowed to threaten the comfort of his position in that family. His entire heart must have been filled with himself; nothing left over for anyone else, not even his very own daughter. It must have been – to have deafened and blinded himself to his little girl’s tears and sobs and sufferings; not to have been moved by the even the sight of his own flesh-and-blood, living amongst animals, like an animal, dressed in rags, feet blistered and bloodied because she was deprived of shoes, rising before dawn to slave in servitude for him, her step-siblings and stepmother, and then shepherding in meadows bordered by wolf-infested forests.
What heart of stone was this, un-softened by even a whisper of love for his own child?
It is the heart of an abuse-enabler.
That which belongs to one who looks the other way when abuse is being perpetuated. Who, like Pontius Pilate, washed his hands off Jesus, distancing himself from his duty. Who holds up the evening papers and huddles behind it to separate himself from the injustice when the child is being beaten and humiliated, convinced the child brought it upon herself.
Did this man, to whom a child of God was given, over time, begin to nurse a secret dislike of his own child, by justifying to himself that Germaine must have been doing something to stir the nest of tempests in his tenuous household? And by that conjecture, hold her accountable for all that befell her?
When the line was drawn, I wonder if he ever joined in the abuse – just to show on whose side he stood. Did he add to the slaps and kicks, on his wife’s demand, perhaps? Or join in the family chorus of vitriol against the defenseless child- just to ensure that he remained one of the others?
Did this man, Laurent Cousin, find suffering in the second marriage of his choosing? And failing to find the courage to carry his cross, blame this daughter of his for necessitating this marriage of woes?
And mercilessly hurl her to the wolves in his own household?
The little Germaine grew up and wore out the rutted paths of violence at the hands of her abusers – her entire family. But with each lash endured in silence and meekness, the angels buried her deeper into the Wounds of Christ. While she lived Calvary at the hands of her family, the young shepherdess’ soul was drawn into a deeper union with her Heavenly Shepherd, and some were privileged enough to witness this through the miracles of the parting waters as she went determinedly to mass, and the changing of bread in her apron to winter blooms never seen.
But the far greater miracle borne of this pain, was the holy magnificence of a spirit that never yielded to the saddest consequences of abuse – the hardening of heart and the inward centering of the victim’s gaze. The more Germaine was abused, the more she loved others – through her teaching of what little catechism she knew to children, through her sharing of scraps, through her Rosaries. Her own suffering didn’t take hostage her sense of charity. It didn’t mottle her loving kindness. Nothing veered her from that steadfast adherence to her Shepherd’s call in her spirit. Germaine was given a paltry daily ration of black bread by her stepmother, but even of this paucity, she saved to share with others she deemed more deprived. The fate she was enduring was never foremost in her mind; mercy was.
By the sharing of her rations with others, she gave them Jesus.
By humbly submitting to the breaking of her body, Germaine sent the Eucharist where mercy was most needed.
All through my Friday Rosary of the Sorrowful Mysteries, I met the pensive gaze of the holy shepherdess as I wove my prayers for abusers and the abused through the Holy Passion of Christ.
And yet, the weave didn’t remain in place. I had the faintest sense it was not the prayer I was called to that day.
In the hours that followed, I probed my discerning. Slowly I felt the abuse that St Germaine suffered recede from my spirit. I struggled to hold on to it through prayerful probing, because that is the common thread she and I share. But it slipped through my fingers.
I had the vaguest feeling, it hadn’t ‘slipped away’ as much as it was taken.
In its place lay a little bud the shepherdess placed on my soul.
It is in My Passion that you must seek light and strength. ~ #654, St Maria Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy In My Soul.
In My Passion…..seek Light…
I rested my mind in the Passion of my Saviour.
And the bud began to unfurl its petals of red. I began to see that the breaking of Germaine’s body healed and nourished other souls, to go forth themselves, to multiply mercy through the same giving – the breaking of their own bodies for others.
Going back to my own life, and petal by petal, my spirit saw each year lived. Every tear, every storm, every uprooting – converged on a single point of Light: the Holy Eucharist.
I have slowly begun the journey to comprehend the purpose of the gnarls and twists and ruts in my life. Every nail endured through the loving of others is the unfurling of the mercy of the Eucharist in the pain of need, to be multiplied in a succession of other lives, one soul after another.