The picture of St. Germaine Cousin at the top of this blogpost contains elements of many stories about her life. In the following, I’ll try and draw out some information about those elements.
The sheep: In previous posts about St. Germaine, I mentioned that her family made her a shepherdess of their flock. They did this to keep her away from the family due to an infection she suffered called, scrofula. This disease was not understood at the time. And, they feared an outbreak in the home or village.
In an attempt to “do away with” Germaine for good, her step-mother once told her to tend the sheep near a forest wherein a pack of wolves lingered. This forest was known for its ravenous wolves who would take sheep and even kill passersby. And, no one would allow their flock to graze near this forest. St. Germaine obeyed her step-mother, though. But, nothing happened to her or the sheep in that time, to her step-mother’s amazement. And, thank goodness nothing did happen! Many took this as a sign of God’s protection of Germaine.
The Shepherd’s Staff: At her feet rests a shepherd staff. She would plant this staff in the ground and tell her guardian angel to tend the flock while she went to Mass. She did this many times. Whenever she returned, the sheep would be sitting around the staff to everyone’s awe. Her guardian angel did, indeed, care for her flock so that she could get to Mass.
Tools for Spinning Wool: Near the staff at her feet are two tools for spinning wool. This task was given to Germaine by her step-mother. It took St. Germaine extra time to complete her daily amount of wool because one of her hands was deformed from birth, and the scrofula further complicated her labor. Yet, even with these difficulties, St. Germaine took up the distaff and would spin wool. It was humble and tedious work. But she would sometimes take the string and fashion a rosary out of it. While shepherding her flock she would pray the rosary.
The River: On the way to the church (to the right of the painting), St. Germaine needed to cross a river. Usually, a bridge made that trip an easy one. However, on one occasion, the river flooded and made crossing the bridge impossible. It was reported that St. Germaine made the Sign of the Cross and then walked over the river to get to Mass. After Mass, she did the same and returned to her flock. She would literally stop at nothing to get to prayer in the church, especially when it meant receiving Holy Communion.
The Flowers: St. Germaine would give a portion of her ration of food to the hungry in the area. One time, after returning home, she found her cache of bread taken from her room in the barn. Hoping to find her allowance of food so she could give some away, St. Germaine went into her father’s and step-mother’s home. When she found her scraps of bread, she placed them in her apron and began to leave. Her step-mother found this out and began to chase after her calling her a thief. When Germaine and her step-mother reached a crowd of people, her step-mother told her to open her apron and show everyone that she was a thief. God had other plans. When St. Germaine opened her apron, flowers fell to the ground. Upon seeing this miracle, her step-mother changed her tune about St. Germaine. Soon after, her father and step-mother invited her to live in the family home. Germain refused, and kept living in the barn.
The Cloud of Light: Surrounding St. Germaine is a cloud of light. She lived in the presence of God. People would see manifestations of a supernatural light pouring through the windows and cracks of the barn in which she slept. She prayed without ceasing. And, this presence of God filled her with an overflowing peace and gentle joy.
When placed together, these images help unpack important events in the life of St. Germaine Cousin. Each part of the picture becomes a piece in the mosaic of her spiritual life. When taken together, they reveal a humble servant of Christ Jesus.
There is one thing missing from the picture, though. What is it? Her deformed hand is missing from this picture. In this picture, we get an insight into her heavenly existence in which she is healed from her ailments. However, I wish the artist would have respectfully painted one of Germaine’s hands as it was her life, deformed. Part of the beauty of Germaine is the hand that caused others to either stare at her or look away: the hand that made spinning wool and shepherding more difficult than it could have been with two functioning hands. She carried this visible sign of the cross in her body all her life, but she is healed of it now in heaven. Even through the struggles she faced, St. Germaine brought peace, faith, and healing – spiritual and physical healing – to those she encountered. Her hands are as much a sign of overcoming weakness as the miracles attested to her.
When we see a picture like this, take a moment to ponder the simplicity of the painting mixed with the extraordinary. The simplicity of flowers with the extraordinary miracle of bread becoming flowers in her apron. The simplicity of tools for spinning wool with the extraordinary virtues of humility and obedience. The simplicity of sheep and staff with the extraordinary closeness of God’s holy angels. The simplicity of a river and a church with the extraordinary gifts of walking on water and tireless devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. The simplicity of a young girl lifted up in prayer – one bare foot off the ground and the other grounded -with the extraordinary presence of God surrounding her with light. This is something of an icon, a window, into our own lives of faith. We are surrounded by such simple things. And, yet, through the gateway of faith in Jesus Christ, the heavenly reality of God breaks through and the supernatural life of grace becomes wedded to the ordinary.
Let us pray…
Help us, St. Germaine, to believe with child-like faith in the presence and work of the Holy Trinity, with His angels and saints, all around us and in our daily lives. Pray that our eyes will be open to Jesus’ presence and that he will clothe us with his light. Pray, St. Germaine, that the ordinary moments of life will be pierced by the extraordinary grace of the living and powerful Holy Spirit, through Jesus, to the glory of the Father. As we honor who you are in Jesus, and thank him for holding you up as a beautiful gift of his love, pray that our Heavenly Father would paint himself into the imperfections and simplicity of our own lives. Saint Germaine, pray for us.