On April 28th, we celebrated the life of St. Gianna Beretta Molla. At her canonization Mass of 16 May 2004, Blessed John Paul II described her as “a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.” In doing so, he recalled a letter to her husband that she wrote just days before their marriage:
Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this modern saint, you should know that she was a devoted wife, loving mother, and accomplished physician. Through a short biography, we see St. Gianna’s virtue and trust in God:
In September 1961 towards the end of the second month of pregnancy, she was touched by suffering and the mystery of pain; she had developed a fibroma in her uterus. Before the required surgical operation, and conscious of the risk that her continued pregnancy brought, she pleaded with the surgeon to save the life of the child she was carrying, and entrusted herself to prayer and Providence. The life was saved, for which she thanked the Lord. She spent the seven months remaining until the birth of the child in incomparable strength of spirit and unrelenting dedication to her tasks as mother and doctor. She worried that the baby in her womb might be born in pain, and she asked God to prevent that.
A few days before the child was due, although trusting as always in Providence, she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child: “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child – I insist on it. Save him”. On the morning of April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was born. Despite all efforts and treatments to save both of them, on the morning of April 28, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you,” the mother died. She was 39 years old.
In this patron saint for mothers, physicians, and unborn children, we also see an example of what many parents already feel about their children; namely, that they would give up their own lives in order to provide for their child’s welfare. One author, Kimberly Hahn, described this gift as life-giving love. Indeed, as new life comes upon the scene, the parents begin their transformation. For some, they are led from a self-centered lifestyle toward the practice of self-sacrifice. In such a sacrifice, they begin to practice the virtues of making their own life a continual gift to another; in this case, their child. And in doing so, they give up on certain possibilities for their own life, and instead entrust themselves to this new reality for which God has provided. As such, in making this gift of self, they are given ever-deepening insights into the one true and loving Sacrifice that God made when He offered His own Son as reparation for the sins of the world.
In our day, where an increasing minority present children as burdens and shackles to be avoided at all cost, the life of St. Gianna Beretta Molla offers us the anecdote. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” For we humans, may God’s gift of children provide us with a divine lens into eternal truth.