Wipe Away The Dirt

5th Sunday of Lent – April 7, 2019

Isaish 43:16-21

Psalm 126:1-6

Philippians 3:8-14

John 8:1-11

What in the world did Jesus write on the ground? That is a question people have been asking for centuries. Whatever it was, it must have been pretty powerful!

Consider how the scene begins. A woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. According to the law, Moses commanded that such a person be sentenced to death by stoning. Not a single person present, including the accused woman, suggested that she was innocent. Not even Jesus denied her guilt. A mob of people, experts on Mosaic Law, presented an ironclad case against a guilty woman who was minutes away from her imminent death.

They then ask Jesus to simply acknowledge that this guilty person should be put to death according to their law. They just want Him to say, “Yup, you got her. Guilty as charged… go get the stones.” But instead, Jesus bends down to write something on the ground, not once, but twice.

Now consider how the scene ends after this mysterious inscription is written on the ground. No more mob. No one pointing fingers. No more questions. No stones in sight. Just Jesus and the accused woman all alone.

One could argue that this passage from John gives us a tremendous amount of hope. When one understands what really happened here, it is a powerful example of God’s grace and mercy. The same grace and mercy that He extends to all of us even to this very day.

To understand this better, one must recall the last time God wrote something down for His people. Anyone want to take a guess? On Mount Sinai God engraved the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. These were His laws for the people to obey. God’s people were very lost and needed some parental guidance. So God gave Moses strict rules to implement among His people.

Contrast that with today’s Gospel from John. Rather than writing on stone tablets, Jesus writes in the dirt. Stone tablets are hard and obviously hard to change once engraved. Writing on the dirt can easily be erased with the swipe of a hand to give a clean slate… a fresh start.

So again, recall the scene from the Gospel. A group of people, probably with stones in hand, brought a guilty person to the temple area for a quick “judge, jury and executioner” chat with Jesus.  His response… was to write something down in the dirt and say, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus then bends down for a second time to write in the dirt again. Everyone present read what Jesus wrote in the dirt… and slowly walked away… one by one.

WHAT DID HE WRITE???? Come on!!! That’s the juiciest piece of information and it’s nowhere to be found anywhere in the bible!!!

Did he write down a list of everyone’s sins? Did he perhaps write down the name of other adulterers present who were better at hiding their sin and haven’t been caught yet? Did he write, “Love your neighbor as yourself” or “Do not judge and you will not be judged”… It’s nowhere to be found!

And you know what? It doesn’t matter.

Are you are ready for the punch-in-the-gut moment of today’s Gospel? Here it is… the woman caught in adultery… is US. Yes, Jesus sees a guilty woman standing before Him. But at the same time He sees all of God’s people of the past, present and future that are not always faithful to Him. And His heart is moved with compassion. These are precisely the people that Jesus came to save. These are the people that He will sacrifice Himself on the cross for on Good Friday… to release us from our sins.

Jesus doesn’t look at her, or us, and condemn us for our actions. Instead, He is offering us His grace and much needed mercy. He is reminding us that only He can forgive our sins… only He can wipe away the dirt on the ground. Only He can give us a fresh start.

Now… I wouldn’t be doing my job up here if I skipped over the last sentence from this passage. Yes, God’s love and mercy can surpass all things. Yes, God is full of compassion. But pay close attention to what he tells the woman after he pardons her.

Jesus says, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Did you catch that? Do not sin any more.

Jesus is asking us to do our part. To put in some effort. There is no doubt that God’s grace and mercy gives us new life. However, it should also stir something inside of us that desires change. Positive change. Change toward living a good and holy life. A desire to avoid sin if at all possible. But in those moments when we fail, we need to repent and rely on God’s grace and mercy to start over. To wipe away the dirt.

So no matter what we have done in the past, God is cheering for us. He’s not condemning us. He actually sees more potential in us than we see in ourselves.

We need to allow His love and mercy to fully engulf us. Allowing His grace to give us the strength to overcome sin and to go and sin no more.

Our future is not set in stone. And the sins of our past do not dictate our future.

With God’s help, we can be the positive change for a brighter future. A future that eventually ends with us face to face with God in heaven.

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10 Minutes A Day

2nd Sunday of Lent – March 17, 2019

Genesis 15:5-12,17-18

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Psalm 27:1,7-9,13-14

Luke 9:28b-36

When was the last time you went away from the business of the world and spent at least 10 minutes in quiet prayer? As Catholics, I know we are good with reciting the memorized prayers such as the Rosary, the Our Father and the Apostles’ Creed. These are good prayers, but what I’m really asking is… when was the last time you’ve had a deep, heartfelt conversation with God. After all, isn’t that what prayer is… a conversation with God? And the key thing to consider here is that this form of prayer involves both a speaking AND, more importantly, a quiet listening. It is a dialogue that was not meant to be one sided.

One of the problems we encounter in life is… we tend to go to God mainly when we are in desperate need… almost as a last resort.

“Dear God, help me pass this test that I forgot to study for.”

“Dear God, if I win the lottery I’ll give 10%, no 15%, back to the church.”

But we also have those desperate, but more serious situations as well.

“Dear God, heal my friend from their serious illness.”

“Dear God, help me forgive the person who hurt me so I can trust again.”

We, as humans, expect instant results. Things should happen now, not later. So we say our prayer and expect an immediate answer, right?. But guess what… the majority of us typically don’t get a loud voice from above with an instant response. That often leads us to then ask, “Where are you God? See, I tried. I prayed and told you what I needed and I got nothing in return. Why do I even bother?” Then our prayer life gets pushed farther and farther away from our daily routine.

If this resonates with you in any way, I’m here to encourage you to change your daily routine. I want to encourage you to pray, not just in those times of need, but EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. regardless of your needs. Regardless of whether or not you “feel” like praying. After all, we are in the Lenten Season. This is a time we are supposed to try and step away from the world… to disconnect from some of our earthly distractions… and prepare ourselves to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter. As Fr. Al reminded us last week, Lent is a time to focus on fasting, almsgiving and… guess what… PRAYER. So let’s talk about prayer.

Today’s Gospel from Luke is commonly referred to as the “Transfiguration.” I want us to look at this passage and see what it could be telling us regarding prayer.

The first major thing we should notice is in the opening verse, “Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray.” Have you ever wondered why Jesus went up a mountain to pray? To get away. To find some peace and quiet. It’s awfully hard to hear God’s voice when you can’t even hear yourself think. If you are a parent with kids at home, you know exactly what I mean. I think kids deliberately get LOUDER the quieter you try and become. It’s like they can sense it! So it’s important to find a place that you can spend some uninterrupted time in prayer. I suggest starting with 10 minutes. It’s not a magical number but it’s a doable number for most people.

Unfortunately, when I began trying to make deliberate time to pray, I’d often fall asleep. I began to realize I was always on the go and finally getting a chance to sit down for 10 minutes was all it took to doze off. This leads me to the second suggestion from today’s Gospel regarding prayer. “Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory.” Let me say that again. Becoming fully awake, they saw his glory.

This has two meanings to me. One, don’t pray when you are super tired because you’ll miss something due to the fact you will end up asleep! But more importantly, if you want to see God’s glory and possibly hear His voice, you need to be “awake” to His presence around you. Praying daily keeps you focused on God… every day. It puts Him in front of your eyes rather than on the back burner. When you pray frequently, you will actually start to see that God is more active in your life than you originally thought. But you have to be fully awake to Him because, from my experience, God can be very, very subtle… so much so that you may miss it if you’re not paying attention or you’ll blow it off as a coincidence when He does answer a prayer.

Have you ever heard the story of the guy driving around the parking lot at the mall on a busy, rainy Saturday morning? He’s driving around looking for a parking spot up close to the front door so he can get inside without getting too wet. But there is not a single parking spot available anywhere near the front. So out of frustration the man looks up to heaven and says, “God, could you please find me a parking spot up close to the front?” Just then, someone starts backing out of a space right up near the front door. The man slams on his brakes… then quickly looks up and says, “Never mind God, I found a spot.”

Unfortunately, God doesn’t typically give us a bright, flashing neon sign with an answer. He often speaks to us in the quiet of our hearts.

The last point I want to emphasize from today’s Gospel is in the last verse. After Peter, James and John heard the voice of God in a cloud, it says that, “They fell silent.” I can’t emphasize enough the importance of silence when it comes to prayer. Silence allows time to reflect on what we are praying about. It allows that voice in our brains to go to work. It also allows us to reflect on the fact that maybe God isn’t answering a prayer the way we want for a reason. You’ll be surprised at what you can hear when you combine silence with the Holy Spirit.

Use this Lenten season to strengthen your prayer life. Take 10 minutes every single day to have a dialogue with God. Remember to find a place to get away, be fully awake and allow for some silence. And in those 10 minutes, ask God for help… tell Him what is in your heart. At the very least, tell Him that you love Him and thank Him for the blessings in your life. I promise that if you do this, you will become a more humble, appreciative and loving human being.

So make prayer a daily priority in your life. 10 minutes a day. It’s not much, but it’s so extremely important. God is waiting to hear from you. But it’s up to you… to start the conversation.

Martyrs and Hope

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Feb 17, 2019)

Jeremiah 17:5-8

Psalm 1:1-2,3,4,6

1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20

Luke 6:17,20-26

I often get asked the question, “What made you become Catholic?” You see, I was not raised Catholic. I came into full communion with the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil of 1999 after going through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program up in Ohio. It’s a question that I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on because there are many different things that lead me here. However, there is one that seems to stick out to me the most. It’s reading about the people that were killed for their faith in the early Church. I’m talking about the martyrs. Here are a few examples…

The first recorded martyr was St. Stephen. He was stoned to death in the year 36, which is recorded in the Book of Acts.

St. Sebastian was tied to a tree, shot with arrows and left for dead. However, he didn’t die and was eventually nursed back to health. He continued in his faith and was later clubbed to death by order of the emperor… this time, he didn’t make it.

St. Agnes made of vow of perpetual virginity to God and was eventually beheaded for it. 

These are just a few examples of people who were killed for their faith. But what about modern day examples? Do people still die for their belief in Jesus Christ?

St. Jose Sanchez del Rio was 15 years old when he was killed during the Cristero War in Mexico. Mexican soldiers “cut the bottom of his feet and obliged him to walk around the town toward the cemetery. They also at times cut him with a machete until he was bleeding from several wounds. He cried and moaned with pain, but he did not give in. At times they stopped him and said, ‘If you shout, “Death to Christ the King” we will spare your life’. José would only shout, ‘I will never give in. Viva Cristo Rey!'” He was eventually shot to death in front of his parents.

On the night of December 14, 1957, a Cistercian Hungarian priest named Fr. János Brenner, was falsely called to give last rites to a sick person in a neighboring town. This was during the height of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He left his home, carrying his anointing oils and the Eucharist, but was ambushed in the woods outside and stabbed 32 times. He was found dead the next day, still clutching the Eucharist in his hands.

When I read about the church martyrs… it made me want to know more about their faith… because they seemed to get it. They understood that an earthly death, even if it was a painful death, could eventually lead them to eternal bliss in heaven. That is the faith I wanted to study and hopefully live out in my own life.

We live in a section of the world where, more than likely, none of us will have to die for our faith. But it is still happening all over the world. I’ve often thought what I would do if someone held a knife or gun to me and said, “Renounce your faith or die.” I’d probably have a few choice “4 letter words” to offer to the person but hopefully would be able to stay strong in my faith until the end.

The thing that attracts me the most about reading on the martyrs of the church also involves a “4 letter word.” And it is simply this… HOPE. The only reason people would die to this world, rather than deny their faith, is because they have a strong HOPE that what they believe in Jesus Christ and Heaven is real.

It is this same HOPE that Jesus is proclaiming in today’s Gospel from Luke. Jesus says blessed are you who are poor and hungry… who are weeping… who are hated, excluded and insulted. He doesn’t say complain, whine, hold grudges and return the insult. NO! Jesus instead says, “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!”

The hope that this passage from Luke gives us is this… no matter what we are going through, no matter the trials, no matter the struggles… as long as we hold onto our faith… all of the worldly struggles are just temporary. Our ultimate goal is to be in the presence of God in heaven. And that is more precious than any trial we have to go through here on earth. This is what should give us reason to rejoice and leap for joy. It is what gives us HOPE.

So no matter the struggles you are going through at this present moment, remember you are on a journey. A journey that is leading you back into the arms of our one true King, Jesus Christ. And even if you are not called to die for your faith, look to the martyrs of the Church as role models. Just like them, you are called to live out your faith with hope and love until your last breath. And if you are true to your faith and cling to that hope, you will truly “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day” when you finally meet God face to face.

Clear Skies

The Epiphany of the Lord – January 6, 2019

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13

Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6

Matthew 2:1-12

Since moving to Kentucky back in 2003, I’ve gotten into the sport of hunting. Before I go on, if you are an animal lover and not a fan of hunting, have no fear because rarely are any animals injured on my hunts. Usually it’s just me sitting in a tree stand enjoying nature. My absolute favorite time to go hunting is the early morning before the sun comes up. It’s extremely peaceful and quiet. And with clear skies, I’m amazed at how many stars I can see up above. I can see constellations clearly, planets occasionally and the Milky Way is on full display. The beauty of the sky is nice because it distracts me from how cold my body is feeling.

But as dawn approaches, the rays of the sun peak around the horizon, the stars begin to disappear, the birds awaken and the squirrels begin the jump around in the leaves. My mind turns away from the sky and my focus shifts to waiting for that big buck to come out from hiding. Interestingly, even though I can no longer see the stars, they are still there. But it is only in the still of the darkness when the true beauty of the sky is revealed.

I read somewhere that people during the time of Jesus Christ in the Middle East would often go up on their rooftops and gaze at the stars much like I do from my tree stand in the woods. They didn’t have Netflix, YouTube or Facebook so they had to find other things for entertainment. Gazing at the stars night after night allows one to become very familiar with the patterns that would be seen on any given night. So if something suddenly appeared out of the ordinary, anyone paying attention should have seen it.

We hear in Matthew’s Gospel today that, “Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’” Even though it’s not specifically mentioned in this Gospel, tradition tells us there were three Magi. So of all the people that were gazing at the skies, only three saw something unique… something calling them to leave the comfort of their homes and go on a quest.

Why only three? Maybe everyone else was too distracted, too busy or simply just not willing to remain quiet long enough to notice. Maybe more people saw the star but were too scared to venture out of their comfort zone. God used the star as a sign to announce the birth of His Son. A sign that was available to anyone who had eyes to see it. Three people took up the call, left their comfort zone and eventually found Jesus Christ in the quiet of the night.

I often wonder how many times God is calling us but we are too busy to see or hear it. How many times do we choose the comfort of technology over the quiet of prayer? How many opportunities have we missed to grow our faith because we were too afraid to follow God’s gentle nudge?

What then can we learn from the Magi in Matthew’s Gospel?

We can hear God speak to us when we are less distracted. But unfortunately, our hectic 9-5 schedules often keep us too busy to hear Him. So always remember to take some time to step away from the business of the world, away from the distractions, and look to the light of Christ. Because if we allow the distractions of the world to fade, it is then that we can see God’s light shine the brightest and the clearest.

God and the Stars

Third Sunday of Advent (December 16, 2018)

Zephaniah 3:14-18

Philippians 4:4-7

Isaiah 12:2-6

Luke 3:10-18

Are you ready for Christmas? It’s only a week away! Yes…. I saw your eyes roll and the look of stress on your faces! It’s seems like that is the response I get from many adults. Christmas seems to be a time that brings us more stress and anxiety rather than joy. I know I can personally relate to that statement. And I think that is sad. If you are a Christian, Christmas should be one of the most joyful times of the year along with Easter. You see…. We’re not celebrating the upcoming birth of our Savior… we’re celebrating that our Savior has ALREADY been born. Then on Good Friday and Easter Sunday… we’re not celebrating that Jesus is going to die for our sins and rise from the dead…. We’re celebrating that Jesus has ALREADY died for our sins and has ALREADY conquered death. So looking at Christmas and Easter together should be one of the core beliefs of our Christian lives that give us peace and hope.

But too often, it doesn’t. Instead, it brings us stress. Why? Because we allow the worldly influences to take over these celebrations. Now, I’m not going to tell you that we need to boycott Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But I do think it’s time to put things in perspective. So I’m going to attempt that using the stars. Here goes…

It is estimated that our Milky Way galaxy has 100 billion stars. There are 10 billion galaxies like the Milky Way in the observable universe. Therefore, there are 1 billion trillion stars in the observable universe. I don’t even know how many zeros that is!

It is also estimated that our Milky Way galaxy has between 100 and 200 billion planets. If the other 10 billion galaxies have the same amount of planets, then we’re looking at over 1 trillion planets in the observable universe.

I keep using the term “observable universe” because scientists have NO IDEA what extends beyond what they can’t see. We have no idea if there is some boundary out there where creation “stops” or if it just keeps on going.

So we live on a tiny blue spec among 1 trillion planets and 1 billion trillion stars in a universe that could very well be limitless. Do you feel tiny and insignificant yet? Well that is not my goal. My purpose in this is for you to understand that God created everything and creation itself is much larger than you may think. And on this tiny spec we call Earth… God specifically created YOU for a purpose. Furthermore, He is calling you out from the infinite universe back to Him. He planted you here… and now it’s your turn to trust His plan for you.

So how exactly do we trust in His plan in the face of our daily stresses? Through Luke’s Gospel today, John the Baptist gives us some practical advice. John tells people to share their excess cloaks, stop collecting more taxes than is necessary, do not accuse others falsely and to be satisfied with your wages. In modern terms, this could be translated to mean: share your excess goods with those in need, stop cheating and stealing from others, do not lie or gossip and do not constantly strive for more money if you have enough. But you want to know what John the Baptist is REALLY saying here??? Just be a good and kind person the way Jesus taught us. It’s really that simple.

Now I’ll fully admit that just being a good and kind person will not take away all of your stresses, but it will help. It’ll also help you to realize that this life and all of the worldly stresses are just temporary when you focus on God and share His love with others. But if you focus on stress and anxiety, you will end up distancing yourself from God… and your level of joy will be minimal… what fun it that??

St. Paul actually says in his letter to the Philippians that we read today to “Have NO anxiety at all.” None. Zero. Nada. He tells us to praise God, tell Him your worries and ask for His help. This type of trust in God will lead to peace. Worry and anxiety leads us away from peace.

So if you want to reduce anxiety and stress this Holiday season (and throughout your year) take a deep breath… focus on God… talk to Him daily in prayer… be a good person… and trust in His plan for you.

After all, if you can understand that God created an infinite universe with over 1 trillion planets and 1 billion trillion stars, then hopefully you can begin to grasp that His love for you is also infinite. You just have to trust Him.

Let’s Go To The Movies

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 18, 2018)

Daniel 12:1-3

Psalm 16:5,8,9-10,11

Hebrews 10:11-14,18

Mark 13:24-32

One of my absolute favorite things to do is go to the movies. Not watching a movie at home, but seeing it on the big screen with a tub of popcorn in my lap. For me, watching a movie allows me to forget about all of my daily stresses and, for at least two hours, feel like I’m actually living in the story that I’m watching. I can get so caught up in a movie that I’m completely emotionally engaged in it, if you know what I mean.

After watching “Jaws”, I couldn’t swim in my parent’s pool in the evening for fear of a great white shark coming up out of the deep end and grabbing my foot. The “Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa taught me to never count out the underdog after he knocked out the world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed. Thanks to Stephen King, I can no longer walk near a storm drain by the side of the road because there just may be a clown waiting to pull me in. Mel Gibson painted a very realistic depiction of what a Roman scourging and crucifixion actually looks like in his movie, “The Passion.” Now, every Palm Sunday and Good Friday, when we read the passion narrative at church, I can’t help but play those scenes in my mind.

My absolute favorite movie genre has to be military and war movies that are based on real life events. Movies like, “Black Hawk Down,” “For Greater Glory,” and “We Were Soldiers.” I think the reason I like them so much is because it shows just how far some people are willing to go to help and defend others. Putting their lives on the line for someone they’ve probably never met. To be willing to die for a greater cause.

But the trouble with the movies are… they don’t last forever… usually 2-3 hours after leaving the theater… my emotional “high” from allowing my imagination to be engulfed by the big screen is gone… and it’s back to reality and my day to day stresses and worries.

So why in the world am I going on and on about my love of movies?? Do me a favor and close your eyes as I read something to you. I’m going to use my best “movie narrator” voice so allow your imagination to form a mental picture. Here goes:

“At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people… Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken… And then they will see the ‘Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”

Open your eyes. Did anyone else hear James Earl Jones’ voice reading that or is it just me? Don’t you think this could be the most awesome opening to a major motion picture about the apocalypse? I mean come on? These lines from the Book of Daniel and Mark’s Gospel are begging to be made into a movie about the end of the world! What do you think? Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson could play St. Michael!! I’m telling you it would be a multi-million dollar blockbuster.

All kidding aside, the second coming of Jesus Christ is something we need to consider. Our faith teaches us that one day, Jesus will return to Earth in all of His glory. He will come to conquer evil once and for all, to judge the world and to save the chosen. As we hear in the parable of the fig tree today, there will be signs suggesting Jesus’ return. But ultimately, it could happen any day at any hour.

Why is this so important? Because we must always be prepared. What happens after our death or after the return of Christ is forever. Our lives will be judged and we will spend eternity with Him in heaven or eternity in Hell without Him.

We need to actually live like we believe this and stop waiting for “tomorrow” to clean up our lives. Stop waiting for “someday” to fix that broken relationship or to mend a past hurt. Let’s stop pretending that the Apocalypse is just some movie that we can watch but then go back to our daily lives as if nothing has changed. Jesus Christ gave us the ultimate gift. He, like so many in those military movies I alluded to, laid down His life for you. To defend your soul from evil. To give you hope at eternity in heaven with His Father. He died for a greater cause.

The problem is, we often treat the parables and teachings of Jesus from Scripture as a movie. It sounds good and it’s fun to hear, but the “warm and fuzzies” wear off soon after… and we return to our daily grind.

But if you can fully embrace and live out the teachings of Jesus Christ, I guarantee you’ll live a life with purpose and meaning. It won’t necessarily take away all of your stresses and worries, but those will only be temporary compared to the joy that awaits us one day in heaven.

But until then… go to the movies… allow yourself to laugh, cry and let your senses be engulfed with the big screen. But after you leave the theater and return to reality, remember that you have a God in heaven waiting to fulfill your hopes and desires more so than any movie can ever do.

Gianna

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 21, 2018)

Isaiah 53:10-11

Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22

Hebrews 4:14-16

Mark 10:35-45

 

Gianna Beretta was born on October 4, 1922 in Italy. She was the 10th of 13 children. Gianna was a typical kid but had a turning point at age 15 after taking a course in Spiritual Exercises. In the course, she wrote the following resolution, “I make note of doing all for Jesus. I offer him all my work, all my disappointments and sufferings.” Gianna then wrote the following prayer, “I promise You, Jesus, to submit myself to all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your will.”

Fifteen. FIFTEEN years old. I wasn’t that mature at 15! Gianna had no idea that her resolution at the age of 15 would be put to the ultimate test 25 years later.

Gianna went on to medical school and became a surgeon, specializing in pediatrics. If patients couldn’t afford her care, she wouldn’t charge them a fee. Nobody was turned away. In 1954, Gianna met Pietro Molla and the two were married on September 24, 1955. They gave birth to three children and miscarried two others.

In 1961, Gianna was pregnant with their 6th child. She was only two months pregnant when doctors found a large tumor on her uterus. As a doctor, Gianna knew the only way to guarantee her own safety was to remove the uterus, which would cause the death of the child in her womb. Without hesitation, she decided to have the doctors only remove the tumor and leave the uterus. This greatly endangered Gianna’s life, but gave her unborn child hope for a healthy birth.

As they approached the due date, Gianna and Pietro knew the risks and trials that they were about to face. However, a few days before the child was due, Gianna told her husband, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child. I insist on it. Save the baby.”

They went into the hospital on Good Friday of 1962, and Gianna gave birth to a healthy, little girl the following day. A few hours later, Gianna started suffering from severe pain due to septic peritonitis. And despite all efforts to save her life, Gianna died a week later. It was reported that up until her final breath, Gianna kept repeating, “Jesus, I love you! Jesus, I love you!”

Fast forward to October 1997. Pope John Paul II was listening to various speakers at the second ”World Day of the Family” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A young woman stepped forward and gave a moving testimony that ended with this prayer, “Thank you, Mother. Thank you for having given me life twice: in conception and when you permitted me to be born, deciding for my life. Intercede so that all mothers and families may always come to you with confidence.” Pope John Paul II heard this and wept. These words were spoken by Gianna Emanuela… the daughter of Gianna Beretta Molla. Gianna Emanuela followed in her mother’s footsteps and also became a medical doctor specializing in working with Alzheimer’s patients.

On May 16, 2004, Pope John Paul II officially canonized and introduced the world to Saint Gianna Beretta Molla. In his homily, John Paul said, “Gianna Beretta Molla was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.”

On a personal note, just a few days ago on October 16, 2018, my wife and I were able to officially adopt our little girl Laura and we legally changed her name to Gianna Wentz, named after this modern day Saint. And last night, our Gianna was baptized into God’s family.

I believe St. Gianna is an amazing modern role model who’s story of love and trust in God can teach us so much. She shows us that serving others and loving as God loves is what our faith is all about. It’s not about titles and prestige.

In Mark’s Gospel today, we hear of James and John asking Jesus that they be allowed to sit at His left and right side in Heaven. This irritates Jesus because they are seeking honor and authority rather than focusing on service. Jesus responds that He did not come to be served but to serve. “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” These are the commands Jesus tells his followers that they must be willing to do if they desire to enter heaven with Him. It’s about service.

St. Gianna didn’t seek fame and glory. She simply tried her best to commit her life to God. But she didn’t just talk about her faith… she lived out her faith. It is by both word and example that shows God just how much we really and truly love and desire Him. Anyone can say, “Hey look at me, I’m a Christian, God is great!” But to be blunt, that is a very shallow faith if it ends with just words. God is asking us for more. He’s asking us to live out our faith so that others can see our example and hopefully be moved to action in their own lives. This is the type of faith that will allow us to one day sit at God’s side in heaven like St. Gianna.

As baptized members of God’s family, God is calling each one of us to action. I pray that you use your time here on earth to use those actions to help build up and strengthen God’s family rather than tear it down.

And if you ever find yourself struggling, remember the prayer St. Gianna recited on her final days on earth, “Jesus, I love you! Jesus, I love you!”