29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 21, 2018)
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
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!”