By Maria Bernero
I want to tell you a story. It’s about a woman who was deeply devoted to the Lord, who dedicated her life to doing His work, and who loved without ever considering the cost…
Gianna Beretta was born on October 4th, 1922, in the town of Magenta, Italy. She was the tenth of thirteen children. At age twenty, Gianna began to study medicine in the nearby city of Milan, and seven years later she received her medical diploma. She then opened her own practice in her hometown, focusing her work in pediatrics. In December of 1954, she met Pietro Molla, a mechanical engineer and director of a match factory. The two fell in love and were soon married. Pietro and Gianna’s relationship was rooted in Christ from the very beginning; they knew that their love was so great, profound, and true only because the Heavenly Father and the Blessed Mother were integral parts of everything they did.
Over the next four years, the Molla family was blessed with their first three children: Pierluigi, Mariolina, and Laura. Gianna conceived their fourth child in 1961. While still in the first trimester, she developed a benign tumor. Her doctors explained that she could have an abortion, resulting in the death of her child but guaranteeing her continued health, or she could have surgery to remove the fibroma, allowing her baby to live but risking complications later in the pregnancy. Courageously, she decided on the surgery to remove the tumor and preserve the life of her unborn child. She informed the doctors that this new life was of greater importance than her own.
On Holy Saturday, April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was born. Her mother, however, continued to suffer immense pain and died of sepsis a week later. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 16th 2004.
Great story! What does this have to do with me?
The story of St. Gianna Beretta Molla is a beautiful example of unconditional, sacrificial love that lasted until the very end. She did not have a glamorous life; she lived a typical childhood and grew up as an ordinary young woman. Even still, Gianna chose every day to do something that each one of us is capable of —embodying a spirit of joy, courage, and sacrifice, trusting in the Lord’s providence, and sharing a message of love. She once wrote, “Love is the desire to improve ourselves and our beloved, to overcome our selfishness, to devote ourselves. …Love must be total, full, complete, ruled by the law of God and immortalized in heaven.”
Throughout her short thirty-nine years on earth, Gianna united this love to every part of her life. In her career, she desired to join her brother in Brazil, doing mission work and offering free medical services to the poor. Her health would not allow the realization of this dream, so she dedicated her professional life to helping improve the lives of friends and neighbors with her medical practice at home.
In her marriage, Gianna brought this same love to Pietro. The couple wrote each other many letters, both before and during their marriage, expressing their profound faith and reliance on Divine Providence, their humility, and their boundless affection. In a letter Gianna sent during their engagement, she confessed,
“My dearest Pietro …. it’s true; there will be sorrows, too, but if we always love each other as we do now, then, with God’s help, we’ll know how to bear them together…For now, though, let’s enjoy the happiness of loving each other. I was always told that the secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank the Lord for all that he, in his goodness, sends to us day after day.”
Pietro echoed her devotion, confiding, “The more I know Gianna, the more I am convinced that God could not have given me a greater gift than her love and companionship.” Does it get more romantic?! For the short seven years of their marriage, Gianna and Pietro allowed their love for each other to overflow into every encounter, truly living moment by moment.
It was no secret that Gianna integrated her unconditional love into her family life as well. The Mollas raised their family to know and follow the way of the cross. Not even two years after Gianna’s death, Mariolina, their oldest daughter, died, yet the family remained devoted in love to God. Through hardship and sacrifice, love remained constant. Pietro often consoled his son and daughter with the sentiment: “Eternity will not be enough for me to thank the Lord for all the graces he granted me during my long life.” (Um…WOW.)
Nope. I’m not holy enough for this.
It’s all too easy to muse about this as a nice ideal that’s hardly realistic for our own lives. This couldn’t be farther from reality. The beautiful thing about love is that it is wired into our very being. When we are truly living up to our fullest potential, desiring the best for others will be second-nature. As St. Gianna teaches us, this happens when we live the way of the Cross. Through her example, we see that this way, inseparable from the way of the Resurrection, is not the easiest for us as humans, yet it is the only avenue by which we find complete joy and fulfillment.
Ready to jump in? Not quite. We must understand that this implies our “yes,” given continuously and unconditionally to the acceptance of the Lord’s will in our lives, even when we don’t understand the how or the why. It’s also important for us to recognize that the way of the cross is not without the gift of suffering. I say “gift” not because I’m a masochist, but because it is through difficult times that we are drawn closer to Christ and His goodness. This is especially evident when we offer ourselves for the good of another—when we love them. Seeing this suffering as a gift unites our souls to the Lord and to the souls of those we serve by allowing them to experience Christ’s love through us. Traveling the way of the Cross helps us to view everything that happens with joy in the light of faith.
Striving for this every day can get difficult. We are told we should sacrifice ourselves for the good of another in the Gospel of John: “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). This is exactly what Christ has done for us and what Gianna did for her youngest daughter. Now, most of us will not be called to literally give up our lives for another, but we can, and are called to, sacrifice in the little things.
I have three siblings, and I love them to the ends of the earth. When we were growing up, it wasn’t always sunshine, giggles, and hugs. Those of you who grew up with siblings might know where I’m coming from! I began to realize I was always upset with or annoyed at my younger sister. I didn’t see a good reason for my feelings; they were just there. After a year or so of this going on, I admitted something needed to change. (I can be a little stubborn sometimes!) Fresh start…Confession…Yep.
As I was sitting behind the screen talking with the priest, he began to show me how my pride had taken the starring role in the situation and had been the catalyst feeding my negative attitudes about my sister. He said to me, “Maria, I want you to try something. When you are praying, use these seven words, ‘Heavenly Father, bless her and change me.’” That’s it. The sacrifice I was being called to make was one of humility for the benefit of our relationship. I couldn’t fully love my sister until I began to desire good for her, desire that she be blessed.
No matter whether the sacrifice is great or small, if it is selflessly given, it is love. With Easter on the horizon, I want to challenge each of us to a resurrected love—one that is devoted to and wills the good of the other and one that is renewed and strengthened by the spirit and example of St. Gianna.
Maria is a senior studying Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. She loves nothing more than a good liturgy and a beautiful church. She will never pass up a chance to dance and is terrified of menus with too many choices.