Gianna Beretta Molla

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2015/05/08 at 12:00 AM

In 1961 Gianna Beretta Molla was a pediatrician in northern Italy pregnant with her 6th child. Married in 1955 to a man 10 years her senior, Gianna had already given birth to three children and had miscarried two others.
In her second month of pregnancy Gianna developed a fibroid on her uterus, and so her doctors gave her three alternatives: 1) get an abortion, 2) have a complete hysterectomy, or 3) a surgery that would remove only the fibroid.
While Catholic teaching forbids abortion under any circumstance, Catholic moral theology would have allowed a hysterectomy in this circumstance, but Gianna did not want to do that because it would have unintentionally resulted in the death of her unborn child.
So Gianna had the surgery to remove the fibroid, but even after the surgery she continued to suffer with various complications in her pregnancy, just as she had suffered with serious complications in her other pregnancies.
Knowing that her delivery was bound to be dangerous, Gianna told her family and doctors that if the situation arose in which a choice had to be made between saving her life or the life of her baby, she wanted them to save the baby. She was very insistent upon this.
On April 21, 1962 – Good Friday – Gianna was taken to the hospital where her daughter had to be delivered via c-section. Gianna, however, continued to suffer severe pain after the delivery, and she died of septic peritonitis a week later.
Gianna was eventually beatified in 1994 and canonized on May 16, 2004. Incidentally, the miracle that led to her canonization involved a mother, who at 16 weeks of pregnancy sustained a tear in her placenta that drained her womb of all amniotic fluid.
The doctors told this woman that her child had absolutely no chance of survival. But after praying for Gianna Molla’s intercession, this woman was able to deliver a healthy baby despite the lack of amniotic fluid in her womb.
This story of St. Gianna’s sacrifice for her unborn child seems very appropriate today as we celebrate Mother’s Day. But it also ties in very well to the theme of our readings today.
Our readings speak not only of the command from God to love, but they also speak of the nature of true love.
In our second reading from the 1st Epistle of St. John, we are told to love because love is of God! St. John tells us that: “everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
So in other words, our Lord desires us to love because doing so brings us into relationship with Him and makes us more like Him!
In the Gospel today our Lord reminds us once again that love is shown by obedience to His commands. But in addition to encompassing obedience, our Lord teaches us today that true love is also sacrificial in nature.
Jesus says: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
So in addition to being willing to sacrifice our own desires by being obedient to our Lord, if we wish to truly love, we must be willing to sacrifice for the sake of others, too.
St. Gianna showed this love well by her willingness to lay down her life for her child, even though, strictly speaking, our Catholic moral theology would have allowed her to have a hysterectomy that would have saved her life.
Thus St. Gianna shows us the great good that can be achieved by seeking that which is ideal in God’s eyes, and not simply that which is acceptable. Because of Gianna’s willingness to lay down her life, her child was given life, and Gianna herself became a saint in the process!
Indeed, loving as God calls us to love, makes us saintly!
But even beyond Gianna and her family, how many pregnant mothers have been encouragedand edified by her witness? How many have been aided by her intercession?
Sadly, St. Gianna stands in stark contrast to the feminine values our world promotes todaywith regard to motherhood. In our world today the gifts of fertility and motherhood aretreated as things to be managed and manipulated for our own desires and convenience.
Women are encouraged to suppress their fertility unless they are absolutely desirous ofpregnancy, and if they get pregnant unintentionally, they are encouraged to abort theirunborn child. Truly, this is a selfish way to think and behave.
St. Gianna understood that motherhood and the creation of new life is an absolute gift, evenas it requires great sacrifice from a mother.
Indeed, more than anyone else in a family, a mother is called to a life of sacrifice for herhusband and children, for the mother is the heart of the family – the primary dispenser offamilial love that binds all the family members together.
With their husbands women are called to be generous with their fertility: to lovingly acceptchildren, making room for them not only in their wombs, but in their hearts as well.
Lately the media has portrayed the Catholic Church as waging a “war on women” because ofour opposition to the HHS mandate that all insurance plans provide contraception,sterilization, and some abortifacient drugs.
What the world does not understand is that each of these things is completely antithetical tothe nature of true motherhood, for each of these things is rooted in selfishness, and thereforemilitates against the generous and sacrificial nature of the love that is proper to mothers.
While all of us – men and women alike – are called to sacrificial love, a love that enables us to lay down our lives for the sake of others, there is a particular beauty to the feminine love,and we see this exemplified by our Lady.
In our Lady are united the two perfections of femininity: virginity and motherhood. Whenlived in godly fashion, both virginity and motherhood require a total gift of self: either to God or to a husband; and when lived in godly fashion, both are a means of growing in holiness.
Mary was completely devoted to God and to her family. Out of love for our Lord, she made her fiat at the Annunciation that triggered our Lord’s incarnation and bound her in love to Christ, who is both God and man.
And throughout the course of her life, the Virgin was the Father’s perfect handmaid, the Son’s perfect mother, and the Spirit’s perfect spouse.
In this month in which we honor Our Lady in a particular way, we also honor the vocation of motherhood, a vocation that only finds true fulfillment and authentic expression in a love that is both generous and sacrificial.
May all women learn to model their lives on the generous and sacrificial love of Mary, and by doing so, may they bear witness to the world of the true nature of feminine love.
St. Gianna Molla, pray for us!


13 May 2012

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

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