It was April 20, 1962, on a Good Friday, a pregnant lady in full term was admitted to Monza Maternity Hospital in Italy. Unlike other pregnancies, the pregnancy of Gianna Beretta Molla was critical. She was suffering from a painful uterine tumor or fibroma diagnosed during the second month of her pregnancy. It was a critical pregnancy because it was a choice between the life of the mother or the child. During that time, she and her husband Pietro, both Italians, were given the choice to either terminate the pregnancy and save the mother’s life or carry the pregnancy to full term and endanger the mother’s life. Gianna told her husband to save their baby.
Gianna Beretta Molla was a medical doctor specializing in Pediatrics who came from a large Italian family of deep religious upbringing: she has two brother priests, and a religious sister. She herself during her early life was contemplating of becoming a nun after receiving her medical degree with honors. However, after a Marian pilgrimage, she discerned that God was calling her for the married state. Immediately upon returning home from the pilgrimage, she met Pietro. Both Pietro and Gianna were of deep religious convictions, having high regard for marriage and the sanctity of family life. The marriage bore them four children, the last of which endangered Gianna’s life.
Black Saturday, April 21, 1962, a day after Gianna’s confinement, she gave birth to their daughter Gianna Emanuela. After which, Gianna suffered excruciating pain for six days refusing pain medication so that she may suffer more like Jesus. On the seventh day, Saturday within the octave of Easter, Gianna died of septic peritonitis in their home. It was April 28, 1962. She was 39 years old. Because of her love for life and for her children, she surrendered her own life to give life for her unborn child. Knowing that she would have to give a part of her own life to extend the gift of life given to her child, she willingly consented. She bore concrete witness to the passage: “No one has a greater love than the one who lays down his life for another” (Jn 15:13).
On April 24, 1994, Year of the Family, Pope John Paul II beatified Gianna Beretta Molla at St. Peter’s Square in the presence of her husband, children, and her brothers and sisters. During one of the International Celebrations of the Family attended by John Paul II, Gianna Emanuela, the last that Gianna gave birth, who is now a medical doctor like her mother, gave a testimony that made the pope shed tears: “Dear mom, thank you for having given me life two times: when you conceived me and when you permitted me to be born, protecting my life.... And so my life seeks to be the natural continuation of your life, of your joy of living, of your enthusiasm, and it finds its full meaning in the engagement and in the dedication to whoever lives in suffering.” On May 16, 2004 Gianna was canonized a saint of the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II who, during his homily, gave recognition to this married woman as a “a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.” She was a first among women saints of the Church who was recognized precisely because of her own motherhood. Her feast is celebrated on April 28.
In the Gospel according to Saint John we hear of the great love the Father has for all of us, for all of his creation, such that he sent us his only Son that all of us dead to sin, may be reborn in grace and attain salvation (Jn 3:16). For the person who has come to grasp the full meaning, the depth, and the immensity of this love of God, everything becomes relative. The only absolute is love, love in the way that God has loved us. We hear in the writing of Saint Paul how “God who is rich in mercy, revealed his immense love” (Eph 2:4) He sent us his Son to deliver us from death to sin, to life in grace. And in all things that God has done to us, we deserve nothing. Everything is grace, an undeserved, unmerited favor of God given freely to humanity because of his love. This is the “good news” that we hear proclaimed in the gospel each day. Jesus himself gave concrete expression of that love that the Father has for us. As a God, he doesn’t have to undergo all the troubles of suffering, dying and rising again. Yet, he willing surrendered himself, even his life. Jesus grasped the depth of the Father’s love, and hence, everything becomes relative. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14).
Today, the Church challenges us to immerse ourselves in that love of the Father, to grasp the full meaning, the depth, and the immensity of his love. And from there, give it concrete expression in our life, in our ministry in the Church, and service to the society. We will never run out of people to love, persons to give concrete expression of this love. This is each person’s vocation, the the daily incarnation of our call to holiness. We need only to forget ourselves a little more, set aside our prejudices and hurt feelings, be convinced that only love is absolute, and then surrender ourselves to the Father’s love that lies hidden in our hearts. Love is at the heart of human nature. God created us in love. The most spontaneous thing that a person does is to love. And others have witnessed to this, even at great cost. If we only look around ourselves and look closely at one another, one may find many instances also of love concretely and daily lived. The life of Santa Gianna is only one shining example of to what extent a mother can love her child. Normally the Church would counsel that the life of the mother be given priority. But Santa Gianna’s love went beyond. She had lived her life to the full and she freely surrendered the rest in order to give a second life to her unborn child. May each one of us shine forth the very same love that nailed Christ to the cross, the very same love that brought about humanity’s salvation.