St. Gianna Molla is a woman recognized for her great final act of generosity to life. During her fourth pregnancy, when a tumor was found to be pressing on her uterus, she opted for the surgery that put her at greater risk but was the only choice in which her baby had a chance at survival.
Her entire life, however, was really one of self-giving, of being poured out for others. She embodied the works of mercy, corporal and spiritual–extending God’s self-revelatory love to not only her family but the women and children in her care as a physician: counseling women in crisis pregnancies, encouraging mothers, mentoring young girls, leaving money on the kitchen tables of the poor when making house calls. Her great desire had been to go to Brazil as a missionary in order to serve expectant mothers without access to quality medical care. When that divine door didn’t open. she surrendered her plans and fully and joyfully embraced her married vocation and those God had placed in her life: friends, family, neighbors, patients–all were Jesus to her.
This life-giving love sprang from a place of reverence for God and His divine presence in the human person, something imparted to her from her earliest years. Her parents, third-order Franciscans, chose a life of intentional poverty and simplicity so that they could be generous to the poor. They consecrated their large family to the Sacred Heart every night and made the sacraments central in their family.
As Gianna matured, she made this faith very much her own. We get a glimpse into her emerging spirituality in her notes from an Ignatian retreat that she attended when she was in high school in 1938. Gianna would have been 15 years old.
At this retreat she wrote some resolutions including:
1. To do all things for the Lord… To serve God, I will not go to the movies without being sure that the film is suitable and not scandalous or immoral…
2. I prefer to die rather than commit a mortal sin…
3. To say the “Hail Mary” every day so that the Lord might give me a holy death…
4. I wish to fear mortal sin as if it were a serpent and I repeat I would die a thousand times rather than offend the Lord.
5. I wish to ask the Lord to help me not to go to hell and therefore to avoid all that would harm my soul.
6. I beg the Lord to help me understand his great mercy.
7. I propose to obey M.M. and to study even though I don’t feel like it, for the love of Jesus.
8. From this day on, I wish to pray on my knees in the morning in church just as I do in my room in the evening at the foot of my bed.
9. The way of humiliation is the shortest way to reach holiness. To pray that the Lord lead me to Paradise.
What is striking to me in this list of commitments is #6: I beg the Lord to help me understand his great mercy.
In the midst of her concerns about immorality, mortal sin, offending God, obedience, and humiliation, this precious girl tucks in a plea to be allowed to know the great Mercy of God.
Later that same year in 1938, the “Secretary of Mercy”, St. Faustina Kowalska, would die in Krakow, her work of spreading the message of mercy just beginning. It would seem that St. Gianna anticipated this great movement of grace in the desires of her young heart. Her life was evidence that she did indeed come to know intimately Mercy Himself–for she was so clearly a reflection of the One she loved.
And here’s something interesting: St. Gianna would die of complications from the birth of her fourth child, repeating the words, “Jesus, I love you; Jesus, I love you” on April 28, 1962. That year, April 28 would be the Saturday after Easter.
The pope who canonized her (it was, in fact, his last canonization), Pope St. John Paul II, would joyfully institute the Feast of Divine Mercy on the first Sunday after Easter, ushering in a new age of mercy in the Church. It was seen as something of a sign that he died on the eve of that feast in 2005–the Saturday after Easter.
In other words, these two saints died on the same day of the liturgical calendar.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the spiritual life it’s that there are no coincidences or irrelevant things with God: “and nothing would again be casual and small.”
So, I choose to see it as a sign that this woman, so deeply desirous to encounter the Mercy of God, knew intimately this grace in her life and in her death–and prays for us now that we may find, as she did, that “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
St. Gianna Molla, pray for us, who so need the mercy of God.
Read the “Secret of St. Gianna” here.
Photo credit: Depositphotos