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The man and his wife were both naked ~Genesis 2:25

This month, when we celebrate Valentine's Day, it is fitting that we ponder on the life of St. Gianna Molla, the first saint to be canonized in the presence of her husband and children. Her canonization has made holiness attainable, with God's grace, for all of us. As we continue to reflect on the lives of married saints and on the sacrament of marriage as the living out of our "original nakedness" in Genesis, we are being inspired and encouraged to write a book on this subjectMeditations of Aquila and Priscilla: Living Naked. Please pray that we can make time for this project, if indeed this is God's will. ~Jun and Jean Uriarte

The sacrament of marriage is offered for the sake of the husband and wife to love each other into heaven. As we learn from Genesis, marriage is meant so that the couple might live out the “original nakedness” as did Adam and Eve: The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame (Genesis 2:25). By living out the marriage vocation and by allowing original nakedness—the total and complete sharing of self with the other – married couples are to love each other, participate in God’s creative power, transmit God’s image from one generation to another, and travel together, through all the trials and challenges of family life—caring for growing children and struggling to keep the fire of first love burning—in common pilgrimage to heaven.

But as we continue to reflect on the question of why there are very few married saints, more questions arise. Why are there more saints among those who choose the religious life, which only requires taking a vow, than those who choose marriage, which is a sacrament? Why does it seem from the record of the lives of saints that sex is an impediment to holiness even among the married? Why is it that even among married saints, many seem to have been canonized because of their martyrdom or of their raising celibate priests and religious from among their children rather than any possible holiness associated with their married state or of their raising children who will also be raising families? 

We find an answer to these questions in the life of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 24 April 1994 and canonized on 16 May 2004. Gianna was born in Magenta, Italy in 1922, the tenth of thirteen children. She studied medicine in Milan, specializing in pediatrics. She was active in Azione Cattolica (Catholic Action), the oldest Catholic lay organization in Italy. In 1954, she met Pietro Molla, an engineer, and they married in the following year. Gianna gave birth to three children, Pierluigi in 1956, Mariolina in 1957 and Laura in 1959, followed by two miscarriages.

In 1961, she was again pregnant, but during the second month, Gianna developed a fibroma on her uterus. After thorough medical examination, the doctors gave her three options: one, an abortion that would save her life and allow her to continue to have children; two, a complete hysterectomy that would preserve her life but take the unborn child’s life and prevent further pregnancy; and three, removal only of the fibroma that would allow the child to live but could lead to complications, which could lead to her death. 

Wanting to preserve the child’s life, Gianna chose the third option. But as expected, after the removal of the fibroma, complications, accompanied by pain, continued throughout her pregnancy. A few days before the baby was due, Gianna gave the following instruction: “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child—I insist on it.” On 21 April 1962, the baby was successfully delivered by Caesarean section and was named Emanuela. However, Gianna continued to have severe pain and seven days after giving birth, she died of septic peritonitis at a young age of 39. Emanuela grew up a normal child and became a medical doctor like her mother specializing in geriatrics, particularly in the care and treatment of those who suffer with Alzheimer’s Disease. 

When Gianna was canonized, her husband Pietro and their children, including Emanuela, were present at the canonization ceremony – the first time in the history of the Church that a saint’s family witnessed the same saint’s canonization. Pietro died in 2010 at the ripe age of 97. Except for Mariolina, who died as a young child, all three remaining children became successful professionals and have their own families. 

The miracle recognized by the Church to canonize Gianna involved a mother, Elizabeth Comparini, who was 16 weeks pregnant in 2003 and sustained a tear in her placenta that drained her womb of all amniotic fluid. Because a normal term of pregnancy is 40 weeks, Elizabeth was told by her doctors the baby’s chance of survival was nil. Elizabeth said she prayed to Gianna asking for her intercession, and was able to deliver a healthy baby despite the lack of amniotic fluid.  

Gianna did not die a martyr for her faith. Her husband and children did not enter priesthood or religious life. But like other saints, she provided a strong example of the values and virtues of Christ and his ultimate sacrifice for us. Before her required surgical operation, Gianna said: “Yes, I have prayed so much in these days. With faith and hope I have entrusted myself to the Lord… I trust in God, yes; but now it is up to me to fulfill my duty as a mother. I renew to the Lord the offer of my life. I am ready for everything, to save my baby.” And she sacrificed her life to save her child. In his homily at her canonization Mass, Pope John Paul II called Gianna “a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love.” 

The life of Gianna gives us hope—all married couples in our community—that through our marriage vocation, with God’s grace, we too could become saints. We continue to pray and hope that while the canonization of St. Gianna was the first of its kind, it will not be the last. While many married saints who have been beatified for their heroic virtues entered religious life after their partners died, in the case of St. Gianna, the very condition of her being a spouse and mother is the one exalted and highlighted. In fact, among the reasons for her being canonized was her deep passion for motherhood, her desire to have many children. Two weeks before their wedding, Gianna wrote to Pietro: “With God’s help and blessing, we will do our best to make our new family a little Cenacle where Jesus reigns over all our affections, desires, and actions… There are only a few days to go and I feel moved at the thought of approaching and receiving the ‘Sacrament of Love’. We will become collaborators with God in his creation and so we will be able to give him children that love and serve him.” 

St. Gianna made holiness attainable for all of us. Her example of lay sanctity, lived in the Sacrament of Love, encourages us to seek God in holy Matrimony and walk with him in our nakedness, as our First Parents did in Paradise before the Fall, not feeling any shame knowing that it is God’s will for us. And so we hope, with God’s grace and mercy, that we too could live this “mystery of faithful love”, which Christ has made a sacrament, and in our original nakedness, in complete and total sharing, offer and consecrate the fruits of this love for the glory of the Father in heaven.

Added on Tuesday, February 9, 2016


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