for Sunday, August 14, 2022
"I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing."
The readings today present us with the challenges of our faith and the
challenges to our faith. Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern because he refused to
hedge on the faith. He refused to tell the king what the king wanted to hear. He
proclaimed the truth that God told him to proclaim, even though it cost him severely.
The people to whom the Letters to the Hebrews was addressed were tempted to give
up the faith. It seemed too difficult to them, too demanding. Further on in the letter, the
author of Hebrews would tell them to lift up their drooping hands, and firm up their
shaking knees. In today's reading they are chided that for all their complaining. They
had not yet resisted sin to the point of shedding blood. They should keep their eyes
focused on Jesus, and not be so concerned about their present lives. In the Gospel for
this Sunday, Jesus speaks about the cost of discipleship. Families may even be
divided over the following of the Lord, but nothing is worth sacrificing the Life of Jesus
St. Gianna Berretta Molla understood this so well, and all its implications. Hers
was one of the last canonizations by St. John Paul II on May 16,2004. She is a modern
saint, who died on April 28, 1962. Her husband and children were present for her
canonization. We haven't heard a whole lot about her in the United States, something
which we priests are remiss.
Gianna Berretta was a doctor living outside of Milan, Italy. She had a double
residency and practice in pediatrics and obstetrics gynecology. After she finished her
residencies, her desire to reach out to the people influenced her to open a clinic in a
small town in her native Italy. She was not a wealthy doctor. She never hesitated to
give her services free to those who could not afford to pay. A good doctor works long
hours and Gianna was no exception. Pregnant mothers felt so secure in her care
because they knew no matter what time of night they needed her, she would be there
After becoming a doctor, Gianna met and became engaged to the man of her
dreams, Pietro Molla. She had found a man who agreed with her determination to live
her faith. She told her future husband, "I really want a Christian family, where God is
one of the family; a little cenacle where He can reign in our hearts, enlighten our
decisions and guide our programs." They were married on September 24, 1955. In
November 1956, to her great joy, she became the mother of Pierluigi, in December
1957 of Mariolina; in July 1959 of Laura. With simplicity and equilibrium she harmonized
the demands of mother and wife, and continued practice as a doctor all with the passion
that she had for life.
In 1961, Gianna became pregnant with the Molla's fourth child. In September,
towards the end of the second month of pregnancy, she was touched by suffering and
the mystery of pain. She had developed a tumor in her uterus. She was given the
choice of having the uterus removed and thus kill the child, or risk surgery that might
save the child but kill her. She was an OB-GYN. She knew the risk that her continued
pregnancy brought, but she pleaded with the surgeon to save the life of the child she
was carrying, and entrusted herself to prayer and Providence. The baby's life was
saved, for which she thanked the Lord. She spent the seven months remaining until the
birth of the child in incomparable strength of spirit and unrelenting dedication to her
tasks as mother and doctor. She worried that the baby in her womb might be born in
pain, and she asked God to prevent that.
A few days before the child was due, although trusting as always in Providence,
she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child. She repeated to her
husband: "If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the
child - I insist on it. Save the child." On the morning of April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela
was born. Despite all efforts and treatments to save both of them, on the morning of
April 28, amid repeated exclamations of "Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you," Gianna
Berretta Molla died. She was 39 years old.
Was Gianna foolish for making the decision to allow her death rather than the
death of her child? Shouldn't she have considered staying alive for the sake of her
other three children, her husband, and even her medical practice? These arguments
were presented to her by those whom she had respected, doctors, family members, etc.
But their thinking was the thinking of the world. Gianna knew that she would accomplish
nothing in killing a child to keep her own life. The child that was saved, Gianna
Emanuela, followed in her mother's footsteps and is now a medical doctor and
consulter to the Saint Gianna Berretta Molla Society.
St. Gianna wrote this prayer: "O Jesus, I promise You to submit myself to all that
You permit to befall me, make me only know Your Will. My most sweet Jesus, infinitely
merciful God, most tender Father of souls, and in a particular way of the most weak,
most miserable, most infirm which You carry with special tenderness between Your
divine arms, I come to You to ask You, through the love and merits of Your Sacred
Heart, the grace to comprehend and to do always Your holy Will, the grace to confide in
You, the grace to rest securely through time and eternity in Your loving divine arms."
The cost of discipleship seldom makes the demand on us that it made on Gianna
Molla, but we are all continually confronted with the choice of standing up for our faith or
joining the world that rejects the Lord. One person is encouraged to tear down a coworker with the hope of getting his or her position. Another is mocked for refusing to
participate in an immoral gathering. Movies and the media glorify sin and belittle those
who reject sin. The tempters themselves often claim to be modern day Christians, but
in fact they are promoting the works of evil.
But nothing outside of us can quell the fire that Jesus lit in our hearts. Only we
can put the fire out by giving in to the pagan world. We cannot do this. We cannot let
anything, any situation put the fire out. We cannot drown it with our own selfishness.
So, we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, and as we run the race of our lives we draw
Him who leads us closer to ourselves. For the fire that he has set is worth infinitely more
than all the so called reasonable demands of the world.
St. Paul wrote: "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are
perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18.
St. Gianna Berretta Molla, pray for us.
Readings of the day:
First Reading: Jeremiah 38.4-6, 8-10
Second Reading: Hebrews 12.1-4
Gospel: Luke 12.49-53
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. Visit his
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: