Selflessness, Sacrifice, and Suffering

by Mary Purcell, grade 11

I remember the first time I heard of St. Gianna Molla. I was a little girl and was at a Catholic bookstore when my grandmother bought me a book about her. I couldn’t put it down and asked myself, “How did this woman have the courage to pick her baby’s life over hers?” Later, I realized that St. Gianna Molla was able to “take up her cross” through her willingness to sacrifice, suffer, and her great love for God and her baby, which correspond to promoting a culture of life today through rejecting abortion, contraception, and euthanasia.

St. Gianna Molla was a pro-life doctor, wife, fervent Catholic, and mother of three when she found out that she was pregnant with her fourth child. She and her husband were both elated, but two months into her pregnancy, devastating news hit. St. Gianna had a uterine tumor. The doctor gave St. Gianna three options: a procedure that would end the life of her child, an abortion, or removing the tumor so the baby could survive. St. Gianna chose the latter, explaining that her child’s life was more important than her own. She said to her husband, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: Choose the child. I insist on it. Save her.” St. Gianna followed the words of Christ, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily.” In choosing to save her baby’s life, St. Gianna took up her cross and quite literally suffered the daily effects of a tumor. St. Gianna took up her cross with total trust in God’s will. She said, “Also in suffering, let us say: Thanks be to God.” A week after her baby girl was born, St. Gianna died, giving up her life for her child. St. Gianna exemplifies what Christ said, “No greater love has any man than to lay down his life for his friend.” 

St. Gianna’s example corresponds to the pro-life culture because being pro-life requires sacrifice. St. Gianna rejected killing her child, even though she had to suffer unto death for her baby. A pro-life example today would be when a high-schooler is faced with a pregnancy. It may be hard to raise a child as a single parent and the mother may have daily challenges “taking up her cross,” but a pro-life culture will help and support this young mother. A pro-life culture should protect the most vulnerable and legislate to protect preborn children. Even though parents will sacrifice time, energy, sleep, and more for the baby, St. Thomas Aquinas says, “To love is to will the good of another.” Abortion is never a loving option because it says, “I will not love you, I will kill you because I don’t want you or it is not convenient for me.” St. Gianna refused the selfish nature of abortion and willed the good of another. St. Gianna said, “Look at the mothers who truly love their children: how many sacrifices they make for them. They are ready for everything, even to give their own blood so that their babies grow up good, healthy, and strong.” St. Gianna lived this out through her immense love and suffering. She said, “One cannot love without suffering or suffer without loving.” St. Gianna’s selflessness brought forth the ultimate sacrifice for her baby, her own life. 

Being truly open to life means that we must reject contraception, preventing the life of the child through unnatural means. Being open to life might mean accepting multiple children from God, which may require sacrifices by putting your child’s needs in front of yours. Gianna and her husband were very open to life and had three children in three years. Having four children, St. Gianna realized the menial daily tasks of being a mother when she said, “One earns paradise with one’s daily task.” St. Gianna realized that love and sacrifice are interwoven when she said, “Love and sacrifice are closely linked, like the sun and the light. We cannot love without suffering and we cannot suffer without love.” St. Gianna made the ultimate sacrifice for love, giving her whole self for her daughter.2

Another pro-life issue, the rejection of euthanasia, requires that society must reject euthanasia and care for and support the elderly. I have seen the culture of death in my own family. Nine years ago, my grandpa was having heart issues and was in our local hospital when the doctor point blank said to my grandpa and my family that he had one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel. The doctor was condescending, refused to give a life-saving surgery, and told my grandpa to go home and die. Shortly after, my family had my grandpa transferred to the Cleveland Clinic where the doctor treated my grandpa with dignity and saved his life. The medical staff supported the family, saying that he would get through this difficult time and be there for his 12 grandchildren. This is what the culture of life promotes—seeing the person with dignity, and, if possible, saving him. Since then, he is joyfully living today and has been for the last nine years. I shudder to think that, had all doctors been like the first one, I would not have had my grandpa present at my sacraments and birthdays, and countless other memories I cherish with him would be lost. This is what the culture of death promotes: If you are ill and elderly, then why would we save you? St. Gianna cared for the whole person, body and soul, as a doctor. If a patient shared that he was in a difficult moral situation, St. Gianna would instruct him in Catholic moral teaching because she cared for his soul. St. Gianna cared for her patients’ well-being and in troubled times she would buy her patients food. St. Gianna said, “Everyone works in the service of man. We doctors work directly on man himself. . . . The great mystery of man is Jesus: ‘He who visits a sick person, helps me,’ Jesus said. . . . Just as the priest can touch Jesus, so do we touch Jesus in the bodies of our patients. . . .  Our mission is not finished when medicines are no longer of use. We must bring the soul to God; our word has some authority. . . . Catholic doctors are so necessary!”3The culture of life supports the elderly, like St. Gianna did, with optimism and respecting the intrinsic value of all people.

St. Gianna Molla exemplified “taking up her cross” in following Christ through love and sacrifice expressed in some of her last words, “Jesus, I love you.” These seemingly little words create a powerful message of St. Gianna’s beliefs in upholding the sacred nature of life in all stages, which fosters a pro-life culture.1

© 2018 Mary Purcell. Published with permission.

Works Cited

1. Flilz, Gretchen. St. Gianna Beretta Molla: A Modern Mother’s Heroism. 28 April 2017. 5 December 2018.

2. Molla, The Society of St. Gianna Beretta. The Society of St. Gianna Beretta Molla- Doctor. n.d. 5 December 2018.

3. Unknown. The Society of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Doctor. n.d. d 2018,