Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Mass in Honor of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla
Nativity of Our Lord Church, Warminster
April 25, 2007

Dear Friends,

I am greatly honored to be here with you to celebrate this Mass in anticipation of the Feast of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla. United during this Easter season, we rejoice in the Risen Christ who conquered death and has illumined for us the path to holiness, the path to happiness, the path to eternal life.

The image of the bride presented in the Book of Revelation is an image of the Church, made resplendent for Jesus, the Bridegroom. It is Jesus Himself who has made ready His bride and, as Saint John tells us, the fine linen garment worn by the bride represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones. How fittingly this scripture passage is proclaimed for Saint Gianna, whose holy life and righteous deeds have brought us together today. In her vocation as a wife, mother and physician, Saint Gianna embraced the light of the Risen Jesus. This is proven by Gianna’s love for God, her devoted respect for the dignity of marriage and her unflinching regard for the sanctity of human life.

Gianna Beretta was raised in the midst of a loving and devout family, a family who encouraged her love for God and her desire to learn. As a young woman, Gianna loved her faith and lived it vibrantly through her involvement in the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and through the Catholic Action Movement. Gianna seemed to understand profoundly that genuine love for God is reflected most clearly in loving and charitable concern for and service of the poor, the underprivileged and the suffering. Undoubtedly, this charity would guide her in her pursuit of a medical career in which she could serve the needs of many, especially children.

The loving heart of Gianna found a complementary companion in Pietro Molla, a young man of intelligence and strong devotion. Together, they grew in love and, in marriage, they walked together on the path to holiness.

In their married life, Saint Gianna and her husband Pietro lived the sacrament of marriage chastely, faithfully, passionately and selflessly, loving each other in the knowledge that God created them for each other and united them in a sacred bond of love. The love between Gianna and Pietro is reflective of the words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est: "It is part of love’s growth toward higher levels and inward purification that it now seeks to become definitive, and it does so in a twofold sense: both in the sense of exclusivity (this particular person alone) and in the sense of being ‘for ever.’ Love embraces the whole of existence in each of its dimensions, including the dimension of time. It could hardly be otherwise, since its promise looks toward its definitive goal: love looks to the eternal" (no. 6). Truly, Gianna and Pietro understood that, as Christian husband and wife, they were helpmates for each other on the path to eternal life.

Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, declared: "Christian married couples and parents, following their own way, should support one another in grace all through life with faithful love, and should train their children (lovingly received from God) in Christian doctrine and evangelical virtues. Because in this way they present to all an example of unfailing and generous love, they build up the brotherhood of charity, and they stand as witnesses and cooperators of the fruitfulness of mother Church, as a sign of, and a share in that love with which Christ has loved his bride and gave himself for her" (no. 41).

Gianna and Pietro further proclaimed their complete love in their total openness to the gift of life in the births of their four children, especially in the conception and birth of their youngest daughter, at the time when Saint Gianna learned of her life-threatening fibrous tumor. With the courageous and self-sacrificial love of a mother, Gianna offered her own life rather than terminate the precious life of her unborn baby.

The heroic example of Saint Gianna speaks eloquently to every person living in our tumultuous and confused age. As a daughter and sister in a family, she was a model of service and diligence in study. As a young woman, she was gracious, joyful and social, yet thoroughly devout and highly active in the Catholic Faith which she professed so clearly. As a successful doctor, she demonstrated how medical science serves the dignity of human life. As a wife and mother, she made Jesus the heart of the home, the strength of the family, the goal to be achieved. Saint Gianna balanced her busy schedule as a working mother by maintaining an ardent prayer life, especially through daily Mass and Communion and her daily Rosary. She sanctified her everyday life in the knowledge of the presence of God. Saint Gianna tells us: "When one does one’s own duty, one must not be concerned, because God’s help will not be lacking." She also observed: "The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends us day after day."

We are encouraged by the witness of Saint Gianna, who rallies us today to invite people of our time to embrace anew those institutions, values and virtues which are the foundations of a strong society: marriage and family, the right to life, fidelity, charity and religious practice. The recent pro-life victory in the Supreme Court on maintaining the ban on partial-birth abortion is for us a sign that our efforts for the protection of innocent human life are making progress. We still have a long way to go in convincing our culture to embrace life, but, with hope and trust in God, we will persevere. We will never lose hope. In the victories and setbacks, struggles and triumphs in our efforts, all things are possible when we place our hope and trust in Jesus.

Jesus, in the Gospel passage, praises the Father for revealing His marvels, not to the learned and the clever, but to the childlike. We pray that we will always have a love for God and a trust in Him like those of a child. In that childlike trust, nurtured by prayer and the sacraments - especially the Holy Eucharist - Saint Gianna joyfully gave of herself fully, completely and joyfully. Certainly, she is the last person to have thought that her example and influence would resound around the world. The great challenge for us today is to live our faith like Saint Gianna, seeking to influence those around in ways both subtle and strong. We can do this only by a sustained prayer life, our constant recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, our intense hunger to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, our burning desire to remain close to Jesus through Eucharistic Adoration, and by our daily devotion to Mary, Mother of the Church and Help of Christians, particularly through praying the Rosary.

At her canonization on May 16, 2004, the Servant of God Pope John Paul II stated: "Saint Gianna Beretta Molla was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love. In a letter to her future husband a few days before their marriage, she wrote: ‘Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women’.... Following the example of Christ ... this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves" (no. 7).

Society can be transformed only by those who love, and love truly was the motivation in the life of Saint Gianna. With a joyful smile, she invites us to follow her example, to give ourselves to the total service of the love of Jesus, each one of us in our own vocation. "Love is the light," wrote Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, "-the only light - that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God" (no. 39).

Saint Gianna, pray for us! Amen.

Back to Top