I recently attended an evening Mass with my husband and sons. Before the final procession, the priest announced that there would be two hours of Eucharistic Adoration following the Mass.
“I know it’s late,” he said gently. “But love always requires sacrifice.”
Touché, Father. We had dinner plans, but you better believe that we spent some time on our knees in silent prayer before leaving.
“Love requires sacrifice” is not a message we hear from popular culture these days. Our culture tells us that love should feel good, and that when looking for love, we should “find someone who makes you happy.” The unspoken follow-up is if that person ever fails to make you happy, then love is gone, and you should move on to find the next someone to make you happy—a recipe for a series of disposable relationships and misery. This type of expectation can also apply to family relationships—parent-child especially—where the birth of a child is seen as the final achievement of a happy life after the purchase of a new house and a car.
Thanks be to God we have a Church that teaches us otherwise. St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian saint who died in 1962, knew this truth well.
St. Gianna, whose feast day we celebrate on April 28, was a pediatrician, wife, and mother. In 1954, she married Pietro Molla and they began their family. By 1961, they had two daughters and a son, and Gianna was pregnant with their fourth child. During this pregnancy, she developed a fibroma, a benign tumor, on her uterus. Doctors gave her the choice to have an abortion, have a complete hysterectomy, or remove only the fibroma. Gianna, determined to save her unborn baby’s life, chose to remove only the fibroma. Her daughter, Gianna Emanuela, was born healthy, but Gianna died from septic peritonitis a week later. Saving her daughter’s life cost her own. She was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in 2004.
St. Gianna’s husband Pietro wrote a biography of his late wife that was published in 1971, and many letters that St. Gianna wrote to him throughout their courtship and marriage have been published as well. From these writings we learn a little bit about the generous spirit with which she took on the challenges of daily life as a doctor, wife, and mother, and we can begin to understand the ways in which she embodied the connection between love and sacrifice. As she once 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. Elizabeth Ann Seton also saw beauty in the connection between suffering and love. Her life was filled with enormous suffering as she cared for her family, including her husband’s siblings, through illness, her husband’s death, financial ruin, the loss of two of her children, and the estrangement of many friends upon her conversion to the Catholic faith. Rather than despairing, complaining, or giving way to bitterness, Elizabeth came to see her trials as a beautiful way to connect with the love of Jesus. She once wrote to her friend George Weis:
“It is strictly true that altho’ there is no possible advantage to be compared with the happiness of receiving Our Lord and Savior in the Holy Eucharist, who is our very life in all our sufferings, yet we also receive Him by the communion of the cross, that is to say, we may unite with Him, we draw His spirit on us, and it is very certain that we receive no grace in the communion of the Holy Eucharist but in proportion as we receive it in the communion of the cross. We can know the value of neither, it is true, without Faith. . . and as when we are called to participate at Our Lord’s table we go joyfully, not stopping on what we see, but on what we believe, so when He invites us to come and receive Him in afflictions and sufferings, we should receive His chalice with the same ardor and drink His Blood by Faith without looking at the veils under which it is hidden.”
Elizabeth recognized in each painful experience a precious opportunity to love and to grow closer to God.
Suffering is an inevitable and tragic part of the human experience. The examples of two great mothers, St. Gianna Beretta Molla and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, encourage us to grow in our understanding of suffering as an essential part of love, a beautiful way that we can grow in communion with God. Sts. Gianna and Elizabeth Ann, pray for us!
DANIELLE BEAN is the brand manager for CatholicMom.com and former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
This reflection was previously published. To view all of our Seton Reflections, click here.
Image: Public Domain