Throughout Sacred Scripture, we can find numerous examples of God telling His Church how to live a life of holiness. We should always give thanks to God that whenever He gives us these commands and instructions He always gives us examples that we can live by. Sometimes it's the example of Christ’s life, other times it's example of someone from a Bible story, and other times it's the lives of the saints.
Today's readings remind us that to be a great leader means that we must give of ourselves to those we lead. This requires self-sacrifice. The Prophet Isaiah talks about the coming of the Messiah and that He will give “His life as an offering for sin”. The Gospel also gives a clear foreshadowing of Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion and warns the Twelve that they too will share in His “cup” and in His “baptism”. This leads to Jesus’ final point which is, “whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all”.
Christ is of course the prime example of what it means to live a life of self-sacrifice. And, as I already mentioned, God also give us the example of lives of many saints who gave their lives as a sacrifice for God and for others. I would like to talk about a couple of those saints.
Gianna Beretta was born near Milan, Italy in 1922. She grew up in the Catholic faith and later attended medical school. She graduated with a doctorate in medicine in 1949. She opened a clinic and soon became well known as a superb doctor and pediatrician. She was also well known for helping organize retreats and talks in local parishes and for reaching out to local youth. She married a man named Pietro Molla in 1955 and their new family began to grow from there. Three children were born to them over the next four years, but after that she sadly lost two babies before they were born.
In 1961 she was pregnant again and after two months she began experiencing pain. It was discovered that she had a tumor in her uterus. Such a tumor can result in complications which can be a risk for both the mother and the child. Gianna had a few options. One would be to have a hysterectomy and remove the uterus along with the tumor. This would of course lead to the death of her unborn child. Such a choice would be morally acceptable since the operation would be directed at saving the mother's life and not at ending her child's life. Gianna elected not to do this, but instead had surgery to remove the tumor while allowing the child to remain in the womb. Such a procedure was risky for both child and mother, but Gianna insisted that the surgeons do whatever was necessary to preserve the child's life. The surgery was successful and on Good Friday, April 20, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was born by c-section. Dr. Gianna's life began to deteriorate quickly after that. She developed an infection that medicine of that day was not able to combat. She died seven days later. Little Gianna Emanuela grew up to become a doctor like her mother and was present at her mother's beatification in 1994. St. Gianna is remembered today as a wife, mother, doctor, and a pro-life witness. She died making sure that her daughter would have life.
Another saint who is a great example of self-sacrifice is St. Maria Goretti. Another Italian saint, Maria was born in 1890. Her father died when she was just ten years old, but she continued to help her mother with the farm they lived on and helping with the care of her younger siblings. Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation were of great importance to her, and she went to both on a regular basis even though the church was a two-hour walk away.
The Goretti family lived next to another family called the Serenellis who also worked as tenant farmers on the same farm. A son of that family was named Alessandro. During his teenage years he read a lot of violent and impure articles in newspapers. When Alessandro was twenty and Maria was only eleven, he began making advances towards her. Maria never gave in though, knowing that what he was suggesting should wait until marriage.
One day in July of 1902, everyone was working in the fields while Maria watched over her sleeping baby sister. Alessandro sneaked back to the house and grabbed a knife. No one else was at the house, so he grabbed Maria and tried to force his way with her. She was more afraid of Alessandro's salvation, then her own safety. She said, “No! No! No! What are you doing? Do not touch me! It is a sin – you will go to Hell!” Alessandro began stabbing her with the knife, at least fourteen times. Her cries for help could not be heard because of farm equipment being used in the field, but her baby sister awoke and began to cry. Alessandro hid himself as adults realized something was wrong and ran to the house. Doctors tried to save her, but couldn't and she died twenty hours later. On her deathbed she forgave Alessandro and prayed that he would repent. Her chief concern was for Alessandro even then. Alessandro was arrested and sentenced to thirty years in prison. He spent the first eight without remorse or regret for what he had done. One day he had a dream in which Maria appeared to him in a field of flowers as she held out white lilies to him. He finally repented begged God's forgiveness. On Christmas Eve, 1937, Alessandro visited Maria's Mother and begged her forgiveness. She said she could hardly refuse since her daughter had been so willing to forgive as well. They then attended Midnight Mass together. Maria's Mother was present at Maria's canonization in 1950.
St. Maria sacrificed herself rather than to succumb to impurity. She sacrificed herself to save Alessandro from impurity as well. St. Gianna sacrificed herself so that her daughter could live. Both of these modern day saints teach us what it means to sacrifice oneself for the love of God. They followed in the footsteps of Christ and have shared in His baptism. They were servants on earth, but are now great in Heaven. May their prayers and examples lead us to Heaven as well.