This is an oldie post, but it is very worth review if you’ve seen it before. If not, prepare to by amazed.
Today is the Dies Natalis of St. Gianna Beretta Molla (+28 April 1962 at 39 years of age).
That is to say that St. Gianna died and was born into heaven today (thus, “birthday… dies natalis”).
I have posted this before, but it seemed appropriate to repost it today.
St. Gianna is one of the saints of our time whom I would very much like to see officially included in an updated version of the traditional Roman calendar. As a matter of fact, according to Cum sanctissima we are able to observe her day at the altar now.
What follows is about the 2nd miracle through the intercession of St. Gianna, which lead to her canonization.
A person who cause for canonization has been officially advanced is called a “Servant of God”. If they are determined to have died while living a life of “heroic virtue” they are declared “Venerable”. After that, if a miracle is authenticated by their intercession, they are beatified and called “Blessed”. After another miracle they are canonized and called “Saint”.
St. Gianna was canonized as someone who evidenced “heroic virtue”. Since then, however, a category or path to canonization has emerged between the “life of heroic virtue” and “martyrdom”. That middle path is called “oblatio vitae” or “offering of life”. The idea is this. Some people who live holy lives, though not necessarily a life of heroic virtue, nevertheless make decisions which lead to their great harm and death for the sake of the Faith or some virtue integral to the Faith. Take the case of St. Maximillian Kolbe. He was beatified as having lived a life of heroic virtue but canonized as a martyr. In fact it may be that he was not actually killed by the Nazi’s because of the Faith, or his priesthood: he offered to take the place of another prisoner. His choice led to his death. He offered his life, though it may not have been martyrdom.
Fr. Vincent Capodanno, the heroic Navy Chaplain killed in Vietnam while trying to give last rites to a wounded Marine. Yut! He wasn’t killed for hatred of the Faith, so he wasn’t a martyr. It would not be necessary to demonstrate that “chaps” lives all the virtues in a heroic way. NB: “heroic” here has nothing to do with his heroism in the fire fight during which he was killed. For the sake of another, he made a choice to put himself in the line of fire and was killed because of it. That was truly heroic in earthly, but he did it for a spiritual motive, love of neighbor, concern for a soul.
The case of St. Gianna is in some respects similar. She lived a virtuous life and her cause was argued that she lived a life of heroic virtue. However, had they not made that case, she did, in fact, make a choice that led to her death for the sake of her unborn child, an oblatio vitae. She was aware that her choice would lead to her death and she chose it anyway for the sake of her child’s life.
Ancient spiritual writers, such as St. Gregory the Great (+604), wrestled with categories of martyrdom. Red, or bloody martyrdom is rather straight forward, provided it can be proven that the murderers killed the martyr for hatred of the Faith, etc.
However, there is also a long tradition of identifying “white” martyrdom, coined by St. Jerome, whereby a person gives witness through an ascetic life, withdrawal from the world, pilgrimages involving great sacrifice, or who suffers greatly for the Faith but who does not die in bearing witness. There is also a “blue” or “green” martyrdom, involving great penance and mortifications without necessarily the sort of withdrawal from life that a hermit or a cenobite might live.
Gregory the Great in his Dialogues, writes of different kinds of martyrdom, bloody, public martyrdom in time of persecution and secret martyrdom, not in time of persecution. He wrote that secret martyrs are no less worthy of honor, because they also endured sufferings and the attacks of hidden enemies, but they persevered in charity.
As I mentioned above, St. Gianna’s path was not that of martyrdom. They made a case for heroic virtue. By the newly opened path, she more than likely would have been a candidate for beatification by oblatio vitae.
These days, under normal circumstances, two miracles are needed for canonization on the path of heroic virtue, one for beatification and one for canonization. Sometimes that can be waived by the Sovereign Pontiff.
The account of the 2nd miracle for the canonization of St. Gianna gives me shivers. Sometimes we don’t get many details about what these miracles are all about. We know quite a bit about this miracle.
This is adapted from my original post a few years back when I was speaking and thinking mostly in Italian, and the sources were in Italian, so it might sound odd here and there. My post from many years ago – with touch ups here and there – continues, thusly:
Some time ago I did over 100 hours of training at the Congregation for Causes of Saints concerning the history, theology and juridical dimensions of causes of beatification and canonization (investigating the life, heroic virtues, martyrdom, reputation of holiness, reputation of martyrdom, miracles, etc.). Such training isn’t just for me: it has to be for the whole Church or it is worth only the cost of the parchment.
We had the chance to learn from and question the officials of the Congregation, the experts who collaborate with it, and the physicians and historians who are experts consultants. We had lectures from the Prefect, Secretary and Under-Secretary, the Promotor of the Faith (so-called “Devil’s Advocate” is a misnomer, really) and the Relator General. We had tours of the archives and attended the proceedings of the opening of a cause in the Roman phase. Abundant materials were provided and we were, naturally, allowed then to be thoroughly tested on them.
Going into the course I was not sure what to expect, but I brought a certain measure of skepticism about some things I had heard (mostly due to faulty and insufficient information, I see now). I heard stories of lives and of miracles which left me nearly with my jaw on the table as I listened and saw the documentation.
This was a privilege which for the rest of my priesthood will affect how I can help other people understand things about the life of grace in a way I could not before.
Concerning the second of the two miracles worked by God through St. Gianna:
In mid November 1999 a Brazilian woman named Elisabete Comparini Arcolino discovered she was pregnant for the fourth time. An echogram on 30 Nov. showed that the developing child was within a small sac only .8 cm in length and 2.3 cm in diameter. The doctor said that it was doubtful that with such a beginning for the gestation that child would come to term. On 9 December a echo showed the embryo a 1.0 cm in length but also a huge increase in coagulation of blood (blood loss), measuring 5.2 x 3.5 cm. On 19 December they found the beating heart of the child, but also a deterioration of the placenta in the lower region of the uterus. A pessimistic prognosis was given. The doctor following the case, Dr. Nadia Bicego Vieitez de Almeida, who had handled Elisabete’s previous pregnancies, said that with the great loss of blood Elisebete would probably spontaneously abort or they would have to do the procedure sooner or later.
Contrary to expectations, the child’s heart kept beating and the pregnancy continued.
On 11 February 2000 Elisabete realized there was a serious problem and went to the hospital. The echo showed that the gestational sack’s membrane had broken at 16 weeks of gestation and, while the fetus was alive, there was now a total absence of amniotic fluid. The radiologist testified that there was no amniotic liquid to protect the child from exposure to the outside world and from the external pressure of the uterus itself. This meant that both the child and mother were in serious danger of infection, etc. Dr. Bicego recommended termination of the pregnancy. Elisabete was put on a regime of super hydration, 4 l. of phleboclysis (intravenous injection of an isotonic solution of dextrose or other substances) per day. On 15 Feb a new echo showed that there was no significant increase in the volume of amniotic fluid and the volume was insufficient to bring the pregnancy to term.
At this point, 15 Feb, the prognosis for the child was precisely zero. Two studies, one in Sao Paolo and one in San Francisco had looked at viability of pregnancies with a ruptured membrane at between 22-26 weeks, many more weeks after the case of Elisabete and her child. In the studies in every case examined every fetus was spontaneously aborted within 60 days of the rupture. In virtually all cases, a fetus of 16 weeks would abort with a few days.
Dr. Bicega and other doctors told Elisabete that they had to do an abortion to save her life, and gave her some time to make the decision. But Elisabete, as she testified, knew in her heart that she could not do that and that she must try to bring the child to term. When the doctor came for the decision, Elisabete’s husband Carlos Cesar requested that a priest come. He called the parish priest of San Sebastiano, Fr. Ovidio Jose Alves di Andrade. Dr. Bicega said she would return again in 15 minutes with the documents for their signature approving the abortion.
Present at the time Dr. Bicega came was a friend of Elisabete, named Isabel, who heard the exchange about the abortion. Isabel went to the hospital chapel to pray to Mary to help bring some clarity to the situation. There Isabel spent some time in prayer. When she was finished and got up to leave, she saw pass by the door the diocesan Bishop Diogenes Silva Matthes who had come to the hospital to visit another person. Bp. Silva had been celebrant of the wedding of Elisabete and Carlos Cesar at San Sebastiano where they worked as catechists. Isabel told the bishop what was going on and he went to Elisabete’s room and there learned the whole story. The bishop said, “Betinha, we will pray and God will help us” and he asked Dr. Bicega to wait a while longer. Then the bishop left.
Shortly after the bishop left Fr. Ovidio arrived. He began to give Elisabete the sacrament of anointing. At that point the bishop returned. He had brought with him a biography of Bl. Gianna Beretta Molla. He said to Elisabete: “Do what Blessed Gianna did, and, if necessary, give your life for the child. I was praying at home and I said to the Blessed in prayer, ‘Now has arrived the opportunity for you to be canonized. Intercede before the Lord for the grace of a miracle and save the life of this little child.”
Elisabete had known about Bl. Gianna and how she died and how the first miracle for her cause was for a woman who had terrible complications from a caesarian section. After knowing about Bl. Gianna, Elisabete herself, in her third pregnancy and after two previous caesarian sections, had decided to give birth normally despite the problems that entailed. At that time the same Bishop Silva had given her a holy card of Bl. Gianna. Elisabete was terribly afraid but she asked Bl. Gianna for help and gave birth to a child weighing over 5kg.
Therefore, this time, reinforced by past experience and the help of Bl. Gianna and the same bishop, Elisabete told Dr. Bicega she would try to carry the child to term, so long at the child’s heart continued to beat. Various doctors at the hospital expressed their opinion that this was madness. However, Dr. Bicega later testified about that time: “But I, I don’t know if it was by intuition, through my own lack of courage, or if I was drawn by Elisabete’s faith which seemed to have no limit, decided to wait and see what happened.” Elisabete would later testify that for her: “Jesus’ greatest miracle was to change the doctor’s heart. She had been unmovable in her determination to perform abortions, but one day she said to me, ‘Your faith had made me think a great deal. Even I have faith now and so let’s wait for the death of the fetus”.
Elisabete left the hospital and went to the home of Carlos Cesar’s aunt, Janete Arcolino, who was a nurse. Dr. Bicego lent them the sonar machine so that they could monitor the heart beat of the child and told them to check her temperature and blood pressure every six hours. They continued the super hydration treatments and eventually began a cortisone treatment to prevent problems with the child’s lungs.
In the meantime, Fr. Ovidio testified later, the whole community was continuing to invoke Bl. Gianna, continuously asking for a miracle. The parish had been very pro-life and every month there was special blessing for women who were with child. Also involved in the prayers to Bl. Gianna was a community of Carmelite sisters who in turn had communicated the request to other convents in Brazil. For her part, Elisabete had a very hard time of things. Despite her faith in God and her past experience, there were times when she was terribly afraid she was going to die with her child. She felt herself sometimes quite abandoned by God and alone. She was worried about what would happen with her other three children if she died.
Dr. Bicega followed the pregnancy closely and noted that during the whole time there was no accumulation of amniotic fluid. If Elisabete gained any, as soon as she would move to get up to go to the bathroom, she would again lose it all.
When they had reached the 32nd week and when the baby weighed 1.80k, they decided for a caesarian section delivery, effected on 31 May 2000. The newborn daughter, Gianna, was in good shape with the exception of the left foot which was twisted, probably because of compression with the uterus.
The problems did not cease there. They found that Elisabete had a wound within a uterine muscle to which the placenta had adhered, thus remaining in place. She had a serious hemorrhage and her lungs collapsed and wound up in intensive care for three days. As part of her treatment Dr. Bicega wanted to interdict her cycle with a kind of false menopause, which would result also in Elisabete not being able to lactate, but Elisabete said she did want to do that.
The newborn was sent home on 17 June weighing 1.960kg. Later a surgical operation and therapy corrected the twisted foot. In July 2001 a pediatrician Dr. Maria Engracia Ribeiro examined the child completely and found her to be perfectly normal and healthy, intelligent and lively, with the strong personality. Another check on 17 January 2002 found no problems in any of the child’s development, with no immune or respiratory problems and was, for her age, in perfect health.
The case of the asserted miracle was studied by the “Consulta Medica” of the Congregation for Causes of Saints on 10 April 2003 who determined that despite the severe prognosis for the fetus and the mother as the result of the total loss of amniotic fluid at the 16th week, and despite medical treatment inadequate for such a grave situation, the positive outcome of the pregnancy and health of mother and child were inexplicable in medical terms. The decree super miraculo was promulgated by the Congregation in the presence of Pope John Paul II on 20 December 2003. Since Gianna Beretta Molla had been beatified on 24 April 1994, her canonization was celebrated on 16 May 2004.
I hereby put to you several points to consider, any of which might serve as a starting point for comments below:
- Saints are presented to us by Holy Mother Church for “the two I’s”: imitation and intercession.
- As all Christians are called to imitate Christ, we also must experience self-emptying and the Cross, abandonment to providence and self-donation. We must be willing to lose everything.
- We are not alone: the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant are closely knit, interwoven in charity. We on earth must intercede for each other and believe and ask for the intercession of the saints.
- God makes use of the weak to demonstrate His might and love.
- If we do not believe in miracles, we do not ask for them. If we do not ask for them, they will not be granted.
- Our life of faith is noticed by non-believers and they are not unaffected.
- What a difference a bishop can make!
- How often do you invoke the help of the saints and holy angels?
- God’s ways are not our ways.
- No one is too small to be an occasion of grace for others.