During a bought of 3A.M. sleeplessness the other night, I flipped on the TV. While channel surfing, I hit EWTN, which had a documentary on the life of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. During the broadcast, they interviewed an elderly priest who knew Escriva personally, and who quite frequently and very proudly asked the young people he met, "How many of you can actually say they had pizza with a saint?" I thought this was a very surreal comment and left you with a very humanizing picture of this saint - - bending a slice of pizza in half to prevent all the dripping cheese from getting all over. It really brought sainthood to the 21st century, very few saints in our Church have ever enjoyed pizza, and left an impression that saints are no less human than you or me but can be very different in their consuming love for Christ and their aspirations and efforts for holiness.
Another surreal moment in my life, that made me think differently about saints, happened when I was watching the DVD Love is a Choice about St. Gianna Molla. St. Gianna was a woman who was forced to make a decision whether to have an abortion to save her life or undergo great risks in bringing her unborn child to term. Her beautiful answer to this dilemma encompassed all the love, sacrifice and beauty of Motherhood: "Yes, I have prayed so much in these days. With faith and hope I have entrusted myself to the Lord... I trust in God, yes; but now it is up to me to fulfill my duty as a mother. I renew to the Lord the offer of my life. I am ready for everything, to save my baby…If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child--I insist on it. Save the baby."
St. Gianna Molla died from the complications of this pregnancy but her child survived.
The DVD on the life of St. Gianna had two distinct portions to it. The first section had her life story, framed by touching love letters she and her husband wrote each other and a window into the affectionate life they shared. This section seemed to end very abruptly mentioning that on April 28, 1962, Gianna Molla died with her three small children sleeping in the next room. By the time the story was done, you were left with a very tragic feeling.
Then comes the second part of the DVD. It starts in Rome May 16, 2004, at the canonization ceremony of St. Gianna Molla. What made this event so unbelievable was that her children were present (below picture) and sitting in the front row for her canonization. The majority of saints come from religious orders and obviously do not have children, so for a saint to have children is a such rare event in itself. Moreover, given the amount of time that the canonization process usually takes it is truly remarkable that any of her children would be living to see it.
The surreal moment for me that made me think differently about the saints came when they wheeled her 80-year-old husband into the Vatican square for the ceremony. As he looked up and saw a three-story picture of his wife that would serve as the backdrop for the ceremony (left), he stretched his neck backwards and told the priest wheeling him in, "I took that picture myself, when we vacationed in the mountains." It really hit me like a ton of bricks that there are saints in our midst, and possibly in our families. Someone who might appear in our family pictures and scrapbook.
The segregated portions of the DVD also served as a microcosm of our Faith. The first half of the DVD that dealt with the life and suffering of St.Gianna in itself would be pointless and tragic. But when you frame her sacrifice in a mother’s love for her children and Christ, coupled with the eternal reward that she received in the second half of the documentary, we now understand that the suffering was not just for suffering’s sake. The human view then becomes a Divine view. Offering up suffering is at the foundation of our Faith.
A very interesting note to the canonization, is that one of the cited miracles that attained sainthood for St. Gianna, was that there was a woman who was pregnant and lost all of her amniotic fluid half way through her first trimester. She prayed to St. Gianna and carried her baby to term without any amniotic fluid. Doctors must still be trying to explain that one.