As we detailed in the last installment, the journey to the altar is not always a straight line. So also with so many good marriages. If a couple's relationship is obstacle-free, then what will happen when the really big boulders of disappointment, interference and dissidence come tumbling into their lives? It will split the foundation asunder because it is not built on a rock, not built on solid foundation and built brick by brick with all the sweat and love the husband and wife can put into it to not only build their love, but fortify it against the winds of change, the torrents of turmoil, the hail of hastles, the snow of snobbery, the heat of temptations, or the blustery cold chill of complacency.
What it takes to begin and maintain this solid fortress is the commitment to love. So many times we fall short in our humanness. It is only when we place our trust and life in God can we begin to see how our simple, humble love can be so powerful in the face of adversity when the world, the flesh and the devil assail it from all sides. If one or both do not have that total commitment to love, then it is easy to batter in the ramparts and it will implode into the sand of sayonara. This commitment is called many things. Pope Paul VI called it munus - an "extremely important mission" in his inspiring, but so much ignored excellent encyclical "Humanae Vitae."
This 262nd successor of Peter was considered by many to be an "old fuddy duddy" who didn't know the first thing about what a husband and wife encounter in daily life, let alone in the bedroom. How wrong they were for this wise Sovereign Pontiff, like our present Holy Father, was very aware through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Indeed he wrote that though cultures and societies had changed, the Church was not unaware of it but nevertheless could not and would not compromise God's command and intention for the institution of the holy sacrament of Matrimony. He was aware of the sacrifices entailed in the very first paragraph, "God has entrusted spouses with the extremely important mission (munus) of transmitting human life. In fulfilling this mission spouses freely and deliberately render a service to God, the Creator. This service has always been a source of great joy, although the joys are, at times, accompanied by not a few difficulties and sufferings."
As we shared in the last few lessons, we have had our share of difficulties and sufferings. Chief among them was the loss of two children to miscarriage in the first tri-mester of Cyndi's pregnancy. We strongly believe they are with God and we have not only named them Angel and Dawn respectively, but call on their intercession often, especially in guiding and protecting their older brothers Kevin and Kellin. After the latter was born in 1985, we were faced with a difficult decision which went to the heart of "Humanae Vitae" regarding contraception. We had been faithful to God's will in practicing abstenance during the fertile times of the month which is also called natural family planning or the familiar term - "the Rhythm Method." A week after Kellin was born Cyndi actually hemmoraghed to death on the operating table. The doctors called me in and informed me that if she was to conceive again it would not only be dangerous to the baby, but would kill her since her uterus had been ripped apart during Kellin's birth. That's when we agreed to a tubal ligation. For some reason God deigned that we would only have two children and that from that point on Cyndi could never again bring a child to full term. After prayer, we agreed to this drastic procedure. Were it at a point while Kellin was still in her womb, painfully both Cyndi and I would have agreed to save the baby even at the expense of Cyndi's life. That's what commitment to love means.
One who lived that commitment to love and whose fruits are blossoming continually through her devotion to the Charism of Conjugal Love was Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian mother, wife and respected physician of the 20th century. She is noted for giving her life for her child Giannina Molla who was present with her father for her mother's beatification in 1994. Truly she lived and fulfilled the commitment to love as Christ affirmed in John 15: 13, "There is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend." Our Lord was not speakin of genders here, but of man as homo sapiens - mankind. Blessed Gianna lived this. Married to engineer Pietro Molla on September 24, 1955, she and Pietro had a boy and two girls when she became pregnant again. Two months into her pregnancy, she was affected by a large fibroma in the womb.
As a doctor, Gianna was fully aware of the seriousness of her case and consciously faced the dilemma whether to save her own life or that of her baby in the womb. Her Christian faith, which she had been imbued in her own large family (she was the tenth of thirteen children, among whom two priests and a nun) made her choice: to sacrifice herself to save her child. This Gianna asked of her husband, this she demanded of the doctors, before submitting herself to an operation, at the Monza hospital. to remove the fibroma. Her often repeated plea was unmistakably clear: "save my baby!" Though abortion was proposed to her as the speediest and surest means of dealing with the fibroma, she vehemently rejected it, recalling God's commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." Long before Roe vs. Wade stained this country, long before Paul VI's encyclical, she stood strong as a witness to her faith, the cause for the Sanctity of Life and obedience to the Christian principle: "It is a sin to kill in the womb." Repeatedly she declared: "I'm ready for everything, so long as my baby can be saved." Her "readiness for everything" was based exclusively on God: only in Him did she find the strength to carry out her decision to the end. She prayed over it with faith and perseverance and insistently asked friends for prayers, that she might be able to say "yes" to life.
With these precise dispositions she underwent surgery on September 6, 1961, and then, with courage and deep trust in God, she continued her pregnancy, living in a state of continuous risk for seven months. She had the joy of giving to her husband, her family, and to the world, a new infant life, little Giannina, on April 21, 1962, which by a happy coincidence happened to be Holy Saturday. Seven days later, April 28, Gianna died at the age of thirty-nine, a martyr of a mother's love.
On Sunday September 23, 1973, Pope Paul VI, during the Angelus Message, recalled this extraordinary gesture of "a mother of the Diocese of Milan who in order to give life to her baby, sacrificed her own life in deliberate immolation". In a moving tone he pointed her out as an example to a world which is too ready to kill. With a petition dated Rho (Milan) April 11, 1978 and signed by Cardinal Giovanni Colombo, Archbishop of Milan, and by 16 bishops, the Lombardy Episcopal Conference asked for the opening of the cause of beatification of this wife and mother, declaring her to be "an example fully relevant to our times in which the right to life is often disregarded and trampled upon."
On April 24, 1994 Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Gianna as the "Crusader for the Sanctity of Life." This special day was halfway between the 32nd anniversary of Giannina's birth and her mother's death. What makes this special to us and brings to light God's hand in this is that Kellin was born twenty-three years to the day that Gianna gave up her life. God has a special purpose in mind for Kellin which he has not yet discerned but, in His time, it will manifest itself for Kellin is open to the Holy Spirit and doing God's Will. Because of that and Cyndi's physical condition and age - 37 at the time - we are at peace with our decision to have the operation in early May of 1985. In fact, we celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary in the hospital that year. Three years later we celebrated our seventh by having our marriage blessed again with both earthly moms present at St. Francis Church in Vista. That was special for later that year Mike's mother would fall into a coma and die in September, just hours after Mike, serving as Eucharistic Minister, had brought Holy Communion to her at Tri-City Hospital. It was very special for Michael to help usher into Heaven the woman who had ushered him into this world and weaned him on the faith. Five years later in 1993 we celebrated a special 12th anniversary in a chapel beneath St. Peter's Basilica in Rome with a special priest Father Stephen Valenta, OFM Conv. blessing our marriage in a very private and meaningful ceremony.
All of this was possible because of a "commitment to love." And that love, rather than diminishing after Cyndi's tubal ligation and a hysterectomy, has grown stronger; that same love, rather than declining after Michael's successful prostate surgery, has flourished through God's graces and goodness. We can explain it no other way. It is truly through and with God that He has kept the flame of our love glowing so bright in every aspect - spiritually, mentally and, yes, physically. Because our conjugal love is so special, so intimate and private, we are not going to go into details, but suffice it to say, as Jesus assures all in Matthew 19: 26, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
NEXT WEEK: Lesson Eleven: The Charism begins with the Challenge to Love