Our body is a cenacle, a monstrance: through its crystal the world should see God -- St Gianna MollaGianna Molla is a patron of pregnant woman and against abortion. I love the pictures you can find on the internet of her with her arms around her babies and toddlers. Today is her feast day.
She was a pediatrician, Catholic action worker and mother of five who postponed cancer treatment to avoid risking the life of her unborn baby. She died just a few days after her little daughter Gianna was born.
I usually don't get involved in online Catholic blog conversation, but the other day I commented on this bearing blog post gut-level development of doctrine. I think I am sort of a textbook example of gut-level development of doctrine (sounds sort of like a circumlocution for multiparity when it's put that way) but it wasn't just gut-level, it was heart-level, and some of the heart aspect came from learning about this saint and feeling connected to her.
Gianna Molla's birthday is the day after mine (though she was born 40 years earlier than I was, in 1922) and she died just six months before I was born, so her youngest daughter is just a few months older than me.
When I was first married, I was not a Catholic, and I had come from a background where contraception was seen as a medical advance equivalent to antibiotics and vaccinations. But my Catholic husband, even though catechised in the 70's, knew this was wrong. And so we went into marriage, open to babies.
But I was scared, so scared about all those tens and twenties of babies waiting to drop down on me like hammers from above, the ones they tell you about. I felt such a tension between the two worldviews. I felt I had a foot in two worlds, or was looking through glasses with a different prescription for each eye -- very disorienting!)
At first the babies did come fairly fast. Liam was born two days before our first wedding anniversary. When he was one year old I conceived again, but it turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy. Then just a few months later, even with only one Fallopian tube left, I got pregnant with Brendan, and then when Brendan was a year old I conceived Clare. By the time Clare was born I was almost through Catholic initiation and I made my first confession, was confirmed and made my first communion just around the time she was baptized.
"You have your hands full!" I heard that every time I went to the store. And yes, I did. What could I say? Except "but look how beautiful they are!" I loved my children very much, loved being around them, but I did not take naturally to my vocation of motherhood. I wasn't one of those who by nature love all the details of being around small messy unpredictable people, even if they are amazingly cute. They were cute, and fascinating, but time-consuming and sometimes embarrassing as well.
And living in a university town where nobody around me seemed to have 3 kids under 4 years old, before internet days, I felt so weird and out there, which didn't help either.
Somewhere during those years I read about Gianna Molla and immediately was drawn to her generosity and heroic fidelity to her vocation of motherhood. She was someone who obviously thrived on her vocation of motherhood. I asked her intercession to change my heart. It's funny -- now that I know more about her I know she was really different from me in lots of ways -- a working mother, one of those energetic people who volunteers in Catholic societies and goes skiing and hiking, and someone who naturally loved being a mother so much that she almost felt it was something of a fault that had to be purified through suffering in her last days. All the more reason for me to admire her though, and I knew the essential part of her story way back there when I needed to!
After those four quick pregnancies I did not conceive again until Clare was past two, and Sean was born just before her third birthday. That was a space long enough that I started worrying about secondary infertility, and it made me more aware of how much a child was something God gave you, individually and specially, not just a biological phenomenon like catching a cold. You see, I knew in my mind about special creation and the preciousness of life. But it hadn't gotten to my heart or gut yet.
Oddly, Sean was born (somewhat early) on the 20th anniversary of Roe v Wade. He got into severe neonatal distress and was admitted to the NICU where he struggled for a couple of days before stabilizing.
I watched him fight and the doctors struggling to save him as well as tiny little preemies and sick babies also at the NICU at the time. I guess the short version of the story is that the events around Sean instilled in me that "gut-level development of doctrine". We had waited several years for Sean, we had brushed with the possibility of losing him, and along with the graces of the Sacrament it changed my whole outlook.
I have no doubt that God worked with my heart (and gut) there.
God did not so much take that fear and resentment away as fill me with an understanding of how precious these lives were, infinitely more precious than they were scary and bothersome.
"What is a vocation? It is a gift from God, so it comes from God. If it is a gift from God, our concern must be to know God's will. We must enter that path: if God wants, when God wants, how God wants. Never force the door." -- St Gianna MollaI notice He often works that way. He doesn't take away my natural self, but He gives me a flood of grace that simply overwhelms the old feelings and habits. In His own good time.
The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day -- St Gianna MollaIt occurs to me that this interior development of doctrine, which may start with obedience alone, works like a clarifying agent, working away the smudges and shadows until God shines clearly through the person. I have a long way to go before that is true of me as a sum total, but in that one area I am able to see a real change over time that affected every level of my being. The change wasn't so much me becoming better, as the Holy Spirit working to clear and brighten some of the darker parts of my heart. Obviously the process is very far from being complete, but seeing how He worked this in a very difficult, personal area of my life gives me hope that He can, He does do it in other areas if I allow Him to.