Let’s face it: we’ve always loved reading other people’s letters.
Perhaps it’s a bit of voyeurism, this glimpse into someone else’s life; but more often than not, reading the correspondence of others—particularly of people we hold in esteem—leaves us with a humble understanding of how they lived in a day-to-day manner, how they expressed themselves to each other, and finally how they came to be the people we admire and strive to emulate.
And when the correspondence comprises love letters—well, so much the better! So we read the letters of Héloise to Abelard, John Adams to Abigail Adams, Joséphine to Napoléon, and we understand from them so much that’s not available in history books or biographies.
The love letters exchanged between Saint Gianna Beretta and her husband, Pietro Molla, are no exception. Better than a theological treatise, these letters are a convincing proof that the way of holiness does not necessarily pass through religious life or the priestly ministry, but can unfold in the midst of the world, living one’s own vocation as a Christian called to holiness with Christ in married life.
As we celebrate Valentine’s Day with chocolates, flowers, and even diamonds, it’s fitting to stop and think about what is behind all these declarations of love: the fact that we can love precisely because of God’s love for us. The union of Christ and his Church is the most basic model of married life, a model of selflessness and courage.
Read, for example, these words from Pietro, who recounts his prayer after the first time the couple received Communion together:
“Thank you for giving me Gianna as the sweet companion of my life. Make our love grow ever greater, sweeter, and purer. Make me worthy of her, and may our family receive heaven’s blessings; may we and our children be holy”: this was my prayer to Jesus as soon as he had come into my heart, while at the same time I was moved by your devout recollection while you were talking to Jesus.
With greatest affection, I send you an embrace,
Their marriage was not easy. Gianna was a medical doctor; Pietro held a responsible position within a manufacturing company that required constant travel. None of their three children was robust in terms of health, and the parents were constantly worrying about them. Gianna was pregnant with their fourth child when she had to be operated on for a tumor of the uterus, and labor proved too much: she died soon after the baby was born.
Yet despite all these difficulties, their letters are filled with joy and hope:
My dearest Pietro,
It’s about 10:30 pm and our beautiful little ones are sleeping tranquilly after enjoying the sunshine almost all day long. I say “almost” because it rained for a little while this afternoon. It’s calm and clear now, though, and I can see the beautiful starry heavens. Adelaide, Cecco, and Zita left half an hour ago, happy after spending a lovely day with their beloved nephew and niece. I’m thinking of you traveling right now, your heart here with us.
Dear Pietro, it would be so wonderful to be able to be together, united, all of the time. Luckily, your vacation begins in only ten days: what joy!
Pierluigi misses you very much. How often he calls for you! How affectionate he is! When you’re not here, he won’t leave me for a moment: “Mamma . . . Mamma . . .” Maybe he’s afraid I’ll leave him like I did on Friday. How beautiful they are! Mrs. Valle was here for a while the other day and compared her three-year-old girl, who is much smaller and thinner than Pierluigi, to them. We must always be so grateful to the Lord for giving us two great treasures who are beautiful, healthy, and robust. Mariolina is even doing better now—thanks be to God! I go to church every morning to thank God for all the graces he is continually giving us, and to ask him to help me be a good mother and to make you happy every moment.
Take care of yourself, my Pietro. I wish you buon viaggio in Spain: enjoy your trip and don’t feel sad about being far away from us.
Many big kisses from your three treasures, your
Both Gianna and Pietro were involved with the Catholic Action movement, which emphasized prayer, action, and sacrifice. It seems clear that both of them took these directives to heart. Through their professional lives, their volunteer work, their marriage and their lives as parents and spouses, they showed the world the possibility of a life that mirrors the mystical union between God and humanity. Their letters serve to remind us that we, too, are called to sanctity, no matter what path in life we have chosen.
The Journey of Our Love is a collection of the letters exchanged between Gianna and Pietro, letters that reflect the holiness of everyday lives and the concern that they had for each other, their children, their extended families, and the world. It is an inspiring look at the holiness of life lived to the fullest and a testament to love within the partnership of marriage.
Why not let the love of Gianna and Pietro revive the love in your own life! Touching, inspiring, and refreshingly human, their exchanges during this brief time reflect the everyday experiences and the abounding love of a modern day couple. Offering glimpses into their courtship, engagement, and marriage, they fill a significant chapter in the book of Christian spirituality. They reveal that the way of holiness can unfold in the midst of this world.
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