“Giannella! Giannella!! Giannella!!!” I hear the Italian version of my name (I’ve grown used to responding to anything that is distantly familiar to “Janel”) echo down the hallway and up the stairs to the parish office where I had just finished the third spiritual direction appointment of the afternoon. I was in the middle of an intense week of parish mission in southern Italy and we had a very full schedule. I recognized the unmistakable pronunciation of the pastor, Fr. Franco, and because of my tiredness I was not enthusiastic about going to see what he wanted. I was quite sure that he wanted help with his computer (something I’m not much better at), while the only thing I wanted to do was to hide out in the church with Jesus, maybe up on the balcony where the organ would hide me from the sight of the people wanting to talk. “Giannella! Giannella!” brings me back to reality and to the fact that the pastor was still waiting for me. I pick up the pace and rush down the stairs to his office. Instead of finding a frozen computer, I find in front of me a girl, about my age, who had obviously been crying copiously. Fr. Franco introduces us and says to the girl, “Don’t worry, Eliana, Giannella will help you solve all of your problems” as he urges us out of his office. Intently I study his face to try to understand something, anything more about the problems of this girl, but instead his back is already turned to us already, confident that I was the right person to talk to this desperate girl.
I walk with Eliana towards the back of the church and as we sit in the pew I ask what is wrong. She explains, through the tears, that she just discovered that she’s pregnant and she isn’t married. She tells me that she didn’t want this pregnancy, that a baby was the last thing she wanted, also because she had recently accepted a job in Germany that would have finally allowed her to pursue her career dreams. She was considering the possibility of abortion when the doctor advised her to talk first to someone, even suggesting a priest. Eliana remembered her pastor from her childhood, when she still went to church, and thus she came searching for Fr. Franco in the parish where I happened to be.
Perhaps it was due to the prayers that Fr. Franco offered up from his office while we were speaking or perhaps the “Hail Marys” that I silently prayed while the Eliana told me her story, in any case, the Holy Spirit was at work to open the heart of this young mother to accept God’s entrance into her life. That tiny baby that Eliana initially considered the ruin of all of her plans and dreams slowly began to appear a gift, completely unexpected, but still a gift from God. If that baby was sent to her from God, then she understood that it could not be but for her happiness, and thus she had to welcome the transformation that it meant for her life.
With much faith, Eliana threw herself in the arms of her heavenly Father, trusting more in his plan than hers for her life, and she resolved to return to the sacraments. She desired to know God more and so learned to meditate the Gospel every day and to entrust herself to Mary, model and help of her maternity.
Thanks to the “yes” of Eliana, a precious two-year-old boy, Nicolò, is the light and meaning of his mother’s life and a joy to all those around him. Eliana now shares her story with other young women, encouraging them to keep their babies, witnessing with her happiness and peace that it was the best decision she has ever made.
The God of surprises…the huge surprise of Eliana upon discovering the pregnancy that upset all of her plans, my surprise at finding myself in front of a desperate girl instead of a simple computer problem, the surprise of a new life that has already changed the lives of many and who knows what great and marvelous plan God has for him for the good of the world….all of these surprises show us that the disposition that allows us to welcome them is docility. How many people were docile to the Holy Spirit in this true story: the doctor who suggested that Eliana talk to a priest, Fr. Franco who followed the inspiration to call me, and Eliana who opened her heart and mind to the words God was speaking to her through me.
“The Word of God”—observed Pope Francis in a recent homily—“is alive and therefore comes and says what it wants to say: not what I think it will say or what I hope it will say. It is a free Word. It is also a surprise, because our God is the God of surprises. It is new. Our God is a God who always does something new and asks us to be docile to his newness.”
Let us ask the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of Mary, the gift of docility. We implore that the Holy Spirit come to dwell in us so as to soften our hearts and refine our spiritual senses so that we may recognize the movements of God in our lives. Even if unexpected, these divine interventions always bring a surge of new life, as it was so concretely with the gift of Nicolò. Come, “God of surprises”, we want to welcome you!