Blessed Chiara Luce Badano has been on my mind this past week since having read her biography online. Struck by a rare form of bone cancer at the age of 17, she simply said, “It’s for you, Jesus. If you want it, I want it, too.” Thus began the final chapter in the teen’s life of holiness, one that had led her straight to the foot of the cross where she united her mighty physical suffering with His, always eagerly, always with a smile, always confident in His love for her.
Of course, she couldn’t have accepted this final trial with such trust and patience if the years leading up to such pain had been spent differently. From a website belonging to Focolare, an ecclesiastical movement stressing unity through love of God that had been founded in 1943 in northern Italy by a young Chiara Lubich and her friends and of which Blessed Chiara Badano would become an active member, I learned that from a tender age, Blessed Chiara was guided by her parents and community to love and trust in Our Lord, offering all things up to Him who is Love.
According to her mother, Chiara, from a young age, was known to go out of her way for others: giving away some of her new toys when she was only four, making a special effort to pay a visit to a sick classmate, happily agreeing to have another classmate who had recently lost her mother over for Christmas, insisting that they put out the best tablecloth because, according to Chiara, it would be Jesus who would be with them that day. And it was at the tender age of 9 when Chiara first attended Focolare, whose spirituality would forever shape her and her family.
Blessed Chiara’s teen years were like any other happy teen’s, spent busy with school, activities, and friends. But in the midst of these ordinary joys and hardships, Blessed Chiara developed an extraordinary faith and love for Christ, revealed in her quote in the summer of 1988 following the news that she had failed some courses at school. She wrote, “This is a very important moment for me: it is an encounter with Jesus Forsaken. It hasn’t been easy to embrace this suffering, but this morning Chiara Lubich explained to the children that they have to be the spouse of Jesus Forsaken.” This interior light was a turning point in Chiara’s spirituality, which would lead to a depth of her love for Christ that she had previously not experienced. And it came at the right time.
Later that year, she would feel a sharp pain in her shoulder while playing tennis, which she would soon learn was no mere sports injury but instead osteogenic sarcoma, a rare, serious, and most painful cancer of the bones. Hardly missing a beat, Chiara accepted the illness as a gift from her spouse, as she called Jesus, and spent the last year of her life embracing her heavy cross with such joy and light that many in her community were drawn to her hospital room, uplifted by her deep faith and joy. Her witness made a profound impact even on one of the doctors assigned to her, Dr. Antonio Delogu, who said, “Through her smile, and through her eyes full of light, she showed us that death doesn’t exist; only life exists.”
Her heroism at the hospital remained firm. As chemotherapy began and her beloved hair began to fall out, she’d offer each lock to Jesus as a gift of love. She was known to walk the halls with a depressed young woman with a drug addiction despite the pain it caused her. When her own pain began to increase and doctors recommended increasing her dose of morphine, she refused, saying, “It reduces my lucidity, and there’s only one thing I can do now: to offer my suffering to Jesus because I want to share as much as possible in his suffering on the cross.” Cardinal Saldarini once visited her in the hospital and asked her, “The light in your eyes is splendid. Where does it come from?” Chiara replied, “I try to love Jesus as much as I can.”
After intense physical suffering Chiara died October 7 of 1989 with her parents at her side, her last words being, “Goodbye. Be happy because I’m happy.” Her funeral was carried out according to her wishes, looking like a wedding with Chiara dressed in a wedding gown, prepared for her Spouse.
During her final sickness, Chiara was known to say things akin to St. Therese’s sentiment, “You have to know how to die through pinpricks in order to die by the sword.” I consider how a martyr’s life must necessarily be made up with innumerable small, hidden, seemingly insignificant sacrifices and sufferings before his glory can be revealed in a final, glorious death. I smile. That’s good news for moms. With help from the Holy Spirit and from Blessed Chiara, there probably isn’t too much that we’d have to change about our days before we, too, like Chiara, could illumine the world with Christ’s love hidden in us.
Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, pray for us!