By Kate Burke
Do you ever wonder why bad things happen to good people? I know I do. Chick-fil-A is out of waffle fries? “Why do bad things happen to good people.” I have to take another class with my least favorite professor? “Why do bad things happen to good people?!?” Or on a more serious note, when my grandmother lost her long battle with a nameless disease that slowly took her from us? I was heartbroken, angry, and confused. How could a good God let things like this happen? However, something I have come to realize, and something that is solidified by reading stories like Bl. Chiara Luce Badano’s, is that while God does not actively will for terrible things to happen to His children, He can bring great beauty from deep suffering.
The Badanos prayed for eleven years before Bl. Chiara Luce Badano was born in Italy in 1971. For most of her life, she was incredibly average. She never founded a new religious order or convinced the pope to move or built a hospital. She simply tried to love God and live the Gospel in her life. But sometimes it took her a few tries to get this right. Once when she was young, her mother asked her to clear the dinner table, but she refused and left. Moments later she came back, asking about the Gospel story about the father who asks his son to go into the vineyard (Mt 21:28-31). She then put on her apron and cleared the table. As she grew up, she loved hanging out with her friends and she tried to share the Gospel with them, as many of us try. She did this simply: “by the way I listen to them, by the way I dress and above all, by the way I love them.” How much more effective might we be in our evangelization if we follow her example of love! Her love for Jesus was authentic, but she was just like us. She had to repeat a year in school because of a disagreement with a teacher. She failed math! Let that sink in and take some pressure off yourself. Someone who is on her way to canonization failed a math class. You’re going to be fine. She loved tennis, swimming, and mountain climbing. She studied in coffee shops. She wanted to be a flight attendant. Chiara was blessed by loving and holy parents who raised her with a deep faith in Jesus. Everything was going exceptionally well; she had a bright future ahead of her.
Then one day, while playing tennis, she experienced a sharp pain in her shoulder. Shortly afterwards, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma sarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer. She was only 17, younger than all of us. After her first treatment, she refused to answer her mother’s questions and instead threw herself on her bed. There she stayed for only 25 minutes before emerging and saying “Mum, you can talk to me now.” She had said her yes to God and she would never turn back. After each treatment or pain, she would say “For you, Jesus; if you want it, I want it too!” Her explosive joy only increased with her suffering. During a visit from Cardinal Saldarini, he asked her where the light in her eyes came from. She answered him “I try to love Jesus as much as I can.” Can we not do the same in our lives? Can we not try to love Jesus more each day? Just try. Like most girls, she loved her hair. As each lock fell out due to treatment, she would say “For you, Jesus.” I can’t imagine this level of trust and security in the love of God. As women, much of our perceived beauty is tied up in our hair. I have been known to cry over a bad haircut. I can’t imagine the kind of distress I would feel over losing my hair. But Chiara offered this up as well. Perhaps we can try to emulate her in our daily lives by offering up small dents in our egos.
She truly understood redemptive suffering, something we can often struggle to understand: to see the beauty in uniting our suffering to Jesus’. She would refuse morphine, saying that it decreased her lucidity and adding that “I want to share as much as possible in His suffering on the cross.” If they’re offering you morphine, the pain is excruciating. And yet, Chiara refused even this comfort, adding to her suffering and allowing her to more closely unite her suffering to Jesus’. As her cancer progressed, she had nothing left to offer but she wisely noted: “I can only offer my pain to Jesus. It’s all I have left.”
Her friends and family frequently visited her in the hospital, thinking this would bring her comfort. However, they quickly realized that entering her room was like entering a sanctuary of God’s love. She didn’t have to explain the theology of God’s unconditional love or convince anyone of her love. As her friend said, “Chiara didn’t say any extraordinary words, she didn’t write pages and pages of diary. She simply loved.” She simply loved. How simple and yet so difficult at times. It’s easy to love our friends and family when they aren’t challenging us. But what about when they call us out or do the opposite of what we think we would be best? Do we still love them the same? Or what about those who society scorns? The marginalized, the poor, those people that make us uncomfortable? Chiara did not shy away from loving even those society views as the least among us. During her time at the hospital, she would take long walks with a drug-addicted, depressed girl, despite the pain from the tumor on her spine. Encouraged to stop and rest, she replied, “I’ll have time to rest later…I have nothing left, but I still have my heart, and with that I can always love.”
As her death approached, she reflected on her mortality: “Previously I felt … the most I could do was to let go. Instead, now I feel enfolded in a marvelous plan of God, which is slowly being unveiled to me.” The more we unite our wills to the Will of God, the more His plan will be revealed to us in His time. Chiara requested to be buried in a white dress, as a bride going home to Jesus. Her last words were “Mamma, be happy, because I’m happy!”
Bl. Chiara gives us an example of a young person whose holiness can be lived by anyone. She demonstrates that all we must do is try to love Jesus and others the best we can. Chiara believed strongly in the power of young people living their lives for Jesus. Shortly before her death, she proclaimed: “The youth are the future. I can no longer run, but I’d like to pass the Olympic torch on to them. The young people have only one life and it’s worth it to spend it well!” As we continue in this season of Easter, let’s remember Bl. Chiara’s average life and great love.
Bl. Chiara, pray for us!
Kate Burke is a senior struggling through economics and statistics. She loves working with the St. Mary’s high school students, watching “Law and Order: SVU,” and cooking.
- Bodenschatz, Megan. “Remarkably Average: The Life of Blessed Chiara Badano.” http://lifeteen.com/blog/fame-fortune-faith/
- “Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, Pray for us!” http://reallifecatholic.com/blessed-chiara-luca-badano-pray-for-us/
- “Blessed Chiara Luce Badano” October 29, 2012. http://www.focolare.org/en/news/2012/10/29/beata-chiara-luce-badano/