A young blessed who has been strongly coming into my prayer life this past week is Chiara Luce Badano, an Italian teenager who died of bone cancer at the age of 18 in 1990. Chiara, like most teenagers, enjoyed spending time with friends, listening to music, playing sports, and was, in that sense, a very normal girl.
She also had a radical and deep relationship with Jesus Christ. She was a member of the Focolare ecclesial movement, founded by the Italian lay woman Chiaria Lubich, whose spirituality highly emphasizes “Jesus forsaken” or “Jesus abandon.”
This spirituality stresses the suffering Lord, how He called out from the cross to the Father, feeling complete abandonment, and it also emphasizes a secret of the spiritual life: to lovingly abandon oneself to Jesus in all circumstances.
That’s exactly what the young Chiara Badano did. Her painful cancer took its toll on Chiara’s body, paralyzing her legs, taking away her ability to walk, and often putting her in great pain and suffering.
When she realized that she was not going to be healed, Chiara accepted the sufferings of her condition, lovingly offering them to Jesus.
“For you, Jesus. If you want it, I want it, too!” she declared.
Her mother noticed how many visitors Chiara greeted with a supernatural joy, a radiant smile, and a loving presence. How was she able to do this in the midst of all her sufferings? Chiara’s reply is a striking example of her spiritual maturity.
“I have nothing left, but I still have my heart, and with that I can always love.”
It was all for her Jesus. She wanted to give Him everything she possibly could. When her hair started falling out, after difficult chemotherapy, with every lock that fell, in her heart Chiara would say, “For you, Jesus.”
A doctor would come to give Chiara morphine for her pain. Eventually she refused to take any, realizing that the morphine made her unable to offer her pain to Jesus. Her pain, she realized, is the final thing she can offer Him. And she didn’t want that gift of intimacy to be taken away, living out her love on the Cross. Crucified-love.
What can the story of Chiara Luce Badano teach us, especially in light of the university’s theme this year, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7)?
Externally, on the surface, if we look at it by sight, Chiara’s story may appear tragic. A beautiful girl dies painfully of bone cancer at the young age of 18, leaving her parents and loved-ones.
Internally, however, if we walk by faith and not by sight, Chiara’s story is a beautiful love story with Jesus Crucified. She possessed a deep intimacy with Him, lovingly abandoning herself to Him and sharing with Him the sufferings of the Cross.
She was able in those sufferings to find a deep joy, knowing that her struggles were bringing her closer to her beloved Jesus, sanctifying her and interceding for others. “I suffered a lot, but my soul was singing.”
This semester is certainly going to be different, living in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Should we be afraid? Should we be anxious?
These are natural feelings in stressful circumstances and there’s no shame in having them. However, I do not think that we should be afraid or anxious. As Christians, we are called to live in hope.
We may have students this semester who are quarantined. We may have students this semester who are diagnosed with COVID-19. Some say that it is inevitable and that it will be a matter of responding well when it happens.
We all have a responsibility to stay safe and to help keep others around us safe by acting prudently with social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing, etc.
However, for those students or staff who are required to quarantine, I urge you, do not despair, because God is not absent. His presence and grace remain, and such a circumstance can afford the chance for crucified-love and deep personal sanctity, offering – like Chiara did – your sufferings to Jesus as an intimate act of love.
One of the secrets that Chiara Badano’s story teaches us is that our joy and inner peace are not based on external circumstances. Chiara had extremely difficult circumstances with her illness. And yet, her joy rested in her deep interior life, her spiritual life with Jesus Christ and the intimate relationship she pursued with Him, offering Him everything. Let us pray for such abandonment to Jesus, for it is He who sets us free.