Arguably one of the most significant papal encyclicals to come out of the Second Vatican Council was Lumen Gentium (Light of the People), which stated definitively that all Christians, regardless of their particular role within the Church, are called to holiness. It had been previously thought that the best the laity could hope for was to avoid Hell, that true sanctity and sainthood were the remit of priests and nuns.
It’s a culture which needed to change – anyone flicking through the catalogue of saints is likely to be frustrated by how relatively few of them were lay people living ‘ordinary’ lives. There’s a good reason for this, apart from what I’ve outlined above. Beatification and canonisation are protracted and costly processes, involving a Bishop taking up one’s cause and material (such as prayer cards) being produced and circulated to encourage devotion among the faithful. As such, even the holiest lay people risked, at least until recently, simply slipping through the cracks.
Nevertheless, recent decades have seen more ‘ordinary’ Christians having their causes for canonisation advanced, which is a breath of fresh air in the Church and a real source of edification for the faithful. One such Christian is Blessed Chiara ‘Luce’ Badano who, although technically not yet canonised, is still a huge source of inspiration to me as I walk through this life, with all its joys and difficulties. Hopefully she will be to you, too. What’s really remarkable about Chaira is that she showed, with her short life, that neither good health nor a special status within the Church are necessary if one wishes to reach the heights of holiness.
Chiara was born in Sassello, Italy in 1971, the only daughter of devout Catholic parents who had prayed for a child for many years. At the age of nine, she became involved with the Focolare movement, an international and multi-denominational movement which emphasises ideals of unity and brotherhood. Chiara was particularly touched by the Focolare’s emphasis on Christ forsaken as a way of surviving the trials and difficulties of this life. She later wrote "I discovered that Jesus forsaken is the key to unity with God, and I want to choose him as my only spouse. I want to be ready to welcome him when he comes. To prefer him above all else."
In school Chiara was given the nickname ‘Sister’ because of her piety; however, she was a very normal, lively and extroverted teenager who enjoyed singing, dancing and meeting friends for coffee. She later said that she never preached the Gospel to her friends using words, instead preferring to bring Jesus to them by her example and how she lived her life. Her dream was to become an air hostess.
In 1988, Chiara experienced a pain in her shoulder while playing tennis. Multiple tests revealed that she was suffering from osteogenic sarcoma – a rare, painful and aggressive form of bone cancer. Most people, regardless of their age, would be crushed by such a diagnosis, but Chiara simply declared: "It's for you, Jesus; if you want it, I want it, too."
Throughout her treatment, Chiara refused morphine, stating that she wanted to be aware so that she could offer up her sufferings to God in union with Christ. When chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out, she offered this up, too. Moving around and walking became very painful for her but refused to rest, instead getting out of bed every day so that she could take walks with other patients to comfort and cheer them up. Her friends in the Focolare movement kept contact with her to try to keep her in good spirits; however, they later realised that they were being uplifted by her, not the other way round, with one member stating: “her life was like a magnet drawing us to her”. Joy and peace radiated from her and one of the doctors later recounted: “Through her smile, and through her eyes full of light, she showed us that death doesn’t exist; only life exists.”
Chiara’s condition worsened, and she lost the use of her legs. “At this point”, she said, “I have nothing left, but I still have my heart, and with that I can always love”. When it became apparent that the treatment was not working and that she was not going to recover, she began to prepare to meet Christ face to face. She wrote a Christmas card for her parents and hid it for them to find later on and chose a wedding dress to be buried in.
Chiara went to Heaven on 7th October, 1990. Her last words were, “Bye, Mama – be happy, because I am.” Her funeral was attended by over two thousand people and the mayor of Sassello had to close the town to enable people to attend.
It’s very natural and very human to want to avoid sickness and to prolong one’s time on earth. Nevertheless, our current world situation shows that, even with all the advances of modern science and medicine, this is still not always possible. But the short earthly life of this lovely saint, whose name means ‘clear light’, should tell you that there is no reason to be afraid. My hope is that her story will bring joy and inspiration to those who are sick, be it with Covid-19 or a different condition. Know that Chiara is close to you, but even more importantly, so too is Our Lord.
Blessed Chiara Badano, pray for us!
by Lucy Stothard