Thursday, October 29, 2020

Why I Love Blessed Chiara Badano So Much!

I probably have a better rapport with Chiara Luce Badano than any other saint (besides Mary). More and more I feel like she's just kind of "around," and I'm hanging out with her. Of course, I ask her to pray for a lot of things. I don't think I've asked for a miracle; I just pray for many concerns (my own and those of others) where her intercession remains hidden, although I believe that she does intercede and that she is great and deeply inserted within the heart of Jesus.

There are some saints that I listen to, primarily - which is not to say that I "hear voices," but rather that I learn from their teachings and the counsel they gave during their lives. Irenaeus, Augustine, Basel, Gregory Nazianzen, Benedict, and Bernard; Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure; Ignatius, Francis De Sales, Therese, Padre Pio, Edith Stein, Oscar Romero, John Paul II (although I talk to him a lot too). Then there are saints who I ask to pray for me, but the relationship (at least on my end) is a bit "formal," with requests that have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And that's understandable. They lived hundreds of years ago and they have churches and places of pilgrimage named after them all over the world. They are awe-inspiring.

But Chiara Luce is like a kid sister (she is younger than me - she would be 49 years old if she were alive in this world today). Earlier today I called her my "adopted" kid sister, but it was really more like she "adopted" me. In fact, she is awesome in a way that inspires me, all the more because she seems so accessible and also so intent on helping me move forward.

It seems easy to "communicate with" Chiara Luce in prayer from within myself. I sometimes just think of her in certain situations and say, "help me out here," as if she were standing right next to me. Sometimes (like when I'm doing something dumb, or being stubborn or irascible) I can almost see and feel her gaze of concern, full of compassion and patience but also with an unspoken serene firmness that says "you-know-that-eventually-you're-going-to-have-to-admit-that-you're-wrong." 

Chiaretta has a simple heart. (Her friends called her “Chiaretta.” Sometimes I do too, when I ask her for help. But I never met her in this present life - not many people did.) She left no treatises and not many words, although the few we have are precious. I have posted in past years some of the beautiful (astonishing) things she said in the end, in the face of so much pain, before her death from osteosarcoma 30 years ago this month. But lately, I have been moved much by something she often said during her short life: “We have to love everybody.”

That may sound prosaic. But I can't even get through one day living this way, actually loving everybody that I have to deal with all day. It's humbling. But Chiara never gets down on me about it. She helps me to realize and remember that this is how I want to live.

There are many ways she can help us, many things she can pray for. She can pray for our children and our families; for "young people," certainly (that's her special assignment), but also for all the suffering people we know - especially people who have cancer with all of their grueling struggles. She's been through cancer and all it entails, and - again - it was not that long ago. She's also close to shut-ins and people with chronic pain; people whose lives are derailed by illness (young, middle aged or old).

I think she has a special understanding and a special compassion for those (like me) who suffer from mental illness. When she was in the hospital, she gave her time and her companionship to another woman suffering from depression (even though Chiara herself was in great pain and in need of rest). When she was younger, she once told her mother not to speak harshly about the drug addicts. "They are the lepers of our time," she said.

There's another reason why I am moved to open my soul to her. She was known in life to be an exceptionally good listener. She gave time to her friends, listened to their problems and doubts, and took things into her heart. She once said that she didn't speak much to people about Jesus, but just tried to be a living witness and instrument of His love.

Chiara Luce never condemns me. She is never harsh.

Yet I have to be honest: in a certain way the whole witness of her life scares me out of my wits. (And she knows that too.) Her life makes it so clear that this "Jesus" thing is really real; its not a mind game. It means tossing it all up and following Him wherever He leads me. Scared? I don't think I even understand what it means to surrender everything, to become (an instrument of) His Love, letting go of my own ever-conniving self-interest. I feel overwhelmed. I can't even begin to get it inside my head.

In so many ways I'm just so plain old fashioned selfish.

Chiara Luce knows all about the limits of the human self. She knows how hard it is to abandon everything to God. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she struggled, she "wrestled with God" before she could accept it. Then she offered her pain for those who feel abandoned in their suffering. 

She wanted so much to be in solidarity with those who experience the loneliness of this horrible affliction and of all afflictions. She wanted to find Jesus and follow Him there, in the depth of His cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" She was a "regular kid" and she followed Jesus all the way to the end, to the depths of suffering and humiliation. 

Maybe this is why I love her so much. No matter how much I screw up or feel like I'm just a piece of garbage, I know she's there, she understands, she won't push me away. No matter how bad it gets, I can be sure that there's always someone to "go through it" with me. 

Of course, it's God Himself who stays with us, as He revealed in Jesus. The saints help us to encounter that presence of Jesus by their being united with Him and "going through it" with us, to embody that closeness even more. Chiara is eight years younger than me, and she died in 1990! She's from "today." That's why I love photos of her - they bring it home that saints are not from another planet; they're human, like Jesus is human. Chiara helps me realize that I'm not alone. She says, "we'll get through this" - I'm sure it's deeper, but this is what strikes me personally. She certainly has room in her heart for everybody. You should ask her to intercede for you, for whatever you need, but especially for help to bear pain and suffering, and to grow in the love of God.

Ask her to pray for you. And expect miracles. "Little" miracles, lots of those. Of course we hope for at least one more big miracle to complete the canonization process.

Below is an unofficial (i.e. non-liturgical) English translation of the Collect for her particular feast day in her home diocese and, I would think, for people all over the world who participate in the Focolare movement. We can all hope that God's grace will indeed "transform deeply our soul," beginning with an attraction to this light of love, and giving us the desire and the will to live with this serene trust.

Father of infinite goodness,
who through the merits of your Son
and the gift of the Spirit
have set alight with love Blessed Chiara Badano,
transform deeply our soul
so that, following her example,
we too become capable
of always doing Your holy will
with serene trust.
Through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever,