Sometimes we’d prefer that our lives be a different story than the one God seems to be writing. In our fragile existence it doesn’t take much to turn a romance into a drama, or an adventure into a tragedy. At a glance, the story of Chiara Badano—an only child conceived after 11 years of marriage, who died at 18 after a bout with a painful form of bone cancer—looks like an empty tragedy, but not from the perspective of the Divine Author.
Chiara seemed to have everything going for her as a teen. She had a loving, holy family and a rock solid faith that was nurtured by retreats and youth ministry programs. She was popular amongst her friends and was liked by boys. It’s not hard to see why. She was beautiful. Chiara loved to hang out in coffee shops. She was great at tennis, swimming and mountain climbing. Her outgoing personality and adventurous spirit made her dream of becoming a flight attendant. Chiara had a bright life ahead of her.
One day while playing tennis, Chiara experienced excruciating pain in her shoulder. Shortly afterwards she was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma. She watched her bright future slip away. But it’s here that the real story of her life begins—the story of heroic virtue.
Chiara’s joy was explosive and it only increased with her suffering. After one very pain-filled night she said, “I suffered a lot, but my soul was singing.” Google pictures of her on her death bed. Her eyes look like pools reflecting the glory of heaven. One of her doctors remarked, “Through her smile, and through her eyes full of light, she showed us that death doesn’t exist; only life exists.” Cardinal Saldarini heard of this amazing teen and visited her in the hospital. Awestruck, he said, “The light in your eyes is splendid. Where does it come from?” Chiara’s reply was simple: “I try to love Jesus as much as I can.”
Chiara had a profound sense of redemptive suffering. She often repeated the phrase, “If this is what you want, Jesus, so do I.” Like any teenage girl, she loved her hair, but with each lock that fell out she’d pray, “For you, Jesus.” She frequently refused morphine, saying, “I want to share as much as possible in His suffering on the cross.”
During one of her many hospital stays Chiara took walks with a depressed, drug-dependent girl, despite the pain of walking from the huge growth on her spine. When she was encouraged to stop and rest she said, “I’ll have time to rest later.” Ever thinking of others, she said, “I have nothing left, but I still have my heart, and with that I can always love.”
Chiara requested to be buried in a wedding gown. As the end of her short life drew near she told her mother, “When you’re getting me ready, Mum, you have to keep saying to yourself, ‘Chiara Luce is now seeing Jesus.’”
She died on Oct. 7, 1990. Her parents and friends were with her. Her last words were: “Goodbye. Be happy because I’m happy.”
Thanks to her local bishop, Chiara was declared “Servant of God.” For anyone wondering if Chiara’s cause for canonization was only opened to comfort grieving parents and friends, God recently put his stamp of approval on her story. A young boy in Italy was dying from meningitis. His organs were shutting down. There was no way to save his life. His parents learned of Chiara’s story and sought her intercession. He was fully healed. A panel of doctors has ruled that there was no medical explanation for this turn of events. On September 25, 2010, she became the first member of Generation X to be beatified!
Reflecting on her pending death, Chiara said: “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 story of our lives with all its riveting twists and painful turns is written by an author who loves us very much, and for him, even death is only a comma, not a period. The greatest protagonists in life’s story are the saints. They shared the eternal perspective of the Author. That’s why not even the most profound pain could take away their hope.
Here’s to yet another teen saint! “Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, pray for us!”