Editor’s note: As we prepare to close this month, dedicated
to prayers for and protection of the unborn, it seems appropriate to illuminate
the life of a young mother who seemed sent to us “for such a time as this.”
I love the saints. I
love that the Church gives them to us, raises them up so that we can see what
holiness looks like lived out in this life. I love that they point to something
better, brighter. What we see in shadows, little hints in the sacrament of the
every day, the heavenly saints behold in full glory. Here in the shadowlands,
we strain for a pale shimmer of heavenly sunrise, while they stand in full sun.
But even then, the
Lord permits them to bend back down to us below in our dim places, carrying
lanterns of hope, little lights of grace like tabernacle lamps telling us, God
Sometimes one of
these saints will burst in on us like a summer morning, sliding through the
cracks of our hearts like the rays slipping in through closed shutters in the
early hours. And we wake up to new truth, or at least truth framed in a
freshness we have never tasted before.
saints themselves will be so new that they are not saints yet, but on their
way, and wanting to be introduced to us, to be light for our dark times. I
am for you, they seem to say, I have hope for you and truth for you,
take me as your friend and let me show you how to give your life away in love.
When this Servant of
God’s name means Light, and when her name is the Italian version of your
own, you can’t help but be inspired. That’s what happened to me when I
“met” Chiara Corbella Petrillo. Just named a Servant of God last year, she has
a story that left me crying — weeping in the wonder of how God brings such
beauty out of suffering. Wishing I, too, could transform my little crosses into
wreaths of joy. Chiara said, you can.
We all can.
But first, her story.
Chiara was born in
Rome in 1984, the second of two daughters in a devout Catholic family involved
in the Charismatic Renewal. She met her future husband, Enrico, in Medjugorje
while on a pilgrimage in 2002, and they began a long and tumultuous
relationship — on again, off again.
Finally, on separate
retreats in Assisi, they found a spiritual director, Fr. Vito, who would help
them find clarity and peace. He encouraged Chiara to surrender even Enrico to
God, to allow Him to lead and to trust His Will. It would be the first of many
such lessons, and this time, it was one rewarded with an engagement.
They were married
shortly after, on September 21, 2008. Soon they discovered that a baby was on
the way. During her second prenatal exam, at fourteen weeks, it was discovered
that their baby girl had anencephaly — there was no skull forming in the little
body, and therefore no chance of survival after birth. Chiara and Enrico were
heartbroken, but resolute from the beginning. Although many suggested they
abort, it was unthinkable to the faithful couple. This child was a gift, and
her life was precious. They would accompany her as far as they could.
Little Maria Grazia
was born on June 10, 2009, embraced by her family, baptized into the death and
resurrection of Christ, and born into new life 40 minutes later. Enrico and
Chiara would reflect later that they were not prepared for how beautiful the
experience would be. On returning home from the hospital, Chiara told Enrico,
“You know, I would do it again.”
And she would. A few
months later, another pregnancy, another ultrasound, another shocking diagnosis
— this one so rare, it did not even have a name. Little Davide Giovanni, with
no legs, no kidneys, no possibility of his lungs developing, was also given no
chance at life outside the womb.
Tests showed no
correlation between the two pregnancies. It was simply chance. Or,
Sorrowful but serene,
Chiara and Enrico left the exam, went straight into an Adoration Chapel and
spiritually surrendered Davide over to God. Over the next few months, those who
came to comfort Chiara left feeling consoled themselves. She radiated peace.
Davide’s birth was
orchestrated by the Lord, bringing Fr. Vito to the hospital just in time to
bless Chiara and baptize Davide, ushering him into the homeland in the arms of
In his tiny life,
Chiara would reflect later, Davide had managed to slay the Goliath inside of
each of us, the idols we put before God and His perfect plans. “I thank God,”
she wrote, “for my having been defeated by my little Davide; I thank God that
the Goliath that was inside of me is now finally dead, thanks to Davide.”
Soon another life
began to grow inside Chiara, and this time they were expecting a healthy baby
boy whom they named Francesco. But something else was growing within her, too —
cancer. After a preliminary exploratory surgery, a persistent white lesion on
her tongue turned out to be the first symptom of an aggressive cancer in her
tongue and lymph nodes.
Doctors wanted to
deliver Francesco prematurely in order to operate again as soon as possible.
Chiara, thinking of Francesco’s safety, insisted on waiting to schedule the
surgery until he could be born without needing incubation. And so he was,
coming into the world perfectly healthy.
But Chiara was far
from well. Delaying her treatment had allowed the cancer to spread, and despite
months of radiation and chemotherapy, Chiara was declared a terminal patient
before Francesco’s first birthday. She accepted the news in front of the
tabernacle in the hospital chapel with characteristic peace, renewing her
marriage vows with Enrico. Smiling and thanking the nurses as she packed her
things, she urged her roommates at the hospital to continue to pray as she had
taught them during the long nights of suffering.
And so, refusing treatment
that would have caused much pain and only prolonged her life a little while,
she went home to prepare to meet her Lord. Her last months were spent with her
family, consumed by prayer and love even as the cancer consumed her. Rosaries
with friends, Mass and Eucharistic Adoration with the attentive Fr. Vito —
slowly a light began to burn brighter and brighter within Chiara, even as her
earthly breath was being extinguished.
Fr. Vito, hearing
that the end was near, rushed to Chiara’s home on June 12 and began to prepare
for her final Mass late that night. “The lamps are lit,” Enrico messaged their
friends. “We are waiting for the Spouse.”
She was alert to the
Gospel that night, from Matthew: “You are the salt of the earth … You are the
light of the world …”
Fr. Vito asked Chiara
during the homily, “What was Jesus’ lampstand?”
“The Cross,” she
“Chiara,” he told
her, “you are luminous because you are on the lampstand with Jesus.”
She died in her room
the next day, at noon, June 13, 2012. Her funeral was a few days later in the
same church in Rome where she had said goodbye to Maria Grazia and Davide.
Filled with flowers, praise music, twenty priests, and hundreds of friends, it
was a testament to joy. It was a display of hope and trust in a God who
redeems all of our suffering, if we can learn to unite it to His, as Chiara
in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. – Psalm 116
There are many
lessons that Chiara taught through her short but profound life, but here are a
few that burned the brightest for me:
Our bodies are made for self-giving and love. Just as
through the Body of Christ comes our salvation, we are to literally spend our
bodies in service of the other. Chiara believed that in pregnancy and birth her
body was for the child, even while knowing the child was not for her.
Life is sacred. All of it. Chiara and Enrico welcomed each
child with reverence, as purely a gift from God, entrusted to them only for a
little while, and then to be given back. They realized that “we are born, never
God is hiding in our suffering for the purpose of leading us
closer to Him through the Cross. She compared her cancer to Christ on the road
to Emmaus, who was not recognizable at first but present all along. She
recognized Him in the breaking of her body, as the disciples had recognized Him
in the breaking of the bread.
And the bread that is broken for us, the Eucharist, is what
sustains us. At every turn, Chiara and Enrico could be found in front of the
Tabernacle. Christ journeyed with them in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Blessed Virgin Mary reveals to us the sweetness of the
suffering face of Christ. Mary, Enrico would say, “told us the truth: that
there is neither past nor future; the only certainties are the present moment
and the fact that we shall die. It was she, the model, who taught us to base
our lives on the Word of God.”
Living in the present moment is the key to peace. God, they
both knew, would meet them in the moment and give them the grace to live
it. The past they entrusted to His Mercy and the future to His
Providence. Chiara, it was said, “was obedient to each day.”
I am determined not
to waste the illuminating wisdom from this woman the Church has recognized,
this little watt of power, throwing light over all the mysteries of life.
First, she lit up life from the suffering of love, now she lights up faith from
a place of promise.
Servant of God,
Chiara Corbella Petrillo, pray for us.
**All quotations were taken from Chiara
Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy by Simone Troisi and Cristiana Paccini,
Sophia Institute Press.
PRESENCE OF GOD – O Jesus, permit me to contemplate Your
soul, the chosen temple of the Holy Spirit, and grant that, following Your
example, I, too, may become a temple worthy of Him.
grace was created equally by the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, without
any difference or distinction, its diffusion in souls is usually attributed
especially to the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, to whom everything that
concerns the work of sanctification is referred by appropriation. In this sense
the tremendous gift of grace which filled the soul of Jesus must be attributed
to the work of the Holy Spirit. The soul of Jesus possesses every supernatural
gift because “the Holy Spirit dwells in Christ with such plenitude of grace
that no greater plenitude can be imagined” (Mystici Corporis).
This plenitude of grace, which is a created gift, corresponds to the plenitude
of the Holy Spirit, who is the uncreated Gift.
Jesus, the only
One who “received this Spirit in an unlimited degree” (Mystici Corporis),
has received from Him the immense capital of grace which permits Him to merit
it for all of us.
The soul of Jesus is uniquely beautiful,
holy, intimately united to the divinity, and all this to such a degree that the
Holy Spirit “takes delight in abiding in it as His chosen temple” (Mystici Corporis). He
dwells in it with such plenitude and sovereignty that He inspires, directs, and
guides all the actions of Jesus, and that is why the Holy Spirit “is correctly
called the Spirit of Christ or the Spirit of the Son” (Mystici Corporis).
The Gospel tells us several times that Jesus “acted under the
influence of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Luke 4:1). This happened, not under certain
special conditions, but always; the sacred soul of Jesus was not moved by any
other impulse, by any spirit other than the Holy Spirit.
Jesus, You are so rich, so divine, and so all-powerful that Your gifts are not
limited to created things, however sublime they may be, but reach their
culmination in the uncreated Gift, in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It is conformable with Your dignity as God-Man, O Lord Jesus,
that the Spirit of Love, the substantial Love which proceeds from the Father
and the Son, should be Your Spirit. But that You have wished to give me, a poor
creature, this divine Spirit, is a mystery so sublime that I am lost in it. I
can only understand, O my dear Redeemer, that I owe this Gift to You!
What return shall I make You, O Jesus, for Your infinite Gift?
Oh! if I could at least live and act in such a way that Your Spirit, the Holy
Spirit, would find in my soul a temple not too unworthy of Him!
I know that Your Spirit dwells within me, because You have given
Him to me. Yet, He cannot fully possess me, nor lead me swiftly to sanctity,
nor hasten my journey to God, because He often finds resistance in me instead
of docility. O my Jesus, do not permit me to resist Your Spirit; do not let me
grieve Him by my blindness and obduracy!
“O power of the eternal Father, come to my aid! Wisdom of
the Son, illumine the eye of my intellect! Sweet clemency of the Holy Spirit,
inflame my heart and unite it to Yourself. I confess, O sweet, eternal Goodness
of God, that the mercy of the Holy Spirit and Your burning charity are trying
to inflame my heart and unite it to You, together with the hearts of all
rational creatures…. Burn with the fire of Your Spirit, consume and destroy,
down to the very roots, all love and affection of the flesh, in the hearts of
the new plants which You have deigned to graft onto the Mystical Body of Holy
Church. Deign, O God, to carry us away from
worldly affection into the garden of Your love, and create in us a new heart
and a clear understanding of Your will, so that, despising the world,
ourselves, and our pride, and filled with the true fervor of Your love … we may
follow You for Yourself alone, in chaste purity and fervent charity!…
“O Holy Spirit, come into my heart; by Your power draw it to You,
O God of truth; grant me charity with fear … warm me and inflame me with Your
most sweet love” (St. Catherine of Siena).
Note from Dan: This post on the soul of Jesus is
provided courtesy of Baronius Press and
contains one of two meditations for the day. If you would like to get the full
meditation from one of the best daily meditation works ever compiled, you can
learn more here: Divine Intimacy.
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It cannot be emphasized too often that love of God — perfection, holiness, sanctity — consists in the union of our will with God’s will, and that means an active and passive union. That is to say that loving God means that we do all we know He wants us to do, and that we want all that He does to us or wills to happen to us. The only obstacle to perfection, to holiness, to sanctification, to love of God, to union with God, is the thing called sin, the essence of which is the lack of conformity of our will with God’s will — or, in other words, the opposition of our will to God’s will. Wherever we have opposition between our will and God’s will, whether it be grave opposition or mediocre or slight opposition, to that extent we are imperfect; to that extent we are failing to love God as completely as He wants us to.
this fact arises the necessity of knowing ourselves, of seeing the deformity
between our will and God’s will. It is necessary to know this deformity in
order to correct it. In other words, to be completely pleasing to God, it is
necessary to know ourselves and to know wherein we depart from God’s will.
Hence, the necessity of knowing our sins and our faults, of knowing our
failings, frailties, and, above all, our habitual tendencies. Shadowboxing never
produced a knockout. Neither can we fight an unknown or invisible enemy.
knowledge of our predominant faults is not the easiest knowledge in the world
to come by, despite the proximity of its source. In fact, the very nearness of
the object makes it more difficult to see. Others we know better than
ourselves. If we had to write two essays, one describing our own faults, and
the other those of our neighbor, we would probably score a higher grade for our
analysis of our neighbor than of ourselves. It is much easier to know a
companion’s faults than our own. After all, we feel the effects of her faults,
whereas we don’t very often feel the effects of our own. We can diagnose and
prescribe for her failings with assurance. Yet the most important knowledge in
the world for us or any individual is the knowledge of ourselves: “Know
we do not really know ourselves until we are ready to say at any moment, “This
is my predominant fault; this is the thing that I need most to work on; this is
the failing that is standing most in the way of my being fully committed to our
Lord; this is the trait that others find most difficult in me; this is the
characteristic that makes me hardest to live with; this is the habit that most
needs correction; this is the tendency that spawns most of my difficulties.”
How few there are who can say that on call!
Your Predominant Fault may be a Failure to Want what God Wants
for some sample indications of preferring to do our own will over God’s will in
the spheres of obedience and charity. There remains now to recall the
love-wounded hearts on the reverse of the Miraculous Medal, calling to mind the
passive aspect of holiness, and to explore, at least superficially,
manifestations of a very prevalent root fault — namely, failure to want what
God does, failure to conform our will to what He sends us.We are speaking of
faults that come under the heading of rebellion against God’s will, or the
opposite of the virtue of abandonment to the will of God.
habitually irritable when things happen that we do not want, when we are
crossed and fail to get what we want? Do we show our irritability? Are we
always whining and complaining about the way things are and asking why they are
not different? Is this because things are not to our liking? Do we manifest a
lack of meekness in our temper when things go wrong? Do others know about it
from the explosion when we make a mistake?
is our fault oversensitiveness? Do we regard every little oversight, every
little act of thoughtlessness, as some kind of insult or offense to us and give
way to sadness and weeping because we have been slighted and overlooked?
give in to excessive discouragement when our work fails or when we don’t seem
to improve? All of these faults are manifestations of our disposition of
rebellion against God, whose Providence extends to everything that happens to
us without exception.
the potential, predominant tendencies and faults of our character that manifest
themselves externally, which we have been discussing, are the type of thing
that we should mention in speaking of ourselves with our director, confessor,
or superior for the purpose of determining our spiritual practice.
“As the number of disciples continued to grow, the Greek-speaking Christians complained about the Hebrew-speaking Christians, saying that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 6:1-5).
Acts of the Apostles says that Stephen was a man filled with grace and power, who worked great wonders among the people. Certain Jews, members of the Synagogue of Roman Freedmen, debated with Stephen, but proved no match for the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke. They persuaded others to make the charge of blasphemy against him. He was seized and carried before the Sanhedrin.
In his speech, Stephen recalled God’s guidance through Israel’s history, as well as Israel’s idolatry and disobedience. He then claimed that his persecutors were showing this same spirit. “…you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors” (Acts 7:51b).
Stephen’s speech brought anger from the crowd. “But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ …They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. …As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ …’Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:55-56, 58a, 59, 60b).
Stephen died as Jesus did: falsely accused, brought to unjust condemnation because he spoke the truth fearlessly. He died with his eyes trustfully fixed on God, and with a prayer of forgiveness on his lips. A “happy” death is one that finds us in the same spirit, whether our dying is as quiet as Joseph’s or as violent as Stephen’s: dying with courage, total trust and forgiving love.
I’ve been asked to give a talk on practical ways to demonstrate your faith season.
First, let me introduce myself. Married to Michelle – 27 years. 5 Children. Youngest is Owen – 9, Jenna – 16, Jon – 18, Andrew – 21 and Allison – 24. With such a wide range in ages, we’ve had experience over a couple of decades as parents and 50+ years on the planet.
We’re not experts but here are 10 ways to Demonstrate Your Faith:
Simplify and make time for what is most important
Go to Confession. Parents reinforce their faith and their children’s faith by their children seeing them practice what we preach. To illustrate the value of going to confession, I’d like to share a story.
Participate in Your Parish Giving Tree. Ours includes boys and girls, sometimes parents. No wrapping. Consider also participating in not only buying the presents but assisting with distributing the presents. Our parish is linked to a store for needy people – held at the Niagara Falls convention center. Multiple rooms, tables, arranged by gender/sizes. Allows parents to walk through and pick gifts for their children.
Go to Mass, at least on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation. Discuss Advent. What the readings were about. How to apply what is learned in Mass to real life. Track the days with an Advent calendar. Make note of special days throughout the Season.
Participate in a daily blog or email blast with a reading and meditation for the day. Reflect on the business of life and how to simplify. Make room for Jesus. Prepare for his coming.
Pray together. Whether through memorized prayers, over meals, at night, in adoration. Make time to escape the hustle and bustle of the season and prepare. Be grateful.
Identify and Build upon Family Traditions
Make Cookies. Investigate in your family which recipes resonate and for what reason. Why do my in-laws (Italian) use lemon in their sugar cookie/cutouts/frosting whereas my polish grandmother always used anise in hers? Discuss the different shapes and symbols as you roll out the dough.
Get a real tree. Find a Christmas tree farm. Schedule a time when everybody (or almost everyone) can attend. Dress appropriately. Plan a couple hours at the site and a couple more hours to setup the tree. As the ornaments are brought up, encourage story telling. Reflect on who made what ornament. Play your favorite music in the background.
Make something versus buying something. Most of us have had the experience of the kindergarten child handing us a picture and asking “what do you think?” and not knowing exactly what it is. There is something magical when someone gives a part of themselves from their creativity rather than their wallet. Maybe a short story. A drawing or painting. A song.
Forced family fun – non-electronic version. Play a board game. Play cards. Spend quality time together before everyone becomes snarky. Yes Dads, this is less about who wins and more about the quality time and interaction. Remember – no phones. Consider caroling in your neighborhood or as part of your parish. Go to a senior center.
Watch a favorite family movie. Whether it’s Elf, Home Alone, A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life, a family movie provides a chance to recollect. To remember. Laugh. Remember, no phones.
My hope is the information presented will help you to enhance your faith this Advent/Christmas.