Death scares us. And perhaps it's more accurate to say that dying scares us. But if we've embraced Him whom faith tells us is on the other side, death can be something other than merely scary, even, dare I say, beautiful:
Hundreds of Italians gathered at the Church of St. Francisca Romana in Rome on June 16 for the funeral Mass of Chiara Corbella, a young Catholic woman who died after postponing her cancer treatments in order to protect her unborn child.
At 28 years of age, Chiara was happily married to Enrico Petrillo. They had already suffered the loss of two children in recent years who died from birth defects. The couple became popular speakers at pro-life events, in which they shared their testimony about the few minutes they were able to spend with their children, David and Maria, before they died.
In 2010, Chiara became pregnant for the third time, and according to doctors the child was developing normally. However, Chiara was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and was advised to begin receiving treatment that would have posed a risk to her pregnancy.
Chiara decided to protect the baby – named Francisco – and opted to forgo treatment until after his birth, which took place on May 30, 2011.
Her cancer quickly progressed and eventually she lost sight in one eye. After a year-long battle Chiara died on June 13, surrounded by her loved ones and convinced that she would be reunited with her two children in heaven.
“I am going to heaven to take care of Maria and David, you stay here with Dad. I will pray for you,” Chiara said in a letter for Francisco that she wrote one week before her death.
The funeral Mass was celebrated by the Vicar General of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, who recalled Chiara as “the second Gianna Beretta,” the 20th century saint who sacrificed her life in similar circumstances to save her unborn baby.
Chiara’s spiritual director, Father Vito, delivered the homily and remembered Chiara as a young woman who chose to risk her own life in order to be an example to other pregnant women, “a testimony that could save so many people,” he said.
Chiara’s husband, Enrico, said he experienced “a story of love on the cross.” Speaking to Vatican Radio, he said that they learned from their three children that there is no difference in a life that lasts 30 minutes or 100 years.
“It was wonderful to discover this love that grew more and more in the face of so many problems,” he said.
“We grew more and more in love with each other and Jesus. We were never disappointed by this love, and for this reason, we never lost time, even though those around us said, 'Wait, don’t be in a hurry to have another child,'” Enrico said.
The world today encourages people to make wrong choices about the unborn, the sick and the elderly, he noted, “but the Lord responds with stories like ours.”
“We are the ones who like to philosophize about life, about who created it, and therefore, in the end, we confuse ourselves in wanting to become the owners of life and to escape from the cross the Lord gives us,” he continued.
“The truth is that this cross – if you embrace it with Christ – ceases to be as ugly as it looks. If you trust in him, you discover that this fire, this cross, does not burn, and that peace can be found in suffering and joy in death,” Enrico explained.
“I spent a lot of time this year reflecting on this phrase from the Gospel that says the Lord gives a cross that is sweet and a burden that is light. When I would look at Chiara when she was about to die, I obviously became very upset. But I mustered the courage and a few hours before – it was about eight in the morning, Chiara died at noon– I asked her.
Finish the piece at the link and ponder if this changes you in any way, if it feeds something deep within you, if it in some small way answers a yearning.
It does for me, for this moment, a moment I hope to remember when death approaches.
I hope the same for you.
With much thanks to The Anchoress, who adds:
God’s complex ideas, when they are introduced to our personal lives, often seem like actions working “against all sense” because that’s what they are; they are meant to move us out of the idolatry of our own ideas, our own reasonings, our own minds, and enter us into his ideas, his reasonings, his mind. If we consent to it, then we are admitted into the staggering sweetness of his enraptured love for us, where the only real price is trust.
The world will never understand it, or appreciate the value of that trust — it cannot understand because it has not consented to that same all-loving capture; it is too afraid of the ransom.
Chiara Corbella and Enrico Petrillo became willing captives to love. For them, then, there is no ransom, only rapture.
What about us?
Ponder that question friend.
The answer may take us to places that satisfy the deepest of yearnings.