Today’s homily is about imitating holiness, and we’ll begin with a longer story and end with a short one. Today is the feast day of Bl. Chiara Luce Badano, who was also born on this day in 1971 in Northern Italy. Her life was short, but she has become a model for many. A story from when she was four illustrates God’s grace working in her humanity: Her mother said, ‘You have so many toys,’ and suggested that she give some to poor children. Chiara responded, ‘No, they’re mine!’ When her mother returned to the kitchen, she later heard Chiara whispering to herself, ‘This one yes, this one no,’ as she was separating her toys into two piles: new ones for the poor and old ones for herself. Her life was full of blessings: a simple and devout Christian home, being loved by her parents and grandparents, a rich, outgoing personality, and talent in academics and sports.
When she was nine, she met the founder of the Focolare Catholic movement. She later wrote about that moment: ‘I have rediscovered the Gospel… I was not an authentic Christian because I did not live it fully… Now I want to make this wonderful book the only goal of my life.’
At the age of twelve, at another large gathering of young people, she heard the same founder speak about Jesus Who was abandoned for our sake, and asked if any girls there wanted to make Him their first spouse. Chiara raised her hand right away!
She became so spiritually mature that others confided in her regarding their struggles, and her goal was to ‘give them Jesus.’ How? By her listening, the way she dressed, and her way of loving. Yet, at the same time, she went through what we all go through: failures in class, high school crushes, etc.
When she was 17, while playing tennis, she felt an intense shoulder pain which turned out to be bone cancer. After chemotherapy, she one day said calmly, ‘Oh yeah. I can’t walk anymore.’ However, from her letters, we know that she did get overwhelmed. One day, she didn’t want to talk to her mother because she was struggling interiorly. Only 25 minutes later did she agree to talk.
In her final year, having experienced great bleeding, her mother arrived one day at the hospital and asked Chiara what happened. ‘Everything, Mom! Everything! But you know, I didn’t waste a thing, not even [putting her index finger to her thumb] this much pain. I offered everything to Jesus… I have nothing left, but I still have my heart and with that I can love.’ Her final words were, ‘Mom, Hi! Be happy, because I am’.
Her life teaches us a simple and powerful way we can imitate Jesus. When I hear how she bore her suffering, I wish I could live like that in my own day-to-day sufferings. The great news is that the Holy Spirit wants to do the same beautiful things in our lives.
Today, St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “Brothers and sisters… you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thess 1:6-7). There are three groups of Christians engaged in imitation here: the Macedonians and Achaians (in the Northern and Southern provinces of Greece) imitate the Thessalonians, and they imitate Paul, and he imitates Jesus.
And what’s the sign that they’re imitating St. Paul well? ‘In spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.’ The Thessalonian Christians were persecuted by others in their city probably because they no longer worshipped the false gods of their neighbours. Yet, in spite of being Christian at this point for only about a year, they accepted the Holy Spirit’s grace to be joyful in suffering.
Like Bl. Chiara, there are times when we’re overwhelmed and don’t want to talk to anyone. Even though our humanity and emotions are overwhelmed, the Holy Spirit helps us to love. Jesus Himself went through this. A few days before His death, Jesus says, “Now is my soul troubled. And what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Jn 12:27-28). Do you see the tension between Jesus’ humanity and His divinity? He’s overwhelmed but not losing His love of the Father.
This is why, when St. Paul writes, ‘you became an example to all the believers,’ the word for ‘believers’ can be translated as ‘faithful’ or ‘trusting.’ Being Christian not only means acknowledging what Jesus teaches, but being faithful to Him and trusting Him when suffering.
There are three final facts to note about the Reading: 1) “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. [This is an exaggeration, but the point is that Christians in their known world are inspired by them. This will lead to our closing story.]
2) For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols [This is part of how we know that these Christians were a minority and persecuted, which also leads to the final story].
3) To serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming” (1 Thess 1:8-10). ‘Wrath’ means God’s judgment: He will judge all people. This indicates that God cares about good and evil. Think about the opposite: Imagine a god who never judges. What would that mean? It would mean he doesn’t care about injustice. But God is love, and so cares about right and wrong, and will defend the poor and punish the wicked. Furthermore, because He raises the just from suffering, this is why we don’t fear to do what is right.
Thinking about this call to be a saint, on the last Sunday in November, we’re going to have our Christ the King Challenge. We’ve done this for two years now, and it helps us own a major part of our relationship with Jesus. The main question we’ll ask is: Put up your hand if you’ve made Jesus the centre of your life, and this year, we’ll ask you to fill out a card, so that we know clearly how many of us have made the decision. Start thinking about this question in the next few weeks. We’ll talk about it more next week.
Our closing story is about Shahbaz Bhatti of Pakistan, about whom I first heard around 2008, when he became the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, and, as a devout Catholic, used his influence to protect Christians, who are only about two percent of the population.
In 2011, his regional Muslim governor was assassinated by Islamic radicals, and Bhatti was also receiving death threats. In March, he was shot to death in his car as he was ambushed by terrorists. The bishops of Pakistan unanimously approved a petition that he be declared a martyr, and his canonization process is underway.
What I found most inspiring was an interview he gave before he died, in which he professes his faith in Jesus and his love for the oppressed. He knew that death was coming, and still chose the way of Jesus’ Cross (Please watch 0:01-1:28).
May the Holy Spirit come down upon us and may we receive Him, so that we may live Bl. Chiara Luce’s joy, and imitate Servant of God Shahbaz Bhatti’s determination. Both imitated Jesus and His holiness, and we imitate them.