Chiara Corbella: Dying for love, “wonderful love that grew more and more…”

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28 year-old Chiara Corbella has died and at her funeral in Rome, there was joy amid the sorrow. In fact, there was a kind of triumph, of love over life and life over death — one of those contradictory signs that makes no sense to an efficient world but is transcendently reasonable to the mind of faith:

Chiara was happily married to Enrico Petrillo. They had already suffered the loss of two children [born with birth defects] in recent years. . .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.[...]

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 . . . 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.” [...] “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.

Read it all. What this young father is saying is true. I recognize it because we experienced this “love that grows, more and more” in the face of so much, but that, quite paradoxically, is “wonderful” because love we allow to grow so hugely cannot be anything but wonderful. This is the difficult lesson, and the truth, that I learned while my brother was dying:

We have been trained in the secular world to disregard life as being something holy and to understand that our human potential is inextricably tied to our personal freedoms and our domination over those uncontrollable matters of life: death, pain, and joy. This is a great deception. The truth is, just as human expansion upon the earth depended upon someone being willing to explore those uncharted waters marked, “Here be monsters,” our human potential can only grow when it is open to exploring the Unknowable. The vehicle for that exploration is faith. If the monsters of life are pain and suffering, fear and doubt, moving through them is what leads to discovery, growth, and — yes — holiness. God does not give us more than we can endure, but we cannot ascertain on our own precisely how much strength we have.

It is impossible to explore the depths of our potential or its limits if we steadfastly refuse to take the journey. But increasingly, that refusal is regarded as wisdom.

Pondering the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist we see people consenting to take a journey beyond their understanding. A pregnancy in old age; an unborn child — destined to be “a sharp-edged sword” and “a polished arrow” meant to pierce the awareness of his people — jumping with peculiar recognition; an angel who strikes the father mute until his birth; a virgin, herself radiating the light of a supernaturally-conceived child — both God and man, Son and savior — extolling the “promise of mercy” revealed to her by a God who is also Bridegroom.

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? Do we dare to pray for the grace of such imprisonment, to live within the incomprehensible freedom of God’s love, regardless of what our worldly senses may have to endure?

The Dominican Nuns of Summit, NJ share thoughts on the Nativity of John, and I there is a typically bang-up homily on him, too, from Deacon Greg, who reminds us — like the story of Chiara Carella, that God is Gracious..

More thoughts on the feast day

A Poem for the Day

UPDATE: Lifenews picks up the story

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • karen

    This is such a beautiful post, Anchoress.

    You are able to put into words the feelings
    so many Catholics have and are at a loss to

    Sometimes i can feel the Holy Spirit w/in you:0).

  • Christian

    I can’t imagine how people cope with tragedy without faith.

  • Michael

    But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness. Thank you for sharing this story of hope, love and inspiration. Eternal rest grant nt o her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. Amen.

  • Hantchu

    Sigh. There’s no arguing with someone else’s religious convictions, but here is where this Orthodox Jew parts company with you Catholics. I share your enthusiam about marriage and family life, the happy chaos of large families (We prefer the term “blessed with children). I have shared the experience of attempting to space children using religiously approved methods, which frequently grant us pregnancies more closely spaced than we might have preferred, and lo, it all works out.

    But nothing so underlines the difference between the Catholic and the Jewish approach to a tragic situation like this. Halacha would have obligated the mother to save her own life, and that of her living family, in preference to that of the unborn child. We would still see this as an obligation, rather than a choice, one to be accepted as a sacrifice to the will of G-d, “Ve-chai bahem, ve-lo meit”, “You shall live by them (My laws), and not die”.

    May G-d have mercy on this family and their children’s children, as I am sure He has on Gianna. We should all be spared such inherently tragic situations.

    [Hi Hantchu, good to see you again. Getting ready to leave for airport, but very briefly, while I do understand the reasoning behind your thoughts -- and it is, I think, a reasoning with which the majority would probably concur -- the question must be asked, "if God is the creator of all life, and he creates through intention, then what was his intention in creating that life within the womb of that mother?" Fundamentally, the life created is life intended to live. Someone like Chiara Carabella dares to ask, "what if my life is meant to be brief, was meant to simply love this man, bear these children and bring Francisco into the world, so he can fulfill God's purpose, and then I am to return to the Creator?" We moderns are not trained to think, "what if this is all the life I am supposed to have" because it's a question that leads to, "if, because I have free will, and I choose to put my life before this new life, what will I have left unaccomplished in the world?" Yes, it's "topsy turvy" thinking; Jesus called it a 'sign of contradiction'. And it is why the church has agonized over every question, and every nuance on the issue of mothers and children's lives. Must run. So glad to see you here! -admin]

  • Hantchu

    Excuse me, “Chiara”, not “Gianna”. Freudian slip. By the way, I do *not* believe in “Choice”, except in the sense that it means free will. I believe in doing the will of G-d as interpreted through the guidance of tradition and under the advisement of teachers who do not share my own particular self-interests and id-passions.

  • Michael

    Thank you Hantchu for providing the Orthodox Jewish perspective on this story. Certainly, our perspectives are different. Today, the Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist which maybe provides some more insights into Chiarra’s choice. As you may know, John prepared the way for the coming of Jesus. He inspires us to focus on Jesus and to repent or to literally turn back to God. In this sense, not to focus on ourselves, but to focus on God. Perhaps one of the most beautiful phrases from the Bible is John’s, ” I must decrease and He must increase “. I cannot help but think that Chiarra heroically exhibited this message in her life.

  • Christian

    “blessed with children” I’ve heard this all my life in the Catholic Church, and never heard “happy chaos of large families.”

  • Sigrid Rogowski

    What a beautiful story. I am so impressed. I am pro-life, but I am not sure if I could do what she did.

  • Beloved

    I’m going to ask my priest about this but couldn’t the law of double effect come into play in a situation like this?

  • Margaret

    If my understanding of our church’s moral teaching is correct, Chiarra went above and beyond her obligation in postponing her cancer treatment. While it was noble and heroic, it was not morally binding on her, and she would not have sinned in beginning her treatments while still pregnant, even taking into account the foreseen but unwished-for potential harm to the bambino (principle of double effect.)