Last week, my homily resembled ‘damage control.’ I had to “contextualise” one of the readings — also known as spin.
If you were at Mass, you might recall hearing St Paul warn against marriage. Celibates, he argued, are free to serve the Lord. But married people are preoccupied by worldly worries, and they’re obliged to please their spouse at the expense of God.
In the 2,000 years since, the Church has said a whole lot more about the goodness of marriage, and that includes Paul himself! A few years later he described marriage as “a great sacrament” (or mystery), which both illustrates, and can be modelled on, Christ’s love for the Church. Devotion to one’s spouse doesn’t have to detract from God; it can be a means to worship God, and witness to the Lord’s love.
I like to think Paul was impacted by the example of the Church’s first generation of married couples. The same thing happens today. A priest friend and I often swap our homily notes, and in response to my homily last week, Fr Michael alerted me to the heroic example of Chiara and Enrico Corbella.
This young couple lost their two oldest children to a congenital condition which reduced their life span to half an hour. Those who can spare 20 minutes can watch Chiara tell the story of her first pregnancy. It’s a moving account of joy, sorrow, prayer and supernatural outlook:
Chiara and Enrico’s third child was born safe and sound. But tragically, Chiara was diagnosed with terminal cancer during the pregnancy, and died about twelve months after Francesco’s birth.
The letter Chiara and Enrico wrote Francesco on his first birthday is an inspiring and credible lesson in holiness:
Today we celebrate your first birthday, and we were asking ourselves what we can give you that will last through the years. So we have decided to write you a letter. You have been a tremendous gift to us in our lives because you have helped us to look beyond our human limits. When the doctors wanted to scare us, your life that was so fragile gave us the strength to go forward.
For what little we have learned during these years, we can tell you only that love is the centre of our lives, because we are born from an act of love, we live for love and to be loved, and we die to know the true love of God. The goal of our life is to love and to be loved, always ready to learn how to love the others as only God can teach you. Love consumes you, but it is beautiful to die consumed, exactly like a candle that goes out only when it has reached its goal.
Anything that you do in life will make sense only if you look at it in view of eternal life. If you are truly loving, you will realize this from the fact that nothing belongs to you, because everything is a gift. As St Francis says, “The opposite of love is possession.” We loved your brother and sister — Maria and Davide — and we love you, knowing that none of you are ours, that none of you were for us. And this is how it should be for everything in life. Nothing that you have ever belongs to you, because it is a gift that God gives you so that you can make it bear fruit.
Never be discouraged dear son. God never takes anything away. And if He seems to take away, it is because He wants to give you so much more. Thanks to Maria and Davide, we are even more in love with eternal life and we have stopped fearing death. God has taken from us only in order to give us a heart that is bigger and more open to welcome eternity already in this life.
In Assisi, we fell in love with the joy of the friars that live believing in God’s providence. So we ask the Lord for the grace to believe in this providence that they spoke of — to believe in this Father that truly does not make you lack anything. Brother Veto helped us on this journey in believing in this promise. We got married without anything, but we put God in first place and believed in the love that He asked us to show, taking a big leap. We have never been disappointed. We have always had a house and much more than we have ever needed.
Your name is Francesco because St Francis changed our lives, and we hope that he can be an example also for you. It’s beautiful to have examples of lives that remind you that you can expect the greatest joy already on this earth, with God as our guide. We know that you are special and that you have a great mission. The Lord has wanted you from eternity, and He will show you the road to follow if you open your heart. Trust Him. It is worth the while.
Mamma e Papa.
It is beautiful to have living reminders of the promises God makes us. Therein lies the reason and the power of celibacy for the kingdom, lived with love and generosity. But marriage, too, can serve as a great witness, as Chiara and Enrico show us.