Do you ever look around at all the actresses, singers, athletes, and reality stars and wonder why you can’t be famous like them? Maybe you pray at night that you’ll get “discovered” on YouTube. Or maybe you want to get famous spreading God’s word. That can’t be bad, can it? After all, can’t you do more for him as a celebrity than as an average person?
To answer that question, I think a story is in order.
Who Was Chiara?
Once upon a time, in 1971 (yeah, not that long ago!), in Sassello, Italy a girl named Chiara Luce was born. She was an average girl who liked to sing and play tennis. She even failed math one year. She never did anything “big” like found a hospital or religious order, but she went to Church regularly and tried to love God and live the Gospel in her life.
For instance, one day when she was little her mother asked her to clear the table, but Chiara Luce refused and left the room. She soon came back, though, saying, “How does that story from the Gospel go about the father who asks his son to go to the vineyard… Mommy, help me put my apron on” (Matthew 21:28-31). She knew it was important to do the will of God, even when you don’t want to.
As she grew up she liked to hang out with her friends, and tried to share the Gospel with them, she explained, “by the way I listen to them, by the way I dress and above all, by the way I love them.”
When she was 17 a sharp pain in her shoulder was diagnosed as osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer. The prognosis was grim and Chiara Luce struggled to say “yes” to this will of God for her, but she did. Each time a new, painful treatment was performed she would say, “For you, Jesus; if you want it, I want it too!”
Love and Suffering
After two years and the loss of the use of her legs it became clear that Chiara Luce wouldn’t survive. Despite her pain she refused morphine so that she could remain lucid and offer all her suffering up to Jesus. She encouraged her parents to go out to dinner together, trying to prepare them for life after her death. Paralyzed in her bed, she kept loving.
In October 1990, Chiara Luce died at home. But her story doesn’t end there.
People became so inspired by the life and holiness of this “average” girl that her bishop opened the cause for her sainthood. In September 2010 she was declared “Blessed” (or one step away from becoming a saint) at a ceremony attended by over 25,000 people from 57 countries. Not bad for a small-town girl who never sought fame.
Fame is Fleeting
Celebrities have to constantly work to reinvent themselves so that people will pay attention to them. In a few years all of the celebrities making news today will be nothing more than trivia questions on Jeopardy.
And fame from spreading God’s word? Most Catholic speakers didn’t seek out to make a name for themselves, they just did a good job at explaining the Bible to people, or writing songs, or encouraging people to go to Mass. Besides, “making it big” comes with trials of its own. Being famous means you have a greater temptation to pride, as you slowly stop thinking about what God wants and start doing only what you want. Well-known Catholic speakers have fallen prey to this, and abandoned their role in the Church.
In the Magnificat, Mary sings that God “has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52).
Chiara Luce’s life shows us that God doesn’t need us to be famous in order to use our lives for His purpose. It isn’t about us, it’s about God. What lasts isn’t earthly success, but doing God’s will, loving Him, and loving our neighbors.
So every time I start dreaming of a glamorous Hollywood lifestyle or fame in the Catholic world I think of Chiara Luce. Then I pray to God for the grace to do His will, and that if people do remember my name someday, it’s because of how I loved Him.