Radical Trust: Mary and Chiara

by | May 1, 2023 | Parenting, Prayer, Society, Spirituality

Envisioning Mary

In the past, I had a hard time connecting with Mary in prayer. She seemed distant, too pure and holy to approach. As a child, I already had a mother who loved me and prayed for me. Why would I ask for Mary’s intercession?

Even petitions were difficult for me. I didn’t know what to ask for and felt that I didn’t understand Mary. Jesus’ sacrifice stood in clear, intelligible contrast: He died for my sins. But His mother—what did she sacrifice? What should I ask her that wouldn’t be better addressed to Jesus Himself?

At this point, I hadn’t yet taken the time to imagine Mary as a real, living person: a humble, brave, and trusting young girl. I began to ponder the radical trust it must have taken for Mary to say “yes” to God—to accept His plan without hesitation. Mary’s trust demanded sacrifices: the shame of a pregnancy out of wedlock, the suffering of eventually watching her only son die on a cross. As a young girl, Mary couldn’t foresee every event of the next thirty-three years, but she trusted God enough to cast aside her own plans and say “yes.” She allowed Him to start working within her. When I began to comprehend Mary’s sacrifice, I started to see its contours in others, too.


Chiara’s Story

Specifically, I began noticing echoes of Mary’s trust in Chiara Corbella Petrillo, an extraordinary young Italian woman who carried two failed pregnancies to term and died in 2012 at age 28. She came from a well-off family, loved her faith and her husband, and was excited to become a mother. Imagine her devastation upon learning that her first baby girl suffered from serious defects that guaranteed death upon birth, if not before. Doctors and friends, even Catholics, encouraged her to abort. Why undergo the dangerous pregnancy when her baby was sure to die?

When she resisted this misguided “advice,” many of Chiara’s friends and family criticized her. Some even called her selfish. Abandoned by all but her closest friends, Chiara persisted with the pregnancy. She did not understand why God had given her this dying baby, but she trusted Him. She began to see that God had chosen her as a loving home for a soul to develop, even if only for nine months. Strengthened by this perspective, she began to unite her suffering to the suffering of Mary at the foot of the cross. Like Mary, she trusted that God intended goodness through the death of her child, even though she could only feel sorrow at present.

When this same story repeated itself in her second pregnancy, Chiara chose to meet the tragedy with joy. She loved her second child—a baby boy—for every moment of the nine months that she carried him, and for each of his thirty minutes in this world. And when during her third pregnancy she discovered that she herself was terminally ill, Chiara responded with remarkable grace.


Defying Earthly Logic

The beauty of Chiara’s trust, as of her mother Mary’s, is that neither of them made the logical decision. Neither the news of the Annunciation nor the decision to jeopardize one’s own life through a pregnancy aligns with the “logic” of the world. But Chiara trusted in God’s plan, knowing that He does not make mistakes. Her trust allowed her to carry two pure souls in her womb, to lovingly deliver them, and to send them baptized to Heaven, where she could be sure that they were interceding for her as she herself prepared to make her early journey to the Father. Chiara understood that God’s logic is love.

In trusting God completely, Chiara followed Mary’s example. To Mary, an ordinary young girl, the promises that she would become the mother of God and would herself be honored for generations could hardly have sounded like certainties. But though she did not fully understand God’s reasons, she trusted Him. And through this trust she became the mother of the living God, and through this trust she gave souls like Chiara’s the strength to rely on God’s merciful plan long after the world has given up.


Radical Trust

Radical trust is difficult. It requires a total surrender of personal ambition and a complete dependence on God. God’s plan does not seem logical by worldly standards—sometimes, to an onlooker, trusting in Him appears foolish. But paradoxically, trusting that God intends good is the only way to make sense of the world we live in. Earthly logic will fail us. It can’t explain why bad things happen to good people—why, for example, a beautiful young woman had to die of cancer at 28. Reasonable explanations disappoint, but acceptance and trust lead us to the cross. Dying to self and surrendering our plans to God will turn our sorrow to joy. Chiara understood this because Mary showed her.

Mary can show us too. I used to wonder what to ask Mary in prayer, but now I know: a deeper trust in God’s plan. We must allow ourselves to trust with her—to emulate the childlike certainty with which she accepted Gabriel’s message. Then we, like Chiara, may be sure that God is working for good.


Details about Chiara’s life are taken from her biography, Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy, by Cristiana Paccini and Simone Troisi.

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Elizabeth Sala

Elizabeth graduated from Hillsdale College in 2020 with a B.A. in Latin. She taught literature and composition at a classical school for two years before she became the Media Content Manager for Agape Catholic Ministries. In her free time she loves reading, baking, and redecorating the apartment that she shares with her husband in Denver, Colorado.

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