“For a love that I always had inside”Silvia died at the age of 28 from cancer. She had got married just over a year ago. In between, she had begun helping sick women like herself. Here are the words of Fr. Ignacio Carbajosa during his homily at her funeral (Florence, March 1, 2023).
Dearest Matteo, dear parents of Silvia, Carla and Andrea, dearest siblings, Matteo, Cate and Tommy, dear grandfather Ovidio, dearest Letizia and nieces Beatrice and Matilde. Your Excellency, dear Giovanni. Dearest family and friends of Silvia and family.
It is striking to think that a year and a half ago we were in this same Basilica to celebrate Silvia and Matteo's wedding. And we were doing so with the same readings that we proclaimed today. That says so much about that marriage, which you, dear Matteo and Silvia, celebrated with all the awareness of the weight and value of life, matured from that journey of illness that was then believed to have been overcome. And it says so much about this funeral rite, celebrated as Silvia's final wedding to the One who created her and sustained her in being all these years. You were married in Christ; today you say goodbye in Christ. The awareness with which you were married makes it possible to live this moment beyond appearances. The memory of that gladness prompts you, dear Matteo and family, to look at the truth of what is happening today: the new and final marriage of Silvia, to which we are all called.
"God did not make death, and he does not delight in the destruction of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them; and the dominion of death is not on earth." I began my homily at your wedding a year and half ago with this same quote from the Book of Wisdom, which we proclaimed as the first reading. And we wondered how it was possible to make such a statement ("there is no destructive poison in them; and the dominion of death is not on earth") after the long line of dead that the pandemic had left behind and, especially for you, the experience of months in hospital.
Today, all the more so, more than one person could stand up or would like to stand up in the pews of this basilica to shout, "But how can you say that when a 28-year-old girl, just married, died of a cancer that made her suffer so much?" At this point, all of us here can only refer back to what our eyes have seen in these months, in recent days, in the last hours, namely the witness that Silvia herself, together with Matteo, gave of the value of the moment, of every gesture they made in the horizon of the good Destiny. "Our vocation is the present," you testified to me two months ago, now aware of the final goal. How greatly has this awareness of yours accompanied me! "It is useless to inhabit the future, within our plans, it is sad to take refuge in the past, in the memory of other times, only in the present is the relationship with the Mystery of God made flesh in Christ, the true lover of our life," I said to myself in these recent weeks, mindful of our last meeting.
Silvia herself wrote a few months earlier, "With my illness, the Mystery has made me realize that I am made for great things and that He gave me a heart to understand how to do them according to His plan and not mine. My design is limited and depends on circumstances (illness, virus, etc.), His can do everything – Jesus and the disciples testify to that – thus the awareness that in my life it is not at all up to me is what allows me to take a risk on my heart and thus on His design." The truth and consciousness of these words was revealed in these others addressed to Andrea, her father, after a dialogue with the doctor in which they "foresaw" what happened next: "I wanted to tell you that I am serene, obviously very sorrowful because I realize that Jesus wants me more and more in a form that I would never have imagined. However, I am His and therefore I can only trust."
On days like these there is no cheating. Everything comes out in the open. It is the time for realism: what is the value of the moment, my work, my love for my wife, husband, children? If we want to be realists, we have to ask ourselves: how is it possible to have a witness like the one Silvia and Matteo have communicated to us and continue to communicate to us? Those who wanted to stand up in the pews to cry out their scandal should reckon with Silvia herself and Matteo today. The pain thus becomes a question: how come?
This intersection between nature (with its contradictions, with the pain and scandal it brings us) and history (that impossible made possible that Silvia and Matteo witness to us) has a name in history: Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, who was put to death and rose again, and broke the chains of death for all of us. Only, I repeat, only within the horizon of this man who entered history, who inhabits our present, can we face the mystery of death and suffering. As witnessed by the woman in the Gospel "who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years and had spent all she had on physicians" and who touched Jesus’ garments.
Yesterday, as I contemplated the body of the beautiful Silvia, dressed as a princess for her last wedding, I thought of your dear Giacomo Leopardi. Few like Leopardi have experienced and sung the shock of reality, of nature, from the beauty of encountering his Silvia, to the scandal of the vanishing of the beloved face through death.
"You were such, who now are buried dust and skeleton. Placed motionless, helpless, above the earth and bone, mute, gazing at the flight of ages, stands the sole guardian of grief and memory, the image of lost beauty (...). So fate diminishes that image, that seemed to us a living vision of heaven Eternal mystery of our being!" (G. Leopardi, On a lovely lady’s image).
"When truth appeared, you [Silvia] fell, poor one, and with your hand, a frigid death, a naked tomb you showed me from afar” (G. Leopardi, To Silvia).
Dear Giacomo! Had you seen Matteo, Silvia's husband, her dear mom, Carla, who lost her daughter, her strong dad, Andrea, who becomes a child before his daughter, had you seen how they looked at dear Silvia, dressed like a princess! What you call fate is a good Mystery that showed its face in Jesus. That "form" of the beautiful Silvia that you sang about as "heaven's liveliest image" has been confirmed as such: Matteo can testify that Silvia was the most powerful sign of God's love in his life and so now he can look at (but do you realize we say things of the other world in this world?!) "the image of departed beauty" with an ultimate and unimaginable serenity and gladness.
Once again: only in the horizon of this man, Jesus of Nazareth, who entered into history, can we look with confidence, within the mystery of appearance, at death... But also the suffering that Silvia experienced during these years. That historical face, Jesus, suffered on the cross, bearing all the suffering of the world on his shoulders, from the physical to the moral, including all our evil that introduces, alas, evil into the world. But that suffering was but the dawn of His resurrection, without which our life would be sad. Mysteriously, Jesus wanted Silvia to participate in His cross for the sake of the world. Along with suffering, He also granted her, by the power of His resurrection, an amazing identification with His Person, so that Silvia could witness that name in the midst of her suffering. Thus we can put into Silvia's lips these words of Fr. Giussani, her master of life. Words that she now says to all of us:
"There is a relationship with the Mystery who makes all things, there is a relationship with the Mystery become flesh, become man, Jesus, that is immensely more human, more mine, more immediate, more tenacious, more tender, more unavoidable than the relationship with anyone else – with my mother, my father, my girlfriend, my wife, my children – with everyone and with everything” (Fr. Giussani, Generating Traces in the History of the World).
Dear Matteo, dear parents and siblings. Never forget these words that Silvia cries to the world today and that are the possibility of truly, intensely loving, and of looking at the face of loved ones who leave this world without the bitterness of those they do not know. Do not change the method. "From nature, terror of death, from grace courage" (St. Thomas Aquinas).
Silvia was fruitful with a fruitfulness beyond those eleven children she wanted to have. Look, Silvia, today, at how many children your yes to the mysterious form of fruitfulness Jesus asked of you has generated! St. Paul's Hymn to Charity, which Silvia wanted for her wedding, still resounds today as a testimony to the vocation of those who have encountered, in history, the Mystery made flesh in Jesus, that is, the vocation to love. Again in those words addressed to her father (which Matteo will read to you in their entirety at the end of the celebration) Silvia testifies to us about her vocation:
"If I look back on my whole life I realize that everything I did I did out of love, a love that I always had inside and that I had to give to others (even making mistakes at times but it was all attempts to respond to this task that I felt), and seeing the fruits of this makes me realize that my life had and has a meaning, to give this love."
A life spent for Christ, the Beloved of her life, of which Matteo was the powerful sign, spent in delivering that love to others. As you, Matteo, caught yourself spending your days in an other-worldly charity in the most minute care for Silvia. Charity is an unmistakable sign of the divine in time.
We all beg for such a life and death. Today is a day of celebration. A wedding day.
Florence, Santa Maria Novella, March 1, 2023