I met Nino Baglieri for the first time in the spring of 1994 during a parish mission in Sicily. He was lying on his bed, completely paralyzed. I was immediately struck by the beauty of his gaze – two blue eyes that spoke of Heaven and a smile that was so serene that I desired to be like him. And yet Nino was not always like this. He was only seventeen years of age when he fell from scaffolding as he was painting a house. The fall resulted in the fracture of his spine and the terrible diagnosis – a complete paralysis of his whole body except his head. When he awoke from a coma, he very soon had to come to terms with his new reality, one which he would have to live with for the rest of his life, if you could even call it ‘life’ that which lay ahead of him. Nino did not accept his fate with peace, he became ever more closed, shutting out his friends in order to not have to feel the weight of their pity, and shutting out God, who did not do him the favor of letting him die.
What began for him was a long walk of Calvary that lasted for years, full of physical suffering, but above all moral suffering in which the only consolation was the love of hisn mother who looked after him untiringly, praying that her son could find a little peace in such agony. One day, the unexpected happened. A group of young men and women went to visit Nino together with a priest who was in the parish in occasion of a mission. The priest asked Nino if he could pray for him and Nino accepted. In that moment, Nino himself turned secretly to our Father in heaven and asked the grace of healing. After the prayer nothing seemed to have changed, but Nino’s heart was no longer the same. What began for him at that moment was an enthralling adventure – he asked to read the Bible, he wanted to learn how to write with his mouth, he started to correspond by letter with other people who suffered. He began a new life full of love for our Lord and for all others, who like him experience the cross, that same cross of Jesus that at times is so difficult to accept.
A cross is often an occasion of temptation instead of an occasion of grace. “Lead us not into temptation”…reads the prayer that Jesus taught us; the temptation to despair of the love of God when it seems that He has abandoned us. Thus, the question to ask our Lord is not: “Why Lord? Why me?” but rather: “How Lord? How can I live this trial in Your love and in Your grace?” In my experience of life and as a spiritual guide, I have seen how our Lord responds very rarely to our “whys” in the face of suffering and evil, but He always responds to our “how” to live better this suffering, to our cries for help. Jesus on the Cross too did not leave us a tract on the whys of suffering, but He left us an example of how to live it with the certainty that Love wins over all, even over death.
Nino was able to even celebrate the 25th anniversary of the date of his fall. To those who always asked a baffled “why”, he always responded candidly that if he had not fallen and remained paralyzed, he would have never encountered the Lord from up close. In his wisdom, Nino realized that this was most precious treasure of all and the highest goal that a man could have in his life.
The experience of suffering is allowed by the Lord not so that it can be for us an occasion of hindrance and fall, but so that it can bring us to a deeper abandonment in His love, in the awareness that without that love, we would be lost. It is in the crucible of purification that our hearts are tempered, as gold and silver in fire become precious metals admired by all. God does not “lead us into temptation”…the prayer of the Our Father, in this way, becomes a more heart-felt request, a cry of the heart, so that God does not let us succumb to temptation, and He may give us the light to see suffering as a possibility of communion with Jesus Crucified, and the strength to accept it when it is inevitable. Nino concluded his earthly adventure a few years ago, after months of great physical suffering; till the very end he was able to keep his beautiful smile, and it is like this that all remember him by. It is without a doubt the greatest miracle that he received from God, and that he leaves to us as a remembrance.
Entrust your sufferings to Our Lady asking her to help you say “yes” as she did.