|01-11-2007 - Traces, n. 10
The Truth of the “I”
Dear Giorgio: I experience dejection, not skepticism, because even though I have a new heart, even though I have within a spirit that carries me far from the past, this same past presents itself with such virulence that if it weren’t for the comfort of the continual Presence of He who protects me, having Him always at my side, I would be at a loss to know what choices to make. Jesus, with His continual Presence, enables me to live with constancy the choice He indicated to me, and even in the midst of all the wild tempests, He gives me the serenity that is needed in difficult moments. Without a doubt, I am continually being put to the test, something He perhaps didn’t want, but which is always useful to Him, each day more so, as I continually offer Him all my sacrifices. Drawing inspiration from the title of the last Meeting, “The Truth is the Destiny for Which We Have Been Made,” I see that everything ties together, even His will to put you to the test, because the truth, from the very beginning, was the one carried by Him; destiny is to be fulfilled and will be a destiny of love and beauty. This is so, even though my entire life has been spent in the midst of evil, in the midst of the most heinous crimes, because this is what He wanted, leaving man the freedom to act, even in doing wrong. But since there is only one destiny in life, the one He wants, at that point the truth will be determined, and I will be able to live with a new splendor. The dejection of not being able to cause the choices I’ve made to become truth is what makes me live worse… the truth that distinguishes me in this new man, a new man for whom you and all the others have done so much good toward my rebirth. […] It’s not true that nothing has changed. It seemed that there should be a radical change, but changes take the most tenuous forms. The authorities were going to move me to the isolation wing, with daytime solitary confinement, which would mean that I would be alone in a ground-floor zone that is very cold and damp, but then they opted to leave me where I was (but with the door always closed). The lesser of two evils–one is happy with the less restrictive solutions here, and we always have to be grateful. This is why I talked about dejection. But, as I already said, I see it all as a way His will continually puts me to the test, and I accept being able to demonstrate to Him that I will never try to send Him away from my side, because He has already done mighty works to protect me. […] I look forward to your next visit. In the meantime, a warm hug for Alberto and Fr. Carrón. Thank you for what you do. A warm hug for you too, with unchanging affection from your brother.
Bruno, Biella, Italy
It is Possible to Live This Way
Dear friends: I want to thank you for School of Community because it has made me realize how reductive my opinion of the Encounter was and how easily I reduce to “old hat” something that instead should throw my heart wide open. God came to me in an encounter with friends who had already been seized hold of by Him, and He continues to manifest Himself in this special place–but not only here. If Christ is truly everything in all circumstances, then we can encounter Him always, when and where He wants. Perhaps, I thought, the problem lies in the consciousness one has, if one is educated to recognize Him. After all, how many people didn’t recognize Jesus of Nazareth? Vittadini asked, “What happened to you today? Where did you see Him today?” My response was, “I haven’t the slightest idea,” with a sense of disappointment and sadness. Hey, am I living, or am I not living? So, this evening I tried to think back over the day. This morning, I went with a colleague to the room of one of our patients, an old man who could no longer care for himself, to wash him. After undressing and bathing him, I stopped to look at him. He had a tube in his nose, a tracheotomy, a catheter, an i.v., bed sores–there was certainly nothing beautiful about him; he was in need of everything. While I was looking at him, he opened his arms wide–what tenderness! He looked like a baby, or Jesus on the Cross; he had nothing left. And yet his gaze was sweet, grateful, and a Beauty showed through him that went beyond all this. “What is man, that you think of him?” I don’t think this is sentimentalism; rather, I think that this beauty in the sick is due to an objective Presence that manifests itself. Then I thought about the miracle of our unity in the hospital; we are all so different from each other, and yet our unity is so true and authentic. It’s something that moves me every time I stop and look at it, and every time it manifests itself more explicitly! This evening, I looked at my tired and grouchy husband, my children who were more “royal pains” than ever, the never-ending housework… and yet I had a sense of gratitude and infinite joy in my heart. How is this possible? Without Jesus, without the Sacrament, would it be possible to live this way?
We’d like to tell you about this summer in Mazara del Vallo. Everything began on the Feast Day of Saint Benedict, when we went to Mass in the cathedral. The parish priest there had studied at Catholic University in Milan and had been Fr. Giussani’s student, an experience that has left its mark, because a great fellow-feeling with the Movement is evident in his homilies and in the cordiality with which he treats us. Before Mass, we had reminded him that Saint Benedict is the Patron Saint of the CL Fraternity, and during the homily he spoke with great esteem of the work of Fr. Giussani and the Movement, and then asked us to sing one of our songs. After Mass, he made a proposal: he offered to entrust us with a church that was usually closed in the summer, so that we could open it for Vespers. We photocopied ten booklets with the Vespers, some songs, and a photograph of Fr. Giussani, and made a big poster for the Church entrance with the hours for Vespers and a Fraternity logo. Then we began. Every evening, we would go get the key from a sister in the convent. Right from the start, we got along well with her, and she asked us about the Movement, our experience, and our books. Evening after evening, she lingered to talk. We gave her Traces with the CD of Fr. Giussani and the three volumes of his Trilogy, which she brought to her Spiritual Exercises. When she returned, she told us that she had asked and obtained permission to complete her meditations with the text of the School of Community. That evening at the church, we found Angela and Francesca, sisters who had seen the poster and wanted to meet us. Angela’s daughter had joined the Movement and, having met her friends, they, too, wanted to know more about it. The encounter was moving because they were full of questions and wanted to understand. We introduced them to “our” nun and they decided to begin meeting to read some of Fr. Giussani’s texts. In the end, the parish priest asked us to do School of Community regularly next summer. The first thing that amazed us was that, during these months, everything happened surprisingly. Day after day we pursued Carrón’s challenge: “Will we have the courage to verify deep down whether the proposal of life that Christ offers us is able to respond, or will we remain forever halfway?”
Donatella and Maria Grazia, Italy
Dear Fr. Carrón: On September 30th, I reached retirement age. As that day approached, I felt a growing desire to thank the Lord for all these years of a working life that, in the midst of all its work-related or private ups and downs, provided me and my family with a more than dignified life. So, my wife Laura and I decided to dedicate several days in August to working as volunteers at the pre-Meeting in Rimini, me in the electrician’s squad (I’ve never worked as an electrician in my life, but I learned a lot!) and Laura in the food court sector. With this small gesture, I wanted to thank the Lord, albeit symbolically, for the many graces He has gratuitously given me in over 35 years of life in the Movement. But, you know, during these few days during which I wanted to offer something, I think I received much more than I gave: the morning prayer before beginning work, the friendship formed with other volunteers, the lunch breaks, and the dinner times together in the evening were all moments that repaid me abundantly for the little I could give. I hope that I can be a retiree-volunteer at next year’s Meeting, too!
Duilio, Arcore, Italy
We are three nurses from Monza University. This summer, we worked for three months in Uganda, an incredible experience, because we touched with our own hands the truth that what fulfills us is an Other. When we read Tarkovsky’s sentence [“You know it well: you can’t manage a thing; you’re tired; you can’t go on. And all at once you meet the gaze of someone in the crowd–a human gaze–and it’s as if you had drawn near to a hidden good. And everything suddenly becomes simpler,” from the film Andrei Rublëv] we felt that it was totally ours. As soon as we got to Uganda, we came up against a truly hard reality. In the hospital, we met patients with dire problems. In the face of so much misery, we felt an urgent question growing within: “Who are You, that You permit so much suffering and say You are its salvation?” Every day, this question became ever more anguishing and generated an unexpected greatness. In the pediatric ward one day, there was a child who had been having convulsions for hours, and there was no longer any chance that he would recover. We felt impotent, but it really is true that we are never alone; we just need to look around us. And so it happened that we met Charles, a nurse on that ward. Together, we baptized the child before he died. God manifested Himself and saved this condition through us, who are just poor creatures. At a certain point, we immersed ourselves in our days with difficulty. What did it mean for us that “life is decided by encounters. The personality of each of us blossoms and can be fully itself only in an encounter, that launches us into reality as protagonists”? One evening, we had dinner with Sasà, a friend of ours from the Movement, who provoked us by asking, “Are you happy about these days here?” He went on, “Look, the problem is not the circumstances, being in Italy or in Africa. It’s your relationship with Christ.” We started afresh with this judgment and no longer took anything for granted. It was clear that everything passes through a gaze that valorizes you. One day, one of us, Marta, was in the medicine ward when a man was admitted in very grave condition. After taking over an hour to clean him, the next day she found him dirty again. Her first thought was, “If his wife doesn’t even want to care for him, why should I?” So she continued her work, burdened by the situation, and forgot about that patient. At a certain point, the head nurse, Sister Mary, asked, “Marta, are you all right? You seem sad!” Marta didn’t say anything, but noticed Sister Mary’s gaze of attention and she thought, “Look how attentive she is to everything; she’s known me for just a week, and yet she sees that I’m in need.” So, full of this gaze, Marta returned to the patient and bathed him. Afterwards, the patient died, and it seemed as if everything had been pointless. But, once again, Sister Mary looked with that gaze when she said, “Nothing is in vain. Just think: he died clean, in a human way, and now he may be in Paradise.” We returned to the university full of this experience and certain that our human gaze is possible here, too, with our friends, and we ask for this at the beginning of each day.
Marta, Lucia, and Paola, Monza, Italy
Bearer of a Newness
This is a letter from Andrew, who lives in New Zealand, to John Kinder, who is in Australia. They “met” on the Internet four years ago
Dear John: Thank you so very, very much for the copies of Traces. You must know that they are invaluable for my formation and that I meditate upon them as a gift from God via you. They are, to paraphrase Fr. Giussani, a “help for the heart... a help so that I can walk before Christ.” Please know that you and your School of Community are in my prayers constantly. Well, as I mentioned to you at the time in my phone message, it was a great joy to see you, your family, and friends in the second issue of Traces 2006. My wife was fascinated too. It was a sudden encounter with Christianity in a new and novel way for me. In my hands were images and a sharing of experiences that has finally centered me. In an inexplicable way, I was attracted to the Movement, but out of a fear to commitment and a trepidation of limiting my horizons, I denied the fact that every issue of Traces has been a proposal to me from our Lord. Christ has asked me to remain fixed on Him and to recognize and to be faithful to the accuracy and experience of the Movement. Fr. Carrón puts it like this: “You are called into being.”. How many times I have denied our divine Master’s wonderful invitations! I am truly one of His prodigal sons, humbled by His invitations to me to begin again, not once a day but a hundred, a thousand times a day. Fr. Giussani tells me, “The Christian drama... happens in the relationship of the single person, God’s relationship with you; the rest derives from it” (notes from a meditation given by Giussani at the spiritual exercises for GS of Switzerland, November 1967). John, your community in Perth is mine here in Hamilton. Our agenda must be the same, to take this drama and make it impact on reality–no longer as an individual, but now in community with you, with CL, as “the road” to Christ, being points of reference for others in their rediscovery of a real humanity, with Christ and His Church at the center. As a consequence of these recent events, my life, despite its ups and downs, has a significance in a simplicity I thought it could never have. The best way to describe it is to quote Fr. Giussani again: “If the Christian adheres to his faith even minimally, he is truly a bearer of this newness. You are in an even more privileged position, because you have been called, you are called to carry this contribution of your goodwill, as an aid to your companions and your friends.” Pray to God for me please so that I can accept this invitation daily with humility and with love, certainty, and gladness. I know that God will give us wonders and graces, and of course struggles and adversity. Identity with the Movement comforts and helps me. Your friend always,
Dearest Fr. Carrón: I’m writing to you at the end of the vacation. In La Thuile, I have found again and experienced what is often missing in everyday life: the dimension of a people. At the Elisabetta Refuge in the high Val Veny, I lingered to watch from above the line of over 300 people winding down the trail: this is what we are, the fulfillment of Israel, His companionship, that of John Paul II, of Giussani, of Ratzinger…and what am I, if not one called to be part of this body? Less emphatically, I’ll say that I have encountered widows who have continued to follow Christ even though they are alone now (in good times and in bad), and mothers who’ve begun to smile again after the loss of a child. I’ve met people who face enormous health problems or grave disappointments with dignity. What I most want to say is that I have discovered that I am full of a bourgeois mentality, that mortal breach, that forma mentis that sees on the one hand life (with the good, the beautiful, the useful, the productive…) and, on the other, the trash of life, that is, the evil one does, the injustice, the death, the sickness…and these last things are not reality! This bourgeois schizophrenia not only makes us slip into nothingness and leaves us demoralized, but above all reduces to a nominalistic level words such as Christ, presence, destiny, and desire, as the Exercises reminded us. This bourgeois conception of life has already evacuated Christ, doesn’t need His salvation. A Christian can’t help but conceive of His presence even within contradictions and problems, but to the bourgeois mindset, the last thing that comes to mind in these situations is that He is pertinent! In this way, Christ will never become familiar to us. If we’re materially self-sufficient in our life (bourgeois), we immediately feel humiliated and scandalized by our weakness as soon as the going gets tough; since we can’t change things here, then He can’t change them either…and so the desire for the Infinite drops to zero. For the Christian, when we have problems with our relationships (see page 16 of the Fraternity Exercises booklet), Christ doesn’t resolve them for us, but He changes us, makes us different, fills our hearts. He liberates us from resentment against reality, that is, our sense that we are extraneous to our own circumstances. He dictates to us a change through these very circumstances.
for the Good
Until today, I was convinced that my life was under my control. I was wrong! Now I realize that I have always been guided by Someone. This Presence traces out the plan for each of us, shows us the way, assigns us tasks, observing our movements all our life long. I am certain of this, because if it weren’t so, given the events, I’d already be locked away in a psych ward. When I go to church, an emotion overwhelms me, something great fills me, making me feel sure of what I do and of how I do it. I wonder, how can I feel this sense of serenity after that experience of pain destroyed my world, distancing me, albeit temporarily, from my greatest love? Feelings of this kind in these conditions must be due to the work of Someone great, who supports us and accompanies us along the hard journey of life. However, the world of pain is something indomitable, something that when you least expect it hits you again, asking you thousands of questions that no human being can answer. “Only He can.” Jesus, why didn’t You find another way to enter into my life? With time, I began to understand the signs and the events, which in some way seem to speak to me. Perhaps these signs are little answers to grasp and translate into certainties. In any case, of one thing I’m sure: my “Angel” is always close to me, and I perceive his presence. Christ dwells in children, and when they go through moments of atrocious suffering He manifests Himself. Yes, I’ve seen it! I’ve seen it in that ward (oncology–hematology) where all the children face a heartless monster called cancer, something that makes us adults tremble, but that doesn’t worry them, our children. Christ holds each of them by the hand. The Church for me is the one place where I can find love and serenity.
Davide’s mother, Italy