|01-04-2008 - Traces, n. 4
Dear Julián: I am a mother of four, with a part-time job. I spent years getting up in the morning and looking at my daily chores clenching my teeth and saying, “It’s okay… in spite of all this, Christ exists.” But “in spite of” is no life. Lately, by the grace of God, I am experiencing that Christ happens every moment. What surprises me most is precisely that I can become the instrument through which other people meet Christ. This is why I am sending you the letter that a friend of mine wrote to me:
“In the past, I led a very tranquil life as a member of my parish community. I had heard people speak of the Movement but, unfortunately, they would do so badly, using clichés. Then one day He decided for something to happen and I actually met the CL people. At the beginning, I was cautious and I didn’t want to get involved; then, I got to know their stories and I began to understand how their lives bear witness to the beauty of their faith. At a certain point, my life changed because those faces and those people became fascinating for me even in their chaotic daily lives, and I started to be intrigued by the possibility of sharing and understanding that which is among them, and why they possess something different. It was like a small woodworm; it almost seemed like envy, but then I understood that it was, indeed, a desire. Little by little, I started to live this experience, through struggles and, sometimes, disappointments, but it is all valid because among these people I could see not only words but witnesses, events. His words became concrete.
Children, home, work, family… and still something was missing. My small group of mothers was beautiful, but it was not enough. Then something else happened. My husband decided to go to the retreat for the second time (the previous year seemed forgotten, but that wasn’t the case). A familiar face, yours, in its purity, invited him to School of Community, and our life changed because he seriously committed to it. He started to live a deeply personal experience–his own faith, his own meetings, not mine or something lived vicariously through me. He started to understand my desire to join in and be ever more present, and from that day forward our life changed. It is still changing and is very beautiful. We now chat and exchange points of view; sometimes we talk about our School of Community meetings, we pray together at the table, and our love-filled marriage is transformed into something more. This experience of living a new life together fills my heart to the brim and gives me great joy every day. I rediscovered the beauty of prayer, of recognizing that He is always present, that He knew and He made me walk this path through so many events and faces. Now, like never before, the concreteness of the faith witnessed by those I met is changing me.”
Chiara, Brugherio, Italy
A Quarter of a Century
I am on the verge of turning eighty, which is a good observation point from which to survey the landscape of the many years gone by. Sometimes, the journey has been easy; other times, not. It has been studded with events–some pleasant, some not–and with unexpected encounters that have put me on paths different from the ones I was used to. For a quarter of a century, I have been having interesting experiences with young men of the Movement, men gifted with a great and uncommon love for life, willing to help society in various ways. I am the same age as their parents; therefore, I am regarded as one in possession of “something more,” but this is not the case because I am surrounded by young men “who know more than I do,” and I am sorry I did not meet them sooner. About twenty years ago, we founded a social cooperative whose goal is to help disabled people fit into the working world. It is a satisfying daily commitment, one of giving joy to people and obtaining our own happiness solely from this very joy. With these few lines (from a simple old man), I am asking myself what the meaning of this beautiful story is, and I’ll try to give an answer or to express a judgment: It isn’t simply the further confirmation of a belonging, but the vision of the radiant beauty of faith, from which one can gain more fervor and conviction, and even positivity. Thank you, CL friends!
Fino, Paullo, Italy
a Study Group
We publish here a high school senior’s contribution to the “Education Emergency” conference, organized by a web of associations of volunteers in the Province of Ravenna, Italy.
Since my time at the “Polaris” study center will come to an end when I graduate, my friends of the association told me that I can’t leave without recounting the years I spent with them. Our first encounter happened a few years back. My music teacher invited me to a vacation in Val D’Aosta, and I did not let the opportunity of spending a week far from my family (and therefore to be independent and “free”), and of meeting new people, pass me by. There, I met a few people who have marked my life. Marina, one of the association members, invited me once I was back from the vacation to attend one of the study centers run by the “Friends of Enzo” association. More than for help with my studies, I decided to participate just to keep in touch with some of the kids I had met on the vacation. Initially, I would show up only to spend time with my friends, because I did not think studying was important or interesting, but as I grew and matured something inside of me changed. I could see that these people really cared about me, and they pursued me even though I wasn’t a model student. They were giving me that “something” that made me commit to studying, even when I could not understand the reason for doing it and wanted to do something else. This “something” still helps me face the circumstances and the problems of my daily life, and pushes me to think over each one of my actions and to see a value in each one of my efforts, so much so that, while my time was fragmented like a puzzle before, now I am at peace because I know that I am not alone. Now that I am a senior, I see the “Polaris” study center as a place where I can focus on my studies, but what fills me with awe and binds me even more closely to the association is that there is always someone who doesn’t stop caring about me once the center closes in the evening. For this reason, come graduation, my relationship with my friends of the association will not come to an end. I trust them. I love having fun and staying up late; I am regularly late for school, etc., but now if I skip a test, if I show up unprepared, or if I am doing poorly, I feel uneasy, not just because I understand that I am the one who ends up paying for it, but also because certain faces pop into my head and I am provoked to hang in there and to try to live like them. I believe kids today need this kind of relationship; they need to be looked at this way. Many times I asked myself: Why do they keep calling me? Why does Stefano care about me even after the center closes, when he doesn’t have to? This was my question at the beginning and it is still my question now, except that over time something has changed. I am not afraid of those who tell me that in order to attend college I have to be careful and chose a major that gives me some real prospects. I am afraid when people look at my choice as if it were a matter of life or death. I am not afraid of the possible disappointment that I face in a friendship that I considered perfect, but I am afraid when people tell me that I can’t trust anybody. There is a way of living that makes you want to delve into everything, and there is a vast world of clichés that instead makes you skeptical, cautious, and lonely.
Filling the Void
I am almost 39, a farmer, and nine years ago I married a wonderful woman who gave me three children and the possibility to stop being a perennial adolescent. I was an only child until I turned seven, and I was spoiled rotten by a mother who was at my complete disposal, while my father, who was always overshadowed by my grandfather, was busy working. Let me underline that I do not harbor resentment toward my parents; they did their best. An introverted, lonely, and shy child, I quickly grew to be an insolent, extroverted scoundrel. As I began to go out, I felt I was finally answering my subconscious questions: “Who am I? Where am I going? How much am I worth?” I had a huge void that needed to be filled and I decided that I had to be “number one” in everything! But I did not have either the knowledge or the tools I needed to cry out and make the world take notice of me… but I did it anyway! Then, when I was around fifteen years old, with a bunch of friends I would smoke pot, smash windows, overturn small cars, etc.… and I was the best in every one of those “specialties.” That was my cry! When I turned nineteen, I started snorting heroin, and shortly after that a “friend” gave me my first fix, just to give it a try. My resolution not to get stuck was very short lived. As a result, I started asking for money, stealing, dealing hashish, getting involved in accidents, finding myself with a knife to my throat, and watching some kids my age die. But on a winter night, after a crazy drug-induced run, exhausted, I fell to the ground and I said these words: “Oh God, don’t let me die this way!” It was the first time I prayed, and from that night on, my life started changing.
I decided to stop kidding myself and the social worker that my parents had contacted. He found a rehab community in Pesaro, and after a few interviews I entered it on April 9, 1992. Silvio, the director, and a number of the assistants belonged to the CL Movement, which made me dislike them even more. But after the first months I realized that they really cared for me, that they treated me as a person and not as a junkie, that they listened to my cry, that my questions were starting to find the hint of an answer, and that my need for beauty and love was the same need they had. I could see my true self emerge for what it really was. I began to feel affection for an assistant or a friend, and pain and anger during a dark period; happiness for a leave that went well, peace in going to Mass to pray, and joy for a new responsibility, and all this was for me an occasion of newness and awe, as well as for fear of the future. In my life, I had an extraordinary experience: God granted me the grace to be born again at 23 years of age. One of the assistants once told us: “You have to slowly come to love the reason that induced you to need the rehab community.” She was right because three children, a wife, and some friends who love me are not enough… I still have that void in the middle of my chest. Therefore, I have to love the reason that compels me to need something infinite. The problem is that I am not able to do it on my own; I always try to be self-sufficient. But, thank God, the positive reality I live and some good friends never let me be!
Gabriele, Forlì, Italy
“La Strada” in Mexico
This past summer, I found myself singing along to Claudio Chieffo’s “È bella la strada” with a group of nearly 80 young workers and students of Mexico. Together, we were attending a retreat of the Movement led by Father Julián de la Morena, FSCB, in the setting of Tepoztlán. The words of this well-known tune rang true for me in a profound, new way. Although I was living thousands of miles away from my home in New Jersey, I felt the sense of being truly home in the Church through the many new friends I met.
Two weeks prior to this retreat, I came to Mexico alone. Yet, before I left, because of my desire to continue attending the School of Community, I contacted the National Secretary of Communion and Liberation in Mexico City through the Internet to explain that I am a diocesan seminarian sent by my bishop to study Spanish for two months in Cuernavaca.
When I arrived that first night, I was impressed by the warm welcome and hospitality extended to me, a stranger in a foreign land. In a short time, I felt like I had been reunited with old friends or family members. Throughout my stay in Mexico, Paco, Lilia, and other friends invited me to an annual CL retreat, meals, and various gatherings with the community. I shall be forever grateful to my brothers and sisters in Mexico for being both friends and great witnesses to me.
Truly, I encountered a “Christian community that seeks to live resolutely in the name of Christ.” Through this reality, I encountered the Risen Christ alive and active in the world today. For my part, in other words, I find my spiritual “home” in Jesus Christ through the life we share as His Body, the Church. I can see more clearly how Christ continues to call each of us to live our existence intensely. In essence, all of human life becomes a great adventure when we live with a consciousness of our friendship in Christ.
Fortunately, Christ takes the initiative. Christ comes to seek us and invites us to share in the abundant life that only He can give us. Thus, I reiterate the theme of our retreat with profound conviction: “Christ draws me to Himself; how great is His beauty!”
John A. Rossi, Mexico
School of Community
Dearest Father Julián: When we started the new School of Community, I asked myself what newness could emerge from it. After many years of School of Community with my small group, which seemed more and more sterile, I knew there must be a possibility for newness for me. I kept doing School of Community impatiently waiting for something, but also with the certainty that encounter was meant for everybody. Therefore, I tried once again to invite some of my colleagues, but it proved useless, and I told myself that stirring somebody who has long censured his every desire would be impossible. I talked about it with a friend and colleague of mine, but we could not find a solution. Then something happened:
At the Fraternity Lenten Retreat the priest reported an answer of yours to the question: “How can I remember Christ at work?” Your answer was: “How can you work without remembering Christ?” I had never fully grasped the depth of your answer before. Going back home from the retreat, in the car with a friend, we started discussing it. We had always been confronted by two problems: the first was the need to work well and to “safeguard” the relationships with our colleagues; the second was the need to increase the missionary dimension of our School of Community. There was only one way for these two aspects to emerge in their true nature: remembering Christ at work, which means recognizing the Presence as it presented itself at the office, between the two of us. We possessed the most adequate tool to help this happen: School of Community. So we decided to have a meeting during lunch break on Thursdays. We asked for a room, we made some copies of the text, and we started inviting our colleagues. On the first Thursday, I brought sandwiches and drinks. There were four people: myself, my friend, one of our colleagues, and the manager of another department. We read and worked on the text. At the end, we scheduled another meeting for the following Thursday, thus giving rise to an
un-hoped-for faithfulness. That encounter has begun to change the reality of my work because it has started to change me. It made it enormously easier for me to discover the aim of my work. Then, I didn’t have the “problem” of building relationships with my colleagues or the “problem” of mission–a renewed esteem, an ability to collaborate, and the end of complaining were generated by the overwhelming experience of the truth that we have.
Fabrizio, Monte San Savino, Italy
“I Don’t Want
to Lose This”
Dearest Father Carrón: My mother has been sick for many years now and is in a nursing home. I never fully got used to her circumstances, to visiting her, and to facing her suffering, along with mine and that of other people. In this instance, the support I got from the Movement has become more concrete through some of the meetings organized by the Welcoming Families Association that, in time, educated me to go deep into the desire for a greater closeness with those who, like me, have to live the struggle of being with their loved ones as they gradually lose their abilities. Two years ago, I met two daughters who did not hide the pain of having to put their mother in a nursing home. We started keeping each other company, making our afternoons more enjoyable, and getting to know each other a little better. One of them became very interested in CL. She decided to read the three books on the history of the Movement and last year she agreed to attend the adult retreat. In October, her mother passed away, and the way she included me in her painful mourning was very beautiful. We are still in touch. I invited her to the Mass at the Duomo that the Cardinal celebrated, and when she called to thank me, she asked me to keep her informed about all the upcoming CL meetings because, she said, “I don’t want to lose this thing.” She asked me about the next retreat, but May seemed too far away. But then she attended a presentation of the book, Is It Possible to Live This Way? Her enthusiasm, so transparent and simple, moves me every time I talk to her, and I thank God for it. I am very struck by this desire of hers of “not losing” that which sometimes I risk to live as “too many things to do.” I picked up again the booklet of the CLU Retreat and I read: “He doesn’t follow Him out of moralism: it is because he doesn’t want to lose Him!” [Referring to the blind man who adhered to Jesus.] I felt these words of yours as truer and more touching because they were spoken, with consuming passion, by this new friend of mine–friend, that is, witness.
An Insistent Cry
Dearest Father Julián: About a month ago, we discovered that our second child, ten-year-old Bartolomeo, has malignant lymphoma. One can either welcome such news with resignation or as the opportunity to increase one’s faith–a faith that, for us, coincided with an insistent cry to Jesus and our fraternal friends to help us not so much to see the reason for what was happening, but to see His presence clearly. After a day spent taking tests, Bartolomeo asked, “Mom, do you think I am bad?” I asked him why. He said, “Because Jesus made this disease happen to me.” I instinctively asked him, “Do you really believe that Jesus, who has been a child, could hate you, who are a child?” The results of the latest tests give some hope for the future. Many people let us feel their closeness and prayer, but it seems that the tension and the involvement in our relationships are destined to lose steam as soon as–as in our case–we register an improvement in the circumstances. But we wouldn’t want what we have lived through, and still experience, to strengthen a position according to which–as you reminded us in What are you looking for?–correspondence is synonymous with success. The events of these weeks help us understand the importance of the witness, as Father Giussani says at the beginning of the new School of Community. The witness is in fact he who introduces us to the Mystery, who accompanies us in the relationship with Him; he does not substitute himself for us and doesn’t want to be a mediator between us and Jesus, nor does he deprive us of the adventure of getting to know Him.
Alceste and Anna, Rovereto, Italy