|01-09-2008 - Traces, n. 8
“If I Go Away
from This Place…”
About a year ago, I started a School of Community group with five friends of mine. By the end of this first year, our Thursday meeting was attended by more than fifty people. We then decided to propose a vacation in Paestum to all these new friends. Unexpectedly, 120 people signed up. At the end of the three days, we had an assembly. Gerardo, who spent many years in Albania to build a factory that was later turned into a shelter because of the war, broke the ice: “For sixty years, I lived faith as a limitation to my freedom. Then I met you. You are free men. I immediately objected: ‘But I would like to see God.’ You did not answer with words, you just sang for me the Ballad of the Old Man (old, just like me): ‘His face is the one you have, the very face you have.’ Finally, God had a human face.” Antonio, a truck driver who got to the vacation after spending the whole night at the wheel, said, “I’m happy that some friends pushed me to attend. I decided to come and I am thankful, and not only for these days. Tomorrow I have to go back to work, but I know now that what happened here is for real and belongs to me, and I can face life because it happens again.” Mercedes, a Spanish lady we met a few months ago, said, “I don’t understand much, maybe because of the language barrier, but there is no doubt about one thing: when we have our meeting on Thursday, I leave everything to attend, because if I go away from this place, where can I go?” At the end, Tony, a factory worker, approached the mike and confessed: “I am an atheist! When I was fifteen, I left home to look for a job in Germany. Before I left, I was an altar server and I was full of questions, but I soon became an atheist. In Germany, I encountered many religions and I came to the conclusion that faith was for those who were afraid to die. Now that I have met you, I don’t know if I am an atheist anymore, but I know for sure that there is someone who can answer my questions.” We invited everybody to the presentation of the book Is It Possible to Live This Way? in Salerno. Nicola, a factory worker, wrote us: “The encounter with this companionship has changed many things, primarily the way I face everyday life–work, my friends, free time. Even the relationship with my wife (whom I have always loved) is different now: it is freer and truer. Writing these lines would have been unthinkable just a few months ago. I have never spoken like this, not even to my mother and father, but I am doing it with you. What do I take home with me? I certainly carry your faces, your stories, and your friendship inside me. I think that Christ has chosen a companionship of men to make Himself known, and I am on a good path, surely the best I’ve ever been on. Now, when I get up at 4:30 in the morning to go to the factory, instead of cursing, I thank God for giving me this friendship.” Day after day we are discovering more and more that we don’t need to add anything to what Christ generates among us. All we need is eyes to see and a heart to recognize.
Roberto and friends, San Severino, Italy
A Renewed Hope
Recently in Boston, the entire CL community was invited to meet Louisa, a neuropsychiatrist and school administrator from Italy, to share our experiences of parenting and concerns for the education and lives of our children. There are many questions that most parents grapple with concerning children here in the United States. I myself, the mother of three young children, often experience a lack of certainty when it comes to questions of parenting, discipline, and education. Louisa was able to share her experience with us and answer many of our questions. She spoke of children in a way that looked at their reason, their heart, and their freedom. Louisa explained that the method of raising children is no different than the method that the Movement proposes. The child follows because his parents stay with him. Even if it is difficult, he will continue to follow. If, as parents, we become overwhelmed with our concerns about the functioning of the child, we will lose our way. She spoke of parents as the custodians of the good of the destiny of their children. As the evening drew to a close, I was filled with a renewed sense of hope and certainty. This evening was an event for me to re-experience the gratitude for my friends who have helped me to be able to look at my children in a new way. Once again, the Movement has helped me to grow in certainty of the life that I live. More and more, I have come to realize that, as a mother, although I may not have all the answers, I have the method, I have a road, and I have a place where I am loved–this is what I am able to offer my children. And this is all that I need.
Amy Hurteau, New Bedford, Massachusetts
Dear Julián: My husband Alberto died on July 30th. He died during the night, surrounded by Michele, Mauro, Marisa and Guido, Giovanni and Nora, Chiara, my sister and Stefano, and by me. Our older sons were at the CLU vacation, while our third son, Massimo, had returned from Australia just in time to say goodbye. Alberto was a doctor: he was fully aware of his disease, and he knew everything of the nothingness he was facing. But the experience I was confronted with during the lengthy duration of his illness–even more clearly toward the end, with the worsening of his condition–has been his simple and yet unwavering certainty of the good destiny in store for him. He once told me, “We really need to ask for everything and be thankful for everything.” Going to Father Gius’s tomb, during one of the periods in between hospitalizations, he fearlessly told me that he felt protected, and that he experienced the hundredfold within this protection. He added, “If one in such a sorry state as me can see the hundredfold, it means that it really exists.” During this time, he had a deep and total attachment to Father Giussani. He said, “I feel him near, because every time I am in a dead-end situation, he pulls me out of it.” The Saturday before his death, he told our daughter Irene, whom he had heard talking about his health condition to a friend, that she was too pessimistic, and that he felt great, much to his surprise. He was at peace, as he said to Marisa and Massimo, when she told him how angry she would have been in his circumstances. Every now and then I would read to him from the Book of Hours. I remember a couple of his comments: “‘Walk through Zion, walk all around it; count the number of its towers.’ You see, we too can be admired for what God operated through us. We too, looking at our children and our story, can see the walls of Jerusalem and count its towers.” About the Benedictus, he once told me that that was exactly what we were doing, that is, “to serve God in holiness and justice all the days of our life in His presence.” Alberto was tenaciously attached to life till the end; he loved us tenderly and was fully determined to stay with us for the time that God would give him. The peace of mind of his last days was rooted in the fact that everything was given to him, and that he did not have any regrets, because he had enjoyed and still enjoyed everything. During his last day, when, through an unexpected grace, Father Franco gave him Extreme Unction, he said he could see a great evil closing in, along with clear signs of the salvation that God prepares for those who are His own. “Death, where is your sting?” he repeated several times, almost to himself, with a profound, firm, and real questioning. He gave up his spirit to God, without a quiver, saying “yes” with all his being. Many times we had prayed together using the words that Father Giussani had given Father Giorgio during his illness: “In Your hands Lord I put my spirit. God of truth You have redeemed me. I entrust my spirit to You.” That’s what happened. I thank God who, while taking Alberto to Him, gave me and my children a potent sign of His redeeming tenderness.
Lorenza, Milan, Italy
Change of Plans
I moved to Montreal to attend McGill for college after living in small-town suburban Jersey for the majority of my life. Before coming to Montreal, my senior year in NJ was a mix of emotions. My faith had always been a big part of my life, and I was involved with the Church. However, I lost three friends over the course of the year, and their deaths haunted me, causing me to be shaken from my faith, questioning God for their sudden disappearance from my life. It was hard to remain committed to my Catholic life after moving to a strange city, away from all that was familiar and comfortable. Luckily, a girl down the hall, Francesca, was also Catholic. We started going to church together, and it became a steady constant in my life. She joined the Movement our first year. She kept asking me, begging me, to come to more meetings, but I just put it off, saying I had other commitments and not enough time. I was choosing to ignore a part of my heart. My Christian experience needed a jumpstart, and that invitation from Fran, again and again, was my call to explore my faith in a different manner, and I finally decided to try it. As the weeks passed, I began to grow in friendship with the people I met at CL. School of Community every week was a challenge, sometimes bringing clarity, and other times muddying my thoughts. Despite my confusion at times, I was writing home to my friends about these new people I had met in the Movement, new friends who continually allow me to center my life and push me to judge my experiences… For the first time in a long time, a void had been filled in my heart and mind. I was able to finally live with recognition of Christ in the everyday, and not just on Sunday during Mass.
Sometime in early November, I had a conversation with a professor, Christophe, after class, during which I was literally in tears, begging myself to understand this truth that was in front of me. I needed him to explain it in a way that would make sense. He used such a reasonable, rational method–the method of Giussani. There was a call, a proposal of a truth so real and relevant to my very nature, that I was compelled to explore it further. He explained the need for an encounter with something outside of oneself. I needed to verify Christ’s presence by experiencing it in the real world. To explain the impact that the community has had on my life, I’ll give the example of Ecuador.
Before I met the Movement, I had planned to study and work abroad in Ecuador for the entirety of my junior year. In December, when I needed to make a final decision about my plans for the following year, I confronted my parents with my doubts and worries, which had been brewing since November. I could no longer deny that, this dream and goal that seemed within reach was suddenly slipping away from me.By meeting the Movement, and deciding to stay, I was giving up a dream I had worked toward since high school. My parents and best friends from home were dumbfounded, and confused. I cannot convey the totality of my experience with the Movement through an e-mail or a conversation, and I struggle to allow my friends and family into this beauty that has been shown to me. I asked my family to travel to Montreal for Good Friday and the Way of the Cross. It truly was incredible, and my family was able to experience first hand what I had been feeling for the past couple months. I think, for the first time, they could see something great, something that could only be communicated by “living the experience,” as Giussani emphasizes.
By staying, I get to tackle what I’ve met, confront the challenges, and really work to accept what has been given to me, to try and get the most out of the next two years here. Although I have potentially postponed my trip to South America for years to come, my decision to stay outweighs my reasons to go, highlighting a twist of events that I could never have imagined.
CL allows me to be Catholic, but to also live fully and freely in my own humanity. Reliance on experience (with the necessary judgment and verification) allows me to have a relationship with Christ on earth through the Body of Christ, the community, the unity of His people. When we gather together, we are able to meet Him in the flesh.
Tierney, Montreal, Canada
A Journey of Faith
Dear Julián: I started attending School of Community just a few months ago, after 25 years spent far from the Church and faith, with the exception of a few “traces.” Father Giussani pinpointed the causes of that estrangement: for many of us the relationship between man and God is just empty words. Those “traces” were but the pieces of a puzzle that I could not see in its entirety, thus letting my life unfold in utter agnosticism, convinced as I was that through reason I could explain everything, as well as control and dominate my life–up until my daughter’s death, last January. The “traces” suddenly fell into place. The veil that had prevented me from recognizing them for what they actually were (that is, the expression of the Mystery in reality) had been abruptly torn. The smile of a child I came across on the street, my marriage, my friendship with people in the Movement, the birth of my daughter, and the death of the other one–it was impossible not to recognize the Mystery at work in all these events. My instinct would have led me to give in to despair, anger, resignation, pity, or even to cursing God. My reason, instead, was able to put together the puzzle made up of the traces of the Mystery surrounding me and making Himself manifest in my life. It pushed me to face that event like a man, supporting my wife and our families,
re-discovering values and a closeness that I ran the risk of losing, because I took them for granted. My reason also wanted me to go to the bottom of the intuitions and the thoughts that event had provoked. Then my freedom led me to choose to get back into the game at 36, and to start attending School of Community… Nobody coerced me; it was the natural consequence of using my reason correctly. I could have done otherwise–my life would have gone on anyway. It has been a free choice, dictated by reason and by the awareness that reason itself was leading me toward what–on account of laziness, distraction, self-sufficiency or pride–I had always tried to avoid: faith. I don’t know how to pray or sing, I barely know the Our Father and the Hail Mary, and I don’t know the Gospels, but everything I have heard and lived through in these months of School of Community and at the Exercises has been extraordinary. It has been so to the eyes of reason, and this is what persuades me of the goodness of my (free) choice. Thanks to this, I started a journey of faith that has put me once again in a relationship with Jesus, reality, men, and the Infinite.
Sticking to Reality
The GS vacation was a powerful manifestation of the newness that has invested my life this past year, making me taste once again the correspondence with what I have encountered in the Movement, which I have remained attached to on a path that I can clearly see as drawn by the Mystery. At times, I had been dangerously close to falling into nothingness, and lately I thought I had found some balance, but (thank God) the Mystery unhinged my modus vivendi–a Christian one, of course!–in favor of something that I perceive as the best. In the past, I had been planning the GS vacation, together with other teachers, trying to create an itinerary that would make something happen. There was always something missing, and we had to add initiative to initiative in the attempt to fill that void. Thank God we never succeeded, so the Mystery had to enter into the imperfection of our organization and make things happen. Yes, He would make things happen! This last year’s experience, the constant challenge to stick to reality and to discover the Mystery within it, has changed the way I go on vacation with those boys and girls with whom I shared the fascinating experience of walking on a path that is finally real. I followed the Mystery as it appeared in the humanity of so many boys and girls, in the way they looked at His presence and at the mountains; in the depth and urgency of their questions, and in their passionate singing; in their need for Him. I saw many students (whom I thought I knew) opening up to life, not on account of our speeches or organization, but because, having been touched by the Mystery, they did the simplest thing there is, that is, they followed Him with their humanity. The newness that I have seen this year at the “Birra” gathering or the Sunday night meetings has defeated my temptation to harness the event onto a path that is ultimately controlled by my idea of what the Movement is and the good of the kids that God put in my care are. By following the newness that was manifest in the gladness of their faces, I lived for five days free from the preoccupation that they meet something, and filled with a burst of humanity in my heart. During this vacation, the Mystery put me in front of kids who taught me how to look at Him.
Gianni, Abbiategrasso, Italy
When my sister and I watched the DVD about Father Giussani, we identified with the encounter of John and Andrew: they were fishing and Jesus appeared and told them to follow Him, and they did. That’s how it happened for me and Paolina. We had a very structured life when we encountered Christ. He challenged us, so we forgot all about our schemes and followed Him. Before encountering Him, nothing could enthuse me, and I was bothered even by friends and family. For this reason, I had the tendency to spend time studying in the isolation of my house. But even this desire to study eventually died down; I wanted to get good grades just to be admired. Then I met the Movement. At the beginning, I was taken aback by people’s limits, even if I could see many beautiful things and I could perceive how what people were talking about had something to do with me. Later, School of Community became necessary–Christ was enthralling. Then I met Cleuza and Marcos, who came to Rio to talk about politics, and that was another big wake-up call. From the apathetic person I was, I became full of passion as I had never been before for anything or anyone–passionate about Christ. My flaws were still there, I went on doing the same things as always, but everything had changed. This happens to me every day, when I go about doing the same things as always but with a new gaze, one that changes every day. The encounter with Cleuza and Marcos has changed my view on reality, which up to that point had been a very ideological one. But that wasn’t the only reason that made me follow them: it was their simplicity and the way they looked at every aspect of reality as gift. I was also attracted by the way they adhered to the Movement and gave everything to CL, even the association they had created. Before encountering the Movement, I was lost because there was nothing that could make me happy. I only knew a fleeting joy. I knew I was sad, but I didn’t know I was desperate. I answered the question posed at the Exercises–“What do you want?”–not with words, but encountering what I was looking for. In this only I place my hope: Christ is the one who can make me new and He is the one supporting me.
Luana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil