01-06-2009 - Traces, n. 6


Working outside the box
“Every day, I will contemplate the faces of the Saints, to find peace in their words.” Starting from this sentence that a friend repeated to me, I began asking to immerse myself in that humanity that carries within itself the evidence and the signs of an authentic life. I now grasp the meaning of what Fr. Julián told us two years ago in San Diego: “Being Christians is extremely simple, like for the disciples: all you have to do is just go fishing with Him, following Him around and letting Him enter into your life.” What happens to me as I “go fishing with Him” is that I become aware of this presence in reality and, trembling at the possibility of saying, “I love You more,” I start to know who He is. Next Monday, we will embark on a project that I can’t but look upon with wonder: the contract for the maintenance of an office building. We hired five young people, one of whom is an Iraq veteran with mental disabilities. We started our company, LA Habilitation House, in September, to offer career opportunities for people with disabilities. LAHH now includes a total of eight employees. The people we meet, looking at us and at what we do, but mostly at how we do it, tell us, “We have never seen anything like this.” Yes, what is “outside the box” is Christianity itself lived as a fact that shatters the measure of reason, filling and changing what would otherwise be routine. We did not invent anything new; we are just living the reasonableness and beauty of this fact that changes humanity. Saturday, I spent my day working with Nancy. At the end of the day, we went out for a bite. We had reasons to be happy, satisfied. All of a sudden, during dinner, she told me, “The only true contribution that we can give and are giving to the world through our work is to remain faithful to the history through which God has called us and still calls us today.” What tenderness the Mystery has for my life! Monday–with five young men, two vacuum cleaners, and two trash cans–we will enter that office building with boldness, naïveté, and with the certainty that we have everything; with the awareness of our “yes.”  And this is enough.
Guido, Los Angeles (USA)

Post-retreat coffee break 
Dear Father Julián: The day after the Fraternity Spiritual Exercises, I invited some of my colleagues out for coffee during a break. That same evening, on my way home, I looked at the Easter poster on our front door and I once again read the sentence that I hadn’t been able to understand since I put it up: “We speak about how things ought to be or what is not going well and we do not start from the affirmation that Christ has won the victory.” All of a sudden, I understood. Indeed, that day our coffee break had not been dominated by that harrowing atmosphere made of expressions such as “in my opinion,” “one can’t live this way,” and the like. I felt a strange gladness that allowed me to look at my colleagues in a different, more human and deeper way, where the soccer championship’s scores, the overlooked proposals to enhance our company, and the union issues were not everything, but a part of the whole; they remained relevant, but they were embraced by the great Presence that I still could relish in my heart. Come to think of it, it is weird that in the past I had many times attempted, to no avail, to stop this tendency to drift into complaining. Every time I would tell myself to keep quiet, or at least to say something positive, I would always end up complaining just like everybody else. But not this time. Something had entered the circumstances, thus allowing me to stay in front of it without letting myself be dragged in or shaken. His presence was making everything simpler. I ask the Lord for the courage to affirm His love and His name, and the Grace to continue on this path.
Andrea, Rimini (Italy)

“Are you of the Movement or in the Movement?”
Dear Father Julián: These Exercises shook me to the core. I left for Rimini full of enthusiasm, hoping to live the retreat as a possibility to re-charge. I will not beat around the bush: in twenty years of Exercises, this is the first time I returned home feeling a deep anguish. How could it be that, after belonging to CL for thirty years, you come along and throw me off balance like this? Do you know why I am really upset? Let me recount an episode. It was September 25, 1988. My son was one month old. I received a call from the head of my department (I am an anesthesiologist) who told me: “Tonight, we need somebody to assist a terminally ill patient who belongs to your ‘sect’ [CL]. There is a priest there. He is a member of your sect too. Come!” The patient was the father of Cilla [whose saintly teenage life and death was an example for all], and the priest was Father Giussani. I greeted everybody and then, like an idiot, I addressed Father Giussani and, shaking his hand, I said, “Here I am. I am of the Movement.” Mumbling, with his raspy voice, staring in my eyes, he asked me, “Are you of the Movement or in the Movement?” I did not respond and I carried that question with me for years and years. I think I found the true answer one year ago, while accompanying Father Danilo Muzzin (also known as “Donda”) step by step in his illness. We kept him company in silent vigils permeated by the presence of the Mystery, Who was tangible and palpable both in that transformed and suffering body and in his bare words, which gave witness to a different way to die, because he had lived differently by the Grace of an encounter. Then and there, I said to myself, “Yes, this is the silent eloquence of a true humanity. I too want to live like this, and this history that we share [Donda was the one who catapulted me into the Movement in 1978] is the answer to my deepest questions.” I was finally at peace, at ease, as if I were where I belonged. But now you come along to tell me that, “deep down, we realize that often even an imposing experience tends to fade into nothingness in the space of a day…” and you talk to me about a faith that is reduced to feelings, or ethics, or culture. You know what the problem is? The problem is that I know you are right, because if it is true that in my rich and complex history I was given imposing events, it is also true that they have, to this day, failed to radically and deeply change my life, my choices, and my decisions. To make a long story short, through these Exercises you have told me that I have to start from scratch. You will probably wonder why I am writing to you. It is simply because when one emerges from anesthesia one feels a dull ache mixed with nausea and confusion, and one needs someone to carry this burden for him.  This someone can’t but be Him, the Lord, but your embrace–which is the sign of the thirty-year history that has led me to this point and to the means by which the Lord Jesus embraces me–is necessary for me to start anew right now.
Lauretta, Milan (Italy)

Mrs. Margherita’s

Last September, at the beginning of the school year, I started being fascinated by a new friend of mine, and by what she was getting out of the time she spent with Mrs. Pierina at a retirement home. I decided to follow her. For a few months we stayed together as we chatted with the elderly guests, as we spoon-fed them yogurt, etc… Confronted by that painful reality, those tired and wrinkled faces that broke my heart with their humanity, their being nothing, I was compelled to go back to that place every month. I wanted to savor that experience as my friend did. Then one day, almost by accident, I entered a room at the end of the hallway on the right. Margherita was sitting there, with the demeanor of a queen. “Remember: go to our mom today and tell her you met Mrs. Margherita. Tell her she told you to toss those pants of yours. They are all torn: how can you think you can find a husband…” That’s how she spoke to me. She had a faulty memory, so she repeated that suggestion over and over. We disagreed on everything: if I said white she would say black. Being around her was difficult, but I kept going to visit her. It was a commitment: it was that taste for charity that I saw in my friend. But what is that taste, really? It’s trusting the time that I spend in that retirement home and my total faithfulness to that commitment, and being overwhelmed by an unexpected good, which is totally free of charge and greater than any desire of mine. It’s Margherita talking to me with words that shake me and make me move, and that may even seem not to come from her. A month ago I went to visit her, and for the umpteenth time she asked me where I lived and told me about her hometown, her work, and her family with the exact words and the exact tone of voice as always. Nonetheless, I was there and I was happy. At a certain point, she figured out that I wasn’t paid for visiting her, that it wasn’t a job. She got mad and yelled at me. But she did not ask me to leave, so I remained there. Then they brought her afternoon snack: she took the croissant and put it aside. I told her: “Ah, Mrs. Margherita! As usual you give up your snack for your grandchildren…” We were silent for a while. Then, looking at the floor, she said quietly: “Yes. It’s a small sacrifice…No. It isn’t a sacrifice. I do it because it’s good for me…Maybe this is the reason why you come here as well.” This was more than I could have desired, much more. After that I couldn’t give up that woman, that lovable–albeit sometimes hidden–humanity. “I’ll see you next month Mrs. Margherita.” “I’ll be waiting.”
Angela, Grumello (Italy)

Nothing can be
the same as before

Dear Father Carrón: In June 2007, we discovered we were expecting a child.  Our joy and our wonder grew at the discovery that I was pregnant with twins. During the fifth-month sonogram, we saw a worried expression on the doctor’s face: there was something wrong with the heart of one of our baby girls. After a series of tests, we got a terrible diagnosis: it was a serious congenital heart condition. My reaction was violent. When we left the hospital, my husband Max hugged me as I cried and screamed that I did  not believe in God, and that He did not love us. After such a long wait, that little sick heart looked like a bad joke. We stopped at my parents’ to break the news, and I kept saying that I couldn’t bear it, that I could not face every day thinking that my daughter could die in 24 hours. I was struck by their answer: “You will look at your healthy daughter exactly the same way. They are both given, and our good God will take care of you all.” I leaned on my husband’s strength and faith. I realized that denying that life would be tantamount to denying everything: Max, my parents, my friends, my history, and myself. I resolved to believe that Christ would somehow show His presence. We entered a trying and strange period–trying, because it was an endless series of hospital visits, meetings with the best cardiologists, and tears when the diagnosis was confirmed; and strange, because Max and I were glad. We felt as if Someone was carrying us. We started praying, and our friends drew closer to us. One night, we asked to say a Rosary together. Our friends went even further and proposed to make it a weekly gesture for our community, so we started getting together on Sundays to pray. The delivery day came and everything was confirmed: one of the girls was okay; the other one was immediately wheeled to the ICU. We decided to have her baptized right away. That was the beginning of our unique relationship with that baby, whom we could barely touch.We lived two months at a dizzying pace, at home with one of the girls, and at the hospital with the other. Our friends were competing to visit us and babysit Sofia when we went to visit Noemi.  One night, at the end of another frantic day, I thanked my husband for being my rock, because it was mainly because of him that we said “yes” to Noemi. I told him that if anyone offered me a baby with a perfect heart I would have said, “No, thank you. I have my Noemi.” Maybe that’s what Jesus wanted to hear me say–a few days later, the night of Good Friday, Noemi went to heaven. Even though she couldn’t move or speak, even if we couldn’t shower her with kisses, Noemi’s presence had been so persuasive and so powerful that she radically changed our lives, so that now nothing can be the same as before. Jesus was physically, concretely with us for three months–we have seen Him, heard Him, and touched Him.
Raffaella and Max, Rho (Italy)

God Needs Men
Dear Father Carrón: For the past two years, as a charitable work, I have been going with a friend to a St. Vincent de Paul Center in Turin that welcomes girls in difficult and dramatic situations. Most of the time, it feels like a burden; their needs are immense and I have the impression I am doing very little. Last week, as soon as we arrived at the facility, Sister Teresa (the Director of the Center) asked to talk to us. She told us she was just coming back from visiting a girl at the hospital who attempted suicide because her pimp had killed her brothers out of vengeance. The poor girl, in seeing Sister Teresa, started crying out, “Then God has not abandoned me!” and kept repeating it as she hugged the Sister. Sister Teresa was obviously moved and later commented, “To think that I didn’t want to go, and God granted me this grace… An old movie came to mind–God Needs Men–because without us, He can’t reach people!” I was so moved that now I look forward to going back to the Center. I told the Sister that I will give her a book by Father Giussani in which he comments on the movie. This episode clarified the reasons for charitable work. How can I look at these girls, if not by looking at that which I have encountered and which comes to meet me every day in all His beauty?

The following is an essay written by a fourteen-year-old girl. The theme of the essay assigned by her teacher was “Turning Points”
Fr. Luigi Giussani begs that we ask ourselves a question: “Is it reasonable to leave the only thing in my life that has struck my heart because I don’t understand it?” Thus, he says, “Obedience is born of a reasonable attitude,” a reasonable attitude that allows us to see a God-given grace in our lives, and to follow that grace because it strikes us so profoundly. With this same reasonable attitude, I followed a path that I saw in my life, which moved me in such a way that today I am not the same person I was last year. Last April, my sister joined a youth group called “Gioventù Studentesca” (GS), an international movement inspired by the life and works of Luigi Giussani. Since she joined this group, she has changed in so many ways I never thought possible. With this change came incredible happiness that was impossible to ignore. This alone was inspiring and made me desire the same happiness, the same beautiful depth with which she now perceives life. It was this correspondence to my heart that called me to join the group last November. By her example, my life experienced its greatest turning point by far: the acknowledgement of grace in my life, and the desire to strive to see it everyday in my own reality. What is even more incredible about this experience is that I get to go through it all with my best friend of nearly five years. Ironically, I have learned more about her in these past four months than I have in four years.  As I write, I listen to Chopin’s “Nocturne in C Sharp Minor.” Have you heard it? This four-minute song inspires so much beauty in my life, and I am left knowing that it must be everywhere, and it must be something everyone desires and seeks.  As each chord in the music is struck with such vigorous passion, and the notes in the scales rise and fall, I no longer want to be the only one who is immersed in such wonder. Fr. Giussani tells us that God does not grace everybody all at once, but those who have received such a blessing should do everything they can to pass it on to others. So I ask myself two questions: Who am I to have received such a grace from God? But, even more, who am I to keep it all to myself? GS, if anything, has changed the desires I have for the lives of others and myself. My sister inspired me, and she in turn was inspired by a friend, who was inspired by Fr. Giussani, who was inspired by his reality–by God. The greatest thing about the turning point in my life is that it didn’t begin, nor does it end, with me.
Elisa Kwon, Toronto (Canada)

Challenged by Christ’s Victory
I have been working for several years as a physical therapist in an assisted living facility run by the Servants of Charity [founded by Fr. Guanella]. Some time ago, we admitted a very lucid and active elderly woman, with whom I developed a very close relationship. She told me about her life, about her contribution to the Italian resistance movement and about her family. We started having very informal meetings with my boss to read School of Community but, from the get-go, she rejected anything that was institutionalized and organized, and my boss’s attempt to pass along CL articles and contributions failed. I understood that what she was looking for was to experience happiness in her own earthly existence, in the awareness of a benevolent God who wants our fulfillment. What this lady was crying out for was the attaining of this fulfillment for the time that she had left to live. But the more she cried out, the more she detached herself from the Church and from the sacraments, sinking into an inexorable loneliness and introversion. Nonetheless, I kept seeking her out, desiring her company. She was seeking me out, too. One day, unexpectedly, she told me she needed someone to talk to: she wanted to go to Confession. She felt guilty for criticizing the Easter poster that I had hung up. For her, it was not true that Christ has already won, because the world was still a terrible place for those who inhabit it, but she was haunted by this affirmation.  I am grateful to have met her because she challenged me on the truth of the circumstances, which are the only way to enter into a relationship with the Mystery–as Carròn reminded us at the Exercises. And this is true even in a place where all you do is wait for the end of your days.
Annalisa, Bari (Italy)