|01-07-2010 - Traces, n. 7
Nicodemus and the
shaping up of a new life
Dear Fr. Carrón: I met CL more than 20 years ago, studying and participating for years in GS and CLU. However, at a certain point of my life, things started changing quickly. My parents moved to the USA when I was 21. After I graduated, I traveled all around Italy and the USA because of my job, living in five different cities in less than five years. I was struggling with my life and my faith. I thought I could make it on my own, but I developed an overwhelming food disorder and a terrible depression. I kept on going to Mass on Sunday and I continued paying the Fraternity Common Fund, but I felt lost and empty. Only arrogance generates the illusion that we can make it on our own. I did not need Him. My life changed completely one year ago. I lost a baby and I felt completely responsible for it; an examination showed that I will never be able to conceive another baby; my long-time boyfriend left me because he wasn’t ready to commit; I lost my job due to the economic crisis; and my primary doctor found two lumps in my breast. Everything happened within a month. I dealt with my problems by myself without sharing my tremendous grief with anyone, even my parents. No weakness allowed. During endless weeks, I woke up at 5:30 am–coffee, shower, tv news–and by the time it was 7:00 am my day was already over. I couldn’t wait for the night to come again. I cried bloody tears each and every night until I fell asleep. Sometimes I still do it. I miss my baby so much. So I contacted a priest. He suggested I call a pro-life organization called Respect Life. After a 6-month program in Miami, where I live, I went to a retreat. The last night of the retreat, the newly ordained priest who was leading the meditations asked me about my past. I told him that I left CL more than eight years ago. He was struck because he attended some Schools of Community two years ago when he was at the seminary. He told me that the Movement was present in Miami. God gave me a big sign. He was building my path. The following Friday, I attended my first School of Community in eight years. Now I could see my life shaping up again in a new way. What had changed? The recognition of His Presence, the Recognition that the Holy Spirit was acting. The paradox is that I am blessed to have been through what I have been through this year. I am the evidence of how Christianity impacts and penetrates everything like a tornado. Without my breakdown, I would not have been able to perceive the relevance of faith to the demands of my life. I am the living answer to the question posed to Nicodemus in the Gospel that you quoted at the Fraternity Exercises. Yes, it is possible to be born again.
Elisabetta, Miami (USA)
Writing an essay,
asking for love
A student recently approached me at the University Writing Center where I work because he wanted my suggestions on an essay for an English course. He chose to write about his experience with his mother, who had told him repeatedly that she hates him. Through great struggles of her own, he described how she also had not been able to secure support or a stable place for him to live for a number of his 19 years. Remarkably, he presented his essay by asking if he could read his story to me, telling me he does not write to gain another’s pity. He gave some details of his life, but also his judgment on how to respond. Being the star athlete and diligent student that he is at the university, he talked about how “I might as well do the work; I am here,” because he wanted so desperately for his mom to recognize him and somehow love him. He wrote that he did not know happiness and that he does not cry anymore because crying is a “sign of weakness.” He drew a connection between this burden and how he has been unable to completely forgive his mother. The very burden he carries comes from his restricted response to the one who once carried him. Before this student who has such an elementary lack of love shown to him in his life, that of the love of a mother for her son, I was speechless at first. I recognized just how valuable it is for me to not only know the purpose for which I work (out of my love of Another) as a student and a tutor myself, but also to know the original people who have led me to make my work my most personal prayer. The friendship of the Movement has allowed this way of seeing my own mother and so many others to change. After seeing the love so many have shown me, I cannot remain silent. For this student, I could honestly respond that “He’s going to show me even more than I see,” even in the most despairing of circumstances.
Julie Lasher, Indianapolis (USA)
A journey embracing all
my problems and needs
Dearest Father Julián: For the first time, I went on the Macerata–Loreto pilgrimage, at 50 years of age. I had lots of reasons to go, all linked to pressing needs of mine, and of my wife and children. All those needs had always been there, but only then I realized that ultimately I would not be able to satisfy them on my own. I had prepared everything for the departure, but the Lord had something else in mind, and a series of unfortunate events in the family unravelled all my plans. I left home very angry, and since I couldn’t count on my ride anymore, I got on the subway. At the Pagano station I met two Sisters of Charity (the order founded by Mother Theresa) with whom I start talking about the pilgrimage. The episode surprised me and made me realize that my “I” was already in motion. Luckily, one of them asked me where I was departing from and realized that I was going in the wrong direction. I was so upset that I had taken the wrong train, but He had managed to get a hold of me somehow. I called and begged for them to delay the departure and wait for me, and they did. During the trip to Macerata, a friend told me all I needed to know about the Sanctuary of Loreto. On an average working day, all the walking I do is from the elevator to my garage and from the parking lot to the office–200 meters at most. Evidently, I am not fond of walking, and no woman (not even my wife, whom I love dearly) ever inspired me to walk such a long distance. Yet, from the first step I took leaving the stadium in Macerata, I knew that nobody could have stopped me, because I was the protagonist of what I was doing precisely for all the unresolved problems and the unaddressed needs I was carrying with me. A miracle happened. I walked the whole distance with my friends, stopping just once, for a minute. Every time I turned around to look at the long line of people following us, I thought, “All these people certainly are His visible and mysterious presence, here and now. And they call us crazy…” I entrusted to the brazier all my intentions, which I had never spelled out before, and I finally reached the Santa Casa (the Holy House). I was able to linger there for just a few seconds, but it was enough, because, after all, I had already given and received everything. When I got back home, I was once again in front of all my problems. I told my wife about the pilgrimage and she asked me, “How can you be so calm?” I kept silent, with the certainty that He would break through. Today is Monday and I did not go to work because my whole body aches. But what do I care? I am happy, and tomorrow even my limp will help me tell everybody what I lived.
Luca, Milan (Italy)
OF hIS PRESENCE
Dear Father Carrón: About three weeks ago, a woman in her seventh month of pregnancy came to the hospital where I work as an anesthesiologist, complaining about terrible pain. After some tests, she was diagnosed with widespread metastatic cancer. The stage of the disease was so advanced that even palliative treatment would not be effective. In a few hours, it became evident that a C-section was necessary, and Martina was born. The woman was transferred to the ICU. During the whole time, when she was in the operating room and in our department, I realized that one of my colleagues, a gynecologist, was particularly involved in what was happening, and was secretly crying. I thought that we both needed not to be alone in front of that circumstance, and that in my life things had always been easier when somebody had held my hand. I asked her, “Do you want to go together to visit her in the ICU tomorrow?” She agreed, so the following day we went to see the mother and we gave the baby a medal with the face of the Virgin Mary. The mother was transferred to our department, and I spent time with her and her relatives. I was interested in keeping her company, just like Jesus had always stayed with me in front of my pain. All around us, people tried to avoid us. As I was staying there, I introduced myself to her mother, and I prayed, invoking the Holy Spirit. One morning, I received a message from the husband, telling me that she had been transferred, “so you will not go there in vain.” I kept going to visit her with my colleagues. As her condition worsened, we got closer to her relatives. Her mother was in tears, desperate and angry at God. I was in tears as well, saying that it was a Mystery, and that God Himself had sent His own Son to the Cross even though He could have spared Him. I told them that in front of the crucifix, in front of a God who became man, like us, who experienced our own pain, we can only kneel and embrace Him. One afternoon, I received a call, telling me that she had died. I went to see the relatives with my colleague and, in tears, I asked her mother, “Do you want to say the Rosary with me?” She answered, “Yes. You say it. I can’t.” We spent the day with the relatives, and we were welcomed as if we were part of the family; they embraced us and allowed us to live with them that very private and delicate moment. A couple of days later, the husband called me and asked if we could meet. He was at the hospital visiting his baby girl. I joined him with my colleague, and from that day on, visiting Martina became a daily appointment for the three of us. He came to my house for dinner and I introduced him to my husband and my friends. I stayed in touch with the relatives, who live in Puglia, and one of the cousins came up for a party we threw for a celebration we had for our kids and for a dinner we planned. Without me doing anything, a lot is happening around me as a result of the overabundance of His presence.
Viola, Bologna (Italy)
Enjoy Your Vacation, Professor!
On the last day of school, I said good-bye to my students and extended my wishes for a happy vacation. Because of my romantic disposition (!), I always picture one of my students telling me something about the school year, a few words to communicate that he or she understood what I wanted to pass on during the year. That never happens! Yet, this year, looking at them take the stairs and turn their backs on me (“see ya, Prof”) as on any given day, for the first time I did not feel hurt; I was moved, much more than usual, for them, for me, and most of all for Christ. For them, because whether or not they were aware of it, they were looked at with a gaze (mine) that, with all its limitations, desired their good. For me, because I am the first not to give back all that I should, in return for all He gives me. And most of all for Christ, because whatever I have given my students is not my own; it is the overabundance of what He gives me that spills out of my heart. Therefore, it’s all His. I left school with my heart filled and partaking, somehow, of His fullness.
Monica, Reggio Emilia (Italy)
“YOU ARE LIKE A NEW SON TO ME”
Bledar is an inmate of the Padua (Italy) prison who started attending catechism to prepare to receive Baptism
(see Traces, Vol. 12, No. 4). This is the letter his parents wrote to him when they heard the news.
Dear Bledar: We know that it is not easy to live where you are, but with the help of God you will be able to overcome even this hard challenge. If you believe in God with your heart, you will be able to find the peace that only a believer can find. It doesn’t matter what religion you profess, as long as you believe in a sovereign power, which you might call God, or Allah, or something else; it doesn’t matter, because we are all creatures of One who is our Sovereign. I am very happy that you will receive this sacrament. As you know, until the 1990s here in Albania we were forbidden to talk about religion; so having a son who is starting a journey like yours makes me very proud of being a father. May the Lord protect you where I can’t reach, because you will always be my little Bledar. We were all surprised that you chose to go down this path; none of us would have bet anything on it, yet today you are making us understand that that something that created us exists. We prayed a lot for you to find that something that would make you change. The whole family looks at you with new eyes now. Your relatives are no longer afraid to say, “Yes, I am related to Bledar”–they are proud of your change. You are like a new son to me. Remember, though, that all this is not your doing; it is the work of that God who loves you, as we love you. Do not let yourself down; don’t play with God, because as He can give you everything, He can also take everything away. If you believe in Him, God helps you, and leads you on a smooth path; but if you just want to play Him you’ll find only bumpy roads. You are not married, but the most beautiful thing that you have given us is that, somehow, we have become the grandparents of an African boy named Christian [whom Bledar adopted through a long-distance adoption]–even the name that you chose for him is very beautiful. Nothing happens just by chance; if, 15 years ago, somebody had asked you to help a black person, you would have given them the cold shoulder. All this happened because of God’s love for you and for that child. Together, you will be able to build a life full of plans and beautiful things, even if you are far apart; he will grow up well with the woman who is taking care of him, and you with your good friends. These words probably remind you of all the times we scolded you because of something you were doing wrong; yet we love you as if you were the purest person on the face of the earth. Everybody can make mistakes, but not everybody has the courage you had when you said, “I am guilty.” Don’t give up now, because you are at a point where you are no longer afraid of the past, but you might be afraid of the present and of the future. God doesn’t come to hurt you. He comes to help you, and help us to live in goodness.
Giovanni Bledar’s parents, Scutari (Albania)
From a natural paradise to heaven here and now
Dearest Father Julián: Imagine a week in Ibiza with my husband and my youngest son: seven days of complete relaxation in a fun paradise, with a group of people with whom we only shared the same heat and water supplier. As soon as we set foot on the island, we realized that there was a truer way to look at things. The spectacle of the sea, of nature, of such a beautiful place inevitably makes you give thanks to He who made all this for us. After that realization dawned on us, we had a series of encounters–at the table, on the beach, etc… We realized that we just had to be willing to truly engage reality to stumble upon all the human need of the people we met. A young woman, who had just had surgery, told us about her dramatic circumstances which had forced her to set her priorities straight. We told her about Father Giussani and Saint Riccardo Pampuri, and we gave her some holy cards. She was grateful for having met people to whom she could tell what was in her heart. Other people, provoked by the fact that we have five children, and by the difficulties that come with it, looked at us in awe because we were telling them that it is indeed possible to have five kids, that Christ leads our life, and that we have a companionship of friends who help us. One day, trying to find a church where we could attend Sunday Mass, we spent a few adventurous hours far away in the hills, with two of the employees of the resort where we were staying, who had been strong-armed into accompanying us. We told them about ourselves, and they started talking about their hopes, their desires, and about their attempts to fill the void of their lives, while living a completely untethered existence. We responded by saying that we would not be able to live without that slope that leads to the Church, in order to encounter He who generates and supports our life–and those curious eyes were staring at us and were asking whether another way of living and looking for happiness was indeed possible. Living in a marvelous place is not enough to make one feel fulfilled. We went home to our children, all full of life; we listened to them talk, and we were sure we had come back from a paradise, but at the same time we were as certain that heaven is here and now, if you say “yes” to Christ.