01-03-2012 - Traces, n. 3

Edited by Paola Bergamini. E-mail: pberga@tracce.it

A wound I would not
trade for anything

On December 22nd I found out my 88-year-old mother had suffered a severe heart attack and was not doing well. My husband suggested I read Traces Page One section, “The Most Powerful Challenge to the Positivity of Reality,” an assembly Fr. Carron did with some university students after the death of their friend Bizzo. I did this, but like the person in the article who had lost several dear friends, I felt “the Lord is asking something of me. The problem is that now I sense this question, but I don’t yet understand what He’s asking of me.” Christmas seemed such a terrible time to come face to face with such pain. While I was praying, this came into my mind: “What better time for your mom to come into My arms?” Over the Christmas weekend, my mother took a turn for the worse, and I called my siblings to the hospital. Mom was dying, and we moved her into hospice care. It was a great, agonizing wound inside my heart to see her like this, slipping away hour by hour. But, a strange and wonderful thing happened to me while my mother was in hospice. It was as if I could not get enough of her. I wanted to caress her face, hug her, hold her hand, talk, sing, pray, and cry with her as much as possible. I distinctly remember one day walking into her room, looking across to her bed by the window, and catching my breath; the sunlight fell upon her slight form and I marveled at how beautiful she looked. Amazingly, the closer she got to death, the more beautiful she became to me. I can’t really explain it; physically nothing had changed, but somehow there was a serenity and a peace that had descended over her that was palpable. Alone in my hotel room, one night I reread the Traces article, considering the words: “Can we say, even today, with the death of a dear friend, that reality is always ultimately positive?” Everywhere I turned, I saw evidence of Christ, from the tenderness of her caregiver to the cleaning lady at the hotel who impulsively offered to pray for my mother. I felt like I was being held tightly in an unseen grasp, like a newborn baby who is pressed to her mother’s breast, held safe while the storm rages outside. I realized the Presence of Christ was why I was able to stay for so long at my mother’s side. I saw (and still see) my mother’s death as something positive, even in my deepest sadness. Like Bizzo, she had “set us before eternity,” and for me everything that happened was a sign that Christ is Present here and now. I was also struck by the support of my husband and my friends, who reminded me that I don’t walk this journey alone. They truly were Christ in the flesh for me. It has been two months now since we laid my mother to rest. Is it still hard? Yes. Do I still believe reality is positive? Yes! I will always have the wound, but I would not trade it for anything. For within it is my mother, and the beauty of Christ.
Karen Kaffenberger,
Kansas (USA)

A little more Mary,
a little less Martha

Dearest Father Carrón: In October, I moved from Italy to Pasadena, California, with my husband. In January, I went to the New York Encounter (see Traces, No. 14, Vol. 2, 2012) to work as a volunteer. I left Los Angeles with a clear idea in my mind: “I am home alone [my husband was away for work], I have time and a few talents, so I will put myself at the NYE’s service.” Later on, during the flight, I lingered on a thought that has been in the back of my mind for the past few months. I realized I am like Martha, in the Gospel, with both her positive and negative qualities: like her, I am always ready to serve and make things work properly and, like her, I am distracted by the many things to do and I miss the best part. I realized that my attitude is often simply the easy path; I hide behind the things to do, to avoid facing relationships, discussions, and so on. Doing is far easier than being. I resolved I would try to be more like Mary , and less like Martha, and I partially succeeded. More than once, I was tempted to go to the kitchen to lend a hand–even if it was not my shift–instead of visiting an exhibit or having a talk with somebody. Luckily, my silent prayer was answered in friends telling me: “Come with us,” or showing an unwavering interest in the details of my life. The other beautiful event that took place is that I really had an encounter; I met somebody. Let me explain: for the first time, I met somebody who did not belong to the Movement, somebody who was there because he was fascinated by the event that had been organized, and who was interested in understanding what was going on. In all the years that I attended the Rimini Meeting in Italy, I have never had such an encounter. This is real mission territory, in the true meaning of the word. I personally exchanged a few words with a guy who converted to Catholicism a year ago, after being an anti-Catholic Evangelical Protestant all his life; he told us how happy he has been since his conversion, and how beautiful it was to belong to the Church. I also spoke to a priest who was grateful to be able to meet “kids who were full of life and happy to be alive”–he was particularly struck by the Italians. During this trip to NY, I spent a significant amount of energy and money. I was in New York City, but I could have been anywhere, since for the three days of my stay I just walked back and forth from the hotel to the NYE location. I spent my time slicing onions and tomatoes and serving American coffee. Yet, I went home happy. If I described my experience at the NYE to somebody who was not there, or to a person who has never attended a similar event, he would think I was crazy.
Cristina, Pasadena (USA)

Selling raffle
tickets at the NYE

Why did I travel all the way to the New York Encounter from the Midwest? My heart comes alive with these people, so I go where they are, follow what is being proposed. I want to combat the “wormwood of habit, routine, and old age” that Fr. Carrón warned us about in the Exercises. I want answers to my questions: Where do I belong? How can I experience freedom in my marriage? Is it enough to go to New York City with this desire? Immediately, I am awakened even at the orientation and Mass. Paolo, the director of the volunteers, re-framed the words of the homily, inspiring us toward “dedicating to Another.” Even the selection of particular songs struck me as a sign. Paolo reminds us of the promise: through our giving, we will receive. Then, later, I hit a real low caused by my own awkwardness in trying to connect with friends there. When I call home and become agitated with the situation there, I cry out, begging, “Please don’t let me go home unchanged!” I do not want this trip to be in vain. My volunteer job of selling raffle tickets takes me out of my comfort zone and challenges me to trust that something will happen. One person after another is placed in front of me over the course of the weekend, each a beautiful sign, speaking something to my heart. The first is a shy Chinese woman who learned of the encounter from a flyer in her church in Chinatown. Our conversation awakens her heart and mine; we become friends and exchange e-mail addresses. The next is a lonely woman from Brooklyn who came to hear the JPII talk because she is Polish. She asks about the Movement and her heart is so moved that she weeps. “I have been looking for this all of my life. Where can I go to meetings?” she exclaims. Then I meet a woman from Africa and somehow we are instant friends, and another from Queens who speaks of her sickness and reminds me that, even in a funk, our desire is a good thing, a starting place. My next raffle target is a man from the West Coast who instantly refuses to support a raffle, since it is “gambling.” After I encourage him to understand it is really just a donation, he opens up. This lonely man tells me his story, reads me his poems. I feel giddy in the hundredfold. Who are You to surprise me in so many ways, everything corresponding to my heart? I verified the promise: through my giving, I indeed received. The weekend was pure gift. These things that happened to me have given me a freedom in front of the circumstances at home. I move through my drama with certainty that Someone is walking with me and allows me to view my life, my husband, and my community with a broadened reason, and with the hope that, as I give my “Yes,” I will receive.
Clare Thompson,
Minnesota (USA)

A fruitful isolation
after the vacation

Dearest friends: I want to relate an experience that I had during and after the Movement vacation here in Peru. Let’s start from the end: I got a bad sunburn on my feet and legs, up to my knees. My skin is as white as milk and, despite using sunscreen, I am suffering the consequences of a brief moment of distraction. During the past few days of forced isolation, I have worked on myself, and they have been the happiest days of my life. It all began because of the wrong attitude with which I approached the vacation. In my mind, it had to be a quiet time to spend with my friends, except that I was unable to be with them beyond the day when we went on a hike. On one hand, I wanted to stay with the people I share my life with; on the other hand, I was upset every time we were apart. I thought I still needed to break the ice with the “new” people, and I felt like a fish out of water. Then I got burned, and that did it... I realized that I had eliminated the Mystery; I hadn’t perceived that the presence of those new people was a challenge for me. Where was my openness to something new? Was my gaze focused on what was happening and on the signs that I was given? No! It was precisely those people whom I started to get acquainted with during the vacation who first showed concern for my condition, and sent me signs of their closeness through phone calls and e-mails. Being homebound, I understood that the Mystery loves me, even if I forget that He does. He surprised me, and sent me signs through the closeness of both my old friends and my new friends. The name of the Mystery is Father. I realized that if I sit next to a person there is a reason–for me, as well as for the other person–and it’s up to me to discover that reason. But during those days, I was a prisoner of my own mental fixation, of my unperturbed and familiar certainty. One day, talking to a dear friend of mine, I realized that I was not aware that each of us is in relationship with the Mystery. It was as if I had nothing to do with the Mystery; as if I had to go look for Him everywhere, and the relationship would appear as a result of my searching. I have never been aware that relationship with the Mystery is something present. Only now has the meaning bloomed in my life like an undeniable experience.
Teresa, Lima (Peru)

Victor is in his Father’s arms
Dearest friends: Victor, our little white host, died today. We all feel a great sorrow. Even my son Aldito and his other roommate, though they seem devoid of understanding, are suffering because they realized that their little friend has died. My son Aldo, with his enormous head, is facing what used to be Victor’s bed, with tears in his eyes. What a Mystery this sympathy between these three little ones is, of whom the world would say: “Why do they live?” or “Why do they let them live?” How powerful is the vibration of Being! Victor is now in the morgue, his devastated eyes open. His body doesn’t seem to be dead, because it looks just like it did before. In fact, in death he makes the Presence of the Mystery even more evident. He died at 4:00 am, burning out little by little, like a candle, while we were all there with him (we ran the risk of him dying while we were in Brazil). We decided to bury him Sunday, in the garden beside the new clinic, because he was, and still is now more than ever, the heart of the hospital. Friends, it’s hard to see his empty bed; yet the certainty that he is in heaven fills us with wonder, as tears stream down our faces. Let’s pray that Victor, who, like many other children, knew only pain, helps us experience that life is positive, even though to many people it appears not to be so. These long years of suffering that Victor went through taught us to touch with our own hands the vibration of Being, that is: Victor exists, and if he exists it means that Another is making him now–Another who now decided to take him back to be with Him.
Father Aldo and friends, Asunción (Paraguay)

at the Center, The Face of Christ
by Giuseppe Frangi
The renowned detail of the face of Christ (which has also been used for other posters) is part of Tribute Money, the scene painted by Masaccio on the left side of the Brancacci Chapel, in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. Masaccio accomplished his masterpiece around 1425, causing an extraordinary acceleration of the history of figurative arts. Accounts of the time describe how artists would go see the innovation and be astounded by it. The face of Christ is at the center of the scene, in which the Twelve surround Christ, while behind them the tax collector has just asked if the temple tax has been paid. It is the episode narrated in Mathew 17: 24-27, in which Jesus sends Peter to find a silver coin inside the first fish he would catch. With that very coin, Peter (on the right side of the fresco) pays the tax collector. The scene is set in Capernaum, in the vicinity of the lake; yet more important is the bursting in of Masaccio’s power, of that spatial certainty in which the novelty of perspective is fused with a “neo-Romanesque” physicality (quoting Roberto Longhi). At the center is the face of Christ, commanding the space, the bystanders, and their combined feelings.

“Don’t you ever make mistakes?” For the past year, I have been in charge of a very big office, on top of the quite problematic one I was already responsible for. I am constantly under pressure, and I often feel overwhelmed. This situation has forced me to ask myself what it is that really matters to me. Wednesday night, coming out of School of Community, a colleague of mine told me, “During Fr. Carrón’s talk, I was looking at you, to try to understand if I could be with people like you. I am a sinner.... Don’t you ever make mistakes?” I told her that, thank God, I still have a lot of limitations, because that forces me to look for God. Otherwise, knowing myself, I would neatly organize my life, and I would believe myself to be fine. From that moment on, my freedom chose sides; I realized I could either affirm myself and my impossible desire for perfection, or become aware of the tenderness with which the Lord comes up with incredible plans to make me see Him. Now, when I have to face the umpteenth problem, I ask Him: “What do You want of me?” Long ago, I used to ask this question in anger, while now I feel the Lord answers me: “I want you. I want you, who would otherwise let yourself be buried in things. I want you, who think you are just fine on your own, and miss the best part!”
Giovanna, Bergamo (Italy)

“You are not a waiguoren”
Dearest Fr. Julián: There is something that we can’t hide here in Taiwan: we are foreigners, or waiguoren, as they say here. We could reside here for a hundred years, perfect our pronunciation, dress like the locals, and eat “stinky tofu”... We would always be foreigners. One month ago, some friends from Ireland came to visit us. I told them I would meet them in front of McDonald’s. My little local friend Mei-Mei saw me before I left and jumped on my lap. I told her that I didn’t have time for her, because I had to go pick up a couple of friends. She said she wanted to come with me, and I allowed her to because I didn’t want to make my friends wait. On our way, she asked me, “Shen Fu, what are your friends like?” I answered, “They are waiguoren.” She went on asking, “What do foreigners look like?” Her question caught me off guard, and I asked her, “Why, you have never seen any foreigners?” Silently, she shook her head. When we reached McDonald’s, she ceremoniously introduced herself. Walking back home, I whispered to her, “So, did you see the foreigners?” She nodded. “And you had never seen one before?” “Never.” I paused a minute and asked her, “Mei-Mei, am I not a foreigner?” “No, you are not.” I don’t know how long the Lord will allow me to stay here; the only thing I know is that He has already given me one of the things that I wanted most: He made me feel I belong to this people to the point that somebody does not see me as a foreigner. It doesn’t matter that that somebody is a five-year-old girl. From Mei-Mei we can learn what Father Giussani taught us, that is, it doesn’t matter if we differ in race, culture, and language. We share the same heart.
Lele, Taiwan