01-09-2012 - Traces, n. 8


In La Thuile, Italy, 450 Responsibles of the Movement gather from 74 countries. The challenge is to overcome "what we think we already know," so that we discover life as vocation and true love of self. Everything speaks of this, from the witnesses, to the conversations over meals, to the hike. Here you will find the itinerary of Julián Carrón's lessons, and of four days of a beauty that is inexpressible–yet "so palpable" that it takes you by the hand.


As I re-read my notes from the International Assembly of Responsibles, my computer signals that I have a new e-mail. I open it automatically. “I’m sending you a photo from the hike, with a heart overwhelmed by the beauty and transparency of the humanity I encountered. Looking at our (by now) common friends, you can’t help but be reminded that it really is possible to live like Jesus. A hug, Marta.” I look at the photo: with me are Maurizio, who lives in New York, Guido from Los Angeles, Giacomo and Marta, both Milanese lawyers–he is the visitor for Slovenia, and she accompanied the various moments of the International Assembly with her beautiful voice. We are all laughing, against the backdrop of the peaks of Monte Bianco. The aching of that day returns, of a beauty that I was unable to articulate. The simple words of Marta, who until that day was practically a stranger, bring me back to the only reason for living: the friendship with Jesus, which was so palpable that day, as if He had taken us by the hand.

The gaze of a friend. I didn’t know how to start writing, worried as I was about providing a good summary, doing a good job, but now everything is much simpler. There is always a friend who tells you: Look, He is the doer, the one who bends down. He is the crack in the bunker of a daily life that I “put up with.” Now, looking back on those days–August 25-29 in La Thuile together with 450 people from 74 countries–is a different story. It all starts on Saturday, when I have lunch with Giacomo–both of us having been “unloaded” at the hotel by our respective travel arrangements long before the Assembly is to begin–and he tells me about the 1½-year-old foster care child that he has had for the past few months. “With him, Laura and I have rediscovered daily life, starting from having to get up at night and feed him.” No small feat, with the other children already grown. “Yes, but it really is a discovery. Beautiful”–more so than many speeches, theories, and projects.
Slowly, everyone arrives, amid the usual hubbub of greetings in various languages. After dinner, we gather in the meeting room before the introduction, and invoke the Holy Spirit. Begging for the Spirit of Christ, that He guide us to the truth of ourselves in these days, is not taken for granted.
“The circumstances through which God has us pass are an essential and not a secondary factor of our vocation.” Giussani’s words, read by Carrón, take us right to the heart of the question. What circumstances? Those of the Movement, the Church, the Pope, the crisis, and the confusion in which we are immersed. It is “the grip of a hostile society [that] tightens around us to the point of threatening the vivacity of our expression, during a time when a cultural and social hegemony tends to penetrate the heart, stirring up our already natural uncertainties.” We are all affected, because this interweaving of circumstances surrounds and provokes us. The question arises: how will we not suffocate? In the life of those that He calls, God does not permit anything to happen unless it is for their maturation. In this, the truth of faith is demonstrated. This is the challenge. Every circumstance is for a call “to purification and conversion to He who has fascinated us.... and His untiring knocking at our door.” We need only the grace that the Lord gives us in order to respond to this call. These days are the possibility to feel ourselves embraced by Christ.

The crack in the bunker. As I leave the room, I look for my colleagues, who are coming directly from the Rimini Meeting and who hadn’t yet arrived earlier at dinnertime. I turn to find Luca, who was recently hired by Traces. “We were stuck in traffic from Rimini to La Thuile, with a storm to boot. We got here just in time for this meeting.” This is his first International Assembly. What is his reaction? “It’s not just a question of work.”
Sunday morning, at the assembly, the floor is open. Has what we’ve lived in these past months made us mature in the faith or has it crushed us? Nothing is mechanical. Hands are raised. The challenge is played out at work, from within the recent crisis, so what one thought that he already knew can truly become his. The question is radical: How do I discover the meaning of everything? By accepting the challenge of reality. “Getting out of the bunker requires a struggle. And it’s not done by introspection! Let’s not be confused by Giussani’s proposal,” Carrón insists, “otherwise we will remain buried in the bunker.” Man is made for the infinite; God has placed this need, this demand for meaning, inside us. We start from here. It becomes evident that sometimes we would like to escape. But reality belongs to God; we are made by God. One thing is clear: the stakes are interesting, and the journey has begun.
I have lunch with Pinuccio Zaffaroni, who has been on mission for 25 years, first in Mexico and then in Puerto Rico. He tells me, “When I left Italy, Giussani said to me, ‘You will have to follow them for a long time, before one of them will follow you.’ It took years to understand; you just have to trust.” Next to him is Wadi, a young professor from Puerto Rico, who tells me about his life, from his encounter with the Movement through Pinuccio, to the difficult situation in his country, from which everyone wants to escape, never to return. He stays there in Puerto Rico because of these friends, among other reasons. Sitting at our table are Sister Marcella, a missionary in Haiti, and Adele, the Responsible of the Fraternity of St. Joseph. They had never met each other before, and are now talking intensely. When we get up, Adele says to me, “Thank you for introducing her to me.” Jokingly, I say, “Will you go with her, too?” “Who knows, maybe for a month.” She is smiling, but she is very serious. While we had been walking to the dining room, Sister Marcella had said to me in her decided tone, “I’ll see you again in Milan for lunch with friends. I’ll tell you all about it. The situation is tough. I stay there only for Christ.”

Politics, the Meeting, Ireland. In the afternoon, Giorgio Vittadini, Alberto Savorana, and Mauro Biondi are onstage to speak about the challenge of the circumstances of their lives. Giorgio summarizes the past year: the 2011 Rimini Meeting, the flyer about the crisis, the political complications involving Roberto Formigoni (President of the Lombardy region in Italy), and Carrón’s letter about the scandal this caused... For Giorgio, it became blatantly apparent that the choice was between “hegemonies sought at all costs and the enigmatic power of God.”
Alberto tells how, as a good rationalist, he arrived at this year’s Meeting with the preoccupation that Lombardy’s political situation would influence the week. But then, the unexpected happened: he ran into John Waters, who, in explaining the exhibit on rock music, reawakened the fundamental questions of his life. We can go through life blindfolded, or we can accept the challenge of a different gaze.
Finally, Mauro speaks about the grand event of the Jesus in Capernaum exhibit (entitled, “With the Eyes of the Apostles”) from the 2011 Meeting, which they brought to Dublin on the occasion of the Eucharistic Congress (see Traces, Vol. 14, No. 7 [July] 2012, pp. 17-20). It seemed like an impossible undertaking–and yet, in following the signs that the Lord gradually placed before them, the miracle happened: all of the people involved, and the over 8,000 visitors, saw the presence of Christ, now. It was a sign for the entire Irish Church, as well.
As I leave the room, I reflect that all three of them spoke of themselves with an affection for their lives that is not to be taken for granted, especially considering that, after many years in the Movement, one could perhaps think that he “already knows everything.”
After dinner, archaeologist Giorgio Buccellati (see Traces, Vol. 14, No. 4 [April] 2012, pp. 21-24) and Bible scholar Ignacio Carbajosa (better known as “Nacho”) document the relationship between the world of discoveries regarding Mesopotamia and the world of the Bible. It is a dense comparison that shows the topicality of the conception of the ancient Mesopotamian peoples–regarding the random origin of the world, the irrelevance of the problem of evil, and the relationship with reality as power–and the absolute originality of the Bible. During the presentation, I am a bit distracted; after all, it had already been in Traces, then there was the event on this topic at the Meeting... that is, I think that I already know. Outside, I meet a friend from college who has been working abroad for years, and I ask him, with a bit of a know-it-all air, “Did you like it?” “It wasn’t exactly simple. I feel bad that I was tired, and I was having trouble paying attention, but the subject is really interesting. It’s not something that only has to do with the past.”

A well-marked road. On Monday morning, Carrón gets to the bottom of the question, accompanying each of us along the road indicated by Giussani. To live life as vocation through the circumstances that the Lord gives us means that nothing that happens is a mistake of the Mystery. God does nothing by chance. Everything is an occasion for the relationship with the Infinite. Because of this, we don’t have to be afraid of circumstances or hope that we be spared the hardest ones. “The main point is self-awareness, which, first of all, is a clear and loving perception of self, full of the awareness of one’s own destiny. It’s a tension. Affection for oneself is motivated not by what one is, but by the fact that one is.” It is the surprise of self as a gift, made by an Other. For each of us, this tension has found its fulfillment in the encounter with One to whom we felt fully correspondent, who attracted every fiber of our being. In that encounter lies the truth of oneself. We have to “make memory” of this encounter within the circumstances and, so, as Saint Paul says, “no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” This changes our feeling about ourselves. Certainly, it’s a struggle, the struggle of each and every day. The journey that we are making, through all of the challenges that the Mystery does not spare us, is so we can render habitual the desire for His presence.
I head toward the exit with Iaia, the CL “visitor” for Belgium and a dear friend. We are silent, but in front of the hotel, she says, “I was really moved. I cried. To love yourself. Just think!” She is not a sentimental type; quite the opposite. Giussani, paraphrasing Bernanos, had said, “The furthest reach of audacity would be to humbly love oneself.”
We get together again in the afternoon. The path that we embarked upon in the morning is expressed in the intense dialogue between Bernhard Scholz, President of the Companionship of Works, Monica Poletto, who is responsible for the Company’s social work, and Carrón. The theme is work; this starting point, work, is an expression of self-awareness. We come to know ourselves through what we do. Therefore, the first thing to realize is that work belongs to those who do it and that its utility lies in the witness, in a diversity, and not in its dimensions. Of course, there is the risk of personalism but, as Giussani said: “The worst consequence of personalism is sentimental attachment. The implementation of one’s own project tends to be completely closed in an individualistic dependence.” Ultimately, the purpose of the Companionship of Works is to support the responsibility of those who do the work; it doesn’t stand in for them. The stakes are always high.
After dinner, Virginia Rossetti, Andrea Mascetti, and Giacomo Grava play Franz Schubert’s Trio in E flat Major, Op. 100. The second movement is perhaps the most striking. The theme is a farewell. The Austrian composer knew that he would die soon, and this work represents something of a spiritual testament.
The following morning, everyone is gathered in front of the hotel. We say the Angelus, then leave for the hike. The climb, together with new and old friends, the lunch, the singing–everything, for me, is like the “beautiful day” of which Camus spoke. There is an unexpected grandness. Looking around during Mass, and later, those who have been my companions for a long time or just for a few hours, make me perceive clearly that only the Lord makes this companionship.
Before dinner, we have the assembly. The point is still affection for oneself. We are not moved by what we are, but because we are. And we are wanted, loved, by God. Circumstances are not something to submit to, saying, “God wants it like this,” but they are the possibility to go to the heart of our encounter with Christ. A person who has this self-awareness operates in reality differently.
In the evening, Tat’jana Kasatkina (see Traces, Vol. 14, No 7 [July] 2012, pp. 8-12) retraces the adventure and the encounters that took place at the Meeting through the Dostoevsky exhibit, of which she was the curator. The preparations that took almost a year and a half, and then the week in Rimini with the young people who acted as guides, the visitors who thanked her, moved–everything rendered the great Russian writer alive and contemporary. This all brings her to speak of her love for Christ.

The battle of our whole life. “I don’t know if we are all aware of how tough the times are,” Carrón begins abruptly on the last day. The powers that be want to take away our soul. We need to wake up. “The cultural hegemony finds its expression in a reductive use of reason. Self-awareness becomes introspection; we just repeat phrases. We don’t say You to that presence that makes us.” We don’t leave the bunker. But there is something that resists: our amazement for being. Our freedom is at play here. Of course, we can remain obtuse, opaque; we can say, “No.” The first element of self-awareness is an Other who makes me now. Nothing can erase it. The recognition of this dependence is the joyful discovery of being sons and daughters. The second point is that the encounter with Christ makes me experience myself with a totalizing fullness. The Lord calls us from within the circumstances. You respond because you see Him at work. It is an experience, the experience of sons, like it was for Jesus with the Father. His Presence makes us victorious because He defeated evil. At all times, however, we must make memory of Christ who fills our life and gives meaning to time. Silence is necessary in order to leave space for Him, and our prayer consists in this. The battle, therefore, of our whole life is in affirming that “You” who loves us. This journey is dizzying; it is a miracle that happens every day.
As I finish writing, an e-mail arrives from Guido, to whom I had forwarded the photo of the group from the hike: “What a great gift God gave us.”