01-03-2013 - Traces, n. 3


The Pope’s decision: What is my certainty built on?
Dear Fr. Carrón: I’m in my fourth year of law school. As soon as I heard the news of Pope Benedict’s decision to renounce his Ministry, I was deeply shaken. In a context of complete uncertainty, I viewed the Church as the ultimate stronghold of my own certainty. The Pope’s gesture seemed to prove me wrong. I wasn’t doubting the Holy Father per se, but in this particular point in time–marked by a crisis that involves politics as well economy and by a widespread instability–my image of the Church, as the solid fortress surrounded by a crumbling world, was vanishing. Later, the CL press release introduced a breath of fresh air. It revealed the misunderstanding according to which the strength of the Church coincides merely with the image that the Church gives of itself. The Pope reminded me of the work that you have been asking of us this year. What can I personally say about this event? What is my certainty built upon? A man can decide to renounce the Petrine Ministry only if he is certain of what gives him consistency–and this is the relationship with Christ, Who is the destiny of my life, who supports me and opens up my desire. Furthermore, this pivotal event strikes me even in relation to the Note on the Italian elections. In fact, the same experience can lead to two different conclusions: “From the Cross you do not come down” said John Paul II, and yet Benedict XVI has decided to renounce the Ministry. If the ultimate criteria is the relationship with Christ, both choices have equal dignity. I was faced with similar considerations, albeit expressed in a different form, a few days earlier, when I accompanied a group of middle school students belonging to the “Knights” youth group on the occasion of their Promise. I was particularly struck by two kids, who are very close friends. One of them wrote, in the letter they are asked to compose for the Promise: “I can’t talk about myself without talking about  Davide, my best friend.” I was very struck that a person, in order to talk about himself, needs to talk about the relationship with another.
Martino, Milan (Italy)

Solidarity Bank – Where the world makes sense again
Everything happened in the past five years. I was in charge of acquisitions for a company that eventually closed. My wife doesn’t have a job, and we have two children, 6 and 11 years old. I had a job and a paycheck, and within a couple of years everything disappeared.  I felt the world coming down upon me, even if I tried to hang in there, saying to myself, “Tomorrow will be better.” Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. We stopped paying our mortgage, began to accumulate unpaid utility bills, and people started to avoid us, to the point that we felt alone and isolated. Little by little, my family started to eliminate anything that wasn’t strictly necessary, and things that were once considered ordinary we avoided. When I first approached the Salvagente (the office of the Solidarity Bank in Ostra), and met the people there, the world started to make sense again. I saw people doing good deeds, and looking at them I started trusting people and hoping for the future again. The way they welcomed me gave me hope and strength to face life. When you are at the end of your rope, somebody stretching out a hand to you is a big help. I’m not talking about the mere value of the food supplies we receive (which are surely important); I am talking about the certainty that my family will have food on the table–food that I have not been able to provide for them since I lost my job. On top of this, I have been invited to partake of their friendship. I attend meetings where we read Traces and have dinner together. It’s a new experience for me and my children (I bring them, too). The meetings help me stay at peace with myself and with those who are close to me. Yesterday, my son asked, “Dad, are we poor?” I answered, “If you are talking about money, yes, we are poor, because if you put your hand in my pocket you will not find a euro there. But now we are not alone anymore; we are rich because we are blessed with friends.”
Antonello, Ostra (Italy)

Every moment
is an opportunity

Dear Fr. Carrón: Reading the text of the Exercises, I was struck by what you said about the companionship being the place where the promise of Christ is revealed. It made me think about how my life has radically changed after the encounter with certain “faces” at the university. Without those faces, I wouldn’t have been able to even begin to hope; I wouldn’t have been able to start living. For the past three years, I have been abroad, because of my PhD–first in Belgium, and for the past four months in Germany–far from the friends I met at the beginning. Where I am now, there are no other CL university students. (There are three families of the Movement, but we don’t see each other every day.) I spend the majority of my days with my colleagues (most of whom are atheists) and with my roommates. Yet, I never feel really lonely. At times, I spend hours alone, talking to nobody but the cashier at the cafe. Yet, the dominant feeling is not loneliness, but that of a constant companionship. In fact, everything around me reminds me of the truth of myself. For example, my roommates and I (five people, and I am the only Catholic) have started having dinner together more often, cooking for one another. Why is that? Because it is more beautiful–so they say. I believe they are more enthusiastic than me about this. If I think about it, they are a sign that I am made to share what I have been given, from food to life itself. When I look at my roommates, I see that even if at times they are superficial (who isn’t?) they have been given to me. I didn’t chose them, and yet they are with me, to remind me, in their own way, of what I am made for. Friday night we had a birthday party at the apartment, and several people got drunk and began behaving like animals. I was very upset and appalled. I was talking to a young man (one of the few who were sober), and at a certain point he asked me, “You are sad, aren’t you? You are not like them!” I couldn’t but tell him why I was sad, and thus remember the reason of my being different. I would probably live just like all those drunk people, but something happened that changed me, and allowed me to look at every moment of my life as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle to tolerate until the weekend and the next occasion to get high. In short, even in that rather unpleasant circumstance, I have been almost forced by a simple remark (“You are sad”) to remember the Presence who never abandons me, even when there are no friends in sight. He becomes present through signs that help me recognize the change that has occurred in my life. This change, which initially came to pass through certain faces, is not confined to those faces but keeps happening through new people and new friends, who help me and support me on my journey. It’s becoming ever more clear that wherever I go (Belgium, Germany, or the United States) I lack nothing; I have plenty of tools and signs to keep recognizing Christ. This is what really sets me free.
Eleonora, Düsseldorf (Germany)

A baby’s inspiration to go back to the origin of faith
Dearest Fr. Julián: I am a Russian woman, and we met when you came to Moscow a few years ago. Since then, my life has changed a lot, and now I live in Turin. For a few years, I was not able to follow the Movement, which was very painful; yet, I was in a situation that I could not change. Following my husband, I ended up in a small village close to Naples, where I had a very hard time. I felt that my life was a joke. Thank God a friend of mine gave me a subscription to Traces, which I read faithfully. Then, suddenly, when I least expected it, I experienced gladness; I don’t know how it happened, but I finally realized that even that circumstance was for my own good, and that I wasn’t alone, just like Christ wasn’t alone on the Cross. I don’t know how, but I started looking at everything as an education for my personal growth. Then another miracle happened: my husband was sent to work in Turin. I immediately started looking for the people of the Movement there. I planned to go to Beginning Day, which was to be held in a big theater, with a lot of people. I asked my husband to join me and, much to my surprise (he doesn’t belong to the Movement), he accepted. Once I got there, I realized that in Milan there were even more people. Dear Julián, I remember that in Moscow half of the people speaking at our meetings started from the wish–the need–for more people to join.  Now that I am here I see those who have just encountered the Movement, as well as those who have belonged to it since GS. I don’t want to be judgmental, but now I understand the fear of reducing everything to an organization. I think back to my small Russian community, with its simplicity, even ignorance, and with the same desire to follow the Movement. I met the Movement in 2000, when I was 17, but I feel as if I just met it, because now it challenges me, and my freedom. Every time there is School of Community, or an assembly, or any other initiative, I am faced with the same choice. I am new in Turin, and I haven’t established those relationships that help me follow. On top of that, there is the language barrier; sometimes I feel inadequate compared to all these knowledgeable people. I don’t have a “Paolo Pezzi” with whom to share my questions, my doubts, or even my beautiful experiences. Strangely enough, following has become easier; I left behind the outer shell and I am sticking to what is essential, that is “a presence that imposed itself and brought to people’s lives the provocation of a promise to follow.”
Liuba, Turin (Italy)

Blackboards filled with
calculations and beauty

I have been in the Movement for about ten years, but I can’t say that I have belonged to it fully. I have always looked at studying as an unbearable burden, but for the past week I have been living the most engaging experience of my life–which, up to recently, I considered miserable. I have never been able to see the beauty of books, let alone the beauty of equations or the demonstration of   theorems. Yet, when a friend invited me to live and look at those formulas with different eyes, everything became fascinating, special, even essential. This is the kind of discovery that makes you understand that your heart can’t give up on those blackboards filled with calculations and formulas, because they bear witness to an encounter that you can’t do without anymore. I am certain that my friend’s invitation to study for something greater is a new beginning for me.
Luigi, Cassino (Italy)

My students’ invitations into friendship
The New York Encounter of 2013 was the first which I have been fortunate enough to attend and, in doing so, I have found myself becoming more and more surprised at what is unfolding. As it is my first year teaching, my days are full of newness and an interest to learn from those who have taught before me. With every assignment, I find myself just scratching the surface of what I would like to show my freshmen, sophomores, and seniors at the high school I also attended. Especially after the Encounter, I find myself wanting the friendship I have met to become more a part of the school day. More recently, some of my own students attended, with me, the GS vacation which took place in Nashville, Indiana, and the fruit of that began to manifest itself the day after our return home. While the students could have been using their time for studying or for clubs, a few of the girls came to my classroom to discuss some of their questions and to look at various aspects of their lives since the vacation ended–they wanted to make more sense of what had happened to them. They also asked  if I would go with them later to the Mass for the anniversary of Fr. Giussani’s death. They invited me into the friendship again, and I was completely taken aback, wondering, “Who am I that they come to me with these questions?” Little did they know I still am asking some of the same things because it is in asking that I am becoming more free to inquire into the mystery of my heart and theirs. Later that very day, the class with my sophomores brought me to recognize the Mystery once again. A couple students who often ask questions, sometimes on target but usually as a distraction, made a ploy for the latter. I continued with the rest of the class and when their unsavory questions went ignored, they both wished to join us. After the lecture, I asked the two how they wanted to be treated–like toddlers or like sophomores? One came to me after the bell and asked if I would study  with a few of them. After having reprimanded him, he sought me out because he was interested in learning Italian, among other things I had mentioned as asides in class. In these moments, I see the promise made to us in this life, and I have so very many companions to thank! 
Julie Lasher, Evansville, IN (USA)

“You are the luckiest man alive”
There are things in life that make me rediscover a gaze filled with the wonder of a child, even if, at 58, with three grown-up daughters and a wife who, for the past 25 years, has accepted me for what I am, I could say there is nothing else I could possibly need. Twenty-five years ago, Father Giussani celebrated my wedding (what a grace!) and I remember that he told me: “You are the luckiest man alive.” He was so right. Yet, in life, you always have to expect the unexpected. One night, I was home, talking and cracking jokes with my wife, when my oldest daughter came home and announced: “I am pregnant.” Our smiles withered and I thought: “Are you kidding? You have known him for three months, and you are unemployed.” But it all remained just a thought. I didn’t voice my concern; I looked at her and I hugged her tight. Now I wonder what, or who, could have made me capable of such a great gesture. Looking back at my record as a father, I understand that when my children came to life I didn’t accept them; I welcomed them. I understand now that welcoming somebody is not a matter of square footage. Where does this Grace come from? I am sure that, left to my own devices, I would not have been able to immediately embrace my daughter. Did anybody promise me anything? When I brought my children into life, did I promise them anything? Those arms hugging my daughter were not my arms; my immediate thought was different. I understand that reality does not coincide with my thoughts, and that I can understand it better if I stay in front of it.  If I had not met Rossana–a woman like many others, and yet so special because she showed me His face–and if He had not made Himself recognizable for 25 years, in every circumstance of my life, I would not be able to say that Fr. Giussani was right about me. I wait for Him every day.
Fulvio, Italy

AVSI tents: I was the one who was struck the most. Everything started when one of my college friends invited me to participate in the work of the AVSI Christmas Tents. I asked her what it was about, but she didn’t know very much. Nonetheless, I was struck by the enthusiasm of some of my fellow students. I didn’t know why, but without thinking too much about it, they had decided to help out with this charity, even though they didn’t know exactly what it was. Feeling a little bit cajoled into it, I went with them. We joined some CL students from the State University of Milan, who were singing in a nearby public square. I was told briefly what I had to do and why; I put on the AVSI jacket, I picked up one of the green bags I was supposed to use, and I started asking for funds for a few AVSI projects–family-based pre-K programs in Ecuador and financial aid for refugee families in Syria. My first attempt failed; people didn’t even stop to listen to what I had to say, or came up with unlikely excuses to get away. After a while, a few people started to approach the choir, asking for information. They were struck by the way we were working together. But I was the one who was struck the most. Lorenzo, Milan (Italy)