|01-04-2013 - Traces, n. 4
The simplicity of children
After spending one week pretending to be an expert Vatican correspondent, especially at work, talking to “non-connoisseurs,” and after an intense work day and a couple of hours spent discussing the nutritional difference of an underripe banana versus an overripe one with the cafeteria staff at school, at 7:10 I was informed of the white smoke coming out of the Sistine Chapel’s chimney. Overwhelmed by emotion, I ran home to join my whole family–including my atheist brother–who were already in front of the TV, each of them holding their plate of spaghetti. The wait became unbearable; as my children kept screaming, “Pope, Pope!” I kept nervously chewing my dinner, and my brother decided to clean the goldfish tank… Then the doors to the balcony opened, the cardinal came out and, in the middle of Latin words that I couldn’t understand, pronounced a name unknown to most (including me, notwithstanding all the time spent on Wikipedia). Everything came to a standstill; I turned into a wax statue, and the only serene one among us was the goldfish, who could finally enjoy some fresh oxygen. I realized that, just like what usually happens with the Palio of Siena (a traditional horse race that takes place in Siena’s main square every summer) or the Miss Italy pageant, my predictions were wrong. My candidate had fallen out of the spotlight, and I started searching for reasons to cling to my point of view. Who is this guy? He is too old, he was never given any important position in the Church... Sure, he was a front runner eight years ago, but now? Then my children started again with the chant, “Pope, Pope,” and I realized that once again I was stopping at my own measure, what I thought best; I still wanted to apply my own criteria…Yet, the simplicity of my children brought me back to recognizing that all my plans could not compete with the Holy Spirit, and that my obedience to the Church needed to become unconditional obedience to and affection for the elected Pope. I hope this event will be for me and for all (including my brother) one more opportunity to recognize, with the simplicity of children, the fatherhood of Christ.
His poverty is Christ
I am in the fourth year of law school at the Milan State University, and with some of my friends I had the grace to be in St. Peter’s Square on the evening of Pope Francis’ election. Those hours of waiting were unlike anything I had experienced before in my life. From the moment I saw the white smoke, I was unable to remove my gaze from the balcony of the Basilica, and my curiosity grew strong. I was present at an event that was forcing me to ask myself: “What does this have to do with me?” The answer became clear as soon as the Holy Father appeared on the balcony. In his first words and gestures, I immediately felt an exhortation directed at me; with his simplicity and humility he was bringing me back to what was essential, to Christ Himself. He asked for prayers for the task he has been called to and, in the astounding silence that pervaded the Square when he bowed his head, we all perceived the mysterious work of Another among us. What did, and does, all that have to do with me? It started having something to do with me as soon as I let myself be attracted and taken over by that moment that I was experiencing and, as I made it my own and followed it, it made me grow and it generated a judgment that wasn’t there before. The following morning, reading in the papers the exaltation of the poverty of the Church and of its renewal, I immediately felt that the press was reducing the breadth of what Pope Francis wanted to bear witness to. Thinking back to his call to poverty, I wanted to understand clearly what was at the heart of the matter; stopping at superficial considerations was not enough. What the Holy Father wants to recall us to is that poverty that has no other treasure but Christ Himself–just like Fr. Carrón reminded us–that same poverty that Benedict XVI so clearly showed us when he humbly renounced the Ministry that had been entrusted to him, as leader of the universal Church. I never came across a better definition of the spirit of true poverty than the one that Fr. Giussani proclaimed in front of Pope John Paul II in 1998, in St. Peter’s Square: “…existence expresses itself, as ultimate ideal, in begging. The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man’s heart, and man’s heart that begs for Christ.”
Lunch break, the Conclave, and the president
Dear Fr. Julián: I am learning a lot in the company where I am currently working, and it is true that the main activity in all I do here–in the work I do to complete my dissertation that is little by little taking shape–is first and foremost passive: I need to observe, follow, let myself be struck by what happens, ask, and question myself regarding what some of the managers are saying. This doesn’t mean I am giving up being myself–on the contrary! I have come to the realization that the only winning thing that I have to offer to them–with my English still being shaky–is the way of life and the Christian view of life that I have experienced at the Catholic University (in Milan) and that I can no longer do without. Therefore, the way I read and understand the company documents, the way I conduct the interviews for my dissertation, the way I attend meetings–in short, everything–is permeated by a few questions that have become very real to me, because of the work of School of Community, such as, “What is this about? What’s in it for me? What is the ultimate goal?” The managers are impressed by the way I face and get involved in some of the meetings we have, and by the questions I ask. In my company, the employees don’t stop working for lunch; they all have a sandwich at their desk in front of the computer. I, however, have my lunch in the office kitchen. As the days went by, some of the employees started asking me, “What do you do in there?” “I eat!” “Can we join you?” Now I have a 15-minute lunch every day with five of them. Two days ago, my manager joined our group. My company has 200 employees, and only two are Catholic: the president and myself. Well, during the Conclave he started calling me to his office to be kept abreast, and to ask my judgment about what was happening. Little by little, the other managers starting doing the same. We had a number of very interesting conversations, especially during our lunch together in the kitchen. In short, the level of my work experience with this company is very high, yet there is a provocation that emerges from it all: this is all worthless if it doesn’t have anything to do with the question, “How can I answer Your call today? What are You asking of me?” Even if very beautiful things are happening, all the value and the enjoyment can be lost on me, unless I ask that question. When I don’t do it, the longing for my home, for my girlfriend, and for my friends takes hold of me, and I become distracted, as if my mind were somewhere else. The unquenchable need of my heart is constantly reawakened by saying morning and evening prayer (something I never did in Italy), and by the physical need to work on School of Community–a work that opens me up to what happens in reality, and helps me go to the depth of things. I am realizing that I need to answer His call every day, and I need my life to be grand, which happens only if it becomes offering and service for the work of Another.
Marco, Boston (USA)
A new discovery:
a work within work
Like the majority of people, I was shocked when I learned of Pope Benedict’s decision to resign from his ministry. I spent many sleepless nights thinking about it. Yet, I have to admit that the initial dismay was soon replaced by a pressing question, especially when the crude comments of my colleagues made me react as if they were attacking my own father. I started asking myself why I had been so shocked by that news, and who that man was for me. For this reason, I decided to read many of Benedict’s writings. I re-read many speeches that had left a mark on my life in the past and that, as a consequence, shaped my choices in the present. I watched his last few appearances for the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square.
Looking at that old man, unfazed by a square filled by 150,000 believers, I was moved at the thought of the act of love that he was carrying out. That man is dear to me because all he has done throughout the years was to show his humanity, changed by the presence of Christ at work in his life. This makes him so fascinating, and such a father to me, that I am compelled to say, “I want to follow him, because I want to be as free as he is.” The other important event that recently happened is what I call the “work within my work.” For the past month, my work has become truly thrilling. After a year spent struggling and wanting to quit, finally I have seen how even an environment as strange as the world of finance can be a place where I can learn a lot for my life. This change came about partly because of the possibility to collaborate closely with a girl who has taken my needs at heart, and has shown me a new and different way to be within the work environment, with a zest for life and a desire that is evident to all in the company. I was particularly moved by the interest that she showed in my professional growth, while everybody else had been concerned, at best, about my survival. Our relationship developed outside of the work environment, sharing some common interests. Last Sunday, I went to her place for dinner, and when I returned home, I was even more moved and grateful to God for this friendship that He was giving me. The following morning, going to work, I was wondering: “What is making me so happy here now? Is it simply the presence of such a human person? What if she was taken away from me?” That very evening my boss told me that she had gotten a promotion and moved to another department. At first I felt betrayed, but then I said to myself, “Wow! The Lord surely takes me seriously. I come up with a question in the morning and the evening of the same day He offers me the possibility for a verification on a silver platter.” Talking to my boss, I was moved by the way he was challenging me to really understand what was so impressive about the way my friend conducted herself at work, so that I could keep benefitting from it even if she was no longer in front of me. Today, the possibility to work keeping this challenge in mind has changed a day that began marred by skepticism. I keep at this “work within my work” with an increased certainty that everything is for me and for my own good.
Maristella, Dublin (Ireland)
The “great blasphemous man” and the Alpine choir
I am an engineering student at Bovisa University in Milan, where I also belong to an Alpine choir with some of my friends and fellow students. Recently, we met for dinner and, before parting, we decided to gather outside of the pizzeria to sing a song to end the night together, Signore delle Cime (Lord of the Mountaintops, a classic Alpine song). Halfway through the song, a man who was inside the restaurant realized that one of us had left his backpack inside and came out to give it to us. When he heard our singing, he came closer and listened to us. When the song was over he thanked us, shaking hands with each one of the singers. He tried to explain why he was so struck, but he was soon overwhelmed with emotion. He asked us to sing again, and as soon as we started, he began to cry. Then Moreno–that was his name–told us about himself. He said he never believed in God and he never will; he defined himself a “great blasphemous man.” He told us he served time in jail, and that when he was there he never cried–not even when his mother wept in front of him during visitations. He could not explain his tears. He told us, “You give me reasons to believe; I have never been given a greater gift. I feel my soul has been captured by something I can’t explain.” Then he started asking who we were, what we studied, and, most of all, how we could be “so good”–how we came to believe in God. One of us answered, “If you ask why we believe in God, each one of us will tell you that at least once we were moved in front of something greater, just like you are now.” We gave him the Easter poster and he asked if he could meet us again. He said, “I don’t know what will happen next, but I know that I will never forget what happened to me tonight.” He embraced us one by one, and we parted ways. Going back home, in silence, I couldn’t but pray to be like Moreno; I asked to be able to be ever more aware of and moved by what He constantly puts in front of me, knowing that He can come to us anytime, even through an Alpine song. He is the One who takes the initiative, and we can meet Him even if we are not waiting for Him!
Paolo, Milan (Italy)
Sharing the News like the first apostles
Dear Fr. Jùlian: Recently, I spent a few days in Seattle and Boston. In the first city, I attended a dentistry conference and I stayed with a friend of mine. I was very struck by how beautiful the small (about 20 people) CL community of Seattle was. They made me realize that it is possible to re-live the same experience of the first few Apostles who, after Christ’s Death and Resurrection, spread, to the whole world, the news that death had been conquered. The diverse ways in which each of them encountered the Movement is the proof; for example, one girl was impressed by the choir and asked to join, while a man, intrigued by what he read in the parish bulletin about a “Communion and Liberation” meeting, decided to attend. In Boston, I was amazed by the extraordinary friendship and closeness of Cardinal O’Malley. He came to conclude the community’s Way of the Cross–which had traversed the whole downtown area–with a personal reflection. Later, at the end of the Easter Vigil Mass, he greeted us all, one by one.
Giacomo, Boston (USA)
GRANDMA DEA’S SHORTCUT
During a class, I learned that my mother-in-law had been hit by a car, and had died on impact. Shortly after, I found myself dealing with a series of problems to solve, but in between tasks I was taken over by a thought: “I hope I will never meet the person who ran over her.” At the same time, I started telling my friends: “We need to pray more for the person who killed her than for my mother-in-law; she was for sure in the grace of God.” She was 92, and her death would have gone unnoticed if she hadn’t been known as “the Pilgrimage Grandma.” Last year, she had gone on the annual Macerata–Loreto pilgrimage, walking the whole way (around 17 miles). The day after the accident, we were given her body back. While I was with her, my uncle arrived, followed by two people I didn’t know. “Who are you?” I asked. A man answered hesitantly, “I am the husband of the woman who hit Grandma Dea. My wife is destroyed by what happened; she didn’t have the heart to come.” Looking at that man and his sorrow, my initial thoughts vanished. I asked myself, “How would I like to be treated, if I were in his shoes?” Or, better, “How have I always been treated?” I hugged him and I suggested that he tell his wife to go to Confession, to have God’s forgiveness on top of mine. I also asked him to tell his wife to go on the pilgrimage to Loreto in my mother-in-law’s stead, since this time she had taken a shortcut, and had already reached the final destination. On the following day, he came to the funeral. He met my husband and was embraced by him as well. At the Prayer of the Faithful, my children read: “For the person who accidentally ran over Grandma Dea, and for all those who have been the cause of accidents, that in asking for forgiveness from God they may experience the infinite mercy of Christ, Who doesn’t look at us for our mistakes.” How could all this come to pass? What had happened in the lives of others before was happening in mine. And when it happens, it happens.
The schoolmate i quarreled with. Dear Fr. Carrón: I am a 16-year-old girl. I used to have a very beautiful friendship with a schoolmate of mine, but then things changed. For a number of reasons, I became very disappointed by the way she was acting toward me, and because of this I was persuaded that she owed me an apology. This situation continued for a couple of months but I wasn’t happy. I was so upset that, as far as I was concerned, she no longer existed. At Mass, I used to say to God, “Lord show me the way, because You know what is best for me and for her.” Last Saturday, after school, I returned home crying; I saw the booklet of the CL University Exercises.I started reading it. At a certain point, I came across this sentence: “Well, who am I to reduce the other to her errors when nobody looks at me this way? If Jesus doesn’t focus on our errors, why should we do so?” I was so deeply shaken by what I just read that I picked up the phone and called my friend to apologize to her for the way I was looking at her. I felt the need to share the beauty of what had just happened to me, so I read the quote to her. I was surprised to hear that she was going through the same uneasiness toward me, but she didn’t know where to start in order to mend the situation. Now we are closer and more loyal than before, because we have discovered that only Another allows us to be like this.