|01-04-2014 - Traces, n. 4
On sacred ground
In front of that girl
I live in the United States. One year ago, a Protestant girl met our small GS high school community, spurred by curiosity for the change she had noticed in a friend of hers who had previously met us. Six months after her encounter, she left to attend college. I was filled with wonder, considering how something as fragile as an encounter (especially where there are no “structures” or initiatives besides the texts that the Movement provides, and where the community is as small as ours) has indeed an indestructible strength, capable of resisting the attacks of the whole world. This girl asked me many, many questions (sometimes polemical ones) about Catholic doctrine, and her objections seemed insurmountable, given her Protestant upbringing. Nevertheless, while her mind was coming up with more questions, her face was becoming more radiant every day. I often told her that she needed to start from what she had seen and had felt an attraction for. She was ever more determined to find answers for all her objections. Last week, she returned from college, for spring break. She went with her family to their Protestant church, and her tutor (the person who followed her formation in the Protestant faith) was puzzled when she learned that our friend had attended Mass with the CLU university students. Her tutor told her that her perplexity was due to a sincere affection for her, and that she was concerned that she wasn’t able to distinguish what was true from what was false. At that point, our friend answered that she was certain that every person had in himself or herself the ability to judge and recognize what was true, beautiful, and right. Can you imagine these words coming from this girl? Father Giussani is alive and present now! In her brief journey, she has faced many challenges to her fragile encounter with us. At the same time, she also has had many experiences confirming what had happened to her. Later, she told me that she was preparing to receive the sacraments! I asked her, “Are you aware that in the ceremony you will have to declare that you believe in everything that the Catholic Church says? What will you do with all those questions you had about the saints, Holy Communion, and all your other objections?” She answered, “I am certain of a few things, and that’s enough for me. In time, I will understand the rest.” Lately, I have often thought about something Father Giussani said on his last birthday (when I had gone to visit him with a few friends): “How great is God–or better, how great is that man, Jesus of Nazareth!” Back then, I was not moved by those words. Now, nine years later, they are erupting from the depths of my “I,” and I don’t have a better way to describe what is happening. Who are You, Jesus, with such power, with such attractiveness, that nothing can dispel You? You are more real than reality itself! Father Giussani’s method is current and effective; it’s like a rock one can build life upon! I was standing in front of that girl as if on sacred ground; I felt like taking my sandals off before the One who was becoming present right before my eyes. I was the privileged witness of a mysterious relationship. The following day, I received Communion in a different way, and His presence filled me with silence.
Dear colleague, my
disabled child is happy
Dear Father Carrón: During a discussion about Belgium’s euthanasia law, one of my colleagues suddenly said that, after all, euthanizing gravely disabled newborn babies was right, in those cases when said children would be clearly unable to walk, talk, or be autonomous, because for sure they could never be happy. At that point, I jumped in, saying that I had a disabled child, whose condition was exactly as the one described by my colleague. I said that, despite her condition, she is happy, which proves that happiness is not proportional to one’s abilities or performance, and that happiness is not something we can give to ourselves. I added that, despite the difficulties that her condition implies, I have always considered her a great gift for me, because her total dependence is a constant reminder that we are in the hands of Another. I proceeded to recount some of the instances when her presence had been a true enrichment for those who had the possibility to meet her. A week later, my colleague came to visit me in my office. Initially, he told me of a few personal events, as if to justify the ideas he had expressed during our discussion, then he ended by saying, “I don’t think what you told us can possibly change my mind on this issue; yet, I have to admit that I can’t stop asking myself how you can talk about your daughter that way and, most of all, where you found the courage to have other children. [By the way, I hadn’t mentioned my other children, as I didn’t think it was relevant to our discussion.] These questions have been haunting me since then.” After his visit, my mind went back to the discussion I had with my colleagues. In the past, every time I had found myself involved in a similar situation, I had always left angry at the thought that people might have such ideas, and unable to muster the courage to say anything. This time, I managed to face the circumstance with truth, thanks to the steps I am taking following you, and through the work on School of Community. I am starting to stay in front of reality without cutting out anything and, as a consequence, I am happier.
Ukraine: only a presence
can change the heart
Below is a letter with which a girl of the Moscow CL community invited her friends to join the peace march that took place on March 15th, in the Russian capital.
Dear friends: The opposition has organized a march protesting the Russian troops entering Ukraine, in which I intend to participate. I do not have high expectations for the effectiveness of this initiative, since, in our country, not much happens as a result of people taking to the streets–apart from innocent people ending up in jail. I don’t know how much of an impact a march can have on the current political situation. But this is not the reason why I want to go. I keep going back to the text of School of Community, specifically to the Page One section of the March issue of Traces. Quoting Father Giussani, Father Carrón says, “What we see now is nothing other than the documentation of the failure of the attempt to affirm values without Christ. The issue is how we stay within reality to the point of allowing this reawakening of the ‘I,’ without which the powers that be can let us go on in our struggle for values, meanwhile emptying us from inside. Only a Presence can order instinctiveness toward the goal, responding to human disorder.” The “disorder” around us is out of control, therefore I can’t avoid asking myself a few questions. Is my “I” awakened in the midst of this situation? Do I have something to oppose the omnipotence and unaccountability of the power? I think about my Ukrainian friends, for whom clearly hope resides with the One who can change the heart of men, not their power. I am certain that their hope is not a utopia. There are many ways to look at the situation in the Ukraine, and we could endlessly discuss it, trying to establish who’s right and who’s wrong. Yet I believe there are two considerations that we all agree upon. First, we all want peace and we all want the reciprocal hate and the threat of war to cease. Second, and most importantly, I hope we all desire the glory of Christ, His presence, His justice, and His gaze. I hope we desire this for ourselves and for everyone. For this reason, in this complicated situation, I believe it’s important for us who have this awareness to stand side by side with those who will march for peace. I am certain that even a few men and women who are aware, and who remember the heart of all things, can do a lot in a crowd of fifty thousand people.
Sasha, Moscow (Russia)
Dear Father Julián: This morning, just as the deadline was about to expire, I sent the payment for the Fraternity Exercises. To tell the truth, I had sent the enrollment form some time ago and left the payment for later. Our financial situation is dramatic. My husband’s line of work has been at a standstill for months, and he insists on waiting for the crisis to pass. I don’t agree with his decision, and I try to do my best to generate enough income for the both of us. Despite my efforts, though, there are holes in our family budget, and not only there. When I get to the end of my rope, I become impatient and go berserk. Lately, not a day goes by without receiving overdue bills, invoices from the Equitalia tax collection agency, and payment-due notices, to name just a few. Every time this mail arrives, my husband becomes gloomy, lays the mail somewhere, and carries on, pretending the problem does not exist. I try to keep my cool, but there comes a time when I have to shake him up, if only to help figure out the extent of our debts. But at that point, I am the one who tries to find a solution. This year, I waited and waited for him to say something about the enrollment for the Exercises, but nothing happened. With two overdue mortgage payments, and his account frozen, I couldn’t reach a decision myself. At the same time, taking for granted that I had to give up the whole idea didn’t quite sit well with me. Therefore, I decided to send the form, leaving the payment for later. I read the Page One section in Traces, and when I got to the point where you say, “The reduction of desire or the censorship of any need is the weapon of the powers that be,” I asked myself what my desire was and if I was reducing it. For sure, I would feel more comfortable if our finances were in good shape, but something allows me not to despair even with the situation as it is. What is this something? What makes me love my husband despite everything I told you about him? What gives meaning to my life? It is the encounter with a living presence that happened many years ago, and that reawakened my “I.” Christ is what I need to live, and Christ has the face of those friends who offered to help with the payment for the Exercises, as well as the face of those who will not be able to come, like my husband, who told me, “At least you go.” Most of all, Christ has your face, Julián, and you don’t give up on us. I asked for an appointment with my boss, to request an advance on my severance pay. The appointment was on the 16th, and I was afraid I would not have enough time to make the payment deadline. That very night, I learned that the deadline had been moved, and that I had one more day. That was the sign that He was waiting for me. Yesterday my boss authorized the immediate payment of the advance I asked for. Today, since the transfer did not appear on line, I asked my colleague to please complete the transaction. He actually understood how important it was for me and offered to go the extra mile to make sure the transfer would go through. Could it be that this colleague of mine–an atheist, a pragmatist, and a bit of a moralist, too–is the face of Christ as well?
A life-giving breath of fresh air
Dearest Father Julián: Immediately after reading the Page One section of Traces’ March issue, “Witness and Recounting,” I started breathing again. It was as if a breath of fresh air had reached me, just when I was about to suffocate, prisoner of a cage of values to defend, of positions to hold, and of battles to fight. Some of those values and battles might be right and even necessary, yet sometimes we forget His sweet and real presence and, with all our good intentions, we become utterly incapable of moving ourselves or others. We run the risk of becoming–or maybe we already are–like the Great Inquisitor that Dostoyevsky writes about, whose actions are oriented toward something good that had its origin in Jesus, and yet ends up affirming something else, adding something else to His decisive presence. I want to thank you, because you help us walk on this path, staying faithful to its origin, truly following Father Giussani, to lead us to Jesus–the One who has such a great conception of the human being.
A pizza party just to share who we are
Dear Father Carrón: My wife, my two children, and I moved to Taichung, Taiwan, because of my job. In Taiwan there is a house of the Fraternity of Saint Charles Borromeo, located in Taipei, in the north of the country. Here, in the heart of the island, people have their own peculiar way to live Christianity, and nobody has ever heard of CL. We attend a Mass at the cathedral that is celebrated in English by a likable priest from Congo. On the occasion of the anniversary of Father Giussani’s death, we took the initiative to present the Movement. Father Donato, of the Fraternity of Saint Charles Borromeo, came to Taichung to say Mass in memory of Father Giussani. After the celebration, we invited people over for pizza at our house. We had 35 guests–a mix of Catholics, Protestants, and Buddhists from all over the world: Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, the USA, Great Britain, Spain, and Congo. After the pizza, we showed part of a video about Father Giussani. Quoting Leopardi, he says that all men (all!) have the desire for Beauty to become flesh; for truth and justice to become flesh. This statement surprised me and dispelled my fears about Jesus being too far from the Asian culture. After the video, we answered a few questions, we talked, and we sang. I enjoyed answering questions about how we met CL, and about the essential traits of the Movement. Since nobody knew our songs, I could not pretend to sing (as I usually do, because of my precarious intonation) and I gave it my best effort. Upon a specific request of one of our guests, I even performed an unforgettable rendition of “Let It Go,” from the movie Frozen. That day spent together gave us the possibility to share who we are and to initiate a few relationships, which are now developing in interesting ways. Specifically, we are becoming closer with a Buddhist family–father, mother, and three children. The mother is particularly taken by our conception of education and attention to reality. Here in the Far East, where work and money are the only gods, we feel the vital importance of our belonging to the Movement, which helps us keep our eyes open and recognize the Mystery hidden behind the appearance of everything.
Stefano, Taichung (Taiwan)