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Point of No Return

“Because of Him, the center of freedom.” This was the theme of the CLU Retreat held December 6-8, 2002, in the new sports arena in Rimini, Italy. Fr Pino’s lesson, the video of the 1994 retreat, testimony by Socci, and Fr Giussani’s talk


“These Exercises are for us like the crossing of the Red Sea for the Hebrews.” These were the words Fr Pino chose, a few days after the retreat was over, to describe the importance and value of this year’s Exercises for the life of CLU and for each of us. Why is it that these three days can be spoken of in terms of a “point of no return”?

Actually, these Exercises were unexpectedly powerful. Held as always in Rimini, but for the first time in the new sports arena, they were attended by about 7,000 university students from more than thirty different countries. The first “blow,” chronologically speaking, was the introduction on Friday evening, when Fr Pino started out by quoting Dante, positing the theme of the “strife of the journey and of fighting back pity,” the fascinating adventure of discovery of the “I.” The greatest temptation today is narcissism, fixing one’s gaze on oneself. Everything is reduced to being capable and consistent; to being worthy. But “the truest position is that of the poor person in expectation, the position of entreaty–letting oneself be amazed.”

Recognizing Christ
The second blow, certainly the most powerful one, was the presence of Fr Giussani on Saturday morning, when we watched the tape of the lesson given at the 1994 CLU retreat (now in Il tempo e il tempio [Time and the Temple] with the title “Recognizing Christ”), and then on Sunday, when he was connected by a videoconference call with Rimini for the final address. In the 1994 video, he tells about John and Andrew, who followed after Jesus and recognized Him as God because of His exceptionality, His correspondence to the deep desires of their hearts. And then he read (moved to tears) the letter from Andrea, terminally ill with AIDS, who heard about him through his friend Ziba and wrote, “My life, by now flat and sterile, that has become like the smooth stone where everything rolls off like water, has a leap of meaning and significance that sweeps away the bad thoughts and pains; indeed, it embraces them and makes them true by making my grubby, putrid body a sign of His presence. Thank you, Fr Giussani, thank you, because you have communicated this faith to me, or as you put it, this Event.” Giussani commented, “Two thousand years are burned away by this letter. It was not yesterday, it is today… for you. I say only that this event and this presence are of today–of today! Today I bring into your life that human flow of which we spoke.”

Almost more than listening to him, it was impressive to watch him speak. “His Presence is the best, most beautiful, the sweetest thing in our life. I am not embarrassed to say this in front of all of you, who are so much the children of your time, of us who are so much the children of our time: ‘Above all sweet things, You are sweetness to me.’” These are the words of a man who is simply in love and certain of the One he loves.

Focal point
This was the focal point of the Exercises: the certainty of the presence of Christ among us, and love as the indication of the method, the adherence of our freedom as the consequence of recognizing Him. “The problem is not whether God exists or does not exist, but whether God became man, and Our Lady is the method.” Antonio Socci repeated this statement by Fr Giussani to us during the Saturday evening session. It was a veritable festival, complete with banners and hurrahs and thunderous applause. Socci told us about his encounter with the Movement and his work, in which the encounter he has had is put daily at stake: “I am a journalist, I deal with facts, and the greatest fact in the world is that Jesus Christ is there; the only thing that makes your career worth risking is making Christ known.”

The “fourth blow” was the assembly with Fr Pino and Giancarlo Cesana. Cesana answered a series of questions arising from the impact with a proposal like this in these words: “The only concern we must have is to stay with Him, to stay with what you perceive to be true, and to entreat God to help you change. I do not judge myself: the only thing that interests me is to attend to what I perceive as true, and if it is true, it changes me.”

Crossing the Red Sea
“These Exercises are for us like the crossing of the Red Sea for the Hebrews.” In the comments and Schools of Community that followed the retreat, the exceptionality of this event emerged from the things everybody said, even those who were there for the first time or had never encountered the Movement. A student at the Università Cattolica, Matteo, said, “After these Exercises, we have a starting point: His presence, which comes through you. The more I stay attached to you, the more this exceptionality becomes mine.”

After these three days, His real, tangible presence is evident among us. We have to have the loyalty to recognize it and the freedom to adhere to it. “The method is Our Lady, it is the presence of this woman who said ‘Yes.’ It is the mystery inside the flesh, it is the freedom that clings to the initiative of another, says ‘Yes’ and clings, entreats. This means that this companionship of ours is Christ’s flesh, it is the locus where Christ changes us.”