"He Needed to See the Face of Christ"
Struck by a friend who traveled far to attend the Advent retreat, Simone shares what changed in him.
Last year, I received the weekly Communion and Liberation email announcement with the invitation for the Los Angeles Advent retreat. My first reaction was not to attend. I had other commitments and I even deleted the invitation from my calendar. About a week before the retreat, I was surprised to discover it bothered me not to attend, but purely from a moralistic point or view. I told myself “the Advent retreat is the bare minimum that a good ‘CL-ino’ (as we are called in Italy) would do.” There really were not that many commitments I had to balance. However, I could not hide from myself from the fact that going would be out of cold obedience, obligation and not out of a desire.
Things changed when a question was posed to me by a friend. Nick called to ask if I could host Sean, another friend in the Movement from Arizona. Although due to a previous engagement, I could not host him and he stayed at a nice hotel nearby, I was deeply struck by Sean. He was traveling hundreds of miles to go to the Advent retreat. From a previous conversation with him at the Communion and Liberation Summer Vacation, I knew he did not live a life of leisure. Like all of us, he has his own challenges and responsibilities. I realized clearly that for him, the Advent retreat was not an obligation. What did he see that I didn’t see? This question changed my perspective on the retreat. I went from apathy and aridity to a position of expectant waiting. I awaited the opportunity to talk to Sean and to discover what was waiting for me at the retreat.
The day of the Advent retreat arrived. I was well rested and ready. The first experience was to discover something unexpected in me. The Lauds were not perfect, many people were new and unfamiliar with morning prayer. Rather than being annoyed, which would be my usual position, I discovered a huge affection for the people there with me. I was late to the retreat due to an urgent conversation with my father, so I was not able to have a conversation with Sean, privately. Instead, without my intervention, Fr. Accu, the priest leading the retreat, asked Sean why he was attending the retreat. Clearly I was not the only one moved by Sean’s desire to travel so far to attend! Sean described, although he was renovating the house and making preparations for his mother to live with the family, he knew he needed to be with this companionship. He needed to see the face of Christ. His face was beautiful as he said this.
The whole retreat was amazing, and I discovered myself changed by it. Cri and Mambo, our friends in Los Angeles, prepared the music and I was struck by it – the way Cri was directing and the way Mambo was playing the guitar. Although I get annoyed with the content of retreats and their execution sometimes, I was moved by Fr. Accu, the content of the lesson and very importantly, the singing. To see that small group of people meeting together to pray, to reflect on their encounter with Jesus, and to share their experiences was touching. After the retreat, I invited Sean to my house for an Italian dinner and it was very helpful for me as well.
The encounter with the music and the encounter with Sean – a guy who drove 400 miles to go to the Advent retreat – were the catalysts of these changes in me. I don’t take credit for the beauty of the retreat or the way it changed me. It was grace and the Lord was at work changing a hardened heart through the tenderness and simplicity of this encounter.
A few days later, I discovered a desire for what happened at the retreat to happen, again. I was so struck by the music of the retreat and the unbelievably good execution of the music that I asked Mambo and Cri to come to my house to sing again. The invitation was open to everyone in the community. I did it for me but wanted everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy it. It was the same hunger that Sean described to Fr. Accu at the retreat. I was hungry for the companionship that allows me to be in front of Jesus.
The singing at my house was a beautiful moment to meet new friends and to see old ones. The surprising thing is that it happened in a way that was unplanned. I am a businessman and a father. Detailed and thought-out plans – usually full of effort – are a way of life for me. To discover something beautiful happening, gratuitously and without plans was a gift and a grace. I was deeply moved and had a strong awareness of tenderness in my heart during that moment together. All of these people could be anywhere else on a Saturday morning, but they were at my home, with me.
All of these events were a big gift and totally unthinkable – all starting from the email with announcements. The email was so small and banal, but behind it was Jesus’ caress that only required the smallest opening of my heart. The rest was something given that was uncontrollable and gratuitous.
Simone, Los Angeles, CA