Cecilia came home from the CLU Exercises to a changed world. Here is what is helping her.
I went to the CLU Spiritual Exercises with a pressing question regarding why my family had to go through the suffering we were going through; we had found out that my mom has cancer, on top of other hard circumstances. There seemed to be a contradiction between the goodness of life that I experienced and the pain that my parents especially were experiencing, which was causing me so much pain as well.
At breakfast one morning, while I was explaining to people that I had recently found out that my mom had cancer and saying sorry for getting into details about myself, someone at the table told me not to apologize because this is what we are together for. . . Here we can bring all of our worries and thoughts to each other. At that moment, it was so liberating for me to realize that my struggles mattered to him and other people at the table. I realized that the way I was feeling was okay, and that this is the place where I could let myself go and be taken just the way I am, with the intense questions I carry with me.
The night that I arrived home from the Exercises, my family hosted a dinner for many people, and the joy and hospitality there was already part of a response to my question about whether or not this hard situation was against us. God's love through the community is more powerful than our hardships. Father Zachariah came from Burundi and told us his story and that of his people. Seeing him with his peaceful, loving, and attentive gaze on every single person was incredible to me, and I realized that there is Something stronger than our earthly struggles, fears, and failures, Someone who can pierce right through that to show His redeeming love in community.
Now, with the coronavirus, being stuck at home with the family, I have this radical change in perspective, realizing that I am not in control of anything that happens. It's daunting not being able to know when this will end, what will result from it all, and when I will see my closer friends again. It is also difficult to be forced to keep a distance from our siblings Marta and Bill, and not to know when they will be able to get married, since they have to pause their planning. Additionally, there is the instability of not knowing how we are going to handle our financial situation, of seeing my mom go through chemo for breast cancer and hearing about our friends and others in the world suffering because of the coronavirus.
But my family seems to be more united as a family. We have been saying the Rosary every night together and now have decided to pray the Angelus at 8:50 every morning to begin the day intentionally. My dad said that it is important that we say a prayer together so that we don't start the day with concerns only revolving around ourselves.
As I see that everyone is shaken by the situation, I realize something new: our friends and family are struggling to justify this situation, and we can try to comfort each other, but no one can possibly give me the comfort and certainty that I need. I look up to specific people and keep in touch with my closer friends, but it is my own personal task to make the decision, like Giussani said: "Christ, yes or no?" It is Christ who sustains us all, and all we can do is help each other have faith in Him, simply reflecting on what it means that Jesus died on the cross for each of us individually.
I am trying to learn from my brother, Matteo, who is living with us now with his wife and his children. In this period he has prepared intricate dinners and brunches for us, giving my little brother Francesco responsibility too. It strikes me how positively and selflessly he makes himself available. I was also surprised when Francesco asked me if he could join me on my runs, since I do not remember the last time he asked to do anything with me.
In this period, I have more time to spend on my school work, and I am trying to be attentive to what is needed at home, but I notice that I tend to hide behind the school work I have to do, isolating myself. At times though, I have been surprised by the willingness I have to make dinner or to give my time to my younger siblings. While doing the dishes one day, I found myself almost demanding of God, "Show Yourself!" "Show me that you are enough for me!" My prayer is for Him to show me that I can entrust myself to Him, and that His love for me give me strength and less fear.
Four things particularly give me hope daily. The first thing is the beauty of the spring weather with cherry blossoms and blue skies. The second thing is that my family is able to have some joy, which is not possible without their faith in God. Thirdly, beautiful music, like the Lenten hymns in the playlist sent to us, but also the Irish and folk music I listen to. The music and lyrics give me clarity of the truth of my life because of how beautiful they are.
Something else that accompanies me these days is the reflections by Giussani that Father José Medina sent to us, which have been daily reminders of the Marian attitude I want to have during the day. One passage that has stuck with me:
Let us imagine our Lady in the morning; let us imagine this young woman who is also tired, with the pain that pierces her and with the impossibility of communicating the humanity in her; because she was one of us, she is one of us. Then the spontaneous wind of freedom came, the spirit of liberation, the abandonment to God who made Himself flesh in that woman[...] Everything starts here. [...] "We ask that the grace of this morning transform the earth into an altar."
I also struggle to express my questions and share with others, but it is comforting to hear that Mary was human as well, and she became free when she abandoned herself to God. I want to abandon myself by communicating my needs.
I think that these specific things are the ways in which Christ has chosen to direct my attention back to Him. Just like when I realized at the Spiritual Exercises that I am not supposed to carry all of my questions by myself, but am accompanied by our community, my particular passions and desires matter to Him.
Cecilia, Boyds, Maryland