It has been almost three weeks since my trip to Italy. Almost a month has passed since Don Gius entered his eternal reward. I have been slow to share this experience, in part because I've been busy, but also because every time I have sat down to do it, I have found myself lacking the words to do justice to the great movement of my heart in front of the Mystery. Lacking the words, but not the desire to share thsi experience, so here it goes.
The entire trip to Milan for Don Gius' funderal was a miracle and a profound experience of preference. I still can't fathom how God can love me so much and offer me such beatiful experiences when I am so undeserving. It's ridiculous to sit and speculate about this, so my only response is to be grateful, and to respond with my life. I desire to live my life as the fruit of all these experiences and to stand like a beggar with a deep awareness that he needs another, namely God, to give him his happiness. Still, God doesn't act in an abstract way, he is very concrete in the help he offers me if I am open to it. He offers me help through the companionship of CL that I have encountered which helps me take my life more seriously, which helps me to be better. . . . more on this in a bit . . .
I left on Wednesday, February 23, the day after Don Gius died, from Houston to New York where I landed far out on Long Island and took the train to Kennedy International to board a flight to Italy. It was my first trip to Europe. I was, naturally, excited, but I was also very serious in front of this trip. I wasn't going to Italy out of some sentimental attachment to Don Gius. In fact, I kept asking myself "Why are you going?" in order to stay in front of my desire, why I wanted to go.
Originally my idea for going was very simple: The movement has taught me how to stand in front of life in a way that is more true than how I had lived before, and I wanted to learn how to stand in front of death. I also wanted to see in person the face of the Man through whom I have received everything. I mean this sincerely, it has been Don Gius's yes that has taught me how to love even my Parents, even Christ. I had parents and Christ before I had Don Gius, but it has been my education in the movement that has made these things, all things really, take on a shape I had never expected, never thought possible. Finally, I wanted to go to see the faces of my friends in the movement, to see the faces of those who loved him, to see the faces of those He loved and to recognize that this was Christ. I wanted to be accompanied by Christ to the threshold of death.
When we arrived in Milan, we hurriedly travelled to Sacro Coure to attend the last few minutes of the vigil of Don Gius before his body was transferred to the Duomo, Milan's Cathedral, for the funeral. Olivetta had arranged everything (she's amazing!) from our trips, to getting into the vigil, to getting to the funeral. She was totally attentive to us, to helping all of us Americans who would have been lost in the language alone, much less navigating the streets of Milan.
At the Vigil we were taken straight into the Chapel, not even having to wait in line, because we had travelled from so far away. Giorgio Vittadini, the movement's visitor (a sort of overseer) to America, had a special preference for the Americans who were at the funeral. When we left the vigil we found out from his assistant that all of the American's were given seats inside the Duomo for the funeral mass.
The mass itself was incredible. First, it was done in the Ambrosian Liturgy, which was a beautiful experience, but also, the homily by Cardinal Ratzinger and the letter of the Pope were very moving. I was struck because of how personal they were. It wasn't a cerebral account of the position of the mvoement in the Church, rather it was the expression of a deep friendship and love. It was clear that the Holy Father and Cardinal Ratzinger were saying good bye to a friend, that is, someone with whom they shared the experience of loving Christ together. It was very touching. Thankfully, Luca Grillo translated the homily and interventions into English as we heard them in Italian. Although I can understand about 99% of what I hear in Italian, I was cold and tired in the Duomo (I think it was colder inside than outside!) so relying on Luca was helpful.
After the mass we met outside and I got see my friends Luca and Vittorio. They joined us for coffee and then dinner with Vita. Dinner was incredible. Vita invited all the Americans to dinner at a place owned by the Movement. The food was great, without a doubt, but the real incredible part was the love Vita has for us, like a father, helping us to make a judgement, not stop just at the experience, but to understand what this experience means.
The conversation was incredible, but I will characterize it by what I learned.
1. Death is not the end. Of course I knew this. I don't think you can be a Christian and not know this, this is what makes Christ who he is. However, I still have a tendency to feel lost in front of death. I don't have the certainty I desire, I doubt, I am afraid, I have a tendency to step away. Yet, in the faces of my friends, in the face of those I follow I saw a real certainty. Vita said "The explosion of Don Gius has begun" and I understood in that moment that Don Gius had not gone away, in fact, he is more present to us, his "I" is magnified more intensely. The saints begin their work on Earth, but it really takes root in heaven.
2. Don Gius taught me to see Christ. If I am faithful to his memory, then I must try to live my life as he lived. This means I must submit myself more to the experience and education of the Movement, to put myself in front of life with the same desire, the same begging, the same awareness of Don Gius. I must drink a glass of water like he drinks a glass of water. This of course is not something of my own effort, as if I could put in place the 12 step plan to self-recovery. No, it means I must beg. I must beg, every moment of my life to see how everything tends toward the Destiny.
3. Preference teaches us love. The experience of this weekend, being aware of a preference for me, this actually made me love those who were with me, those who were not, more than before. As I sat at the vigil, and in teh Duomo I recalled one by one the faces of those I loved. I offered this trip for them. I asked Don Gius to help them. It was beautiful to see that even though many of the people I love I knew before I met the movement, before I had heard of Don Giussani, I am aware, more than ever on this weekend, that it has been my experience in the Movement that has taught me to love them more than I did before, that is, to love them more according their destiny. I am very bad at this, but the fact that I even want to is a sign of the change.
This trip was a miracle. It's almost impossible that I could have gone. Yet I went, and on the way back I even got to fly first class. But most of all this trip made it very clear to me: I have found a way to live, in the movement, that is more authentic to my desires, to my heart than anything else. The trip to Italy, to Don Gius, was like going to the Sepulcher . . . to see the place where I have to stand in awe and say "But he was dead and now he's alive." This is me. This is my life in the Movement.