The experience of the last five days has been a miracle. I am constantly in awe of the fact that Christ never lets me down, but gives me more than I anticipate, more than I would ask for, more than I am capable of conceiving. Last Saturday, the 19th of March, I drove to Houston to meet three guys from Barcelona who were here in Houston visiting my friend Elena. Elena has been a student at St. Thomas since last August and also belongs to Communion and Liberation.
When Elena went home to Barcelona over Christmas she shared with all of her friends the experience of being in Houston and the profound change in her position in front of life because of the faces and the life of the community in Houston. Though she proposed to many people that they should come and visit her and see what she has seen, only three took her up on this offer. They are JoseMaria, Nestor, and Marc.
When I first went to Houston I wasn't really sure why I was going other than to be with Elena and meet some new people. I wasn't really expecting anything, and in fact I was really hoping that they would be good guys and not a pain in the ass to be with.
Here I am, 8 days later, and I'm shocked at how different I am because of these guys and Elena and Amy. Certainly I expected to have a good time with Elena's friends, but I didn't know that this would change me so much that I would spend every day of the next 5 days with them. I also didn't expect to be so changed by the experience of this friendship nor did I expect it to go to the depth that it gladly went to.
First let me tell you a little about the guys:
Marc is beautiful. He works and studies in Barcelona and came to Houston in order to share this experience with his friends, Nestor and JoseMaria. He was struck by the way Elena spoke of Houston and he was excited to be here, to do a little shopping and to see as much of America as he could. We nicknamed him "El Abuelito" (the grandfather) because he was always the first to fall asleep, he was always cold, and he looked like he would be a thousand times happier covered in a blanket eating some soup. This name was a carino, a tender nickname, because the Abuelito always had such a beautiful way of seeing things and was very wise in his judgments. I was very grateful for his presence.
Nestor we called "el Coyote." This was simply because I'm a pain in the ass and when he was dressed to the nines in Texas gear, with his big brass buckle, blue jeans, cowboy hat, and western shirt I thought he looked remarkably like a "coyote" which is a word that is used for the guys who arrange the smuggling of illegal immigrants into the US. Now, this is, of course, entirely unfair, but it was also really funny, so it stuck. Nestor is a great guy. He is simple, shares the truth of things simply, and follows his desires very strongly. He wanted to live every moment in the US to the fullest, to experience everything he could, and to love the experience greatly. He came also to follow Elena, who went back to Barcelona different from when she had left 5 months earlier, and he wanted to see what this change was, because if this change was possible for Elena, it is possible for all of us. He carried his girlfriend in his heart throughout the trip, and she is very lucky to have a guy who loves her so much.
Finally, there was JoseMaria, who I nicknamed "La Catedral." I felt a great correspondence with JoseMaria and I had to tell him at one point "When you talk, its as if I talk, the way you say things and the way you see things . . . its the same for me." He looked at me smiling and excited and said "Me too with you! Me too!" JoseMaria came because he was following a gaze. The same gaze that had changed him, that had caused him to follow the movement, he now saw in Elena, a gaze that was more profound and emerged from a position of certainty. He wanted to follow that gaze to the depths of its profundity, to be changed by it again and again, to follow it because it completely corresponded to his heart. Jose Maria is a philologist, a teacher of Literature and Theology, and a professor of Catalan and Journalism. He has, to say the least, a way with words. At one point he was talking about Dante's hymn to the Virgin and described it as a "Cathedral of words" in which all of the Cantos from the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso all depended on this beautiful song to Mary. In that moment I thought to myself, "Ah, but Dante isn't the only one who can build cathedrals with words, you do too my friend, you do too." And so the rest of the weekend when it was his turn to talk or share something I would say "Y que dice la catedral?"
With these guys and with my friends Elena and Amy I had a Holy week that was unlike any before. In fact, I would say that the week was one of the most beautiful I have ever had. It was just like going to the Equipe or the GS Vacation or the Diakonia. The difference was that this experience happened here, in my town, in my life, in front of the reality that is meant for me. The week was nothing spectacular in any way except for the way that the five of us stood in front of our experiences and sought to make a judgement about what was happening, what we were experiencing . . . we sought to give a name to the friendship that was forming and the Presence in our midst.
The last day together, was for me the most beautiful. My friends came to Brenham, JoseMaria did a presentation on Dvorak's Stabat Mater for the staff, we went to mass, had a picnic, went to see some long horn cattle, and then read Miguel Manara with some of my teens. It was a simple day but full of desire and the drama of life.
I was most moved by a simple fact: I had almost stopped going to mass entirely in my parish, except for Sundays. I would go to daily mass in other towns, in other parishes, but I was very resentful to many of the things that were happening in my parish and I just didn't want to look the Church and those faces anymore than I had to. Of course, this was a terrible position for me, one that did not see it all as given. I knew this, but my weakness was great in front of it. Yet, here I was at mass with my friends and I was as happy as I had every been in my life inside of that Church, and I thought "If I can be this happy here, with my friends, then I can be this happy here any day." And so I loved my parish and my church, and even the faces of those who had hurt me . . . I loved everything more because of this friendship with JoseMaria, Marc, Nestor, Elena, and Amy.
We said good-bye with heavy hearts, happy, but heavy. I wanted this experience to happen forever, to happen everyday for the rest of my life. How was it possible that I could go so deep, love these guys so much, in only five days and then they would go back to Barcelona, and who knew when I'd see them again. But we said goodbye, and I went to teach my class and they went back to Houston. Later that evening I called my friend Lisi and she said to me "Ah, the guys from Spain just arrived." I told her I wished I was there and she said "Why don't you come? Do you have anything? You should come!."
This was a crazy idea, completely insane, I should stay and sleep and whatever. Driving one hour to Houston to be with these guys was insane . . . but I thought, if I'm going to go deeper in this friendship here I have to learn to be obedient to my friends, so I obeyed Lisi, I obeyed because what she said corresponded more to my heart than all of the objections I could make against going. So I went, and it was amazing. Nothing spectacular happened, but one thing became clear . . . We had said goodbye that afternoon not certain if we would ever see each other again, full of affection for this friendship that was beginning but also full of uncertainty. That evening, when I obeyed and went to Houston it was as if Christ had said "This is the sign that this friendship does not end here, because just a few hours after you say good-bye, I give you to each other again."
That night we said good-bye again, but we said it with joy. Happy for each other and the road we are following, which is Christ. We laughed, I wished them well in New York, and I was happy.
I am still moved by the faces of my friends. By the fact that happened last week. It was nothing I could have invented, nothing I could have planned. In fact, the entire week was given to me by another and it corresponded to my happiness more than any ideas I could have had about these guys and this week when I was driving to meet them to go to the rodeo. Christianity is an event, it is not a moralism, not a rule, not a heavy burden. Christianity is a fact that I cannot deny, because in the midst of that friendship the one thing that I cannot deny, that I cannot negate, is that I was happy and aware of another in the midst of that week.
On Easter Sunday I went to mass, after a Good Friday and Holy Saturday that were beautiful but also full of the separation of my friends who were in New York. I wanted all of my friends to be with me, I wanted the unity I had experienced that week to be in front of Marco and Manu and Paolo and Lisi and Super John and Jay and Stacey. I went to Easter Mass and was a little sad and wondering, "How does the resurrection happen?"
But by the end of the mass I was overcome with the same certainty I had experienced that previous week. I recognized that the same Presence that was with me when I was in front of JoseMaria's face, and Elena's face, and Amy's face, and Nestor's and Marc's was also with me here in this mass. "Of course," I said to myself, "this is why we call it the Real Presence." I had always known this, but I felt my heart burning within me this day, and I knew him again, in the breaking of the bread.
I am, again, a new man. This week has shown me, in all its clarity that the Victory of Christ is happening in me. The resurrection is happening in the faces of my friends. Life-life is being given to me by another, and I want to follow him more and more. I want to say "Yes" in front of all the possibility of my life in this Movement, because this "yes" has shown me more even more than I see.