Photo: Unsplash/Victor Malyushev

"My roses are blooming"

Rachelle recounts community life in North Carolina. In 2011 there were seven people, but at their last gathering there were more than 40 people. "What are You doing, Lord, that You have created this community out of practically nothing?"

When my husband and I met in 2011 while in graduate school at Duke University, there were seven people of the Movement (including us) in the entire state of North Carolina. I was struck to see the faces of the people gathered at our most recent retreat for Lent in February, because there were about forty people (not including kids), some of whom had driven more than two hours to be with us for just a few hours. And those faces were just the “tip of the iceberg” of the communities that we have now across the state, meaning that many families could not make it to that event, but they come regularly to the local gestures in the various cities. So the question arose in me: what are You doing, Lord, that You have created this community out of practically nothing?
Not to sound dramatic, but I believe that it is nothing more and nothing less than Christ generating a people, the heavenly City of God, right here in North Carolina.

What has made us a people first and foremost has been the realization of our true need for each other as we navigate life. There are families like the Finazzi and the Cairoli who have worn a path in the road between Charlotte and Cary, North Carolina to see each other as often as they can, counting the cost of traveling as nothing for the sake of friendship. They are a great witness to all of us of how precious true friendship is.
Because we are growing in friendship together, we are finding the joy of our common life is bearing particular fruits in our common gestures. On all these occasions, some of us have traveled two or three hours to be present. Our children have gone away filled with the beauty of those moments, asking when we can meet those friends again.

Also, we are discovering the gifts that each of us contributes to the common gestures that enhance the beauty that we experience. For me, this has been how I imagine the disciples experienced the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Each person has contributed to our common gestures in a way that really brings out the diversity of our gifts and how they work in harmony together to create a great unity.

With the desire to have beautiful music at our Lenten retreat this year, friends came forward to offer their gifts such that we were able to organize an hour of singing together before the retreat and we put together a choir for the retreat itself. The music was so striking that people spoke to us about it for days afterwards. One woman who joined the retreat without ever having heard of the Movement stopped me and said, “I don’t know what this Movement is, but I need to learn more. The music was so beautiful, it opened my heart to what the priest was saying during the retreat! I know I need to learn.” By the time she came to the School of Community the next day, she had already purchased the book, To Give One’s Life for the Work of Another, so serious was her desire to learn more.

This culture of music is born of friendship, which is to say a common recognition of our need and desire to experience and share beauty together and to pray together. This requires a seriousness about why we are doing this, because we cannot generally practice together. We have to practice alone, and then travel two hours for the sake of practicing together. Even the fact of the distance between us is not an obstacle, but rather it helps us decide whether and why we stay together, why we sing together or do anything together. As I traveled to practice singing for the Way of the Cross in Raleigh the weekend before Easter, I was full of the awareness that nothing other than a real love for my friends, which was given to me by Christ to better understand His love for me and my love for Him, could have made me want to sacrifice my Saturday to go and be with them.

I myself experience my life in the Movement being poured out on others in my work as a public defender. I meet hundreds of people and accompany them in the worst moments of their lives, when they are most vulnerable and in need of a gaze that does not crumble under the weight of their cry for existence. My clients reveal to me my own heart and the heart of our Father who loves us so infinitely, which fills me with an immense affection and gratitude for each of them, and they see it immediately. Like stones that cry out, they say things even in front of judges about how much they love me, about how grateful they are (grateful! Even when they’re going to prison!) for everything that has happened to them. It makes my colleagues, judges, police officers, and perfect strangers wonder what is happening. I smile and shrug because there is nothing I can say that is more convincing that the Kingdom of God is at hand than a man who is going to prison whose only statement in court is, “I’m just grateful for everything.”

Finally, this life that we have found together is bearing fruit in new realities among young people. A student who was a life-long Anglican and lived a life completely different from ours joined us for Easter a year ago along with several families of the Movement. She was so moved by the beauty of our friendship and our faith that she began to visit us every week, peppering us with questions that boiled down to: “How are you like this? Where do you come from?” After a few months, she could not contain the change that Christ worked in her. She shared that she wanted to become Catholic, but she was afraid to leave what she had always known. I told her the Italian proverb, “se son rose fioriranno” [if they are roses, they will flower and bloom].

Just a year after her first visit with us, this student showed me the rose she had tattooed on her forearm, saying with a smile, “le mie rose stanno fiorendo” [my roses are blooming]. I watched her receive the Eucharist for the first time at the Easter Vigil service, full of awe for the gift that we have been given through the Movement that could move that woman to such a radical change.

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These things are perhaps similar to what we have all heard before because it is simply the method of Christ happening again in our midst through new faces and in a new time and place. This makes it no less of an event. In fact, it is even more breathtaking that what we are experiencing is the reverberation of the event that first took place two thousand years ago with the very first disciples who met Christ and followed Him half a world away from us.

Rachelle, North Carolina