We followed the Spiritual Exercises as guests in the house of the Consolata Missionaries in Maputo. It was the first time I had encountered the reality of the movement in this country, hundreds of kilometers away from the mission I recently started in Namapa. I met a simple, living community that welcomed me with such friendliness. Visiting the works generated in the city over time was beautiful; and more so was seeing a friendship at work, which was solid and at the same time open to those who struggle, those who have no time, no means, or have distanced themselves and come back... What is at the center? The center lies outside of us; it is the tenderness and grace of Christ, the life of life. The lessons during the Exercises have reminded us of this, but I have been able to taste it in sharing the week with new friends who have histories far removed from my own, happy to grasp a deep harmony, which goes beyond songs or speeches or stories. It is something that comes through these things, done well or awkwardly, but that none of us would know how to generate. It comes from the center and the center it recalls.
Fr. Filippo, fidei donum missionary
In the days following the Spiritual Exercises, my wife and I found ourselves caught up in something big, which made us realize with force and urgency the impetuosity with which Jesus can come into our lives to seek us, and how much more beautiful and greater it is to say "yes" to Him.
We have been married for 7 years and have three children. For the past few months we have been wondering about trying to have a fourth, but although she wants to, I am more cautious. I have always given concrete reasons (job security, not enough rooms in our house, the car...), feeling serene about the fact that, after all, we already have three children, and all within a short space of time. As if to say: we have already given enough!
What then happened is that, between March and April, we had a feeling that my wife might be pregnant. Her first two pregnancy tests had been negative, until we did a third, just two days after the Exercises: positive. There, at that moment, I felt a great sense of liberation, which was almost unexpected. I asked myself: how is it possible that out of the two of us, with me being the one who was most afraid, I am now so open? As the day went on, I became more and more aware of what was happening to us, and I was reminded of Jesus' words to Peter, "Do you love me? Follow me." That coming child was the Lord calling me to say yes to Him, through private prayer or with my family, through open-hearted dialogue with a friend, through the question I shared with my wife, "Why are we the ones who are given this gift, who were not even looking for it, when there are friends or couples who are suffering because they cannot have children?" All this opened a dialogue with that Mystery who became flesh, and freed from all kinds of worries about work, our home and the chaos of life.
That evening, however, we discovered that the tiny fertilized egg had failed to take root, and as quickly as that child had surprised us by entering our lives, it was taken from us. The next day I felt an emptiness in my heart, a longing for that unwritten story. But also a tremendous love for that child, Giacomo, whom we had not been able to meet, along with a sense of gratitude to him and to the One who had given him to us, albeit for so little, to re-destine us to Him from our petty-bourgeois privileges. "Do you love me? Follow me," was the question that reality posed, and continues to pose. I was reminded of Fr. Lepori's words, "We should live the silence of these days just as when Martha stood there without saying anything, struck and wounded by that word. She did not go back like a beaten dog. Let us allow Martha's listening to enter us; we need it so that our life may become fruitful of what Christ says and wants."
Signed letter, Milan
I often identify with Martha because of my restlessness and need to feel useful, to do many things throughout the day, which often become a measure on myself and others, a distraction from what is essential. And also a source of dissatisfaction. No one had ever described Martha as one who is changed by Christ, but rather as one who is a "lost case" or hopeless because of her distraction from Him. It struck me that Fr. Mauro emphasized the tenderness of Jesus calling Martha by name, twice, thus marking the beginning of her journey of conversion.
At this time, when I have started a new job that requires me to be more patient, in which I have to learn many new things and cannot always do everything I could or should do, hearing what we were told at the Exercises filled me with hope. I, too, need that tenderness and to allow myself to be changed by the encounter with Him, through my attachment to the friends I am given. In following them, I change and my days change.
The Fraternity Exercises are about to begin, and I am arranging to follow them on my Ipad at the home of my 92-year-old father, who has been living alone since his untamable Teresa returned to the Father, and I will be sleeping at his place tonight. Erminio, a man of poor character and simple faith, met the movement through his children and grandchildren and since then it has been a re-flourishing of that familiarity with Christ that he learned as a child in his large family. He now has trouble with his memory, he has lost all autonomy, but not his faith. Before starting the connection, I warn him that I will go to my room to listen from my Ipad, leaving him in the living room in front of the TV. He asks if he can watch the Exercises with me. So I stay on the couch, next to him, holding the Ipad as close to his ear as possible, as his hearing aid is not enough. So, a little tilted to hear better, leaning on my shoulder, he follows the songs, the lesson, dozes off for ten minutes then wakes up and keeps following. He even observes the icons. When he starts singing "sono vecchio ormai [I am old now]" I am moved by such participation. At the end, he rejoices in the technology that has made it all possible. Then I think of us, his children, his many grandchildren and little great-grandchildren who are now coming to the faith. I decide that they need to know that even at 92 the heart longs for, recognizes and is glad in Christ.
Elisabetta, Castelleone (Cremona)
After two years of pandemic, this year our community was given the opportunity to participate in the Exercises in person in Pacengo. For my husband and I, after the early years when our children were young and we took turns, we have participated in the Exercises together for more than 30 years. But this time we were not able to sign up because of his health condition, debilitated by cancer and chemotherapy. On April 8, the Lord wanted him with Himself: he was to follow the Exercises in heaven and I received the unexpected proposal of replacing someone who had signed up but would not be able to attend.
It is true that the Lord knows what one needs. In this very painful moment for me, it was as if, with this gift, He said to me, "Woman, do not weep." Do not weep, you are in a great company and nothing can take away the security of that good destiny that the Lord wanted for your husband and that He wants for you.
Every word of Fr. Lepori's lessons seemed to be spoken for me, in response to my lament, as He had responded to Martha's by "revealing to her that every human heart is made for Him as the only thing necessary." This is the verification I must make: that "Christ makes everything grow and makes everything new, from love to sorrow over death."
I went to the Spiritual Exercises burdened by personal and family problems, and carrying the absurd tragedy of the war in Ukraine deep in my soul. How many Ukrainian women I have seen over the years, visiting elderly people in homes. In those days, my thoughts and prayers were not enough to answer the confidences of people who told me of their hardships brought on by the situation the world is in: from war, to the loss of values in society, the fluctuating permanence of the pandemic...
In this situation, my desire and anticipation for the Exercises were ignited. Especially as the expectation of meeting Fr. Lepori, with whom I had participated in the Priests' Exercises long ago, was renewed. I had been impressed by his imagery-filled language, and chased by his penetrating reading of the Gospel, which in a very personal way seemed to me to be a reflection of Fr. Giussani’s style of recounting the Gospel stories.
Fr. Mauro thus accompanied me by surprising me in my inner frailty and weariness, and led me to mirror myself in the Gospel characters, such as Peter and Martha. In different ways, each was torn from themselves, increasingly oriented towards Christ and affectively and existentially seized by Him.
Participating in person in Pacengo was a wonderful opportunity to find myself with so many people seized by Fr. Giussani's charism, perceived as still so alive. The whole atmosphere, too, from the choir to the images to the personal greetings, allowed me to enjoy a present fact.
Returning home, I found myself often enjoying the joy of people who communicated the grace and goodness of the Exercises to me. I also find this in myself. Especially for how Fr. Lepori led us into the mystery of Christ, who took our misery, our death upon Himself. There were a few minutes when his words turned my heart and eyes towards a dear friend who just a month ago had experienced the death of her husband after a very painful illness; I then saw that she was very consoled, by that consolation that comes from the whole gaze of Christ, God of life and victor over death. This openness has also broken through my heart and my way of thinking, which I now find more intensely inhabited by the presence of Jesus. My gaze on people, on the facts of my personal life, and on world events is also less passive and become less blackmailed by the logic of loneliness and by fear of God's absence and distance.
Fr. Angelo, Chioggia
I went to the Spiritual Exercises three weeks after the sudden death of my mother. I wanted to go anyway because I felt the need, but at the same time it seemed to me that nothing could support my heart, that nothing could sew that tear that was so strong and violent. I had that 6:30 a.m. phone call in my head in which the doctor informed me of my mom's "death," of having to break the news to my brothers and father ... everything was marked by great pain. After a few days, I had gone with my husband to live with my dad and the challenge was getting bigger and bigger because everything in that house bears the mark of her, how she was, how she cared for things, everything.
Going to the Exercises was just necessary, but my heart had too big a wound and the doubt grew in me that I was not in the right place. Instead on Friday night, in Fr. Lepori's introduction, it seemed as though he was talking about a promise made to me, a promise charged with an ideal capable of giving reason for life and death. There was something there for me! And then the point where he spoke about silence opened my heart, because I really felt the need for it, I wanted to go deep within myself to feel again the fascination of that encounter made years and years ago, and to see Him conquer death, the wound, everything.
This is what fascinates me about my encounter with the movement and that I learned from Fr. Carrón: Jesus is always looking for me, calling my freedom to go to Him without giving up my humanity, without skipping anything about me.
Returning home, I was just grateful to have seen once again that this story accompanies me if I say my "yes," even with a torn heart, but surely loved down to the last hair on my head.
I am a graduate student in neuroscience and, for years, have experienced profound dissatisfaction with scientific work and a desire to be more directly serving others. But through the School of Community and certain friendships, I am slowly discovering that my joy is in obeying to the circumstance in which He has placed me. Right before the Exercises, however, I received an offer of a job in academia after my doctorate. I had a sense the Lord was asking this of me - that amid a world torn by violence and need, His plan was for me to continue working in science. So I brought a burning question to the Exercises: “Faced with this sacrifice, how can I live?”
From the first evening, Fr. Lepori’s words were like a breath of new life. I felt as though he were speaking directly to me, reminding me of the path I have been on since my reversion to the faith: a path of falling in love with One Who shows me His beauty everywhere. He is the one thing necessary. This memory freed me from my sense of suffocation, because I could look at my urgent desires and ask Christ to show me again that He is the answer to them.
I am not alone on this path. Even though I knew almost nobody when I arrived, throughout the weekend, I encountered men and women whose hearts are living spaces of verification that Christ is all. I left the Exercises aware that it is the Lord - through the charism of Fr. Giussani, through the Church - Who is leading me to greater maturity.
Since the Exercises, I have had a new peace. I accepted the job offer, begging Christ to use this sacrifice for His glory. And at a happy hour for my lab, I found myself freer in conversation with my colleagues because of the memory that it is not the right opinions, or success at work, or anything but Christ that will satisfy their hearts. And I have found Him, I belong to Him.