Student at CLU Spiritual Exercises.

It is Called Silence

Zacchaeus, the woman with the hemorrhage, and the life and questions of university students, discussed at dinner and during the lessons. “It is a feature of our epoch: unease in front of unease,” but there is another possibility for looking at oneself.
Luca Fiore

"I went to a friend in the community to ask him why he hadn’t yet signed up for the CLU Spiritual Exercises. He studies theoretical physics and is one of the most intelligent students at the university. I was a little scared to go to him, because he’s a lot sharper with words than I am. When I invited him, he countered: ‘Why do you want to go?’ I explained what had been happening to me in recent months, and at the end of my story, he said, ‘OK, I’ll go, not for you, but for what is happening in you.’”

Matteo from Milan told this story at dinner with the leaders of university students in CL and Julián Carrón at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises. There were 25 young people around the table who do not give the impression of being “leaders” or “heads.” Matteo himself, to explain “what is happening” to him, said this: “Responsibility for the community is the first circumstance in my life in which it is clear that I am not enough for myself. The things that are happening to me force me to ask Christ to sustain me.” Carrón grinned. It was evident that these conversations fire him up–even more so when the students’ questions are brazen.

The promise.
Dinner was a succession of stories about false starts, things poorly understood, openings notwithstanding my own reservations.” Carlo from Turin said that he invited eight classmates to the Spiritual Exercises, and was turned down eight times, “but when I got over the embarrassment I realized that the invitation had introduced something more into my relationship with them.” Melisa, a leader of the students enrolled in Medicine in Milan, said she realized that 10 third-year students (in a three-year degree program) had not registered for the Exercises. This was justified, seeing as they were to graduate the day after the return from the Exercises in Rimini. “One of us said, ‘They’re grown-ups, let them work it out.’ Then I happened into one of these friends who hadn’t registered, and a dialogue opened up... The person who’d said ‘they’re grown-ups’ was there, and later told me that he would go talk to the other nine...”

“Do you see?” Carrón spoke up. “That other person thought he already knew what those ten students were thinking. Instead, that dialogue showed that there was much more to discover. If we lose a bit of reality along the way, how can we think we know? Reality is what enables us to understand: reality always calls us to conversion. This is more important than avoiding mistakes.”

The four thousand university students gathered at the Expo Center, November 17th-19th.

The platters with the fish entree arrived and almost nobody took notice. The intensity of the conversation gave no sign of lessening. Andrea from Turin asked, “How can the event of Christ become more familiar?” Carrón: “You have to look intently at what happens. It is called silence. If you don’t go back and reflect on it, in the end you don’t even realize that it happened, and you lose it. There is no need to add more content to what has happened. The issue is that our heads are full of things, me first of all. This is why I am so surprised by what happens in you and what others see in what we live.” He pulled out his cell phone to look for a quote by Giussani. “Culture is the gaze of Christ upon us. This gaze becomes our gaze on reality. For us, culture does not add something to the original encounter, timidly perceived, glimpsed, sensed. It adds nothing.” Giacomo pursued this line. “But even in the moments of silence thoughts pile up; even in silence there can be agitation and restlessness...” Carrón answered, “This, too, you can learn. Like how you learn to be with your girlfriend. At times silence is a struggle. It’s like in life, something has to happen that frees us from our thousands of thoughts. ‘He was seen, and therefore he saw.’ This is the promise.” Beginning with the title “He was seen, and therefore he saw,” a quote from Saint Augustine about Zacchaeus in the gospel, the great topics Carrón would talk about during the lesson and assembly were raised at the dinner with the CLU Center.

The unease in front of unease. Looking at the 4,000 students who filled the silence of the Rimini Exposition Center hall, they seemed like young people you meet everywhere. Some still had baby faces, others had beards that were too long. There was a girl who had dyed her hair pink, a fellow with a cashmere sweater, and another one with a tattoo on his neck. A photo would not suffice to distinguish each of them from all the others. “What is the most striking thing in this moment as we begin our Spiritual Exercises?” Carrón asked. “I’d like to know your answers. I’ll tell you mine, so you all can compare your ideas with it. For me, it’s the fact of being here.” Well, yes, why did they come? What were they looking for? What did they expect from the three days? Is it possible they had nothing more interesting to do on a mild November weekend? “What does it mean to be here? It is a gesture of love for ourselves, of tenderness toward ourselves, of attention to our destiny.” Carrón said that each person had arrived with her or his own drama and unease. “It is one of the features of our era: not only the enormous diffusion of unease among young people, but also the unease in front of this unease, feeling ashamed of every difficulty.” He quoted a passage from the book by the Italian journalist, Antonio Polito, Riprendiamoci i nostri figli [Let’s Take Back Our Children]: “Notwithstanding all our efforts, notwithstanding the continual striving to build an identity that is appreciated, young people on social networks find no happiness. According to a study by the University of Sheffield, the more time they spend on Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram, the more they feel unhappy with their appearance, their family relationships, their progress in school: in a word, dissatisfied with their life.” But is this fatal? Or is there another way to look at these difficulties? “What if this unease is a sign of our greatness? What if it is a sign of the ‘eternal mystery of our being’ of which Leopardi spoke?” In response to these questions, Carrón read the gospel story of the woman with the hemorrhage, who desired to touch the hem of Jesus’ mantle, certain that doing so would be enough to heal her. “What urgency she must have felt, after so many failed attempts with the physicians, to make such an audacious gesture! Nothing stopped her. Rather than making her skeptical, all her attempts generated in her an even more radical urgency.” Carrón continued, saying that the three days of the Exercises were an opportunity to dare, like that woman, to place our whole selves in front of Christ “without being ashamed of anything, with the same trust, with the same certainty of being taken seriously.”

Solutions and Time.
Massimiliano, the CLU secretary for the past two years, is studying Law at the Catholic University in Milan. Equipped with an earphone, he walked around behind the stage, checking that everything was going well. He is a calm and pragmatic fellow. Andrea, who will soon replace him in this role, was there with an earphone, too, but his expression was understandably more concerned. All the secretariat’s efforts are designed to ensure that the gestures will meet the great challenge issued by the Movement. “What have these two years meant for me? They have been an opportunity to see close up how Carrón proceeds, to verify through what we do whether what he tells us is true. For me, the greatest correction was that when there is an organizational problem, by temperament I would go straight to the practical, technical solution. But Carrón isn’t this way. He wants to understand the nature of the problem. Most of the time, this means that you have to give yourself time. It’s teaching me to be patient.” We asked him why these young people are so free to engage with the leader of CL without fear of saying the wrong thing, and to engage in their own efforts. “It’s true that it happens this way. But you shouldn’t generalize,” explained Massimiliano. “Many times we’re free, but other times we aren’t. It’s not something automatic. It happens when it happens.” This observation about not generalizing was also made by Paolo, a leader of the community at the Polytechnic University in Milan. One has the impression that this realistic approach also arises from participation in the CLU Center, which meets with Carrón every month. “For me, he’s a friend with whom I feel I am on the road to destiny,” Paolo explained. “He needs the relationship with us, too. You see that he enjoys the steps we take, that he’s enthusiastic. In fact, Carrón proposes to everyone the things we conceive of together.” At breakfast, Carrón met with some of the communities. At eight in the morning, in front of a croissant and cappuccino, there was already a very intense conversation. The perspectives of some of the young people were truly wide open. It was amazing that there was never a moment of silence between the end of the answer and the beginning of the next question. And the answers, nine times out of ten, were in the form of questions posed to the person who had raised a question. The lesson Saturday morning on Zacchaeus began with everyone listening to two songs, “L’illogica allegria” [“The Illogical Gladness”] by Giorgio Gaber, and “La note che ho visto le stele” [“The Night I Saw the Stars”] by Claudio Chieffo. Carrón said, “The power of reality is truly impressive when we let it speak to our hearts. Even if ‘all the rest crumbles apart,’ something can happen that makes me so enthusiastic that ‘I couldn’t sleep anymore.’ Who wouldn’t want to live this way?” Yet, even when this happens, with time, the wonder vanishes. So then, how do I rebuild a nexus with reality? At this point, Carrón spoke about the episode of Zacchaeus to show the method: “He was seen, and therefore he saw.” Carrón explained the consequences of this encounter, of this extraordinary happening: it enables us to know ourselves, gives us a new way of looking at reality and other people, and creates a new perspective that unmasks ideology Powerful questions were asked during the assembly. Marco asked, “Instead of feeling ashamed of my unease, I bask in it. You talk about tenderness for oneself: what is this tenderness?” Susanna: “How can I believe that One who places such a wound in me can love me and truly leave me free?” Valeria: “Contingent things don’t satisfy me anymore. Nothing lasts. I don’t understand how the love of Christ can pass through these things to reach me.” Teresa: “How can I understand whether this human difference you talk about originates in Christ or is just the fruit of an individual temperament?” Pietro: “Often the kind of silence I experience is simply being closed inside my own thoughts. How can this become constructive?”

A motorcycle and beauty.
In response to this last question, Carrón asked Paolo to speak, who said, “In this period, silence is becoming a question of life or death. It was a gorgeous day: the sun, my motorcycle, the asphalt. Exceptional. The classic day when you think of nothing more than the rush of leaning that motorcycle into the curves. But as I returned home something happened that I never would’ve expected. I had to stop. I had to stop and look. I felt the need for a moment with Him: to regain awareness of Who fulfils everything in my life, to realize that even the beauty of that day couldn’t fill my heart. This is why I need silence. To stop and let that Presence penetrate inside me.” “Do you understand? Christian silence is born of an attraction,” Carrón said. This is what happened to the cousin of Matteo, from Florence, who recounted at the dinner of the Center about a friend: “This is his first time here. He’s not in the Movement. So Friday evening I went to ask him what he thought about the introduction. He said, ‘I was blown away. Give me the keys to the room. I want to go to bed right away. I don’t want to ruin the beauty of this moment.’” “It has happened again!” Carrón said, enthused. “Do you see? The event continues as event. You cannot take away that happiness from him, because it isn’t in your hands.” The young people swarmed out of the hall of the Expo Center. Many had the theme of a song by the French artist Zaz that was sung during the three days, Si jamais j’oublie, in their heads. It says, “If someday I forget about all our nights, about the song of the guitar and all our screams, remind me who I am and why I am feeling so full of life right now.”