Luca, a teacher in Gainesville, Florida

Florida: The facts before our eyes

Luca has been teaching in the United States for seven years. He recounts his life in recent times and his relationships with friends. It is an everyday life in which "Jesus happens, and He asks me to follow Him."

I am a teacher in a high school, have lived in Gainesville since 2015, and I am from the Memores Domini. By following the movement, I am experiencing a love that only a few years ago I would never have believed possible. A love for my students, colleagues and friends who are becoming for me the place of the renewal of my encounter with Christ. I will recount four episodes that are accompanying me in discovering the need of my heart and the fact that Jesus responds.

The first episode regards the Fraternity Exercises. This year there were 25 of us following them from North Florida. I was moved by the yes of each person, with such different histories, cultures, ages, yet united by the same encounter and desire to follow Christ. I am thinking of Vince and Joe who met CL 30 years ago and were born reborn by meeting a group of young people (Duyenne, Silvio, Erin, Sandy, Patrick, Audrey, Juan...) who are getting to know them and are bringing a breath of fresh air into our lives. Going to bed on Friday night, I was thinking how mysterious and attractive the charism we have encountered is, which reached most incredible places.

Something similar happened to me recently at a dinner at Carie's house with Whitney, Enrico, Desa (the latter two are Memores Domini and live with me). At a certain point one of us said, "Look how strange and incredible it is that we are here sitting around this table because of the yes of so many people over the years." A series of facts have brought us here and put us together. What I encountered in Italy is also here in Florida. It is a emotion that dominates, an awe-filled silence for Jesus who crashes into my life: in cooking for friends who drove two hours or more to see each other; in Carie's eyes that sparkle every time she talks about the movement, in the way she prepares dinner with special attention for her guests, the care with which she sets the table (not to be taken for granted here in the US). Or Whitney, who realized at her Mom's funeral that she was neither angry nor alone because of the certainty that the One who gave her these friends is the One who gave her Mom. Then Jessica, who wrote me a birthday note full of gratitude for the movement and our presence.

Why are these people grateful? What do they see? Who are You, who meet me in the heart of Florida, within an otherwise impossible friendship? In these years I am discovering how much I need them in order to follow the movement.

Our School of Community here in Gainesville, after a busy period (sometimes we were as many as 15 or 16), has now seen most people change cities for work, and there are now 6 or 7 of us. Two weeks ago I went without too many expectations; there were four of us. Silvio spoke about his work, the questions he has, how to behave with a patient, and it opened me up again because I saw that he expected everything from that moment, while my heart was cluttered by a thousand projects and worries. I am so grateful for His continuous correction and companionship. What do I need? If I look back on these years, I can see that a companionship has always been miraculously given to me. But it has always been different from the companionship I wanted.

The second episode concerns this year’s graduation (our high school graduation). After the ceremony, everyone was celebrating, but individually. Each person had organised their party alone with their family and friends, yet everyone longed to be together after four years of high school. True communion, and even a community (school, for example), is not born of our common effort or purpose. This made me look back on my relationship with Desa and Enrico in our house with gratitude: recognizing that Christ is here and calling us as the source of communion with one another. We are different, each with our own ideas and history, yet there is something between us that is stronger than all differences, misunderstandings or limitations. When we have dinner together, perhaps after a hard day, the mere presence of each other is a help, even if I am silent the whole time. The fact that they are there comforts my heart: I know that You are with me. In what do I see this? For example in Desa, also a teacher, who often has been studying all day and wants to share what he has discovered, or in Enrico, a nurse, who may have faced the death of a patient or met a new one and talks about it with sparkling eyes. The first to perceive this communion are first and foremost others who come to visit us. I think of Caroline, who is studying medicine and met the movement last year, or Fr. Clay, who told us two days ago at dinner that amid the hustle and bustle of life he was forgetting that he needs real friends. Or Ashil, Duyenne, Silvio, Sandy... There's a communion between us that is objective, that sometimes we do not even notice, but that attracts and fascinates. And it is given back to me through their gaze; I need it to notice and recognize Jesus present.

The third episode concerns Robert. I started visiting him in prison because in November 2017 Silvia and Francesca, two elderly Italian ladies, came to Florida to visit two death row inmates. We had dinner together with them one evening; Desa and I were struck by the human gaze of these two women. Thus I began first to write to, and then visit Robert, who in time has been moved from death row to a general population prison because his sentence was commuted to life without parole. He always awaits our meeting; he looks forward to it. It is moving to see how he has changed, to the point of wanting to receive the sacraments and to go to Mass (he comes from a Baptist family). In this I have discovered a new world, that does not erase the past and all the suffering he has caused.

When the last hurricane hit Florida, inmates from the affected area were transferred to Robert's prison. One evening, while reading the Gospel (he was preparing for the sacraments), he came across the passage where Jesus says, "Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” So he went out of his cell, gathered his companions, and after reading that passage organized a collection of food and shampoo for the displaced people. He donated the last soup he had saved for dinner because "I am already receiving so much." Who are You that attracts the heart of such a man?

When I visited him a few months ago, he greeted me with a big smile and told me that he was taming a lizard, feeding it and caring for it. It may seem silly, but Robert and his lizard showed me again what my heart desires, a relationship without shame or calculation. When I go to see Robert, I realize that Jesus is already waiting for me. I often go there reluctantly because the week has been difficult, it is far away, because it is not easy to be in jail, they frisk you, and sometimes I am worried about doing something wrong… But when I am in front of him, I am in front of One who is already waiting for me, who expects everything from a lizard and from me, who simply begs for my attention because that is all he has, and he waits for me eagerly to ask me questions about faith. How powerful is our charism that it allows me to enjoy reality like this, and how powerful is Jesus who embraces me with so much mercy.

Read also - The mystery of Giovanni

The last episode happened in mid-May when I went to Miami to visit Joep, a friend of the Memores Domini. One morning I went to Mass alone and as I was leaving an elderly woman approached me and asked me about Pepe (a sick friend who used to live with Joep and who has now returned to Spain), and asked me to report that she is praying for him every day. When I told Pepe about this, he told me that he does not know her…People in the most diverse places across Florida ask about him or tell us how much their relationship with Pepe is keeping them company. I was all caught up in a thousand worries that day, but I walked home with tears in my eyes, because You, Jesus, are with me. We are not allowed to see all the fruits of our presence. But He happens, He seeks me, He asks me to follow Him.

I was reminded of the quote by St. Augustine in the School of Community, "The facts, before our eyes; the volumes, in our hands." He happens and is sufficient for life. That brings me to my knees to ask for Him every morning when I wake up. These facts, these people tell me that the Master is here and is asking for me. But am I willing to recognize Him and follow Him through faces that are always new and different from my plans?

Luke, Gainesville, Florida