Spirto Gentil Society

Changed by the friendship with a couple that moved away, Bill and his wife decide to open their home with the hope of meeting and embracing more of these friends.

About a year ago, my wife and I hosted the first meeting of the “Spirto Gentil Society”. It was a small party centered around thirty minutes of music (two pieces) prefaced by reading Fr. Giussani’s corresponding reflections from his Spirto Gentil CD series. That first night we had eight guests, a lively discussion, and the hope that it could grow. In the four meetings since, we have averaged over 25 attendees.

Young people, married couples, single people, middle aged people — an eclectic group shows up each time. Many of them are strangers to each other, but the inevitable conclusion of the evening is saying goodbye as if we were old friends. One priest, who had previously only heard of Fr. Giussani in passing, after listening to De Victoria’s responsory Caligaverunt oculi mei and Fr. Giussani’s accompanying commentary, asked, “Who is this man? Who is this man who can write these words about Christ? Who is Fr. Giussiani?” The connection between beauty and suffering became a theme of his conversations in the weeks that followed. A few other attendees have since started their own evenings of hospitality, engaging in book clubs and writing nights. But the most surprising response came from a group of recent college graduates. After initially questioning whether someone could “actually enjoy” such a night as ours they were the first guests to ask when the next meeting would be. The questions posed by Schubert’s Wanderer about how their lives relate to the Infinite was perfect (albeit accidental) timing. The music and Fr. Giussani’s interpretations resonated with them and in them.

This Spirto Gentil Society — a miracle for my wife and I — was ultimately the result of Christ working within a friendship that we were given five years prior and which has since been stretched by long distance. I have never been a consistent participant in the School of Community and currently there is no CL group in Baton Rouge. I tried to start one years ago and it lasted a few months — everyone moved away — but it, like all my dabblings with CL or CL adjacent activities, bore fruit in a new friendship. It was then that I met Tom and Marta — temporary expats from Italy living in Baton Rouge. After meeting Tom and Marta, my wife and I spent something like 12 of the next 14 evenings with them. We saw in each other someone who wanted the same things out of life and instantly a “companionship guided towards happiness” (Miracle of Hospitality, p. 63) was born.

We continued on like this for the next couple years, vacationing together even after my wife and I had moved to another state. But in 2021 Tom’s graduate studies in Louisiana wrapped up and he and Marta moved back to Italy. The timing of this was a special tragedy since we had just moved back to Baton Rouge. The sadness at realizing they were moving was overwhelming and even now as I write this the sting is hardly lessened — I will always miss these friends when they are not near. But! This melancholy was a gift and an impetus for our Spirto Gentil music nights.

After Tom and Marta left I was a bit work obsessed, a bit mopey and otherwise dedicated to diversions. But after catching up with Tom and Marta on the phone one summer month, I realized this was myopic and self-centered. They were transitioning into a new parish and new CL gestures in Italy while I was using self-pity to insulate myself from the risk of the (new) friendships I claimed to desire. Their witness, perhaps accidental in this instance, shook me out of my stale inertia. I was still sad but it now affirmed “a fulfillment towards which [I] was traveling” (See Fr. Giussani reflection on The Ballad of the Old Man by Claudio Chieffo). I was no longer halted and so upon my wife’s challenge to take action our Spirto Gentil Society was born.

In the idiom of my own desires I explained to Tom:

I was asking, “Where is another Tommaso? Where is my friend who says ‘yes’ to everything looking for the answer to our varied desires for happiness. I will bring them out of hiding with [this music night].”

Tom’s response made me truly aware of what a blessing the Spirto Gentil evenings are: they are born of a fundamental desire but they only came to fruition after grace and pain of lost friendship had restored me to the position of a beggar.

"When I [Tom] read this I think of how many things we could have done together in BR….But maybe our friendship like it is now is pushing us to give more here [where we are] with the others looking for the same INFINITE PASSION [a half joking reference to an inside joke]. I have the same desire, I want to find friends with whom I can create occasions for encounters and share our passion for life with others outside the Movement. But I am a miserable man. Can’t do anything on my own! But seeing what you are doing and desiring makes me desire more."

Tom is exactly right: we probably would have done joyful things together had we lived together in Baton Rouge. But I am not sure my wife and I would have opened up our home to share food, drink and an hour of Fr. Giussani, Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, Tito Schipa, etc. Tom’s response is illustrative of an awareness I wish I always had: “Man cannot be humble if on one hand he refuses his nothingness and on the other he does not understand and acknowledge the victory of Another, the victorious Presence” (See Fr. Giussani’s reflection on The Liturgy of John Chrysostom). Looking back it’s easy for me to say that I too cannot do anything on my own. But thankfully Christ has consistently made his presence known to my family through our friendship with Tom and Marta, even through the lack of time together. Whatever positive desires Tom said he saw in me only came about because I first saw them in him. This is why I call our Spirto Gentil Society a miracle — it is a “forward movement of the divine footstep within the steps of a human companionship” (Miracle of Hospitality, p. 68) we have with Tom and Marta.

Bill, Baton Rouge, LA