Seeing Heaven Everywhere

“The unity that we followed at the Exercises somehow enabled our disparate lives to bleed together into one.”

After nearly 16 years in the Movement, I only recently joined the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. My family and I live in Atchison, Kansas, where my husband Aaron is the responsible of our School of Community. For me, joining the Fraternity was a great step, full of graces and blessings, and I can't help but wonder, "Why did it take me so long? Why did I – why do I – hesitate to give all of myself to the people in my life, to the places where I have met Him, to the present moment?"

Even with this gratitude in mind I still arrived in Conception, Missouri for the Spiritual Exercises full of a sense of interruption, annoyance, and doubt. For the first time since we moved to the United States, some friends from our School of Community offered to take our entire crew of children for the weekend, including the recently weaned 2 year old, precisely so Aaron and I could attend. In the case of these friends – Kerry and Dave – they sacrificed their ability to attend in order to make it possible for Aaron and I to go as a couple.

This should have been such a radiant sign of His love for us that I would be walking on air, but instead I found myself "opposing the faith,” as the Ballad of the Old Man tells us, at every turn. The toddler was screaming every night, the 6 year old had a horrible cough and I hated to leave the 16 year old unanchored and alone for a weekend. Most of all, I was annoyed that for our first time getting away with no children in 16 years, my husband and I would no doubt be sleeping in twin beds; furthermore, Aaron was going to be working on the music and helping with the logistics of the weekend.

However, the minute we arrived and saw Emad broadly smiling at us in the parking lot, with the sun melting over the top of the Abbey buildings, my resolve to "oppose" Him at every turn began to melt away. Brother Gabriel, who had been part of a nearby School of Community before he entered the monastery, graced us with a gift – he was going to be allowed to accompany us almost the whole weekend.

As people arrived, I felt a sense of unexpected camaraderie, sunlight, and mission, and this feeling would continue the whole weekend. Afterwards, seeing Fr. Matteo standing and smiling to greet us, far away from his community in Denver, I felt another great grace that propelled me to give thanks for the charism of the Movement and its priests who care so deeply for the flock around them.

Being connected by video to the exercises that already happened in Rimini was not always the easiest way to digest the intense and beautiful lessons given to us by Monsignor Paccosi. Our friend Peter, who was present there, described it as "drinking from a firehose". Yet I found myself glad to witness the 20,000 people in Rimini who had, like me, responded to the call to come. I also felt grateful to see the face of Davide Prosperi, who I had never seen nor heard speak before, and to marvel that our little group was somehow connected to this great and wonderful Company all over the world.

Still, sitting in a chair for an hour plus at a time is not the norm for this homeschooling mom of 6, and I found myself after lunch on Saturday fighting to keep off sleep and the urge to go walk around the beautiful lake just outside the building window instead. But it became evident with each lesson, and with the music that Aaron cared for with our friends Nicole and Nick and Fr. Matteo, that the lake outside our window (which I never did walk around) would not be as beautiful for me without the Monsignor's words which lifted up and clarified my desire and the fact that my imperfect, uneven life was to be lived as a deeper awareness of expectant, meaningful awaiting. The lake I never walked around was embraced and caught up in the awareness of this sudden yet deeply familiar friendship our group shared, as we struggled to interpret and wrestle with the lessons, eating simple meals together in the dining hall, and sharing snatched moments together in guest lounges with much laughter.

Indeed, Aaron and I were alone without children for the first time in 16 years and there were, of course, twin beds and very little time alone. But just like the lake, Aaron and I too, found ourselves propelled together more clearly as companions in our destiny in Him, more determined through the spirit of the Exercises to uncover Life in every crack and fissure and blossoming of our domestic life.

Kerry and Dave, in their great sacrifice to take our children and stay home, were very present with us all weekend as the Monsignor talked of the connection between Amazement and Sacrifice. Kerry, who has just met the Movement this past year, has been moved by a great awareness of things unfolding in her life, and through the beautiful friendship we have shared, responded to a desire to give this weekend to us, in the wonder and expectation of being given even more through her sacrifice.

The unity that we followed at the Exercises – a unity which is different from simply following each other in closed human circles – somehow enabled our disparate lives to bleed together into one, while our individual stories emerged more concretely. In the red walls of the tiny basement chapel, we filled the room with the Latin responses and Movement songs and listened to other retreatants in different rooms also singing songs to the Mystery. Our own assembly was a further experience of following this Unity, as Emad and Fr. Matteo gently helped us clarify our rich experiences of the weekend. And watching the video of the final assembly in Rimini was a particularly moving endnote for me – to see Davide and the Monsignor weeping in response to the announcement of opening the Testimony phase for Fr. Giussani's cause for canonization, to hear Davide speak of his father's death, it all began to seem a vulnerable, clairvoyant preparation for the promise in the final song we sang of "the end of evil.”

When Aaron and I returned, like a cold plunge into water, we were sent spiraling into the manic-ness of Monday morning, made more manic and chaotic by the fact that we had all gone away for the entire weekend. Amidst luggage and quick transitions to school and work, I found myself asking again, "Was it worth it?" The answer came on Tuesday, when I took my elderly mother for eye surgery to a nearby city. In the faces of the elderly patients, in my mother's face, in recalling the stories of the weekend, in the brisk nurses and the efficient doctor, in the fragility of my mother's body and my own tired bones, I saw more clearly. What beauty! What a Love among us all! This was a great surprise: to begin to see Heaven everywhere. This was Hope, a Hope that pervades, even as I walk farther away in time from that weekend of the Exercises, like the candles that our friend Peter lit each day in that tiny red chapel at the Abbey, small flickering things that somehow filled all of our faces and that room with light.

Melissa, Atchison, KS