To leave and to return are two fundamental movements of existence. All of us, all human beings leave and return. They are verbs of experiences we humans have in common. They also describe my life well, but here I want to pause a while on my first summer as a novice. I have lived different departures and returns. I spent eleven days between Roccavignale and Turin on a summer camp with a group of teens from a parish of Genoa, two weeks at the Centro Astalli in Rome, eight days winding through Tuscany and Umbria on the pilgrimage in poverty, and six days in the province of Caserta to visit my family.
A period of much movement, to say the least!
The first word which can describe it is “surprise” or even “novelty”. Before leaving, I did not know what I would discover about myself, about God, about the world. I knew, sometimes however without much detail, activities which I would carry out in that context and with those people, what I would do. But whatever you do, just ‘doing’ is only part of the experience. The other part is the involvement of your interior world, captivated by dynamics and people. But that’s still not all. Every departure was for me a ‘going towards’ my Lord. The places I reached proved to be places where he was present and active. Sometimes a situation, a difficulty, an encounter, a conversation, an activity, an affective movement taught me something unexpected, made me grow as a person and as a Christian (which at the end of the day is the same thing!). I would leave and would learn life lessons. It is not easy to explain this experience in an article. A metaphor comes to mind. The departures were like climbing a mountain. Put one foot after another, step by step, move forward. The higher you go the wider, after hard work and sweat, the horizon becomes. And while the horizon of one’s gaze widens at the same time so does that of your humanity, of your person, of your faith, of your heart. Leaving has a destabilizing and consoling taste. Then you stop to catch your breath between one step and the other, raise your eyes to the sky and you realize that during the climb the Lord was accompanying you and was the source of that wonderful horizon. That was how my summer was. I left, I discovered, I returned, and I took the time to re-read my experiences during prayer with the Lord.
This re-reading in prayer showed me that after every return something had changed in me: I had experienced a beautiful hue both of the face of Christ and of myself.
I remember, just to give a little more concreteness to what was written, the last day of the pilgrimage in poverty. The other novice and I were in one of the last villages of Umbria, the eighth day of walking. My friend was infirm, his foot was giving him trouble. We ask both the nuns and the local priest for hospitality, but neither can host us. Between noon and 1pm we were welcomed by a lay lady, very generous indeed. Thanks to her, we received a place to sleep, a doctor’s visit, and both lunch and dinner, as well as sympathy and affection. It is only one episode picked from the long list of anecdotes that could be told as evidence of the goodness experienced. The very kind friend was for me Azaria, the archangel who accompanies Tobias on his journey. She was a concrete sign of Providence. And her generosity reflected the generosity of the Lord, his love which looks after me. I left that house feeling grateful, and I still thank God for that encounter.