Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The meditation in Magnificat for December 26 (Holy Family Sunday) was excerpted from the writing of Mother Elvira Petrozzi, an Italian nun who has founded Communità Cenàcolo, dedicated to outreach to “lost and desperate” people, often drug-addicted. Interestingly, Bp Robert Baker of Birmingham was the guest on EWTN’s The Journey Home, speaking about his invitation to Mother Elvira to open such a house in his diocese: Our Lady of Joyful Hope.

The idea is an exercise (sustained) in Catholic Christian living. It is the Benedictine model of ora et labora (prayer and work) allows addicts to experience structured, devout and practical life in community, rooted in the Sacraments, the Rosary, and hands-on tasks of cleaning, repairing, building: whatever is needed so the community can thrive. People coming to such houses are there for the long haul: they commit to three years of life in the community. This produces true formation rather than a band-aid.

But more to the point for me are Mother Elvira’s thoughts in the Magnificat meditation. Hers is a vision for the addicted that is similar to that of Jean Vanier with the handicapped in his L'Arche homes. Both see as essential for truly human life the experience of community which is in fact the experience of family:

“Each of us has a desire in his heart to become a family, because only within the family can our greatest needs be expressed; a dialogue not only with words but with our feelings, our affections, our gaze, in a reciprocal gift of self and in concrete gestures of love. …It is an essential and fundamental need, natural to us, which each one of us has inside, a need to see ourselves in the gaze, smile and reception of another person.”

Mother Elvira’s thoughts continue in the direction of forming relationships that lead to Christian marriage and family, but the thoughts I have included here are more wide-reaching than spousal life and love: it is why people at her Cenacles find such a gift of freedom: freedom from, and freedom for, and openness to.

Robert Frost famously defined home as “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I would rather call it “the place where you fit in and belong and rest, and are safe.”

Home—another of my favorite 4-letter words. Home, family, community: all of what we long for in this week that began with Holy Family Sunday, goes past the Holy Innocents, and ends with the Mother of God, prayer for peace, and the Epiphany. There is no greater longing in our souls, is there?

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