Monday, July 9, 2007

"Seek and Ye Shall Find" -- Andreas

Saturday evening, Angela's health was the worst that it had been since I arrived on Thursday. Zia Paola and I talked to Stefano about having a priest come visit Angela and give her a blessing. Stefano said he thought that Angela would be open to such a thing, even though she is not Catholic. Furthermore, he thought that it would be a good thing for the whole family. The challenge, he pointed out, is that the nearby priests are all quite elderly and not particularly compelling in their speech nor ardent with passion for the ministry, to put it nicely. The discussion ended there, with all of us longing for a young priest, open to Angela's protestant upbringing, someone who might offer a comforting and encouraging presence.

On Sunday morning I was able to convince Stefano to break away from the house so we could go to Mass together in the city. We left the house around 10:30am, and he suggested that we go to the nearby church where his sister Catarina got married. I told him that I would rather go to the city of Todi for Mass, and we headed off for the medieval hilltop city that we gaze upon in the distance from the villa.

Once we arrived in the city we walked up the stairs to the first church that we came across, thinking that we might just have made it in time for the 11:00am Mass. The church of San Fortunato was empty and a priest told us that Mass started at 11:30am. We walked around the church briefly and then decided to walk to the main church in the piazza, the Duomo (Cathedral).

Upon entering that church we found out that the Mass there also began at 11:30am. At this point, we took a walk through the market in the piazza and had a coffee at the nearby bar. We could have returned to either church at 11:30am, but we went to the Duomo. All was as Mass typically is in Italy... and then we got to the prayer of the people, read by a young assistant to the other older priests... in a German accent! Stefano and I looked at each other and read one another's minds -- this man could be the one to offer the kind of presence we longed for the night before.

After Mass, we asked one of the Cathedral ushers who the young German man was and how we could talk to him. We were told to go back to the sacristy and ask for Andreas, a brother in the monastery. Once we saw him, we called his name, and he seemed pleasantly surprised to be sought after. In German, Stefano described to him our conversation the night before, how we ended up in the church that morning, and asked if he would be willing to come to the house to visit with Angela and the family. He pointed out the Divine Providence that his brothers were all leaving for a camping trip that afternoon, however he was the only one planning to stay behind, and thus he was free to come pay Angela a visit. He seemed humbled that we would ask him to do such a thing, and very very pleased.

Andreas came that afternoon and had a long talk with Angela. She took his hand and held it three different times. He talked to her in both German and Italian and encouraged her to offer up her suffering to the Lord. He told her that as a Christian she had nothing to fear in dying. However, he reminded her that miracles are also possible, and recounted some of the miracles he has witnessed. He encouraged her to pray, because as broken as her body may be, her ability to pray will always be intact. He pointed to her heart and told her that God was inside, she was never alone.

He stayed to have dinner with the rest of us, and he told us of his conversion. He was a Protestant for many years, and then after having made a small fortune in his career, he calculated the amount of money he should pay to the church in tithes. He decided not to give any money at all and stopped going to church all together.

He was on an independent search for happiness and truth. For example, he always longed for a Porsche, and then the day came when he bought himself a Porsche. After a few weeks he wasn't happy with the Porsche any longer, and he began to want something even faster and more expensive. This sort of thing happened over and over, in many different areas of his life. He never was fully happy with anything, and never felt like he knew the true meaning of life.

Then, he was invited to a meditative retreat at a convent that began with the Blessed Adoration (prayerful gazing upon a monstrance with a host, which to the Catholics is actually prayerful gazing upon Christ and meditating with His more tangible presence). He said that instantly he knew that he had found the truth -- and of course he was a complete sceptic coming into the retreat!

Andreas seemed to say the right thing to everyone, casually or directly. To one person he happened to talk about the shame that churches are too empty because society is more interested in staying at home and counting money. He pleaded that we not be angry with God, because everything indeed happens for a reason. "Dio รจ solo amore." (God is love.) To another he talked about the urgency to forgive one another. And so on. Curiously, when he came to me, he told me that I am on the right path, and that I must be writing of my experiences. (The next day I began this blog with the previous entry!)

After dinner Andreas suggested that we all gather on the front porch to pray the Rosary together for Angela. It was very beautiful to be in communion with Francesco, Caterina, Zia Paola, Stefano, Andreas, and a cousin visiting from Rome, Stivi. I sometimes find that I have many more differences with some of these people than similarities, but there we were, praying the Rosary, all using the same words, offering up our same prayers, for the same person we love, united. God is so good. We sought and we found -- much more that what we hoped for.

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