His name was Guerino and he was a man returned from the land of the dead.
|My father, George Merlo, in the fields, |
My father was about 16 years old when Guerino returned. He recalls the day clearly. They were working in the fields when they heard the news.
“E vero?” (“Is it true?”) “Sei sicuro”? (“Are you sure?”) Everyone was asking. No one could believe it.
“Non sbagli?” (“You’re joking?”)
“No, no. E vero.”
And then, the church bells pealed joyfully. It was indeed true! Like a man resurrected, Guerino was back alive!
Within 30 minutes, the entire village of about 2000 had gathered in the yard to verify this unexpected miracle, this modern day resurrection from the dead.
It was 1948, five years since the Russians had captured Guerino and imprisoned him in a Siberian gulag. Of the 54,400 Italians imprisoned there, only 10,085 survived.
Guerino had managed to escape. For three years, he walked through the countryside of Russia and Soviet occupied Eastern Europe towards his home in Italy. He was the only one from his village to return.
Guerino’s story is a resurrection story. It is the experience of moving from death to new life. The story testifies to the power of human love, experienced as home. Home was imprinted on Guerino and felt deep within his heart.
Separated from home, from love and compassion, Guerino resided with suffering and deprivation. To escape was dangerous, but to remain was deadly.
Journeying towards home, Guerino may have become lost. The human longing for affection may have tempted him to linger indefinitely where he encountered kindness. Always, the memory of home made him restless and urged him onwards.
The spiritual journey:
Guerino’s journey has parallels with the spiritual journey. Home is the divine imprint on the soul, drawing us towards God.
We lose our way on the journey. We try to escape our current situation, relentlessly pursuing pleasure, fame and fortune. But once attained, these fail to satisfy our deepest longings.
We want to linger indefinitely in our comfort zones, but something propels us forward. We look for ways to transform our present realities.
For Guerino, a new phase of his journey began the moment he arrived home. Returned from the dead, Guerino had to learn to live. He had to integrate the past with his resurrected life.
|Cover from The Confessions, |
translated by Maria Boulding, OSB.
The spiritual journey teaches us how to live. It integrates the limitations of human existence with the limitlessness of divine love. The spiritual impetus that kindles restlessness urges us towards resurrection, the experience of new life.
Saint Augustine, who wrote one of the greatest accounts of a spiritual journey in the Christian tradition, describes restlessness in The Confessions. Speaking to God, he writes, “You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”
The heart that finds God finds new life; it has overcome separation and found home.
Note: Quotation from The Confessions, 1.1, translated by Maria Boulding, OSB, New City Press, 1997. I heartily recommend this translation.