St. Matthew has a phrase in his Gospel which is often translated as, ‘The eye is the window of the soul.’ This is a very perceptive remark; the eye can tell you much about the individual. A physician examining the eyes of a patient may learn many things about the condition of the patient generally. But in the terms of reference of Cenacolo the eyes really do give a window into the soul of the individual.
It was the ‘eyes’ that lead me to support the opening of the British House in my former parish. Dodding Green, call by the late Bishop Brewer the jewel in the crown of Catholic Westmorland, was an old recusant property, Mass had been celebrated there throughout penal times. Although Dodding Green was no longer a fully operational church, it was somewhere that I celebrate Mass often with a faithful group of parishioners. One day Bishop O’Donoghue phone and said that he had plans for a drug addict community called Cenacolo. I thought this admirable until I realised that Dodding Green would be the venue. I had an immediate attack of the NIMBYs – as did many in the locality.
I was persuaded to visit an up and running Cenacolo House in Bosnia. This suited me as I could kill three birds with one stone. I could visit Medjugorje, a Refugee Settlement that had been introduced to our parish and the Cenacolo House. It was duly organised that I should celebrate Mass at that House. A 7am Mass is not usually the most lively of celebrations, but the moment I set foot in that Chapel and heard 70 lads singing ‘Come Holy Spirit,’ (in Italian) the hairs on my neck stood up. But it was the moment that I stood to face them at the beginning of Mass that my conversion to Cenacolo occurred. And it was the eyes that did it. 70 young men most of whose eyes shone, shone with light. This was a most powerful experience; these lads had something. And, as I droned on at them in the homily 9which was simultaneously translated into many languages) the lads were actually listening, staring intently and listening. The Mass unfolded in the usual way, the lads kneeling on the hard floor throughout the Eucharistic Prayer. The sign of peace was another high point, where the formal hand shake was replaced with hugs of genuine affection. But it was the eyes that did it.
Now over the years that I have been associated with Cenacolo in the UK, I have had the privilege of seeing many guys enter the Community. They enter from the world with the eyes that the world forced upon them: usually dull and lack lustre, opaque and empty. Those who stay for any length of time, those who engage with what the Community proposes to them, they are the ones whose eyes begin to shine. This is nothing to do with the eyes per se and everything to do with the eyes being the window of the soul. For Cenacolo is not a drug rehab, it is, in the language of the Community, a school of life. It is here that the boys and girls first of all begin to value life – their own, and others. It is then that they really begin to live.
The life in Community is very simple. There are very few external distractions. Here a boy or girl is able to learn to be quiet, to learn to be still. Through friendship that is pure and undemanding, a girl or boy is able to learn to communicate at a deeper level, to avoid superficiality and find peace. Gradually light comes back into the eyes and joy begins to show itself. Having relied upon drugs, alcohol or other substances to anaesthetise them from the world, they are often surprised to experience natural (supernatural?) happiness. One lad after four months in Community said to me, ‘I never thought that I could feel this good without heroin.’
The eyes are indeed the window of the soul. The soul was made by God so that his life could be in us. His life brings joy and peace, a peace the world cannot give. It is a peace that the boys and girls have often been searching for, a peace for their woundedness, for their sadness, for their fears. And in the Cenacolo Community they are given an opportunity to find it, to experience it, to live it and to bring it to others. Here they are given the opportunity to become the men and women that they are called to be. That, of course, is a life-long journey requiring continuous change for, as Blessed Cardinal Newman said, ‘To live is to change and to change often is to be perfect.’
What the Cenacolo Community wants for the boys and girls in its care is that they recognise that the cross is an integral art of the Christian life. Suffering has to be faced, not escaped from via drugs etc. In Cenacolo they come to realise that the cross whilst being a symbol of suffering, is truly a symbol of life. Without the cross there can be no true life worth the living. The motto of the Martyrs is so telling, ‘Per crucem ad coronam – through the cross to the crown.’ When the boys and girls of the Community have learned to deal with suffering, have learnt to accept a simple life, have learnt that joy and peace reside not in the material but in the spiritual things of life (friendship, love, peace etc.) then they begin to live and be harbingers of life.
The eyes being the ‘windows of the soul,’ show the light of God’s beauty within our boys and girls.