Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"Friends, That is, Witnesses"

Excerpts from the booklet, "Friends, That is Witnesses," that struck me:

"I have to admit to the fact that when Christ enters into my life through a place and makes me live this dependence in an existential way, it makes me more myself" (Father Carron, p 49).

I am thinking very hard about this phrase. By place he means a companionship, friends who constantly remind me that I depend. And this makes me more myself.

This reminder can come in many ways. Once I was worried about a situation, and I was trying to think through various scenarios to try to prepare for different eventualities, and I asked a friend for advice. She said, "Stop trying to strategize! The only way to face this situation is to pray, "Come Holy Spirit, Come through Mary." When she said that, I felt immediately freer -- not because she'd "let me off the hook," but because her advice matched up with what is true. So direct statements make good reminders. But the example of others is also very important. Just seeing how some of my friends face different challenges is a great reminder. I have amazing friends -- I am thinking particularly of mothers of many children -- who live their dependence on God in such an honest way. They know that on some level their lives are "impossible," and yet by acknowledging that their work is beyond them and relying on the strength of God, they work miracles in their daily lives. I would also have to say that negative examples can serve as good reminders. When we see how difficult even the smallest tasks are for those who rely on their own strength, who seem bent on receiving praise or recognition, it can remind us, too.

Context for the above phrase:

But we all know that clear and precise ideas, the right doctrine, are not enough. At the first bend we will go off the road. Fr. Giussani says we need a continuous reminder, a place that educates us to this religiosity.

For what does the education that qualifies the Church's mission consist of? It consists of a pedagogical concern: making man aware of what God is. It is expressed in continuous reminders urging man to "live the awareness of his total dependence on the Mystery." We saw it yesterday in the "on-going battle" of the assembly -- if there is no place that educates us constantly, that reminds us of this, even all the clarity of the chapter we covered at the Exercises [Chapter 8 of At the Origin of the Christian Claim] is not enough. A presence is needed, a place, in which we can be constantly educated, reminded of this awareness.

What therefore should we expect from this place? To learn total dependence on the Mystery, that is to say, that the law of life is this "dependence on the Father who shapes our life in every instant, who is the continuous source of our existence." We have to expect "impassioned pleas that call me back to the reason why I am irreducibly 'I'" because dependence on God is what makes me myself.

But be careful: from a place like this, from friends, from the Fraternity, from the groups, from the communities, we must therefore expect this continuous reminder, this impassioned plea -- like that of Jesus -- for religiosity, so that we can constantly verify in life whether the statement "in dependence on God I become myself" is true. If, in my experience, I don't perceive that this dependence is the greatest good, then no reminder will be enough. So we have to look at those moments in which living this dependence made me reach an experience of life that I myself, with my thoughts, my plans, my moves, am not able to give myself. I have to admit to the fact that when Christ enters into my life through a place and makes me live this dependence in an existential way, it makes me more myself. If we don't experience this, then we are on the defensive. We can be here, in the Movement, take part in the gestures, and everything you like, but we defend ourselves.

I say we have to look at those moments, because something like we have said is almost unimaginable to our reason, reason conceived as measure. For the overall mentality, for the context we are in, the idea that I should become more myself in dependence on God is the last thing that comes to mind; but it is on this that the Lord is challenging us, and He challenges us by making it happen. For the presence of one who has experience of that "impossible correspondence" that Christ makes possible, the experience of that overabundance of fullness that he finds himself in, it is the greatest challenge that man can receive, that our freedom can receive -- and this is the beauty from which we often defend ourselves. For us, Christianity, as we have received it, encountered it, was not a discourse, it was an event, the event of an encounter in which this correspondence happened, and we have all had, and have, the chance to look it in the face. But we do not have to face up to who knows what, or our idea of Christ, to some leader, to the responsible of the community -- we have to face up to the experience of the "impossible correspondence" that each one of us has had. It would be easy to face up to something else, but when you have had such an experience of fullness of life, whatever happens -- even if tomorrow you have a different perception of yourself and of reality --, you cannot erase what happened (like when you have tasted a very superior wine -- whatever wine they serve tomorrow, you will never forget the one you have tasted). It is useless. It has happened, it is an event.

If what we have said up to now were only a theory, we could quite safely throw it in the bin. But if what we have lived is an experience in which the true perception of our "I" as dependent on the Mystery, if the fullness that our "I" (my "I," not man's "I," but mine and yours) acquires in this relationship has emerged clearly, then we can no longer go back. This is the experience made possible by the Church today, by the Movement today, by that last terminal of the Church that has reached us. By shaping us ("Providing, molding, You give us form...like an artist," says an early medieval author quoted by Fr. Giussani) and then reminding us of what we have experienced, the Church becomes an essential support for traveling the road.

So man -- this is the Mystery's great tenderness -- is not alone. "By definition he is in the company of an Other, who is the Father," who generates him. We have been generated, "we are" generated, and the day this does not happen we will die. "This is why, when the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, He found that the best way, within the horizon of human experience, was to illustrate the individual as a child in his parent's arms; he told them to pray to God, calling him Father, 'Our' Father." When is the last time we prayed the Our Father with this awareness? In making us pray like this, the Church reminds us, in an absolutely maternal, discreet but untiring way, to recognize that "man is defined in terms of a company that implicates him in the very origin of things and remains with other men," because we all have the same God, who is our Father. "If this bond is obliterated, man will lose himself in the social web. The Church's ceaseless urging is necessary to defend us from that isolation which makes us such easy prey for exploitation. Only true religiosity is the boundary blocking any type of invasion and exploitation, even the ecclesiastical variety [and we can add: even by CL, even by its leaders, or friends...]" If we begin to look concretely at day-to-day life, we begin to unmask the exploitation even in what goes on amongst us.

By introducing us, reminding us of this religiosity, the Church reminds us of that "before" of which we spoke in the introduction, of that "before" without which we constantly slide back onto what we have to do. No, before everything else comes the recognition of my origin, of what I am, of what is the meaning, because without this I do not have the "best position for facing human problems" (pp 48-50).

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."