Tuesday, January 8, 2008

So, you want to know what I think?

Advice to a friend on how we speak to others about Christianity (Thanks, S.B., for asking):

I've been thinking a lot about why School of Community "works" -- and it seems it is not really because of the text (which we could read on our own) but the communal speaking of one's experience in relation to the texts. I think this is why it's potentially disastrous for us to point others to texts. When someone asks you about religious matters, he wants to know what YOU think, who YOU are. Kids, especially, do not really want a restatement of doctrine (which is why the Church does not recommend using the Catechism of the Catholic Church in catechesis...); they want to know what has happened to YOU, who YOU are.

When speaking to others who have questions about faith, it seems that the most important elements are: 1) non-judgmental listening, 2) always remembering that I am relationship with the Infinite/Christ (whether we acknowledge this fact or not -- the relationship is prior to anything we decide or do) before I respond, 3) always responding according to the precise terms that were in the question (this is essential -- because everyone, especially teens, needs to feel radically listened to) -- this also makes it easier to figure out WHAT to say, 4) making myself available and always inviting them to whatever it's possible to invite them to -- as a "Come and See" gesture -- remember that "Come and See" is the most perfect formula for offering the Christian message, 5) giving myself permission to advise them to test everything, 6) being myself, my whole self, in every interaction with them, 7) number seven deserves its own paragraph, so...

7) always asking myself, in every situation I find myself in, "Where's the good news in this?" This is what everything boils down to. If, as catechists we are commissioned to go out into all the world to preach the Good News (trans of "gospel"), then our job is to find the Good News in everything we have in front of us -- and that is what we communicate to others. Too often, Christians speak of their faith as if it were "bad news" for all kinds of persons, even for themselves! No! There is Good News in everything, absolutely everything, and our job is to find it, give it water and sunlight, pull up the weeds that threaten to choke it, help it to grow. I'm reminded of that story about Fr. Giussani -- that he was in the hospital and had a male nurse, with whom he wanted to find common ground. So he asked him what he was interested in. The nurse replied that he was interested in motorcycles. Father Giussani asked him if he was interested in anything else, and the nurse said, "No, just motorcycles." That stumped Father Giussani for a moment, but then he smiled and said with great excitement, "You and I are alike! We're both interested in just one thing!"

And, before rushing to answers, let's also acknowledge that we, also, ask these questions...we are also wondering about these things...we are also not satisfied with just any old answer. If Truth is the fruit and essence of the Infinite, then we never get to the end of it, we are always searching. Let's search together.

In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we always stress that the catechist is NOT the teacher -- just a fellow listener -- and the ONLY teacher is Christ. This keeps us honest and humble and allows us to sit beside the children, rather than in front of them. I think that this happens in School of Community, too, even though we don't have this particular mantra (I think we should!!). Our job is like that of John the Baptist -- to point to Someone else and to try to remove the attention from ourselves.

My post, "I am the True Vine" is my own personal answer to "What is Christianity?" and has (I hope) Father Giussani's charism all over it.

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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."