Tuesday, January 22, 2008

this gaze, this embrace...

I have so many more notes that I haven't yet posted, but I need to take a break from simply transcribing my notes because there is something more important than any phrase I heard and jotted down during the past weekend -- something that is welling up in me and urging me to express it.

The remarkable thing about what Father Carron insisted on with so much passion during the Diakonia is that Christianity is a fact, and the evidence of this fact is an exceptional flourishing in the humanity of those who have encountered it. Now, this insistence of his would not have been interesting at all -- it would have been a mere slogan, if what he described and insisted on were not happening. In fact, if the hotel we were staying in were not permeated by a particular and palpable flourishing in the humanity of those assembled there, it would be worse than uninteresting. It would be a tease and a lie.

It is not that everyone I met announced to me, "Yes, my humanity has flourished!" -- as if being a witness means giving a deposition.

Finding myself at a loss to describe, in concrete terms, what I myself saw and heard during the Diakonia, I will defer (for the moment) to His Excellency Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, who presided at our Mass on Saturday evening.


During his homily, he told us that he had experienced a palpable holiness in us when he came among us, and he encouraged us to go on doing what we were doing. His observation is useful for two reasons -- he has been formed in the art of sniffing out holiness, and he came from outside our companionship and had nothing really at stake in making his observation.

What precisely did he see, though? He didn't give details (none that I can remember), but he must have seen animated conversations between persons making discovery after discovery -- points of connection, as well as interesting particularities were offered with excitement and received with pleased amazement. Really, the feeling in the air was the same as on board a ship about to sail on a great adventure or at the height of an exploration already underway. Anticipation, expectation, fulfillment...in the elevator strangers would meet my eyes with a look of confidence, which seemed to say that this occasion (ascending three stories together in an enclosed box) would surely yield some treasure for their lives.

I, who am quite shy, found myself with a different set of people at each meal, and each time I would learn something new and fresh, whether I had known my table mates for years or for seconds. It wasn't that there was no tension -- on the contrary, there was the high tension of curiosity and the passion for anything that came into each person's field of perception.

People did not speak of Christ constantly, but He was present there. I heard no pious remarks and saw no extraordinary or heroic demonstrations of religious fervor. The overall mood was of ordinary, unforced happiness, but in fact, this ordinary happiness is quite rare in the world. It isn't something that I want to take for granted. Because it's only possible when we have the courage and strength to face all of what life presents to us in the confidence of being generated, being born continually as a child of God.

In Father Carron's final synthesis, he said that this companionship reveals me to myself. How was I revealed to myself? I am not my own invention, a list of accomplishments, the details of my daily life. If instead I am an exclusive relationship with the Mystery, then I ought to feel most myself when I am among others who know, who are certain about this fact of my own identity. I can say that this notion was proven this past weekend.


There were so many moments when someone looked at me and I saw the full recognition in his or her eyes that I am precisely what Christ himself teaches us -- a branch of the True Vine, this direct relationship with the Infinite; but here I will spare you all those stories and only tell the most dramatic one. During the talks and assemblies, I usually sit near the front because it is easier for me to concentrate on what is being said. Several times while Father Carron was speaking, I felt as if he were looking right at me and speaking directly to me. But then I thought to myself that I was sitting in a room with around four hundred other people, who probably felt he was looking right at them and speaking directly to them, too. Then, during one of the breaks, while I was standing in the hall, I turned and saw that Father Carron was walking toward me. We had never been introduced to one another; yet he noticed me, looked at me as if we had been friends for years, his eyes got wide with excitement, and he said, "Oh it's you!" Then he embraced me. I said, "yes!" Because he was absolutely right -- it was indeed me.

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."