"We come to the Fraternity Exercises in order to revisit the things we always tell each other. Some of them become even more alive in the diversity of our speech. We meet all together because there is nothing, normally, that can help the emotion of the heart or the liveliness of perception of our mind, nothing capable of influence, like a tender, motherly, brotherly, friendly push on our will, more than our coming together." (Fr. Giussani)The content of the Spiritual Exercises took our book of the School of Community, Is It Possible to Live this Way? as a jumping-off point. I have so many thoughts about the content, but I want to write about them after all my blogging friends have returned from the exercises, so that perhaps we can have a discussion about them. Meanwhile, though, there are three very important things that happened for me at these exercises:
- Many of our friends from the Chicago community were present at these particular exercises, and being face-to-face with them reminded me of my reasons for keeping myself apart from the movement during the years I lived there. I was particularly struck, thinking about what my life would have been if I had dived right into living the proposals of the movement while I was among these people who first introduced me to them. It surely would have been better! It was surely sin that kept me from fully embracing what these friends wanted to show me. To be specific: it was the sin of pride: I already knew how Christ came to me, I already knew what Christ wanted of me, I already had a history of working out my Christianity on my own and I didn't want anyone to tell me that that history was limited and starved for oxygen because I knew it was beautiful, dammit! To use the CL way of characterizing this attitude, I was reducing the Mystery to my own measure, insisting on making the decisions about how and where and when Christ had something to say to me. What is amazing to me is that I could come to these conclusions based on piety, how I was reading Fr. Giussani, moralism. But I remember one Lent retreat that Father Rich gave us, while we lived in Chicago, in which he spoke about how we had to get over the "scandal of appearances." I thought I knew what he was talking about -- how the Pharisees weren't able to get over the scandal of Jesus' human appearance, how Joseph needed the help of the angel to get over the scandal of appearances when he discovered Mary was pregnant, how for some people the Eucharistic host is a scandal because it seems impossible for the Infinite to confine himself to a little crumb of bread... But what I was hung up on was the scandal of the appearance of the local Church -- that Christ could manifest himself in these particular people, with all their irritating and unpleasant humanity (sorry, my friends), was just too much for me to digest. I concluded that CL was a "nice idea" but I couldn't see the beauty in front of my eyes. What arrogance! Because I couldn't see the beauty, it must not be there! I thought I was using my heart, but what I was doing was making myself the measure. How hard it is to understand this distinction until you've lived through the mistake of confusing them (and the consequences of this mistake -- which are loneliness and bitterness). Being among these people now, I see their beauty -- it is a profound beauty, one that makes me ask, "Who is this man who could cause such a miracle among these particular people?"
- What a different experience it was for me to go to the exercises with Marie, my fraternity sister! Last year, I went "alone" -- of course, I immediately hooked up with new friends when I went to Minnesota, and I never for a moment felt myself to be alone while I was there, but what I mean was that I did not go with anyone from my local community. During these exercises, Marie and I discussed what we were hearing and witnessing, just as I did with the people I met in Minnesota last year, but I was able to express so much more with her -- the conversations went much deeper and were also much more concrete because we share a history already. There is also a whole new dimension to the content of the exercises for me -- because I know that in our fraternity group I will be wrestling with what Father Carron's lessons mean for Marie, as well as for myself. This brings out facets I never would have considered, and it enriches my life.
- As I tried to formulate a question for the assembly, and then, as I sought answers to my questions, I discovered that my biggest vulnerability or weakness has to do with an urge to organize or even strategize the Mystery. What was particularly striking about this personal insight is that this is not the first time I've recognized this problem in myself and vowed to overcome it. Before joining the Fraternity, I never thought of myself as a control freak -- if anything, I felt "organizationally challenged" and desired a little more control and strategy in my life. But it is not my life that I seem compelled to organize and control, in any case (that's still something I contemplate on the level of "impossible dream") -- it's the way that Christ chooses to show himself to me in my surroundings and in the community he's given me. This topic probably requires its own blog post, so let's just leave it on the level of vague abstraction right now. Anyway, it's something I need to work on a little more.