Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Originally posted at Cahiers Péguy:

To set life before another

Several months ago, I called Chris Bacich to ask him how to maintain unity with someone else when the other person didn't want it. I had already read the passage in The Journey to Truth Is an Experience:
One thing best demonstrates how much the community affirms the freedom of the person: it is realized even if others do not acknowledge me, even if they refuse me. If I want them, if I accept them nonetheless, then there is a more conscious, vigorous and thus ever truer communion with them. For this reason, no sign of personal greatness is more sublime than forgiveness. Freedom seizes in love even one who hates; not even the most dogged enemy can elude my love, and thus my freedom seizes him and dominates him much more deeply than he can violate and conquer me.
"Forgive them Father": abandoned by everyone, Christ created the universal community. (page 26)
In fact I read it and reread it, and I ask for the grace to live it every day.
But what I wanted to know from Chris was if this "invisible" unity was "good enough" given the circumstances (which had to do with the way the Movement is organized). I wanted to know what my responsibility was and whether there was anything I could or should do in this situation. He told me that this person and I, Fr. Carron and I, Fr. Giussani and I, he and I, we were all one thing. By virtue of our Baptism, we were already one thing. There is nothing that we can do to "make" unity or to enhance it. The only question is whether we are aware of this unity that already exists. How do we live this awareness? How does this awareness shape our lives?

This answer is so satisfying on so many levels. It is a terrible burden to imagine that unity depends on us or to imagine that we have the power to injure it. Along with this burden comes the idea, conscious or unconscious, that we are responsible for another person's response (for example: If I say x the wrong way, the other might be offended, and that could potentially destroy our unity). Pretty soon, this "unity" becomes an idol, to which we sacrifice our humanity, our zest, our freedom.

Our unity already exists. As I recognize this reality more deeply, I begin to see more, understand more, appreciate more, and enjoy life more. Not simply in those cases where there is a problem -- when it is necessary to forgive, or "to tolerate difference" -- but in everything that happens, if I give priority to this unity and if I love it more than I love myself or the particular people for whom I have affection, strange and impossible things begin to happen. I see miracles every day!

It seems morally repugnant or contrary to everything we understand and hold to be true to say one ought to love something, a "concept" or an "abstraction," more than one loves one's children or spouse. But unity is not a concept or an abstraction -- both of which are the sorts of things human beings invent. Unity is a Person, the Body of Christ, actually present in the flesh, here and now. Christ fulfills his promise to stay with us, until the end of the age, through our unity (which is made concrete and visible through the one bread that is broken and shared among us). And unity thus transcends any preference we may have -- it is the great leveler. The love and forgiveness that exist between spouses is a sign of the unity that binds us all.

To live an awareness of this original unity requires several steps along a path. The first step is to become convinced (to conquer decisively, to overcome totally) that this unity exists; only then will we begin to see it and recognize it, which is the second step; then the third step is to follow it wherever it leads.

What does following unity entail? I will give an example: back in March, Fred posted a question here, concerning the news that the Landless Workers of São Paulo had given their movement over to Communion and Liberation. Fred wanted to know why we should consider this event a breakthrough. When I read his question, I was, as usual, busy with many things. To try to focus my already cramped and cluttered thoughts on things that were happening in Brazil seemed like work that would take me from more immediate concerns, and I quickly decided to let better minds tackle his question. But then he wrote to me personally and asked me to respond. I didn't know why he did (he told me later it was because of my experience of homelessness -- not in the sense of having no house to live in, but because the majority of my life has been spent in temporary housing), but because of this personal invitation, I knew immediately that I would take a serious stab at his question. Why did I disregard the invitation when it was made generally, to the group; and why did everything change with the one personal invitation? I'm not sure, but John 10 comes to mind: "The good shepherd calls his own by name, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice..." Ordinarily, I feel "called by name" when an appeal is made concerning a subject that interests me deeply, when I recognize the "voice" within whatever is calling me. But there exists something even more attractive than the topics that interest me, and that is friendship. It is the highest expression of unity ("I call you friends..."). I recognized that gesture of friendship, and I knew with deep certainty, that I would follow it.

Well! Following Fred's invitation opened up a great adventure for me! When the invitation came (that is, when I made my decision to follow it with seriousness), I could not imagine where following would take me. You could say that I was conducting an "experiment," as when the disciples cast their nets on the other side of the boat. I placed myself in Someone else's hands to undertake a project that was not my own and that would (or might not) yield results that were impossible for me to anticipate or determine in advance. In this particular case, the Someone else to whom I entrusted myself bore the face of unity. We may not be called, ever, to give our lives to the point of dying for unity, but we are called every day to give our work, which makes up the texture of our daily lives, to unity. And this is how we witness (are martyrs -- O.E., from L.L., from Gk. martyr, earlier martys {gen. martyros} in Christian use "martyr," lit. "witness," probably related to mermera "care, trouble," from mermairein "be anxious or thoughtful," from PIE *(s)mrtu- {cf. Skt. smarati "remember," L. memor "mindful;" see memory}.) to unity: by living (with intensity!) this particular sacrifice.

Now I recognize that Fred's original invitation (before he appealed to me personally) was to the same adventure, exactly the same one; but in the first case, I was too distracted to recognize the invitation. The greatest knowledge that I gained from my adventure in Brazil, was the recognition that any invitations posted here are for my life. Because of that particular adventure, I could see the unity that helped me become "convinced that the commitment I have to my blogging companionship is just as important as the commitment I make to my School of Community. Each is a commitment to Christ, alive and active and incarnate in my life" (my statement that struck Sharon). Before reaching this conviction, I was (I'll admit it freely!) intimidated by the discussions posted here (thus letting "better minds tackle the questions"). Once I saw this unity at work, though, I stopped comparing myself (even stopped being able to compare myself) and began following.

Thus, Fred's personal invitation became a "come and see" moment for me. I've typed all this text, just to say that it seems to me that the only gesture, in my experience, that will help us to build companionship (besides: "Come Holy Spirit, Come through Mary," the gesture par excellence) is invitation.

Here's one last etymology: INVITATION: c.1445, from L. invitationem (nom. invitatio) "invitation," from invitatus, pp. of invitare "invite, treat, entertain," originally "be pleasant toward," from in- "toward," second element obscure, one suggestion is a lost word *vitus "pleasant." Meaning "the spoken or written form in which a person is invited" is from 1615.

Now, I'm only an amateur at this, but it seems to me that the word "vitus" looks a little like "vita" -- life. So, I would like to propose the following definition for the word "invitation": to set life before another. What do you think?

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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."