Sunday, July 27, 2008

The miracle of Christ's presence

This evening we had the GS kids over for a cookout and to read one of Joshua Stancil's letters from prison together. It was another beautiful evening, so we were able to eat out on the front porch. After dessert, we stayed where we were to read the letter and discuss it. There were ten high school kids gathered with us -- the largest group we've ever had -- four of whom had never heard of CL before this evening. We found ourselves returning to the following passage, trying to understand what it could mean for our lives:

...until recently my experience of our faith has been more or less solitary: I converted alone, attended Mass alone, had no Catholic family members or friends, my girlfriend was Jewish–my spiritual journey has, for the most part, been a solo flight. I learned about the faith from books, which is fine, I guess–I’m grateful to have been given the grace to know of Jesus at all, even through books–but it produced in me a tendency to look at Catholicism, at faith, at God Himself, as merely a cerebral exercise. I reduced Jesus to a set of doctrines, a rigorous and strict moral code (a moral code, by the way, I consistently flaunted). Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not downplaying the importance of doctrines and morals, not at all. Rather, my whole approach to the faith, by making it a dry, academic exercise I could engage in privately, almost reclusively, robbed those doctrines and morals of any real hold or effect on my life. My encounter with CL, which is ongoing, is showing me a manner and a method of living those doctrines and morals, not merely knowing and reciting them. Before encountering CL and the charism of Father Giussani, I never gave much thought to Presence, that this Presence could touch me and mold me and rebuild me, and that I could do all of that because It–rather, I should say “He”–loved me and loves me still, now, in spite of my repeated failings and frequent ingratitude. God was for me a concept, not a Presence. He was Somewhere Else, a benevolent but distant figure I’d perhaps get to meet some day after my body had assumed room temperature. I never thought of Him as a Presence that can be experienced–that wants to be experienced–here and now, in this life, at this very moment. It certainly never occurred to me that this Presence could be experienced through other people, even through the most unlikely of people. In my world there was me and only me: no room for anyone else, not even a Presence. Now, much to my delight, I find my world greatly expanded and I find myself open to it all. (from "Letter From Prison")
The words in bold were particularly striking to us. We began to think about our own here and now, as we sat around the table together -- this unlikely group of teenagers -- and what a miracle it is that we were in this place, gathered in his name. It is hard to tear oneself away from the idea that God is a private affair, that we feel his presence when we're alone with him, in our thoughts. It is particularly hard to recognize him when he sits in front of us, but this is precisely what it means to be Catholic!

After we had spoken about these things, we sang together, there at the table. One of the teens had chosen songs and created song sheets for the occasion. She led us in the singing, too. We managed to sing for a long time and with a great deal of enjoyment -- GS a cha cha cha, Povera voce, A New Creation, You, Folsom Prison, Wonderwall, Can't Help Falling in Love, Viva la compagnie, Romaria, Oh Freedom, Waitin on the World to Change, You Won't See Me, Wild Rover, and others. I am always so moved and grateful to be able to sing with friends. These opportunities are so fragile! They rest on the willingness of others to step away from their personal self-consciousness to build something beautiful together.

We are going to get together again on Saturday to go swimming and to read one of the Pope's homilies from WYD in Australia together. Maybe the kids will even be willing to sing by the pool!

1 comment:

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

What truly remarkable encounter! Thank you and the young people for your witness to his Presence.

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."