Sunday, November 30, 2008


This is what I wrote about last year's Advent retreat with Fr. Roberto. Before I write about the Advent retreat we just had this weekend, I wanted to reprint this:

Monday, December 17, 2007
Our Communion and Liberation Advent Retreat

Something happened. I've been afraid to try to write about it because I want to do justice to it, but I also know that I can't. The best that I can try to do is talk around it, spiral fashion, hoping that when I get to the end of all my talking, the tail end will point to that unnameable center, that something that happened.

There is a Life within the life that we live, something that pulses and breathes. At moments we almost seem to touch it -- the skin of our habitual forgetfulness is peeled back and this Life is exposed to view. When this happens, we recognize that what we are seeing is what is real, true -- all the rest is just two-dimensional, black and white.

I had a crushing number of tasks to perform, preparations to make, and I was still not fully recovered from my bouts with viruses and bad turkey. It really seemed possible that this time I would not have the bare minimum in place before Fr. Roberto arrived. I was on pins and needles wondering whether the room for our retreat would be in order, whether there would be something to feed Fr. Roberto when he arrived, whether I could gather all that the babysitters would need, whether there would be enough gas in the car, whether I could prepare the food for the convivenza in time. For me it was a suspenseful time -- but not stressful somehow -- wondering, almost watching myself from outside, 'Will she pull it off?'

Occasionally it would cross my mind that this was not the way I would have chosen to spend my third week of Advent.

But one miracle was that I was not anxious, wondering how my friends would receive the Advent retreat. Ordinarily, in the weeks leading up to a fraternity retreat, I speculate about how one person, or another, will be struck, or not, by what is said. It would be too easy to say that I simply didn't have enough time to worry about these things this time. My prayer, that is to say my inner life was simply caught up in details, details that didn't seem to me insignificant at all. I think that I wasn't stressed out by all my tasks, because I lived each one as a gift to my friends -- even the silly things that couldn't possibly benefit them in any way, like filling the tank with gas, or making sure to put a pen into my bag.

So, when did the world's skin peel back for me? It happened even before Fr Roberto arrived, in the rush and busyness of these days. And then, when the time came to pack my children into the car and bring them over to the parish to drop them at the room where the babysitting would take place, the phone began ringing -- reminders to bring this or that essential item that had been forgotten -- and we simply gathered the objects up and loaded them into the car. Once we'd arrived at the parish, friends who had never been there before had to be guided and helped to find the room. It was as if all these tasks had a halo around them.

I have wanted so much to communicate to my new friends here in Ohio even a taste of the beauty that I have seen and experienced elsewhere. I have wanted to hold out my hands to them, and show them a treasure. But up until now, I felt this desire like a responsibility that I didn't know how to shoulder. I seem, to myself, such a poor vehicle for such beauty. But lately, I have seen something amazing, something I don't really expect anyone to believe -- how can anyone believe it? Because what I've discovered is that I am not the vehicle for this beauty! Mine are not the hands holding the treasure. The treasure is already in my friends' hands -- they are the vehicle for me! I have nothing to show them, nothing to reveal. What is required of me is to look, really look at them, and to listen, really deeply listen. They hold the treasure, they have held it all along. I don't communicate or show them -- they communicate it to me.

I think that even before the Advent retreat, I had intuited this phenomenon in an unconscious way, and this is why I didn't feel stress or anxiety, despite the seeming impossibility of my work. I think that I must have known that regardless of whether I could complete all my tasks on time, my friends would continue to show me this gift.

And so it happened. A completely gratuitous outpouring of gifts -- from His fullness we have all received grace upon grace. All that I need are the eyes of a child and faith that what I am looking for is already in the midst of my life.

Fr. Roberto spoke, and I will be absorbing his words for weeks, maybe months, to come. The Mass was also beautiful, and rich. The convivenza, despite all the practical details that needed attention, was permeated with an incongruous peacefulness. It was incongruous because all the usual human noise and bustle and misunderstanding were there, too, and yet...the faces of all these people had one message for me, a declaration of a love so great that it can generate a new Life in this world, something unforeseen and unplanned by any person: the divine in human form.

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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."