Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Seeing something new

Of the many beautiful and fascinating things that Chris B. said during our Beginning Day, there is one I think I'm ready to share. He described for us what it was like for him to meet the first people of Communion and Liberation who came to this country from Italy. He told us that as a teenager, he knew his faith well and had memorized the Baltimore catechism; yet there was something altogether new and striking and different about those Italians he met in California. Even while they did not know Catholic teachings as well as he did, they knew something, possessed something he had never seen or experienced before.

As a catechist I was deeply moved to hear this testimony. The content of faith is not a what, it is a Who; moreover, it is a living Who, the presence of God in human flesh. We call him Christ and he is with us now, as he promised. We don't think our way to him. We meet him. And we don't meet him in acts that we judge good, nor in an attitude we approve of. Meeting him is almost always the most natural, the simplest thing that happens -- but also the most surprising and astonishing. It is simple and natural because it involves another face, looking into the face of an actual human being. It is astonishing because while looking into that face, an ordinary human face, we see something we never could have expected or imagined, something that seizes us, moves us, provokes us -- maybe it even frightens us. We see a humanity there, a humanity that is altogether unusual and unanticipated, one that does not fit with any of our explanations or theories.

Following this humanity, this extraordinary and unusual humanity, requires a whole different use of intelligence and reason. At least, this is what my own experience has been. I cannot discount the talent for understanding theology, for absorbing catechetical points, and for being able to explain Catholic teachings; but these talent are not needed for recognizing the face of Christ when I meet my fellows. In fact, these talents are not prerequisites for attaining this recognition, and they may even be hindrances for some who possess them.

But once we do recognize Christ's face, there in front of us, we develop such an affection for him and for the faces that reveal this extraordinary presence, that this affection give rise to a friendship, a singular kind of friendship, so overflowing with tenderness and affection that it is sticky. It's more adhesive than the strongest glue. This stickiness is the only way I know to describe the companionship of the community of Christ. And what is so astonishing about it is that it is prior to my recognition of it. That is to say, I was always stuck to these other people, only now I recognize it. Obedience simply means staying true to this fact, the fact that has always been true, but that I have only now begun to see. Obedience to this companionship (and not to a rule, or to a directive, or to a teaching, or to a slogan...) is what makes me live according to the truth of who I am and allows me to see more, reason further, breathe fully.

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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."