While talking with a friend, I was reminded of a letter in Traces that I had read several years ago. I'm going to reprint it here. I think that it shows a concrete example of untiring openness and most faithful unity:
Working for Life
Dearest Fr Giussani: For 37 years, I was in charge of the instruments in an operating room in the Obstetrics and Gynecology ward. In my region, Molise, the rate of recourse to voluntary interruption of pregnancy has always been very high compared to the total population. Because of my affection for Jesus, I applied to be an objector, but I did not wash my hands of things just because of this. Quite the contrary. I tried to make Jesus present in those circumstances in every way my creativity could invent. I would talk with the women to open them up to welcoming the little seed that was already inside them; many times I would sterilize the instruments that others should have checked so that the operation would not result in more pain; I would debate with my non-objector coworkers to show them the lack of sense in their choice, and above all I would talk with the doctors who performed abortions. In so many years, the Lord has given me the grace of seeing many babies saved through me. But the greatest gift the Lord gave me came the day the abortion doctor on my ward phoned to tell me that after so many years of my witness, his heart had been touched, and he had decided to apply to be an objector. He had understood that my admonishing him, urging him, was born of a real affection for him, of a real desire for his good. The Lord has used me so that the creature He loved could discover the love of his Creator. Now I have retired, and in the hospital where I worked, as a consequence of this doctor’s objection, abortions are no longer performed. I have learned from this experience that what counts in man is the task each one has in life, but no one is ever alone in this task, because God’s Mercy always makes itself our Companion. Thank you, Fr Giussani, because the Yes that you said one day has made the Lord’s embrace possible for me in a way that responded so fully to my heart.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
The poppies in my garden have just begun to bloom. I'm particularly thrilled because I grew most of them from seeds after a lot of trial and error. I planted one at the front corner of my property, right at the sidewalk, so that anybody passing could enjoy it, and that plant got its first flower two days ago. It made me so happy to see it, vibrant, delicate, and billowy in the breeze, that I changed my route when driving home, so that I would pass that corner of the house. Then sometime last evening, someone picked it!
My grief over this loss has taken me completely by surprise, because I have become very zen about the comings and goings of beautiful, temporary gifts in the garden. But the thing is, I'm not sad for myself but for all the people, especially the children, who will pass the house without being able to enjoy that flower. If it could have stayed on the stem, it would have lasted for at least a week, but now that it's been picked, the petals will grow dull and wither within the next few hours. I only hope that this flower is part of a lovely story, that the person who picked it used it to propose marriage, or to show her mother how much she is loved, or to delight a small child.
The poppies I planted closer to the house still remain, and there are many more buds that have yet to open. The loss of this one flower shouldn't be so heart-breaking. If the thief only appreciates precisely what he has stolen!
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The above photo comes from the Communion and Liberation website and was taken during the March 24, 2007 audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Many diverse things have been happening in my life, lately, but in response to all of them, this phrase, "Untiring Openness, Most Faithful Unity," keeps popping into my thoughts. Father Carron, in a letter he wrote to everyone in the movement before the audience, mentioned these words and said that they came from something Fr. Giussani said during the early days of the movement. I did a search, and didn't find the reference (maybe someone out there knows where this phrase comes from?), but I have been really moved (and corrected!) to consider what it means to be untiringly open and most faithful to unity.
I especially appreciate the Italian word apertura, which means openness. It reminds me of the fact that a photograph cannot come into being without allowing light to enter through the aperture. To be open means to allow reality to imprint itself on my heart. Without this openness, beauty remains a fleeting thing that passes by me without ever moving me, and I have nothing to give, nothing to show, nothing even to say.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Despite the fact that none of it makes sense, I think it is easy to lose sight of just how far-fetched Christianity is -- how counter-cultural it is.
Why would anybody follow this strangest Way to live? I can only think of two reasons (if someone reads this, please add others I may not be considering): either we come to the point where the more "sensible" route betrays us and then we grope blindly for Christianity, almost without hope; or we see something amazing, something we can't explain, something that so astonishes us that we are willing to suspend our craving for the sensible path in order to explore what this strange thing can be all about.
At the moment when we are willing to sacrifice the sensible, the safe, and the best solutions we can come up with on our own, we become open (even if only infinitesimally at first) to the possibility that we do not make ourselves or the world we inhabit. But what could be more reasonable than to assert that I did not give birth to myself, and I do not keep myself alive? Why do I need an extraordinary push in order to recognize an obvious fact? Well, let's just say that remaining sensible within a sensible world requires that we ignore some of the evidence of our senses, to the point where we can barely use our eyes or ears anymore!
Now, according to my "sensible" mind, I make decisions, I know what I like and what I don't like, and I pursue what I like while avoiding what I don't. But if I begin from the most reasonable conclusion, that I don't make myself, then I need to consider that I am the work of Another; I breathe with the air of Another; I sing or work because Someone else gives me a mouth and hands. Who is this Other? What does He want with me? What am I made for?
I don't have to guess the answer! At a certain point in history, in a precise location, this Someone became a person, a brother who walks beside me. He made the claim that he is the one who generates me, gives me every breath I inhale. This human being claimed to be one and the same Person who has a particular desire for me that is so strong that he spoke me into existence and sustains me in every moment. He's the one who teaches me all the senseless things I listed in the first paragraph (and many others, besides).
Christianity rests on the edge of a knife's blade. Do I accept that this human being, born in Judea roughly two thousand years ago, is who he says he is or not? Why should I accept? What happens when I follow the strange indications he gave?
It is the same for each and every Christian. No one can escape exploring these questions. There will never be any substitute for this journey. So, allons my friends!
Monday, May 26, 2008
How my mother's fanatical views tore us apart
By Rebecca Walker
Last updated at 1:18 PM on 23rd May 2008
She's revered as a trail-blazing feminist and author Alice Walker touched the lives of a generation of women. A champion of women's rights, she has always argued that motherhood is a form of servitude. But one woman didn't buy in to Alice's beliefs - her daughter, Rebecca, 38.
Here the writer describes what it was like to grow up as the daughter of a cultural icon, and why she feels so blessed to be the sort of woman 64-year-old Alice despises - a mother.
The other day I was vacuuming when my son came bounding into the room. 'Mummy, Mummy, let me help,' he cried. His little hands were grabbing me around the knees and his huge brown eyes were looking up at me. I was overwhelmed by a huge surge of happiness.
Maternal rift: Rebecca Walker, whose mother was the feminist author of The Color Purple - who thought motherhood a form of servitude, is now proud to be a mother herself
I love the way his head nestles in the crook of my neck. I love the way his face falls into a mask of eager concentration when I help him learn the alphabet. But most of all, I simply love hearing his little voice calling: 'Mummy, Mummy.'
It reminds me of just how blessed I am. The truth is that I very nearly missed out on becoming a mother - thanks to being brought up by a rabid feminist who thought motherhood was about the worst thing that could happen to a woman.
You see, my mum taught me that children enslave women. I grew up believing that children are millstones around your neck, and the idea that motherhood can make you blissfully happy is a complete fairytale.
Family love? A young Rebecca with her parents
In fact, having a child has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Far from 'enslaving' me, three-and-a-half-year-old Tenzin has opened my world. My only regret is that I discovered the joys of motherhood so late - I have been trying for a second child for two years, but so far with no luck.
I was raised to believe that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle. But I strongly feel children need two parents and the thought of raising Tenzin without my partner, Glen, 52, would be terrifying.
As the child of divorced parents, I know only too well the painful consequences of being brought up in those circumstances. Feminism has much to answer for denigrating men and encouraging women to seek independence whatever the cost to their families.
My mother's feminist principles coloured every aspect of my life. As a little girl, I wasn't even allowed to play with dolls or stuffed toys in case they brought out a maternal instinct. It was drummed into me that being a mother, raising children and running a home were a form of slavery. Having a career, travelling the world and being independent were what really mattered according to her.
I love my mother very much, but I haven't seen her or spoken to her since I became pregnant. She has never seen my son - her only grandchild. My crime? Daring to question her ideology.
Well, so be it. My mother may be revered by women around the world - goodness knows, many even have shrines to her. But I honestly believe it's time to puncture the myth and to reveal what life was really like to grow up as a child of the feminist revolution.
My parents met and fell in love in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. Dad [Mel Leventhal], was the brilliant lawyer son of a Jewish family who had fled the Holocaust. Mum was the impoverished eighth child of sharecroppers from Georgia. When they married in 1967, inter-racial weddings were still illegal in some states.
My early childhood was very happy although my parents were terribly busy, encouraging me to grow up fast. I was only one when I was sent off to nursery school. I'm told they even made me walk down the street to the school.
Alice Walker believed so strongly that children enslaved their mothers she disowned her own daughter
When I was eight, my parents divorced. From then on I was shuttled between two worlds - my father's very conservative, traditional, wealthy, white suburban community in New York, and my mother's avant garde multi-racial community in California. I spent two years with each parent - a bizarre way of doing things.
Ironically, my mother regards herself as a hugely maternal woman. Believing that women are suppressed, she has campaigned for their rights around the world and set up organisations to aid women abandoned in Africa - offering herself up as a mother figure.
But, while she has taken care of daughters all over the world and is hugely revered for her public work and service, my childhood tells a very different story. I came very low down in her priorities - after work, political integrity, self-fulfilment, friendships, spiritual life, fame and travel.
My mother would always do what she wanted - for example taking off to Greece for two months in the summer, leaving me with relatives when I was a teenager. Is that independent, or just plain selfish?
I was 16 when I found a now-famous poem she wrote comparing me to various calamities that struck and impeded the lives of other women writers. Virginia Woolf was mentally ill and the Brontes died prematurely. My mother had me - a 'delightful distraction', but a calamity nevertheless. I found that a huge shock and very upsetting.
According to the strident feminist ideology of the Seventies, women were sisters first, and my mother chose to see me as a sister rather than a daughter. From the age of 13, I spent days at a time alone while my mother retreated to her writing studio - some 100 miles away. I was left with money to buy my own meals and lived on a diet of fast food.
A neighbour, not much older than me, was deputised to look after me. I never complained. I saw it as my job to protect my mother and never distract her from her writing. It never crossed my mind to say that I needed some time and attention from her.
When I was beaten up at school - accused of being a snob because I had lighter skin than my black classmates - I always told my mother that everything was fine, that I had won the fight. I didn't want to worry her.
But the truth was I was very lonely and, with my mother's knowledge, started having sex at 13. I guess it was a relief for my mother as it meant I was less demanding. And she felt that being sexually active was empowering for me because it meant I was in control of my body.
Now I simply cannot understand how she could have been so permissive. I barely want my son to leave the house on a play-date, let alone start sleeping around while barely out of junior school.
A good mother is attentive, sets boundaries and makes the world safe for her child. But my mother did none of those things.
Although I was on the Pill - something I had arranged at 13, visiting the doctor with my best friend - I fell pregnant at 14. I organised an abortion myself. Now I shudder at the memory. I was only a little girl. I don't remember my mother being shocked or upset. She tried to be supportive, accompanying me with her boyfriend.
Although I believe that an abortion was the right decision for me then, the aftermath haunted me for decades. It ate away at my self-confidence and, until I had Tenzin, I was terrified that I'd never be able to have a baby because of what I had done to the child I had destroyed. For feminists to say that abortion carries no consequences is simply wrong.
As a child, I was terribly confused, because while I was being fed a strong feminist message, I actually yearned for a traditional mother. My father's second wife, Judy, was a loving, maternal homemaker with five children she doted on.
There was always food in the fridge and she did all the things my mother didn't, such as attending their school events, taking endless photos and telling her children at every opportunity how wonderful they were.
Alice Walker's iconic book was made in to a film in 1985, and starred Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Avery (pictured)
My mother was the polar opposite. She never came to a single school event, she didn't buy me any clothes, she didn't even help me buy my first bra - a friend was paid to go shopping with me. If I needed help with homework I asked my boyfriend's mother.
Moving between the two homes was terrible. At my father's home I felt much more taken care of. But, if I told my mother that I'd had a good time with Judy, she'd look bereft - making me feel I was choosing this white, privileged woman above her. I was made to feel that I had to choose one set of ideals above the other.
When I hit my 20s and first felt a longing to be a mother, I was totally confused. I could feel my biological clock ticking, but I felt if I listened to it, I would be betraying my mother and all she had taught me.
I tried to push it to the back of my mind, but over the next ten years the longing became more intense, and when I met Glen, a teacher, at a seminar five years ago, I knew I had found the man I wanted to have a baby with. Gentle, kind and hugely supportive, he is, as I knew he would be, the most wonderful father.
Although I knew what my mother felt about babies, I still hoped that when I told her I was pregnant, she would be excited for me.
'Mum, I'm pregnant'
Instead, when I called her one morning in the spring of 2004, while I was at one of her homes housesitting, and told her my news and that I'd never been happier, she went very quiet. All she could say was that she was shocked. Then she asked if I could check on her garden. I put the phone down and sobbed - she had deliberately withheld her approval with the intention of hurting me. What loving mother would do that?
Worse was to follow. My mother took umbrage at an interview in which I'd mentioned that my parents didn't protect or look out for me. She sent me an e-mail, threatening to undermine my reputation as a writer. I couldn't believe she could be so hurtful - particularly when I was pregnant.
Devastated, I asked her to apologise and acknowledge how much she'd hurt me over the years with neglect, withholding affection and resenting me for things I had no control over - the fact that I am mixed-race, that I have a wealthy, white, professional father and that I was born at all.
But she wouldn't back down. Instead, she wrote me a letter saying that our relationship had been inconsequential for years and that she was no longer interested in being my mother. She even signed the letter with her first name, rather than 'Mom'.
That was a month before Tenzin's birth in December 2004, and I have had no contact with my mother since. She didn't even get in touch when he was rushed into the special care baby unit after he was born suffering breathing difficulties.
And I have since heard that my mother has cut me out of her will in favour of one of my cousins. I feel terribly sad - my mother is missing such a great opportunity to be close to her family. But I'm also relieved. Unlike most mothers, mine has never taken any pride in my achievements. She has always had a strange competitiveness that led her to undermine me at almost every turn.
When I got into Yale - a huge achievement - she asked why on earth I wanted to be educated at such a male bastion. Whenever I published anything, she wanted to write her version - trying to eclipse mine. When I wrote my memoir, Black, White And Jewish, my mother insisted on publishing her version. She finds it impossible to step out of the limelight, which is extremely ironic in light of her view that all women are sisters and should support one another.
It's been almost four years since I have had any contact with my mother, but it's for the best - not only for my self-protection but for my son's well-being. I've done all I can to be a loyal, loving daughter, but I can no longer have this poisonous relationship destroy my life.
I know many women are shocked by my views. They expect the daughter of Alice Walker to deliver a very different message. Yes, feminism has undoubtedly given women opportunities. It's helped open the doors for us at schools, universities and in the workplace. But what about the problems it's caused for my contemporaries?
What about the children?
The ease with which people can get divorced these days doesn't take into account the toll on children. That's all part of the unfinished business of feminism.
Then there is the issue of not having children. Even now, I meet women in their 30s who are ambivalent about having a family. They say things like: 'I'd like a child. If it happens, it happens.' I tell them: 'Go home and get on with it because your window of opportunity is very small.' As I know only too well.
Then I meet women in their 40s who are devastated because they spent two decades working on a PhD or becoming a partner in a law firm, and they missed out on having a family. Thanks to the feminist movement, they discounted their biological clocks. They've missed the opportunity and they're bereft.
Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.
But far from taking responsibility for any of this, the leaders of the women's movement close ranks against anyone who dares to question them - as I have learned to my cost. I don't want to hurt my mother, but I cannot stay silent. I believe feminism is an experiment, and all experiments need to be assessed on their results. Then, when you see huge mistakes have been paid, you need to make alterations.
I hope that my mother and I will be reconciled one day. Tenzin deserves to have a grandmother. But I am just so relieved that my viewpoint is no longer so utterly coloured by my mother's.
I am my own woman and I have discovered what really matters - a happy family.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Once upon a time a good friend in the movement said something beautiful to a group of friends. First he placed a small standing crucifix on the table in front of us.
1) He pointed to the crucifix and said, "We do SoC for him -- not for the movement, not because of the movement -- but because of him. He is the reason we get together. Father Carron said we need only three things to do SoC: 1. Our heart, 2. the books of Father Giussani (ie, the method) and 3. Christ. It doesn't depend on anything or anyone else, so we have our freedom, and no one can limit us or our freedom to do it because I have all I need and you have all you need. So, if you have any complaints, complain to him." And he pointed to the crucifix.
2) "The charism -- the charism doesn't depend on you or you or you [pointing to each of us]... No, the only one who knows it and gives it as a gift is Christ [points again to the crucifix]. The people who come to SoC, don't come because of me or for you or for you [pointing to each of us again]... This is quite clear. They come because of the charism, because of him [points again to the crucifix], so you should be grateful that he sends them to you, and you should care for them, and be surprised and amazed that they come."
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
During the summer of 2006, my family and I participated in the CL summer vacation for the Varese (Italy) community that took place in the Dolomites (San Martino di Castrozza). During those very rich days, we heard a talk given by a priest whose name escapes me and who was introduced as the spiritual director for Memores Domini in Italy (or something -- I don't speak Italian! -- can anyone help me with this detail?). In any case, the theme of his talk was "complaining" ("lamentare" -- which my Italian English teacher friend kept translating into my ear as "moaning" -- luckily I know British English and I know that this word is used as we would use "complaining" in America). In any case, the very strong theme of his talk was that "lamentare" is a form of violence, the worst kind of violence -- an "ugly" violence ("brutto" means ugly, not "brutal," right?). In fact, when asked what one can do in front of a person who complains, he said that we should face the person, and with every fiber of our being, we should shout, "Lazarus, come out!" Then, while reading this beautiful post, "childlike yes, but like a weaned child," over on Deep Furrows, I was struck by how Freder1ck characterizes something that the surgeon, Enzo Piccinini, said: "...to complain is to vomit on others." I wrote to ask him for the context and exact quote for this remark, and he sent me the following:
from "The Otherworldly Present in this World," booklet, Traces 2000 #6, by EnzoPincinini:
There are three constant dimensions in the approach to pain and sacrifice:
a. Memory - the greatest Christian word I know - that makes present
something that happened long ago. In his daughter [Emmanuel Mounier's
daughter, Francoise with micro-encephalitis], in the circumstance that
everyone considered to be misfortune, a sign emerged that forced one
to think of the present Mystery of Christ.
This is memory. May this start to become normal among us, may it be a
sign that forces us to think of the Mystery of Christ as present! It
is not courage that makes me say this. It is the demand for a human
experience that can be considered such, because this is my life's most
b. This memory immediately becomes an offering, and here is
where the greatness lies. You cannot live something "absurd," in the
measure in which it seems absurd, if you cannot offer it.
Offering means: I understand that there is something which does not
depend on me in this world just as in my life, and so even what I do
not understand now I can live, while I wait to understand it.
Memory immediately becomes offering, that is, participation in the
cross of Christ, participation in the usefulness itself of the the
cross of Christ for the salvation of the world, so that life may no
longer be in vain.
What is the alternative to this? What happens to me every morning when
I punch my time card: "How are things?" "Don't ask, for goodness
sake..." This is how the day starts. Then you finish and go to punch
your time card: "Hi, how did it go?" "Don't ask, the usual problems."
And it is always like this!
The alternative, to the degree to which certainty and letting go are
missing, is complaining. But it is not the complaints that break the
heart of a suffering child, it is the complaints that burden the heart
and ears of those listening, which render life difficult for those
around us, and our life becomes a sentence also for others, a life-
lament that does not know happiness, and even less, joy.
c. But whoever sets up his life as lamentation does not know the grand
thing that makes man great: tenderness. The man who complains
does not know tenderness, but vomits onto others what he has inside
him. In his relationships he lacks tenderness, he can fall in love as
much as he likes, but tenderness is lacking; there is a thrill that
seems like tenderness, but it is not, and this is demonstrated by the
fact that first of all it is temporary, and then that it is selfish,
Tenderness is a sensitivity to the joy of others, and it exists only
in those who support, accept, and are as a child before Christ, like
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
"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.
My friend Terese tells me that the doctor standing beside Father Carron is not Mario Molteni. We still don't know his name, but he is indeed the doctor who showed up in answer to Cleuza's request for one -- without a stethoscope!
In the background is Vitadini.
On the right side of Father Carron is the doctor,
who helped to set up the pregnancy awareness program
in the Sao Paolo movement's community centers
and who translated for the Zerbinis
when they gave their testimony at the exercises in Italy.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Cathedral of São Paulo, Brazil
Why is this a breakthrough? How does the witness of this event change us? Is it a breakthrough for us, and why?A movement in a distant country, made up of 120,000 people, who all decide, along with their leaders, to consign themselves to another movement, one I happen to belong to -- why is this a breakthrough? I have written a little here and here about how and why this news has changed me, personally. But these reflections don't really answer the question of how this event changes us and why it's a breakthrough for us. I always tremble when asked to speak more generally and globally -- it isn't my mother tongue -- but I am going to give it a try, because these questions represent an invitation, and I do my best always to accept invitations.
It is a breakthrough, first of all for Communion and Liberation because Brazil is the first place that received missionaries sent by Father Giussani. Here is an excerpt of a letter he sent to the first four who went there:
Be in love with the Lord who has chosen you to begin something that could be very fruitful for his Kingdom: and don't worry about anything except being there, obedient and willing.
- Be deeply rooted in love for the Kingdom of God, which happens not because of what you do, but through the offering of sacrifice. It is only the Cross that saves he world.
- May this make you calm and joyful in whatever task you are assigned. ...So, even if your work doesn't go as you had dreamed, accept it happily; feel the kingdom of God, Brazil and the destiny of GS much more in never being discouraged, in adapting yourselves to everything, than in any other ability.
- Just as you have to be faithful to our community and to the values and the directives given for your spiritual life and for educating your persons, so for the activity and behaviour with others and the environment the rule is a deep adaptation: Do not have any pretensions and don't pass a negative judgement on anything.
Gratiam agimus propter magnam gloriam tuam (We give you thanks for your great glory).
And you, too, are a hem of that glory, not what you manage to do, but you yourselves, your offering.
- from Fr Giussani's letters to the first four students of Gioventù Studentesca (Young Student) who left for Brazil. It was 1962.
The year was 1962. Now it is 2008, and Father Carron, as the representative of this same movement, founded by Father Giussani, can say to the crowd assembled in the Cathedral of São Paulo and addressing Cleusa and Marcos Zerbini in particular:
E Carron, di fronte ad almeno 8.000 persone, dentro la Cattedrale di San Paolo, di fronte a questa disarmante consegna, ha a sua volta aperto il cuore. “Provo la stessa commozione e allegria di quando Giussani mi ha chiamato con se alla guida di CL.The same emotion he had when Fr. Giussani asked him to lead CL! And he referred to the same scripture passage to express his confidence in the positive value of a great and beautiful offering of self. He did not express the triumphant opinion that here, in front of him, was the "fruit" of the seeds first planted in 1962. And why not? Is it not a triumph of Fr. Giussani's charism? Is it not a fruit that we can taste?
And Carron, in front of at least 8,000 people inside the Cathedral of São Paulo, in the face of this disarming delivery, in turn, opened his heart. "I feel the same emotion and joy as when Giussani called me to guide CL."
Ma non abbiamo paura, siamo certi che chi ha iniziato in noi questa opera la porterà a compimento”.
"But I have no fear, we are sure that he who began this work in us will bring it to fruition." (full text here)
As Christians, we are pilgrims on a journey, always beginning again. There is only one fruit that tastes sweet to us: the fruit of the tree we will venerate tomorrow, on Good Friday. Christ, the Bread of Life. We are continually seeking him, so that we can taste and see him again. This is because we are creatures who live in time; it is the mystery of our existence in time. But also, it seems clear that this step, taken by the Favelados Movement of São Paulo, is not the final step of a journey; it is rather a next step and even a new beginning. I am reminded of something T.S. Eliot wrote, in Four Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.Arrivals and departures are always occasions of insight and discovery.
T. S. Eliot
We must also consider the fact that the charism of Father Giussani that animates Communion and Liberation has a strong missionary character: Go out to all the nations... Even if we remain in the same town our whole lives, we are called to live the way Enzo and Rosetta live the charism in Brazil. Addressing Fr. Carron, Marcos Zerbini thanked these two ciellini and credited his friendship with them as the source of his decision, now brought to maturity, to turn his movement over to CL. If we do not go out to another nation, let's go into the homes and living rooms of our neighbors, to offer ourselves and to invite them to meet the One who has sent us and whom we serve.
Finally, and most importantly, this event took place, "accidentally," in the Cathedral of São Paulo, in front of the bishop of that city, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, who expressed surprise at the large number of young people who participated in the meeting, and he opened his heart, the Cathedral, and the Church herself to the members of the Favelados Movement who had assembled in the rainy Plaza da Fe. That he was able to recognize that something astonishing was taking place that day, something so attractive that he wanted to usher it in, is perhaps the greatest sign and provocation for us. The two ways the Church is made present, methodologically, are, "Unity expressed visibly ... [and] the link to authority, that is, to the bishop" (The Journey to Truth is an Experience, Luigi Giussani, pp. 88 & 89). And wherever the Church is present, Christ is there. Let's always seek his face!
* A "favela" is an illegal occupation of a terrain in large cities, where dwellers often have to live without any basic infrastructure, such as water, sewage, electricity, garbage collection, mail, etc. In Rio de Janeiro, these favelas are home to about half its population and are normally located in the hills, as this land is difficult to access and tend to be neglected by contractors. The residents are known as Favelados.
A favela home in São Paulo
Posted by Suzanne at 7:33 PM
Thursday, May 15, 2008
The information you will find here comes from the CL website. Lately people have been asking me why I belong to a movement, and why CL? Here's my attempt at an answer:
I first heard about Communion and Liberation in 1997. During the six years we had been living in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, we had belonged to St. Thomas the Apostle parish. St. Thomas was the first parish that my husband and I joined as adults, and our three daughters (the twins had not been born yet) had been baptized there by Reverend Jack Farry. I had been a catechist at St. Thomas, and many of our fellow parishioners were also co-workers or neighbors. I had the sense of being a grown-up Catholic. I met Sarah when I signed my oldest daughter up for the preschool catechesis program. To my delight and amazement, Sarah and her assistant were offering Catechesis of the Good Shepherd! I promptly signed up my second daughter as well and began to spend the sessions in the back of the atrium, lurking.
As Sarah and I became better friends, and as I began to fall in love with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Sarah told me that she also belonged to a lay ecclesial movement, called Communion and Liberation. I think this was the first time I'd heard of a movement in the Church. I remember thinking that CL must be cool, since Sarah was also into CGS, and it was super cool, but aside from hearing about what it meant for her, I wasn't really very interested in it. My life was full to bursting with my young children and with learning about CGS. I was also about to embark on grad school, for a second time. But when my husband told me that he needed something more, in order to live his faith more fully, I quickly recommended that he speak to Sarah and her husband about CL. Well, he fell in love right away, and started giving me Father Giussani's books to read and asking me to come to School of Community. I read the books, and found them very beautiful, if unoriginal (yes, I'm sorry, but my only criticism of Father Giussani was that he wasn't saying "anything new." Now, I think one of the greatest things about him is that he doesn't say "anything new"!). But as for School of Community, I didn't want to give up an evening at home with my children so that I could meet with a bunch of adults to speak about Jesus -- my faith received such a powerful electric charge when I became a mother, and it seemed wrong not to include my children in every aspect of my spiritual journey.
When we moved to Ohio three years ago, it was a time to make new friends, and I wanted to meet other people who were following Father Giussani. Though I still thought that he wasn't saying "anything new," I was hungry for friends who were following the Church: the old, essential, not-at-all new Church. Sometimes, among other Catholics, I feel so disoriented hearing about particular devotions or charisms that seem unfamiliar to me. Father Giussani had the peculiar genius for cutting through all of the "extras" and going straight to the heart of Christianity -- he tirelessly proposed Jesus Christ (much as our current Pope, Benedict XVI does).
What is new about CL is not so much a particular theology, but a way of living out Christianity that is vital, vibrant, and vivifying. This I did not understand from reading the books. I had caught glimpses of it while I still lived in Chicago -- when one member of the community got sick, everyone simply canceled everything to go pray the rosary in the hospital chapel the next day; or when we invited our friends to our daughter's Baptism, the CL people showed up en masse, though they had further to travel and didn't know us as well; when a teenage girl from Milan came to stay with us for two summers, she became like one of the family almost instantly. This "something new" is hard to see unless you're looking for it. It involves being able to see our Lord, beloved and adored, in the bonds of friendship that exist between and among ordinary, sometimes uninspiring, Christians. What Father Giussani both proposed and also demonstrated in reality is that Christ is not only present as Bread and Wine in the Eucharist, he is also present in the unity that exists in his people -- the Body of Christ. When we gather together, we can meet him in the flesh.
Some people wonder: why do you need anything in addition to parish life? After all, the parish is the Eucharistic community, where this presence can make itself most felt...? It is true that the Eucharist vivifies and enlivens any particular parish community, but what seems to be most difficult for us is to live with an awareness of what the sacraments mean. Without an awareness of what our Baptism means, what our Confirmation means, what our participation in the Eucharist means, we sleepwalk through our lives, and miss so much! God is reaching out toward us, wanting to meet us in all our present moments, but we easily get distracted. We need friends who live this awareness, who are willing to live this awareness along with us.
Some people also wonder whether joining a movement narrows our involvement in the Church. Nothing could be further from my own experience! The more I follow this one particular charism, the more universal my understanding of so many other aspects of the Church has become. In fact, being involved with CL has opened me up to the international dimension of the Church, as well as opening my heart to people in my immediate environment who are different from me. The law of the Incarnation always works this way -- Christ comes to me and shows me the whole, in all its universality, through particular circumstances.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Father Vincent
Here is a description of the circumstances leading to my becoming more "consistent and serious":
In March of 2006, Fr. Vincent came to give the first ever Fraternity Lent retreat for our small community. I was on ballet driving duty the day of the retreat, so I slipped into the room late, after Fr. Vincent had already been talking for about an hour. I think he was speaking about the movie, Mad Max, when I entered, I am not sure. In any case, the experience was, for me, one of walking into a room where people are discussing a movie I haven't seen. I picked up some familiar words, like "encounter," "drama," "hope," and "event." But when he was finished speaking, I wasn't certain I knew what he'd been talking about. There was a good question about the word "verify" and what we mean when we use it in Communion and Liberation. Father Vincent said something about how it seems almost blasphemous to us that we should test what God tells us, and we wouldn't have the nerve to do it except that God himself tells us to verify what he says: Jesus tells us to "Come and See," and the angels invite us to "Behold," and then there is the most dramatic moment when Jesus tells Thomas to place his hand into the marks of the nails and believe.
Then there was a time for silence and confessions, and I wandered over to the chapel to wait my turn to receive the Sacrament. A young woman was ahead of me in line, and she took twenty minutes of the hour that had been given for confessions. As I was waiting for her to come out, a young man came in. Evidently he didn't notice me because when the young woman came out, he slipped in behind her. Now another twenty minutes were going to be lost! As I was waiting for the young man to finish, two other men came in, both of whom were in the Fraternity and actively involved with CL. My first thought was, 'I should let them go ahead of me. This is their thing. I can always go to confession somewhere else.' I am always letting people go ahead of me; it is habitual for me, and the fact that I thought of letting them go ahead of me didn't surprise me. What did surprise me was the very next thought I had: 'No! This is for me!' Where did that come from? Why did I think that going to confession with this particular priest was "for me"? I was not in the Fraternity, and I would barely admit to being "in" CL. How did I dare to think, 'No! This is for me'?
Well, it was so surprising to me that I decided to follow it to see where it would lead. When the young man came out of the confessional, I did not let anyone go ahead of me. Instead, I marched right up to the door and let myself in.
The confession was a good one, but Fr. Vincent didn't say anything earth-shaking or astonishing. I didn't think that I had received any new insights into my sinfulness. He gave me advice that felt like penance, and penance that felt like advice, but other than that, it didn't feel like an unusual confession. I was left with the astonishing thought I'd had before going into confession.
We were supposed to host the convivenza at our house, after the retreat, but one of my daughters had mono that day, and we didn't want to expose anyone else to it. I brought a cake over to the new party location, stayed for just a short time, and then left to look after my sick daughter. As I was leaving, Fr. Vincent made a point of interrupting his conversation to thank me for bringing plastic bags to the party. That struck me as funny, given all the work that had gone into my cake. But okay, the retreat was over for me.
All of that happened on a Saturday. Then, on Monday morning I woke up with the thought, 'I want to join the Fraternity.' Here was another strange thought for me! My next thought was, 'Really?!' But since my mind didn't seem to care to elaborate or expand on the original thought, after a moment, I said to my husband, "I'm going to join the Fraternity." He was so startled, he didn't know what to say. For years he had been deeply involved with CL while I stayed on the sidelines, baking cakes, showing up late to things, and quibbling. Finally, he came out with, "I'll go get the form for you" and climbed out of bed. So then I said, "It's okay. You don't have to rush. I'm not going to change my mind." And that's how I came to join the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation.
So then when we heard that Fr. Vincent would be giving a series of parish missions at five churches in Pittsburgh (which is about an hour from where we live) that summer, I very much wanted to see him again and hear him preach. I wanted to know just what it was about him that had started this chain of surprising reactions within me.
I loved the homilies he gave at the various parishes he visited, and I loved the time we spent with him after Mass, when we went out for dinner with him, or out for a picnic with him. As I spent more time with him, it began to make sense to me that he would have opened up a new view of CL for me. The most striking thing about him, or one of the most striking things, was the way in which he paid attention to whomever was in front of him. He really listens to people and really responds to what they say. He also has amazing experiences to relate -- about his childhood, about his vocation, and about his travels. And he never stops talking about Jesus. I remember one time, while listening to him speak, thinking that I wished that I could be a priest, just so that I could have an excuse to talk about Jesus all the time, and nothing else.
Well, during his second-to-last visit to Pittsburgh, I screwed up my courage and told him I would like to ask him for something. He immediately said, "Yes, anything." That made me laugh, because he could have no idea what I would be asking for! So, I told him that I wanted to invite him to our house for dinner. Would that be possible? He said that it was possible, and that we could do it during his next visit to Pittsburgh. I was so excited! I love to cook for the people I care for, and I began planning for this wonderful meal I would serve him. I had several basil plants I had been growing all summer, from seeds. I planned to harvest them and make a monster batch of pesto.
As we got closer to the date, I called Fr. Vincent to see whether he wanted the dinner to be small, just my family, or whether he wanted me to invite anyone else from the community. He told me to invite everyone, because he never wants to say no to Jesus. So, we put the word out and made a plan for everyone to go first to Mass at the parish where he would be preaching and then come for lunch at our house afterwards (dinner would be too late). The week leading up to the lunch, I made many preparations, including baking a massive cake on that Friday evening -- one that could serve all the people who would be coming. Then two of my friends came with me on Saturday evening to attend the vigil Mass at the parish where Fr. Vincent would be preaching.
Well, during the homily, Fr. Vincent revealed that Pope Benedict XVI had called for a day of prayer and penance, to be observed on the following day, Sunday, to pray for peace in the Middle East. He explained why this fact was particularly significant to him, because he would be moving, within the week, to Bethlehem in Israel to begin a new missionary work in the Left Bank. He told everyone in the church that he would be fasting during the next day, and he asked us to join him. As my friends and I were leaving the church, I went to embrace him, and then I asked him if this meant that he wouldn't be eating any of my cake. How kindly he told me no, that he would be eating nothing but bread and water during the next day!
What a blow! As we climbed back into the car, I felt stunned. It took me a while to find my key and another long while to figure out how to get it into the ignition. I found it very difficult even to process this new information. It was very good to have my friends there with me. I think that all three of us were completely flummoxed. As we drove home, I kept thinking of ways in which the cake could be salvaged. My mind simply couldn't wrap itself around the idea that we would not be having our feast together. The conversation turned to questions of etiquette, even the theological nuances of fasting. On the way, we stopped to buy fifteen loaves of my favorite bread and a case of bottled water. Then I dropped one friend off at her home, and while I was dropping the other one at her place, the first friend told her husband what had happened. The husband called my husband, and by the time I had returned home, my husband had all the details, such as they were. So, shortly after I arrived home, I heard his verdict -- of course the feast was off. Though I'd had more time to process all that had happened, I still had not come to that conclusion, and so this "final word" on my feast struck me as unjust. But, as the two men reasoned, if the pope had said to pray and fast on that day, then there was really no choice. It seemed to me that I had been planning and anticipating my party since well before the pope had capriciously chosen the same date for this observation. One friend, a young woman who was staying with us at the time, pointed out that the Church never asks us to fast on a Sunday...But then my husband said, if the pope wants to, he doesn't have to follow any such rule. I listened to the back and forth and had nothing to contribute. All I really wanted to do was cry and write protest letters to the Vatican.
After everyone went to bed, I was able to finally have my good cry. The thing that disturbed me most was how upset I was about the whole thing. Was I just the Great Gatsby, living for the thrill of throwing big parties, and doing it all for the wrong reasons? Why was I so unable to bend my will to the will of the pope? Why was this so hard for me? I even stayed up late to watch the movie version of The Great Gatsby, to try to find an answer. That was a wise move, because after viewing the film, I felt certain that I am not the Great Gatsby. Then, at four in the morning, I finally came to a moment of clarity: the whole point of this party is to show love to Fr. Vincent. If this is the way he wants to be loved, then this is how we will love him, by eating bread and water with him. That thought brought me enough peace to finally stop crying and get a little sleep.
In the morning, I revised my menu. Of course, the bulk of what I would offer would be those fifteen loaves of bread and the case of bottled water. But since children and the elderly and anyone whose health is fragile are not obliged to fast, I would offer some other foods as well -- peanut butter and cheese to go with the bread, a small bowl of pasta with a little pesto on it, and some milk and juice. Then my friend's husband called to tell my husband that they had gone online and discovered that the pope had called for "prayer and penance" and had never mentioned "fasting." They said that it was wrong to force all these other people to fast, when the pope had never called for it. Thus, we should go ahead with the feast as planned! Now it was my turn to say no, that I would only be serving bread and water plus some other foods for those who can't fast, and explained the conclusion I'd come to at four in the morning -- that the party is in Fr. Vincent's honor and this would be the way we could love him. My stubbornness caused a heated dispute that was only resolved (or at least ended) when I reminded everyone involved that it was my party.
So, the guests arrived, and some of them grumbled. They were accustomed to being feasted at my house, and this very different experience wasn't nearly so pleasant. But when I asked Fr. Vincent to come into the dining room to bless the food, he was delighted to see what was on the table. And then, because there was no food to exclaim over, we all crowded into the living room, where Fr. Vincent regaled us with his stories and listened to ours.
I still remember all the things we talked about and how important each thing was for my life. One of his stories ended with the beautiful line, "Christ comes through assholes like us." Another conversation ended with the observation that in order to convert others, we must be willing to go to their living rooms. One sad story concluded with the observation that unless we let Christ embrace all of ourselves, we can get lost and discouraged and fall away.
We sent him on his way to Israel that afternoon with a loaf of bread tucked under each arm. I remember feeling frustrated as I watched him go -- I had wanted to do something for him, to give him a gift, and yet again, he had given me everything, so much more than I even knew I needed.
What did he give? He brought with him, everywhere I have ever met him, the presence of Christ. It is true that Christ comes through schmucks like us (I can't bring myself to use his colorful language except when directly quoting him!), but for me to be able to see this fact, I first had to see Christ in this one very exceptional priest, who made this fact so undeniably evident to me that I couldn't ignore it. It is not just that he embodied Christ for me -- even more importantly, he saw Christ in all the ordinary people around me, so that by following his gaze, I could see Who he was seeing! And this is why I joined the Fraternity and why I give myself to it with my whole heart.
he has made known to us the mystery of his will...
as a plan for the fullness of time...
To sum up all things..."
(see Ephesians 1:8b-10)
a) They're all about Christ
b) They all envisage total fulfillment as communion
c) They each represent the focal point of the religious life of children at different developmental stages
d) They all express something essential in the Church's self-understanding
e) All of the above
Saturday, May 10, 2008
This text and the text for a previous post on "A Dancer's Life," are from a widget, created by my daughter, Sophie. If you'd like the widget, go here.
So, in case any of you didn't know, last week was NATIONAL DANCE WEEK, here in the U.S.A. National Dance Week was started by a grassroots movement of choreographers, dance suppliers dance companies, and dancers, to gain more recognition for dance in America. Their coalition for a National Dance Week was formed in 1981, and in 1991 the holiday was officially named. Though it does not have very much emphasis on ballet, focusing more on Broadway, Ballroom, Tap, Jazz and Modern dance, ballet dancers can still celebrate this holiday as one truly earned. I know you ask me, why did you not tell us before the fact? Well, I wanted to post this afterwards so you could see what sort of events went on, and possibly consider being a delegate yourself next year! Some 2008 events were: *In San Diego, San Diego Ballet presented a small, in-studio workshop titled, "Choreographer's Creations for National Dance Week." The workshop showcased choreographers from the San Diego area and SDB dancers. * In Kansas City, Kansas City Ballet did a production titled, "Romeo and Juliet; a celebration for national dance week" *In New York, there was a production titled, "Four Artists Celebrate National Dance Week with the Rites of Spring," choreographed by Ramona Candy. *In Cleveland, there was a "National Dance Week Open House" sponsored by Cleveland City Dance. This included free performances by the Cleveland Chamber Ballet and a free jazz class. *in Spokane, WA there was a "Dancefest for National Dance Week in Spokane 2008" sponsored by Inland Northwest Dance Association. The event was open to anyone and encouraged all forms of dance in any person who wished to. Included classes, a silent auction, a health fair, art gallery, and more. *In Washington, DC, there was "Dance is the Answer with National Dance Week sponsored by Dance/Metro DC The photo is from the Miami Beach Dance Festival 2008.
• by Sophie Lewis
Posted by Suzanne at 11:25 PM
Friday, May 9, 2008
Continuation of my list of 100 things that make me happy:
51. chanterelles52. Glenn Gould playing two and three part inventions by Bach
54. a daytime moon
55. the Fibonacci sequence
56. priests playing around
59. Tiffany glass
62. clove oil
65. robin nests
70. "The Wheel on the School" by Meindart DeJong
72. cooking for friends
73. open air markets
74. Pepe Romero playing flamenco
75. the unexpected
76. sonnets (here's one:)
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
• by e.e. cummings
77. the peak tram
78. Chucho Valdes playing solo
79. listening to Julian Carronr>80. hands
81. black dirt
82. singing with friends
83. cornichons 84. light
85. cats purring
86. the seminary coop
87. blue ice
88. royal jelly
91. troubadour songs
95. the letter s
98. le buisson ardent
99. Babette's Feast
Dumbstruck by the Mystery
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."