Friday, January 30, 2009

The defeat of a kingdom

Massaccio The Tribute Money, detail
Diakonia According to Me (1):

In the ancient world, when a kingdom was defeated, then the god of that people was proven false. Israel was an exception to this rule, though. When Israel was defeated and sent into exile, the people continued to believe in their God. Why? What was the difference between their God and the other gods?

Sophie told me about something that happened to one of her friends, a boy who goes to a Catholic high school in Pittsburgh. Several of his classmates had been grumbling about the fact that it was required that they attend Mass before going on a field trip. This boy's classmates claimed to be atheists. So, then Sophie's friend was surprised during Mass when these same friends went up to receive Communion. He thought it was a miracle. But during the bus ride after Mass, he saw these same friends playing with the consecrated hosts in the back of the bus, and it made him sick and discouraged. He told Sophie this story to explain why he was lonely and alienated at his school. But Sophie told him (with great animation and passion) in response, "This is not a sign of Christ's defeat! It is a victory that he allowed himself to be mistreated like that! He is so strong that he even makes it possible for this to happen, and he allowed it so that you could witness it, so that you could feel this pain and know the reality of His Presence and the reality of how we can disregard Him! It's beautiful!"

As a wise friend recently pointed out, it is not a question of the glass being half-full versus half-empty, because the glass is always over-flowing. Christ allows these things to happen, even abominations against his very person (such as crucifixion), in order that we might see and recognize him. But in order to see and recognize him, it is essential that we first meet him. And to meet him, only one thing is needed.

Diakonia according to me (DATM)

Detail from Massaccio's fresco, The Tribute Money

Chris and Fr. Julian asked that we not take what they said at the Diakonia and post it on the internet. It is a miracle that I haven't defied them because my desire to share the beauty I experienced there has been intense. I have been asking myself how this request of theirs is for me and for my life, and I am reminded of the fact that in this particular period of my life, I am finally trying to understand and live true Christian patience. I use the signature on my gmail account as a means of keeping certain points in front of my eyes, and this is what I have there now: "...Patience [is] ultimately the capacity to carry everything, in us and in reality, to carry all the circumstances, carry everything with the reasonable courage of not rejecting anything" (Luigi Giussani). So, I am trying to learn to carry...

What is it that I have to carry in this particular circumstance? Something beautiful, something precious beyond measure, that moved me to the depths. I have to carry this, and ponder it -- while I also carry the fact that it is only for me right now -- that there are some beautiful things that are not for me to immediately use according to my own plan. This is almost as heavy as the weight of all the scandal I have picked up in the hope of developing the strength to carry it.

Everything is for me! Reality is for me! Reality does not betray me!

Isn't that amazing? That I can follow something that I don't like and don't want and in the process find something greater and more beautiful?

That said, I want to post here some of my impressions, some of what I have been carrying. I will post no quotes, but I will do a series of posts (the DATM series) on thoughts that have arisen in me as a result of what I heard, saw and lived in those days.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What I need to ask for

George de la Tour, St. Joseph the Carpenter

[...] Everything boils down to having a childlike heart. And having a childlike heart means lifting your eyes up from your own problems, from your own plans, from your defects, from other people’s defects, to look at the risen Christ. “Lift up your eyes from yourself to that Presence” (Familiarity with Christ, Notes from a lesson by Fr. Luigi Giussani during the Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, May 8, 1982 in Traces, n. 2, 01-02-2007 ).

I quoted these sentences in the last little thing that I wrote. What I am writing now is the third and final (for now) piece on self-consciousness.

It is not immediately apparent that the opposite of or antidote to self-consciousness is humility. Because when I am in the throes of self-consciousness, I feel low, small, etc. -- but not like a child. Children need to be taught this particular sort of "humility," which is actually pride. When children are truly themselves, they are oriented outward, to the world, not brooding on their inabilities and short-comings. True humility has nothing of shame or embarrassment in it. After all, our sins do not define us. We are defined by our relationship with the Infinite, who is always proposing something great to me in the here and now. Always.

Conscious of self

Right after I last posted on this subject, I had further thoughts, but only now am I able to snatch a couple of minutes to type them out.

Awareness is such a big word for Fr. Giussani. So much hinges on whether we are aware that Another is making us right now, that we are all one by virtue of our Baptism, that our desires point us to the Infinite, that Christ's resurrection from the dead has infused all reality with his presence... Once we become aware of reality, aware of the truth of reality, aware of the facts, life in Christ --this new life that is noticeably different, noticeably more alive -- is born as a fruit of our awareness.

What are we aware of in any given moment? What rivets our attention? What is the premise that forms our opinions in an situation? What is our starting point? As Fr. Giussani points out, what we hold most dear surfaces in the way that we interact with reality. Here is a beautiful passage from the first Spiritual Exercises that Fr. Giussani gave:

For some years now, I have used a comparison that re-proposes this awareness as an image. I believe that we really have to take literally what Christ said: “If you do not become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” When does a child wholly express himself, when is he truly and wholly himself, if not in the instant in which, in a situation of calm, in a moment of joy, in adverse or painful circumstances, he looks at his mother and there is a fraction of time in which he seems to forget everything, in which what fills his face, what fills his person–in other words, his consistency–is the presence of that woman or that man, his father? What characterizes a child is that his consistency is the presence of another, an adult, a woman or a man–all his consistency is there.
[...] Everything boils down to having a childlike heart. And having a childlike heart means lifting your eyes up from your own problems, from your own plans, from your defects, from other people’s defects, to look at the risen Christ. “Lift up your eyes from yourself to that Presence.” It is as if we need a wind to come and take away everything we are, so that our heart become free again or, rather, become free–keep living in the flesh, going wrong like before (“Our sins are on the increase day by day”, as St. Ephraem said). But it is as if something else has come into the world. A new man has come into the world, and with Him a new road. “See, a road has opened in the desert, don’t you see it?” In the desert of the world a road opens up, the possibility of works, but first of one work. “Works” are the expression of humanity; work is a new humanity, a new human companionship.
Without this simplicity, without this poverty, if we are unable to raise our eyes up from ourselves to that Presence, then a companionship that can rid itself of that ultimate embarrassment, that makes it a true journey, is impossible. In other words, if for the people in a companionship destiny is not all, then a companionship that be truly useful for the journey to destiny is impossible. But destiny has become one, a man like me, who died and rose, and the event of that Resurrection goes on in the world and vibrates in me. I have to lift my eyes up from myself to that Presence, to the Presence of the risen Christ (Familiarity with Christ, Notes from a lesson by Fr. Luigi Giussani during the Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, May 8, 1982 in Traces, n. 2, 01-02-2007 ).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

Self conscious

I have been thinking about something that happens to women (and perhaps also to men, but I haven't heard any speak about this problem): After an occasion where we speak in a group setting (or even occasionally when we are only speaking with one other person), especially if we speak at length, authoritatively, or with passion, a terrible sense of vertigo sets in. We wonder whether we were clear, whether others understood what we were trying to say, whether we appeared conceited or silly or plain stupid. We wonder whether we might have said something unkind or catty...

When it happens to me, I often think that I talk too much; then I resolve to speak less.

My Thursday morning School of Community is often all women, and so sometimes this phenomenon comes into play. After School of Community, someone will ask me, "Did I speak too much?" or "Did I make any sense?" or "Was that mean, what I said?"

Then there are those who don't speak because they want to avoid speaking too much, or not making sense, or saying something that could be taken as unkind. Or, sometimes we even worry that we aren't as Christian as the others, not as insightful or smart.

So, I have been wondering about this whole phenomenon and thinking that it seems pretty clear that it poses an extraordinary distraction to living an awareness of the Mystery (if we're so worried about what we say or seem or are, how can we look outside ourselves and recognize Something at work, generating us and all that surrounds us?). What is particularly challenging about trying to find a way to address this problem is that drawing attention to it generally makes the problem worse, not better!

School of Community needs to be a place where we encounter the love of Christ, a love that does not measure the other person, doesn't get bored, annoyed or distracted by the other, where both speech and silence occur within the embrace of God's mercy. Otherwise, it isn't the locus of the Christian fact, but rather just another group or club organized in a desperate attempt to combat our existential loneliness. It seems to me that the only way that School of Community can be a place where we encounter the love of Christ is if there is something that comes before (see Something That Comes First, Notes by Luigi Giussani from the Assembly of CL Responsibles [January 1993] ). In our case, that "something" is the witness of Fr. Giussani -- a witness that touches all of us within Communion and Liberation, and which is renewed and strengthened when we come together, as we did during the National Diakonia in New Jersey.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Beautiful initiative

More thoughts on Parousia and unity

Marie has some really great posts on unity, over on her blog, Naru Hodo:

Which Way to Unity?

Unity -- Why Bother?

Catechism of the Catholic Church on Christian Unity

Because Marie is also my friend and neighbor, we have had the great gift of being able to have conversations on the subject of unity -- many conversations before either of us posted on this subject. I am really moved to see what she has written on her blog about unity because these writings represent, for me, both a beautiful fruit and also a synthesis of all we've spoken about.

For me (and this is also something that Marie discusses in her posts), the most important fact that emerged from all our conversations is that unity can neither be made nor broken by us (even when we sin!). Sin does not harm unity -- it only reveals a lack of awareness or a forgetfulness about the truth of who we are already. By virtue of our Baptism, we are made one in Christ. In fact, even with those who are unbaptized, there exists a kind of primordial unity because we are all made in the image and likeness of God.

Baptism is the foretaste of Parousia -- our birth and our beginning in Paradise -- in the here and now. And Baptism is given before, not as a reward for our good efforts or keen insights, but as recognition of who we are -- we belong to Another, who makes us in every moment -- before ever a word is on our lips. This is why infant Baptism is what will conquer any moralism we may harbor in our hearts, if we only let ourselves be amazed by the gift it represents to those of us (adults) who witness and participate in this practice.

The theme of the National Diakonia I just attended was "Something that Comes Before." We were asked to reflect on the Page One article that appeared in November's Traces:
november 2008

[ November ]

What is the initial, original phenomenon by which some people are struck and attracted and coalesce together? Is it a catechesis–what we call “School of Community”? No, every catechesis comes later; it’s the instrument of development of something that comes before.
The modality with which the movement–the Christian event–becomes present is the running up against a human diversity, a different human reality, that strikes us and attracts us because deep inside us, confusedly, or clearly, it corresponds to an expectant awaiting that is constitutive of our being, to the original needs of the human heart.
The event of Christ becomes present “now” in a phenomenon of a different humanity: a man runs up against you and discovers in you a new presentiment of life, something that increases his chance of certainty, of positivity, of hope, and of usefulness in living, and moves him to follow.
Jesus Christ, that man of two thousand years ago, is imminent, becomes present, under the veil, under the aspect of a different humanity. The encounter, the impact, is with a different humanity that strikes us because it corresponds to the structural needs of the heart more than any other modality of our thought or imagination–we never expected it, we never would’ve dreamed of it, it was impossible, it cannot be found elsewhere. The human diversity in which Christ becomes present lies precisely in the greater correspondence, in the unthinkable and unthought-of greater correspondence of this humanity we run up against to the needs of the heart, to the needs of reason.
This running into a different humanity is very simple, absolutely elementary, something that comes before everything, before any catechesis, reflection, or development. It’s something that has no need of explanation, but just needs to be seen, intercepted. It is something that evokes wonder, awakens an emotion, constitutes a call, moves a person to follow because it corresponds to the structurally expectant awaiting of the heart, “since,” as Cardinal Ratzinger said, “really we can only recognize that for which a correspondence exists in us” (Il Sabato, January 30, 1993). The criterion for the truth lies in the correspondence.
Running up against the presence of a different humanity comes before, not only at the beginning, but in every moment that follows the beginning–a year or twenty years later. The initial phenomenon–the impact with a different humanity, the wonder born of it–is destined to be the initial and original phenomenon of every moment of development; there is no development if that initial impact is not repeated, that is, if the event does not remain contemporaneous. Either it is renewed, or nothing proceeds, and right away you theorize about the event that has happened, and you fumble about seeking substitute supports for What is truly at the origin of the diversity. The originating factor is, permanently, the impact with a different human reality. Therefore, if what happened at the beginning doesn’t happen over again and isn’t renewed, then true continuity doesn’t occur; if you don’t experience now the impact with a new human reality, you don’t understand what happened to you back then. Only if the event happens again now can the initial event be illuminated and deepened, thus establishing continuity and development.... (from Something That Comes First, Notes by Luigi Giussani from the Assembly of CL Responsibles [January 1993] )

One thing I have discovered in the conversations with Marie is that misunderstandings and lack of agreement are not sin -- that is, they need be neither the fruit nor the cause of division. Sin involves rejecting or otherwise harming the other because of a disagreement or misunderstanding. If, as we disagree, we recognize that this "something that comes before" is still operating, still exists in all its fullness -- and if we celebrate and hold fast to it as more important than any disagreement, then a miracle occurs: this human diversity takes shape before our eyes.

But there is something even more miraculous. When we do sin (something that happens always!), if the other continues to hold fast to his or her awareness of the "something that comes before," the unity that we can neither make nor break, this beautiful human diversity begins to take on the face of the living God, whose approach to us is always that of a miraculous mercy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Carpenters who won't touch wood

Check out the latest from my friend, Paul's blog, Communio:

Saint Basil the Great tells us that we can't go it alone...

If anyone claims to be able to be completely self-sufficient, to be capable of reaching perfection without anyone else's help, to succeed in plumbing the depths of Scripture entirely unaided, he is behaving just like someone trying to practice the trade of a carpenter without touching wood. The Apostle would say to such: 'It is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the Law who will be justified.' [Rom. 2:13]

Washing the feet.jpg

Our Lord, in loving each human being right to the end, did not limit himself to teaching us in words. In order to give us an exact and telling example of humility in the perfection of love, he put on an apron and washed the disciples' feet... [read the rest here].

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A miracle

From the Telegraph:

New York plane crash: Hero pilot did 'absolutely the right thing'

The pilot who safely landed a plane on the Hudson River in New York, saving the lives of all 150 passengers on board, did "absolutely everything right", according to an aviation expert.

Chesley Sullenberger III, the pilot believed to be the man who crash landed US Airway flight into Hudson River in New York
Chesley Sullenberger III, the pilot believed to be the man who crash landed US Airway flight into Hudson River in New York Photo: SPLASH

US Airways Flight 1549 had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport en route to Charlotte, North Carolina, when it struck a flock of birds.

David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight Global, said that the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, made a textbook landing... [the rest here]

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Parousia?

There is a classic formula that is taught to kids and which is held as the truth by adults, too: Love God, be good, make sure you get your sins forgiven, and then you will go to heaven when you die. This formula finds its most well-known Catholic expression in the Baltimore Catechism:

Q. 150. Why did God make you?

A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
• Baltimore Catechism 3, Lesson 1

But the vision of the Baltimore Catechism lacks something essential:
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:8b-10, NRSV)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also alludes to this plan to gather or "sum up" all things in Christ:
669 [...] "The kingdom of Christ [is] already present in mystery," "on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom."

670 Since the Ascension God's plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at "the last hour." "Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with sanctity that is real but imperfect." Christ's kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church.

1108 In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his Body. The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the Father's vine which bears fruit on its branches. The most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy. The Spirit, who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church. For this reason the Church is the great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God's scattered children together. Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy.

1130 The Church celebrates the mystery of her Lord "until he comes," when God will be "everything to everyone." [...]

This assertion, made quite forcibly in the CCC (written and completed during the pontificate of John Paul II), isn't present in the Baltimore Catechism at all (I have read it through, but if you'd like to see for yourself, here is a site where you can use a search engine to try to find what I'm missing). It does, however, resonate with the writings of Jean Cardinal Daniélou (example), as well as with those of Pope Benedict XVI, particularly in his Encyclical Spe Salvi:
His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us... In the modern era, the idea of the Last Judgement has faded into the background: Christian faith has been individualized and primarily oriented towards the salvation of the believer's own soul, [but] ...we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse... In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too[40]. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise?

I love Father Cantalamessa!

Preacher Gives Families Strategy to Win Back World

Says Key Is Not Trying to Change Laws

MEXICO CITY, JAN. 14, 2009 ( Christians should not focus all their energies on combating a secular concept of marriage. Rather they should rediscover its beauty for themselves and propose this ideal to the world, says the preacher of the Pontifical Household.

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa affirmed this today at the 6th World Meeting of Families, inaugurated today in Mexico City by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Christians "need to rediscover the biblical ideal of marriage and family" so they can promote this ideal to the world, the preacher exhorted in his address titled "Family Relationships and Values in the Bible."

The Christian idea of matrimony and family does not just need "defending," he affirmed. The most important thing is the "task of Christians rediscovering it and living it in plenitude, such that they again propose it to the world with their actions, more than with their words."

The address was divided into three sections. First, the preacher considered God's original project for marriage and family, and how this was lived out in the history of the Chosen People. Then, he spoke of the renewal wrought by Christ, and how this was lived by the first communities of Christians. Finally, Father Cantalamessa had a look at what Revelation has to offer to the problems faced by marriages and the family today.

The preacher explained that for centuries, the spousal meaning of marriage, strongly present in the Bible, has been left to one side, in favor of a more institutional understanding.

Primary goals

But behind the current "unacceptable" proposals of the "relativistic deconstruction" of the traditional family, he contended, there is a "positive resource" that should be welcomed, and it is the vision of matrimony as union and gift between the spouses.

Father Cantalamessa suggested that ideas from this critique coincide with the biblical understanding, and he noted that the Second Vatican Council highlighted this when it recognized mutual love and donation between spouses as an equally primary good of marriage.

"Even believing couples fail to rediscover [...] this treasure of the initial significance of the sexual union, due to the concepts of concupiscence and original sin associated with this act over centuries," he said. And he affirmed that sexual union must be rediscovered as an image of the love of God.

"Two people who love each other -- and the case of the man and the woman in marriage is the strongest -- reproduce something of what happened in the Trinity," he explained. "In this light one discovers the deep sense of the prophets' messages regarding human marriage, which is therefore a symbol and reflection of another love, that of God for his people."

This implies "revealing the true face and the final objective of the creation of man as male and female: that of going out of individual isolation and 'egotism,' opening oneself to the other and, through the temporal ecstasy of the carnal union, elevating oneself to the desire of love and joy without end," the Capuchin added.

The preacher of the Pontifical Household suggested that "Deus Caritas Est" received such an ""uncommonly positive" welcome around the world, precisely because it is an encyclical that insists on this vision of human love as a reflection of the love of God.


Another issue, Father Cantalamessa went on, "is the equal dignity of the woman in matrimony. As we have seen, this is at the very heart of the original project of God and the thinking of Christ, but it has almost always been disregarded."

Faced with the current situation of an "apparently global rejection of the biblical project regarding sexuality, matrimony and family," the Capuchin suggested that it is necessary to "avoid the error of spending all our time rebutting contrary theories."

The strategy, he said, is not "to combat the world" but to "dialogue with it, drawing out the good even from criticisms."

Another error that should be avoided, he proposed, is "directing everything toward national laws to defend Christian values."

"The first Christians changed the laws of the state with their customs; we cannot expect today to change the customs with the laws of the state," the preacher reflected.

Regarding the current "deconstruction of the family" or "gender revolution," the priest explained that it is something analogous to Marxism, and recalled that faced with this ideology, the Church's reaction was "to apply the ancient Pauline method of examining everything and remaining with what is good," developing "its own social doctrine."

"Precisely the choice for dialogue and self-critique gives us the right to denounce the deranged projects of the gender revolution as inhuman, that is, contrary not only to the will of God but also to the good of humanity," he added. "Our only hope is that people's common sense, united to this 'desire' for the other sex, to the necessity of maternity and paternity that God has inscribed in human nature, resists these attempts to substitute God, dictated more by man's belated sentiments of guilt than by genuine respect and love for the woman."

I needed to read this today:

H/t to Whispers in the Loggia.

Friends, again I ask you, what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. The saints show us the selfless love of his way. As disciples of Christ, their extraordinary journeys unfolded within the community of hope, which is the Church. It is from within the Church that you too will find the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord. Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy. You are Christ’s disciples today. Shine his light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free.
--Pope Benedict XVI
Greeting to Young People
St Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie
19 April 2008

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

From Shadows to Reality

"As we have already remarked, the special characteristic of Christian typology is that the entry into Paradise is presented not as something kept for the last day, but as realized here and now in Christ. Rather should we say that the end of time is already present in Christ..." (page 28)

"It was in fact the general belief that the martyrs and the just enter straightway into Paradise, which Christ had opened. This did not in any way militate against the eschatological belief as has sometimes been said, for it is not a question of a departure from the world to enter a heaven outside the sphere of time, it is the actual realization of eschatology, which is the sum of the Christian message" (page 29).

from Jean Cardinal Daniélou From Shadows to Reality.

Introducing an introduction

I just posted the intro ("By Way of Introduction") from Is It Possible to Live This Way? Volume 2 Hope, by Father Giussani, because it seems really useful and worth a most attentive read. Here are the questions I tease from it, based on my own needs:

1) Why would something more in the form of a "novel" need to be read in a different way? What way would that be? If it is a document that testifies to a lived experience, how can we compare our own experience to it? Would this be different from your standard comparing one's own life and experience to a doctrinal point?

2) How can the "passionate dynamic of questions and answers" provide a key for how to read/live the contents of this book? In other words, we are proposing to one another that we enter into the life that is documented in this book (Gee, I wish I had this perspective in mind when I began Is It Possible to Live This Way? Volume 1: Faith!)?

3) The introduction maintains that the book documents also "mature conviction" and also "affection." As we begin this book, we will want to invite "mature conviction" and "affection" into our reflection on the text as well (that is, not just our intelligence and understanding, but also these other aspects of our humanity, taking nothing for granted).

4) "Test" and "witness" are interesting words -- most of the people in CL where I live wouldn't quibble with the assertion that Christianity is "something interesting" and a "destiny for life." But how often do we allow ourselves simply to be fascinated by Christ and what he does in our lives? How often do we really consciously consider, in our daily lives, how everything is tied to our "destiny for life"? So the adventure we are embarking on will involve allowing this book to test our lives, allowing it to witness to us and inviting this test and witness to change us.

5) The final paragraph seems not to apply to faithful, church-going Catholics. We don't seem to censure or disdain Christianity! And yet, disdain and censure are not completely removed from our lives. We sometimes think that what we censure or disdain is whatever falls outside Christianity. Part of the radicalness of Fr. Giussani's proposal is that NOTHING falls outside Christianity. So, what do we censure and disdain? Where won't we allow Christ to enter? Let's pray a Memorare that we may learn to allow Christ to fill everything, especially what we feel tempted to censure or disdain.

Hope: By Way of Introduction

From the first two pages of Is It Possible to Live This Way? Volume 2 Hope, by Father Giussani:

This is an unusual book. It is a kind of "novel," as those who first read the proofs noted. In this work the discovery of life as "vocation" comes about not through deduction but through the evidence of an experience lived according to reason, within the same breath as Mystery.

It deals with the path that Father Luigi Giussani took throughout a year in dialogue with about one hundred young people who had decided to commit their lives to Christ through total dedication to the Mystery and to His destiny in history. The Church calls this life "virginity."

Week after week the principal contents of the Christian faith and the reasons that sustained them were approached through a proposal that emerged from the author's experience and from the passionate dynamic of questions and answers that was awakened in these young people. Thus they gradually became aware of their human experience and lived it in a more determined way.

The style of these weekly meetings has been faithfully maintained in the book as a testimony to a particular approach to the great human problem and to the mature conviction and affection that it can lead to.

The book is not meant to be a challenge to common sense or to be presumptuous. It began as a faithful transcription of meetings and dialogues. It is thus a test or, better yet, a witness to a way of conceiving of Christian faith as something interesting, as a destiny for life. It is transcribed word for word, in its material immediacy. In that sense the repetition of ideas and formulae is aimed at filling one's memory in such a way that it might retain something that will be understood over the years and whose reasons will gradually be grasped.

The book can be conceived of as an exemplary narrative where spontaneity, loyalty, and seriousness in the consideration of one's own existence are able to ascribe a suggestiveness to something that most people would censure or disdain because of an abstract fear.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Question for my CL friends...

I tacked this bit of text onto the post "drawn bumpily along" so that it would follow more smoothly. You can find the question here.

drawn bumpily along

I've been making my way, very slowly, through Is It Possible to Live This Way? Volume 2 Hope, by Father Giussani.

Isn't it strange the way something that is given to us at a particular moment is often more valuable than anything we could choose to give ourselves? Maybe no one else has had this experience -- or perhaps it is so universal that everyone else thinks, "duh," when I enthuse about it, but after I rediscovered my Catholic faith (a particular, dramatic moment, while in college), the readings at Mass would always surprise me as particularly and uniquely applicable to me in that moment. This struck me as divine and miraculous, and I always found it surprising. How could these readings, which were certainly not chosen with me in mind, be the precise things I needed to read and hear? This was the first moment when I began to value obedience to Another. If the Church can give me Scripture passages that answer my life better than anything I could have researched myself, better to follow the Church than to keep researching.

Later my sense of following seemed to grow deeper and more mature when, rather than viewing the Mass readings as my own personal property, I began to want to follow them because they were chosen by Another -- that is, I wanted to read and study them so that I could get to know this other Person better -- and I wanted this more than I cared to find answers about/for myself.

Now that I am in Communion and Liberation, I am always amazed that the books we are all reading together seem to be precisely what I need in order to grow and deepen in my conversion to Christ. I seem to be "back" to where I was in college -- needing that sense of my own value in God's great scheme of things. So, perhaps it wasn't a "development" to move from being centered on my own spiritual needs to giving myself to the One who gives... Maybe this movement is my own life is more cyclic? Because I don't feel I've gone backwards!

So, hope. I'm looking at pages 55-56:

...with hope, you can more easily make a mistake, demand, make a claim, establish in advance when something has to happen...
Faith founds, makes know, what man is made for, and therefore reveals to man what he desires, and this is hope. Faith feels drawn bumpily along by hope. But the seriousness, the degree of seriousness, isn't given by hope, but by faith. The degree of seriousness is given by the truth, while the degree of zest and fascination is given by hope...
...Hope is like a child who stamps his feet, quivering. Slowly, as one grows up, quivering enlivens even curiosity regarding faith.
This passage strikes me as written, given to me, personally!

So, my self diagnosis is: too much hope and not enough faith. I have been like the child stamping her foot, waiting to see the train. And yes, I have to admit with sadness that I have made mistakes, demands, and claims and have also established in advance when something has to happen. It is nicer to be told that my problem is too much hope, though, than it is to hear that I lack faith!

The wonderful thing would be if I could say that having read Is It Possible to Live This Way? Volume 1: Faith, my faith has increased, and along with it, my seriousness. But: Have I grown up in the past year?

I will need to think more before I can answer honestly.

[Update added after this was posted:]

You know, I was thinking wouldn't it be great to be able to ask Fr. Giussani how to bring faith and hope into balance, so that hope is not always drawing faith bumpily along. Here is the answer I give myself:

To keep reminding myself, with greater attention, that I am not making myself now, and that I am not making the circumstances in my life, either. Than Another is generating me and also giving me these precise circumstances for my good, to bring me to him.

But what answer would any of you give to me? It occurs to me that though I can't ask Fr. Giussani, I can ask you!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Prayer of Saint Bernard to the Virgin Mary

Franz Anton Maulbertsch, Visitation

Thou Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son
Humble and high beyond all other creatures.
The limit fixed of the eternal counsel,
Thou art the one who such nobility
To human nature gave, that its Creator
Did not disdain to make himself its creature,
Within thy womb rekindled was the love,
By heat of which in the eternal peace
After suchwise this flower has germinated.
Here unto us thou art a noonday torch
Of charity, and below there among mortals
Thou art the living fountain-head of hope.
Lady thou art so great, and so prevailing,
That he who wishes grace, nor runs to thee
His aspirations without wings would fly.
Not only thy benignity gives succor
To him who asketh it, but oftentimes
Forerunneth of its own accord the asking.
In thee compassion is, in thee is pity,
In thee magnificence, in thee unites
Whate'er of goodness is in any creature.

(Dante, Paradiso, canto XXXIII, verses 1-21)

Roberto Benigni recites it in the Italian:

Prayers for my mother, please

Dear friends,

My mother's cancer (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) has reared its ugly head yet again.

She was first diagnosed with it in the Spring of 1995. At that time, her doctors told her that her prognosis was 10-15 years (this is a slow cancer), but also that this particular lymphoma is incurable. The one glimmer of hope was the knowledge that much research was being done on this particular form of lymphoma, and since the prognosis was long, it was possible that a cure might be found within my mother's lifetime. She began treatment at the National Institute for Health, and we all felt quite hopeful that if she could continue to participate in clinical trials there, she would receive the cutting edge of care and be able to take advantage of the latest in research.

It has been 14 years, and now, with this latest recurrence of the lymphoma, her doctors at NIH told her that the best treatment for the new tumor is the "standard of care" rather than the experimental alternative (which carries with it severe side effects, some of which might be permanent). NIH does not administer the "standard of care" treatments, and so they've referred my mother to another oncologist, who practices out of another hospital. This is quite a blow for my mother because she has come to feel very safe at NIH. Not only does NIH offer an "above-and-beyond" level of care, but over the years my mother has come to know and love her nurses very well; also, since my mother's diagnosis, my youngest sister went to nursing school and then took a job as an oncology nurse at NIH, so my parents had an advocate on the inside.

Chemotherapy is never easy, but many of the experimental therapies that my mom was able to take advantage of while at NIH had much milder side effects than your typical chemotherapy. This has been a long and exhausting road for my mother. Please remember her in your prayers as she begins this new adventure at a strange hospital, with a new doctor. I promise to do a better job of letting you know the results of this particular round of treatment. The problem is that not only does the treatment require many weeks, but then discovering the results often requires another wait of many weeks after treatment has ended.

My mom's name is Judy, by the way.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hear, hear!

"Ladies and Gentlemen, if we wish to combat poverty, we must invest first and foremost in the young, setting before them an ideal of authentic fraternity" (Pope Benedict XVI, January 1, "State of the World" address).

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."