Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"the price American Catholicism had paid..."

Mary Ann Glendon at the Meeting in Rimini, photo by Sharon Mollerus

MEETING in RIMINI/ A formula for America

mercoledì 26 agosto 2009

I first heard about the Meeting in Rimini from Sister Carol Keehan, who was at that time (around 1994) president of Providence Hospital in Washington, DC. I had suggested her name to the Meeting authorities as an expert in non-profit institutions and she was consequently invited to make a presentation at the Meeting. It was shortly after Msgr. Giussani had asked me whether I would help him in his efforts to “firmly plant Communion and Liberation on the American soil.” Upon her return she told me that she had never seen anything like it in the United States, and in fact wondered whether there could ever be an “American Meeting” but that we should try to make it possible some day.

Sister Carol never told me why she thought it would be so difficult to have something like the Meeting in America. She just said that she found it difficult to find the words to describe her own experience.

On the following year I attended the Meeting for the first time. It seemed to me that the difficulty for a similar encounter in the United States was actually the price American Catholicism had paid to be accepted as compatible with American culture, especially its view of religious liberty. In order to be accepted as part of the American religious landscape, the Catholic Church had obscured that which distinguished Catholicism as totally different from other religious traditions. Before something like an “American Meeting” could take place, it would be necessary to educate American Catholics to understand the relation between faith, reason, and experience that had given birth to the meeting in Rimini.

On August 25, 2000 I invited two prominent American liberals to participate in the Meeting in an “Encounter with American Liberalism.” The two were Peter Beinart, at the time the editor of The New Republic, America’s most respected magazine of American liberal thought, and university professor Peter Berkowitz who was working on a book on Christianity and American liberalism. Both Beinart and Berkowitz are Jews. Beinart accepted the invitation to describe their experience at the Meeting in an article for Traces in which he explained why he thought it was difficult to imagine an “American Meeting.”

According to Beinart, the Meeting had three dimensions that in America were in fact experienced as incompatible. The Rimini Meeting was like a meeting of the “Christian Coalition,:” whose approach to faith and culture was defined by evangelical Protestantism. Rimini was also an uncompromising expression of Christian faith, but unlike evangelical Protestantism, this was not a defensive faith, but one apparently not afraid to be open to all authentic human experiences. As Berkowitz had told me, this was a Christianity not seen in America.

So much was this the case that the Meeting at times seemed like a meeting in America of The Modern Language Association, an organization diametrically opposed to any expression of faith. Like the Rimini Meeting, he said, this Association is known for its insistence on intellectual seriousness, so much so that Americans liberals outside the academic establishment often found it difficult to understand what they were talking about at their meetings!

Finally, Beinart wrote, the Rimini Meeting reminded him of the Epcot Center at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, featuring exhibits about all the countries of the world and the inventions of the future. Rimini was like Epcot in that it also was a “mass event” not associated with any side of the culture war.

The path to an American Rimini requires a method that will eliminate the incompatibility between these three dimensions: faith, intellectual rigor, and an orientation towards a truly human future. If this happens, he said, an American Meeting would make America a “richer, more vibrant, and more decent place as a result.”

Nine years later this has been happening in the United States, especially through the experience of our Crossroad cultural centers. This year in Rimini the presentation on America might well be called “An Encounter with American Conservatism.” If the participants have the same experience as the American Liberals, the “Rimini method” would have begun to bear fruit in the United States.

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."