Saturday, September 26, 2009

Me, too


From the dotCommonweal blog:

The Movement That Moves Me

Posted by Gregory Wolfe

I believe it was Matthew Boudway who a few weeks ago posted a couple quotations and asked us to guess who had penned them.

One of the two struck me forcefully. A brief excerpt: “It is false to the point of absurdity to see in a ‘belief,’ perchance the belief in redemption through Christ, the distinguishing characteristic of the Christian: only Christian practice, a life such as he who died on the cross lived, is Christian…. States of consciousness, beliefs of any kind, holding something to be true for example — every psychologist knows this — are a matter of complete indifference and of the fifth rank compared with the value of the instincts…. To reduce being a Christian, Christianness, to a holding of something to be true, to a mere phenomenality of consciousness, means to negate Christianness.”

The author was Friedrich Nietzsche, but the person it made me think of was Luigi Giussani (1923-2005), founder of the lay movement Communion & Liberation (CL).

All this by way of preface to the following statement: I’m coming out of the closet. I belong to CL.

I don’t know why I’ve been so shy about sharing this fact about me, given its centrality in my life. Part of it stems, I suspect, from an awareness that lay movements have occasionally been marred by scandals. Another element of my shyness probably has to do with the way that lay movements are so often interpreted in political terms — as being either conservative or liberal. A final element may simply have to do with the general ignorance on the part of most American Catholics about movements; they’re perceived by many still as somehow a church within the Church, a threat to parish life, etc.

In short, I’m afraid of being pigeonholed.

But back to Nietzsche. His words reminded me of these words from Msgr. Giussani: “Christianity is an event. There is no other word to indicate its nature: neither the word law nor the word ideology, conception, or project. Christianity is not a religious doctrine, a series of moral laws, a complex of rites. Christianity is a fact, an event: everything else is a consequence.”

This insight is what drew me to CL and makes the movement such a vital part of my life. It’s also what attracted Joseph Ratzinger, who became quite close to Giussani and preached his funeral in Milan. As Benedict XVI, he has regularly made statements that closely parallel those of Giussani, such as these words from Deus Caritas Est: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

There’s much more I could say, but I’ll leave it at that. I happen to think that lay movements are going to be an important part of the Church’s life in the coming decades, though individualistic Americans have been slow to understand and join them.

I’m curious what people thing, not so much of CL in particular, as of movements themselves. I welcome your thoughts.


Thank you, Scott, for mentioning it so that I could find it!

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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."