Monday, June 9, 2014

Every Single Gesture

Giotto, Presentation in the Temple (detail), Scrovegni Chapel

Thus the fundamental question is this: what is the essential for us? The essential is that  which answers the question about how one can live. What is the essential for each one of  us? No question is more pertinent as we begin our Spiritual Exercises, precisely because it is so radical. “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.” These words of Jesus tell us that each of us can affirm only one thing as ultimate, so unavoidable is the unity of the human “I”. For this reason, in the face of the provocations of life, each of us is forced to decide what ultimate thing she or he prizes more than any other. The impact of circumstances leaves us no way out; it forces us to reveal what we hold dearest. How can we discover what the essential is for us, without self-deception? Once again, Fr. Giussani taught us the method: observing ourselves in action, in experience, because “the factors that constitute humanity are perceived [and we become conscious of them] when they are engaged in action - otherwise they are not noticeable. […] The more one is involved with life, the more one also, even within a single experience, comes to know the very factors of life itself. Life is a web of events and encounters which provoke the conscience, producing all different kinds of problems. But a problem is nothing other than the dynamic expression of a reaction in the face of these encounters. Life, then, is a series of problems, its fabric made up of reactions to encounters that are provocative to a greater or lesser extent. Discovering the meaning of life - or the most pertinent and important things in life - is a goal which is possible only for the individual who is involved with life seriously, its events, encounters, and problems. Being involved with life does not mean an exasperated entanglement with one or another of life’s aspects; it is never partial. Rather, one must live one’s engagement with life’s various facets as a consequence of a global involvement with life itself. Otherwise, one’s engagement risks being partial, without equilibrium, existence possibly becoming a fixation or an hysteria. To paraphrase a saying of Chesterton, ‘Error is a truth gone mad.’” For this reason, “in order for us to be able to discover within ourselves the existence and nature of such a crucial and decisive a factor as the religious sense, we must commit ourselves to our whole life. This includes everything - love, [work], study, politics, money, even food and rest, excluding nothing, neither friendship, nor hope, nor pardon, nor anger, nor patience. Within every single gesture lies a step towards our own destiny.”
Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, Fr. Julián Carrón
Wow - observing oneself in action can sometimes be very difficult. Just today, I (basically) told a good friend to "shut up", and later I said something very unkind about someone I love very much. Then I came up with a plausible excuse for my behavior. But I can even see, in my tendency to allow these faults to define me, "a truth gone mad" because these were not the only things that happened today. Looking at the whole day, I also see that Christ came to meet me over and over again: the moment when Sylvie brought me a fresh cup of tea, Serena's loveliness in her new blue dress, running into Marg in the Church parking lot and hearing her speak about how she loved her experience at School of Community, then seeing Connie and John with all their good humor, the glorious surprise of Monsignor Cornelius not only presiding at Mass but also giving an out-of-the-ballpark homily, that second reading (!!), Emily coming to help me when I called, Krista's prompt response to my need, Robyn's painful situation and her request for prayer, Hank's faithfulness, the faces of our Pittsburgh friends (all of you), getting to sing with them (!), Lucia's beautiful eyes, even the rain and the woods and the two together, Stephen cooking dinner... There is so much beauty in my life. My sin is so small and stupid in front of the exquisite glory that comes looking for me every day. And if I'm honest about myself-in-action, there's no denying my distraction, stupidity, and meanness, but these are not the whole of it. I did enjoy Him. I even embraced Him. These faces from which He smiled at me with so much love are so dear. Please let these moments take over and sweep the rest away! 

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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."