This is my second year attending the Fraternity Exercises of Communion and Liberation. Each year CL members worldwide convene in cities on six continents to watch and listen to videotape of Fr. Julián Carrón giving a series of “lessons.” Since the Spanish-born Carrón delivers his lessons in Italian, every non-Italian-speaking group listens to a translated voice-over while watching Carrón’s forcible facial expressions and body language. This takes some getting used to.
Last year, I was put off—for at least the first lesson. Then I stopped complaining, listened to the words, and let the image of Fr. Carrón play a sort of rhythmic accompaniment to the message. He is a powerful speaker and his gestures and sudden body lunges are like a drummer firing off rim shots and cymbal clashes to accent a steady backbeat.
Carrón is so powerful a speaker, in fact, that today I had the perverse impression that I was watching footage of some unknown Latin American dictator, with voice-over by CNN. But then I thought, no, that’s completely wrong. There is such kindness in his eyes.
In fact, this split between the physical Carrón and the disembodied voice in English provides a lesson itself. Words—a discourse—are never the point; the point is the witness of a being transformed by the presence of Christ. Whatever words the “Carrón voice” is saying—it could be the Gettysburg address—the presence of Carrón on screen, the kind eyes, the subtle smiles, the sudden bursts of passion, the pregnant pauses, all convey something that no words can. This morning he described the Apostle Andrew coming home to his wife and children after encountering Jesus, and hugging his wife as he never had before. “It was not a discourse!!” Fr. Carrón suddenly burst out. Nor are Fr. Carrón’s lessons!
I am sure that many CL lifers who mourned the death of Fr. Luigi Giussani in 2005 must have thought that no one could ever replace the founder of Communion & Liberation. But for me Giussani is to Carrón what Pope John Paul II is to Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict is the only Pope I have ever known as a Catholic (I converted in 2008), so although I know John Paul inspired millions, Benedict is my Pope. And so is Carrón my CL leader.
That doesn’t mean that he or CL is always easy to follow. But today’s first lesson (following last evening’s preamble) was powerful stuff, and it is still reverberating. I will try to summarize the lessons at a later time, but for now, here are a few quotable quotes—fragments of a weekend that has opened under bright skies here in northern New Jersey. Quotations are from my notes, not from an official transcript, and therefore should be taken as my impressions, not Carrón’s statements.
From last night—
Resurrection represents the fullness of our awareness of ourselves as Christians. It is the keystone of the relationship between me and myself, me and others, me and things. Yet, as Father Giussani says, Resurrection is the thing we flee from the most! We perceive it as an idea and reduce it to an abstraction.
It is customary to lay the blame on science for the defeat of religion in our times, but it would be more honest to blame religion, which has become insipid, irrelevant. It has become a consumer product, a form of entertainment. Nietzsche hit the mark. He said that Christianity has simply lost its appeal.
Christians must render the Living God visible to the world! But do we open to men access to God or do we hide it?
From this morning—
It is more interesting to be companions on a journey than accomplices in a temporary pleasure.
To suffer want, emptiness, boredom is the chief symptom of the grandeur of our human nature!
God is not missing. What is missing (to us) is the mystery of our own being. Thus, we don’t need Him, and we seek the answers where everyone else looks.
When we begin to understand the mystery of our being, we develop a capacity for judgment, we overcome confusion.