Yesterday I wrote that, for me, the 2011 Fraternity Exercises of Communion and Liberation were not like the typical retreat. I didn’t drive home wishing “the spell” would never wear off. I didn’t do a very good job of writing what the Exercises were like, or of explaining how Fr. Julián Carrón’s lessons concluded. I will try to do both here.
First, Saturday afternoon’s final lesson, videocast in the afternoon. Having spent the morning on the confusion of our I and what he called “the eternal mystery of our being,” which longs with nostalgia for a “You,” Carrón returned to a theme he has been stressing since we began reading The Religious Sense. Only Christ, only the Divine, can awaken our I. The true, essential dimensions of the human being can only be saved by their ultimate meaning. And we do not meet this ultimate meaning in a discourse or an analysis; we meet it only in an event, the Event of the Incarnation. Only an event awakens the I, said Carrón, repeating himself, not the “obstinacy to repeat certain formulas.” Christ is so correspondent to what I am at the core of my being that only when I find Him, do I fully understand what I lack.
Turning this around, Carrón said that one’s desire for ultimate meaning is the clearest sign of its existence, of the contemporaneousness of Christ; and “our reawakened humanity is the greatest apologetic of Christianity.”
At this point, Father Carrón read for the first of several times a testimony from Giorgio Vittadini, president of the Foundation for Subsidiarity and a CL luminary (though Vittadini would undoubtedly rebuff that bit of shorthand). Many years in the Movement of CL, Vittadini wrote that in the past six years, or since the death of Father Giussani, he has experienced a reawakening. “I thought that becoming mature [as a Christian] would stabilize me,” he wrote, and I am paraphrasing from notes. “Instead, I find that I am much more fragile, my wound is deeper, things and people upset me more, not less. I also understand that no one can answer this abyss except Someone.”
Christ, then, makes one more aware of one’s need, one’s wound, and only Christ can answer the need or offer true healing of the wound.
Carrón’s second point of the afternoon lesson was that the “powers that be” cannot stop our I from reawakening, but they can try to stop it in history, from lasting in time. They do so by “reducing our desires as soon as they are awakened.” The only way for the newness of our encounter with Christ to acquire a solidity that cannot be destroyed is for us to “follow a fascinating road.” Carrón quoted Father Giussani talking with college graduates. Expect a journey, he said, not a miracle that dodges responsibility or makes freedom mechanical. You cannot follow Christ, or the Movement, without a constant effort of understanding from within your own freedom. This is the journey, the road that stretches before us, on which we must constantly struggle to remain awake.
This warning resonated with me for the rest of the weekend, and left me with the realization that this retreat, atypically, would not be a “miracle,” it would not leave a “spell” on me. Rather, I was left with a wish, a need, a prayer that I might continue to follow this road—and this charism of Communion and Liberation.
“The journey to truth is an experience,” Father Giussani never tired of saying. “But how many of us are really engaged in an experience?” Father Carrón countered.
In the end, Carrón said, we can only remain on this road by following something higher than ourselves, by following an authority. St. Ambrose said, paradoxically, Ubi fides, ibi libertas. Where there is fidelity, there is freedom. When we think of ourselves as free of any authority, as the modern culture encourages us to do, we are in fact subject to the powers that be, a prey to “what’s fashionable.” Our true freedom comes only in fidelity, faith, following Christ. Freedom, said Father Carrón, is a “recognized dependence on God,” while slavery denies this relationship. . . .
As I wrote yesterday, I began nodding off about thirty minutes from the end of the lesson. Fortunately, the transcript will soon be available in English at the CL/US website. So you will not have to rely on my sketchy notes much longer.
On Saturday evening, we listened to four witnesses: Micah, a woman who considered an abortion but instead gave birth to a daughter two years ago; Monica, a teacher whose confrontation with her boss became a sign to her (and a bone of contention for others in Sunday morning’s assembly); Riro, who organizes the annual New York Encounter, a source of “great signs in my life,” he said; and Frank, whose testimony of being rescued from drug-addicted homelessness at the 2009 Northeast Vacation remains unforgettable for anyone who heard it, as did I. Now, two years later, Frank leads his School of Community in New York. “How to stay aware of this Presence?” Frank asked. “The words have to live inside of me. I have to do this work.”
And so do I, have to do this work, I thought, as I drove away from the Fraternity Exercises. The sense of one’s own need, which has deepened, I imagine, in each of us over this memorable weekend, is not something that can be made to disappear with a spell, with fairy dust, with the illusion of a miracle. The miracle we seek involves something much harder and much more graceful.