Sunday, May 29, 2011

Peter’s First Choice

We all know that the Apostle Peter made some mistakes. Most famously, he denied Jesus three times. He also said some stupid things. But what if Peter had not followed Jesus? What if he had drawn a few lessons from his first encounters with Christ and then returned to fishing, applying the lessons learned to make himself a better fisherman? Then Peter would have been just like us. Instead, Peter left his home and family to follow Jesus.

This point was driven home yesterday afternoon at the Boston Regional Assembly of Communion and Liberation held at MIT. Moderating the assembly were Fr. José Medina FCSB and Anujeet Sareen. Several of us who spoke had attended last weekend’s CL Fraternity Exercises in New Jersey, and we reported on striking experiences there. I noted that, unlike previous religious retreats, the Fraternity Exercises had not left me with a “magical” feeling that I did not want to end; rather, they made me realize that I was on a long journey. As Father Julián Carrón said last weekend, “It is more interesting to be companions on a journey than accomplices in a temporary pleasure.”

Father José pressed those of us who talked about why, in particular, we valued our experience at the Fraternity Exercises. What did we see there that is more important than many other experiences of our daily lives? We did our best to put words to the facts: a love that is supremely valuable, a gaze that penetrates us, the Presence of Christ. A couple of us noted the conflict that follows such an experience, when one returns to one’s home, family, work, and stubs one’s toes again on daily life. We are left with a contradiction. We experience Christ as joy, but our daily life provokes us with its constant challenges, annoyances, tragedies, ups and downs. What can we do about this?

Father José said that when we have such an experience, “we immediately move our gaze from what happened to us to what we’re going to do about it.” One woman called this “translating our experience of Christ into a to-do list.” I thought of so much that passes for spirituality or self-help today: we read books, take seminars, go on retreats so that we can return home and be more effective, productive—so that we can run through our to-do lists faster, better, with higher profits and romantic satisfaction.

But this completely misses the point and drops the experience. There is another way to reenter our lives, especially for those of us who have commitments, who can’t follow Peter away out of the home and into a full-time companionship with Christ. Father José called this begging, wishing, praying for this experience of Christ to come again, in the midst of our dailiness. Our starting point, our motivation, then, is not to accomplish something but “to see Him again.”

We feel “allergic” to this approach, Father José said, because we think it is self-centered, when in fact we are not comfortable living our lives around a new center. To live our lives as beggars is scary; we’re much more comfortable as doers. At least, I thought, it gives us the illusion of control. Yet finally, the priest noted, a Christ-centered life is more alive, productive, and full of gladness. You love your spouse and children more, not less, because they are signs of Christ’s love for you.

We do not know if and when Peter returned home to his wife and children after his first encounter with Christ, and his leaving to follow Christ certainly must have caused consternation to his family, friends, and fellow fishermen. But it seems a certainty that, when he did return to them, as he must have done, their own lives were transformed.

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