Saturday, July 9, 2011
Coming Down from the Catskills
I had attended one CL Vacation before this, the 2009 edition at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire, a dreamy first encounter with the Movement on a regional level, one that I remember like a kid would a first visit to a Catholic theme park. Food, song, fellowship, fun! This year’s experience was of another order entirely, another intensity. For me, it began with a long build-up toward my presentation on Walt Whitman Monday evening, which I have already described.
Only then, on Tuesday, did the Vacation truly begin. That’s when the Long Hike was capped off by the arrival of Father Julián Carrón (pictured above) at suppertime. This month the world leader of Communion and Liberation is making a tour of U.S. communities, accompanied by national CL responsible Chris Bacich. Our Northeast Vacation was their first stop.
Here are a few lingering impressions and judgments from the four-day Vacation.
Many of us had the privilege of being introduced personally to Father Carrón. I’m sure others had the same impression I did when I talked with him briefly over breakfast on Wednesday: His presence is exceptionally warm and his gaze direct. I was aware that this presence and gaze had nothing whatsoever to do with me. Whether I was important or insignificant, whether I said something brilliant or stupid, he would have looked at me this way. In this sense, and it is a sense very real to me, his was the gaze of Christ.
In the Movement, we hear much talk of being a “protagonist.” After I made my presentation on Walt Whitman on Monday evening, a CL veteran told me I was becoming a “real protagonist.” But Father Carrón said something different. He said to us in the assembly on Thursday morning that Christ is the only real protagonist in our lives. All we can do is go to meet Him.
As Catholics, we also hear much talk of “life.” Life is at the heart of our doctrine. Life is central to Catholic ideology. But life, like faith, must be an experience. At the Vacation, I was plunged into a community of over 300 people, a majority of whom came as families. There were adults and children, very old people and unborn ones. As I noted previously, there were at least five children with Down syndrome. This was life—not just life without abortion or contraception (issues that we associate ideologically with life), but life in the faith, a faith lived, proving itself in the human face of this community. This was an indelibly beautiful experience for me, one that no circumstances can shake loose. Here life became a certainty.
I think that Father Carrón went easy on us too, when it came time for the Thursday morning assembly. I talked with others who, like me, have been following his School of Community notes from Milan, which have been such a help to us at the local level. In his home SoC, Carrón is not shy about telling people to shut up and sit down. Some of us shuddered to think that he might give us the same treatment. Here, however, at the Hudson Valley Resort, he gave each of us eight or ten people who spoke the same gaze he had given me at the breakfast table, as though each of us had said something brilliant, or stupid.
At that assembly, I spoke about my experience of presenting the Whitman piece, especially of my interactions with national CL leaders before the presentation and of a particular encounter made later, as a result of the presentation. But the moment at the assembly that most stuck with me was when Chris Bacich intervened with a question from his own professional life.
Chris is a high school history teacher, and like most good teachers, he enters the classroom every day with a plan—how he thinks things should go. Things never go this way, there are always surprises, and in these surprises, Chris said, he is aware that the Mystery is speaking to him and others. Yet he continues to plan and he continues to be disappointed when his plans misfire! This seemed to me a very good example of any habit we wish we could break. Our culture tells us to break such habits—through seven steps or twelve, through self-help or therapy or diet or something we do.
Father Carrón brushed this thought aside. The habit, he said, if I understood him correctly, is not important. What is important is our remaining available to the Mystery. We make a plan, then we remember to be open. The plan fails, and again we remember to be available. Again, again, again. This is the journey of faith, a continual prayer for openness, a prayer for the Mystery to penetrate our lives, not to mention our thick skulls.
Because the Incarnation is not just a historical event that came and went 2,000 years ago. It is happening today, in the history classroom. It is happening every time I open my laptop to write another post.