Monday, October 10, 2011

An Encounter at the Crossroads

The cultural wing (arm? division?) of Communion and Liberation in the USA is known as Crossroads. Saturday evening in New York City, I attended a Crossroads event at the splendid St. Catherine of Siena Church (1st Avenue & 68th Street, photo left). I ran into CL friends Marta, Tom, and Paul and saw others at a distance, and I had the opportunity to see for the first time (others had seen in multiple times) a documentary film on the life of CL founder Luigi Giussani (1922–2005) entitled “An Extraordinary Life.”

But for me the most striking moments of the evening came afterward, when Fr. Peter Cameron O.P. spoke briefly about CL. Cameron is editor of Magnificat magazine and (as seen in this link) a key player in the Blackfriars Repertory Theatre. As an admirer of the Order of Preachers and as a one-time “next great Hamlet” myself, I have an affinity for anyone who simultaneously bills himself as a Catholic, a Dominican, a playwright, and a director. Cameron is all four.

Standing at a lectern to the left of the altar, wearing the white habit of the Dominicans, and speaking simply, without histrionics, Cameron told how he encountered the movement of Communion and Liberation. I will summarize some of his remarks here, hoping not to butcher them.

In the midst of what he termed a “successful” career as a young Dominican, Cameron felt a surprising sadness, a loneliness in his life that he didn’t understand. “I was looking for something more,” he said. “I think I was beginning to forget Christ.” Compounding this sadness was a dismay that other people in his life didn’t seem to be going through the same turmoil. Why weren’t they experiencing the same sense of loss, why did they not have the same thirst? Was Cameron just being selfish? Disordered? Did he need to see a therapist?

“At that moment,” he said, “Christ put someone in my life, a student, a seminarian.” Cameron was a teacher of preaching at a Dominican seminary where, he said with a smile, the homilies are not usually too good, “for very explainable reasons.” But this seminarian’s homily was “astonishing, and not simply because it was rhetorically sound and intellectually astute, but there was something about it that could not be explained away.”

Cameron (left) asked the seminarian how he was able to deliver such a homily. The seminarian answered, “I follow the movement of Communion & Liberation, and what you heard is the life I am following.” Cameron asked to be introduced to the Movement, and his interest grew when, later, he also met a poet, and then a musician, both of whom impressed him as the seminarian did. Both were following CL.

“So I went to a CL Vacation,” Cameron said, “and experienced this wondrous beauty of Christ as it was lived in the oneness of these people together.”

Cameron noted something I have found myself: There are not two people in CL who are exactly alike. CL people are not “cookie cutter Catholics.” Said Cameron, “To be in a place with people so distinctive in personalities, so normal (not something you will always find when you get Catholics together) and so full of gladness, was for me a kind of miracle.

“In this way, Christ lifted my sadness.”

Moving beyond his personal experience, Cameron asked if CL is relevant for the Church at this moment in the USA. “I have to say with all my heart, Absolutely, it is,” he said. There is a moment in the film “Extraordinary Life,” when someone asks Giussani why so many people were waiting to hear him speak. “Because I believe in what I say,” Giussani says.

Said Cameron, “Have you ever met a person like that?! I have very rarely, but I have in the Movement. That’s exactly what the beating heart of the Catholic Church in the USA is dying for right now—to meet a Catholic who believes what he or she says, who looks at Christ without being ashamed of him. There is a terrible lack of belief in every arena today. Conviction and certainty are rare. No one likes to have the truth put in front of them, but without that certainty we wilt.” 

CL, Cameron said, speaks the truth “in a way that is not dogmatic, in the worst sense of that word.” Giussani, he said, understood how Christianity has to be proposed. It begins not with doctrine but with the needs of our humanity.

The Church, Cameron said, exists precisely for this purpose—to educate people to the religious sense. Cameron said that the Movement is poised to make an exceptional contribution in the months and years ahead as the Holy Father asks for a “New Evangelization.” On the Council for a New Evangelization, one of the consultants is Fr. Julián Carron, Giussani’s successor as world head of CL.

In Verbum Domini Pope Benedict said that homilies have become too generic, too abstract. Cameron said, “What can change that but beauty that takes the form not of an idea but of a friendship. CL is simply that.

“If this film proves anything, it proves that.”

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