Monday, December 5, 2011

Boston CL Advent Retreat

“You reach an age when you realize that life is a trajectory and you are a projectile.” Few events put on by Communion and Liberation (CL) yield such pithy formulations. A lot of the CL lingo strikes the newcomer and even some four-year veterans like myself as windy, abstract, tortuous. But then I don’t know too many CL people quite like Fr. Luca Brancolini FSCB, who guided the Boston CL Advent Retreat on Saturday in the parish hall of St. Raphael Church in West Medford.

With his whimsical eyes, his quick wit, and his take-no-prisoners wisdom, Father Luca is a younger, shorter version of Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, longtime CL “responsible” for the USA. He has shaved his beard since the pic here was taken, and he looks ten years younger still. I grabbed the image from the web site of The Newman School in Boston, where he teaches math and physics. FSCB stands for Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo, a CL-affiliated society of missionary priests who live in community together and work in parishes, schools, universities, and hospitals.

About a hundred adults gathered for the retreat. Father Luca spoke for nearly an hour, and my attention never flagged. I don’t want to try to synthesize his remarks, which I scribbled down as quickly as possible without any way of verifying the accuracy of my scribbles. But here are a few bullet points that struck me:
  • We have all had moments when we said, “Oh, my God,” and meant it; when we knew that God exists, when we felt Him working through us. At least those of us at the Advent retreat could say this. Otherwise, why were we there?
  • But after the first impact of this clear perception that God exists, the clarity decays. How can I rescue this fundamental movement from my moods, my temperament, my human limits? This is the question we all face if we want to live our Christian lives in their fullness.
  • Father Luca spoke of his first GS vacation in Italy over 30 years ago. (GS is CL for high school students.) After five minutes singing with 700 other young people, he thought, This is what I want. Perhaps his vocation was born at such moments. (He did not say this. I am interpolating.)
  • What can reawaken this experience? What—in the terminology that CL founder Luigi Giussani and current leader Julián Carrón both use—can reawaken the I? Father Luca said, “What is missing is the mystery of the I. God is not missing. Don’t blame him if you are asleep.”
  • Don Giussani, Father Luca said, always spoke of memory and desire. Sanctity, he said, was never giving up—failing, remembering, desiring, and trying again. 
  • What is this “missing” I? It is the I that says, “I am You who make me.” It is the I that comes alive in front of the circumstances given us to live. Father Luca talked of his experience as a high school teacher, coming to the end of a long week exhausted, and being confronted—at the gate of the school, just as he was about to go home for a badly needed rest—by a group of students who want to talk with him. This sort of encounter, unexpected, inconvenient, out of one’s control, is precisely the sort of circumstance to which He calls us, and in which the I can come awake. 
  • Having a relationship with one’s Creator—realizing that I am You who makes me—“allows me to enter into everything, makes me more interested in the details of life.”
  • A reformulation of some of these points: My I is my relationship with my Father, which passes through the people my Father has given me. My life has sense because of this. Yet usually I go through my life on autopilot, unaware, asleep. 
  • What we need in order to be awakened is a companionship, a company of people who decide to be together in a companionship. 
  • Can you be attentive? Look! Look! Wake up! Take life seriously. He is calling us. He is calling you.
These comments and others I missed were wrapped around some excerpts from the letters of Peter. With typical wit, Father Luca clarified that he was speaking of St. Peter, “for those of you who are scripturally challenged.”

CL is an ongoing challenge for me, as I have written before, but I think I understand its central challenge: to wake up to the presence of God in the circumstances of my everyday life.

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