Sunday, December 18, 2011

CL Regional Assembly: Jesus is There

Yesterday evening, I attended a regional assembly of Communion and Liberation (CL) in an auditorium at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. An assembly is an opportunity for members of local groups (Schools of Community) to witness to each other how they are being changed by School of Community and by the Event that is Christ. The region in question is greater Boston and Cambridge. My friend Michael and I represented our group based north of the city.

The assembly was moderated by Boston “responsible” (area leader) Anujeet Sareen and Fr. Luca Brancolini FSCB, whom I have described recently. If Anujeet were not an alumnus of the school that is the bitter rival of my alma mater, I would describe him too.

But seriously.

After entering the auditorium in silence to taped classical music, we joined with two young singers and a guitarist as they led three folk songs, one in Spanish, one in Italian, one in English. Since I speak only English, I can report only on the last of the songs, “I Wonder.” It is the inspiration for the photo at the top of this post, in which yours truly wanders along the coast of Connemara in the West of Ireland. The first and third verses are:

I wonder as a I wander out under the sky,
That Jesus the Savior should come for to die
For poor hungry people like you and like I,
I wonder as I wander out under the sky. . . . 


If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing,
Of all of God’s angels in heaven for to sing
He surely could’ve had it ’cause he is the king.


In a session lasting 90 minutes, a dozen people rose, one by one, to speak of their experience. Periodically, Fr. Luca or Anujeet commented or probed the speaker with a question. One woman, a biomedical researcher, spoke of visiting an old-age home during a monthly gesture of charity by her School of Community. Another, a concert pianist and PhD candidate in music, described what had happened during a recent oral examination, a difficult recital in front of her advisors. Other speakers were a postdoctoral fellow in physics, an art teacher in elementary school, and a woman who recently came back into contact with a parent for the first time in thirty years.

In an early commentary, Anujeet, a high-level financial analyst who specializes in currency markets, responded to a question about the ideological dualism that we Americans are experiencing in this long pre–Presidential election season. He drew a parallel between the failure of our two-party politics and the financial crisis in Europe, where “both capitalism and communism have failed.” Anujeet asked, “How do we begin again in such a situation?”

After a few more speakers, I got up and took off from Anujeet’s observation. I said that in my personal life I am a writer, and that I write in two modes: for income and for faith (principally this blog). I made reference to a point in chapter 10 in The Religious Sense by Luigi Giussani, the idea that we all have an experience of being given, of life as a gift. I said that I recognized writing as such a gift. I did not mean that I am particularly gifted in the sense of brilliant. Instead, I said that when I write, I experience the writing as something given to me. These words I am writing here and now are not being constructed letter by letter, thought by thought, by a human thinking machine (me). They are literally coming to me as my fingers move. Science may explain this as a firing of neurons, but I experience it as extraordinary—when I pay attention to my experience.

I then noted that in my writing life, suspended between work that pays and writing pro bono, I find myself at a new and potentially threatening interval. Having just finished a major commission, I have nothing next. Since I have been writing for hire for 25 years now, I have contacts and former clients who can be counted on to link me to a network that may eventually lead to the next project, perhaps beginning in January, but for the moment, I find myself looking down into a chasm.

I would like to write for God. I need to write for food. And I have no immediate source of food in sight. What is my stance in front of this situation?

I then referred to chapter 12 in The Religious Sense, in which Giussani, after discussing reason for the first 11 chapters, takes up the subject of freedom. In The Religious Sense, reason and freedom are discussed as the two fundamental qualities of the human I, especially in its encounter with religious experience.

I said that although ordinarily, facing such a chasm in my professional life, I would be afraid, I do not feel the slightest fear over my current work situation. What I feel is free. I attributed this freedom to work in School of Community in our home group, particularly to the friendships that have arisen here, and more broadly to the Sacraments, the Church, my faith.

Several more speakers followed, then Father Luca offered some closing remarks. I am paraphrasing when “quoting” him here.

“What we need is a miracle,” he began, and I nodded, thinking of my situation. “A miracle is when you realize that an angel has come to you. I do not mean an angel flying around above you. I mean the sudden realization that there is a call, a provocation, a You that I can say yes to.”

Father Luca referred to an early witness, by the art teacher, in which the fruits of a yes given a year ago were showing themselves today: “One five-second yes opens up something that can work.”

He proposed that we look at our daily experience with a prayer: “Let the Miracle call me. God let me hear your voice in the circumstances of my life!”

After one more speaker, Father Luca closed with a story. He once presided at a wedding involving a Hindu family who knew little about Christianity. They asked him to show them around the cathedral where the wedding was taking place. With his sprightly, comic manner, Father Luca told us how he showed them the baptismal font, the candles, the art and statuary, and the overall floorplan. When the “tour” was completed, the Hindu mother said, “Thank you so much! But just one more question: What is the meaning of that little golden box over the altar?”

Father Luca laughed and slapped his forehead as he told this punchline. “Jesus is there!” he said, “If I just look at him, everything is there.”

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