Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thanks Again to CL, A Charism for Our Times

I was talking with a friend at breakfast the other day, and we were talking about Communion and Liberation (CL), the ecclesial movement in which we both take part. A thought jumped to the tip of my tongue, then out into the room. And as thoughts can do, it is still knocking around in my head. My friend was asking why the readings for CL are so obtuse. And of course he's right. Reading the books of Father Luigi Giussani (left with JPII) is a challenge not only to the intellect but also to the compassion. I mean, why can't he just come out and say it?!

There are mitigating circumstances. The book we are reading now is a transcript of Giussani's meetings with students and was translated from Italian. So, in addition to the things that inevitably get lost in any translation, we're coping with the loss of hand gestures, winks, eye rolls, changes of modulation, not to mention inside jokes and information, which are present in any improvised discourse. So our CL readings require intellectual perseverance. To understand them, I think one must study them three or four times, thoughtfully, carefully.

Representatives of CL that I have met and admired have the brain power to do this. They are not stupid. Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, the CL "Responsible" for the US has called CL "Opus Dei for bad people." He did not say dumb people. Among my CL friends are Ph.D's in history and music theory, graduate fellows at leading academic medical centers, computer whizzes. Albacete himself is a scientist who publishes op-ed pieces in the New York Times.

Which has led me to ask why. Why this charism for our times?

The leaders of CL (including el jefe since Don Giussani's death, Fr. Julian Carron) are fond of quoting Dostoevsky, who said that the real question with Christianity today is, "Can an educated man of our times truly believe in the Son of God, Jesus Christ?"

The Dostoevsky quote popped up again this week in a passage we are reading for our School of Community (local meeting) on Friday evening. And here's where my mind seems to have made a connection, which instantly popped onto my tongue. I said to my friend at breakfast:

"Let's look at the Franciscans. What is their charism? Poverty. Francis came into the world at a time of great power and corruption in the Church, and what was the antidote provided by the Holy Spirit? Poverty. 'Francis, repair my Church, which you see is in ruins!' Poverty was the hammer in Francis's tool kit.

"Now we have a new charism brought by Don Giussani (and, no, I'm not canonizing him, nor would he want to be canonized, I imagine). What is the charism of CL? I'm not qualified to answer this question, but the words were already on my tongue and out onto the breakfast table: The charism of CL is reason."

CL says that faith is anything but blind, that faith is eminently reasonable. In other words, CL meets the intellectuality of our current culture—great-grandchild of the Enlightenment—on its own terms. Don Giussani seems to have understood that he was dealing with (that the Christian message had to made convincing to) educated Western man. His charism, then, was reason, the only effective hammer for our times.

I sent one of my Italian CL friends, call him "Z," a link to a recent post I wrote about a Nobel Prize-winner. I recounted how the Nobel laureate claimed, with Laplace, that "God is an unnecessary hypothesis." This is what Z wrote back:

my understanding is the opposite: you cannot be a scientist without acknowledging the Mystery, God
This is quite impressive, it is a matter of reason... these people unfortunately they lost their reason, it is not that they do not have a heart only, but they lost their reason,,.... why? when you give a small present to a kid he asks you why? the normal trajectory of reason is cut:
Who was it who said that God is an unnecessary hypothesis? these people may have a repulsion to the term God... because unfortunately (this is a problem of ours, the church and the believers) in the way the word God is used it means you need to forget your reason...
if reality is not a Mystery what does science study? what do you study? just processes of nature?? if this is what really is... why is the Nobel prize for science so unbelievable great? It is great because science studies the unknown... but reality is a sign of a greater Unknown... to be human being, to be a scientist you cant escape this question, otherwise you are a dead man.... not only the heart is dead but reason is dead. ciao and talk soon.... i have so much to tell you about, ciao

Now that you've read Z's e-mail, you have some idea what it is like to read Don Giussani. Which I must do again before tomorrow's School of Community. But, I mean, one ciao is enough, isn't it?!

FOOTNOTE: This post is the product of my own judgment and in no way represents official CL teaching brought by Don Giussani. But no worries. If I have misrepresented CL here, I expect Z will let me know.