Monday, May 16, 2005

Communion & Liberation

As some of you know, I've had an interest in the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation for some time. That interest has (finally) translated into action, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss CL a bit from my perspective. First, though, I want to present CL's own self-understanding... the following is from last year's Special Edition of Traces, the movement's monthly magazine:
    What isCl

    Communion and Liberation is an ecclesial movement founded by Fr. Luigi Giussani. Its origins go back to 1954. It was born in the city of Milan and, after spreading quickly throughout Italy, is now present in about seventy countries on every continent.

    The essence of the charism given to CL can be indicated by three factors:

  • First, the announcement that God has become man (astonishment at it, the reasonableness of it, and enthusiasm for it): "the Word was made flesh and dwells among us."
  • Second, the affirmation that this man -- Jesus of Nazareth, died and risen -- is a present event in a "sign" of "communion," that is to say, the unity of a people guided, as a gurantee, by a living person, ultimately the Bishop of Rome.
  • And third, only in God made man, so in His presence, adn therefore, only, in some way, through teh tangible form of His presence (therefore ultimately only within the life of the Church) can man be more true and manking be truly more human. St. Gregory Nazienzen wrote, "If I weren't yours, O Christ, I would feel a finished creature." So it is from His presence that morality and passion for man's salvation (mission) spring up securely.
With these words, you, dear reader, know more about CL than I did after three years...

My introduction to CL was roundabout. During my second year of studies in Rome, I came across an article by Msgr. Luigi Giussani (the founder of CL) in the theological journal Communio. The article was entitled, "The Religious Sense," and in it Giussani set forth an explanation of how each one of us -- every human being -- is created with a "religious sense," a desire for the Infinite, that is, a desire for the Mystery that is God. Now, that is pretty straight-forward stuff -- St. Augustine said the same thing when he wrote, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." But there was something more to it, something in the way Giussani made his case that was especially attractive and appealing... something which I believed (and still believe) would resound especially for the modern human being.

All of this took place in the context of my discovery of some of the preeminent Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. I already knew of the stature of Pope John Paul II and (then) Cardinal Ratzinger, but it was only in my time in Rome that I became acquainted with Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar (among others, of course). In reading the work of these men, my previously-limited understanding of the faith was shattered... blown apart. I became aware of Catholicism's beauty (something which is still growing), as well as its ability and willingness to engage & assimilate the true, good, and beautiful wherever it is found and encountered (because where those transcendentals are, there is Jesus Christ, who is The Way, Truth, and Life). I could go on about the excitement of this discovery, but it would take me too far afield. The point here is that Giussani fit right in with that understanding, that vision.

However, that encounter was a fleeting one. Other than a quick glance at some of his published books, I didn't continue with his thought at the time. I did not pick up Giussani again for two years, when I was teaching at Steubenville, and found out that Regis Martin assigns The Religious Sense (Giussani's book on the topic) for his freshman course on Catholicism! I ended up buying Giussani's triology (of which The Religious Sense is the first volume), and read some other articles I found on him.

It was then that I found out that there was a movement around this guy, called Communion and Liberation. I'd heard of it before, but didn't know anything about it (like who the founder was). I was only struck by its name, which had for me -- and others -- a bit of a communist ring to it :-)

At this point, I put the brakes on again, but in a more deliberate fashion. I was still interested in Giussani's thought, but I had absolutely zero interest in joining a movement. Now, don't get me wrong: I have great esteem for the movements in the life of the Church, and admire the work of many of them. But for me, simply being Catholic was enough. I saw the movements as an "add-on," as something more than being "basic(ally) Catholic" (rather than as a way to live Catholicism).

When we moved to Sioux Falls, though, I found out that some friends in my hometown in central Minnesota had discovered the movement, and I took the opportunity to explore it a bit more, to try to answer this question: "why?" Why a movement? What's the goal? More importantly, what's the point?

Bringing this to a close (and omitting more details that I might include in another post in the future), over the course of the last two years, I've come to a deeper & deeper understanding of CL. For me, I see it as a movement that has something particularly important to offer the Church and the world in our time. CL has a way of presenting the faith that trascends the dichotomies of our age, of offering a way to live life that is integrated. CL in a particular way demonstrates that Christianity is about fulfilling the deepest desires of the human heart, that Jesus Christ alone is the answer to the cry of the human heart.

In CL, I have found a way of living the faith which is for me.

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