Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Time and Memory: Encountering a New Humanity (Part 2)

I want to remember again those days, weeks, and months from thirty years ago.

Many of the things I remember from the year 1990 impress upon me a sense of nostalgia. They seem recent and familiar, but then distant and antiquated. There is a spectrum of memories of places, environments, music, work, books, theories, news, political problems, weather - sights, sounds, smells, feelings of expectation, enthusiasm, accomplishment, dread, embarassment, boredom.

I feel like I can practically inhabit my skin from back then, and yet ... where did it all go? It's so "strange," this business of being human. What is time and memory? What is this "me" through which so much passes and apparently vanishes and yet also somehow "remains"? And time keeps going on and on, and the person reaches out for things, gains them, loses them, begins again, has sorrows and joys, and always yearns for more, and then ... dies?

Maybe we appeal to belief in the immortality of the soul and "the afterlife" - okay, but what is all the hum and scrum and bother of this life all about? Does it really matter? The sage and the cynic say, "no," but for different reasons. We look to religion to tell us the things that do matter in this life, and we feel like we can come away with a (hopefully manageable) "list of things that matter." But then it seems we are left with "the-other-99%-of-life" to fiddle around with, scramble through, or endure aimlessly ... But then why do we find so much in life fascinating? Why do there seem to be so many "important things" in this (utterly?) perishable world? And why are even the little peculiarities so endearing?

The would-be "religious person" might be tempted to try to check off the boxes on the list of obligations and prohibitions, and then - with regard to the rest of life in this world - stay disengaged, cold, "safe," mediocre (this is a caricature of a genuine religious attitude, of course, but it's easy to slip into it).

Why am I alive in this world? The particularities of time and memory, aspirations and disappointments, people and relationships, eating and drinking, living and dying - what is the point of all of it? How is it connected to my ultimate destiny? Why does the past still move me as if it is not yet fulfilled (or disturb me as ruptured and in need of healing)? If we are made for happiness, why must we pass through so much suffering?

There are responses to these questions that, after more than half a century of living, I can articulate in various ways (from the Catechism, from theology, from philosophy) and those articulations do matter very much. But words alone are not enough, because these questions remain on an existential and personal level. That is to say, they come from "the guts" of my life and they indicate the mystery of who I am and what reality is, the mystery that is intimate yet elusive, and that moves me to continue in the hope that things do "fit together" in the end, that "all of it" has meaning.

And, one more question: "What does all of this have to do with 1990 in particular?" Well, something happened to me in that year. It wasn't that I "found answers" that removed the drama from, or neutralized, these questions. Rather, I found help in "living these questions" within my faith, within my relationship with Jesus Christ. I found a place where, even now, I can continue to face these questions with greater intensity...

Central to my life is this "relationship with Jesus Christ," because it isn't a thought subject to my control that gives meaning to everything in my life. It isn't an ideology that gives meaning to my life.

It is a Person. Life is about a relationship with a Person I encounter in my own history. The Mystery who is the Source of all reality and the Source of me - who is "within" me and "beyond" me in a manner I cannot comprehend - has come to meet me and be present in my life, to reveal Himself as my destiny and my life as a journey toward His fullness, a journey in which He accompanies me.

The Mystery became flesh, so that He could look upon me with a human face and love me and engage my life with human gestures. This is Jesus Christ living and acting through His people, the Church - Jesus drawn close to my humanity, "dwelling" with me (and there is room for every aspect of Catholic ecclesiology here).

He entered the history of my life in an original and unrepeatable way on March 10, 1963 - the day of my baptism. It is an encounter that has deepened in many significant ways over the years. In 1990, I was renewed in this meeting with Him through a group of friends who were then at Catholic University of America. They have helped me, and continue to help me to journey with Jesus in the Church and to hope for the fulfillment and transformation of the whole of my life. With them I learned to seek the face of Jesus and to ask to discover anew His companionship through all of the persons He has entrusted to me, in all of the places and circumstances of my life each day.

To ask for the grace to recognize Him, remember Him, trust in Him... more and more: this is the way of living and praying and following Him that I began to learn in a very particular way in 1990. Though I have learned very little, forgotten too much and too often, and have not been very coherent with what it proposes, it remains my way even now.

Thus, over the past thirty years I have belonged to the "ecclesial movement" founded by Monsignor Luigi Giussani that is called (in English) Communion and Liberation. If you have heard of it, you might be wondering, "Oh, is that still around?"

Well, I'm happy to say that CL is still very much around.

It has been a long time since the days when the once-"new" predominantly lay movements and groups were getting lots of attention and even enthusiasm from the Catholic press. A lot has happened since those days. We have indeed learned that not all that was "glittering" in the Church at that time was in fact "gold."

But there was much that was (and remains) good and genuine and constructive to the witness of the Church. The Holy Spirit poured out abundant gifts on God's people during the past century - gifts that were profoundly suited to the unprecedented times of the emerging global epoch and the evangelical renewal proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council.

Some of these "charisms" have generated new religious congregations or other specifically structured forms of supporting Christian life and witness into the new millennium. Others have brought about certains "styles" or accents of Spirit-filled living within a variety of diverse contexts. These latter tended (in varying degrees) to involve more flexible organization, different levels of commitment, and a very wide scope for the drama of our human freedom and responsibility which are personally attracted, engaged, and offered possibilities by the mysterious workings of God's grace.

CL is definitely in this latter category of charisms. This does not imply that it is not challenging and awesome and "demanding" - we are, as I said, talking about a way of living our relationship with Jesus.

It is a great way, that provokes every aspect of life, but it does so with immense respect for freedom and the dignity of the person along with an abundant witness to the forgiveness and mercy of Christ.

Thus even with all my negligence and incoherence, I find that it is possible for me to stay. It is even possible to be changed, slowly, beyond the stiffness of all my anxieties and the clenched teeth of all my stubbornness.

[ be continued.]