'The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Tomb' by Eugene Burnand via Wikimedia Commons

Education and Mission

Cardinal George met the North American Responsibles of CL during the Diakonia in mid-January. His encounter with the Movement, Fr Giussani’s books, and faith in America:“Your communion is what makes people free.” Here are extensive excerpts from his talk.
Francis Cardinal George

I thank you for your life in the Church and your witness to the Lord, and I am grateful to be with you. The Movement became part of my understanding of the Graces in the Church, that the Lord calls forth to meet the demands of mission from time to time, when I was stationed in Rome, as part of the general government of my all-missionary congregation. I did not have a lot to do with CL directly, but I learned more when I came to Boston. As I read a little bit of Monsignor Giussani’s works and came to understand more about the charism, it struck me that here within the Church and within this Movement there was a dynamic and a certain concern that I had to grasp because I was involved in directing an international missionary order, and often I had to make the rounds from continent to continent. The discussions at night among the missionaries, the priests and brothers that were stationed in those countries, most of whom were not from those countries, used to center on the unity of the Church and the variety of cultures, the variety of faiths, and the way in which the faith is always incarnate, and yet is not simply collapsible into any particular culture, not even into the culture of the missionary who was coming into another culture to unite people to Christ in the faith.

Mutual support
I was looking at myself to bring things into this discussion, and I found much in the present Holy Father’s efforts to clarify the conversation between faith and culture. He has written much more on culture than any other Pope has–he is much more aware of the way in which faith and culture support one another, so much so that even if the Church is institutionally weak, nonetheless the mission will go on, and even if faith and culture do not support one another–as is to a great extent our history here in this country, even with strong institutions, which are the means that we put together in the last century, in the last two centuries, in order to maintain our faith in a sometimes hostile environment–even with those institutions without the culture, the faith is threatened and the mission is weak. Coming back to this country, I remembered that the dynamic of the conversation between faith and culture, nonetheless was best represented in the Church in my experience with Communion and Liberation. So I am grateful for your bringing that conversation into the communion of the Church here in this country. Your very title seems to me to be a challenge and yet it is set in such a way that people will raise questions instead of being put off. That is, the relation between communion and liberation is that your relationship, your communion, is what sets people free. That, of course, is a statement that is controversial in a very individualistic environment, such as ours. Relationships are not things that set people free–they are things that you cut off in order to free yourself, where the personality is defined in terms of autonomy. That very Catholic insight into the fact of this relationship that really sets us free is carried by your very title and also by your life and your actions. But this controversial statement is one that is not understood and is very often resisted. Nonetheless, it is one of the hearts of that conversation between faith and culture, anywhere in the world, that the new relationship that transforms one’s life (when he or she is introduced to the Lord), is a way of liberating oneself from sin, first of all, but also from everything that limits one’s participation in society. I am very grateful; I appreciated what was said in the beginning by Monsignor Albacete–I usually appreciate what he says, even though at times I would not let him know that.

Continuity with the past
In the ecclesial communion, which is Catholic, the role of the bishop is precisely to not be a manager in any sense, although this is part of the job, particularly in a bureaucratized society as our own, where you have to incorporate in order to be visible. Nonetheless, the point of the Episcopal Office’s relationship is relationship with the past, so there is a visible continuity with the apostolic Church and then universal communion in the present so that, through the visible communion of bishops, among one another, Catholics in the various parts of the world are united through the communion of the Episcopal College. When that office is weakened, as it is right now in this country (partly because of our own fault, partly for other reasons), then the Church is in great danger, because relationships are tenuous and in danger of being dissolved. This is understood in a certain way by many secularist people and by other people that dislike the Church, who feel that if you weaken the episcopacy then you will destroy the Catholic Church. That’s why early on in this controversy, degenerated by the great scandal, by the shameful actions that place us in the position we are in now, it was said in major papers (such as the New York Times) that the point is not that individual priests have sinned, terrible as it is, but rather that bishops are negligent and they will pay in the long run–not only all the bishops, but particularly the Bishop of Rome. How Roman are American Catholics, knowing that, going back to the beginning of the 19th century, the connection with Rome is the one that most distinguishes Catholics in many ways from other Christians, and it is the connection that is most resented by other Christians and by secularists, and which is under attack? But for us, it is communion that makes us liberated people, and it is in some ways more clear in the bishops; in other ways it is more clear in movements such as yours, which the Spirit calls forth to answer a particular problem in a particular time. In this environment and in this time, I think you are a gift of the Spirit to us.

A matter of education
If we say that relationships set us free, then the task of one’s life is to grow into the relationships that are given; friendship is chosen, but there are relationships that are deeper than friendship–they are simply given in a family, through baptism, etc, that in our life we grow to understand, although we never exhaust them. In order to understand, we have to see and to hear, and this is a matter of education, of pointing out things that people would not see otherwise, that they would not be able to hear without people telling them to listen. So education is at the center of your understanding of your mission–this is what I first came upon with Comunione e Liberazione in Italy and that I continued to see in Boston. I am very glad that the need for education is not only recognized in your own lives, but also, at this point in the Church, is now able to be taken into high schools and into parishes. I really am grateful because I think this is where the Holy Spirit is leading you for the sake of the Church. We have been through 30 years, aware that education in the faith, catechism, has been weak. The archdioceses were convinced that nothing before the Second Vatican Council was of great importance, so they burned most of the catechetical texts. These were very good texts that I studied when I was a boy, texts that I can still recall, texts that were created in order to bring, especially in Chicago, faith and freedom into dialogue. Growing up here, there was and is a difference in Midwestern Catholicism. We were here first, unlike on the East Coast where the Catholics came 200 years later into a very organized Protestant society. The first people who were here after the native people were the French missionaries and explorers, Marquette and Giulliet. The first settler in Chicago was a Catholic, Jean Baptist Du Sable, who came from Santo Domingo.

“Soft” Catholicism
The official history kind of suppressed his presence and emphasized other more Anglo-Saxon Protestant names. There has been, however, a gradual recovery of the fact that, as long as there has been an organized society, the Catholic Church has been here and that has resulted in a more relaxed and perhaps a little less defensive form of Catholicism. This has been good; we grew up with the idea that there is no conflict between the Catholic faith and American freedom. We even read a history book in school called Faith and Freedom. The kind of easy assurance that was ours in the ’40’s and ’50’s is now considerably less easily asserted, as American freedom has dissolved into autonomy based upon individual choices. Nonetheless, it has created a Church that is somehow a home in the society, but with the danger of feeling too much at home. On the other hand, this means that you expect to be part of public life and you just take it for granted, and many others do as well. However, the Church is not as active as it used to be, because Catholic education has been so bad. Those books were destroyed as a sign that we were in a new age in a new moment, but in that enthusiasm to move beyond the old, there was not the same care about what was going to be new. In fact, the lack of books, the lack of texts, even in the seminary, resulted in the fact that faith was not carried on in its tradition, but only as an experience and, no matter how you trace your experience, you are not going to find that God is one in three persons, that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a Son, who is the eternal Son of God. You have to think about that.

The past thirty years
Faith is precisely what has been weakened and so, to some extent, in a place such as Chicago we have seen the dissolution of visible Catholicism in the last 30 years. The movements in the parishes that existed before the Council remained and the parishes are strong in many ways. However, the movements are not there in the same way, and the new movements–the lay movements that the Church has watched growing up under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, like yours–are not as visible, sometimes by their nature (being more anonymous), and also sometimes they are not understood and trusted by the pastors (and this is somehow the weakness of the local Church in this moment). That is why I asked the post-Vatican movements to try to make themselves known to the priests, so that they can trust and so that the great Grace that the Spirit is giving to the Church in the lay movements since the Second Council can flourish also in the local Church with its own history and with its own way to go. Seeing and hearing is part of education, what is necessary for a life of faith. It is a very conservative society where, if something is going wrong, somebody has to pay. It’s as if nothing should go wrong. Furthermore, we are not open to actions that are not planned; we are not able to recognize, to be surprised, when the Holy Spirit always brings novelty. Things must always remain the same. That is why, when a disaster happens, everybody assures us that we have not to worry, we will put everything back together. This is why the people that run society are insurance people and lawyers; we have to check everything with those people, because if there is something that has not been planned, then somebody is at fault and is going to pay for it. This is even true of God–there is a great resentment about God Himself being active; you can talk about God as much as you want, as a great goal of one’s particular experiences, and you can talk about God as the best in human nature or in human experience. But you cannot talk about God that breaks into history with a surprise, making all things new and changed. This God is resented, and deeply so.

I was recently with a group of young people, post-college professionals, for the most part, having a very interesting discussion; I was glad to have that conversation. They asked me, “Why should I be Catholic? Since it is not very acceptable these days, and it is hard to live it in your professional life…” The answer is, “Because God wants you to be Catholic.” The response after saying that was, “How dare you say that? How do you know what God wants?”

Nonetheless, He does act, but you have to be educated to see it and to hear it. You here are much a part of this education in the Church and I am grateful for that. So, thank you for being here, with this way of living and being together. This way of relating with the Lord is evangelization. We use all kinds of things for evangelization, everything we do–in which case, it means nothing; you are evangelizing truly because the heart of it is to bring people to a relationship and into communion with Christ and, through Him, with one another, therefore liberating us and setting us free. I thank you very much and I hope that you will try to increase here in Chicago. God bless you.

(Transcript of notes not reviewed by the author)