The Brooklyn Bridge. Wikimedia Commons

A New Person, a New People

More than 300 responsibles from the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico gathered in New York to go deeper into the Movement’s proposal...
Barbara Gagliotti

More than 300 responsibles from the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico gathered in New York to go deeper into the Movement’s proposal. Amidst meetings, assemblies, and testimonies, there was a challenge for everyone: only if Christianity is interesting for everyday life can we adhere to faith and face every circumstance without censuring our humanity.

It is Martin Luther King weekend, a three-day holiday which honors the great Civil Rights leader of the 1960s. We manage to beat the mass exodus out of the nation’s capital, crazy even on a typical Friday, and head up I-95 toward New York. Later that evening, at the registration desk of the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City, I’m handed an envelope containing a MetroCard, a ticket to the Saturday night showing of the classic silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc in the Broadway theater district, and a badge reading, North American Diaconia 2010. It’s still early and a much welcomed thaw in the arctic temperatures that had gripped the continent allows us to drink in a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline from the landing on the hotel’s waterfront. Yet, make no mistake, “We’re not on vacation, I’m sorry,” jabs Carrón. “This is a moment of work. Our purpose is to understand and deepen the proposal that the Movement is making to all of us now,” and we sit up in our seats in eager expectation.

So begins the annual gathering of adults and college students from Canada and the United States, with 325 leaders of the various CL communities representing 5 provinces and 34 states, in addition to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Fr. Carrón briefly retraces the fundamental steps of the past three years, reminding us that work means to bring all our questions, and the things that “block” us to the floor. “I do not need to explain to you your circumstances–you suffer them, you live them.” The challenge was clear to all: either Christianity is interesting for life and can introduce some newness into the way we live–either it can help us deal with our real problems–or we have no reason to adhere to the Christian faith.

No fix necessary. The following morning, Chris Bacich, head of the communities in the U.S., leads the charge: “You talked about the fact that so often our uneasiness is faced as something to get rid of or medicate.” He confessed that even after 20 years in the Movement, the idea that something should still be lacking meant that there was something wrong with him–or wrong with the Movement. Instinctively, we all feel that the most beautiful thing that we’ve met should be able to heal this wound, fix the problem, but, instead, Carrón has continuously told us the opposite, which is that Christ opens the wound. “If this wound belongs to the nature of man,” bellows Carrón in his recently improved English, “there is nothing wrong. Man is this constitutive relationship with the Mystery. And if this is true, there is no doctor that can heal this illness, because there is no illness. The only answer to this question is in a relationship with somebody who is so great, so infinite, that it could only be the Mystery.” Carrón referred to discussions he was having with those thinking about vocation. He said that the first symptom–sticking with the medical analogy–that someone is called to dedicate their lives is that the presence of Christ opens, renews, and invades all of life; Christ has the capacity to make a person what he really is: open. Instead, what is our temptation after this initial, brutally honest, experience? We are afraid of the greatness of our desire and the possibility that an answer might truly exist, so we try to reduce it. “If we’re really sure He’s with us, we don’t need to be fixed. We need to be needy in this relationship in order to experience this fullness. Otherwise, we cannot understand what the human person means and what God means.” You take a deep breath and tap your pen several times on your notebook in a nervous attempt to quell what you know cannot be extinguished.

The uneasiness persists
–in good times and in bad; in sickness and in health–as was poignantly documented by the witnesses in a special afternoon session on married life and work. Marta Cartabia, a leading expert in comparative constitutional law and a visiting scholar at NYU, recounted her own disquiet after 14 years of marriage, a marriage which by all accounts was ideal, with a practically perfect husband, three wonderful children, and two successful careers. How could she complain about her family life when so many friends faced tragic situations? And yet, she admits, “I was kind of bored.” When Fr. Carrón spoke at a conference on marriage rights and same-sex unions in Italy, she was shocked by what she heard: “When you meet your husband, the beloved, the spouse, he stirs up in you a longing for something infinite that he or she is not able to fulfill.” And, she added, “I felt, touché, because this was my point.” Everything changed in their life because they recognized this truth and started to take seriously the treasure they already had in their hands, the proposal of the Movement, the adventure of following Christ.

Loving, not measuring. Jonathan Fields, husband of 17 years and father of three, was also a panelist at the same discussion. Coming from a secular Jewish background, he said, “Everything was all about measuring. I couldn’t look at her without judging her.” And in response to his medical problems, “The doctors told me, ‘Just keep taking the drugs and you’ll be able to relate to your wife better.’” It was easier not to face it, to run around on behalf of the Movement, to let the struggle simmer in the back of his mind. Then the need became very strong–the money ran out. “It was a miracle–in these difficult circumstances, I had to start coming home. I had great friends who said, ‘You’ve got a life to face. We’ll face it with you.’” Something else was present: the same old friends, yet with a capacity for such tenderness. “The major difference is that this thing didn’t measure me. I began to look at everything differently, and with that same gaze I began to look at my wife. I didn’t plan it, it just started happening.” An unspeakable hope and the impossible correspondence happening right in front of you.

Later on, in the synthesis, Carrón would help us understand, “All of Christianity is in this mercy that moved the Mystery toward us. Every one of us knows very well the condition of our self, the truth of the loneliness that we really are. Christianity is this event that bears within it all the reasons that make it reasonable to adhere to it. When we are embraced by such a love, this gesture carries within it the reasons, because nothing is more correspondent to our need than this embrace.” Up to the microphone steps our dear old friend, Michael Waldstein, in his stylish Bavarian tracht. Though of Austrian origin, he was one of the first members of CL in the U.S. in the early eighties, and has recently returned to America with his wife and five of his eight children to accept a teaching position in Florida. Last summer, he related, he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The doctors gave him six months, but as we could see, he stood living and well before us.

False diagnosis. Carrón doesn’t waste any time in judging the value of this event for all of life: if we are confused, misdiagnosed, we don’t understand anything. This is the true meaning of judgment, because it’s better to know the truth than to remain in error. A false diagnosis is a problem for life, not a formality. And so we arrive at the real challenge: can Christianity introduce in the modern world a new diagnosis, a true definition of what man is and what life is all about? “Is a new creature possible today? Not only something to be added on to the ‘old’ man in us,” like the liberal or conservative mentality many could not get past in the face of a new position on Obama’s visit to Notre Dame. “Can Christianity generate a new creature or not? If not, we can all go home.” But no one moves from his seat.

Condemnation or promise?
Not even the small island of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean is immune to the prevailing winds of modernity. Aura, a university student from Ponce, spoke of the education she had received from her father, a thriving businessman. “Everything he transmitted was this thirst for success in my career, in making money and in achieving wealth. But then his businesses failed. And all I could see in his face was anger and despair.” She counted on her father to be the one to provide for her economically, to give her things and to take her places. “But now I realize I have been hard on him–he is a poor man like I am who needs love. Today, I am happy because I can finally see my father for who he is, not as I thought he was. This gives me room to breathe.” Carrón jumps in his chair, “Wonderful, thank you very much! The problem is to find a place where each one of us can be introduced to reality more than our family is able to do, because being educated to success is a reduction. When life fails, it’s not enough.” And, Carrón asserts, we don’t need a psychologist–or do we? “My name is José Redondo and, by training, I am a psychologist.” The coincidence provokes a moment of laughter. Recently, he recounts, he has been troubled by the referral of a gay couple to his care, because living a homosexual life is clearly against the teaching of the Church and he is a trusted professional in the Catholic community. “There is no dilemma,” retorts Carrón. “The problem is helping them to be free so that they can have a true relationship with reality even with their homosexuality. Can you accept these people in the moment of the journey they are in now?” “Let me be frank,” counters the doctor, “Suppose they come to me with a problem of impotence?” Carrón doesn’t back off, “The problem is to help this person face his impotence, his failure in life. Is someone in that situation condemned to be unhappy? Is someone in a wheelchair condemned to be unhappy, or is : what is the truth of a person?”

“And the Angel left her. ”
And so we reach a definitive diagnosis: either Christ introduces a new way of understanding ourselves, or we reduce Christianity to ethics, affixing a Christian label on things we do. “And it is foolish to think that Christ would have died for such a thing,” he concludes. “Jesus didn’t solve the problems but awakened the person in his original profundity,” Carrón reminds us in the synthesis. And each one of us has experienced precisely this new gaze in our brief time together. The many things we have seen in these days and over the years are the proof that this gaze is not a fact in the past, but remains alive in the present, and we are the witnesses today of that gaze capable of embracing all that is human. During the closing Mass, Msgr. Albacete prepares us for the road ahead. As we return, each to his own city, Albacete cautions, we might be tempted to think what happened here was just an illusion. We are like Mary after the Angel left her. Her hope was in the Babe now present in her womb. We, too, depart with the certain expectation of encountering that gaze again.