'Estes Park, CO' by Albert Bierstadt via Wikimedia Commons

Surprised in the Rockies

Recently, American university students of Communion and Liberation held their annual Summer Vacation in Colorado, where they explored the theme:“What is man that You should care for him?”
Maura Kate Costello

From May 28th to June 2nd, over 100 university students from more than 20 states, many of them new to Communion and Liberation, spent a week in the Rocky Mountains for the annual CLU Summer Vacation. Our time together took its shape from the work we did this year on charity–reading Luigi Giussani’s Is it Possible to Live this Way? in School of Community–and found expression in a number of different discussions, cultural presentations, hiking, singing, games, and witnesses. It was impressive to see, through many particular stories, how all-encompassing Christ’s charity is and how it is only in abiding in Him that joy and fullness of humanity are possible.

The evidence of this was made most clear in two assemblies. In the first assembly, many students expressed frustration in coming up against their own limits. Daniel, from Indiana, asked, “Why is there this brokenness in me? If He made me, why did He make me broken?” Dan, from New York, talked about how he tried to live charity as the total gift of self–in the relationship with his family, in writing papers for his professors, etc.–but it was too much; he was exhausted by his efforts. Kati, from Kansas, had difficulty understanding what it means to love and to live detachment with the people she loves.

No Calculations
Fr. Antonio Lopez, who was leading this vacation, addressed every question. To Daniel, he said, “In the face of this brokenness, it is for you to decide if it determines you, for you can always say ‘I am, I exist.’ His unity is greater than our brokenness, to the point that everything contributes to our good, even the evil we can’t explain.” He invited Dan to rediscover what freedom is, that is, to follow: “Charity is about you and God, not just about you or what you do. When the Apostles met Jesus, all they did was to stay with Him; there was nothing calculated or planned. Instead, your prayer should be: ‘I want You, Christ, to be everything in my life.’” And to Kati, he said, “Don’t be afraid of loving; the point of love is to love, not to do it ‘rightly.’ If you really care for your friends, you cannot forget who they are and what they are made for. As for detachment, it is a spatial image we use to describe the space we leave open for the memory of the totality we are made for, which is here, among us. But there is no way of defining this before living it.”

Many others in the assemblies bore witness to what Fr. Antonio was suggesting. We heard from Vlad, from New York, who was asked to go on a year of academic probation. Instead of devastating him, it was a time of grace because it became the chance to “learn the things I thought I already knew.” After a semester of help from a few friends, he spoke to the Dean of his school to ask for re-admittance, and not only did he grant it early, but also agreed to erase the failures from his record. Even before this, though, Vlad saw that “it was when I felt most alone and in need that this grace came. God wishes to have a relationship with me, and I can only weep when I realize this.” Melissa, from Miami, talked about her difficulties with depression. Initially dreading a semester at home, she turned to CL friends for music lessons and counseling. “It was a time for me to accept being loved, when I needed it more than ever in my life.

He didn’t care that I didn’t listen to Him the first time. He allowed me to go through it [depression] again to really come to know Him.”

These assemblies made it clear: God not only takes pity on us and accompanies us as individuals, but He also walks beside us as a people who are made one in His love. Truly, “What is man that You should care for him, mortal man that You should keep him in mind?”

Facing the moment. As Fr. Pietro Rossotti said in his lesson, this overwhelming charity begins to generate a new kind of humanity. We saw the fruits of this newness in two men who spoke to us about their work. The first was Anujeet Sareen, an investment banker, who spoke of his experience of the financial crisis that started in 2001. For Anujeet, this has been an occasion for the financial community, and for the world, to finally face our bare-boned humanity and allow ourselves to ask some essential questions: in the face of such a devastating crisis, where does our certainty lie? And on what can we really depend? “I bet on Christ more than I thought I possibly could. I talked to these people [in CL] until they were sick of me. In doing this, I realized more and more: I need Him for everything. And when the 2008 crisis hit, I saw what an incredible affection Christ has for me. In 2006-2007 I was verifying where my certainty lay, so in ’08 I had a certainty that no one else had. This is why I am Catholic–because He walks with us here; He’s present now. And living mission at work is simply having an attention to Him, saying, ‘I see You, Christ.’”

The second person who spoke was Guido Piccarolo, who manages a non-profit organization called Habilitation House in Los Angeles, begun in 2008 with Nancy Aldin, a coworker from his previous job at Disney. They train and employ mentally and physically handicapped individuals, particularly war veterans. He told us, “I do this work out of the certainty that I am loved, because I received the great miracle of encountering Christ.” When he worked at Disney, his job was to create “good stories.” “But,” he said, “this wasn’t enough. I needed to tell my story, which meant knowing the meaning of my life.” Guido and Nancy became interested in helping veterans after they read about an ex-marine who “needed to find a reason every morning not to kill himself.” Guido said, “I recognized in him the same need I have–to know the reason why life is worth living–and I wanted to help him and others find the answer I had found: the same love I have received in my life.” He recounted many beautiful stories about the men who work for him. One of them, even after finding a better job, continued to work after hours with them “because I need this friendship to be myself.” Another veteran suffered an injury during his janitorial training. They asked if he would write grants, instead. He accepted their offer and rediscovered a passion for writing he thought had died when he enlisted. Now he is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree. He told them, “When I walked in here, I thought I was applying to be a janitor, but what I found was that I could be a man.”

What is most striking about Anujeet and Guido is how, in accepting the love they have received, they can face with such radical humanity the concrete problems of our historical moment. There is a profusion of strategies for fixing the economy, but who is asking the question: What does this crisis show us about who and what we are? And in a world where most people see the disabled as a waste of resources, who leaves a stable job to begin a non-profit company in the height of that crisis, to serve such needs? Only people who have met the gaze of Christ–only those who have been conquered by His love.

Wonder and culture. We saw further that, as an expression of this new humanity, a new mentality and culture are born. In a talk on technology and gender, Fr. Antonio discussed reality and the person as characterized by unity and charity rather than fragmentation and power. He proposed that technology is more than just the “neutral” tools we have available to us; it is a mindset built on a conception of reality that is fundamentally fragmentary. “From this point of view, technology is the opposite of wonder. Wonder comes from understanding the world in its irreducible otherness and wholeness. Technology asks us to step outside of wonder, into an attitude of anti-wonder, and to see reality as a collection of things to manipulate at will, rather than a sign that does not make sense without the Mystery that constitutes it.” Concerning gender, he explained how the Church views the person as a unity of body and soul, made to and for love; not, as we are taught, a compilation of biological, psychological, and spiritual components to which we confer our own meaning and from which we can either harness or be deprived of power. He explained the distinctive masculine/feminine forms of loving as “giving-receiving,” in which we see the moved gift of self, for the good of the other.

Last but not least, Amy Sapenoff and Annie Devlin gave us a preview of the exhibit to be presented at the Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples in Rimini this summer, on the life and writings of Flannery O’Connor (see page 16). This dovetailed with our assemblies perfectly because O’Connor testified that Christ’s grace is what determines man, and that grace comes to him through his limits. Because of this knowledge, her stories are unabashedly filled with the strange and grotesque and are dominated by the fact that even “evil can be a conduit of God’s grace.”

This vacation has opened up everything for us, setting us on a path that will take us deeper into the love we have found. We have not stopped because we have found Him; instead, now we have actually started to walk.