Arlene Gallagher, Rebekah Lamb and Julián Carrón

“A festival of humanity”

In a presentation of the English translation of "Reawakening Our Humanity", the book's provocations were placed at the centre of a dialogue to better understand what questions have emerged in this period, and how they can be sustained.
Michela Young

“Circumstances are given to us to help us become more attached to the one who calls us in a mysterious way.” This provocation, the crux of Julián Carrón’s new book, Reawakening Our Humanity. Reflections in a dizzying time, was at the centre of a conversation between Julián Carrón, President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation; Rebekah Lamb, Lecturer in Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of St. Andrews, and Arlene Gallagher, Founding Director of Trinity Walton Club and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Physics at Trinity College Dublin. Hundreds of people connected from the UK, Ireland and beyond not to listen to a book presentation, but to look at the experience that generated the book; to delve into that experience, taste it, and challenge it with the help of the speakers, given to us as fellow travellers in this difficult, strange, but beautiful time.

Carrón’s book presents the Covid crisis as an opportunity for liberation from the bubbles we normally live in, out of our normal desire to escape reality. The first question posed to the speakers: Was this pandemic an opportunity? What questions have emerged?
For Lamb, Carrón’s book has given her “a vocabulary to think more deeply about my own lived experience.” She described how, in the absence of children, the pandemic has offered her a wide expanse of time, and the opportunity to experience time in a different way. She spoke of how “a Christian understanding of time and everyday life has really helped me to see that the Covid era can be a time to really reconnect with the Lord in the present moment”. She talked of how the spirituality of St. Thérèse de Lisieux has especially consoled her, specifically Thérèse’s emphasis “that the present moment is a gift, it can be a conduit of grace, and that the present moment is where our freedom lies”, to which we need to renew our dedication in every moment. Gallagher, similarly, spoke of the pandemic “as a gift in my life that gave me space and time to look inward.” For her, however, the greatest crisis of her life came a few months before the outbreak of the pandemic, with the death of her 3-day-year-old son. She explained how immediately following his death, “I entered a period of running from myself, from my thoughts, not looking at my reality in the eye.” Her gratitude for the current circumstance was evident as she described how it forced her to sit with herself, and to recognise the great disservice she was doing to both herself and her son by not looking at “this circumstance and all that it could be, as an opportunity to deepen my Christian experience.” These two reflections evidence how as human beings, as Carrón remarked, we have all been forced to face the questions provoked by the circumstances and verify our relationship with Christ, in a true “festival of humanity”. When such questions challenge us, our faith is at stake. “Can it resist in front of these questions, in front of death and suffering?”, Carrón challenged. “Only in such circumstances, when we cannot enter into relationship with others, do we recognise the presence of Someone else taking care of us.” He suggests, however, that only once we face the return to daily life will we be able to recognise what we have learnt, to discovery the outcome of this human journey and if we have grown in humanity.

The return to ordinary life is entertained in the second question: What can sustain this reawakening once the crisis is over? What can stabilise the questions that have emerged?
Lamb again returned to the example of St. Térèse, patron of mission, who, despite longing to go out into the world, lived a secluded monastic life. Through this example she indicated the need to “cultivate one’s interior life,” for us to avoid returning to the frenzy of daily life, which constantly demands an instantaneous response, but to maintain “a quieter tempo.” Only thus can we keep our questions alive, and judge how and to whom we wish to really dedicate our time. Gallagher echoed this, emphasising the importance of a companionship, of surrounding ourselves “with people who feed you and to use your time more carefully to be with those people.” Only with such a companionship can we “live intensely and try to take the fullness of the reality that presents itself. Having the desire in the first instance to want to live reality for all that is in it and all that it represents is the way to move towards rediscovery.” Carrón reiterated this need for a companionship as the only thing that resists time. He utilised the example of a student who, after being in a coma, re-awoke to a reality that spoke to him “with a freshness and intensity that really surprised him”; yet this newness, with time, diminished. He thus posed the question, “how can something so significant for a person be so deep, but not last?” Only a Christian companionship, he suggested, can resist time, “a companionship that introduces us to the whole of reality, not just to a bubble, but a human friendship that helps us to live reality intensely as an opportunity to grow.” The outcome of this friendship? Either we suffocate because we cannot cope with difficulties, or are we able to breathe and enjoy what we are living, even if it is difficult, because we live with meaning. “This is the test to see if we have found what can endure after this challenging moment, or if we are again in the bubble.”

The third and final question speaks of Him who generates this companionship: How has your own relationship with the mystery developed? What have you learnt?
Lamb continued the dialogue, discussing how this period has led her back to the relationship with Christ that her parents modelled to her during her childhood, specifically in the face of suffering during her father’s terminal illness. “This difficult time”, she said, “has been an opportunity to make me a better daughter of God, a better friend with Christ, for me to lean into the difficulties and see that Christ is present. That is what it means to live out the belief in the doctrine of the incarnation and Christ’s condescension into our daily lives.” Gallagher spoke of how during this period, “living at the will of the Infinite”, she has come to be surprised by the discovery and newness of a personal, unique relationship with Christ. She reminded us, however, that this is something that is not handed to us, but which we need to work at, “asking the Holy Spirit to come everyday, acknowledging that this is a way for each of us to live our lives in a fuller way.” Carrón expanded upon this, speaking of how “circumstances can either be perceived as an obstacle to overcome, as a damnation that we have to bear, or as a call to better understand life – myself, others, and the mystery.” Fr. Giussani offers us the possibility to understand circumstances as a call from the mystery. To illustrate this, Carrón employed the example of receiving flowers: whenever we receive flowers, there is always someone behind the gesture. “The flower is only the appearance whose beauty we can enjoy. But, eventually, the flower withers and is unable to last. The best of the flower is always behind, the person who sent it to us.” Similarly, reality is the sign of someone who loves us and “who we must decide to rediscover again and again through the circumstances, through every challenge.” Exemplative of this is the figure of St. Paul who, despite enduring hardship and persecution, had absolute certainty of His presence. “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ,” declared Carrón. “I cannot live my life without memory of this. I cannot live my life in every circumstance without being in touch, in relation with Him”. Thus life takes on a whole new meaning and every circumstance becomes an opportunity for us to be visited by our beloved. “This is the contribution we can offer others who have not received the gift of faith,” Carrón concluded.