Photo by Jean-François Bigras.

CLU Vacation: An Invitation to Wonder

On May 24-30, university students from the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico gathered in Colorado for the annual CLU vacation. The focus of the six days was "the impact with the real."
Dominique Robb

From May 24 to 30, 2019, over one hundred university students from around the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico gathered in Estes Park, Colorado, to partake in a vacation to share their lives.

The CLU vacations have been a true gift to me--the kind that keeps giving. Over the course of the six days that we spent together in Estes Park, we were reminded that living intensely is what we truly desire. Everything from the hikes, the presentations, the singing, the assemblies, and even the conversations was proposed to us not as a way to just pass the time, but as a way to be truly ourselves. The theme for this year’s vacation was a quote from Chapter 10 of The Religious Sense, which we worked on over the past month in our respective Schools of Community.

“How can this complex, yet simple, this enormously rich experience of the human heart- which is the heart of the human and, therefore, of nature, the cosmos- how can it become vivid how can it come alive? How can it become powerful? In the ‘impact’ with the real. The only condition for being truly and faithfully religious, the formula for the journey to the meaning of reality is to live always the real intensely, without preclusion without negating or forgetting anything. Indeed, it would not be human, that is to say, reasonable, to take our experience at face value, to limit it to just the crest of the wave, without going down to the core of its motion” (p. 108).

On the first night, during a short introduction, Fr. Pietro Rossotti reminded us that we are called to be born again each day. In doing so, we are more open to the wonders of reality and we understand that we do not make it ourselves; It is given to us as a gift. I found that this was manifested even in what seemed to be the smallest instances. For example, during the first of many assemblies, a student shared that she had been struck by the song “A Wonderful World,” sung by a friend the previous night, because it put her experience of the vacations into words: the simple things that she sees are filled with beauty.

The hikes, especially during the moments of silence, were another opportunity to be present in front of what reality has to offer us. This awe was so concrete when, during silence, someone burst out a “wow” after looking up at the mountain range that stood all around us. There were no other words to describe the beauty that lay before our eyes. The silence was also a way to stay in front of our own desires and questions, which is exactly what one student told us at the final assembly. She said that it was during these periods of silence that the questions that she had pushed aside during the year had the space to re-emerge.

Photo by Tommy Vince.

The vacations were also an occasion to look at our studies as well as the questions and concerns they generate. We spent a day together engaging in what we called the “Colorado University Workshop,” or CUW. It was a day of presentations and assemblies where, in light of our questions concerning our place in and the meaning of university, we were asked to explore and talk about our studies. But it was mainly an occasion to share who we are with others. The short presentations ranged from neuroscience to philosophy, from English literature and poetry to genetics, and from art history to engineering. Everyone was so alive during their presentations and they desired so much to communicate the wonder of their respective passions to others. I was moved in front of people that I hadn’t yet met, but still felt that we were much closer than before. I felt near to them because it was clear that we all share the same vibrating heart that yearns to know reality. In fact, Paolo Carozza, a law professor at Notre Dame, made clear to us that we all study the same reality through different angles. Each of us is asked to deepen our studies in order to achieve unity. That way, there is no disconnect between the person studying DNA, the one studying law, or the one studying literature. Everyone has a place.

During the CUW and during other assemblies with seniors and graduate students, other questions emerged such as how to choose a job, how to manage income, and how to use time. In answering to a student, Carozza explained that we are called in all of our circumstances. Our interests and our capacities are a call, as are difficulties such as wondering whether we can afford our studies or questioning the worth of education. All of these questions make sense only if we ask ourselves for whom we study or work for.

Photo by Jean-François Bigras.

Over the course of the vacation, we sang often throughout the day: early in the morning, after praying the Hours, before assemblies, and during hikes. I was particularly moved during the singing night on the last night of the vacations. It was a beautiful occasion to express through song what we had lived together over the past days. I was taken aback by everyone’s participation in the songs, even when each community had to stand up and act out an assigned animal during the jungle song. This participation, this life bursting out, couldn’t have been anything other than the expression of a joy and a gratitude for what makes our hearts come alive.

We concluded our vacations with a final assembly, which was an occasion to judge not only the days we had spent together but also the path we have been traveling on over the past year. Questions, doubts, certainties, and witnesses were all brought up to the mic. A couple interventions have stayed with me since. One friend wanted to understand the reason behind her wonder, because she felt that if she didn’t grasp it, it would slip away. Fr. Pietro answered that there are no words in front of wonder, and this is the reason that we hike in silence. In front of wonder, all you have to do is remain, because reality is a gift. On that note, another student’s intervention was also moving because she explained her first encounter with the movement, which led her to the vacation. She told us that openness does not equate to randomness because it led her to a specific path that she knows is made for her. Fr. Pietro added that we should not be afraid to be open, because to be open is to be reasonable. Indeed, openness corresponds to our desire to be fulfilled, like Fr. Giussani said.

But how can we continue to live this shared life even as we go back home? How can we strive to be open to what reality has to offer and live intensely? Fr. Pietro told us that we don’t have to change our lifestyle or do anything drastic in that sense. No, the answer is simpler. He encouraged us to trust and follow what we have met. As we go home, we can remain faithful to what we have seen and lived on this vacation by continuing the proposal of School of Community and staying close to this companionship that allows us to be born again.