Vacation group photo.

Is Christ Familiar to Me?

Over 170 people from the Lower Midwest gathered in Indiana for their annual CL summer vacation, exploring the theme of education through presentations, a baptism, a concert, and more.
Meghan Berneking

On July 4-8, over 170 adults and children from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, and Missouri gathered in Brown County, Indiana for the annual CL Vacation. This year’s theme, “Education: Introduction to All of Reality,” seemed especially appropriate for many of the families whose children are quickly growing into teenagers, though those without children discovered that attention to education can show us a more interesting way to live regardless of our state in life.

Davide began the vacation (after the obligatory “Oh When the Saints” welcome) reminding us of the question proposed by the Fraternity Exercises: “Is Christ familiar to me?” This question remained on our minds over the next four days, which were full of hikes, games, songs, and presentations.

We began the first hike asking Christ to bring us out of ourselves (no matter how hot the weather) in order to see what reality had to offer this day. The nature of hiking together requires that in order to look ahead, each must look up from his own boots and look at the one in front of us. In this, we rediscovered what it means to follow Another.

That evening, some friends presented the work of Jean Vanier, the theologian and philosopher who founded L’Arche, an international network of community homes for people with disabilities and their caretakers. The presentation began as a work among friends who started with the question, “How is it that we belong here?” in front of the community. What we learned from Vanier is that we are not content hearing the words “God loves you,” but instead we long to hear, “I love you, and I want to commit myself to you.” This also helps us stay with our children. Vanier shows us that, rather than anticipating a certain behavior from them, this relationship begins with the question, “Do you love me?” Thus, it is in our dependence that we become free. Julie pointed out that we can learn this from Mary, a young girl in the community who has Down syndrome. Anyone who has met Mary will attest that she is the freest of us all. It is by staying with the community and continuing to ask our questions that we begin to make decisions with our whole humanity.

One of the most striking events of the vacation was the baptism of Giulia and Stella, twin girls of just five weeks old. The event was a beautiful reminder of what it means for each of us to belong to this place and to Christ. Though the difficulties of traveling with two infants (not to mention their four older brothers) were not insignificant, the girls’ parents, Marco and Simona, recognized this was the place where the awareness of the Event happens again. This was shown concretely through the generosity of a friend who took time off work and traveled from Washington, D.C. to perform the baptism, as well as many friends (and friends of friends) whose attention to detail ensured there were enough cakes and refreshments to celebrate with the 170 people present.

On Friday night, some friends performed a concert of rock music from the American heartland. Intentionally selected songs from Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Neil Young and others took us on a journey from a reawakening of the heart’s desires ("Piano Man,” “Walls”) to, ultimately, a better understanding of the role of the Church (“Land of Hopes and Dreams”).

On the last night of the vacation, Dr. Andrea, a physician at Mayo Clinic, traveled from Minnesota with two students to share with us their work regarding the life of another Mayo Clinic physician, Dr. Giancarlo Rastelli, who has been named a Servant of God. While it was interesting to learn about the history of this remarkable physician and man, what was more striking were the encounters Dr. Andrea had with his colleagues when he started asking them about Dr. Rastelli and their work. Dr. Andrea showed videos of his interviews with his colleagues, which reached the heart of questions normally reserved for outside the workplace. “I do a job similar to Dr. Andrea’s but his freedom with his colleagues and the conversations his work on Rastelli generated really struck me,” said Simona. “As much as I feel I have a good relationship with my colleagues at work, Andrea showed a way to care for and be free with his colleagues that I immediately deeply desired. These moments of the vacation, that initially I thought was going to be ‘some time to rest with my good old friends,’ were a concrete help seeing how Christ constantly intrudes in the most concrete aspects of my life, begging that familiarity that too often I struggle to see—from the number of slices of cake for our daughters’ baptism, a priest traveling across the U.S. for a Mass, to a physician like me that came right there in the middle of Indiana to show me a more interesting way to go to work.”

In the final assembly, we were reminded of what we can learn from the kids, in keeping with the theme of education. For a kid, all of reality is a mystery and worth exploring (even a simple stick on the path is enough to stop the hike). A child can explore these things with confidence knowing he is cared for by those faces nearby who love him; in other words, he can take risks because he knows his father is there. But for adults, we stay with what is familiar, and as our “fences” get smaller life becomes dull. Everything outside of our fence becomes darkness because it is not always clear for us that the Father is there. We saw on the vacation that Fr. José in particular pushes us again and again to look into this darkness, like a father who cares enough to help us grow. It is only by entering the world, taking risks outside of what’s familiar and discovering the light (as Andrea showed us with his colleagues) that we experience liberation--where I can be familiar with everything and everyone we encounter because I belong to Him. This is the beginning of the discovery of the familiarity with Christ, like the question posed at the start of the vacation. We stay together (through hikes, presentations, games, etc.) precisely in order to help each other be led out, in an Education that truly introduces all of Reality.