Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What does it mean to follow a charism?

I have been doing a lot of pondering about what it means to follow a charism, and particularly what it means to follow the charism of Communion and Liberation, whose Fraternity I joined almost a year ago. There is a pattern I tend to repeat in my life: I say yes very quickly to Christ's call, but then have to stagger and ponder what it is I really said yes to. This was my experience becoming Catholic in the first place, and it was rough sledding for the first few years.

Paul at Communio describes the CL charism this way:

The essence of the CL charism is twofold: 1) the proclamation that God became Man and the affirmation that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, who died and rose again, is a present reality whose visible sign is communion - that is to say, the unity of a people led by the vicar of Christ - and 2) the awareness that it is only in Jesus Christ that the deepest needs of the human heart are fulfilled. CL's mission is thus the education of its members toward Christian maturity and collaboration in the mission of the Church in all spheres of contemporary life.

This simple explication captures quite well what has drawn me to CL.

What I am pondering right now is what exactly is meant by "communion - that is to say the unity of a people led by the vicar of Christ". It strikes me that at face value, this means people who are living a Catholic life. I don't want my pondering to turn into a torturing of Paul's words, but I do want to have a full understanding of what it is I supposedly follow. I have this constant need to translate and re-phrase things until I understand them with my own words and heart.

So. If Jesus of Nazareth is a present reality in this world, and the charism of CL is about experiencing this presence through unity of people led by the vicar of Christ, then what exactly does this unity look like? How do I know when I see it? What is disunity? How do I know when I see that? Is the relationship between myself and fellow CL followers different from that between myself and other Catholics who don't follow CL? And what about a person like myself who can experience feelings, attitudes of unity with Catholics whom I barely know, yet might struggle or take significant time to connect with fellow CL people who are sitting right there with me? Do these aspects of my personality even have anything to do with this definition of communion that is to mark this charism?

That's a big load of questions. The way I would answer what unity is for myself would be in a picture, if I could draw, and if I could put it into this blog. It would be a cross in the center, people walking towards the cross, there finding each other, and then facing out to bring this beautiful discover to the world.

Now, wait a second. Is that what this little diagram is supposed to mean?
I honestly don't know, but it would be my educated guess that it goes something like that. Essentially I would say that the way to unity is embracing the cross, in whatever way the cross presents itself. That's just what I've picked up from my living with Christ, not quoting Giussani. Of course, I've read so little of his writings, I couldn't quote him if I tried.

I know that when Paul speaks of the deepest needs of the human heart are met "only in Jesus Christ," this resonates with me in a huge way. And I think some of the deeper needs of the human heart have to do with how we humans relate to each other. Maybe my question here becomes, does the charism mean that the deepest needs of the human heart are met by Christ's presence experienced among us as people? In other words, do we re-translate this "the deepest needs of the human heart are met by, or through, other Catholics"? That is where I get a little panicky. It is not that I don't get that we are a sacramental Church, and that what we do to the least we do to Him (though these elements still strike me as either absolutely astounding or scandalous!). But I just want to keep what I can't help but calling in my head "the real Jesus" in the picture. Ok, so He has no hands or feet on earth but mine, but He does, in reality, have His own hands and feet, and they are in heaven. He really does exist. There is Scripture which is the Word of God, and then there is the power of the Holy Spirit active in a variety of ways. I just get a bit weirded out when it seems that a theology or spirituality could do just fine without there being a "real" Christ, or Holy Spirit, or when Christian maturity is thought to amount to our "replacing"Jesus on earth (you know, because I have an updated God message for our world). I know this is mostly residue from my various Protestant exposures, not to mention some odd Catholics I've met. But I feel the need to air the thought, just a small child needs to tell someone about the monsters in his closet; it's a real fear to me, even though I know it really isn't grounded in the reality of CL. Maybe I just need to get my Trinitarian theology more precise. Maybe I need the Holy Spirit to deal with whatever creates this panicked reaction in me.

So, my dear CL friends (I say somewhat ironically since I don't participate much in the CL blogging world and I don't hardly know any of you), if you would be so kind, please weigh in with your thoughts and feedback. Of course, anyone is welcome to do so!


Fred said...

Is the relationship between myself and fellow CL followers different from that between myself and other Catholics who don't follow CL?
No and yes. No, because I want this relationship, this fraternity with everyone. Yes, because many of the Catholics I meet at the parish or at work seem content to remain at the level of acquaintance. Ideally, there would be no difference. I expect that the difference will be less over time as I learn to be a better friend and more open to others. Of course, there will always be preferences too - those people who really get me moving more than others.

Marie said...

Thanks, Fred!

In my Steubenville context, although I know there are many who are not inclined toward in a relationship where Christ's actions in our lives is central (maybe simply because they've never seen it happen, for one reason), there are many others for whom this would not be foreign. There are those who attended the University here and have the experience of households, and there are a bazillion movements: third order Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites; Opus Dei, Regnum Christi, charismatics, Marians, etc. etc. I guess I thought that question more in the context of these latter types, since they make up probably the majority of the people I know.

Maybe I can more specifically say, is my relationship my CL friends different than that with my third order Franciscan friends? I tend to just think the action of the Holy Spirit is what it is. Perhaps for this reason it is hard for me to differentiate a CL charism from just faithful Catholics living as such.

Clear as mud, I imagine.

Fred said...

The tendency of a charism is to work its way like leaven into the whole. Nativity creches and the Stations of the Cross were part of the Franciscan charism, but now they strike us as simply Catholic. The Rosary was Dominican and is now simply Catholic. Balthasar said that a charism is a new access to the center of the Church (I have some quotes on charism up). It's also interesting the ways in which CL has brought me back into contact or deepened my connection to people I've known in movements: Catholic Worker, l'Arche, Cursillo, secular institutes, Regnum Christi, etc. The Christian life is the same: fraternity, charity. The center is the same: Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit does the same work to cultivate fraternity, charity, and relationship with Jesus and the Father. What's different with CL is that this is the place, the people that makes it possible for me to like like that.

Marie said...

Oh, how I love that: a charism is a new access to the center of the Church!!! I'm going to check out your quotes. Thanks again.

Suzanne said...

Thanks for opening this up, Marie. Right now, I only want to say that what you got from Paul's blog is actually a quote taken from the CL website. I'll send the link via email.