Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Begging for bread

Tonight School of Community was about questions. I was left kind of speechless because of the questions. So, here I offer a kind of post hoc synthesis. The kind of questions to which I am referring, the kinds of questions we posed to each other, are not the kind that can be given a satisfactorily definitive answer. In a nutshell, given the transitory and uncertain nature of our lives, how do we live? What does it mean to live this way, in the manner of a Christian? We often engage in a lot of high faltun' theological language about being Christian, how it should shape who we are, inform our choices, about how we are changed in baptism, in confirmation, in confession, by the Eucharist. I reject none of this language because of the Mystery it seeks to express when we use it authentically, but what does it mean existentially? What does say to me about my life? What does it mean when somebody I know dies? What does it mean when I am worried? What does it mean when I can't muster the will to give a damn? Mere words are powerless to comfort me. What can comfort me, or, more accurately, who can comfort me? A companion. What is a companion?

I am going to leave that question hanging for moment and turn to Giussani, who, when discussing freedom, asked: "So then, where does our trouble lie in having a clear idea of certain words that are fundamental for life?" Certainly in the Movement we recognize that the essence of CL is our need for companionship. Hence, companionship, like freedom, is a word fundamental for life, not to life, but for life. What is CL if not a companionship? Just like our mistaken idea that freedom is synonymous with choice, which mistake can be summarized well in lyrics by the band X, "Now there are seven kinds of Coke/500 kinds of cigarettes/This freedom of choice in the USA drives everybody crazy", our often incomplete and/or mistaken idea as to who is, or is not, a companion is the result of us being "alienated by the common mentality" (both quotes are from Is It Possible . . . pg. 60).

So, as human beings possessed of reason and able to use language to either be phony or to express, if incompletely, something authentic from our experience, let us look at who is a companion. Companion in English is basically a compound Latin word: com + panis= with bread. Hence, a companion is one with bread. We are beggars, that is, protagonists when we ask questions that arise from our lives, to paraphrase John Waters, we are questions looking for an answer, which is but another way of stating Giussani's axiom that the human person is a direct realtionship with the Mystery. I once told somebody that CL without SofC is like the church without Mass, not only impossible, but unimaginable. So, when we pose our questions, the ones we are not looking for someone to answer with some pious platitude that is spoken with the intention and expectation that now we can feel alright about an untimely, ironic, and absurd death, we are begging for bread. The best imaginable companion is the One who not only gives us the bread for which we beg, but who becomes bread for us. It is this same One who gathers us together in our schools. How did we all manage to come together here, now, for this encounter, in which we pose the questions that make us a companionship of beggars?

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