Monday, July 25, 2011

Protagonist, antagonist, nobody

Oh the fallen world in which we live! The Norwegian equivalent of our Oklahoma City attack, the premature death of the talented young jazz singer due to drugs and alcohol, along with the famine in the Horn of Africa, which, frankly, makes both pale in comparison. It is enough either to lead us to despair or merely to live in a state-of-denial and just attend to our own lives, look after our own well-being and not get too worked up about things we can do nothing to change. The other two options, it seems, are to fall into a kind of empty, preachy, moralism, or devote ourselves entirely to various political actions, which are often little more than thinly disguised fronts for ideologies that are factors that contribute to the world's misery. This prompts the question asked by Fr. Julián Carrón in the June issue of Traces: "Did Christ, desiring to have an impact on history, make a mistake when He created the Church instead of a political party?" He goes on to observe that "[i]f we think so, we will always think that it's better to do something else, that we will have more of an impact by doing something else." The "something else" consists of the possibilities I listed above. But what is it we should be "doing" instead?

All of this can be stated more concisely in terms of what it means to have "an impact on history." Even when you are engaged in a cause you are thoroughly convinced makes a difference, you have an awareness "that no position, no power," no cause, no activism, "can fulfill the human person's desire." This, too, leads to the existential symptoms described above. The problem with looking at things this way is that it introduces a dualism by seeing history as different from our I, looking at things as if these were separate and/or unrelated.

Fr. Giussani taught us that "The forces that move history are the same that make men happy" because "the force that makes history is a man who made His home among us: Christ." This same man, who is also God and who pitched His tent among us, seeks to make us His dwelling place in us. This is why St. Paul asks the Christians of ancient Corinth, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Cor. 6:19).

This is why in the CL Spiritual Exercises Fr. Carrón takes up the issue of whether our experience of faith, which is so decisive and that introduces a newness "into history and our life... can endure, can last in us as awareness," not intermittently, not once or twice, but remain a present experience. He cites Fr. Giussani, who pointed out that "[t]he powers that be cannot block the wakening of the encounter." Nonetheless, "as soon as they see it, they try to stop it from becoming history."

Carrón elaborates by noting that the powers "act" on this awakening of the I "over time," seeking to weaken its duration, its permanence, trying to stop it from becoming an ever-present experience, a human being fully alive (alluding to St. Irenæus), thus impacting reality, that is, history. How do they do this? By attempting "to reduce our desires as soon as they are awakened by the encounter." How often, Carrón asks, "have we discovered that we have returned to the situation of before" after an experience that awakens us? Attending again to our present circumstances that reduce us to posturing activism, inattentive denial, or despondency, we turn to Don Gius, who reminds us, "Just look at what great rips of emptiness are opened in the daily fabric of our consciousness and what lostness of memory."

Here is the pro vocation that can set us on the path to being protagonists instead of seeing ourselves as victims of the powers, who seek to convince us that in the face of circumstances we can do nothing unless we allow ourselves to be co-opted:

For the newness introduced by the encounter to become substantial in such a way that not only do we not return to the situation before, or worse yet, become sceptical, but instead the perception of our mystery is deepened, we must travel a road, a fascinating road, because nothing is as fascinating as the discovery of the real dimensions of our "I." Nothing is as rich in surprises as the discovery of one’s own human "I." It is striking to read the suggestion that Fr. Giussani gave high school seniors years ago to encourage them in this adventure–it seems that it is useful for us as well: "Expect a journey, not a miracle that dodges your responsibilities, that eliminates your toil, that makes your freedom mechanical. No! Don’t expect this."
Looking at Magnificat this evening I came across a hymn that implores:
We're called to speak disturbing things/Though wealth and power conspire/To hush the messenger who brings God's purifying fire

We're called to preach by Jesus Christ/Who with the Spirit's breath/Will make our fragile words suffice/To raise new life from death
These disturbing things are spoken to provoke, to awaken, not to condemn.

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