Through the Grace of Ecclesial Movements

I heard a remarkable statistic last night. I can’t back it up; I heard it secondhand; but my source is Cardinal Seàn O’Malley of Boston (left), who celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in honor of the fifth anniversary of the death of Fr. Luigi Giussani. “Don Giuss” was the founder of Communion and Liberation (CL), a movement of which I am a member. Here’s the statistic:

In his homily, Cardinal O’Malley said that, today in Spain, traditionally a Catholic country, only 15 percent of those born to Catholic families actively practice their faith. That’s not the statistic.

This is the statistic: Of these practicing Spanish Catholics, 80 percent belong to ecclesial movements like CL, Opus Dei, Focolare, Cursillo, and the Neocatechuminal Way. Another name on that list is the Catholic Worker Movement, founded by Dorothy Day, for whom I have a certain unreasonable affection.

I would like to write more about CL in the days and weeks ahead, but for this short post I will leave you with a quote from Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, the CL “Responsible” (big cheese) for the USA. Asked to define Communion and Liberation, he called it “Opus Dei for bad people.” I know nothing about OD, but I like the definition anyway.

Oh heck, another CL story, again from Msgr. Albacete. Father Barnes relayed it to me this morning after Mass.

Often when a new bishop is appointed in the USA, Albacete (left) will pay him a visit in his capacity as Responsible. He says that new bishops dread such visits, because the visitor almost invariably wants something. Albacete defies expectation by telling the new bishop that CL stands ready to help him in any way. The bishop loves that, of course. “But then,” Albacete says, “comes the inevitable question, which I dread. The bishop asks, ‘So how many CL members are there in my diocese?’

“The answer,” Albacete says, half jokingly but only half, is “Two. And all they do is sing. And they don’t sing that well.”

I would be interested to know if any of our readers belong to an ecclesial movement and, if so, which and why.

  • Allison Salerno

    I am really glad you posted this, Webster, and I would enjoy hearing more from you about your experiences with CL. That said, I do not belong to any ecclesial movements, though I have toyed from time to time with the notion of joining a third order. I think my lack of connection or interest in an ecclesial movement stems from my perception – likely a very false one – that there is something "clubby" about these movements and that one's spiritual life should be lived out within the context of a parish community. Parish communities are geographical which means you cannot select the folks in them. And that can be a very good, humbling thing.

  • Warren Jewell

    While I have grown to think I would have been best at being a monastic Brother, and one who loved the silence of his cell, my life has led a somewhat similar track: call me a 'sub-ecclesial movement' of one.I tried Cursillo, which is quite parish-bound for actions, needing a willing pastor. But, I found I just am not a 'joining' type. I prefer prayer in solitude – some quiet soul found in a corner of the chapel at 2 AM.Oh, I've thought of writing, enough to have reams of manuscript. I do love to read and to write. But, I'm just not that good at writing, either.Leave me to my cell and silent corner, my prayer, meditation and contemplation. I should not be 'of this world', but I'm not much of a one to be found 'in this world', either.

  • Will Duquette

    I'm in the process of becoming a Lay Dominican, which, though not one of the new ecclesial movements, still has a certain something.

  • Matthew

    Webster,I have enjoyed reading about CL from your writings. I knew nothing about it prior to your exposing me to it. I would love to learn more as well and plan to read up on their website and make contact with the regional rep in Seattle.I am not in one of the ecclesial movements per se. I was involved with Teens Encounter Christ as a youth which is similar to Crusillo. I am also in the process of formation for the Secular Carmelites.I find it funny most of the time that I ended up a married man with children since like Warren, I feel I am best suited for a cell and quiet prayer. However since I didn't follow that particular path and find myself living in the community around me I want to be involved in that community.I would be interested in hearing more details about CL if you want to share them either here or by email. God bless.

  • Art4thesoul

    I am a member of the Regnum Christi Movement and have been for about 10 years. The movement has had its share of ups and downs but for me personally it has helped me understand and live out my vocation as a baptised Catholic. "Your Kingdom Come"

  • Will Duquette

    Allison, I can't speak for other third orders, but the focus of the Dominican Laity is precisely on living out the Dominican charism of prayer, study, and preaching in the context of your home, work, and parish. Chapter activities are meant to form you for that, not take you from that.

  • Jason Ward

    I have looking into ecclesial communities for a while now but haven't found anything that looks like a good fit (read: haven't found a community that would take me, heh heh) I've been reading the CL website and it looks like the type of community I've been looking for. I've also been wondering if there are any EC's for youth. I see a need for a movement that would give youth a sense of purpose and belonging. I like that the CL has an emphasis there as well. I think I'll have to mention it to my pastor.

  • Webster Bull

    @Jason, Don Giussani started CL at a high school in Milan in 1954, where he worked with young people, and there continue to be major CL programs for high school students and for college students. See the hot links for more information.

  • Anonymous

    Webster,Thank you for your post and your curiosity with the questions posed. Look forward to reading more about CL and had not pondered a role in the ecclesial movements until after contemplating your first post regarding your travels to NYC for a CL weekend. Fan of Schall is normally not a "joiner" to such groups but your blog has provided inspiration and optimism that a movement may be in my future. My positive attitude stems not from all the prevalent negative writings (go figure!) about these groups online but from one of your earliest posts regarding the Catholic Church:In all my life, I have never belonged to a community outside my parents’ nuclear family or the one I have with my wife Katie where I have felt more welcome, more loved, more at home than I do in the Catholic Church, in my Catholic church, in my pew at morning mass. No class in school, no camp or club, no work environment has ever come close. Everywhere else there has always been another agenda; everywhere else motives can be secret and slippery; everywhere else there is fear, ambition, greed, backbiting, with of course some love and fellowship too.If these grass-roots organizations are indeed movements of purity/authenticity and not just some social gathering within the Church, then I am sure that some fit your above description of the overall Church. Does the litmus test above apply to your early experience with CL? I will wait and be patient for your future posts on all questions. Fyi, my father was a Knight of Malta and it never amounted more for him than a few checks written, a couple of trips, and a few fancy dinner banquets.In the attempts to keep it brief, your post a few weeks ago left me exploring Legatus and my future potential in meeting the requirements for membership. As B16 stated so eloquently over the last two years, the crisis felt in every economy around the world has been inappropriately named a financial crisis when in fact it is a moral crisis. Legatus appears to be a nice fit considering the intimacy and personal nature, quality of people, and the diversity of membership geographically of the group. Heck, their conferences look like a lot of fun but not one hundred percent convinced since membership requirements are mandatory. I view it as a YPO with an actual mission.Finally, why is the percentage of Spanish Catholics who are members of ecclesial movements so high? Is this a hangover from Kiko Arquello? An economic/social reflection? How does the Spanish percentage compare to other countries in Europe, South America, and the USA? Thank you, Verbose

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks to all for comments so far. I will be writing more about CL, as promised, but I would like to make some clarifications here in answer to some of you. First of all, I understand the term "ecclesial movement" to mean an organization in which both clergy and laity can be members. Thus a third-order community (Dominican, Franciscan, whatnot) is not by definition "ecclesial."In CL, for example, our priest, Father Barnes, is our local "responsible" and leads our group, known as a School of Community, although I gather that the majority of SoC's are led by laypeople. Further, the Fraternity of Charles Borromeo is a worldwide order of missionary priests, living in community, serving parishes, and distinctly associated with CL. While CL stressed communion, friendship, companionship, and while any organization can devolve into "clubbiness" (Allison) or "social gatherings" (Anonymous, "Verbose"), CL begins and ends with School of Community, which is a serious endeavor. All SoC's worldwide read the same readings each week, and after opening prayer and usually a song or two, the rest of the meeting is taken up with the serious business of relating the reading to one's own daily existence. There is a strict method here, and CL is adamant that SoC's follow it. This is not your father's "Knights of Malta"!One more unique feature of CL. There is a subset of The Movement called Memores Domini. These are small groups of lay people, working in the world but vowed to virginity, poverty, and obedience–men living with men, women living with women. I don't know whether such a thing exists in other ecclesial movements. While I am married and therefore will never qualify, I will say that I have met a number of Memores Domini who are nothing less than sparkling human beings.Oh, and this too: CL people tend to be really, really smart. They may be "bad" (Albacete's joke), but stupid they're not. Several of my friends in Boston CL are MD's and Ph.D's affiliated with major Boston academic institutions.

  • Anonymous

    Webster,Look forward to reading more about CL. One thing is evident about you from your concise and thoughtful writings , no one suspects that you are not "running with the swift."

  • cathyf

    Another possible interpretation of the Spanish statistic: the 12% of Catholics involved in EMs have successfully run off 96% of the rest of the Spanish church.It is supposed to be that the normal run-of-the-mill practice is that Catholics are members of parishes, shepherded by pastors proximately and bishops a bit further away and ultimately shepherded by the bishop of Rome. For people with unusual needs, there are other forms — EMs, religious orders — but this is not junior high, and the Catholic Church is not merely a collection of cliques.If the statistic were the other way around — 85% of those baptized Catholic practice, and 95% of them are members of EMs, then at least it would be good that most Catholics were finding some sort of home in the Church. But the statistics show that the "normal" Spanish church has basically collapsed, and what should be the "fringe" is all that remains.

  • Webster Bull

    Cathy, I think it's great that you defend parish life. I am very involved in my parish (review past posts for stories). Being involved in CL does not interfere with my parish activities in any way. It only deepens my love and friendship for certain members of the parish, fellow members of our School of Community. In this sense it is little different from our men's group, which connects me with another selection of parishioners–or your women's group? Pope John Paul II was and Pope Benedict XVI is a strong supporter of CL. I have heard it said that a group of female Memores Domini care for the papal household. It is even said that BXVI himself participates in a School of Community. Why would this be the case? Could it be because parish life and many of the structures of the traditional Church are collapsing in Europe and that the Pope sees CL and other EM's as the mustard seeds from which a future, more vital Church might evolve? Also, we in Boston, at least, should not look down on the collapse of the European church as though it could not happen to us. It may be happening, all around us. My parish is particularly vital. I'm not sure that can be said of all parishes in our archdiocese.The Church, as I understand it, is not a collection of cliques (your term) but neither is it the parish alone. It is a universal body of believers (living and dead) united in the love of Christ. CL (especially outside my parish) brings me into communion with real, living believers, members of this Body of Christ.

  • Frank

    I wish there were a CL group in my area. There isn't (not yet anyway). Far be it from me to deny others the opportunity to deepen their faith life with others who are like minded. Using the analogy of the Church as a ship, of course the crew is broken down into sections (parishes)and yet within each section there is room for variety and intra-section networking, brain-storming, idea sharing, etc.Because each section(parish)alone probably wouldn't have enough people interested in EM's to make a "parish only" group viable. Our diocese is in the third and final year of the Renew program. What comes after? Perhaps CL can fill the void. It's an idea worth pursuing.

  • Carol

    I’ve been involved with our Beverly CL group since Father Barnes began it in 2005 and have found it to be very enriching to my life. The friendships that I have made there are deeper than any other that I have experienced. Sometimes it is easier to describe what the SoC is NOT. It is not a social “club”. It is not a bible or theological study group. It is not a forum to debate the Church. It is however, a method to help me to recognize, judge, and communicate how the presence of Christ CHANGES every aspect of how I live my life. In trying to keep His presence in front of me, I strive to live all aspects my life “differently” and with more intensity. This includes my work life, my home life, my friendships, my struggles and my successes. The readings of Fr. Guissani are difficult, and it requires work to both understand the meaning and more importantly to apply the meaning to my daily life experiences. But in doing so, it has given me the opportunity to live my life more fully in line with the destiny He has chosen for me. The readings and the sharing of experiences with my friends show me the gift that Christ has given us in the Church. Too often, I live my life stuck in the details of daily tasks, without always thinking of experiences in terms of my eternal life. I don’t always succeed, but the CL SoC helps me to follow my heart and recognize Christ’s presence and the immensity of God’s love for me. Carol

  • Webster Bull

    @Carol, Thanks for your summary of the graces available through CL. As you know well, Carol, our Beverly SoC is not exactly the highest-octane star in the CL galaxy (LOL), but I do experience an extraordinary friendship with our neighborly bunch, and I think that is directly traceable to the writings of Don Giussani, to the CL method, and of course to Jesus Christ.

  • Fred

    When growing up, my folks were regional leaders in the Christian Family Movement (CFM). We went on family campouts and annual meetings & conventions, which enabled me to meet kids from a wide range of backgrounds from all over the US. I learned firsthand that the Church is more than the parish but my experience of the parish was also deepened through our friendships with other families. When I took a year or so off from college, it was natural for me to find myself living with a l'Arche community in a city I had never lived in before. When I returned to college, I had a great sympathy for the Jesuits and the different aspects of their charism. My wife and I were married for a couple of years and were looking for a deeper way of living Christianity. When Msgr. Albacete visited Kansas City for the first time, I went, thinking it would be intellectually interesting. Instead, my wife and I found an answer to our prayers. We have sung in choirs and cantored; I have lectored & currently teach religion classes in the parish. We also go on summer vacation (some years) in Wisconsin, and go on other regional/national activities. There's a certain Catholic resistance to 'particular friendships' as being cliquish, but in fact it's friendship that is making me more available to others, more forgiving of differences, and more sympathetic to the gifts and struggles of other groups in the one Church.

  • cathyf

    I shouldn't write postings in the middle of the night when I have insomnia — I'm not nearly as awake (or coherent) as I think I am!My point about the Spanish statistic was to contrast it with what I (and most of us) are familiar with in an American context. The danger of these sorts of movements is precisely that which is also their strength — that they are made up of people who are intensely committed. So they are going to be somewhat more vulnerable to the various psychological pathologies of individual members who end up in the group.In my American experience, when someone who is abusive, controlling, or just wacky, gets control of some group in the Church, there is a larger community, and so it often happens that someone steps in and "rescues" the group. Or, if things go badly wrong, has the authority and credibility to step in and remove the person who is the problem, or even to dissolve the group.What those Spanish statistics describe is a situation where there is no larger community, and so that scares me. In the US we also have this rich diversity of groupings in the Church, but we also have a lot more depth in the "just members of the parish" group who are all keeping their eyes open and paying attention to the well-being of their neighbors.

  • Webster Bull

    @Cathyf,At the risk of doing battle with you, let me make a couple of points. I resent (not too strong a word) the use of the phrase "these sorts of movements," applied to CL. That is a gross generalization that takes in everything from Opus Dei to the Catholic Worker, and sweeps my beloved CL into the same container, which you have labeled "danger."In an EM, or in a parish, or on Main Street, one is always liable to run into "abusive, controlling, or just wacky" characters. Yes, some will get control of movements, some will be priests, some will be medical doctors, some will be homeless. We're human. All of the good qualities you attribute to the American parish in your last paragraph–rich diversity, depth, keeping eyes open, attention to others' well-being–I have seen in every regional or national meeting of CL. I restate my first comment above: I believe it is a mistake to draw a sharp line between the parish and the ecclesial movement. We are all of us members of the Body of Christ, the Universal Church. The rest is just stuff to argue about in the locker room.

  • Fred

    My pastor (who is affiliated with no movement) persistently urges us to go beyond the parochial vision, to become aware of the larger community beyond the parish walls. As Catholics we must never forget that the larger community is found in communion with its bishop and the pope. This is why movements must always stay in close contact with the bishops and the pope. The parish, too, is a community within the local Church and must not put loyalty to the DRE or pastor over loyalty to Christ and the Church.

  • Allison Salerno

    I am enjoying hearing of others' experiences with EMs. I have no personal experience and no family, friend etc. second-hand knowledge or experience with them.At this point in my life, being married with two still-growing boys and a full plate of parish activities, plus a career retraining, I do not imagine I could add on another committment. But it certainly sounds like being part of an EM could enrich one's spiritual life and one's contributions to one's parish. It's not an either/or situation, as Webster's own life shows….I would love to hear more from Fred, Webster, Carol and others about their experiences, insights gained etc.

  • Shannon

    I was involved with the Charismatic Renewal for 25+ years. I found, over time, that many people developed a love for the rich life of the parish and went on to ministries within their parish or diocese–or they went to the extremes of Marian movements (Garabandal, anyone?).These days, I see many old friends from the renewal in ministries to the homeless and poor, in work shaping public policy, in the arts. Good renewal movements lead to a flowering of ministry beyond the reach of one's own arms.

  • JMB

    I love the description "Opus Dei for bad people"! That makes me want to sign up! All kidding aside, I know some people who are involved in CL and they are very normal, fun loving people. There is a group near me, I just might check it out.

  • Anonymous

    Im my former parish, the Neo Catechuminal way never drew anyone into the mainstream Church or Parish. It was an elite group the bordered on a cult.

  • Webster Bull

    @Anonymous 4/17/10,I think you would find CL a different experience.

  • Allison

    @Anon 12:10: I am not a group person – more a free spirit type – so am wary of any whiff of club/cult type experience. That said, I have checked into the local CL group after doing a ton of research and hearing W's enthusiasms.This is not a cult, not a club, just a loving group of faithful Catholics who help me to reflect more deeply about my earthly journey.