There are Catholics and there are Catholics. I don’t mean conservatives and liberals, or Dominicans and Jesuits. I’m talking about Catholics who remain open to experience, because in that experience they may find beauty, they may even find Christ—and Catholics who are closed to experience, because they’re right enough as they are, thank you very much. I had a vivid demonstration of the difference yesterday, when our men’s group welcomed four members of Communion and Liberation (CL) from Boston and Cambridge.
They are four remarkable young Catholics: a doctor from the Massachusetts General Hospital; a Harvard Ph.D candidate and composer of music; his wife, a concert pianist; and a Ph.D candidate in philosophy from Boston College. Three are natives of Italy, one of Paraguay (though he moved to Kansas as a young child). Bright, articulate, and passionate about life—they are typical of the people I have met in CL. They are the kind of people you look at and think, I want to have that kind of passion for life!
What different responses they evoked from the 35 parishioners who came to hear them speak!
I won’t even talk about J. and M., who seemed so fascinated by what was said that they stayed after to learn more. Perhaps one or both will begin to take part in “The Movement.” Instead, I want to boast about my dear friend Carrie. (Yes, women were invited to this special session of our men’s group, a first. Next week the doors slam shut again! LOL) Carrie is in her mid-70s and does not exactly fit the CL demographic, where the average age is probably half hers, if that. Carrie is the sort of elder lady seen at daily Mass of whom an outsider might think, “What else can she do? She’s gone to Mass all her life, and she doesn’t know any other way. The poor dear probably doesn’t even think about it anymore.”
How wrong that outsider would be! After the hour-long discussion of CL, Carrie called me over. She had taken meticulous notes and there were a couple of points she wanted to clarify. She so desired to understand the particular charism of CL, that she asked me a couple of searching questions. When I had answered to her satisfaction, she twinkled a smile at me and said, “Thank you, I just wanted to understand. Thank you. God bless you. God bless you.” I was very touched.
Later in the day, I happened to be out walking when I ran into a friend whom I will call T. He is a good man, good husband, good father. T. was walking the dog with his wife, F. We stopped to talk and the first words out of T.’s mouth were, “I gotta tell you. I have no idea what that CL is about.” T. had sat through the same hour that Carrie and I had witnessed. He had all the same information, though not the same experience. When I rejoindered, “You could probably learn more from the CL web site. You know, there’s a great CL web site,” T. said, “I’m sure there is.” It was obvious that T. had no intention of checking out the CL web site.
I pondered this experience as I continued my walk home and later over dinner with Katie. T. is an admirable man and a devout, well-read Catholic. But it seemed to me that there was something a bit too certain about his point of view, almost as if he viewed the world from behind battlements: “I am a Catholic, I will defend Catholicism to the death, and I will not let pass anything that even smells of the unknown.”
There is a difference between the unknown and the unorthodox. If one took the time to study CL, one would discover that the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation was approved as a valid ecclesial movement within the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1982. (Founder Luigi Giussani began teaching in 1954. The photograph shows him with early students.) One would discover that the homilist at Don Giussani’s funeral was none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, our present Pope. One might even discover that our present Pope meets in weekly School of Community (the term for a CL meeting) with consecrated women of CL who manage the papal household.
But T. will probably never open his mind and heart far enough to appreciate the consequences of these facts, even if he is confronted with them. Which is why I saw little point in arguing with him, and when another dog came by to play with his dog, I used this opportunity to break off our brief conversation and wish T. and F. a pleasant evening.
The truly remarkable person in all this was my dear friend Ferde, because in Ferde I can see the tension between openness to experience and a limiting sense of rightness. To hear him speak sometimes, to exchange e-mails with him, you would think that Ferde must fall into the closed-minded camp. Ferde’s e-mail signature reads, “If the Catholic Church teaches it, it must be right.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt. Ferde is definitely in the “Catholic right or wrong” camp, but you see, that’s something else entirely. That’s upholding orthodoxy. An actor, a writer, and something of a free spirit for all his gruff righteousness, Ferde is orthodox and open.
Given that there are Catholics and there are Catholics, “Catholic right or wrong” necessarily has an expanded definition. Within the Catholic experience, within a full following of the Church and its doctrine, it is possible to be open- and closed-minded. Ferde’s mind is open, which is all the more remarkable because his eardrums are as good as closed.
I’m not telling any tales out of school here to write that Ferde has a congenital hearing deficit. So to sit for an hour listening to accented English, with his hearing aids turned up full, in a space with bad acoustics required an extraordinary effort. (Our upper church has the acoustics of an ear trumpet; our lower church is hushed like the catacombs.) Ferde made a concerted effort to understand, as difficult as that effort may have been for him, and when the hour was over, he was one of the few who asked a searching question of our four guests. As righteous as he may sound at times, Ferde’s desire for the truth is very much intact. This moved me. This impressed me. This showed me once again why Ferde has been such an important friend to me in the Church.
I thank my friends from The Movement for bringing this and many other insights to friends of mine in my home parish.