An Unavoidable Attractiveness
"It was no longer satisfying for me to participate only when it was convenient. Either Christ was calling me here or he wasn’t."
This past December, I attended the Fraternity Advent Retreat for our region. It was not the first time I had attended or even the most memorable. But it was an important experience for me because it was the first time that I attended out of adherence to authority instead of adherence to my own whims.
I live in Indianapolis, and the retreat was set to be held in Indianapolis. But unfortunately, I was going to be out of town the weekend it was scheduled, and so it was not an option. The other regional retreat was set to be held in Evansville—a good three-hour drive away—over Thanksgiving weekend. In previous years, I would simply have skipped out on the retreat without regret and without even much of a question. However, last summer I had finally decided to join the Fraternity. And, as a member of the Fraternity, I had made a commitment to attend the Advent and Lent retreats.
Adherence to authority has been the most treasured gift I have been educated in recently. The decision a few years ago to “close” the Exercises and the retreats to non-Fraternity members initially put the question of authority in front of me, but I mostly ignored it. Practically speaking, this decision did not change much for me. I was still able to easily attain permission from the regional responsible to attend the retreats and Exercises with no strings attached—and I did so.
But over time, it was not enough for me to participate in nice gestures that I chose to attend at my own convenience. I felt the desire to fully commit to Something outside myself. “Only in encountering authority will authentic commitment begin to filter through our door, to cross the threshold of our personality” (Traces, October 2019, 12). I began to see for myself what has been communicated over and over again in the School of Community. The Movement is not just an association of like-minded people; the Movement is how Christ Himself has chosen to encounter me, personally. And it was no longer satisfying for me to participate only when it was convenient. Either Christ was calling me here or he wasn’t. And if he wasn’t, I was wasting my time.
And so I applied to join the Fraternity in August. My free choice to join the Fraternity and adhere to its authority was a recognition of the “unavoidable attractiveness” it held for me. When it came to the Advent Retreat this year, I had the remarkable experience that I didn’t even question whether or not I would make the drive to Evansville. In the past, I would not have given much of a second thought to missing the retreat. But this year I did not question the fact that I was going to attend one of the Advent retreats offered in our region. I had made a commitment to an authority in my life, and I intended to adhere.
The adherence to authority was not “easy” from the perspective of convenience. On top of the long drive and Thanksgiving plans with family, my wife and I had a five-month-old daughter to consider. However, the adherence was nonetheless “easy” in the sense that it was a decision that I made in full freedom and in full expectation that He wanted me there and would find me there. As Fr. Giussani said in the School of Community, “There is no relationship with a place of authority. . . if you do not feel your freedom bursting forth as personal awareness and personal responsibility” (Ibid, 11).
I am grateful for the authority that the Movement has become for me. And I am grateful for the ways that it continues to invite me into adherence to Him who has brought me to this point.
Zach, Indianapolis, Indiana