How Can I Say That I Have Met Christ?
A question that nags at Patrick for seven years resurfaces in the work for New York Encounter.
Dear Fr. Carrón,
I've participated in the Exercises for the last nine year, and been in the Fraternity for about the last eight. But I've never sent a contribution until now. When I read your question, "Is there hope?", I was blown away. What has happened to me in the last month or two has been really dramatic, and I feel compelled to share it.
In my whole experience of the Movement, the thing that has consistently bothered me has been Father Giussani's insistence on an encounter. I recall in 2014 reading Pope Francis' Easter Sunday homily in which he spoke about Jesus' conversation with Mary Magdalene at the tomb, telling her to tell the others that he would meet them in Galilee. "Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began!" Pope Francis said.
In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also another "Galilee", a more existential "Galilee": the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission. In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. To return there means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.
Reading these words, a question came to the surface: "What would it mean for me to say 'I have met Christ'?" This question nagged at me for seven years.
In my work helping to plan the New York Encounter this year, I found myself overwhelmed, distracted, frustrated, and pulled away from the other responsibilities in my life--my work, my family, my home, and my local CL community. At a certain point about a month before the Encounter, I decided that I had had enough, and this would be my last year. It had become a work I did in which I expected nothing. A friend in my Fraternity group challenged me when he heard this, and suggested that I go to New York (I was one of about ten people who were present in New York coordinating the livestreaming) open to what would happen. I did, but was about eighty percent sure I would quit the Encounter afterwards.
But what happened in New York and across the U.S. and around the world via the livestream, was beautiful. On the first night, walking back to the hotel at one in the morning, having worked since 6 a.m. the previous day without a break, I realized that I was happy. How can this be? I wondered. What is different now from the work I was doing in preparation for the Encounter? The experience forced me to look back at my experience over the last several years. I came home with a certainty that I could not walk away from the Encounter, and the awareness that I could never work on it again in the way I did this last year. And this pushed me to take the work of School of Community more seriously than I ever have and to ask this question with one of the other people who plans the Encounter.
I read back to page 27 of Generating Traces, where Father Giussani tells the story of Polycarp's encounter with John the Apostle. In reading more about Polycarp, I discovered that Irenaeus, Polycarp’s disciple, wrote of his first encounter with him. And finally it became clear: when Polycarp met John, he met Christ, and the sign was the unfathomable correspondence he experienced. When Irenaeus met Polycarp, he met Christ, and the sign was the same. And this is what happened to me when I encountered people from the Movement in high school. I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn't understand a word. But I was drawn. I wanted to be there, and I have been drawn back over and over by that same correspondence that I have met here and not elsewhere.
Giussani writes that
Christ takes hold of man in Baptism; He makes him grow and become an adult. And in an encounter He causes him to experience the fact that a new human reality is close to him, one that corresponds, convinces, educates, and is creative, and that strikes him in some way. Then the person says, "I'll go along with them."
This is what happened to me. So what it means for me to say that I have met Christ is that I have met Giussani, who met him, that I had the experience Polycarp had, two thousand years later.
And it is amazing that in the work for the Encounter, the place where I had come to expect nothing, He keeps happening, and I am able to recognize it. I see that I am a different person in front of my students, with my housemates. I recognize the Event that first happened to me when I was fifteen, and that that Event has continued to happen in my life, and this leaves me constantly looking for it to happen again.
So when you asked us to consider the question "is there hope?", I immediately said "Yes!"
Thank you for proposing this question to us! I am looking forward to the Fraternity Exercises with a new expectation this year.
Patrick, Portland, Oregon