International Assembly - LA THUILE


The Charism is a Story


750 CL leaders from 70 nations for the annual International Assembly on the theme: “Unity: the law of knowledge.” On these pages, some testimony from around the world, giving value to every aspect of personal experience, including the professional side of life


The life of a group of priests in Minnesota. In the testimony
of one of them, at the origin of an unusual friendship,
the spread of the face of the Movement




During a recent gathering of Studium Christi Fraternity group in Rochester, I heard priests commenting on the lesson of Fr. Giussani, saying, “Something happens in our gathering that touches my emptiness;” “This lesson puts meat on the bones;” “This is really powerful stuff;” “I love the depth of our being together.”
My involvement with the Movement during the past three years has reawakened the gift of being surprised by the Holy Spirit. The charism of Fr. Giussani grows deeper in my life. Sometimes I feel stingy and just want to find my comfortable place. At other times, I try not to push my experience on other people, but to wait for a particular moment of readiness, with the result that I am even more surprised. In my way to sometimes be stingy I just want to deliver a “package deal” with an explanation for the charism and then I can be finished. Interestingly enough, this is the very approach I resisted from other people in meeting the Movement. But I still cling to this old style of coming up with the appropriate answers to deliver the “package deal” instead of allowing myself to be provoked by its totality.
When I realize how preoccupied I am with an old style, it is all the more clear that Fr. Giussani’s method is revolutionary. For me, it is the radical and pervasive change of being called back to a starting point, in the way John and Andrew encountered Christ. Two thousand years later it can be perceived as outside of or beyond established procedure but we know it has been the way since the beginning, and the revolutionary spirit of the charism recalls what has always been the Way.
A priest friend of mine approached me shortly, stating, “You are changed and I would like to know more about the group you are involved with.” I began to share some details about my encounter with the Movement but I was announcing this newfound life very softly. When I was with this priest, I would occasionally share some thoughts from Fr. Giussani and from my life with the Memores Domini. He was always struck with attractiveness. He kept asking more and I slowly and carefully unfolded some of my experience. I was a bit apologetic and cautious in my stingy ways.
There is a group of six priests that I have skied with in Colorado for many years–some for twenty years. During this vacation a couple of years ago, one of the priests asked me about the Movement. I shared some and once again didn’t take the big risk. We spoke briefly and occasionally during the week. I don’t see most of these priests during the year for any lengthy period of time and so the following year when we gathered for skiing again, they asked me more about the charism. It was during morning prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist that I spoke with them about Fr. Giussani’s reminder that we are always being generated by the Father. It amazed me to see their response, and to experience how much they loved Fr. Giussani’s teaching and were attracted to the method.
As we were going up the mountain during that day of skiing, I shared with them significantly about the call for companionship as a way to be generated and the possibility of what it would mean for us to begin to learn more about Fr. Giussani, the charism, and a Studium Christi group. They said “Yes” immediately and the foundation of their response was, “I see you changing and you have a gift in your life that I would like to know more about.” I recall being on top of the mountain, praying the Angelus and remembering Fr. Giussani, filled with wonderment as we gazed upon the mountains, the nature around us. It was clear that these priests were longing for a deeper meaning and purpose for their lives, just as I was in my own search. They spoke of wanting more spirituality, which is a common expression for Americans. Thus began our companionship for the glory of Christ.
Ten priests have committed to meeting once a month for an overnight at St. John’s in Rochester. We gather on Sunday night for companionship, a meal, vespers, and reflection about the Church, the world, and what is happening to us. On Monday mornings we gather for morning prayer, an hour of silence, and a serious study of Fr. Giussani.
All too often in the past, my experience in support groups with priests is that we easily become lost in figuring each other out in analysis or psychologizing. However, when we gather to be clear about a lesson from Fr. Giussani, we are able to bring our personal lives into the context of companionship and a powerful message for our lives. I really appreciate how deeply we are touched by the lessons of Fr. Giussani and the call to be in companionship from this place of belonging. The gift of remembering our belonging, in a companionship, calls us to be recreated. So often as priests, we easily define ourselves by our mistakes, limitations, or struggles. The result is a posture of problem solving or trying to manage one another’s stories. Instead, Studium Christi gatherings gift us with our longing for a relationship with Christ, allowing our hearts to be generated. It is a great gift for us not to become lost in our mistakes or limitations but to recognize the call of belonging in a companionship that is so much more.
I am learning so much about the charism from the other priests. This is revolutionary in that we are called together through the starting point of an encounter—which is clearly in their bones and running over from their hearts.
One of the priest who participates, Fr. Joe, offered the observation, “The reading together allows for an extraordinary depth of sharing, due to the fact that belonging to one another is expressed in our companionship. We come together on the basis of each of us belonging to Christ; then, the Mystery can be discovered in our interaction. I very much like what I understand about Fr. Giussani’s use of the word ‘Mystery’ to describe the one who creates, the one who was born, suffered, died, and was raised; the same ‘Mystery’ that lives in every human being.”
We have been meeting for over a year and our purpose has become very clear—even though most of the priests know very little about the big picture of Communion and Liberation. The Memores Domini of Rochester recently invited us to the house for dinner. It was an occasion to see another face of the Movement. The priests were really inspired by the enthusiasm of the Memores and the sense of unity that is so powerful when you walk in the house and experience a meal together. This is a unity born from a belonging that is not artificial, but genuine, real, and normal. It is important for me to let go and allow the surprise of the Holy Spirit to continue as the charism is born in the hearts and minds of other people. God has been very patient with me, as have the people who are in the leadership of the Movement. I am trying more and more not to manage and control the charism but to die a little and allow God to be born from the others who encounter the Mystery.
One of the other priests, Fr. John, who is also a pastor in a town near Rochester, shared the following about Studium Christi: “We have been studying In Search of the Human Face and together we continually find it inspiring and challenging. The material helps us to re-envision our lives as more closely united to Christ. I have gained insights as I read and listen to each response. Giussani seems to capture a new vision for living out my faith life. And the fellowship of priests is a real support for my day-to-day life in ministry. I am a very grateful learner in this gathering.”
It is interesting for me to experience the charism with a group of American priests. They are open and, honestly, I am amazed by the depth of response. We are reading more than a book and more than inspiring concepts. It is an encounter with a man who met Jesus and longs for others to know Christ in a real way. Our hearts are restless in a companionship that holds such promise. Our Bishop, Bernard J. Harrington, gives us total support for gathering as priests. He states, “I am really proud of you for coming together, as priests need to be with other priests.”
Giorgio has faithfully pushed me as a friend and I am grateful for that as well. The friendship is another grace that has entered my life through the charism that I never would have dreamed possible by my own strategy. I am ready and willing for another surprise of the Holy Spirit, like one I got recently, when a journalist who works on the Rochester newspaper came to see me. He is not a very active Catholic and does not often go to Mass, but he understood that something was missing in his life since his childhood, and he said to me, “I am really looking for a humanity, because I believe more in Christ’s humanity than in the miracles.” I gave him three issues of Traces that I had in my office, and he left for vacation. When he returned, he said he wanted to read The Religious Sense and that he wanted to start coming to School of Community. For me, this charism is a new way of satisfying the needs of those who come seeking with an open heart. Another example is a doctor in my clinic, who came and said, “I want to grow in my spiritual life. I am very successful as a doctor, but I really miss a spiritual life.” So I gave him three chapters of In Search of the Human Face. After he read these three chapters, he said, “I am a successful man, but what I am missing is humanity. I have always sought success, but what I was missing was to become a human person.” His chance to become more human is to take part in our story.