In our ongoing series, we've taken a look at the nature of our parishes and what they should be. I suppose it is time to look at the other side of the fictional dichotomy that I set up and examine the lay ecclesial movements.
Some might be surprised by the criterion that I want to use in examining the lay movements. On the premise that all charisms are given for the strengthening of the whole Church, I want to ask: what is it that the phenomenon of the lay movements, with all their charisms, tell us about the Church itself? I think that is far more important than yet another fawning post about the glorious experience a member of a movement had within that movement. (Although, I think I'm ironically not known for those in St. Blog's.) For much could be said about the charism of the individual movements, but there are so many of them, that it is difficult not to recognize something larger at work.
What might the movements be reminding us of? I think Pope John Paul II might have aptly summarized it when he said that "the Church herself is a movement." It is so easy to lose sight of that and think of the institutional only. But to see the Church merely as an institution is to forget its origins. Pope Benedict reminds us of this when he examines the sacrament of holy orders, the one permanent structure that forms the institutional nature of the Church. In his article, Theological Locus of Ecclesial Movements, Pope Benedict reminds us that, despite any modern tendencies to refer to orders as an office, it is ultimately a sacrament. This means that the very existence of the Church as an institution is dependent upon the movement of God calling men to Him and the movement of those men towards God in response to the call. "The Church cannot simply appoint 'officials' by itself, but must await the call from God."
But this doesn't just describe how the Church is born, but its life itself. Seen from a different perspective, the history of the Church throughout time is the continuation in each of our lives -- for each of us -- of that initial encounter between Jesus and Andrew and John, between God and Man, an encounter that moved these two apostles to follow, changing their whole lives and the world. As Fr. Giussani puts it, the word "movement" doesn't describe an organization per se, but "a permanent mode in the Church's history through which the faith becomes persuasive, educationally effective and constructive, and brings a change in life. ... [It] describes the existential historical way in which the Church becomes a living Church."
I think the movements, with their very visible charisms, help shine a light on how this occurs. Quoting Fr. Giussani, responding to Pope John Paul II, a charism is nothing other than"the mode with which the Church takes up expressive form in a concrete, historical detail." Without this, the Church remains an abstraction and ultimately something that doesn't pervade my life, doesn't move me or cause a change in my life:
"Christ becomes present here and now through a charism that, by valuing temperament, personality, and personal sensitivity and history, creates an affinity and this establishes a communion; to obey this communion is to obey the great mystery of the Spirit. It is to go to Christ!"
Any member of a movement can tell many stories of how this has played itself out for them or others in their movement. It is one of the striking features of the movements. But rather than being something unique to the movements, it is a reminder to all of us of the way the Church has always been. In this way, I think it is striking that the story chosen by Fr. Giussani to illustrate a "movement" wasn't one about CL (and as a founder of one of the more prominent movements, surely he could have told many!), but of a priest that served at his mother's parish:
" Without the movement I have tried to describe, a parish is arid and remains a mere institution. I have told my friends many times about my late mother and her priest, Father Amedeo, in Desio. Through his presence in the confessional, more than through the youth center, he created a reality of hundreds of women, all from Catholic families and devoted to the parish, all Children of Mary. They would go to Mass at 5 o'clock every morning, and were always ready to help when the parish needed something. Everyone in the parish knew them. That priest in his confessional had created a movement in the parish, and in the town. If there had been a hundred thousand instead of a hundred of them, even the Corriere della Sera would have written about them! Father Amedeo, the curate in my huge parish 60 years ago, guided so many young people to Christian maturity, who then went on to bring up so many sound Christian families, and they were always ready to help the parish priest when he needed it."
Thus, I would suggest that asking the question "Why movements at all?" is akin to asking the question, "Why the Church?" And that what the lay ecclesial movements we have become familiar with offer the parish is a reminder of the way in which the Spirit has generated the Christian people throughout history, or, in other words, of the Church, and a concrete avenue by which the education in Christian maturity -- the formation of the laity -- can be brought about.
More on all that next time.