This past Saturday, our local CL community had its first assembly of 2007. For those not familiar, an assembly is simply a gathering of the local community for the purpose of continuing the work of our schools of community, but done as a gesture of our unity.
This assembly was important for many reasons. But chiefly, it was due to the fact that CL has re-proposed to all of us the importance of experience to the Christian journey. Our new book for SofC is The Journey To Truth Is An Experience. Picking up on that theme, the assembly asked us to consider seriously three statements:
"The Christian proposal addresses the person directly, and in this individual's particular present situation it invites him to verify it with all the instruments of a fully human experience." (Why the Church, page 234, second paragraph)
"And what is the method that allows us to live life as a path to certainty? Experience." (Fr. Carron's lesson at the National Diaconia)
"Hence, to meet Christ we must formulate our human problem seriously. First, we must open ourselves to ourselves. In other words, we must be acutely aware of our experiences and look on the humanity within us with sympathy; we must take into consideration who we really are. To take into consideration means to take seriously what we experience, everything we experience, to discover every aspect, to seek the complete meaning." (The Journey to Truth is an Experience, page 54, second and third paragraph)
The last quote comes from the first part of The Journey To Truth Is An Experience, where Fr. Giussani takes a look at the question of why the apostles followed Christ when they understood so little of Him. He argues that they did so because He became the center of their affection because in Him they found their whole human experience understood and clarified. From there, Fr. Giussani concludes that to meet Christ we must first be ready to take our experiences seriously. In fact, this method, is critical to the charism of CL.
But what is meant by experience? It is certainly something more than feeling. I decided to do some investigation and happened across this wonderful article by Fr. Giussani, written to explain to the future Pope Paul VI exactly why Fr. Giussani saw experience as so crucial to the Christian experience. In this article, Fr. Giussani explains:
- experience means to live what causes me to grow.
- experience connotes the fact of becoming aware of one’s growth, in two basic aspects: the capacity to comprehend and the capacity to love
- experience is not the doing or the setting up of relationships with reality in a mechanical way. What characterizes experience is our understanding something, discovering its meaning. This is done by discovering its link to everything else.
- the connection that binds something to everything else is an objective one. Therefore, true experience involves saying yes to a situation that attracts us; it means appropriating what is being said to us. It is composed of making things our own, but in such a way that we proceed within their objective meaning, which is the Word of an Other.
- True experience mobilizes and increases our capacity to accept and to love.
- nature is the locus of experience
- nature weaves an organized, multi-leveled fabric that awakens the need for unity immanent in each one of us.
- This fundamental need finds a correspondence in our affirmation of God, for God is precisely the unitary meaning which nature’s objective and organic structure calls the human consciousness to recognize
- The role of Christ and the prophets in history was to announce with absolute clarity that God is the ultimate implication of human experience
- His very coming constitutes the physical presence of the ultimate meaning of history
From all that Fr. Giussani summarizes:
- An encounter with an objective fact which has an origin independent of the person having the experience. The existential reality of this fact or event is a community that can be documented, like every reality which is fully human. This community has an authority expressed through a human voice in judgments and directives, constituting criteria and meaning
- The ability to properly perceive the meaning of that encounter. The value of the fact which we encounter transcends our power to understand so much so that an act of God is required for an adequate understanding. The same gesture by which God makes His presence known to humanity in the Christian event also enhances a person’s potential for knowledge, raising him up to the exceptional reality to which God attracts him. We call this the grace of faith.
- An awareness of the correspondence between the meaning of the fact that we encounter and the meaning of our own existence, between the reality of Christ and the Church and the reality of our own person, between the encounter and our own destiny. It is the awareness of this correspondence that brings about the growth of the self, an essential component of experience.
I post all of that, not because I think it is instantly clear, but in the hopes that you might mull it over. Experience is the key to dicovering the truth of the faith within my life, as something not abstract, but real and valuable. Is is the key that transforms for St. Andrew the Baptist's claim, "Behold the Lamb of God," into "We have found the Messiah!". All too often I think Catholics make the mistake of thinking that experience is just subjectivism or sentimentalism and thus something that is at odds with the truth. And, when we think that, we make the error of teaching the faith as an abstraction, a collection of dogmas, that in truth have little connection to my life and thus don't actually pervade my life. Don't actually help me live.