Earlier today I was speaking with my friend, Father Meinrad Miller, a Benedictine monk of Saint Benedict's Abbey (Atchison, KS) and he told me he wrote this article for the local Catholic diocesan newspaper on his experience with the movement we both closely follow, Communion and Liberation. What Father Meinrad says in his article is applicable to all of us. It's reprinted here for education of us all. Let me know what you think of it.
Seven years ago this fall an event happened here at Benedictine College that would change my life. My college roommate, B.J. Adamson, had told me over the years about a Catholic movement he had discovered back in Denver: Communion and Liberation (CL). B.J. would often tell me about the method of the movement's dynamic founder, Monsignor Luigi Giussani (October 15, 1922-February 22, 2005), and of a friend of the movement here in the United States Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete. Cardinal Stafford, then the Archbishop of Denver, had spoken highly of CL.
In September 2002 we hosted a presentation here at Benedictine College on one of Giussani's key books, The Religious Sense. The presentation included talks by Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a physicist, theologian and good personal friend of Pope John Paul II; Major David Jones, an army officer who had been attracted to the Catholic faith after watching a show on EWTN with Raymond Arroyo in which Monsignor Albacete was interviewed about Monsignor Giussani; Dr. Eduardo Echeverria, currently a philosopher at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit; and Mike Eppler, the Youth Minister for the Evansville, Indiana Diocese.
What appealed to me about this first presentation was that everything said that evening deepened my own appreciation of being a Benedictine monk. Giussani's method affirms that the encounter with Christ is possible to all people. Over the coming years we would have further book presentations here at the college on the writings of Monsignor Giussani. Each time I would grow in my fascination for the message of Christ as relevant and part of life today. It was only later that I learned that St. Benedict was the patron saint of the movement. At one time Monsignor Giussani had written to some Benedictine monks near Milan, Italy. In part he said: Christ present! The Christian announcement is that God became one of us and is present here, and gathers us together into one body, and through this unity, His presence is made perceivable. This is the heart of the Benedictine message of the earliest times. Well, this also defines the entire message of our Movement.
Perhaps Monsignor Giussani's fascination with St. Benedict began as a young seminarian for the Archdiocese of Milan. The Archbishop during Monsignor Giussani's seminary training was Blessed Ildephonse Schuster, O.S.B., the saintly Benedictine. The same year that Blessed Ildephonse Schuster died, 1954, would mark a major change in the life of Giussani as well.
While riding on a train for vacation in 1954, Giussani noticed from the conversation of the youth on the train that there was little interest in Christianity. Much of the discussion focused on the ideologies of the day, including Marxism. Giussani asked the new Archbishop's permission to leave his work as a seminary professor and begin to teach high school students.
The conversion on the train reminded me of Blessed Mother Teresa's own conversion. This past year I gave a seminar to the Missionaries of Charity in Washington, D.C. As I was reading about Blessed Mother Teresa I could not help but notice a similarity with Monsignor Giussani. Mother Teresa was also on a train on September 10, 1946, going for her yearly retreat in the mountains of India. It was on the train that she had a mystical experience in which she would experience the great thirst God has for souls. Not just for water but for men and women to experience the real thirst of God's love for them.
Eight years after Blessed Mother Teresa's experience on the train in 1946, Monsignor Giussani would have his experience on the train in 1954. Years later he would also reveal the depth of this conviction when, in front of Pope John Paul II and hundreds of thousands of people gathered at St. Peter's square on Pentecost Sunday, 1998, he would say: Existence expresses itself, as ultimate ideal, in begging. The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man's heart, and man's heart that begs for Christ.
Whether one looks at our humanity in terms of Christ thirsting for us in the words of Blessed Mother Teresa, or Christ begging for man's heart, in the words of Monsignor Giussani, the same dynamic is present. Christ desires us to encounter Him as a present reality, not just a distant myth.
On September 10, 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, would describe his own meeting with Monsignor Giussani in the early 1970s, and Communion and Liberation:
It was an interesting discovery for me; I had never heard of this group (Communion and Liberation) until that moment, and I saw young people full of fervor for the faith, quite far from a sclerotic and weary Catholicism, and without the mentality of "protest"-which considers all that was there before the Council as totally superseded-but a faith that was fresh, profound, open and with the joy of being believers, of having found Jesus Christ and His Church. There, I understood that there was a new start, there was really a renewed faith that opens doors to the future.
This same experience is relived today by groups in the region in Kansas City, Benedictine College, KU, and Wichita that meet weekly to follow the method of Monsignor Luigi Giussani.
Father Meinrad Miller, O.S.B. is the Subprior of Saint Benedict's Abbey, and Chaplain of Benedictine College in Atchison, KS
This article was recently published in The Catholic key, the Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph, MO.