This weekend I attended a conference held in at the Rock Hill Oratory in South Carolina by the Catholic ecclesial movement" Communion and Liberation, based in Italy but spreading worldwide. Leaders and members from Florida to New York converged for organizational planning and inspirational talks given mostly by the movement's American spiritual director, Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete of the Archdiocese of Washington. (Google him; you'll unearth quite a feast of articles.) The theme was "the risk of education," which is also the title of a book by the movement's founder, Fr. Luigi Giussani, who died last year. The picture at left is of the cover of the movements journal, which is sometimes inspiring but also needs a native-English-speaking copy editor.
Everybody I met there was not only an orthodox Catholic—which only takes one so far—but a genuine human being. Love radiated from nearly all of them, including Alabacete himself as he duly displayed what I'd heard is his ready, often sardonic wit. A good proportion of the attendees were highly educated; a few of the professors gave talks. But nobody was stuffy or tried to hide their struggles and weaknesses. The people I met are saints-in-the-making who'd be the last to think of themselves as candidates for canonization. Indeed, my impressions confirmed what Albacete is often quoted as saying: CL is "Opus Dei for bad people."
That's exactly why I'm so comfortable among them. Most other "orthodox" Catholic groups, settings, and organizations now have little use for me, a twice-divorced father of three who, six years ago, had what was once called a "nervous breakdown" and spent almost the whole next year, including three months as an inpatient, getting full-spectrum treatment for depression (and I mean they threw everything at me). Even though, save for that year, I've been working full-time at quite ordinary jobs to pay child support, it's been nearly a decade since I've had what could be considered a suitable job for somebody with my background, interests, and abilities. By this time last year, I had concluded that my professional life as a servant of the Church was over. Though in good health and good shape for a man my age, I felt treated as a has-been by the Church as well as by the world—which didn't seem far from the reality. One thing that's changed that conclusion is the feedback I've since been getting online, here and at Pontifications; the other, perhaps even more important, is the enthusiasm with which CL people have been affirming me as an individual and inviting me into their informal but rapidly growing employment network. I felt as though Jesus was telling me it's OK not to be OK, and that things will be OK.
Two other things also enthused me: CL's gender dynamics and its—well, its Italianness. While most of the intellectual heft comes from the men, most of the drive and organizational savvy comes from the women, who constitute the majority of "responsibles" leading local cells around the country. There were lots of married couples too, whose strengths nicely complemented each other. And even though there were more straight-up Americans than Italians, there were many native Italians now living in the U.S. and, as one might expect, the overall spirituality of CL seems distinctively modern Italian. The whole thing is like a big extended family in which all is shared, and the bad taken with the good as a matter of course.
Count me in. And have a peek yourself. The website linked above will direct you to the nearest reps.