Monday, August 11, 2014

Where does your community live?

Guest post by Jeremy before he forgets the recent events that moved him to want to write.

After we decided not to move halfway across the country, I entered an "OK, God, now what?" period. I've had a few of these before - my freshman year of college when I hated both the school and my major and shortly before college graduation when the job I'd lined up fell through both come to mind - but this one has been different. In both of the above situations, I essentially made a snap decision (transferring and following my girlfriend to Buffalo, respectively) which worked out fairly well and, because they involved a dramatically different environment, forced me to change simultaneously.

Obviously had to follow this lady.

In some ways, this period has been the exact opposite: my original issue was with my environment, and that has generally remained the same, so I suspect that's why it's been much more difficult to figure out what to do - and, at 9 months and counting, been much longer lasting.

I've had a few friends move into the area, so my social life has slightly improved, but none of them share my faith, and I know that the lack of spiritual connection I've had since college has been a significant contributor to my dissatisfaction with the area. Liana has had great experiences with the Moms group, but there's been very little interest among their husbands in any sort of gathering. Our new town has been friendlier and the general vibe of our new parish has been more welcoming, but I've still not been able to meaningfully connect with anyone. All of the failed attempts at finding community from before we decided to move still loomed large, and I was reluctant to put myself out there yet again.

Two weeks ago, I attended a Cursillo Weekend. I stumbled upon this inadvertently when I found a group posted on a Syracuse men's conference website that formed out of people who have attended these weekends, so I went with my lowered expectations with the goal of finding at least one person with whom I could connect. "Lowered" isn't entirely accurate - I had no idea whatsoever what to expect. They were a little more secretive about it than I was comfortable with, to the point that I didn't want to go other than as a means to the end of trying to meet people.

It's not exactly a retreat; the leadership will hastily correct you if you refer to it as such and say that it's a "movement", but I don't think that's a helpful descriptor either. The word "cursillo" is Spanish for "short course", and that's precisely what it is: a roughly 40 hour series of talks over the course of a single weekend. (Since I don't suspect most people would voluntarily attend a series of 15-hour-day classes, I'm not surprised they prefer "movement".) The talks are all given by local members of the leadership, both ordained and laypeople, and give a pretty high-level overview of aspects of the good Christian life, interspersed with stories from their personal experiences. There wasn't anything there I hadn't heard before from a theological standpoint, but some things were a good reminder, and it was packaged better than most conferences I've attended over the years.

I don't think it's for everyone, but I'm glad that I went. There were positive and negative things about it, but I think the good outweighed the bad. Some of the things that bothered me were apparent during the weekend, and others came to light after the fact when I found out the degree to which the weekend is scripted. Even little things that I had assumed were personality quirks of the leaders or simply incidental seem to have been preordained, and controlling the experience that tightly bothers me. I suppose since my attendance was rather Machiavellian, I can't judge them too harshly for taking the same approach - but at least I was up front about it when asked.

I still couldn't quite put my finger on what bothered me the most until I was reading a discussion online about it. One of the more vocal critics was claiming, among other points, that Cursillistas (those who have attended Cursillo) are more connected to each other than to their parishes. One of the defenders of the "movement" told this story: their spouse was about to have surgery, and they contacted their parish and local Cursillo chapter. The parish did nothing; the Cursillistas brought meals and came to pray with and for the person before and after the surgery. If the connection is stronger, they concluded, it's because the faith is greater.

It was then that I realized that my problem wasn't exactly with Cursillo, but with our parishes.

If our parishes were doing their job, things like Cursillo wouldn't exist, because they wouldn't need to.

Liana doesn't have any interest in getting involved with Cursillo, but she's getting pretty much all of the same benefits out of the Moms group - which was founded because of one mother's inability to make meaningful connections at her parish. I don't want to romanticize the past - I genuinely have no idea if parishes ever had more than a small percentage of active participants - but I'm pretty sure that they were communities at one time, and not necessarily even that long ago. Nature abhors a vacuum, and apparently the Church does as well, since these other groups have rushed in to fill this void.

This reminds me of a coffee hour I was at once.

The most common sentiment about Cursillo I found online was something like: "I don't know that I like all the aspects, but I usually judge these things by their fruits, and I've seen some really great fruits come from folks who're involved with Cursillo." This is about where I'm at as well. In a lot of ways, I did get what I wanted from the weekend. This week will be the second meeting of our new men's group at our parish. I've also found a great community-within-a-community at the 6:45 daily Mass, which I would not ever have considered attending had I not been encouraged to do so during the weekend. I'd been hoping to find some people my age, and still haven't, but the vast majority at least don't treat me like a child, so I'll consider that a victory.

If nothing else, I got to spent a weekend with 50 other men honestly trying to grow their spirituality. The weekend ended with a Mass where hundreds of men and women from all over the diocese came to celebrate with us, and had palpable joy and enthusiasm.

When was the last time you saw something like that at your parish?

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