“The encounter with the beauty of Christ that shines through the face of a human being can become an arrow that wounds the soul, and so opens our eyes, allowing us to recognize him. This is what each of us is longing for, and our contemporaries with us. We will be able to communicate this only by yielding to his attraction.”
Fr. Julián Carrón, Disarming Beauty
Throughout the month of July I have been indulging my love of C.S. Lewis’ novels, and thought I had better supplement my summer reading with some formative non-fiction. To this end, I undertook Disarming Beauty, the recently translated work of Fr. Julián Carrón, worldwide leader of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation (CL). Aside from a failed attempt to read Fr. Giussani’s The Religious Sense 10 years ago, Fr. Carrón’s book was my introduction to the thought that animates CL. As a missionary and leader with Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), I was eager to learn from another movement dedicated to the mission of evangelization. While not ignoring the intellectual dimensions of faith, our work with students emphasizes a clear and simple proclamation of the Gospel message. I have had little exposure to CL over the years, but my impression (confirmed by this reading) has been of a movement that employs a more intellectual approach to evangelization and catechesis. Reading Disarming Beauty was both a challenge and a pleasure, and the book’s title proved an apt description, not just of the Lord and the faith, but of the book itself.
Disarming Beauty is a collection of essays, reworked from talks given by Fr. Carrón. The author addresses what he views as the crisis of modern Europe and proposes the solution offered by the Catholic faith. He identifies the contemporary problem as an anthropological and religious drift from Europe’s Christian foundation, distorting mainstream conceptions of freedom, reason, and reality. As a result, individuals live a reduced existence, aimlessly seeking fulfilment in ways that fail to satisfy the deep longing of the heart. The author gives special attention to the effect of this malaise on areas like education, the family, business, and politics. The solution to these problems: the Church, specifically individual Christian disciples, animated by a personal encounter with Jesus, who are able to awaken others from mediocrity and attract them to a fuller, more magnanimous humanity.
As a Catholic missionary, I was enriched by Fr. Carrón’s descriptions of the experience of conversion, the transformation that takes place in relationship with Jesus, and the role of apostolate in the life of the Christian laity. These concepts are communicated through the unique language and pedagogy of CL, and it takes a bit of patience for the uninitiated to acclimatize to his mode of expression. This effort rewarded me with a deeper understanding of each of these concepts, all of which are at the heart of the mission of Catholic Christian Outreach. I was struck by a difference in emphasis between CCO and CL regarding the roles of ‘proclamation’ and ‘witnessing’ in evangelization. CCO tends to emphasize the former, while CL seems to emphasize the latter. I think this apparent tension is more a sign of our unique contexts than a real difference in our understanding of the Church’s mission.
Readers of Convivium will be particularly interested in the author’s historical sketch of Catholicism’s defense of religious liberty, and his insistence throughout the book on a role for faith in society. Addressing the duty that Christians have in the field of politics, Fr. Carrón cautions against a misplaced hope: “The engagement of Christians in politics and in the realm of decision making about the common good remains necessary…This undertaking cannot presume, however, that, from its action, no matter how praiseworthy, the ideal and spiritual renewal of the city of man can mechanically arise. Such renewal arises from ‘what comes before,’: a new humanity generated by love for Christ, by Christ’s love.” Fr. Carrón’s tone is steadfastly hopeful and humble in promoting Christian engagement in all areas of common life.
Because the book is a collection of essays, it is repetitive at times. Nonetheless, this provided the occasion for me to ponder certain truths that at times I may have taken for granted since my initial commitment to Christianity. The author’s extensive use of quotations from recent popes – especially Benedict XVI – was a reminder for me of the gift that God has given us in the teaching function of the Papacy. Readers who, like me, are new to CL will also appreciate Fr. Carrón’s reliance on the words of his own founder, Fr. Luigi Giussani. Fr. Carrón’s exhortation to read The Religious Sense in its entirety has inspired me to make another attempt, and I think that Disarming Beauty has been a helpful primer. Wish me luck!