Fr. Branson baptizing Alvin during the 2023 Easter Vigil

“It Was 3:59”

Traveling to Atlanta for work, Steve meets the CL community and Alvin, who shared with him the specific moment when he “first bumped into Christ”.

I had to travel to Atlanta for a conference at the end of February and had the wonderful opportunity of spending Tuesday evening with the Atlanta community, consisting of several adults living and working in the greater metropolitan area, several priests of the Archdiocese living fraternity with Fr. Branson Hipp, the chaplain at Georgia Tech (my own alma mater), and a lively bunch of CL University students.

The first indication of a vibrant and alive community was when I arrived at the Georgia Tech Catholic Center a few minutes before the start of the 5:30 pm mass. I was shocked to find, on a Tuesday, the chapel full of students. For sure, most were not in CL but the sheer number of college students attending a weekday mass at a secular, technical university, was to me a sign of the fruits of a lived faith among Fr. Branson, the CL community, and others around the Georgia Tech Catholic Center. However, the most impressive sign of this new life came later in the evening when, gathered in the house of Fr. Branson, the newest Georgia Tech CLU student named Alvin recounted his recent past. He is originally from the southern part of China and first came to the United States as a high school student, and is now finishing his last semester of undergraduate studies in civil engineering at Georgia Tech. His witness was truly moving. He described meeting the Georgia Tech Catholic Community and the CLU students last November (he even told me the specific day, which I do not recall) and how, in meeting the Georgia Tech Catholic Center Community and the CLU, he was completely born anew. It was a clear witness to the quote of Vittorino that Fr. Giussani loved to cite: "when I met Christ, I discovered my humanity”.

Alvin, who comes from a completely atheistic or, at least, agnostic background, recounted fact after fact of how he now sees everything anew and is finally understood and has finally begun to understand himself. His seeing everything anew was an illustration of Fr. Giussani's image in chapter 10 of The Religious Sense of being born at our current age and being bowled over by "things", by the givenness of reality. Alvin had the eyes and enthusiasm of a newborn in a man’s body. It is truly moving to me that a small – one could even say fragile – community such as the CL community of Atlanta, can carry within it the hope for the world in ways we don’t always fully believe, see, or understand. It reminds me of the story that Pope Benedict XVI recounts in Spe salvi of Saint Josephine Bakhita’s encounter with God for the first time and the hope that this encounter with the true God brought to her life.

Returning for a moment to Alvin’s recounting to me the specific November day when he “first bumped into Christ” reminds me of a lesson that Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete delivered at a CLU vacation many years ago. In his inimitable way, he titled the lesson, “It was 3:59”. If it is true that the Church is the continuation of Christ in time and space, then in a very mysterious way the possibility of our colleagues, our spouses, our children, and our friends to meet Christ depends on us, that is, it depends on our yeses and on us allowing the presence of Christ to shine through in our lives. This is what happened on that November day at 3:59 at a Georgia Tech football tailgate.

Steve, Silver Spring, MD