The Unity of Christ Dead and Risen

“It is not our experiences that build unity, but rather unity that is the foundation for our experiences.”

During a long weekend in July, the upper Midwest held our annual “family vacation” in Western Wisconsin, which drew people from across the region, and from outside it as well. On the surface, it looked like any other vacation we’ve taken there in years past, at a site that offers the functionality we need for a vacation of our size, even if we have to sacrifice a little in terms of aesthetic appeal. However, this vacation seemed like something new; I witnessed a surprising – and I think miraculous – unity among my fraternity group, as well as a beautiful response from many others. Over the years, the MN vacation had been planned by a handful of people from across the state, with repetition and a lot of gained experience. One recent year we tried something different and had the vacation planned by a married couple who put their own flavor on things. This year, we tried something new again; namely having my small fraternity group plan it, at the invitation of a good friend of ours.

Recently, leading up to the vacation, my fraternity was going through something of a transition, shifting away from a larger group that spanned many states, going through changes in terms of who we are following, etc., and it wasn’t clear who we were, or where we were going, or what we were for, even after some number of years together and some significant common experiences. Many of us were unhappy, some of us were wondering whether we would stay together, or dissolve. I didn’t doubt the value of my fraternity group, but the path forward was clearer in the past than it had become, and I didn’t know where we were going any more. On our own, we couldn’t seem to supply an answer to the important question, “What does it mean for us to be in a small fraternity together?” even though we were asking it all the time.

However, responding to the invitation to plan the vacation together changed everything. From the moment of our very first planning meeting, I noticed a shift in myself and in the dynamic between us. There was a free exchange of ideas, and counter-ideas, everyone contributed something, and I left with a real sense that we – and I – really have been given something beautiful that we can give to the world. Right away at that early meeting I intuited a new unity, a new purpose, and a new energy. It wasn’t something we bothered about building or achieving for ourselves, it just seemed given. As the weeks went by, we continued to meet to discuss how what we had discovered and learned together could become a proposal for the vacation, all the way down to the way we spend our time, and the seriousness with which we spend it.

At the vacation itself my intuitions became more certain. On one of the first days, a few friends and I were grumbling about things not being a certain way in the fraternity and the Movement, etc., but then another one of us reminded me that we already have something special in our unity as a fraternity, and that other fraternity groups follow us and are watching us, and we are taking it for granted. This was really striking to me and marked my awareness of the vacation as a whole. We also saw fruit right away. As the days went on, we kept hearing from people how much they were loving the vacation. There was a unity among people who wouldn’t ordinarily come together, the way we sang together seemed more united, particularly around the campfire one night. People also said they noticed a unity among our fraternity and were struck by it. I, too, was struck by how united we were during those days, and again, it wasn’t something we set out to create, we simply perceived it.

One night, that same friend who reminded me that we take our fraternity for granted said, “Look. This kind of thing is impossible. Throughout human history, this is one of the most sought-after treasures: unity among a wide diverse people. And it’s happening before our eyes.” And as one of us said, “For me, this vacation saved our fraternity.” Our unity is what we have to offer the world. Moving forward, I want to know with certainty that the beauty of this vacation is the work of Another who is present among us, and not just the result of the sum total of our efforts, as inadequate as we are. During this time, I’ve rediscovered my huge desire for unity – in my family, in my fraternity, at work, in my neighborhood. I’m very aware of the disproportion between that desire and my capacity to bring it about, and this experience of the vacation shows me that I need not despair of that desire, instead I can place my hope in the One who has already given me a miraculous unity in fraternity, and who gave us another glimpse of a redeemed and united humanity.

“It is not we who build the unity of the Church; the unity is Christ dead and risen… And the absurd begins to take shape –that is, unity among us, which would otherwise be impossible… It is not our experiences that build unity, but rather unity that is the foundation for our experiences. First is a given, a fact that is offered to me: I’m no good but this fact offers itself to me anyway. God gets involved… I find him underfoot anyway. He comes with me!” (The Life of Luigi Giussani, 430-431).

PJ, St. Paul, MN