Jill Boughton
Freelance Writer
February 28, 2023 // Bishop

Ash Wednesday Mass with Notre Dame Communion and Liberation Community

Jill Boughton
Freelance Writer

Bishop Rhoades never has trouble remembering the date of the death of Father Luigi Giussani, founder of the Communion and Liberation movement, since Feb. 22 is also the date of the Feast of the Chair of Peter. This year, that feast was preempted by Ash Wednesday, so that was what Bishop observed when he celebrated Mass in the St. Thomas More Chapel of the Notre Dame Law School. Paolo Carozza, Professor of Law and The Responsible for the local Communion and Liberation groups, imposed ashes on the bishop’s forehead. Carozza would make a good deacon, according to the bishop.

Provided by Denise Wright
Bishop Rhoades poses for a photo with the community of Communion and Liberation at the University of Notre Dame on Feb. 22. Bishop Rhoades celebrated Ash Wednesday and offered the Mass for Father Luigi Giussani, Founder of Communion and Liberation, on the 18th anniversary of his death.

He rearranged his schedule to begin Lent with this community, promising to pray for them and urging them to pray for him throughout what Father Giussani regarded as a sacramental season, “a time destined by God to give us a greater impetus of transformation.”

There are two formulas for the imposition of ashes. The first is, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This year, Bishop Rhoades reflected in his homily on the second, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” an appeal to the lifelong conversion we all need.

The Lenten disciplines of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer are antidotes to the materialism, hedonism, and secularism that tempt us to “moral mediocrity.” But even more important than turning away from sin is that “we entrust ourselves to the living and personal Gospel which is Jesus Christ.” A living encounter with Jesus was central to Father Giussani’s spirituality. As Bishop Rhoades put it, “The most sublime gift of Lent is Jesus Himself.” He recommended contemplating the sorrowful face of Jesus, who lovingly sacrificed His life for us.

After Mass, the community shared a simple soup supper. Bishop Rhoades spoke briefly about the Eucharistic Revival and his role in heading up the writing of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops document, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” as well as in planning the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. This June, not only will Pope Francis bless the four monstrances to be used in the processions to the Congress, but the bishops will also meet with the mother of Blessed Carlo Acutis, who enthusiastically supports the Eucharistic Revival.

In response to a question, Bishop Rhoades said he is feeling hopeful that there is a movement of God’s grace underway, despite reports about the large number of Catholics who have fallen away from Mass attendance or no longer believe in the Real Presence. He said the Eucharistic Revival is his number one priority as shepherd of this diocese. On behalf of all those in attendance, Carozza thanked him for his “paternity.”

Carozza had heard of Communion and Liberation as an undergraduate, but when he arrived at Notre Dame in 1999, those formerly affiliated with the movement had all dispersed. His daughter Sofia explains its name simply, “an ecclesial movement in the Catholic Church, a community of people who have been changed by the encounter with Christ. It is named for the fact that only the Christian event, as lived in communion with one another, can bring about the liberation of the human person. Its founder, Father Luigi Giussani, began CL in Milan in the 1960s with his high school students; he taught them a method through which they could judge the experiences of their everyday life, and discover how faith was relevant to the most fundamental needs of their hearts.”

Sofia and her older sister Giuliana have created a podcast based on the spirituality of Communion and Liberation. “The Pilgrim Soul” can be heard on Redeemer Radio.

Currently there are two distinct but connected groups at the University of Notre Dame. Undergraduates relate to similar groups on other college campuses. About a dozen students hold their weekly School of Community meetings at a public location on campus and often gather for Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. The older group of about 20, ranging in age from grad students in their 20s to people in their 50s, meets at St. Joseph Church, South Bend.

School of Community meetings involve discussion of texts, usually either magisterial documents or from the writings of Father Giussani, whose cause for canonization was opened in 2012. In May, they will together pray a set of spiritual exercises, this year one preached by the head of the worldwide Cistercian order. Although there is not a CL “spirituality” in the traditional sense, the movement’s charism is recognizing that Christ is the deepest answer to the fundamental needs of the human heart. Openness to those needs often involves art, music, and poetry.

The group is devoted to Mary and loves to sing. Their favorite prayer is the Angelus, with the final petition in Italian. They often get together for meals and have even planned vacations together since the movement encompasses leisure time as well as more formal educational and cultural events. They recently made a pilgrimage to the Cathedral in Fort Wayne. Charitable work in the past often involved being present to individuals at local eldercare facilities. Since Covid, it has meant volunteering at Cultivate Food Rescue in South Bend.

There is also no formal formation or limited membership, although some in the local group are lay associates of Memores Domini and others have joined the religious order founded by Father Giussani, Sisters of Charity of the Assumption. As The Responsible, Carozza maintains contact with other groups as near as Chicago as well as the headquarters in Milan, Italy.

During the weekend of February 17-19, Communion and Liberation hosted an Encounter in New York City which “sought to underscore, in ways both subtle and explicit, God’s intimate affection for each person, detectable amidst every aspect of reality,” as the National Catholic Register reported. Sessions ranged from the testimony of a mother whose son was publicly executed by ISIS and who struggles to forgive, to an exhibit on earth’s geological formation and images from the Webb space telescope, to reflections on recently-deceased Pope Benedict, who celebrated Father Giussani’s funeral in 2005. At that time, the Holy Father said, “He understood that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism; Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event.” The Encounter session on Pope Benedict concluded not “with a reading from one of his encyclicals, but with a performance of a Chopin mazurka by the pianist Christopher Vath, who had played the same piece for Benedict during a small private audience in 2005. The symbolism of moving from reflections on Benedict’s faith and theology to a piece of secular, classical music loved by the late pope was clear. The encounter with Christ makes one more, not less, engaged and interested in all of reality.”

Bishop Rhoades Visits Communion and Liberation Group in Honor of Father Luigi Giussani

The following homily was delivered by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during Mass on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, in the St. Thomas More Chapel at the University of Notre Dame:

Today, as you know, is the 18th anniversary of Father Giussani’s death and I am glad to celebrate this Mass in his memory with you, members of the Communion and Liberation community this evening. Normally I am reminded every year of this anniversary because Feb. 22 is the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. But today it falls on Ash Wednesday. Father Giussani saw Lent as “a sacramental time,” as “the sacramental instrument” for fostering conversion, “a time destined by God to give us a greater impetus of transformation. And Father Giussani spoke of the transforming power of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, helping us in our ongoing conversion to the Lord.

There are two formulas that can be used in the austere rite of the imposition of ashes today. I usually alternate formulas each year. I used the first formula last year, the formula that highlights our mortality: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I’ll use the second formula when I impose ashes at this Mass: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” This formula highlights conversion. In fact, it’s an appeal to conversion, to turn away from sin. Literally, the word convert, metanoia, means to change direction. Lent invites to change direction, to turn away from the things in our life that distance us from God. It is a turning away from sin.

Our conversion to the Lord took place at the beginning of our Christian life when we were baptized, but it is something that needs to happen and be renewed throughout our life. That’s why it’s good that the Church gives us the annual season of Lent, a time of repentance and conversion. How often we are tempted to leave the path of following Christ, tempted to withdraw into our selfishness and to live superficial lives of moral mediocrity, even if not lives of mortal sin, though we should beware that such a fall is always possible. We can get swept up in materialism, sometimes without even noticing it. Almsgiving is a good corrective. Or we can get swept up in seeking mere pleasure, hence the benefit of fasting. Or we can become immersed in the secularism that ignores or forgets God, and grow distant from the Lord. Hence, the deeper commitment or recommitment to prayer that is part of the Lenten season.

Notice the formula for the imposition of ashes doesn’t only say “turn away from sin,” it also says “and be faithful to the Gospel.” In turning away from sin, “we entrust ourselves to the living and personal Gospel which is Jesus Christ.” As Pope Benedict XVI once said: “Jesus Christ is our final goal and the profound meaning of conversion, He is the path on which all are called to walk through life, letting themselves be illumined by His light and sustained by His power which moves our steps.” So, conversion isn’t just a moral decision. It’s “a choice of faith that wholly involves us in close communion with Jesus as a real and living Person.” Repentance, conversion, is a no to sin, a no to temptation, a no to the devil. It is also a yes — a yes to the Gospel, a yes to Jesus who offers Himself to us as the way, the truth, and the life, as the One who sets us free and saves us.

In our Lenten journey, the Lord is inviting us to follow him more decisively and consistently. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us to do so, when done with humility, not seeking to be seen and praised, as we heard in the Gospel.

In today’s second reading, Saint Paul exhorts us in these words: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” He appeals to us “not to receive the grace of God in vain.” And he proclaims: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” These words of Saint Paul apply at all times but they have special meaning in the season of Lent. Lent is certainly “an acceptable time” for receiving the grace of God with greater openness. This requires turning away from sin and being reconciled with God. So, confessing our sins and receiving God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation should be an important part of our Lenten journey. But it’s not enough to focus on our sins and weaknesses. We must do so with our eyes fixed not on ourselves, but on Jesus, our merciful Savior, and uniting ourselves with the Mystery of Him who, though He knew no sin, God made to be sin for our sake. It is good during Lent to contemplate the sorrowful face of Jesus, the face of Christ crucified, who out of love gave His life for us.

The most sublime gift of Lent is Jesus Himself. We should make sure that He, and not ourselves, is at the center of our Lenten journey. We are uniting ourselves with Jesus in His forty days in the desert. It is spiritually beneficial to meditate on the sorrowful mysteries of Our Lord’s passion and death — to be with Him in His agony in the garden, in His trials before the Sanhedrin and before Pontius Pilate, in His being scourged and crowned with thorns, in His carrying the cross, and in His crucifixion. Doing so can move us to deeper repentance and conversion. The Lord draws us and moves us by grace to respond to His merciful love and to receive anew the salvation He won for us. Gazing at Jesus, we can set out confidently and even joyfully on our Lenten journey, taking up our cross and walking with Him to Calvary, united with Him in His sacrifice of love, the sacrifice that is crowned by His Resurrection in which we hope to share. The Lenten season will end when we begin the Paschal Triduum at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday night. The Paschal Triduum is the celebration of Jesus’ hour, the hour of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The forty days of Lent prepare us for this celebration. At the same time, we know that at every Mass, the Paschal Mystery of our Lord, the mystery of His love unto the end, becomes present on the altar. The most important thing we will receive at this Mass is not the ashes, but the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. (Actually, not a thing, but the very Person of Jesus Himself, present under the appearances of bread and wine). Receiving ashes is a sign of our commitment to following Jesus more closely and to letting ourselves be transformed by His grace.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary accompany us on our Lenten journey and help us to proceed joyfully on our way towards Easter!

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