Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God
The days at the Rimini Meeting have been full. Last year 800.000 people attended these days and the numbers this year will be at least the same.
It is difficult to describe the gathering. Can you imagine a world expo, with the crowds and exhibits, the talks and displays. Then consider that all the talks, and exhibits are “Catholic” ones. Now this may stretch our minds a bit, but probably only because we tend to think of “Catholic” as a narrow form of life. In fact the opposite is true. To be a Catholic, is to seek the fullness of life. We know that this fullness of life is offered to us as an eternal reality. But we struggle to know what this means in the present.
To be a Catholic, is to live fully all that God has offered us.
Contemporary western Catholicism is experienced by many as a restrictive existence. To some, it seems that Catholic teachings require us to say no to everything that we are really attracted to. Most of us, much of the time, (indeed all of us at least some of the time), have little idea of what we are really attracted to. For many people, “life” is a process of us trying to make ourselves happy. We do this by seeking after whatever looks as though it might ease the stresses of existence. We grasp at anything that might relive the burdens of the days, and ease the loneliness of the nights. We reach a moment of opportunity when we realize that none of our efforts are working. Nothing that we try (in our quest to find happiness) is delivering what it promises. This moment is often marked by apparent collapse. All that we have spent our lives for seems to have come to nothing. We may feel that our relationships and our work have disappointed us. Perhaps we wonder if we have ‘chosen the wrong vocation’?
At this point we make a false presumption. We assume that something is wrong. We might blame ourselves. perhaps we blame others. Well, there may be some things wrong in these small scenarios, but even we we have done everything ‘right’, we reach the point when we realise that there must be more to life. In fact we begin to suspect what is actually true: we are designed to be incomplete without God.
The little restlessnesses and dissatisfactions that we feel are an indication of a much greater reality. Without God nothing has lasting meaning. Living without God is like living in the world, without the sun. It is impossible to see with any clarity. All my efforts at planting and tending fail to reach harvest.
This is the moment of great hope. Now we are ready to consider the life that we were created for rather than spending all for a life that we create.
And I suspect that this is what brings crowds to the Rimini Meeting. The exhibits are robustly Catholic in the best and broadest sense of that experience.
Yesterday I attended a conference (along with a couple of thousand other people) that considered the way to growth in family life. The speakers included Catholics and Communists, politicians and diplomats. Each speaker was invited to present the best of their convictions. In this ‘dialogue’ an attractive truth emerged from the thousands of words.
One speaker emphasized the importance of government-supported child care-for babies so that mothers could go out to work and once again make a “useful” contribution to society.
Another contributor spoke of the pressure on families and offered suggestions of friendship for families so that parents could be supported in the raising of their children. It was evident to the audience that the more attractive offering, was that which is (in the midst of much criticism) promoted by the Church. As one contributor often stressed: ‘let us keep in mind: what is the most important thing?’ The overwhelming theme of the Rimini meeting is friendship. The gathering is extraordinary in so many ways. Conversations with strangers over food and coffee (in the many eating and drinking areas) is marked by a deep sense of companionship. While language can seem to be a barrier (I can still do little more than order a beer in Italian), there is a deeper common language. We are together on a journey that has passed beyond the mirage of seeking happiness in the offerings of a secular world. Strangers and friends here chat over coffee and beer about beauty and truth as the objective realities that lead us most urgently to God.