Fueling Cursillo’s Engines

In the article, “Recapturing the Vision of the Cursillo Founders” which appears under the Founder’s Endorsement on this blog’s opening page, three spiritual engines were identified as driving the Cursillo Movement—the Holiness Engine, the Community Engine and the Evangelization Engine. The question remains: What fuels these three spiritual engines?

The short answer? The fuel of spirituality. The spiritual formation process described in this program invites us to fuel up our spiritual engines. A Resurrection-based spirituality is presented that focuses on helping us to develop deep relationships with all the dimensions of Jesus—the Historical Jesus, the Risen Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus–for an integrated and dynamic spirituality. It is this threefold spirituality that provides the high octane fuel to drive Cursillo’s three powerful spiritual engines of growth.

1. Holiness Engine.The Spirit powers our Holiness Engine through invitations to us to grow in faith in God, in the Historical/Risen Jesus and in the Spirit himself. What happens when we accept the Spirit’s invitations? We grow in the seven Cursillo virtues that we have identified as Cursillistas’ path to holiness:

  • We grow in faith in God which leads us increasingly to God-centeredness, our breakthrough conversion from self-centeredness and our lifetime pursuit.
  • We grow in faith in the Spirit which leads us to greater dependency on the Spirit for empowerment, to greater courage to complete Jesus’ mission, and to greater power to live the discipline of love.
  • We grow in faith in the Historical/Risen Jesus which leads us to greater compassion for others and to greater faith in the presence of the Risen Jesus in community as the source of Spirit-empowerment, strengthening our faith in community prayer and action.

Holiness is simply the Holy Spirit inviting us to deepen our relationship with Jesus in all his dimensions, and our gradual, increasing acceptance of those invitations. Further, the practice of Spirit-centered spirituality awakens us to the Divine Dialogue between God and ourselves. Imagine: God dialogues with us! The greatest story NEVER told!

As the star salesman in Music Man said, “You gotta know the territory.” The territory is our deepest, positive feelings. Here God calls us to make changes in our lives for greater growth and to live more creatively and fully. But you gotta know the discernment process! A deep relationship with the Spirit is absolutely essential: “Human life is Christian life in the measure that it is lived under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of Christ,” writes Fr. Jules Toner, SJ.

2. Community Engine.The Risen Jesus powers our Community Engine. He sacramentalized Christian community, and so we can grow our spirituality with one another (Group Reunion, Ultreya, Leaders School) through Spirit-empowerment. Our Community Engine requires the high power energy of both Spirit-centered and Incarnational (Resurrection) spiritualities.

  • The practice of Incarnational spirituality enables us to grow in faith in the promise of the Risen Jesus to be present with us whenever we gather in community in his name. We need the faith that the Risen Jesus here and now penetrates our communities. We must believe that the Risen Jesus still penetrates closed doors and rooms, closed minds and hearts to gift us with his peace and the Spirit’s powers.
  • The practice of Spirit-centered spirituality can power our communities to become Spirit-driven, growth-oriented and evangelizing communities—the signs of truly dynamic Christian communities Cursillistas must come to believe that Cursillo possesses a special charism—Spirit-empowerment through Christian community.

Cursillistas must come to their meetings with the expectancy that that the Spirit will empower them to grow individually and as members of a community. Cursillistas must come to their meetings with a hunger for spiritual growth, knowing that we are all in the development process powered by the Spirit. And Cursillistas must leave their meetings with the desire to spread the Good News to others.

Otherwise, Cursillo communities can degenerate into Club Cursillos (social organizations) if they are not driven by people who are sensitive to the presence and guidance of the Spirit, the gift of the Risen Jesus. And when events call for change requiring communal decision-making and discernment, its success will depend on the daily practice of personal discernment of the Spirit’s directions by the individuals involved. Cursillo is a spiritual enterprise: we need the Spirit as guide and mentor.

3.  Evangelization Engine. This is our dynamic growth process engine of holiness, formation and evangelization. It takes all three spiritualities to drive the Evangelization Engine. Here we will focus on evangelization:

Become evangelizers. We don’t wake up one morning and decide that we are evangelizers. Becoming an evangelizer is a process that begins with our first efforts at evangelization. Our Christ-centered spirituality focusing on the Historical Jesus helps us to put on the mind and heart of Jesus.

Jesus was a fully integrated person. He could be an idealist, but he could also be a Good Samaritan. He      could be an achiever but also an optimist. He could be a  searcher for wisdom but also a feeling person. He could be serene, and loyal to institutions, but also a bold leader who could confront the establishment. As such, Jesus is an ideal model of an evangelist for us. To be successful at evangelization,we must become the fully integrated person that Jesus was.

Most importantly, to become evangelizers, we must become fired up by the love and compassion for others that drove Jesus. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate possibilities of love by showing how far love can drive a person. Jesus revealed God as radical love and manifested God’s radical love in a radical way, becoming our Crucified Lover. In so doing, Jesus gave us a life vision based on radical love, on the primacy of love.

Proclaim the Good News. When Jesus came out of the river Jordan anointed by the Spirit, he became a man passionate about his mission. The Spirit, who was a continuous presence in Jesus’ life, had called forth Jesus’ radical faith, hope and love which transformed him into a kerygmatic evangelizer (an absolutely confident proclaimer of the Good News). Jesus’ holy partnership with the Spirit is another case of the greatest story NEVER told. Jesus lived a Spirit-centered spirituality. To proclaim the Good News, we need the fire of the Spirit. We need the Spirit as our inner guide and mentor. It is the Spirit who will put the right words into our mouths and it is the Spirit who will open up the hearts of those we are striving to evangelize.

Be Jesus to Others. Evangelizing is more than what we do or say to others: it is being the Risen Jesus to others, manifesting the Risen Jesus to others, carrying on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation. It is in the Program’s Incarnation-centered Spirituality that we discover that Jesus did not live on earth for just 33 years and then disappeared into heaven. Jesus lives on in us. It is in Incarnation-centered spirituality that we discover that as members of Christ’s Body, we are empowered to carry on the work of Jesus. What Jesus did, we can do. Through the presence of Jesus in us, we are empowered to be sacraments of peace, healing and forgiveness to others, as Jesus was in his times. Another case of the greatest story NEVER told!

What we have said is that this threefold spirituality described in this program provides the high octane fuel to drive Cursillo’s three powerful spiritual engines of growth. Christian spirituality is all about Jesus. Spiritual formation is all about discovering Jesus in all his dimensions. But we cannot stop at our new knowledge.

We must practice union with the Historical Jesus in our prayer, study and actions because Jesus’ whole life on earth was sacramentalized by the Risen Jesus and is a source of empowerment for us. We must practice Resurrection with the Risen Jesus by looking upon all of life with a Resurrection mindset. And we must practice Pentecost with the Spirit of Jesus by calling upon the Spirit for wisdom and courage in our daily lives.

Without this threefold spirituality, Cursillo’s spiritual engines run on empty. With this threefold spirituality, Cursillo’s engines roar and Jesus’ mission gets accomplished.

If our pursuit of holiness deepens our faith in God, in the Historical/Risen Jesus and the Spirit, and if evangelization fires up our love of others, then our striving for spiritual formation produces hope in us. And hope energizes our faith and love. As we penetrate more and more the mystery of Jesus through spiritual formation, leading us to increasingly practice the fruits of our search, we become more immersed in hope. Spiritual formation is the dynamic catalyst of the spiritual life, and consequently of the Cursillo Movement itself.

Practice Resurrection

Jesus’ resurrection is the pivotal point in God’s plan for us. The Risen Jesus looks back at the life events of the historical Jesus and transforms them into a power source for our holiness here and now. The Risen Jesus looks to the future and pours forth his Spirit to guide and empower us.

Yet, the cloud of a thousand-year-old, distorted theology that ignored Jesus’ resurrection hangs over us, as described in the article, Glorious Resurrection. We can’t hope to change long-standing attitudes easily. How do we become the resurrection people God intended us to be? We must practice resurrection. Our practice will enliven our Christian Vision. Think of Vision, Values, Action (Practice), the psychological model of the human person; and remember that our practices can grow our life vision into the Christian Vision.

Practice Resurrection of a Lifetime. We have said earlier that Jesus’ resurrection transformed the historical Jesus’ lived experience into a sacramental power source for us. But this abstract notion is difficult to grasp and to make real in our minds and hearts. Let us use our imagination to practice resurrection of Jesus’ lived experiences. Let us not only imagine Jesus rising from the dead, but also his life experiences and words. Imagine the many thousands points in Jesus’ life events also rising up from the dead with him into the living present. Perhaps envisioning his life experiences and words as so many tablets dancing up from the dead along with Jesus. In fact, his words and lived experiences have a new life of their own and have become sources of power for new encounters with Jesus and sources of power for our transformation into the ongoing incarnation of the Risen Christ within us. Imagine whatever works for you and helps you enter into the reality of resurrection. It will help you practice union with the historical Jesus.

Practice Resurrection within Community. Jesus has promised us that he would be with us wherever we gather in community in his name. Again, we are faced with an abstract concept and must use our imaginations to experience this reality. Think of Jesus’ disciples hiding in the Upper Room behind closed doors. Imagine the Risen Jesus here and now penetrating our communities, and most importantly, penetrating the closed doors of our minds and hearts, opening us up to his Spirit. Imagine Jesus saying to us: “Peace be with you!” and breathing his Spirit upon us. The Cursillo founders realized that it takes more than a gathering of Cursillistas to form community. It takes the dynamic process of people sharing their faith and growing together—empowered by the Spirit.

Practice Resurrection of Life Events. Jesus both preached and lived the paschal mysteries of death, resurrection and transformation into new life.  By his death and resurrection, he was penetrated with the Spirit and exalted as Lord of the whole of creation. In life, Jesus had told us that we had to give up or surrender something, or undergo a death experience to receive new life. In our lifetime, we suffer many death experiences—the death of our youth, our wholeness, our dreams, our honeymoons. It is precisely in these life events that we are called to practice resurrection.

In each of these life events, we truly experience the pain of these life deaths. But in the separation we feel from our former lives, we are already being offered resurrection. We are being offered a new way of life. Of course, we will require time for readjustment to the new life and even time for grieving the old. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we will let go and let the Spirit empower us for our new way of life.

The poet Wendell Berry gave this advice: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts….Practice resurrection. Practice coming alive again. Practice being a fiercely loving agent of Spirit, beauty and new life.”

Community Power

Through the ongoing Incarnation of Christ, each of us has the powers to heal others and to bind others to Christ through our love. Our powers are derived from the fact that we as individuals are incorporated into the Body of Christ. The question remains: Does the special presence of the Risen Christ in communities give any special powers to those who come together in community?

Growth Power. Something happens when people come together in the name of Christ. The Risen Christ is present, gifting them with His Spirit. In this environment, they have the capacity to actualize the power of the indwelling Spirit within each other. Given the chance, the Spirit releases dimensions of our personalities that in our ordinary lives we are unwilling or unable to display. We call these growth experiences moments of Spirit-empowerment through Christian community, Cursillo’s special charism.

Psychologists tell us that we grow or become more fully ourselves through other people. As Christians, we would say that differently, because we believe that there is essentially a spiritual reality that we are dealing with, namely, an encounter with the Spirit’s power in our relationships. Of course, we must come to Christian community (Ultreya, Group Reunion, etc.) with openness to the empowerment of Christian community, with an awareness of Cursillo’s charism, and with an expectancy that the Spirit will empower us to grow individually and as members of our community.

Prayer Power. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us: “Everyone who asks receives; everyone who searches finds.” But why does God not answer our prayers? We ignore the meaning of Christ’s ongoing Incarnation. In his book, The Holy Longing, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser answers that question by making two distinctions. First, when we petition God through Jesus Christ, what is being asked for must be asked through Jesus Christ and ourselves as members of the Body of Christ. Second, he says: “Prayers of petition have power to the extent that they are linked to concrete action within a community of faith and love.” For example, our personal Palanca is part of a communal effort to petition Christ’s Spirit for candidates’ conversion. Christ’s ongoing Incarnation has changed the way we petition God: we flesh out our petitions with action.

Forgiveness Power. As Catholics, we believe in the forgiveness power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That said, Rolheiser points out the role of community in having our sins forgiven: “To state things rather crassly…if I commit a serious sin on Saturday night and, whatever my physical state on Sunday morning, enter a church with some sincerity and contrition in my heart, I am forgiven my sin. I am touching the hem of Christ’s garment….We can forgive each other’s sins; not we, but the power of Christ within us.” He points out that St. Augustine stated that when Christians stood around the altar as a community and prayed the Lord’s Prayer, any sins they had ever committed would be forgiven. Such is the forgiveness power of community.

Infallibility Power. Infallibility is another power of Christian community. Are you surprised? Fr. Ladislas M. Orsy, SJ, a professor of law at Georgetown University, quotes the Vatican ll documents: “The whole body of the faithful who received an anointing which comes from the holy one…cannot be mistaken in belief. It shows this characteristic through the entire people’s supernatural sense of the faith, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful’ it manifests a universal consensus in matters of faith and morals.” Fr. Orsy writes: “Infallibility is not the exclusive privilege of the pope and of the bishops in council: it resides in the whole people.” Of course, the pope is the guide and spokesperson for the gift of infallibility.

Obstacle to Solidarity

In Incarnational Spirituality, we celebrate solidarity with others because we are all members of the Body of Christ. While this is a spiritual reality, we cannot say that we experience it deeply or often. The great obstacle to living this solidarity is the basic flaw in human nature of alienation, the result of Original Sin.

Some Christian writers have interpreted Original Sin as the sin of pride, while for others it was disobedience. St. Francis of Assisi gave another explanation. Our first parents were created in the image and likeliness of God. The devil’s offer to make them on the same level as God was like selling them the Brooklyn Bridge. A terrible deception. St. Francis interpreted Original Sin as our first parents being grasping, wanting to possess what they did not already have. This lust for possession was the Original Sin that resulted in alienation from God, self and others─with some interesting consequences.

Alienating Possessiveness. Have you noticed how thin-skinned we are? We are easily offended by people being different from us. If they think differently from us, we are offended. If they act differently from us, we are offended. If the way they dress is different from us, we are offended. The French may say, “Vive la Difference!” when it comes to the differences between men and women, but countless books are written about men being from Mars and women from Venus. And the marriage statistics demonstrate that the difference in gender is hard to cope with.

It seems that we possess very strongly what is peculiar to ourselves—our style of thinking and acting. We possess our personal qualities so strongly that we feel endangered by others being different from us. Fear sets in that we may lose what we possess. St. Francis put his finger on it—lust for possession. In reality, a lust for psychic possession. Our deep-seated alienation toward others is awakened by their differences.

What does this fear do for our relationships? When St. Francis met the leper, he was able to embrace him. When we encounter people who exhibit differences from us, they become lepers to us, and unlike Francis, we are unable to embrace them.

Unifying Poverty. St. Francis countered against human lust for possession by emphasizing poverty. Yes, material poverty, but also spiritual poverty. In the Gospels, we read: Blessed are the poor in spirit. When we deeply experience the insight that all that we possess has been given to us by a loving and gracious God, we can begin to take steps toward spiritual poverty. Ultimately, our deep-seated alienation is a rejection of our creaturehood and a refusal of gratitude to the Creator. Living deeply a life of gratitude to the Divine Giver will help us grow in spiritual poverty and become more open to others and their differences.

The spiritual exercise of practicing compassion is another help to growth in spiritual poverty. Here we attempt to become fully present to another, in a caring and attentive way, so as to receive the presence and the unique gift of the other. Through this exercise, we give ourselves away as a gift to others, making ourselves spiritually poor. For the moment we shed our psychic possessiveness. We deliberately set aside our alienation toward another with the expectancy of discovering the giftedness of the other. In the process, we suspend judgment of the other and we see the other in a different light.

The ultimate growth experiences in spiritual poverty come from the progressive surrender to the Spirit’s possession of us. Our lust for possessiveness can only be remedied by Spirit-possession. We demonstrate our Spirit-possession by our total dependency on the Spirit. Only the Spirit of love can dispossess us of our psychic possessiveness and free us for compassionate relationships with others.

Faith in Prayer and Sacrifice

As Cursillistas, we are called to be Palanca people. On our Weekend, we discovered a faith community who believes in the power of prayer and sacrifice to open others to the Spirit’s empowerment. There are hidden depths in our practice of Palanca. When we discover them, we realize that its practice offers us the opportunity to deepen our faith and spirituality.

Palanca is essentially intercessory prayer. However, when we really pray for another, not just say words that are nice, we take that person to our inner center, where we share that person’s concern with God. We become gift to the other person through the operation of the Spirit. So intercessory prayer benefits us first of all by turning us into gift. When we reveal our prayer to the person for whom we are praying, we are encouraging that person by our support. My revelation stirs the Spirit within that person. Whether or not the Spirit heals that person, or provides the strength to accept his or her problem, something has happened. The Spirit in us has moved the Spirit in another. Our Palanca give us the opportunity to experience this spiritual communion with another.

Father Ronald Rolheiser in his book, The Holy Longing, tells us that our faith in the power of prayer depends on an important piece of theology—Christ’s Incarnation. If we look upon the Incarnation as a 33-year experiment with Christ physically walking the earth and today present just in the Eucharist, leaving us the Holy Spirit, a real but less physical presence of God, we don’t have the whole picture. The Body of Christ also means the community of believers, which is also the real presence. So Christ is Jesus, the Eucharist and the community of faith. Through us, Christ still has physical skin, and can still be physically seen, touched and heard. Not metaphorically, but in a real sense.

Not only is this a dogma to be believed, but it is the core of Christian spirituality—with important consequences for our understanding of the power of prayer. We often wonder: “Why does God not answer our prayers?” Rolheiser says that prayers of petition have power to the extent that they are linked to concrete action within the Christian community: “To pray …demands concrete involvement in trying to bring about what is pleaded for in the prayer.”

Thus, our Palanca is based on solid theology and Christian spirituality. It is not just some nice practice. It is incarnational, meaning that it is physical. We don’t just remember the candidates in our prayers. Palanca is putting flesh behind our petitions. We make sure that they know about our prayers and sacrifices. We are the hands of Christ that write the letters.

Further, our personal Palanca is part of a communal effort to enable Christ’s Spirit to empower the candidates to conversion. Our prayers and sacrifices are added to the concrete efforts of the team and the outside community. In so doing we are living the dogma that Christ is present in the community of believers.

Also, we deeply believe that our Palanca, in the form of sacrifices, put us in touch with Christ’s suffering. Through Christ’s Self-gift, he won for us a great victory of reconciliation, making possible personal integration, union with God and others. Through our self-gift in our Palanca, we fill up what is lacking in Christ’s suffering to secure wholeness and healing for others.

Yes, Palanca is intercessory prayer at its best, but it is so much more than that. Palanca is living the ongoing Incarnation of Christ in his community of believers.

Further, our acts of Palanca are a manifestation of our faith and the opportunity to grow our faith and spirituality.

Compassion for Others

On our Cursillo Weekend we experienced very deeply God’s compassion for us and the Cursillo community’s compassion for us. We encountered a love community who was there for us, and their care, attention and self-gift to us enabled us to encounter the One who is Absolute Love, Presence and Self-gift. Ideally, our gratefulness for this gift of compassion should convert us to a new relationship with others. Indeed, we should want to grow in the virtue of compassion to live lives of compassion to others.

Our Weekend experience gives the word “compassion” a whole new dimension of meaning. Compassion for Cursillistas is being fully present in a caring, attentive way to another so as to receive the presence and giftedness of the other. When we are compassionate, we give the other person our presence, our hearts and our minds. We offer ourselves totally as self-gift with the expectancy that we will discover the giftedness of the other. Since we are totally committed to the other, we suspend judgment of the other. Consequently, we see the other in an entirely different light.

Christ exemplifies for us the virtue of compassion. Christ lived a life of passionate relationship to others, was fully present to those whom he encountered and was totally self-giving to others. What a magnetic presence Christ must have been! How his sense of love and fellowship must have resonated with those who followed Him! He was clearly an enormous love force in their midst.

There are two essential steps to exercise compassion. First, center down by focusing your attention on your body, mind and will in a very gentle and loving way; we might look upon this step as being compassionate to ourselves. This act of self-compassion enables us to reach out to others. Then, focus on the person you wish to encounter in compassion, again in a gentle and loving way until you experience the presence of the other’s spirit. It will take some practice; so make a deliberate practice of being compassionate toward others. Being Christ means being compassionate toward others.

When we live compassion for others to its fullest degree, we become communion to others. As compassion is being spiritually present to others, communion is being physically present to others. In his book, Our Journey Home, Jean Vanier gives us an insight into the meaning of communion. He says that communion is being bodily present to others. Body language—gestures, tone of voice, the look in our eyes, a handshake or a hug—is the fundamental instrument of communion. In the way we look and listen, we can reveal to someone his or her importance and uniqueness.

People are hungering for communion,Vaniersays, though they may not be aware of the term. Compassion brought to the height of communion is the radical love of others that Christ is asking of us. Christ understood the human need of people for communion. On the night before He died, He gave us the Eucharist. Being communion to others helps us appreciate Christ’s being Communion to us.

As other Christs, we are called to love others as Christ did, but it is difficult. It takes practice and education of the heart to accept the unique differences of others. We must learn to accept that they are called to develop their own potentials, and we should be willing to help that process. We must learn to respect their personality types, especially when they are so different from our own. People’s diversity is God’s creativity.

Be compassion, be communion to others. In this way, we are empowered to make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ, whether the person is a candidate for Cursillo or a fellow Cursillista.