The registrants showed up for the first meeting as planned, a good 20 of them, dressed comfortably in casual summer clothes. As expected a few people had to miss the first meeting. It was after all summertime: vacations, visitors, other summer funs and commitments were rightful competition. I had made it clear to them that they should feel no pressure or obligation to attend every meeting as much as I liked them to. For one thing, this was only a pilot project, conducted to "fill in the gap" when my RCIA was in summer recess. More importantly, the course was designed in such a way that each meeting was essentially a self-contained topic of its own. Missing one meeting would not cause the participant any difficulty in understanding the next one.
Admittedly, partly due to the sheer numbers of the participants I normally had to deal with and partly my inability to remember well, I didn't always know the names of the people taking my programs. Not for this group though. All of them had attended either my Catechism Revisited Program or the Bible Study Program before and some of them were good friends from my family groups. The scriptural and catechetical knowledge they had picked up from such activities and their familiarity with my style made it easier for them to understand the materials of this program, which in many ways were more advanced. Needless to say, familiarity also bred mutual comfort.
We began by reviewing what the Church meant by the Holy Tradition. The understanding made it evident that any attempt to receive the revealed truth as it was given by Christ in its entirety to the Church and handed down faithfully by the Apostles and their successors to us must be grounded in the Holy Tradition, which explained why a deep immersion in the Church Fathers' writings and on-going reading of magisterial pronouncements and publications such as Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth was the best way to enable the Church faithful to understand the faith of the divine and universal Church of Christ without deviations and unnecessary detours.
Then, without further ado, we plunged right into the pages of the Holy Father's book, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, full of sweet insight and orthodox understanding of the Scriptures as it was. As I led the class to review and discuss the kingship of Jesus - the topic of our fist meeting - I felt like I was leading them to walk through delightfully a beautiful park full of colorful and exotic plants and flowers! No wonder the Scriptures were "fertile pastures and beautiful gardens in which the flock of the Lord is marvelously refreshed and delighted" to St. Ambrose (note 1); and to St. Jerome the experience of reading them seemed like "a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom" (note 2)!
Summertime to me was the time for preparing and promoting next year's programs, which inevitably involved meetings and lots of administration - not exactly the way I wanted to spend my time. At the same time, I realized such work was unavoidable. I wish I could spend more time to share the joy of reading the Bible, a wish constantly reinforced and heightened by the look of satisfaction exuded happily from the faces of the people fired up by the Holy Spirit to respond to the power of the word of God. By nature quiet and quite an introvert, I must admit I was never of any good in socializing: my hearing would go from bad to worse in noisy public places; my voice, soft and weak in velocity as it was, would get badly drowned out; and my head, devoid of topics for little talks that came so naturally for so many people, would go blank. But for some reason, the moment I stepped up with the Bible in hand to stand behind the lectern in front of a crowd, or stood in the middle of a room filled with people whose attention was generously given to me, I would suddenly feel perfectly at ease and comfortably at home. That was also how I felt standing in the middle of room 203 of CMCC yesterday, surrounded by a small group of people whom I knew intimately by name. Should you decide to join us to share the experience of "walking through a park", don't hesitate to join us next Sunday at 9:15 a.m.! Yes, we have plenty of room to admit some more participants, and absence from the first meeting would not cause you any hinderance.
Note 1: S. Ambrose in Ps. 118, serm. xix, 2.
Note 2: S. Jerome, Ep. 53, 10; PL. XXII, col.549; CSEL. LIV, p.463.