Catholic Conviviality: Reflections from Provence
Catholic conviviality is the first step to living an authentically Christian life.
Against the backdrop of a small town in Provence, France, an annual gathering of students, young professionals and intellectuals come to experience the beauty of the Catholic faith. The Pro Civitate Dei conference was a week-long conference to restore Catholic culture within a liturgical and intellectual environment. For one week, great minds like Dr. Gladden Pappin and Dr. Patrick Deneen would lecture attendees on faith and politics to inspire the next generation of Catholics. During the conference, and now finally having the opportunity to reflect on it, I realized an important aspect of the mission of Catholic Political Realism and the faith — the importance of Catholic Conviviality.
What is Catholic Conviviality? Catholic conviviality is living an incarnational life. The lifestyle emphasizes the most crucial aspect of the world: the Incarnation. The Incarnation, where the Word became flesh, is the standard of our everyday life. The Eucharistic life is the ideal life for faithful Christians. Catholic conviviality recognizes the Incarnation’s presence in our lives that helps our faith grow.
Catholic conviviality is the first step to living an authentically Christian life through a liturgically ordered life, living in a Catholic community, and experiencing transformative encounters with Jesus.
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Liturgically Ordered Life
When I arrived at Pro Civitate Dei, I immediately experienced the liturgically ordered life. Immediately after arriving and putting on my seersucker jacket, I heard the bell of La Contessa, or the Countess, our compound, strike. Immediately, the patrons and the conference staff began to pray the Angelus. Their unity and dedication to praying together showed the beauty that comes from this lifestyle. I saw a glimpse into the beauty that would unfold throughout the week.
The structure of the conference was centered around the Liturgy of the hours fostered by the Fraternity of St. Joseph the Guardian. The day would begin each morning with Prime, followed by celebrating the Holy Mass in the traditional rite, Vespers, and finally, Compline. Masses were usually said in the nearby Church of the Nativity but alternated in different churches of the diocese in Provence.
Religious moments were not limited to the liturgically, but were also found in religious celebrations. I was blessed to experience beautiful moments of the faith, such as carrying the processional canopy during the Corpus Christi Procession, making a pilgrimage to the skull of St. Mary Magdalene, and celebrating St. Anthony’s feast day by kissing one of his relics. The most beautiful testament of the faith was witnessing one candidate enter the Church. I was blessed to have a first-hand witness of the fruits of faith.
The liturgically oriented life was a beautiful structure that allowed for the growth of Catholic Conviviality.
The substance of the conference was not found in the lectures given each day but outside in the small courtyard. Great theological and philosophical discussions commenced around a table with different snacks, drinks, and always three pots of coffee. The conversations stretched numerous topics, veering into discussions I could have never imagined. From discussing the works of Virgil to the current state of politics to simple discussions of life, every conversation was vibrant with content. It was a first-hand witness to some of the greatest minds engaging in thought-provoking dialogues. Up until the late hours of the night, the faith shone in our great conversations.
The conversations were not limited to the courtyard; they were active in the great discussions at dinner. Whether it was lunch or dinner, a great meal was provided, always with a glass of rosé wine, the signature wine of Provence. These meals were not done to eat for the necessity of consumption but to engage in conversation. During these dinners, beautiful discussions of faith and politics flourished.
Yet, one small action solidified the communal growth of the candidates — that was service. At times, we were fraternally instructed to do a task. We would be ordered to “go around and make sure everyone has a full glass” or “bring these plates to these people.” While it may seem annoying, it sparked something beautiful. Serving others is a proper and professional custom and reflects our true desires. Man desires to serve, with the truest form of service completed by the God-man, Jesus Christ. This desire was not smothered but allowed to flourish. The small acts of service allowed us to emulate the service that Christ taught. By the end of the conference, I found myself pouring others drinks before pouring myself one.
These moments in the courtyard, at dinner, or with the drinks reflect a forgotten conservative value: the community. This idea of community was reflected during these instances. Candidates were not there simply to drink or smoke but to engage in something greater than themselves. Candidates bonded with each other over the beauty of the faith or the shared experiences of the conference. From these small instances, the conference reflected an authentic community.
The most important aspect of the conference was not the activities, the talks, or the community but the encounter with Jesus. Pro Civitate Dei is not simply a trip to France; it is a trip to meet Jesus. Where is it better to meet Jesus than in the daughter of the Church?
Each day of the conference provided this personal encounter with Jesus. I sat in the pew and contemplated the beauty of the Mass. In the small parish church, I entered the world of the divine. The supernatural power of the liturgy was reflected in the majesty of the Mass. The music and incense culminated in an authentic contemplative experience with the King of Kings. Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament while penitentially saying, “dominus non sum dignus,” made me feel like I was at the foot of the Cross.
During the Liturgy, I opened myself up to Christ. It was during the silence of the mass that I heard God speak, saw the invisible God, and felt an encounter with Jesus. This personal encounter is the bedrock of our Catholic faith. Pope Benedict XVI said in a homily at The Catholic University of America, “this unique encounter is sustained within our Christian community: the one who seeks the truth becomes the one who lives by faith.” The one who seeks Christ is the one whom He can radically transform.
Attending Pro Civiate Dei was about fostering Catholic conviviality, an essential guide to living an authentic Christian life. Before any political action can begin, it is crucial to analyze oneself and reorient their whole life towards Jesus. Political victories are important, but what is more important is to have a friendship with Christ. Jesus says, “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
After a week in France, I returned with a better sense of myself and my faith. In addition to all the cigars, I left the conference with friendships. These were not just average friendships but true ones oriented towards virtue and Christ.
Catholic conviviality starts today. Besides all the beautiful experiences and discussions, the main takeaway from the conference was a deeper bond with Jesus. It has six months since the conference, and I have retained what I learned in France. I make small efforts daily to recreate the encounter I experienced during my trip and further build a life Catholic conviviality. The conference made me appreciate the different aspects of the faith and allowed me to have more incredible formation as I remain at home. Do not deny yourself the wonders of this lifestyle. Instead, strive to see Christ in everything.
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