Charity: the Gift of Self, Moved - Luigi Giussani

Charity: the Gift of Self, Moved

Luigi Giussani

10/31/2007 - From L. Giussani, Is It Possible to Live This Way? An Unusual Approach to Christian Experience, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal 2009, vol. 3: Charity, pp. 8-16

A pure gift of self. First, God’s relationship with man, the Mystery’s relationship with man–let’s say the Mystery, because Mystery is God and Christ, it is God and man–the Mystery appears to man as gratuitousness; that is, as charity. You can even say what Saint John said: God’s very nature is charity (1 Jn 4:16). Nature is that factor by which one acts in a certain way; nature is the origin of actions; therefore, if one acts with charity, it is because one has the nature that is the origin of charity. And he says: “Deus caritas est,” God is love, but love in its total, absolute sense: it wants the other’s good.
God’s nature appears as gratuitousness insofar as it has been given to man. Gift: this is the first word the term “gratuitousness,” or the term “charity,” or the term “love” attaches itself to. It is a pure gift, we said: without something in return. Without something in return means that it is a pure gift. God’s nature is to give; He appears to man as giving, as a gift, without something in return, a pure gift.
What does He give you? Himself, which is to say, Being; Being, because without Him nothing of what was made would have been made.
“Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Imagine that scene, the night of Holy Thursday. Everything was against them, and Jesus spoke, spoke–that long discourse we read together on Holy Thursday. (Giussani is referring to an annual gathering of university students in Communion and Liberation that takes place at the Charterhouse of Pavia on Holy Thursday. During the morning there are readings of chapters 14 to 17 of Saint John’s Gospel.) Those men who were accustomed to hearing Him speak stared at Him while He spoke, observing all His actions; they were more attentive to Him than usual; everyone was attentive. That man who had put His hand in the dish to eat together with them–as they did back then–at a certain point interrupts and says: “Without me you can do nothing.” This is God, the only one who can say this is God!
God’s nature appears to man as an absolute gift: God gives Himself, gives His very self to man. And what is God? The source of being. God gives man being: He gives man the ability to be; He gives man the ability to be greater, to grow; He gives man the ability to be completely himself, to grow to fulfillment; that is, He gives man the ability to be happy (happy–that is, totally satisfied or perfect. As I’ve always said, in Latin and in Greek, “perfect” and “satisfied” are the same word: perfectus, that is, perfect or fulfilled. A man who is fulfilled is a man who is satisfied).
He gave Himself to me by giving me His being: “Let us make man in our own image and likeness” (Gen 1:26). And then, when man least expected it–he couldn’t even dream about it, he no longer expected it, he no longer thought about Him from whom he had received being–this “Him” reenters man’s life to save it, He gives Himself again, dying for man. He gives everything, a total gift of self, until: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). A total gift.
But here, there is a final nuance. What Christ gives us in dying for us–dying because we betrayed Him–so as to purify us from the betrayal, is greater than what was owed to us. This is like an angle opened on the infinite, to be considered as you go through your life, something to be experienced. Christ gives us more than what was necessary to save us: where sin abounds, gratuitousness overabounds. He did more than what was necessary to save us. To save us, Christ could have merely said: “Father, forgive them”; that was enough. While He reclined to eat the last supper, He could have said: “Father, forgive them.” That would have been enough. It would even have been enough for Him to say: “Yes, Father, send me,” and enter into Mary’s womb, becoming a baby, becoming a man. This alone would have been enough. But no: “Where sin abounded, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom 5:20). However, the fundamental concept that explains the entire value of the term charity or gratuitousness–which delineates God’s nature, God’s way of acting, which we must imitate because He is the Father–is the gift of self (…).
Moved. The second factor–the first is the essential one–is like an adjective next to a noun, it’s descriptive. Adjective means that it rests, it rests on the noun, therefore it would be secondary to the first. Nevertheless, it is the most impressive, and we–I am willing to bet you–have never thought of it and would never think of it, if God had not put us together. Why does God dedicate Himself to me? Why does He give Himself to me, in creating me, giving me being, that is, Himself (He gives me Himself, that is, being)? Moreover, why does He become man and give Himself to me to make me innocent once again–as today’s hymn says (“This day of our Easter rejoicing, / Our innocence He will renew.” From the Sunday morning hymn, “The morn dawns refulgent with glory.” In Book of Hours. Milan: Coop. Edit Nuovo Mondo, 1992, p. 25)–and die for me (which there was absolutely no need for: a snap of the fingers and the Father would have certainly done it)? Why does He die for me? Why this gift of self up to the conceivable extreme, beyond the conceivable extreme? (…)
It is beautiful to come across this pity–“having pity on your nothingness”–in the gospel. For example, when–it is said twice–Jesus sees his city from the hill one night and cries over it, thinking of its ruin (Lk 13:34-5). Weeks later that city would kill Him, but for Him this doesn’t matter. Or that other night, immediately before He was taken, in the golden splendour of the temple illuminated by the setting sun, edakruse, the Greek text says, “He sobbed,” in front of his city’s destiny (Lk 19:41-4). It is pity like that of a mother who clings to her child so he does not fall into the mortal danger he’s headed for. And then, I’ll choose from Saint Luke first, because in Saint Luke this is more noticeable than in any other gospel (Saint Luke with Saint John and Saint Mark and Saint Matthew; Saint Matthew was a Jew, Saint Luke was a pagan): He’s walking through the countryside with his disciples and they’re breaking off ears of wheat, because they were hungry. They see a funeral passing by in the nearby town. He asks: “What is it?” “It’s a young guy–adulescens, an adolescent–who died and his mother is a widow. She lost her only son and she is a widow.” In fact the mother is wailing behind the coffin. Jesus walks over and says: “Woman, don’t cry,” which was something inconceivable. Aside from the fact that it’s between the ridiculous and the absurd, how can you tell a woman in that condition, who follows her son’s coffin, “Don’t cry”? It was the overflowing of pity, of compassion (Lk 7:11-17). (…)
Note, then, the point: God was moved by our nothingness. Not only that. God was moved by our betrayal, by our crude, forgetful, and treacherous poverty, by our pettiness. God was moved by our pettiness, which is even more than being moved by our nothingness. “I have had pity on your nothingness, I have had pity on your hatred of me. I was moved because you hate me,” like a father and mother who cry with emotion because of their child’s hatred. They don’t cry because they’re struck, they cry because they are moved, which means a cry that is totally determined by the desire for the child’s good, the child’s destiny: that the child may change, for his destiny, for the child to be saved. It’s compassion, pity, passion.

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