Cardinal Zuppi during mass for Fr. Giussani in Bologna

Zuppi: "Fr. Giussani’s passion for humanity”

The homily of the Cardinal Archbishop of Bologna during mass for the anniversary of Fr. Giussani’s death (February 22, 2021).
Matteo Maria Zuppi

This evening, the memory of Fr. Luigi Giussani is united with the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. It is a coincidence certainly not chosen by us, but one that we receive as it is, God's Providence. We should trust less in our own plans and read more the many signs that the provident Father provides us with!

To reflect upon the link between Fr. Luigi Giussani and the Chair of Peter, and therefore with the one who is seated upon it, - woe to anyone who distinguishes! - I evoke the image at the end of Fr. Giussani’s speech in St. Peter's Square, during the Pentecost vigil in 1998. Giussani, with a number of difficulties due to his illness, tried to get down on his knees in total abandonment before Pope John Paul II. He wanted to physically express, before everyone, the obedience he felt towards the Pope. He had a relationship of total reliance on Rome; he was a child of the Church of St. Ambrose for whom "ubi Petrus ibi Ecclesia". This cannot be disputed.

Jesus chooses Peter to preside in charity. He is not perfect according to the Pharisees, or strong according to Herod. He entrusts everything to a man whose sin and human traits He made known. Jesus wants a house that will withstand the rain, the wind, and the rivers for his people, and he points to Peter - whose betrayal He knows would soon take Him away from him - as the rock.

Peter recognizes Christ. On his word he throws down his nets, he weeps and with his sin he sets out making his "follow me" his own. His "chair" is the Mother of all Churches and his service is that of communion, God's holy gift never to be blasphemed, served by the shepherd and with the indispensable love of the whole body.

In St. Peter's, Bernini placed the Chair high up in the center of the Basilica. Pope Benedict described it as follows: " After passing through the magnificent central nave, and continuing past the transepts, the pilgrim arrives in the apse and sees before him an enormous bronze throne that seems to hover in mid air, but in reality is supported by the four statues of great Fathers of the Church from East and West. And above the throne, surrounded by triumphant angels suspended in the air, the glory of the Holy Spirit shines through the oval window. The window of the apse opens the Church towards the outside, towards the whole of creation, while the image of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove shows God as the source of light… the Church herself is like a window, the place where God draws near to us, where he comes towards our world. The Church does not exist for her own sake, she is not the point of arrival, but she has to point upwards, beyond herself, to the realms above. The Church is truly herself to the extent that she allows the Other, with a capital “O”, to shine through her – the One from whom she comes and to whom she leads. The Church is the place where God “reaches” us and where we “set off” towards him: she has the task of opening up, beyond itself, a world which tends to become enclosed within itself, the task of bringing to the world the light that comes from above, without which it would be uninhabitable… That window is given great prominence by the triumphant angels and the great golden rays, with a sense of overflowing fullness that expresses the richness of communion with God. God is not isolation, but glorious and joyful love, spreading outwards and radiant with light.”

I like to think that Peter's ministry of communion also orients and unites those rays that are each of us, our different charisms, all reflections of the one gift that is God's love and toward which they themselves radiate. The gift is never for itself but always and only for Christ!

The divider scatters charisms, makes them equal, often mediocre or incapable of helping each other, induces people to think of them alone, to take possession of them, to set them against others, to make them a motive for human glory and not God's. The diversity of gifts comes from the one Father and is a richness when Christ is at the center, who make us all feel like children, never equal but never without others.

The temptation of Christians is to stop being children, thinking that this is a sign of maturity. We are adults not when we are self-sufficient - how sad and how we become trivial children of the world! - but in the interiority of heart and mind. We are adults when we do not cease to be generative, to lose ourselves for others, simple as children, children and brothers, not orphans and alone.

We are adults in the faith if we do not stop being moved by the signs of God's love, by the many "facts" that the Word makes happen, using our poor humanity as beggars of meaning. We are adults if we do not lose the gratuitousness of the gift by encountering and serving Jesus' younger brothers and sisters.

If we are still moved (wonder) by seeing the life of a person who changes and if we desire with our encounter and with our humanity to help this happen, seeking for the adventure to always revive, it means that we are not old! Giussani did not accept Christianity reduced to a façade, bourgeois, self-satisfied, enslaved to individual well-being, bent towards the mentality of the world, far from real life, full of judgments and empty morals, without passion, that did not live the freedom of the encounter with the other or that lost itself in dialogue!

Do we not live today in times in which we are asked to live that same passion in order to reach the desire for the future, for beauty that troubles the hearts of so many and is hidden in everyone? The Church is always Christ's alone, not Peter's.

The passion for Christ that Fr. Giussani witnessed was intimately linked to the passion for man. They are the two aspects of God's love. Woe betide if we separate them! Péguy said that we must imitate Christ, but that He teaches us to imitate man, because Jesus is the "most perfect imitation of mortal misery and the condition of man."

Separating these two experiences is the origin of the "isms" that distance us from reality; it does not make us listen to what Christ is asking of us today because we think we already know him; it fills us with fear and locks us in a world that may be shaken but is devoid of true life. Paternity guarantees this vital transmission of love, which always takes place through people, not in a laboratory, but within a concrete history, marked by our sin and our fragility, but always beautiful because it is the place of God's adventure with us.

Let us be grateful for the charism that Giussani lived, that was confirmed by Peter and that allowed the gift that is each of us, in which He lives, is preserved and transformed. Many of us are no longer young. "Being young means having faith in a purpose. Without purpose one is already old. In fact, old age is determined by this: that one no longer has purpose." This is what is asked of each of us. Amid the suffering that the pandemic reveals and generates, we accept the challenge of the crisis, an opportunity to communicate a living presence today, an intelligent companionship, because our identity is that of faithful love that becomes a neighbor to all.

We are strong and therefore capable of a dialogue that is not watered down but makes our identity known. The unique gift of our persons (character, history, experience, abilities) is realized in communion - which is not a condominium, perhaps with many comforts, with all the necessary rules and guarantees, but devoid of life. In a season where the protagonism of each of us is the true idolatry, so much so as to become a demon that divides even at the cost of becoming weaker, communion is the passion for that the caress of the Nazarene to reach the people we meet. It is the friendship among us that welcomes the many who are lonely.

Fr. Giussani was attentive to each person and recognized the desire for God in everyone, which he sought, waited for, discovered because he knew that God is everything for every person we meet - at work, our neighbor, or on the street. God is not just for the religious man or the man with a specific temperament.

That person does not know it, just as we did not know when, perhaps before encountering the movement, we had turned away from the Church because it was an addition, a ritual, a tradition that said nothing to life and its fundamental needs - or we had an empty, formal, bourgeois membership in it.

Every charism is a gift of the Spirit so that it can reach everyone. "For the real man, God is everything; He is involved in everything, in the way you love, in the way you work, in the way you speak" and this love for Christ cannot be separated from the passion for man, also because, as Carrón recently said, "only love is credible". The challenge today is not to lose the totality of the choice and to defend it with an interior man who responds to the demand for meaning and beauty that is in everyone.

I would like to conclude with a prayer dear to Giussani, by Grandmaison, which he learned when he was fifteen years old and which, as he wrote, "is the prayer that most luminously describes friendship rooted in faith. In fact, man's I is destined to be together with everything that exists, with the mystery of Being. Why? Because it was made in the image of God and God is communion, the communion of Father, Son and Spirit - the mystery of the Trinity. A solitary self is a lost self; thus the self that is not solitary is sustained by the companionship that is friendship, and friendship is created by obedience."

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, preserve in me the heart of a child, pure and transparent as a spring. Obtain for me a simple heart that does not brood over sorrows; a heart generous in giving itself, quick to feel compassion; afaithful, generous heart that forgets no favour and holds no grudge. Give me a humble, gentle heart, loving without asking any return; a great indomitable heart that no ingratitude can close, no indifference can weary; a heart tortured by its desire
for the glory of Jesus Christ: pierced by His love with a wound that will heal
only in heaven.” He learned it when he was fifteen years old, he made it life with his whole life.

Read also - Bassetti: "Fr. Giussani and the 'love story' of Christianity"

"To understand means to grasp the profound correspondence between what is said to you and your self, the needs of your self, the profound needs of your heart, the profound needs of your living." To obey is not to say yes, to do what you are told. Obeying begins as effort and work (note that it is a problem of simplicity of heart, that is, recognizing the evidence of a correspondence between what you are told and the needs of your heart, of your life). If I make you understand that what I say to you I am saying because it corresponds to the needs of your heart, you would say to me: ‘Thank you for telling me! Thank you for telling me!’, and this becomes yours, and you must follow yourself. This is following one's conscience; one's true conscience is one's conscience made great and mature by an encounter. And this makes us friends. True following is friendship, true obedience is friendship.

To explain his experience, Giussani said: "All life asks for eternity". This phrase, taken from a song composed forty years ago by two high school students from Milan, documents the first impetus from which I feel my experience described: a passion for humanity.

Not humanity as defined by sociologists or philosophers, but the humanity that my father and mother communicated to me. There is no humanity except in the "I"; otherwise it would be an abstraction in the name of which the most terrible injustices can be committed. Therefore, an extreme seriousness is needed to notice, to gather the needs, that aspirations that define the human. In this is the profound link between personal consciousness and communion.