Mass for Fr. Giussani in Bologna on February 20, 2023 (Photo: Luca Petrolo)

A companionship of those in love with Christ

The homily of Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna, on the occasion of the Mass for the anniversary of Fr. Giussani's death in Bologna on February 20.
Matteo Maria Zuppi

It is indeed true: "All wisdom comes from the Lord, and is with him forever." Who can understand and count the greatness of the dimensions of our lives? We are always truly beggars and we need to let ourselves be guided by that God who makes himself a companion on the road precisely so that we may free ourselves from the true original sin that is to seek self-affirmation, in self-pride and not in helping oneself, in strength and not in weakness. It is the little ones who understand the mystery of the kingdom. Today we thank God for the gift of Fr. Luigi Giussani, who in a personal way, even for those who did not know him personally, has come to us. In some ways we all knew him. He was wise because he made himself small in God’s hands, to whom he entrusted himself, in whom he believed and showed to be alive to so many hearts. Everything is possible for those who believe, Jesus affirms and Giussani testifies to us.

We think of him precisely as the father of that boy, who became the father of so many young people who wanted to be themselves, free from whatever imprisoned their hearts, from the deceptive answers that did not make them masters of themselves. Giussani responded just like the father in the Gospel, immediately, without uncertainty, with the passion with which we remember him and which he attracted so much, with a loud voice, for himself and others, without fear, in a strong affirmation of his own faith without compromise or lukewarmness: "I believe; help my unbelief!" It seems contradictory to believe and be unbelieving. Faith, in reality, is always a dimension of continuous searching, of questioning. Those who seek ask for help, are not afraid of their weakness, misery, sin, doubts, and at the same time can affirm their faith.

And Jesus' help was precisely companionship. At the beginning of his "adventure" there was just not wanting to accept that so many young people did not know the living Christ, and he wanted this encounter to make them themselves. And, as in today's Gospel, he was not content with a faith that does not change lives. Jesus responds by explaining that we have the power: not if I can, but because all things are possible to those who believe! "I believe; help my unbelief!" Thus one is freed from the dumb and deaf spirit. That boy did not communicate, did not listen and did not express himself; he was alone. Our companionship has made us listen to new words, full of love, and made us capable of a new, different language. And the gift of fraternity, which changed our lives, made us discover the other and understand them, the joy of bonding, made us capable of new words. Giussani used the expression "companionship." They were concrete people for him and that they were to the end. Pope Benedict XVI called the companionship of Christians reliable. "The Christian is placed in a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death because these companions are God’s family, which in itself bears the promise of eternity. It will always accompany him, even on days of suffering and in life's dark nights; it will give him consolation, comfort and light.
This companionship, this family, will give him words of eternal life, words of light in response to the great challenges of life, and will point out to him the right path to take. This group will also offer the child consolation and comfort, and God's love when death is at hand, in the dark valley of death. It will give him friendship, it will give him life. And these totally trustworthy companions will never disappear. No one of us knows what will happen on our planet, on our European Continent, in the next 50, 60 or 70 years. But we can be sure of one thing: God's family will always be present and those who belong to this family will never be alone. They will always be able to fall back on the steadfast friendship of the One who is life. This family of God, this gathering of friends is eternal, because it is communion with the One who conquered death and holds in his hand the keys of life.” (Homily, January 8, 2006). I read this long part of Pope Benedict XVI's reflection to also remember him with you and for that profound harmony that united him to Fr. Giussani whose last farewell he celebrated.
This companionship is open because it is Christ's and therefore cannot become a sect. It is real, physical, not idealized. Woe to the companionships that become virtual, easy projections of our beliefs, that do not measure up to the contradictions of the human and easily end up resembling the Pharisees who judge and do not love, who condemn and do not save, who feel pure and can only see the speck of gold! Jesus is the companionship that overcomes sin, that embraces the failed and disobedient son and prepares a feast for him because he has come back to life. Companionship not of the pure, but of those in love with Christ and, therefore, attentive to all that is human because this, too, in some ways, is part of the companionship, echoes deeply, arouses interest, bonding. Freely, because it is an individual choice.

We love each other for who we are, with our imperfections, as Jesus does, and it is this love that accepts and changes us, which is why we are happy to be better. Not as independent and interchangeable adults, but always as children and brothers, as a Christian always is. This is the first Galilee of the call, where Pope Francis has asked you to return not to rehash the past, but to understand the grace we live today, which has protected us sometimes against ourselves, to choose the future, to rediscover the love of the beginning and not let the mediocrity and lukewarmness of the adult win, or the bitter and disillusioned resignation of the old. In short, not to stop being surprised by so much love. Giussani said, "You make human hearts dwell in a house." "Our company is a sign and no sign is perfect; therefore our companionship is full of imperfections: our own. Forgive us!" It is always so true. Perfect is Christ and being His, not us. And it is always sentimental. Giussani said, "For there is a greater unity among us than I had with my father, mother, brother and sisters; a unity for which your Destiny, friend, is desired with the exact same passion with which I desire mine" (CL Beginning Day, Milan, September 14, 1991).

Take care to make it grow by putting Jesus at the center. There is a second characteristic proper to companionship: gratuitousness (L. Giussani, Affezione e dimora [Affection and dwelling place], p. 261). "Loving is not truly loving if it is not totally gratuitous. Gratuity implies exemption, the avoidance of any kind of profit calculation! That is why no one is as great as the one who gives his life for the work of Another" (L. Giussani, Realtà e giovinezza : la sfida [Reality and Youth. The Challenge], pp. 51˗53). It is never a closed companionship: "Each of us is called to give birth to this people, to broaden this companionship, to communicate it to others. Each one is called to this so that people, who are always alone even when they go crazy on holidays, find the mercy of a fraternity, find a love." This is why companionship becomes service to the world and is continually renewed, growing in faithfulness. Charity is not a good deed, a volunteer work, but it is part of this companionship and becomes friendship, relationship, sharing, as Christ did who, in order to love us, Giussani affirmed, "did not send us his riches (as he could have done) and revolutionize our situation; instead he became poor like one of us, he ‘shared’ our nothingness." Beyond the results, the real result is charity itself, which gives birth, for example, to cooperatives and does not cease being creative.

It is an open challenge not to lose motivation and grow in responsibility. It is not enough to know to understand, but it is necessary to do, with that courage of freedom that is to adhere to the being that can be seen, that is, to the truth. It is like touching the poor, of which Pope Francis speaks so much to us. "It is the free time that I have which educates me, that which gives the exact measure of my availability to others is the use of that time which is mine alone, with which I can do whatever I want. In this way, we form a mentality, an almost instinctive way of conceiving all of life as communion.” With so much freedom from stereotypes and the common mentality. During one meeting a young man recounted that he had given some money to a very poor woman and was negatively struck that the woman used it to buy herself a lipstick. Giussani replied to him that "he had not understood anything about sharing, because he did not accept the others’ need, but wanted to impose upon her his own moralistic program. He had not understood that in that moment that women’s real need could be the need to feel prettier, stylish" (A. Savorana, The Life of Luigi Giussani, p. 248). This is the understanding of the person, full of charity, that will never make charity grow old but will make it an integral part of the companionship. May Giussani grant you to always return to Galilee, to start again from "follow me," to work in the dramatic harvest of this world as artisans of peace to compose this companionship among men in which they experience the companionship of God.

Cathedral of Bologna, February 20, 2023