View of the Missouri River from the Abbey of Benedictine College. Photographer Patricia Duncan via Wikimedia Commons

Incline the Ear of Your Heart

Thirteen years after its presentation at the United Nations, the first book of Luigi Giussani’s PerCorso trilogy was presented in America’s heartland by Professor Michael Waldstein, in the context of the rest of the series.
Meinrad Miller

Atchison, Kansas, is home to Benedictine College, started by the Benedictine monks who came from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, in 1857, and the Benedictine Sisters who came from Minnesota in 1863. Located right in the heart of the United States, the campus is now also home to a vibrant CL community, one of several in central USA. It is natural for CL to thrive on a Benedictine campus. Monsignor Giussani often commented on the connection of the Movement to the Benedictines, as he did on February 12, 1982, when he told the Benedictine monks of Cascinazza near Milan, Italy: “Christ present! The Christian announcement is that God became one of us and is present here, and gathers us together into one body, and through this unity, His presence is made perceivable. This is the heart of the Benedictine message of the earliest times. Well, this also defines the entire message of our Movement, and this is why we feel Benedictine history to be the history to which we are closest.”

With great excitement, we welcomed Professor Michael Waldstein, the Max Seckler Professor of Theology at Ave Maria University in Florida, to present The Religious Sense for us on September 25th, to inspire and guide the initiation of the coming year’s study. Much has happened in Atchison in the eight years since the first presentation of Communion and Liberation in September 2002. At that time, just a year past the 9/11 event, we held a presentation on Giussani’s The Religious Sense, moderated by Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete. A handful of people who first experienced the Movement on that occasion were joined this past September by several hundred more who came to listen to Waldstein and to find out more about CL.

Benedictine College President Steve Minnis welcomed Professor Waldstein to campus. The president also commented on the vibrancy of Communion and Liberation, and thanked CL for being on campus. There is now a Memores Domini house of men in town. Benedictine College also works with CL to provide a semester study-abroad program in Florence, Italy, for its students.

Living the Real
Dr. Waldstein, who completed his Ph.D. in Philosophy on the writings of Hans Urs Von Balthasar, encountered the Movement as he was going to Rome in the early 1980s to work on an SSL in Sacred Scripture. When he asked Von Balthasar for people to look up in Rome who would understand Von Balthasar’s writings, he was given two names: Fr. Mark Ouellet, who is now the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, and Jacques Servais, S.J., the Director of Casa Balthasar in Rome. Through these men he met a third, Fr. Luigi Giussani. This encounter would have a profound impact on his life. When Waldstein returned to the United States to begin work on a second doctorate, this time at Harvard in New Testament studies, he and his wife Susie would be asked by Fr. Giussani to help the new Communion and Liberation group in the United States to grow. So the School of Community began to meet in the Waldsteins’ apartment.
The starting point for the book event was that, for Waldstein, Giussani’s work is not simply something he discourses about as an outside observer, but a personal and historic experience he and Susie have lived and continue to live.

The talk began with the heart of the matter, a quote from page 108 of The Religious Sense: “The only condition for being truly and faithfully religious, the formula for the journey to the meaning of reality, is to live always the real intensely, without preclusion, without negating or forgetting anything.”

We were then given the roadmap for the journey, a tour through the PerCorso (Giussani’s three-volume introduction to his method), starting with The Religious Sense and its focus on the question of the human heart. I thought immediately of St. Benedict, who begins his Rule for Monasteries by asking us to incline the ear of your heart.
What is novel for many people, Waldstein asserted, is that Giussani’s central point in this work is reason. We tend to reduce reason to the empirical sciences, and consider the heart and the religious sense to be “irrational.” Not so for Giussani: “…the formula for the journey to the meaning of reality, is to live always the real intensely.” Reality must be seen in the totality of its factors–what many would call faith and reason.
We were then introduced to the second volume of the PerCorso, the beautiful book At the Origin of the Christian Claim. Here we find one of Giussani’s key words: Event. The temptation is to reduce the event of Christ to a moral discourse. To help us with this, Waldstein drew on the encounter with Jesus in the Gospel of John.

The third volume of the PerCorso is entitled Why the Church? To make sure that this “remaining in Jesus” is not abstract, Giussani points out in this work that “the Church prolongs Christ’s humanity in history to reach us here and now as an efficacious sign of God’s presence.”
As Waldstein himself says: “Great as the PerCorso may be when one measures it by the academic criteria of sustained and penetrating theological thought–and I think it is great indeed–one sees its true greatness only when one realizes how it is saturated by an experience that is its immediate origin and target.”

We then returned to the main topic of the day, the way of the religious sense. There were five major points for this: 1) Awe of the “Presence,” 2) The Cosmos, 3) “Providential” Reality, 4) The Dependent “I,” and 5) The Law of the Heart. [A fuller description of these categories can be found in Waldstein’s own chapter entitled, “Living the Real Intensely,” which was part of the book, A Generative Thought, An Introduction to the Works of Luigi Giussani (2003, McGill-Queens Press).]

The Pivotal Role
It was at this point that Waldstein introduced the topic of the encounter with Jesus in the Gospel of John. This is key because, to understand how Christ reaches us today, we need to see the method that Christ has always used. Waldstein then walked us through seven encounters with Jesus in John’s Gospel.

The first was the encounter of desire. In John 1: 35-38, we see the passage that was so often commented on by Giussani himself. It has to do with desire. Jesus asks the disciples who follow Him, “What are you seeking?” Another way of wording that is, “What do you desire?” This reminded me of St. Benedict’s directive in Chapter 58 of his Rule where he clearly states that the first attribute of a monastic vocation is that one seeks God. The same is true in all our lives.

The second point was that the disciples remain with Jesus. Quoting from John 14:2: “In the house of My Father there are many places to remain in; if not, would I have told you that I am going in order to prepare a place for you?” This remaining continues through the Church, and through our communion, which is a real bond with Christ.

The third point is the tenth hour (Jn 1:39). “They came and saw where He was remaining, and they remained with Him that day. It was about the tenth hour.” To note the time shows the impact that the encounter had upon the disciples.

Seven Times
The fourth point: interiority. Passages in John speak of the depths of Jesus’ remaining with us in the Eucharist (6:56) which caused the great St. Augustine to cry out: “Interior intimo meo et superior summo meo,” or, “More interior than my innermost and higher than my summit” (Confessions, 3:6.11). To demonstrate this interiority even more clearly, Waldstein pointed out that in the story of the vine and the branches (Jn 5:1, 4-8), Jesus teaches us to remain in Him seven times.
The fifth point: the Trinity. As we get into John 15:9-13, we see the connection between the Father’s love for Jesus and our need to remain in His love. This passage ends with the great commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. We can recall Pope Benedict’s homily at the funeral of Msgr. Giussani, when he reminded the world again that Christianity is first an encounter, a love story. This point was brought out again in his first Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est. Just as the Gospel of John connects keeping the commandments with love, so St. Benedict toward the end of the Prologue to his Rule makes the connection: “We shall run the way of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love.” This passage from the Rule has helped me understand another key element of Giussani’s teaching, that the Movement does not exist to solve our problems. St. Benedict reminds us that it is not the road that widens as we encounter love and Christ (in other words, our problems go away); rather, it is that our heart expands with the unspeakable sweetness of love.

A Story in the Heart
The sixth point is the Cross. In John 12:24 we are told that if a grain of wheat does not die, it remains alone. This encounter with Christ, and the subsequent death, can be seen in the experience of St. Paul in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

Finally, the seventh point dealt with the mediation of the Christian community (John 17:20-21; 17: 22-23; 13:34-35).The importance of the Church is brought out here. This recalls the question, which will become the title of the last book, Why the Church?

Eighth Day Books, a store in Wichita, run by an Orthodox man, was on hand to sell among others the works of Giussani. There was also a table with Traces. The Ministry office of the college provided refreshments afterward, and Br. Leven from the Abbey was on hand with samples of his peanut brittle. In these details it is clear that the event of Dr. Waldstein’s presentation did not end when he stopped speaking and answering questions.

On this day, a new friendship was born that lives not just in the heads, but now in the hearts of a people.