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Christian Claim on Capitol Hill

After the UN, Father Giussani's book on Christ is presented in the U.S. capital. Waldstein and Albacete spoke at the Catholic University of America, an important center for theological and philosophical studies.
Michelle Watkins

On the evening of Monday, April 12th, a crowd gathered in the Life Cycle Auditorium of Catholic University of America for the presentation of the second book of the trilogy, At the Origin of the Christian Claim. Dr. Michael Waldstein, President of the International Theological Institute, and Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, Scholar-in-Residence at St. Joseph's Seminary were the speakers while Dr. David Schindler, Theology Professor at the John Paul II Institute, moderated. The event was rendered more significant by its location. Catholic University is a great center of theological and of Catholic philosophical study, as witnessed by its scholars and by the depth and the breadth of its programs. Giussani's thought so pointedly and so effectively overcomes the typical errors and tendencies of many academic studies: the reduction of Christianity to an intellectual abstraction in which it is rendered accessible only by mental and spiritual gymnastics; the separation of reason's understanding of the faith and from the experience of it; and the reduction of Christianity to a mere set of doctrines. Thus, the presentation of the second book in any such academic environment necessarily offers a great challenge.

An example from the ancients
Dr. Waldstein began with a quote from Plotinus whom he described as the best exemplification of the ancients' religious sense and, thus, the religious sense of those who had not even conceived of the possibility of Christ. Plotinus expresses a great and lofty longing for something high above us, for an "inconceivable beauty which stays within the holy sanctuary and does not come out where the profane may see it." Such a longing clearly implies the need for an ascent, an ascent of great intellectual and spiritual rigor beginning with detachment for the profane world around us. Thus, for Plotinus, the way is a steep and arduous struggle out of the world, whereas the Christian way is a man-a man who came and dwelt in the world, declaring "I am the way, the truth, and the life." If the way and the truth are a man, then the method is a personal encounter, an experience of a real presence among us which is no different than the recognition of and the remaining in the company of a friend. Waldstein dwelt on the example of a couple who reads about, plans for, and in other such ways thinks about becoming parents. It is only the presence of the child in the house that truly makes them parents and that makes sense of their preparation and their thought.

The content of the experience of which we are speaking is love, self-gift. "God's pedagogy, in which the only Son of God comes out from the holy sanctuary to where the profane may see Him, has as its goal the manifestation that in Himself He is love. The education of the disciples is an education precisely to that." Our scholar on the Gospel of St. John then provided many Johannine texts on the notion of staying with and remaining with Christ. If the method is an encounter, a personal experience, then the notion of remaining in the company of and in the presence of Christ is essential. In the Gospel of St. John, the idea of remaining begins simply with a being in the physical presence of and gradually develops into a dwelling in, being truly united to, and being transformed by Christ. Christ's presence today is found in the Church. Thus, it is by remaining in community and staying in the company of our friends that we achieve real unity with Christ and that we are transformed by him. Waldstein, thus, concluded that "the method of the Incarnation is continued in the Church. It is the lived unity of those transformed by Christ who become the point others can encounter. Just as in remaining with him the disciples were transformed, so in remaining with our community can we be transformed now."

Since 1986, Boston
Albacete explored the reasonableness of the Christian claim and the accessibility of the original event to one living today. The Christian claim does not originate in the dynamics of a religious experience, as such, but in an historical event, in a fact in history. The claim is not based on recalling what happened two thousand years ago, it is based on what happens now. It is by the power of the claim of the event occurring now that one lives as a Christian. Using the example of the blind man from the Gospel whose response to the Pharisees' questions was simply, "All I know is that I was blind and now I can see," Albacete pointed out that often our only firm claim is a claim about our present experience. "All I know is this one fact. This one man Christ is present in my life and without Him I could not live." This is the true point of departure, the event made present to us.

Not only was the participation impressive due to the numbers who attended but also due to the many questions. Of special interest was a question concerning the dynamic nature of "remaining" since it is a term which can seem so static. Waldstein responded by speaking of his own experience in the Movement, describing how he stayed with the friends that he met in Boston in 1986. "Out of that has come a history of 13 years. Looking back on that time I see how I have been transformed, how even my work as an exegete of the Gospel of John has been transformed by this encounter-which, as a seed at the beginning, leads to a dramatic history. And it's a history that remains dramatic as also the history of the disciples with Jesus."