'Resurrection of Christ' by Rottenhammer via Wikimedia Commons

A Problem of Knowledge

The talk addressed to the New York community on October 17, 1999, for the CL Beginning Day. The resumption of an educational path in the heart of America. The Christian claim, an exhaustive answer to the original needs of the heart.
Lorenzo Albacete

I have found among my friends at the New York Times, Public Broadcasting Service, The New Republic, New Yorker, and the "Lefty Salon" a great commitment to causes that span all areas of human experience. They are seen as "moral" imperatives. One can say that these people are part of a "movement," in that they are "moved" to undertake these causes. Yet, when you seek to discover the origins of the movement, the origins of their commitment and engagement with these causes, you find no "ultimate reason" for it, no appeal to a coherent "totality" that would justify the movement as worthwhile for everyone. It seems to be movement for its own sake, commitment for its own sake. Morality exists within the commitment, within the particular causes, but it is not tied to a totality. This is, of course, moralism: "value" is detached from truth; affectivity is uprooted from any notion of transcendent truth. (…) The tragedy of this situation is precisely the losing struggle to sustain the experience of the self, of existence as persons, by means of commitments and engagements with life ("action" is how the self expresses itself and constitutes itself) but not allowing these to have any relation to an over-all experience of totality judged by a reason allowed its maximum horizon. The end result is a great sadness, a melancholy, discernible even in the midst of a frenetic activism. In order to fight this sadness, one can go all the way and deny that there is a meaning to anything. This is what is called "post-modernity," but most of the people I have met refuse to go that far. I guess they hope to be so occupied with partial causes, cutting-off reason's questions when they begin to touch the Absolute, and training themselves to accept their unhappiness as the price of realism or maturity. (Is this the Chernobyl man of Fr. Giussani?) This bleeding or mortal weakness of the "I" manifests itself in all the areas where the "I" seeks to express itself totally, according to all its energies and exigencies, for example, in the area of human relations, especially marriage and sexuality (where this alienation structures itself socially); in the area of work (where this alienation structures itself economically); and in the face of suffering and death. We have been dealing with this situation in our itinerary of reflection of the past few years. In In Search of the Human Face we studied this bleeding of the "I," this neglect of the "I," as it was called, in our culture. In The Religious Sense we have been learning how to judge this situation, insisting that it is a distortion in our way of grasping reality, a problem in the level of knowledge. Fr. Giussani has also insisted on this recently in his lessons about our fragility, that is, when we keep falling into this situation inspite of our initial experience of liberation through communion in the Movement. In La Thuile this summer, we studied how this fragility is a flaw at the level of knowledge, and not of feeling nor of moral weakness. (…)

How to escape this fate? If the situation arises from the experience of Mystery as the radically unknown, then one can only escape it through knowledge of the Mystery. The Mystery must-so to speak-make itself known. If life has become a dream, we can only be awakened by an experience of the Mystery that doesn't originate in our initiative; that is, by the revelation of the Mystery, by an encounter with the Mystery in which it reveals its solidarity with our quest and its correspondence with our original needs and exigencies, including that of reason itself, indeed, especially those of reason understood as our capacity to grasp the ultimate meaning of the totality of life. The solution to our impasse is the experience of an encounter with the Incarnation of the Mystery, an encounter with Jesus Christ. Only this can ensure confidence in our capacity to grasp the real according to the totality of its factors and in this way sustain our commitments and our quest by knowledge of the real, and not by a rootless tenderness or goodness. Flannery O'Connor said it bluntly: the root of human tenderness is the person of Christ; detached from Christ our tenderness leads to despair and violence.
This means that the event of Jesus Christ is the measure of all reality, including the "I" itself. My relation with that Event is the measure of my relation with reality, including that of my very identity. Living this relationship with Christ, I grasp all that reality can be, and my life becomes mission, becomes vocation. The mission is precisely the task of incorporating all my relations with reality into that Event of Christ. It is, if you will, a Marian mission, namely to be a human reality where the Event takes place by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why the prayers that define our life, our Movement are the Angelus, announcing the Incarnation, and, "Come Holy Spirit, come through Mary," linking our lives to that Event. This is what it means to seek the glory of Christ in all circumstances. The rejection of the Incarnation is the root of the cultural bleeding of the "I" that has led to the present culture of death. Human relations, marriage and sexuality, suffering, work... these can only be properly understood and lived within the Event of Christ. Throughout this year Fr. Giussani has insisted on this, exploring each one of these areas in his lessons to Memores Domini on affectivity and work, and in the publication of his latest book, The Attraction that is Jesus. The lesson and discussion at La Thuile this year was extremely important since it treated this matter with great clarity, showing that our fragility is overcome only by fidelity to the encounter with Christ. The "self-accusation" that our fragility produces in us, the negative judgment that we render against ourselves when we are scandalized by our sins (this is Fr. Giussani's expression) can only be overcome by it's substitution of with the judgment of mercy that we experience when we encounter Christ. Fr. Giussani's meditations on the encounter between Peter and Christ after the resurrection are invaluable in our effort to grasp this judgment of mercy, and what sin, contrition, and forgiveness are really like. We will never understand these until we hear addressed to us the words that the Innocent One, the Holy One, addressed to the woman caught in adultery: "I do not condemn you either." Words, not explicitly said, but clearly meant in the Lord's friendship with Zaccheus, with the Samaritan woman, with Peter... indeed even to Judas, when he called him "friend" at the very moment of his betrayal-as our Easter poster this year so beautifully expresses it.

But how are we to hear these words, those of us who are not contemporaries of Jesus? How can Jesus, the Risen Lord, pronounce these words to us, show us by His look and His gestures that this is indeed the judgment of the Mystery on our failure to grasp it and be freed from our alienation with reality? Obviously the way this judgment reaches us must correspond with the way we are made, must correspond with the structure of our "I," or otherwise we will not hear it, we will not experience it. (…) If I am going to hear the judgment, "I do not condemn you," then I must hear it through the voice or grasp it in the concrete gestures of someone that matters to me and who is therefore somewhere. This experience of being accepted by someone-in spite of my fragility, of my self-condemnation-of mattering to someone else, this is the only way the healing of the wound in myself can take place. This is the origin of the experience of belonging, of finding a "home for the 'I'" where I can say, "I really belong here." That is why the sense of "peoplehood" has been so important in our reflections. I know reality through the experience of belonging. Reality becomes real-so to speak-through the experience of belonging. I repeat, this is the way we are made: To be someone and not something, someone real, to have a name, means to be named by another, to matter to another, to be accepted by another, to belong to someone who says to me, and shows me, "You are my friend." My/mine... not in the sense of possession of things, but in the sense that lovers and friends use it: you belong to me and I want to belong to you. A people is a community bound by the experience of belonging arising from an Event that brings them together. This is the way through which the Risen Lord reaches me. Already in the Old Testament the Eternal, Invisible Mystery was present in the world-not "everywhere," but in the life of a concrete people, in the life of Israel. (This explains why we cannot really address the cultural crisis today without trying to understand the experience of the Jews, and this has been one of our great concerns these past few years.) In Christ, God-the Mystery-reaches us by creating a people who are the Body of Christ in the world, whose mission is to pronounce those words, to show those gestures, to offer that friendship that articulates and embodies the revelation of the Mystery. Fr. Giussani insists that it is a matter of ontology, not of emotion or ideas. Ontology means the real, what exists independently of us and therefore can only be encountered with wonder. It means, alas, being somewhere and not "everywhere," being here and not there, this hand, this face, this look, this place, these people. The encounter with Him always occurs through the Church present in concrete persons. It takes only one, one in whom all are present. It is important to remember this, now that our Movement in the United States is growing. It grows not by programs or strategies or statements, but through concrete gestures and words of authentic friendship. If someone, attracted by something in us, says, "What do you want of me? Why have you touched my heart?" We must answer only one thing: "We want to be your friends because you are loved by the One who has loved us." We have no other plan, no other agenda, but the desire to live life as friends. This is the friendship through which Christ, and not us who are beggars and recipients of love, will reveal the Mystery to others and embrace them. When? How? We do not know; we live in wonder at the way He has reached us. We just offer you our friendship. The School of Community is where we study the words and insights of the man through which this friendship has come to us, the man whose friendship has been made so fruitful by the Holy Spirit and who is thus a father to us. We are educated in this School of Community, because education can only take place through friendship, since reality can only be grasped through the experience of belonging to a companionship. And so we begin a new season, so to speak. This is Beginning Day. But, in a way, it is always a beginning for us. It is a beginning because the encounter with reality is always the experience of newness, the experience of a reality that does not originate in us, that is not the creation of our minds nor the development of our possibilities. It is the appearance of a Presence that surpasses everything that appeared possible. It is the experience of grace. Grace creates newness, it creates that "hundredfold" of which Fr. Giussani speaks. The "hundredfold" fruit is not the result of our efforts. It is not what you expect for your efforts-as Cesana said at the Opening Day in Milan last month-but it is the response God gives to you; it is the recognition of what God gives to us. And this is grasped only if we know how to recognize God's presence in our history, our world, the recognition of the true meaning of life, of that for which we were born, of our destiny, of why we exist and why we die and why we care about life, about justice, about peace, about happiness and beauty and freedom and dignity. This knowledge of reality-for again, it is a matter of knowledge-is awakened in us by the wonder of the encounter communicated through our friendship, our companionship, our communion, our fidelity to what Fr. Giussani encountered which is what Andrew and John and Peter and Nathanael and the others, the Samaritan woman, Zaccheus, the widow of Nain, the Roman centurion, the criminal hanging on the cross-all of them who in one way or another heard the words coming from the mouth or the gestures of the Mystery made flesh: "I do not condemn you. You are my friend". The man born blind is a great example of this method. We reflected about this in the last retreat of Memores Domini in the US. This man was expecting nothing special on the day that Jesus caressed his eyes with the mud created by his own saliva and asked him to wash in a pool of water. The man went; in spite of not knowing anything about what was happening, he went. He had not given up; had not resigned himself to being blind. And when he could see and was relentlessly asked by the religious authorities what had happened, when even his parents refused to stand by him, when he was pounded with theological questions he did not understand, he replied with those words that describe those who have experienced grace and mercy, who have experienced the hundredfold that could not possibly be due to their efforts, or talents, or strength of will, or religious devotion, or intellectual sophistication: One thing only I know, that I was blind and now I can see. And this brings him before the exceptional presence of Jesus, having been called by his persecutors "one of his disciples," now that he had shared the wonder of the disciples, now when invited by the Lord, he could share their faith. "And he worshiped Him," the gospel said. Now, really, he could see forever into the very eyes of Infinity.

From Houston…
The CL Beginning Day went very well here in Houston. We went to Mass together at a church north of Houston, near a small park that we had rented. The place was very beautiful: a lake with an open picnic shelter and barbecue grills with picnic tables, a big field surrounded by trees, a playground for the children, a basketball court and two tennis courts, all reserved for us (our Texan friends always do things big). After Mass we started playing together, adults and children, while a couple of us prepared the barbecue. After lunch we taught some of the songs of the Movement and sang some spirituals for about half an hour in the shelter by the lake. Then I asked Elisabetta, Paolo, and Mayom to give brief witnesses (five to ten minutes each), answering the question about how they had encountered the Movement and what they felt was the meaning of the gesture that we were living then, the Beginning Day in Houston. Elisabetta read her remarks because she was afraid she might freeze up in front of all those people. It was very interesting because she spoke in a clear and simple way about herself and the event she encountered over the years, first in school in Pesaro and then at the University of Milan and the University of Madrid. She started out by telling of the sadness she felt at being an outside spectator of a more fascinating and human way of living, and then of how, at the university, this event became the leading factor in her life, to the point of determining whom she would marry and causing her to agree to leave her job and come to Houston. Paolo spoke off the cuff, telling above all about meeting the Movement at the university and how it happened for him that the desire of his heart came true in reality thanks to his friends in CLU. He testified how, through a close relationship with these friends, he had learned to judge what was happening around him and not to feel a separation in his life any more, because this event pertains to everything, it doesn't reject anything. He concluded by telling how he has changed over time and how he wants to share this experience with us here in Houston. Mayom told about his troubled life. First of all, about the years in Khartoum and the war, the sufferings of his people and his family, and his father who sent him to the university in Cairo and did not let him join up, along with his two older brothers, with the rebels in the south. Then he spoke about his life in Egypt as an exile and the death of his two brothers in the war, and his need to shut out his pain and forget his grief and desperation, first by letting himself go, living a disordered life, and later by joining the Combonians as a volunteer teacher in a Catholic school for Sudanese refugees. But living everything as pain-relief, as he says, another desperate attempt to forget. Then came his visa for the United States and Fr. Claudio who gave him our address and told him a little bit about CL and suggested that he join us. Finally we come to now, the experience of a year of School of Community and of the community in Houston-which started out as four or five people and then grew to ten or twelve-and the discovery that in reading The Religious Sense he found an accent of truth, something for him. He understood what sadness was, began to accept it and not refuse it any longer, and he quoted Giussani's words, book in hand, about sadness as a desire for a good that is lacking, and this put him at peace with his past-he no longer lives a desperation because now he knows there is an answer. He spoke about School of Community as something he felt as his own. We had to interrupt him because he would have talked for two hours. In conclusion, we read together Fr. Giussani's message, and I tried to sum up how for me the wish expressed by Fr. Giussani has come true and is coming true: from my weakness stemming from my inability to find an answer to the desire for happiness, to a comeback that began through an encounter with some people at the university and then became belonging to a people. Then I tried to tell how this sense of belonging became an awareness of belonging to Christ: the miracle of the answer to the desire of the heart, the wonder at being able to recognize the signs of the benevolent Mystery that are present in my life, and becoming certain over time. I tried to explain why this is reasonable and not a sentimental or intellectual illusion. Then I invited everybody to stay with us in order to verify in their daily lives the truth of what we were saying, so that in our lives the reality of what the prophet Jeremiah says may come true, and that we may all be witnesses to this Event, as Fr. Giussani wishes. What happened yesterday struck me deeply. I don't know how much was understood of our poor Texan/English, but our faces were there. The Beginning Day gesture was an obedience and for this reason we were certain. Yet again, having followed an indication with simplicity, we were faced with an unexpected result. And not only for the fact that there were twenty-five of us, but for the signs that we received.

On the occasion of our Beginning Day, Gualtiero had invited each of us to bring friends to this event, those who were especially important to us. While we were going to the picnic, Ann and Jim, a couple of our Protestant friends who have been coming to School of Community for some time, said something that really struck me. Ann told us that she had talked about it with Jim and they had to admit that they didn't have anybody to invite because they didn't have any other "friends." Both of them also wanted to come with us to the Mass that we attended all together, saying that they wanted to participate in the Beginning Day gesture from the very beginning! All this is very moving to me, that is, it moves me, it makes me lean ever more and with greater feeling in the direction of the origin that allows a friendship like this! I understand that the miracle of these changed persons is for me, for my life, so that I may keep my gaze fixed ever more on the origin that makes all things, which is Christ!
Maria Rosa