Fr. Luigi Giussani.

Midwest Tour

Three American universities hosted encounters on Father Giussani’s thought. A tour that touched the states of Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

Lorenzo Albacete

Now I know how St. Peter felt when, in a dream, the Lord told him visit the household of Cornelius the pagan because they had already received the Holy Spirit there and Peter was required to baptize them into the Church. In this Midwestern tour of three universities, interest in Father Giussani’s thought preceded any official contact with the Movement. Suddenly, as a result of the sale of his books, we are facing an explosion of interest in Fr. Giussani by all kinds of people. On this trip, we were invited by scholars and educators to make presentations at the University of Notre Dame, Marquette University, and the University of Illinois in Chicago. Here is a brief summary of the content of the presentation and discussion in these places where interest in Fr. Giussani’s thought had preceded contact with us.

Notre Dame University
We were asked to come to Notre Dame, to the nation’s most famous Catholic university, by the Vice-President, Fr.Timothy Scully. Scully first heard about Fr. Giussani from the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York. Notre Dame had initiated a program for teachers that enables them to receive a Master’s in Education while engaged in teaching for two years in schools located in poor areas of the nation. The program is a great success and many graduates have chosen to continue teaching in these areas beyond the requirements of the program, recognizing it as a vocation, and searching for a “spiritually” that would ground, support, and promote their experience. When Fr. Scully told this to Cardinal O’Connor, His Eminence asked him to get in touch with me and our Movement because “they are the ones who can help you the most.” We met Fr. Scully at the Cardinal’s offices in New York, and as a result, a beautiful friendship with us was begun. The presentation at Notre Dame was an expression of this friendship. Because of the interest of the teachers’ program, Fr. Scully asked us to speak on spirituality according to Fr. Giussani, and I chose as a speech title, “A Passion for the Human.” Remembering a speech at Notre Dame a few years ago by the great Fr. Louis Bouyer on the characteristics of a spirituality adequate for our times, I presented Fr. Giussani’s thought as an example of what Fr. Bouyer had identified as a truly modern spirituality. Spirituality according to Father Giussani, I said, was the expression of our relation with a Mystery perceived by the religious sense as totally transcendent, and yet at the origin and destiny of the “original desires of the heart” that define our human and personal identity. Of particular interest to Fr. Giussani is the awareness and exploration of the cultural impediments to an authentic Christian faith and spirituality, even if the external trappings might remain. Indeed, contemporary culture is unable to grasp the spiritual as a link with Transcendence, reducing it to psychology, and spirituality to moralism. The religious sense itself, as the capacity for a relationship with the Ultimate Mystery, is eclipsed by dominant cultural prejudices. That is why Fr. Giussani’s trilogy begins with The Religious Sense (TRS) and its insistence on the reasonableness of our religious quest. In this book, Fr. Giussani discusses what it takes, indeed, to be faithful to the original desires of the heart and not settle for less than that for which we are made. At the end of the book, and at the beginning of At the Origin of the Christian Claim (AOCC), Fr. Giussani insists that the religious sense by itself does not enable us to grasp the Mystery for which we search, even after all obstacles are removed and the pitfalls of despair, idolatry, or ideology are overcome. Our faith in Christ, therefore, is not the result of the religious sense. Rather, it is the outcome of an historical encounter with the Risen Lord Himself, recognizing Him as the human face of the Mystery, as the incarnation of the Mystery. The fundamental point of departure of Fr. Giussani’s thought, and therefore of the spirituality it betokens, is this encounter with a singular, concrete, and historical person who comes to us by means of our friendship with the companionship that He has attached to Himself as his Risen Body. The path to Christ is therefore always a human encounter that allows us to discover and follow Him as the Mystery-made-human. This miracle is, of course, the work of the Holy Spirit, sent as the fruit of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery, so that our spirituality is the work of the Holy Spirit, allowing us to encounter and follow Christ within our human existence. Hence our spirituality always betokens a passion for the human. The ecclesial, Eucharistic, and biblical characteristics of this spirituality follow from its basis, the encounter with Christ through human relationships. My presentation was followed by remarks from Fr. Scully himself who told the story of our friendship. Next came Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, a distinguished Hispanic theologian at Notre Dame who saw in the proposal the necessary link between spirituality and the preferential option for the poor (characteristic of Latin American theology), and Dr. Katherine Tillman, Professor in Christian Classics (and an authority on the thought of John Henry Newman), who underlined the harmony between Fr. Giussani’s thought and that of Cardinal Newman.

Marquette University
Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is one of the nation’s leading Jesuit universities. Professor Rodney Howsare, teaching in the Theology Department, had read Fr. Giussani’s books (TRS and AOCC) and decided to use them in his class. Right before the beginning of the semester, however, Dr. Howsare left the university for another teaching post, and his successor, Dr. Robert Gotcher, decided to use Fr. Giussani’s books. Finally, a faculty observer of Gotcher, Dr. Ralph Del Colle, became familiar with the books and decided to use them in his own course the following semester. Each one of them made a presentation and my task was to respond to them. Since the three of them had summarized Giussani’s thought as a response to the need for a “modern apologetics” (Dr. Del Colle) that reflected the contemporary theological insistence on the vocation of Man to divine life in Christ (reference was made by Howsare to De Lubac, for example), I limited my response to a point raised by Professor Gotcher, who found Fr. Giussani’s books to be way beyond the cultural literacy of the students. This may well be the case, I said, but I asked how students with no college education at all were benefiting from Fr. Giussani’s books in all kinds of cultural environments around the world. The reason, I said, was Fr. Giussani’s paternity as a teacher, and not only as an academic theologian. It was in the context of a human friendship, and the love of the teacher for his student, that Fr. Giussani’s thought was able to open the minds and hearts of the students. This is why a movement, Communion and Liberation, was born as a result of Fr. Giussani’s paternity as a teacher, and why its central weekly activity of study of his thought was called the School of Community. Fr. Giussani’s thought, therefore, could not be separated from an educational method. In a way, the teaching of Christian theology itself (as distinguished from an intellectual exploration of theological ideas) cannot be separated from this context of friendship and solidarity that only a true teacher can create. Indeed, given the true human flourishing that it seeks (this was the title of the conference), it cannot be otherwise. The fact that this was very difficult in a modern university, including a Catholic university, showed the need to renew Catholic education itself. When I announced the upcoming publication in English of The Risk of Education, there was great interest in continuing to discuss Fr. Giussani’s thought in this context.

University of Illinois at Chicago
Our hosts there were Dr. Paul Griffith, a specialist in non-Christian religions, who holds the “Arthur J. Schmitt Chair of Catholic Studies” at UIC (a state university), and the Newman Center. Dr. Griffith had been present at the presentation of TRS at Georgetown University in Washington two years ago, and had apparently become concerned with some aspects of Father Giussani’s thought. It is this that he wanted to explore now, under the meeting title, “A New Natural Theology?” Professor Griffith wondered whether the emphasis on the religious sense indicated that Fr. Giussani suggested that faith in Christ could be the outcome of the human religious sense. As a contrast, he offered the view of Pascal that the way to become a Christian was not to reason your way into it, but to start acting and praying like Christians do. In my reply, I repeated what I had said at Notre Dame about the priority of the encounter over that of the religious sense, and read from Fr.Giussani’s new book (The Self-Consciousness of the Universe), which is not yet available in English, where at the very beginning Giussani insists that the point of departure is the encounter with Christ, a gift of grace, which enables us to grasp the truth about the religious sense. I also told those present how, so frequently, Fr. Giussani tells non-believers who are attracted to the Christian proposal, but who have not yet found faith, to simply stay with us as our friend, not unlike Pascal’s advice, but a bit more attractive! We returned home fully aware that we are witnessing a great miracle in the United States, based on the fruitfulness of our poverty before the love of God that has come to us in Christ, and most certainly not through our capacities or efforts.