Dublin, Ireland. Via Wikimedia Commons

A Foretaste of Heaven

What unites a university professor, a physician, and the president of a country? That which unites all men. In the center of Dublin, on the evening of November 13th, the presentation of the first book of the Trilogy.
Paola Ronconi

It was a spectacular day, crystal-clear, even though cold, as rarely happens in these parts, people tell me. The setting was one of the most elegant (perhaps the most elegant) in Dublin: the Shelbourne Hotel, a central, historic hotel overlooking St Stephen’s Green, the city’s “green lung.” The hall, full of mirrors, chandeliers, and decorative rugs, was crowded with an audience of about 500 people, much larger than the organizers could have expected. They were awaiting the speakers on the theme “The Religious Sense in the Modern World,” the presentation of the English version of Fr Giussani’s book The Religious Sense.

Waiting for the guest of honor, President of Ireland Mary McAleese, to arrive, the evening program began. Sitting in the front row were ambassadors (Mexico, Belgium, Italy, Finland, Egypt, Cyprus, France, Romania, Morocco, and Pakistan), figures from the Irish cultural world, the head of international relations at Trinity College, Catholics, Muslims, and Protestants. And then, farther back, “ordinary” people, students, friends of friends, mere acquaintances, and co-workers. Fr Ian Ker, on the faculty of theology at Oxford, was the first speaker. He is one of the leading scholars of the life and work of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Chance would have it that on the other side of the park, a few hundred yards from the Shelbourne, stands the Catholic university of which Newman was a great supporter, as well as rector, a hundred and fifty years ago. Ker is familiar to Traces readers after the London event on this same theme. He could not avoid making a parallel between Newman’s thought and Giussani’s. What struck him, Ker said, when he read The Religious Sense in 1997, was above all the concept of reason, a reason that was open. Ker spoke of a “holistic sense of human mind,” common to both Giussani and Newman: man is not simply the sum of the factors making him up, but something that goes beyond. “It is not mere logic that moves us,” Ker continued. “Man moves with his whole being and cannot get away from his background. And it would be very unfair not to take it into consideration, like a scientist not basing his work on the discoveries made before him.”

Point of Convergence
“Human reason,” Ker said in conclusion, “is made for knowing different types of reality and operates in many ways. The fullness of its action lies in its success in grasping the meaning of life, but when it reaches that point, it runs into Mystery, which is not something vague, even if it cannot manage to seize hold of it. Human reason goes as far as the point where it meets Christian revelation, which answers man’s deepest aspiration.”

The floor passed to Giancarlo Cesana, who provoked his audience: “Christianity is not a religion,” he stated, “but a faith. We believe and we follow an historical event.” His talk was structured on the book’s three premises: realism, reason, morality, and ended with the invitation Fr Giussani extends to his readers at the end of the book, “Love the truth more than yourself.”

A murmur ran though the crowd, especially among the people standing at the back of the room. The crowd split into two wings to make a wide path up the steps into the hall. Finally, Mary McAleese made her entrance, and her expression plainly revealed that she was not expecting such a large group and such a warm welcome. Protocol required that she be alone on the speaker’s platform.

“Dia dhaoibh a cháirde. Is mór an chuis…” These were her opening words, and many of her listeners were a bit astonished. But after a few seconds she started speaking English. This was simply Gaelic, the official language for the beginning of her speeches, but thankfully only for the beginning.

Twenty Years Ago in Belfast
This sunny, affable young woman taught law at Queen’s University in Belfast before becoming the President of Ireland. At that time, some twenty years ago, the current responsible of the CL community of Dublin and organizer of this event went to see her in Dublin, to try to understand a little more about diplomatic relations between Ulster and the Republic of Ireland. “At the time,” McAleese recounted, “our discussions centered more on the failure of the religious sense. Indeed, we were deeply challenged by the manifest presence of sectarian hatred, by its generation of violence, and by its resonance even in the most courteous of religious discourse and religious sensibilities… This island, with its Christian past, has struggled to make sense of religion and to develop a religious sense capable of responding to its deep urge for peace and holding in check the age-old impulse towards conflict.” Obviously, President McAleese was referring to the problems between Catholics and Protestants in her country. She went on, “Only with self-sacrifice and compromise can there be a human future. This generation decided not to be driven by history, but to become its driver, and the impulse at work is driven by what Fr Giussani calls man’s desire for happiness, which lies within each human heart. With the Peace Process in Ireland, it has happened that a critical mass of people have risked finding personal and communal happiness through giving, through sharing. We could say that ‘liberation’ has ironically come from seeking a sort of ‘communion’ with ‘the other,’ with those from whom we have been estranged.” In conclusion, McAleese told about an episode at the beginning of the last century, recently reported in the daily newspaper, The Irish News. It is the story of James Brady, who was in and out of prison all his life for petty theft and similar charges, the victim of a repressive judicial system. Finally a judge, who knew him well by that point, decided to help him find a job, and went to visit him in the hospital shortly before his death. On his deathbed, Brady confided in the judge that he had received from him “a foretaste of heaven.” “There is no better description,” concluded McAleese, “of the religious sense at work in a world like ours.”