Fr. Lorenzo Albacete

At the Beginning of the Beginning

In Washington DC, students and professors came together to work on Fr Giussani's text, Recognizing Christ. Msgr Lorenzo Albacete, with his characteristic combination of wit, aplomb, and deep fellowship, gave the following closing synthesis.
Lorenzo Albacete

We came to listen, study together, and exercise our minds and hearts around the text Recognizing Christ. The text was chosen because recognizing Christ means for us recognizing the origin and the name of that concern that has moved us and brought us, of all places, here. The concern is the desire to discover what it is that has entered your life–to want to know it, understand it perhaps, be able to deal with it in a way that is adequate. A concern is an attraction, something that moves, before anything else–that’s where it is felt, it is felt in a motion of the heart, and you want to respond to this attraction. And it can keep you going even if you understand it very little. Again, it’s not at that level of intellectual understanding that it really begins. It is something that has touched you, at the level where all your life seems to come together and originate, at the level Fr Giussani called the heart, that point that says “I,” that is you, it is that which has been touched, provoked, which is where the concern is experienced, and as such, it engages you in all the dimensions of your life. All of them. What is it that makes your life your life? It is how the circumstances that surround you all come together and impact that point where you are you and no one else is. This mystery of the human person is where you are you and no one ever existed before that was you, no one will ever exist again that was you. That’s the origin, what makes your life your life. It is there that the concern occurs. It is therefore a totalizing concern. It spreads through all the areas in which your self is engaged, expressing and in a sense constructing itself, building itself as a person. At this level, I don’t think there can be partial concerns. There’s no such thing at that level; it is all-encompassing. At a lesser level you may have problems to deal with or interests to pursue, but they are not really concerns. A concern affects everything about you, because it touches the point of origin of your own existence as a person, the origin of who you are. That’s why when someone enters your life at that level, everything changes–even your physical looks show that something has happened at that level. A concern in that sense therefore is always experienced at least as a hint of a new beginning, a new possibility, a new way to construct my life around that which has entered into me at that level. This is the possibility, the creation of a new personality, a starting point for all of life. This happens, it occurs, and what can bring it about? It cannot be anything less than you. It cannot be a problem solved, an interest that is fulfilled; it has to be another I, another person. To be concerned is to desire to see the face of this other person, to be able to say it is you. “We are the people who long to see your face,” the psalm says… Who is this you? We long to see your face. Something has happened to us and this concern has begun. The task now is to seek its face, to recognize the You that has struck us, to see the face of the one who is the origin of this concern, and so we have come to the first exercises of CLU-USA. You’ve been moved by the attraction of this concern, tasted new possibilities, suspected them, but now there is the task of wanting to see the face; this is where we are now. As Cesana said last night, we’re at the beginning of the beginning. The task ahead for each one is to see the face of that other that has impacted us, moved us, concerned us.

Friendship in the Flesh
The very first thing to notice about this origin of what concerns us is that one immediate result of it is that it has brought us together. The concern brings together, it creates a companionship; that’s the first hint. The next step is to understand that it is within this companionship that we will discover the face of the origin of our concern. In fact, the companionship is its first face, if you wish, the beginning–the face of the one that has made for us this companionship and this friendship. And this is wonderful. Why? Because it means that I can be assured, at least initially so, that I am not creating this concern; that it is not something coming from my mind, my illusions or dreams, but something coming to me with a concrete face that is not mine, but is the face of others. That’s how it came to me at a specific place, a specific time. One can go back to that place, that time, that face, if he or she is still around, and say what was in that house of Mary’s (now in Loreto, Italy): hic verbum caro factum est, here the word became flesh for me, here is where it finally happened for me. From now on, it will always be this way: Christ will not come to us in any other way than through this life of companionship, in being with our companions, in walking with our companions, in the humanity of these companions. The Word became flesh: What does it mean? The Word became a humanity; the origin that has struck me and that has the possibility of creating out of me a new beginning, a new personality, the new life has become and will always be for me a human face, a human hand, a human voice. It will always be; if I lose sight of this insight, it’s over. I cannot spiritualize Christ. I cannot disincarnate Him. I’ll find the origin of this concern always through human friendship, through that which comes together to form the human reality. There are so many things, all that come together to form each one of us as a human being. This includes everything, untold numbers of factors known and unknown–those called circumstances. The Word became flesh means I will find it within those circumstances that are coming together at this moment to make me a human being, to allow me to live as a human person–whatever these are, whatever these circumstances are and such as they are.

A Real and Absolute Need
Whatever you are like, and wherever you are, we begin to understand the concept of the Body of Christ. In the Middle Ages, they talked about the three bodies of Christ: the first is the physical body of Christ, the one whose existence began in Mary’s womb–the event, the reality that Dante writes about. This is the first hic, the first place where the word became a human concern; it was her concern. Then there is the second, so to speak, body of Christ–the first one exists to bring about the second, and the second exists to bring about the third (this is traditional theology). The first one exists to become, after his passion and death, the risen body of Christ that becomes present in the world through the sacrament of the Eucharist, becomes present through that historical event that can be seen. In fact, it’s to be tasted, eaten, and drunk. That forms that second body of Christ. But that exists to form the third and final body of Christ, the companionship called the Church, the human companionship. For us, this event, this creation, this incorporation, if you wish, of us into this mystery of the Church, came through one Son of the Church, through one Son of Mary, to Father Giussani, and exists in the world as a clear fruit of his charism that is of the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes Christ present through his person, through his personality, and his obedience to this gift, his total self-giving, his virginity. And within this Movement, now for us, for you in particular, this reality concretizes itself even further into this friendship called the CLU. This is now your hic. This is the answer to what I said was the most important question yesterday–coming from the most important temptation we have, because it reflects the real and absolute need, and that is, “How can we hear Christ’s words, how can we look into his eyes and hold his hands today?” The Apostles’ first friends had that privilege, but as we said yesterday, so do we. There were many people at that time who saw, heard, and touched Him–even touched Him to slap Him. But He Himself said, “It is better if I go, because I’ll be present in a more intense, varied way in all the circumstances of your life; in all those faces of the friends I will send to you, in all their eyes, hands, and voices.” It is better this way. What did He say to Mary Magdalene who attempted to touch Him after this occurred? “From now on this is how you will touch Me.” On the cross, when He says, “Look at this, John, this stranger”–because before Christ, Mary didn’t know who this John was–“from now on, he is your son: the only way you have to be my mother is to be his.” This happened at the hour when the new body of Christ is about to be born from his death. That is what we see and touch and listen to today. We must stay within this space of the senses, if you wish, in order to continue the search for a more, greater, more glorious revelation of his face, but we see that this is within this space of friendship and physical contact, and is our common task now, our common vocation, our common “coming-together” as a school to be educated by the power of this event, to be reshaped, made more into the Body of Christ.

The Space of the Event
We have three fixed points of reference, if you wish, within which frame or space this occurs, happens. First, is the Church. We cannot separate ourselves from the life of the Church, as this life is recognized as an historical people, an institution. Second, there is the Movement within this reality that makes this present to us; and third, there is the world where we live and breathe and work, the circumstances through which I construct who I am, the world, my home, my friends, my university, my studies, teachers, other students, my country, and the culture through which I look at the world, through which my own people look at the world. All of those are to be penetrated by the power of this concern, this attraction. Otherwise, you are not really reshaped. These are the “space” of the event. All my relationships change–the Church, the Movement, the world. In the end, which is the most important? The world. In the end, when it’s all over, when Christ is fully “all in all,” when the Body of Christ is complete and the new heavens and new earth are created, it’s a new world for our humanity. The Church will be everywhere, everything will be that new companionship, and the Movement will have brought us to it, expanded to embrace all the Church, and what is left is the new world, a new human world. The Incarnation will not be moved back. The face will always be a human face. This is why the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is so important to us, because even then it will be a human face, human hands, and a human voice that will now be my life.

A Way of Looking at All of Life
Christ is the ideal of life. All of life is divine in Christ. All of it, and we saw how this begins the very first moment of the construction of your life. That first moment is when you begin to look at the world. There’s a great cartoon from The New Yorker, a man and woman coming from the hospital, all the people around, etc, and suddenly the caption: the father tells the baby, “Look, Harry, the world!” Harry’s life as Harry began there; when he began to look at the world. That is what first defines the “I.” It is a way of looking. And that is why the reality of virginity so moves and attracts us as it did in an unexpected way this weekend, because virginity is first and above all the way of looking at the world. The event, the concern, creates our virginity outside of it. There is no real virginity. It is a way of looking, judging, and setting up; the way of sympathy we saw, of gratuitousness, of grace–those accents of the new morality. All becomes new, as I look at it in a new way, as the stage, the setting for the revelation of this face that we long to see. The biggest horror, the biggest danger at this point is that what may begin to happen is that you draw a line and part of you accepts the old world as it is, as it was constructed not by you as a response to this concern, but by others, by the system. You accept this, play according to its rules, believe its promises, and Christ is whatever else is left; He has nothing to do with the structuring of the world. The concern is totalizing, and will determine the way you look at your university, its standards and requirements, the economic structures that will so much affect you lives. It is the way of looking that forms who you are. If that doesn’t change, we’re at an earlier stage. How do we overcome this temptation? The same way we overcome all the others: by strengthening our following of the companionship. One of us may waver and the other one will remind us, as happened during the war. And the struggle of many of us, who had such different opinions, came together around a judgment that had as a point of departure the concern that has brought us together and the study and work that it required to understand this point of departure. We may or may not have succeeded, but we stayed with it, we understood that the event, the concern of Christ, does create a new way of looking. You cannot keep the old ways. Christ is the beginning, the present, the future: all in all. He is the ideal of life, of all life.
(Transcript of notes not reviewed by the author)