Dublin, Ireland. Via Wikimedia Commons

We Have Everything but Meaning

The testimony of an Irish journalist who discovered in Fr. Giussani’s book the shadow of an answer, a teacher’s enlightened research, and the Archbishop’s astute summary
Raffaella Sorensen

The Risk of Education by Fr. Giussani was presented in Dublin on February 21st to over 220 people in the city center, at the prestigious Westin Hotel. The first to speak was John Waters, one of the most intelligent and authoritative Irish journalists, and one of the few who run counter current to the common mentality. His moving words testified to his personal journey toward the faith and how Fr. Giussani’s book has been helping him in this direction. Waters offered an analysis, on both the social and the personal level, of what has happened in Ireland in the past fifty years. He defined himself as a “lapsed agnostic” who in the past ten years has been slowly returning to the faith of his youth. His abandonment of the faith in which he had been educated happened in his twenties, and reflects what was happening at the same time in Irish society. The passage that struck him in Fr. Giussani’s book is: “Education has the inestimable value of leading a child to the certainty that things in fact do have a meaning.” Instead, what he has noted about the past twenty years is that there has been on the one hand a march toward progress, the future, but on the other, the fragmentation of our life divided into pockets and compartments, and its ultimate meaninglessness.

The Glue of Life
Waters added that this is the fundamental problem of our society: we are convinced that since we are on the run from what we consider the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church, we can now build a society without Catholicism and not miss it; that automatically somehow there will be a new flowering of different beliefs that will be mutually tolerated. He added, “This is a completely unsustainable idea… And reading Fr Giussani’s book I begin to see why.” Waters affirmed that the idea that we can make up our own personal truth without considering tradition leads to fragmentation and the absence of meaning: today in our society we “can pick and mix from all kinds of options” but we do not have meaning, the glue that holds our lives together.

Questions and Answers
Another point of Waters’s talk was that, in the process of rejecting the Catholic tradition, the language of the public square and the mass media has excluded the possibility of talking about life’s meaning, God, the horizon of human experience. We have lost the idea, discussed by Fr. Giussani, that man above all hungers for meaning, beauty, and justice; society thinks that the individual is a tabula rasa and that you can mold and perfect it through the correct ideology. The only response that has been offered to the human heart in the course of history is that Jesus Christ came as a man and lived among us. Waters concluded: “I find myself now at the age of fifty saying these things. They were taught to me as a child. Saying them again and wondering at my saying of them, I am wondering: Do I mean it? Can I mean it? Can it be true? Can I get over all of that anger that caused me to walk away in the first place? Can I make the connection between that idea and what is wrong in my life? This is the challenge I find, and in Fr. Giussani’s book I find the shadows of answers. I need to read it again and again, but in there are the answers because that connection is made very clearly–the question, the connection between meaning, faith, and courage.”

Next, Holly Peterson, university researcher and teacher in Sacramento, California, explained the results of her doctoral research on The Risk of Education. “In twenty some odd years of teaching, it has become ever clearer to me that the ultimate job of an educator is this: to help students open themselves to life, to reflect upon it, to judge it, and finally to understand themselves and their own relationship with everything, with history and the Christian history of 2,000 years… and all this through the teaching of a scholastic subject (for me, Ancient History or World Religions).”

Risk and Mystery
Archbishop of Dublin, H.E. Diarmuid Martin concluded the presentation, beginning with the current situation of the Irish Church, and asking himself why the generation between 15 and 35 today seems to be completely alienated from the message of Christ, even though “He has touched the hearts of generations over twenty centuries.” The question of education is at the heart of this problem. The Archbishop reviewed the main points of Fr. Giussani’s pedagogy and stressed the fact that education is “a common path of educator and student.” “What Giussani proposes is demanding because it is a path of engagement and dialogue.” Citing the three negative experiences that accompany the educator’s lack of this involvement–indifference, traditionalism, and hostility–Martin gave numerous examples of how they are present in Irish society and education. He thus indicated Giussani’s method as an extraordinary expression of his respect for youth and his confidence that they are capable of responding to the challenges of life if they encounter the right educator. Archbishop Martin stressed two words: risk and Mystery. Parents and educators have to take the risk of challenging the freedom of young people instead of being fearful of transmitting their own faith. Education is the acknowledgment of the Mystery

“Education then is recognition of the Mystery, understanding that Mystery” because “we encounter the truth about ourselves when we encounter the self-giving love of the Other.” In this regard, the Archbishop drew a parallel between Giussani’s book and Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est. A key element in the thought of Giussani and that of Benedict XVI is the link between truth and love. Truth must be offered through gratuitous love, as Christ did for us. “This is the risk that challenges all of us as we journey through life in search of our ultimate destiny.”