“Do not despair. Beg"

A writer re-reads Carrón's letter on Coronavirus. "I have always thought that I was fearless, but I was wrong”. In those few lines he finds "my drama and everyone's drama intact."
Luca Doninelli

When Julián Carrón's letter on coronavirus came out just over a week ago, I read it with great interest, but then I closed it and started thinking about other things. I have always believed that I am not the fearful type, but I was wrong. Now it is clear to me that fear was already in play in my thinking about something else.
A few days later, I re-read the letter, and in the folds of a very measured style, careful to communicate an idea in an unambiguous way, I found the drama intact, the only real drama, mine and everyone's. Here, first of all, is the quote by Ratzinger: “Only this God saves us from being afraid of the world and from anxiety before the emptiness of life.” This God, we read. The God who entered history and who reached me. I know that He entered history because He reached me, I am certain of this.

But Ratzinger also speaks of the emptiness of life. And this is not a minor detail. Whoever says that they do not know this void is either a fool, or they are lying. Carrón speaks of "our essential powerlessness". For me, essential means without remedy. There is no antidote to that powerlessness, and we can perceive this during these days. Even here, words that are full of drama: Carrón speaks of a nightmare, the "nightmare into which we have fallen".
Naturally, it is the nightmare of fear, but the questions that fear awakens are the right questions: what will become of us, of our children, of our loved ones, of our friends, of those who are important to us? And then also: what will become of the activities we have undertaken, of our good projects?
Because there are good, very good projects. Opening a school in a slum in Nairobi is a very good project. Building houses for the favelados in Brazil is a very good project. These and other things require dedication, intelligence, humility, effort.

Yet this disease, which is gradually assuming the face of a true scourge, seems to want to also affect these good aspects of our lives. Therefore, Cardinal Zuppi uses, in no uncertain terms, the word "evil".
Today, reflecting, I thought about how our era is perhaps the first, throughout the whole of history, to have managed (pro tempore) to remove death from our daily horizon. One does not think about it. It is like an insect flying silent and discreet, then one fine day it pinches us and then goodbye, and that is it. We no longer know how to conceive death, we lack categories.
For my grandparents, it was not so. Death was a daily companion, certainly ugly but so present that they had to deal with it constantly, day by day. Facing fear, our ancestors built the civilization that we are now destroying.
Today, that fear has reappeared, and I feel exactly as my grandfather must have felt so often. This is new to me. I have faced many painful circumstances, yes, but these were exceptional episodes, so to speak, such as the death of a very dear person: parentheses in which days acquired a different rhythm, where everything was clear but, in the end, life would return, with a little more upset, back to normal.
Now it is different because this illness does not occupy an exceptional place, and is confused with the normality of life: shopping, getting on the bus, having dinner with friends. It is a slightly different story.

But then I asked myself: what do I want from life? Do I want to win the Nobel Prize for Literature? I would not mind if that happened, but it is not what I want. I want a beautiful life, a life that is beautiful up to its end. I know that this is no small claim, and that most of the time what I do goes in the opposite direction, but I have known people who have lived like this, right up to their last moment, so I know that it is possible. People who have gone to encounter death without giving up a comma of their humanity. I could name so many people. I want a beautiful life, that is, I want, or rather I would like very much to go to heaven: a place where, in my opinion, you cannot go alone. I would be very disappointed to find myself in heaven without my father, my mother, my wife, my children, all my friends. I even hope to find all the cats that my mother has had over the years there. I know that this is of theological enormity, but perhaps the substance is right: my happiness is linked, here and now, to a bond that goes beyond me, which theology calls the "communion of saints" and which touches me through a story that has come down to me, here, at this very moment.

But what does all this mean existentially (as we used to say)?
I return to what I was saying before, when I spoke of this disease as an evil that wipes out all our plans. I pray that it will pass as soon as possible, that its threat will go away, but there is something very important that I must hold onto: the fact of finding myself, perhaps for the first time in life, in a situation where very little depends on me. This seems to me to be the specific character of this trial, at least for me.
I can wash my hands often, not touch my mouth, avoid crowded places, stay at home as much as possible, respect safe distances, but all this is very little, because the effectiveness of these actions depend on what everyone does, and this cannot be calculated. You can hope, yes. But you cannot calculate.

Because, for the first time since I came into this world, I cannot calculate anything. This disease scares me because I understand, unequivocally, that my life is not in my hands. You do not need coronavirus to understand this, but it is a fact that coronavirus has made clear, which is not theoretical. I already know the theory, and that is a different story.

The whole Old Testament insists on the radical difference between idols ("the work of the hands of man") and the true God. And yet, how difficult it is (at least for me) to understand that I am not the author of reality!I understand it abstractly, but it is hard to understand it through facts because it is hard to accept. It is difficult to really understand something without an act of freedom! The plot of existence is so radically not-mine that it generates fear – because I perceive this as the real root of fear: the discovery that the design reality obeys is not mine, it does not belong to me, and, therefore, I cannot do anything about it. My peasant grandfather understood this much better than I do.

Read also - Magatti: "Hope that resists despair"

We always say to each other: everything is given, everything has been given to us. But I notice it when things go wrong, and yet it is also true when things go well, when my projects are successful, when I hear myself say "good". The gifts we have received, and which are much more numerous than we imagine, should make us tremble, like natural disasters. What did I do to deserve to meet Fr. Giussani? Less than nothing.
I know that it does not happen, but perhaps it should happen, because the root is the same, in evil as in good: things are given to us, we ourselves have been given, we are nothing but a gift, a free act, to which to say yes.

Not without bitterness, Fr. Carrón says that witnesses to the victory of faith - that is, of Jesus Christ - in time and space, are so rare that, particularly in moments of despair, they are noticed immediately. Today, it is clear that it is not our capacities, our intelligence, our analyses and, in general, our speeches that make us protagonists, but only the consciousness of the nothingness that we are, and which could throw us into despair if a miracle, which is repeated every day, did not push us towards the most reasonable of actions: to ask. Not despair, but beg. When Fr. Giussani called the beggar the "protagonist of history", he did not intend it as a paradox: he talked about a factual, very concrete reality.
In the undulating course of my days, between fear and arrogance, this is the sun shining, even if - often – it shines behind a thick blanket of clouds.