'The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Tomb' by Eugene Burnand via Wikimedia Commons

1972 Religious Instruction in the Wards

A catechism course for the personnel at Mangiagalli Hospital Milan, requested by the director of the nursing school, Sister Agostina Fumagalli. Some notes from a lesson by Fr. Giussani.
Giovanna Tagliabue

In 1971, Antonella Moglia and I enrolled in the ICP (Istituti Clinici di Perfezionamento) school in Milan. At that time the CL community was just starting to form at Mangiagalli Hospital. The director of the school, Sister Agostina Fumagalli, was fascinated by Fr. Giussani's words and asked us if he was available to teach a religion course to our class. We asked him, and he said yes. The religion hour, at first, involved about twenty first-year students. Then friends in the Mangiagalli community wanted to take part. Thus the hour of religion was moved to the evening in the large lecture hall of the Work Clinic. This way, everyone could attend: nurses from the hospital, medical students, and doctors. In all, about fifty people. Sister Angelica sat faithfully in the front row with her tape recorder. And today, thanks to her faithfulness, we offer you here her notes on some passages from a lesson from that course, given by Fr. Giussani in 1972.

1) It is not possible to give service to the world except by living or doing an action in accordance with its order, that is to say, except by doing the will of God, because the order of the world is God's plan. It is by doing the will of God that we serve the world, we serve men, we are useful to men. Otherwise, all the thrust of our good will and all the generosity of our good intentions cannot remove the final disappointment from our actions; that is, cannot take away the fact that our actions-with all our good intentions-serve our own way of conceiving of things, which is not the way of reality, it is not the true way. Just like a mother who, when her child is sick, thinking to do the child good, makes him swallow a purgative that causes him to die of peritonitis: she thought she was doing good, believed she was doing good. Things don't come from our hands, nor from the hands of the party leaders nor from the hands of the unions, nor the hands of geniuses or scientists: they come from something else, which is the will of God.
So then, this is the first factor. There is just one law: to love. Loving is conceiving one's life in accordance with something else, or better, in accordance with another (because you cannot love a thing, you love a person), thus conceiving one's life as the will of God: my will is Yours, my criterion for action is You, my criterion for action is Your criterion. This is love: affirming the other.

2) However, now there is a second factor to consider. Suppose that someone is full of complexes, or a bit confused, or has not had a religious, Christian education and is totally ignorant from the religious, Christian, moral standpoint (even if he is a senior doctor at Mangiagalli Hospital), or is in a moment of temptation, of some particular temptation. In these four cases, enacting the moral law, which is to do the will of God, is a little harder, of varying difficulty, than for me-let's say-in a moment of calm, in a period of serenity, with all the gifts of God that I have in my head, with all the training I have had, all the balance that (thanks be to God) my mother instilled in my nervous system, with all the help I have had along the way.

So then, we have to say, more generally, that each of us begins to act from a given situation. In action, man tends toward the ideal, and the ideal is to do the will of God, to love His plan, and thus to love the order of things, to conceive of himself and what he does in accordance with the entire order ordained by God. This is the ideal. But I, to reach this ideal, start out from different situations: one time I'm angry, another time I'm calm; one time I am a prey to temptation, another time I am more well-balanced and at peace; one time I am a bit rough around the edges, because I am still young, and another time I am more sober, because I am a mature man.

Man, to fulfill the ideal law, starts from a situation, a determined situation. The word instinct, instinctiveness, can be useful in clarifying this point. Man must enact the ideal, the ideal law, by embodying it, that is to say, by fulfilling it within a determined situation or by starting from a determined situation, following a certain conditioning.

I was saying that the word instinct could be useful, because I am made, man is made of an ideal conscience and a certain complex of instincts. But the word instinct is too limited: let's say "instinctiveness." Man, in every moment, carries a certain load of instinctiveness. For example, if I am angry, or have a headache, or am ingenuous or ignorant, or if I am ill-disposed or am complaining, all these cases represent a different instinctiveness as a starting point.

Therefore, let's call "instinctiveness" this factor, this component which in every moment of human life is given by what determines it; for example, by the past, by a person's nature, by what stimulates him or the reaction he has. So, we can also use the word "reaction." There is always a component of reaction. It is like, if we can use this word, the weight of matter. But it is not just "matter," because, for example, pride is not matter, self-love is not matter, but it too belongs to instinctiveness, to that whole complex of determination from which a person starts out. Hence, on a certain day, I am determined in such a way that it is easier for me to live love for the right thing and on another day instead, I am determined by my situation in a way that makes it harder for me to live the right.

More generally speaking, every human action is made up of an ideal factor (which is what we have said: the sense of right, of order, the will of God) and of a factor that instead is heavy (which is given by instinctiveness, determination, the situation from which every man starts out) which is the material aspect.

For example, a boy falls in love with a girl: this is the aspect that I have called instinctiveness, it is the situation from which he starts, the determination from which he starts, the aspect that is material or heavy, so to speak, the aspect of reaction. What can he do? He can give in to this reaction he feels, following it blindly. In that case the law, the directive of his action is that of affirming what he feels, it is fulfilling what he feels. Seen in only these terms, this is egotism, and it is immoral. We have said that the motive for action, that is, the law of action, the purpose of action is that of serving the world, or serving the will of God, to do the will of another (this is what love is). So then, what should he do? Should he become a monk? Certainly not.

The need to utilize or bend our situation in accordance with the ideal, which is being useful to God's plan in the world, is called duty. What is duty? It is bending, manipulating, utilizing our instinctiveness, our situation in accordance with the utility of God's plan; that is to say, in service to the world-which is the same thing. Duty is this functionalization, it is this relationship between what we carry within us, between our moment (with all the complex of instinctiveness, of inclinations, reactions, of good or ill will, etc., that we find ourselves bearing), and the overall design, which is to utilize this moment in accordance with the aim, which is to serve the Kingdom of God as much as possible; that is, to be as useful as possible to men ("Love your neighbor as yourself" and serve the Kingdom of God more fully).

3) The third element of the Christian moral conception is that man, according to Christianity, is not capable of doing this. Man is not capable of enacting this accordance, he is not able to make instinct a function of the true purpose, he is not capable of utilizing his situation for the utility of the great plan of God, and thus of man. He cannot do it.

Man senses that this is right, and he wants it, but he cannot do it, and if sometimes he really throws himself into it, maybe he succeeds for a little bit, and then he falls apart. Man is like someone who has been very sick and, when it is time for him to get out of bed, he cannot, he leans on his elbows and then falls, he falls down, because he is too frail, he rises up a few inches and then falls down. Theologians speak of man being aegrotus, sick.

But man is like this because something is out of place at his roots. More precisely, according to Christ's conception, all men-being profoundly linked to each other by a solidarity much greater than can be imagined by any communism or socialism, because it is a solidarity from within his very being-because of a profound solidarity, all the line of mankind has been upset by the introduction of evil at its origin, a responsible introduction of evil, because of a rebellion against God's plan from the very outset. This is the concept of original sin. This initial upset, this initial overturning, this initial disorder remains at the root of every person born into this world, so that man's base is equivocal, ambiguous; he wants to do good and he succeeds in doing ill.

Next, let's ask ourselves, what are the most decisive relationships that human experience can know? The relationship of love between a man and a woman, the affectionate relationship between parents and children, the relationship of service to others as in political work. But are there three phenomena which become the root of egotism more than these? No, none! No other phenomenon, no other relationship is more of a source of egotism than these, none!

According to the Christian moral conception, man alone cannot fulfill the law of love, he cannot help being an egotist. That is, he does not succeed in being truly human; man cannot fulfill himself ("Unhappy me, who will free me from this mortal division?"); man by himself cannot succeed in doing good. A council of the Church said as much in the seventeenth century: man cannot last very long without committing grievous errors; man, alone, cannot succeed; man, alone, is an egotist.

However, let's take up again the comparison of the sick man. This sick man, who has to get up, leans on his elbows and doesn't make it. But if his mother goes there, or his wife or a nurse, or the doctor, or a friend, and takes him by the arm, then he manages to walk, whether a little or a lot he can manage to walk. This is the image of the man who walks, according to Christian thought: man cannot walk unless he is embraced, unless he is sustained by Jesus Christ.

God came into the world exactly, precisely to take us and make us walk. Man cannot be himself except together with another, who is Christ, who is God who came into the world for this, "Without me you can do nothing." On the contrary, says St. Paul, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."

Once more, man cannot be himself except by depending on an Other; this is the natural law, it is the original law that is repeated at a more profound level. Man was made by an Other and cannot exist except by the energy God gives him, that the Creator gives him, and he cannot fulfill himself except with the help of a new and more profound intervention by God, by God who became a man, the man Jesus Christ. It is only together with the man Jesus Christ that man, that every man, that the human being can walk-I say-stumbling, falling a thousand times and a thousand times being born again, but he really walks only if he is united to this man who is Jesus Christ. God came into the world only for this, and He died for this. "Greater love has no man than he gives his life for his friends." Man cannot be himself, he cannot build himself, he cannot fulfill himself except within a friendship, except within a companionship, except within the companionship of Christ.