Don Luigi Giussani

Fr Giussani: "I Am Zero, God is All"

By Dino Boffo from the italian daily Avvenire , October 13, 2002
Dino Boffo

You look into his eyes and wonder: what is the mystery of a life, whether simple or important? If it is important, then why? On what basis? Public renown? Number of followers? Works created? The priest we meet here is certainly famous. Without doubt, he is destined to go down in the religious history of the twentieth century. The thought that thousands of people would like to stand in front of him and ask him a question, even just one, makes you feel uncomfortable. You look beyond him and see a multitude of young people (and not so young by now), who have been awakened and are enthusiastic beyond measure. And you perceive immediately what is called, in not only technical terms, charisma. This man has loads of it, as even those who are skeptical about his message acknowledge. Even more today when he is old and wracked by illness, he is one with his charism, imbued with it and absorbed in it. One spontaneously thinks of the current of communication connecting him and his God. It has to be a strong and continuous relationship. This is, in fact, the secret sign of every “founder,” especially in the times when structures no longer hold; they draw from the Source what is fascinating and strengthening for the soul. Most of the recent movements have sprouted forth from the centuries-old but young and fertile trunk of Italian Catholicism. If it did not sound out of place, you might be tempted to ask him: “Fr Giussani, doesn’t it seem to you, too, that you are more than your Movement, that your gaze goes beyond it, and your dream overflows it still? That you are, to be sure, a teacher, a distillation of the teachers you have had, but even more than this, you are a witness, in the literal sense of the word: you are one who has seen, and this is why you speak and can speak to all?” In the meantime, Fr Luigi–in turn–is looking at you, waiting for the first question. It is inevitably different from these.

Eighty years old. Fr Gius, what is life like at that height?
Life at this height is made and communicated for recognizing the name of God in all things, and for recognizing the Creator Spirit at work in it, so that the words of Ada Negri’s poem, “Mia giovinezza” [“My Youth”] may come true: “I have not lost you. You are still there, at the bottom/ of my being. Yourself you are, and yet another/… more beautiful./ You love, and don’t think you are loved; for every/ flower that blooms or fruit that reddens/ or baby that is born, to the God of fields/ and families you give heartfelt thanks.”

How much has the sense of time rushing past had an impact on the work you have brought into being? In other words, has your life unfolded under the banner of urgency?
I hope that my life has unfolded in accordance with what God expected from it. One can say that it unfolded under the banner of urgency because every circumstance, indeed every instant for my Christian conscience has been to seek the glory of Christ. My bishop, Cardinal Tettamanzi, at his entrance in Milan, said, “The men and women of our time, even if unawares, ask us to ‘speak’ to them about Christ, or rather to make them ‘see’ Him.” Precisely Jesus Christ, His human glory in history, is the only positive sign in the world of an otherwise absurd movement of time and space. Because without meaning, Eliot would say, there is no time. Life is full of nothingness, of negativity, and Jesus of Nazareth is the vindication. In me, this is clear. Thus, hope is the certainty by which we can breathe in the present, we can enjoy in the present.

Was there a moment in the early decades of your life when you felt a foreshadowing of what would spring forth from your priestly initiative? Even if it is delicate and personal, can you tell us about it?
I cannot pinpoint one particular “instigating” moment. For me, everything took place in the most total normality, and only the things that happened, while they were happening, aroused wonder, because it was so clear that it was God who was doing them by making them the fabric of a history that was happening to me–and is happening to me–in front of my eyes. I saw a people happen, in the name of Christ, the protagonist of history.

You are greatly loved by your kids. When you talk to them, even in enormous assemblies, in person or by video, not a fly stirs. One senses that for many of them you are a father; you represent the ideal. Does this make you uncomfortable?
It doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all, but it makes me pray to God to be able always to give reasons and strength to the freedom of young people.

Fr Giussani is one of the public icons of recent decades, and yet he has never appeared very much in public–one could say only the bare minimum. Is this shyness or coyness, a calculated or a spontaneous choice?
The spontaneous choice of a heart stretching toward the truth, even though well aware of my limitations.

In front of your name, and eschewing all personal considerations, for years it has been practically obligatory to take a stand: either decidedly in favor, or against. Why is this, in your opinion?
The favor, even well acknowledged, has never made me forget the price of the sacrifice required.

The person interviewing you comes from an ecclesial experience that is considered “opposed” to CL. For years, the news was full of the conflict between Catholic Action and Communion and Liberation. Do you think this was inevitable, or do you have some rebukes to make or to make to yourself in this respect?
It seems to me that the more a group of faithful tries to live the faith and to educate itself to the apostolate under the influence of sincere, impassioned analyses, the more it risks also being partial in its references, since it is impossible for every analysis to include everything. But if relations are maintained and carried out in charity, as Christ and the Apostles urged, the distinctions and differences cam become collaboration.

Forgive the ingenuousness of the question: what is CL for Fr Giussani?
It is a friendship (the former rector of the University of Munich and founder of the University of Eichstatt, Dr Nikolaus Lobkowicz wrote that encountering CL, he discovered friendship as a “virtue”) that ensures a common effort to work together in reflecting on faith and in attempting to make the desire to testify to Christ as the inspirer of peace and mutual help a common expression.
In the letter he sent me for the twentieth anniversary of the Fraternity of CL, John Paul II wrote that “the Movement has chosen and chooses to indicate not a road, but the road towards a solution to this existential drama” of today’s man. And he added, “The road is Christ… Communion and Liberation, more than offering new things, aims at helping people rediscover the Tradition and history of the Church, in order to express this in ways capable of speaking to and engaging the men of our time.” We exist only for this.

Priest, educator, and leader. Don’t deny it: you have been and are a multi-faceted leader. What is the greatest joy, but also the greatest toil, in guiding a people of the young and the formerly young?
In guiding a people, the greatest joy and at the same time the greatest toil lie in sincerely and unceasingly asking God, and thus the Spirit and Our Lady, for light for one’s intelligence and burning fire for one’s charity, in the face of all the problems that spring up in every man’s heart before the events that the Mystery of God permits to happen, and the problems that are imposed on the heart and the work of each person wherever he is.

The seed of Communion and Liberation has been scattered by now in every continent. What criteria do you indicate so that this spread may take place in faithfulness to the original design?
The spread of the theoretical and practical criteria throughout the world is a gift that must be continually asked of Christ, and therefore must take place as the object of prayer to the Mystery of the Father, as Christ has taught us, in the consistent search for the principles of faith and charity, in humble obedience to the shepherds of the flock, i.e., the Bishops. Obedience to the authority of the Church–above all the Pope, the established channel for the safety of our Catholic faith–constitutes the original and perfect criterion. The passing years confirm us in this attitude (i.e., they give the reasons for the confirmation of a promise that was fulfilled).

Let me be indiscreet. How does Fr Giussani pray? And what invocation most frequently rises from his heart in the course of the day?
My prayer is the liturgy and the continued repetition of a formula: Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam. Come Holy Spirit, come through Mary, make Yourself present through the womb, the flesh of Our Lady. This ancient ejaculatory is the synthesis of the whole Tradition and marks God’s method for making Himself known to man: the Incarnation. All of Christianity is there. In his hymn to the Virgin, Dante speaks of the “warmth” of Our Lady’s womb. To think that the Mystery shouts out from there is truly the most mysterious thing, and only in the experience of a lived communion can one begin to understand something of this mystery of God.

This is why prayer is the most reasonable gesture that man engaged in the daily struggle for existence can make–it is the Alpha and Omega of everything. I have not done anything, I am a zero. The Infinite does everything, and by ourselves we would not do anything if He had not given Himself.

At the age of 80, it is perhaps inevitable to think about a successor. May I ask what you expect from the person who will pick up your baton?
I expect from the Mercy of God and Our Lady a leader who will respond consistently to the contents of the last questions.