European flags in front of the European Court of Auditors, Kirchberg, Luxembourg. Via Wikimedia Commons

A Fresh Start for Europe

We offer an interview with Fr. Mauro Giuseppe Lepori, General Abbot of the Cistercian Order, on the state of the European Union and the upcoming elections for the European Parliament.
Luca Fiore

Twenty-eight countries, 500 million inhabitants, more than 300 million voters. At the end of the month (between May 22nd and 25th, depending on the country), there will be the largest elections in the world, with the exception of those in India. Beyond the concern for all these elections is an opportunity to reflect upon many aspects of the context in which we live, hopefully without getting stuck in simplifications or, worse, getting caught up with partisans: Eurosceptics versus Euroutopians.

The European Union, as it is, does not work well. Along the way, many of the ideals from which it was born have been lost. Deeply rooted ideals–first of which is Christianity–are now found in terrain that has become arid. The EU has reduced its horizons to a balancing of budgets and spread. This reduction is proving to be inadequate for facing so many economic, political, and cultural challenges. This effort relegates to the background the motives that catalyzed it and the goals that it has achieved. Indeed, it is not to be taken for granted that there has been peace and well-being for 70 years in a continent historically torn apart by war. Nor should it be taken for granted that it is possible to travel, to study, and to live in places of opportunity while elsewhere such opportunities are closed. It is not a given, and it is not guaranteed forever. We risk losing these things if we do not raise our gaze anew to higher ground.

Hence, the elections serve this purpose: to lift our gaze once again. CL offers its contribution, with a document (“Is a New Beginning Possible?”) that came out in March (see Traces Vol. 16, No. 4, p.49), distributed throughout Europe and on which discussions are taking place in various cities. Fr. Julián Carrón’s presentation, published as “Page One” in this issue, came from the first presentation of the document held in Milan.

Fr. Mauro Giuseppe Lepori. Photo by Antonio G Colombo via Wikimedia Commons

We busy ourselves with the search for solutions that are global and suitable to the problem, a measure defined by us! We no longer see that the solution flows from God.” To talk about a new beginning, the person, and freedom seems poetic and useless in front of Europe’s many problems. For Fr. Mauro Giuseppe Lepori, General Abbot of the Cistercian Order, “the crisis lies in believing so little in the novelty that resurrects the situation–to a point that we don’t see it.”

What struck you about the flyer?

It re-proposes the possibility of discarding negativity and starting from personal freedom. That sentence, “The factors that change history are the same ones that change the heart of the human person,” reaches me on the problem of my life, on what I ask myself daily, even with regard to my ministry. We always need to return to the awareness of what allows change; otherwise, we sink into desolation. This flyer reawakened in me the only awareness that gives me momentum. In fact, it gives me hope–a positivity grounded in reason that I’m experiencing now.

What is the possible “new beginning”?

When the only feeling one has is that things are going badly, one tries to grab onto something yet to come. But this race has the same alacrity as the violence, which does not find the presence of the positivity needed to stop, to reconcile, and to start again. For this reason, it is important to understand that there is a source of hope present now; that humans and things that happen have an origin that flows, and that stops the false dynamism of searching for future or unreal solutions, to be obtained with force. It is a matter of recognizing that there is something that could save the situation, and it calls me so that I might renew what I’m living; I might renew my heart.

What is this source, and how does it surprise you?

It is in what happens, in others, in the people I meet–it is in the presence of Christ whom I touch now. For this, one must be willing to stop, and to draw from someone other than oneself, one that is present, a source of life, the Resurrection of Christ. Something reaches you when you think that everything is finished, like the disciples going to Emmaus. Right there, from an unknown place, a Someone arrives who sets your heart on fire, who says something new, who transforms your feelings and your ideas. We do not need to be concerned about creating this spring, but about having the humility and simplicity to see it flow. The disciples of Emmaus did not create that presence. It was a surprise.

What does this mean with respect to the current situation?

At the political, social, and cultural levels, it is important not to lose hope that this Resurrection always happens, and will happen again. It is enough to think of Pope Francis: suddenly, there is something that arises and that no one predicted. For example (a small one), sometimes I’m amazed by certain films. In a jungle of falsehoods and vanity, a movie with depth and human truth jumps out at us and is recognized by everyone. The Holy Spirit continuously blows where it wills. I believe this is the point: Never lose faith in the newness that is always possible from the event of God in the world. The true crisis is to believe so little that it is impossible to see it. We are not asked to solve everything but to personally consent to that newness. If I can understand this, everyone can understand it, and everything can change.

This turns our conscience upside down; accustomed to thinking of history as “summation of progress,” it appears to us naïve to bet on the person.

It is not a question of strength but a question of freedom. A numerical quantity, even if impressive, is not freer than a single person who consents to something greater. What is asked of me is always to accept something that is given: to accept the newness of Christ. We have the same defect as David, when God punished him because he took the census. We say “yes” to God and then we start counting, to calculate the effect of grace, with a prejudice that corresponds to our criteria. We worry about the impact. Mary, after her own “yes,” did not count how many people there were and neither did the Apostles. One says “yes” to Christ and knows that the fecundity of this “yes” is infinite, even if nothing can be seen. We do not believe, so we measure it in numbers, political strength, and social bearing. This is the pivotal point of conversion.

St. Bernard, the protagonist of the flourishing of your order in the 12th century, was also a great political protagonist. Goffredo d’Auxwerre writes: “He made himself a servant of all, almost as if he had been born for the entire world. Yet he kept his soul free from everything and everyone as if he dedicated himself only to the safeguarding of his own heart.”

St. Bernard is a great example of what we are saying: a man who puts everything on the line with Christ becomes a servant of the people. St. Benedict did the same thing: he had never thought of shaping Europe; he was only concerned with preferring nothing above Christ. It is as when Jesus meets Peter and asks him, “Do you love Me?” That focus on You who loves us and who asks for our love allows us to serve a global endeavor. St. Bernard dominated his century and was so involved in politics that he was reprimanded. But that means it is possible to serve the entire world with the “only” condition being the commitment to love Christ; only then the revolution, the immense work of societal and cultural renewal, the tackling of great problems, becomes possible. St. Bernard witnesses to us that the heart of the Christian experience has a universal influence. When we worry that society is not faring well, or when we worry about what we should do instead of nourishing what we do with the presence of Christ in the world and with what He does, then we become sterile.