(L-R) Savorana, Butler, Stokman, and Balsbaugh. Photo by Margaret Stokman.

The Life of Luigi Giussani: To Have Open Eyes

On March 16, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the seventh Life of Luigi Giussani book tour presentation took place with Alberto Savorana, Jon Balsbaugh, Marcie Stokman, and P.J. Butler. Read the full story.
Jacob Doty

What type of education will generate Christian people?” The opening question was posed by P.J. Butler, the moderator for the seventh Life of Luigi Giussani book tour presentation in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on March 16. The inquiry was directed to a panel made up of a mother, the president of a school system, and an author, each one of them actively engaged in educating others.

The conversation began with Marcie Stokman, a mother of seven and the founder of the Well-Read Mom reading group. She first described her encounters with Communion and Liberation and the founding of what would become a nation-wide book club. After befriending individuals in the Movement, Stokman recounted, she would ask questions regarding how to live, and her new friends would reply, “Follow your heart, take your desire seriously, live reality intensely.” Stokman found herself unsure as to what they were referring to, but in time she slowly began to see. “I was discovering that to be Christian did not mean losing my humanity,” she stated. Stokman described a moment in which, while caring for her seven children she realized she was burning out. She shared this experience with her Italian friend Elisabetta who responded, “You American mothers, you think that mothering is all about running to everything your kids are [involved] in. Take care of your heart, that’s how you love them.” Stokman immediately knew her friend spoke the truth, but yet she wondered, “What does it mean to take care of your heart?” As if in response to her burning question, soon after, Stokman’s daughter asked her nearly in tears, “Mom, isn’t there a place after college where women get together and really talk about the meaning of life?” Taking her own needs and her daughter’s to heart, the idea came to Stokman to read books together, and she thought, “Maybe this would be a way for us to take care of our hearts.” Thus, from the hearts of women and mothers, Well-Read Mom was born. As Stokman began meeting with the women involved in her new book club, she realized that “those women’s hearts were just like [hers].” During one visit to a meeting of Well-Read Mom, Stokman cited as an example, a woman said to her, “I am a research scientist, I have taken eighty-four tests to get to the level I am at in my career, but this is a new kind of education.” Stokman recalled, “She was talking about the education of her heart.” Thus, Stokman realized that “reading good literature educates our hearts, because when I can see something in my imagination, it helps me become aware of things in my own life, and I change.”

After a few questions posed by Butler, Alberto Savorana, author of The Life of Luigi Giussani, became so excited by the panel that he cut in before his turn to speak. Recalling how Msgr. Luigi Giussani discovered Christ as the center of his life through literature, specifically through poet Giacomo Leopardi, he said, “Literature was not [pursued as] a particular attitude in order to read, but in order to share and to follow the human genius. Through [literature, Giussani] realized … that Christ is precisely the answer to this human heart.” He then described how Giussani would give a book to those who went to confession with him, would ask them to read it, and at the following confession he would have them talk about it. He did this, Savorana explained, “In order to help them ... to take their desire seriously.”

Jon Balsbaugh, president of Trinity Schools Network, was next to speak and he emphasized a pressing question: “What would be the role of formal education in helping to create, or sustain, a culture in which students can come to a robust and ... lasting Christian faith?” Balsbaugh highlighted a quotation from the biography of Giussani, stating, “We cannot speak about the mystical body to people who do not know, for example, what a communitarian spirit is.” From this statement he drew out the three implications for education. “First, … it is and always has been a mistake to simply provide doctrine and religious education to students of a certain age ... without some deep context for the really important things in their lives.” It is a temptation, Balsbaugh continued, to think we merely need better information; information is not the issue. “There is something deeper going on, and therefore there will need to be a deeper solution to that problem.” Balsbaugh’s second implication in response to Giussani’s statement was that, “Christianity, even in its doctrinal formations, ... is and describes a way of being human.” Education to Christianity must therefore be an education to all of life and humanity. Balsbaugh proceeded to his third point: “Some deep grasp of the human condition is actually [a] prerequisite to understanding Christianity as something other than a set of doctrines or a set of practices.” Finally, he highlighted that, as Giussani often stressed, education must open up students to engage reality in a deeper way; “We have to set up our schools in such a way that they are full of encounters.”

The closing remarks were made by Savorana who first addressed a question previously posed by Stokman regarding how Giussani’s parents raised him and what that meant for Giussani. “The relation between his parents was so normal as child, but so [exceptional], because already at that time he lived intensely the reality,” he said, adding that Giussani learned many things from his father and his mother. As an example, Savorana told the audience about how Giussani’s father during the depression, “in a house poor of bread” (quoting Joseph Ratzinger’s funeral homily for Giussani), would hire a quartet to play for his family on Sunday. “For his father, the beauty, was more important than the bread.” Savorana illustrated how the very first step for Giussani was “to become human, that is to be aware of [one]self; And you can learn this through reality, because there is no other way in order to live, to grow, to become human. … Giussani discovered Christ as the life of his life … in the reality of his personal humanity.” He then spoke of education as a risk because it respects the freedom of another; “There is no truth that can be imposed, only accepted.” Savorana concluded speaking of Giussani’s method of education aiming “to communicate Christ, not as an idea, theory, doctrine, or model, but as a presence, the meaning of life.” The genius of Giussani, in the end, was “a method to be human in every situation, in every condition. It doesn’t need some particular characteristic or attitude. The only attitude is be human. … [To have] open eyes.”