Resurrection of Christ by Rottenhammer via Wikimedia Commons

The Hundredfold is Always More

From his questions as a boy to his intuition seeing the video of “Recognizing Christ,” all the way to the “call” received today. The witness of Davide Prosperi, Vice President of the Fraternity of CL, at the GS Easter Triduum.
Davide Prosperi

I participated in your... in our Way of the Cross, now twenty-five years after I was in GS, and I was moved–just as I think most of you, and I hope all of you, were moved–by the beauty of the gesture. Precisely because of this a pressing question came to me: What is this beauty, in front of all the contradictions in the world? [...] Christ continues to be crucified today, in me and in the world. I thought of the martyrs in Kenya, those Christians who just a few days ago were brutally killed for their faith. So, what does this beauty have to say to us, how can this beauty carry with it all the contradiction of incomprehensible evil? I have to say that this gesture has really helped us. Those who really lived it intensely were able to enter into the events of 2000 years ago. “Enter into” means to feel what was felt by those who lived it, starting with Jesus. At a certain point I asked myself: Why did Jesus, a man who could restore vision to the blind, make a lame man walk, and resurrect a man who’d been dead for four days–why did He accept to die?

There is nothing more incomprehensible to us than this, given the narrowness of our usual reasoning. For us, who find the greatest satisfaction in seeing our destiny fulfilled, who find pleasure in having our expectations met, none of this makes sense. But the Son of God lived precisely this– He obeyed, He participated in the only way that He and we can to fulfill our destiny, just as He fulfilled His. If He had chosen a path unavailable to us today, then how could we enter into it here and now? He accepted what we consider weakness, because in this world of which we are sons and daughters, in our mentality, weakness is synonymous with barrenness, or the incapacity to generate something good, feeling incapable in front of things. What we lived yesterday was the opposite of this: we saw that weakness can become the origin, the genesis of a new fruitfulness. [...] At Way of the Cross we listened to the Stabat Mater, which describes what Mary did when faced with her Son on the cross. We listened to it because, if we want to understand, or at least try to understand, what was happening that day, we have to look to that woman, that Mother, who was the only one who understood. Mary stayed, “the mournful Mother her station keeping.” She participated with and accompanied her Son. What else could she have done? Why didn’t Mary climb up on the cross to pull Him down? Why didn’t she shout in protest and rail against the Roman executioners? Because she was the only one who understood that this was the way her Son’s destiny was being fulfilled, and through Him, that of the whole world.

This is the way I would like to learn to look at things. I want to learn to see things as she did, those things that we struggle to see because, so often, “reality” is reduced to appearances. This is why we are often plagued by doubt, as was said earlier. Because I–I’d like to tell you a story from my childhood. I was, if not full of doubts, then at the very least full of insecurities, because I lost my father when I was six years old, and without a father you feel the absence of the presence that introduces you into reality. [...] First, though, I have to tell you what happened before my father’s death.

My grandfather had had another son, who had died of meningitis as a child. His wife couldn’t have any other children, but seeing her husband suffering so much, she made a vow: she would be willing to give her life to have another son. After a few years she became pregnant again, but the doctors immediately told her to end the pregnancy right away because the baby wouldn’t survive long enough to be born, and that her life was also at risk. She said she was ready to give her life, because she was certain that God gave this pregnancy to her. She carried the pregnancy to term, and my father was born. My grandmother died during childbirth, and my father later died in an accident when he was thirty-three years old.

I remember how, when we were little, my brother and I would go to our grandparents’ house for holidays, and at eight or ten years of age–with the understanding a boy of that age could have–I looked at our grandfather and wondered: For a man who has lost everything, what is it that makes him remain certain that life is not a cruel joke? Because that is what we had before our eyes: a man, who was, yes, tired and tried by life, but not defeated; he was a man of faith.

This question, which on the one hand seemed so contradictory (considering the insecurities in my life), always kept me unsettled: Is it possible to live this way in the face of everything, and never find it was an illusion, never find out you were deceived? Skipping over everything that has happened since then, I’d like to speak to you about where I found the true answer to this drama that I lived for many years, and that I still live, because life, even if it’s not doubt, is at least a question. As we read in School of Community: the alternative to doubt isn’t certainty, it’s a “problem.” This means that life poses problems, because everything is not already resolved, and this kicks us into action. We see the greatness of a man or woman in the fact that he doesn’t give up, and not that he knows the answer to everything right away. So, skipping over a few years, I arrived at the real encounter that I had, which took place in college during the 1994 Spiritual Exercises. The title–as if tailor-made for me– was “Recognizing Christ.” This is what I was interested in: How can I recognize that what my heart is waiting for is Him? Fr. Giussani was there–in fact, it was the first time that I saw him close up–and he began to speak, quoting a line from Kafka: “There is a destination but no way there.” The goal exists, but there is no road to get there. This was my problem. I understood that I wanted to live for something great, I didn’t want my life to be thrown away, to not be defined by the time that passes and slowly devours your life–but that it be lived for an ideal. But where can one find that ideal? This, for me, was “the” question.

To respond to this question, you have to begin to experience the fact that this ideal is connected to your life, with the things that you live, that you feel, and with the problems that you have. [...] The ideal has to be connected to this, or else what kind of ideal is it? It would be unattainable, there would be “no way there.”

In his response to this question, Fr. Giussani began to tell the story of John and Andrew, the first two to encounter Jesus. I still get goose bumps thinking about it, because as he spoke I relived that scene as if I were there. You could tell that for him it was as if he had been there, next to those two, and little by little a question arose in me: How does he do it? How can he say these things? He even described what Andrew said when, returning home, he embraced his wife, who saw something was different. How could he say those things? Because, as you could see, it was a present experience for him: he was living now what had happened then. I remember how, as I listened to him speak, the desire to be able to live grew little by little inside of me, that his experience could be mine too, despite my insecurity and incapacity, that it could be possible for me to live–to live what he was living.

At a certain point he read a letter that I’ve carried in my briefcase every day since, even though it was from twenty years ago. You know the things that are important, and this was among the questions you asked: How can you manage to not forget everything when tomorrow comes? Eh, guys, you need to have memory! You shouldn’t throw away things like this letter, because when you forget you can go back and see once again what won you over, and recognize that the thing that won you over is still present. If it won me over, it is always with me. So Fr. Giussani read, among various witnesses, the letter of a boy who had AIDS, who died two days after having written the letter. [...] This boy wrote that after a few years, he had run into a former classmate from high school– who is now in Memores Domini–and had written the letter to Fr. Giussani, whom he had never met.

“Dear Fr. Giussani, I am writing you and calling you ‘dear’ even though I’ve never met you, I’ve never seen you, or heard you speak. However, to tell the truth I can say that I know you, inasmuch as I’ve understood something of The Religious Sense and of what Ziba [his friend] told me. I know you through faith and, I would add now, by the grace of faith. I am writing just to say thank you: thank you for having given meaning to my arid life. I am a high school classmate of Ziba, with whom I’ve always remained friends to the extent that, though I didn’t agree with him on many points, I’ve always been struck by his humanity and his unbiased openness. I think I have reached the last station of this troubled life, carried by that train called AIDS, which doesn’t let anyone off the hook. Now I can say that without fear. Ziba always told me that what is important in life is to have a true interest and to follow that. I chased after this ‘interest’ many times, but it was never a true one. Now I have seen the true interest, I see it, I met it and I’m beginning to know it and call it by name: it’s Christ. I don’t even know what this means, or how I can say these things, but when I see my friend’s face and read The Religious Sense, which is keeping me company, and I think of you and of the things that Ziba told me about you, it all seems clearer to me, all of it, even the evil in me and my pain. My life that by now is flat and made sterile, flattened like a smooth stone that everything rolls off like water, was injected with purpose and meaning, which sweep away negative thoughts and aches and pains, or even better, which takes them up and makes them true, transforming my wretched and rotting body into a sign of His presence. Thank you, Fr. Giussani; thank you for communicating to me this faith, or, as you call it, this Event. Now I feel at peace, free and at peace. When Ziba recited the Angelus in front of me, who blasphemed right in his face, hating him and saying he was a coward because the only thing he knew how to do was to say those stupid prayers to me. Now, as I stumblingly try to say it with him, I realize that I was the coward, because I wouldn’t see what was right under my nose, the truth that was in front of me. Thank you Fr. Giussani, it’s the only thing that a man like me can say to you. Thank you because, through my tears, I can say that dying like this now has a meaning, not because it is more beautiful–I am very afraid of dying–but because now I know that there is someone who loves me, and that maybe I, too, can be saved, and that I, too, can pray that those in the hospital beds around me can encounter and see just as I have seen and encountered. And so I feel useful. Think of it: by just using my voice, I feel useful; with the one thing that I can still use well, I can be useful; I, who threw away my life, can do good by just saying the Angelus. It’s amazing, and even if it were an illusion, this realization is too human and reasonable, as you say in The Religious Sense, to not be true. Ziba taped a phrase of St. Thomas to my bed: “Man’s life consists in the affection that primarily sustains him, in which he finds his greatest satisfaction.” I think that my greatest satisfaction is that of having met you, writing this letter, and even greater still is that through God’s Mercy, if it’s His will, I will meet you there where everything will be made new, made good and true. New, good, and true– like the friendship that you have brought into the lives of many people, and of which I can say, ‘I was there too’ [this “I was there too” goes for me as well!]. Even I, in my wretched life, have seen and participated in this new, good, and true event. Pray for me. I will continue to feel useful in praying for you and the Movement for whatever time I have left. A hug, Andrea.” [...]

In that moment I understood–I understood it instantaneously–that to know Christ, of whom you could speak in that way, of whom Fr. Giussani spoke in that way and that boy in such a circumstance spoke in that way, I had to try to become attached, to follow and get to know the people who were witnessed that way to me. I understood that I needed to get to know that man. And I did it; I tried until I managed to meet him in person. Then a friendship began, which expanded because I already had my friends, and we were all seized by this newness, so that all of our time, in our days, everything was defined by that experience that was born again every day, that was renewed every day in following what was happening in that man and seeing what was happening in us, in each of us. [...]

Since that day, this has become the greatest companionship for my life: friends with whom I can run the race for that which overtook our lives and that day after day interrogates us, provokes us, and calls us, so that we can know it better. It’s in your response that you discover what the hundredfold is. [...] The hundredfold is precisely that experience of not having to settle in life, the awareness that our desire can always grow bigger; that the more we find satisfaction in life, the more our desire doesn’t run out but actually continues to grow. When do we reach the hundredfold? We never reach it, the hundredfold isn’t a finish line to cross. No, the hundredfold isn’t simply 100, rather it’s a hundredfold: it’s a multiplication factor, it’s always more. [...] And so we can see that the life we’ve encountered is a promise. We don’t see it in its completion, we don’t see it already fulfilled precisely because it is fulfilled inside of time. This is what gives life its “gusto,” because it’s a promise that I still have to discover, otherwise everything would already be over. [...] It’s true that we can understand a lot of things right away, but often that’s not the case; there are times we see a contradiction and it seems like we lose that “gusto.” But the seeds that are placed in our lives develop in ways that we can’t see right away, because when a seed is planted in the ground, there’s a time in which it’s growing and you can’t see it; you can only see it when it starts to bear fruit. The most important thing for the seed is that it stays there, attached to the ground, and isn’t torn away. If there is one thing that gets in our way, it’s that we don’t understand struggle or difficulty. It’s not that you don’t understand that something is asked of you, you get that, but you don’t accept the struggle that it requires. To accept the difficulty, you need to know the reasons why you do it, and always stay attached to the true reasons. [...]

Personally asking yourself the reasons why is the first companionship that we have; we don’t necessarily need someone else to tell them to us. In fact, it’s exactly because we usually don’t ask why we do things that we feel so alone in doing them. The challenge of the hundredfold is that what we expect is much greater than what we do. This is the challenge: there’s more out there than the image we’ve formed, and so we feel the “vertigousness” of the fact that there is a presence in reality that makes this promise, the sign of which I see in the desire that I have, which can’t be crushed.

A year ago I found out that I have a very serious illness. [...] Now I’m okay, I just need to have regular checkups. However, back during the time when it still wasn’t clear what I had and what would happen, the question of what was being asked of me began to weigh on me in a very dramatic way, because I have a lot of responsibilities in life: I’m married, I have four young children–one of whom is almost your age by now–to support and to raise; I have a job that asks a lot of me (I lead a fifteen-person research group); and then there are the responsibilities in the Movement [...]. In the face of all of this, I asked myself: What is really being asked of me? I realized that, in the beginning, I treated this thing that was happening to me, being sick, as if it were an accident, because I thought that my real task in life was made up of all the other things that I do in life, and this unexpected mishap didn’t fit. But precisely because we didn’t understand right away what was wrong with me, I discovered what is really asked of me. Because often in life we speak of hope when everything is already resolved–but what does it mean to say there is hope when things aren’t clear, when we’re still in the midst of problems, when we’re immersed in a difficulty? Otherwise, we speak about the hundredfold saying something abstract, and thinking that things are only going well when all of life’s problems have been resolved. Is it possible to experience the hundredfold, to live hope even in the midst of difficulty? This is the question I had.

In those moments, I understood that I had to finally begin to see that which we always struggle to see, and I began to see it thanks to all that has happened in my life during these years, thanks to the certainty that has continued to grow in me day after day within this friendship, the friendship of the Church. I began to understand that what is asked of me is “vocation,” and that vocation is not a form that you give to your life to dedicate it to God or to yourself, but rather vocation is to respond to the personal relationship that someone asks of your life, to that preference given to you, because that circumstance was given to me alone, specifically to me, so that I could recognize Him in my life. I couldn’t go on living all of the other things in life without taking seriously that fact that was happening to me.

As a result, I began to understand that the hundredfold is not 100 times what we desire, it’s something completely different, it’s a different measure. We are not promised that what we have in mind will be fulfilled; we are promised much more, 100 times more. We are promised something according to a measure that is not ours. Then you begin to understand why sacrifice is needed, what sacrifice is. We are promised the fulfillment of the desire of our heart, so long as we never give up on staying attached to the beloved presence that has entered our lives. The hundredfold begins within what is already asked of you to do, not in you imagining who knows what other kind of thing. And you know, during that time something that Fr. Giussani always said kept coming to mind, and kept me company: that inevitable circumstances, those in which you can’t choose what to do–you can pretend nothing is happening, but you’re fate has been decided–are the most simple circumstances, even if not the most desirable; they’re not the ones that go as I want them to go. Of course, I would have preferred to be well, to be able to dedicate all my energies to the big, important responsibilities that I have in life, but at a certain point an Other chose something else for me: “This is asked of you now, because it is I who want your life, not you who command it.” I remembered that even Jesus decided to accept this relationship as the definition of the fulfillment of His task, of that for which He was sent: the relationship with the Father. [...]

Last summer, I spent a lot of time meditating on the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, which we referred to yesterday as well. I’ll reread what we read from the Gospel of Matthew. When He is praying alone, at a certain point Jesus says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Withdrawing again, He prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” [Pay attention to how the account continues]. Then He returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open. He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again. Then He returned to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?”(Cf. Mt 26:41-46). He’s at peace. As I was living those months of sickness, I perceived in myself the same torment that Jesus felt. Returning to his disciples and finding them asleep, He says, “How could you? You who are my friends!” He felt alone. This solitude is life’s greatest tragedy. It means no longer perceiving the meaning of what you are doing, of what you are living; not perceiving the relationship it has with the totality, with the infinite; it means thinking that what you are doing is useless. Jesus needs His friends; He who never needed anything–it was the others who needed Him, Jesus never needed others to explain things to Him, for them to tell Him something, or help Him to see something, or solve problems for Him–He needed not to be alone, but “they could not keep their eyes open.”

This wounded me because, in saying this, the evangelist underlines something I had never thought of until I was living that circumstance: it was almost against their will that they fell asleep, because they couldn’t keep their eyes open: as if the Father Himself had allowed it to happen so that Jesus couldn’t find an escape in this last resort [to His friends]; so that He would discover that the only true victory over solitude was to affirm the relationship with the Father, abandonment to the Father, even though He seemed so distant in that moment. I realized that I was living the same experience. With this in mind, I began to face everything that life put in front of me, including the trials that I had to undergo. Because of this, I understand that inevitable circumstances are the simplest ones, because we can clearly see what is being asked of us. We’re asked to obey–but what does it mean to obey? We really have a moralistic perception of things, and we don’t know what obedience is.

Obedience is first and foremost availability; it’s availability to the Mystery who wants me now. It’s being faithful to what is given to you to affirm the meaning of life. Life has a meaning, and I have to discover it. The only way I have of discovering it is entering ever more deeply into what is given to me. To help, I am given friends, companions on the journey. The Mystery doesn’t leave us alone. You are here; we are here together because this continues to happen today.

In order to beg that this meaning reveal itself more and more, even though there still are some moments when you don’t see it clearly [...], you remain attached to that source of life that you have seen and that changed you in a moment, that you felt as a force that challenged your whole life. You understand that the hundredfold is a different kind of satisfaction: it’s not in doing or having more things, but a new satisfaction in living ordinary things which would otherwise just be a burden. You understand that you are doing something that is connected to the world’s destiny, and first of all with your destiny, connected to that for which you were chosen. You can also continue to do the same things without this attachment, however, and quit desiring great things. This is the battle, guys: don’t ever quit desiring great things! The “gusto” of life lies in this availability.