Traces N.1, January 2010

That Nostalgia For The Infinite

Dear Editor,
There is a phrase of Dostoevsky that accompanies me these days, when I have to speak of Christianity to all kinds of people in Italy and abroad: “Can an educated man, a European of our time, believe–truly believe–in the divinity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ?” This question rings like a challenge for all of us. It is precisely on the answer to this question that the success of the faith depends today. In an address given in 1996, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger answered that faith can have this hope “because it finds a correspondence in human nature. In man, there is a nostalgic hope for the infinite that cannot be extinguished.” In this phrase, he indicated the condition necessary: Christianity needs to find the humanity that pulsates in each of us in order to show all the greatness of its claim.
Yet, how many times are we tempted to look at the concrete humanity in which we find ourselves–for example, the unease, the dissatisfaction, the sadness, the boredom–as an obstacle, a complication, an impediment to the realization of what we desire! Thus, we get angry with ourselves and with reality, succumbing to the weight of circumstances, in the illusion of going ahead by cutting away a piece of ourselves. But unease, dissatisfaction, sadness, and boredom are not symptoms of an illness to treat with medicines; this happens more and more often in a society that mistakes disquiet of the heart for panic and anxiety. They are, rather, signs of what the nature of the “I” is. Our desire is greater than the whole universe. The perception of emptiness in us and around us of which Leopardi speaks (“want and emptiness”), and the boredom of which Heidegger speaks, are proof of the inexorable nature of our heart, of the boundless character of our desire–nothing is able to give us satisfaction and peace. We can forget it, betray it, or even deceive it, but we cannot shuffle it off. So the real obstacle on our journey is not our concrete humanity, but disregard for it. Everything in us cries out the need for something to fill the void. Even Nietzsche perceived this; he could not but address the “unknown god” that makes all things. “Left alone, I raise my hands/ … to the unknown god / I want to know you, you the Unknown,/ Who penetrate deep into my soul, / Shake up my life like a storm,/ Beyond my grasp and yet so close to me!” (1864)
Christmas is the announcement that this unknown Mystery has become a familiar presence, without which none of us could remain a man for long, but would end up overwhelmed by confusion, seeing his own face decompose, because “only the divine can ‘save’ man, that is to say, the true and essential dimensions of the human figure and his destiny” (Fr. Giussani). The most convincing sign that Christ is God, the greatest miracle that astonished everyone–even more than the healing of cripples and the curing of the blind–was an incomparable gaze. The sign that Christ is not a theory or a set of rules is that look, which is found throughout the Gospel: His way of dealing with humanity, of forming relationships with those He met on His way. Think of Zacchaeus and of Magdalene: He didn’t ask them to change, but embraced them, just as He found them, in their wounded, bleeding humanity, needful of everything. And their life, embraced, re-awoke in that moment in all its original profundity. Who would not want to be reached by such a look now? For “one cannot keep on living unless Christ is a presence like a mother is a presence for her child, unless Christ is a presence now–now!–I cannot love myself now and I cannot love you now” (Fr. Giussani). This is the only way, as men of our time, reasonably and critically, to answer Dostoevsky’s question.
But how do we know that Christ is alive now? Because His gaze is not a fact of the past, but is still present in the world just as it was before. Since the day of His Resurrection, the Church exists only in order to make God’s affection an experience, through people who are His mysterious Body, witnesses in history today of that gaze capable of embracing all that is human.
Julián Carrón