Traces N.11, December 2017

Living the Essential

What makes it possible for 145,000 people (Italians and others, in other parts of the world) to give freely of their time on a Saturday to ask others to donate something to the poor, encountering over and over, millions of times, a very concrete “yes”? What is so powerful about such a gesture that it engages everyone everywhere, from men who served in the Italian Alpine Corps to fanatical soccer supporters, from prisoners to immigrants, and families, students, retired women and men … in other words, a people?

Generosity, certainly. There was enormous generosity evident in the November 25th Food Drive. This alone would be something to look at with wonder, because when the generosity is so impressive and widespread, it cannot be reduced to mere sentimentalism, a spurious breeze of optimism among the usual dark thoughts about the future, about “how things aren’t the way they used to be,” about young people today, etc. After such an event, certain judgments should be reflected upon, reconsidered, corrected.

But this is not enough. There is more to explore and understand, because beyond the very important aspect of “doing good,” an event like the Food Drive is an enormous opportunity to open our eyes. If we don’t turn the page quickly to move on to other things (even another good initiative: Christmas is coming...), such an event can make us understand something crucial about who we are and what we need as individuals and as a people. We are poor, beggars for everything, because we are made of an endless desire, and need to share life with the poor in order not to lose ourselves.

In moments like these, the structure of the human person emerges in all its clarity. We realize how the beggar truly is “the protagonist of history” (Pope Francis reminded us of this a short time ago) and how charity is “the law of life,” to use another expression dear to Fr. Giussani. By living moments of this kind with awareness, realizing what is happening, not taking anything for granted–not even something in which we have been participating for years (this was the 21st annual Food Drive)–we can rediscover how certain gestures are the expression of “an origin” that must not be lost from sight, as Fr. Julián Carrón, President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, said recently: “They flow from faith” and help deepen our understanding of faith.

This is why we have dedicated the “Close-up” article to the Food Drive and other similar gestures, because they help us learn “the law of life.” These range from long-familiar gestures, like the AVSI Christmas Tents, which is a rooted tradition by now, or very new ones, like the event initiated in Romania by those who opened their hearts and minds to the latest of the many gifts. Pope Francis has given the Church: the World Day of the Poor, November 19th. In his message on that occasion, the Pope said that when we welcome the poor, “they can be teachers who help us live the faith more consistently” because “they show us in a quiet and often joyful way, how essential it is to live simply and to abandon ourselves to God’s providence.” We need to do this in order to be ourselves.