Traces N.11, December 2018

Poor in Spirit

Those who read Traces regularly will be familiar with the extraordinary lesson that Fr. Giussani gave in Varigotti in 1968 to a group of young people of the Péguy Center, not only because the text was published as Page One on the CL website, but also because his words, so far away in time–exactly half a century–are so topical that in recent times they have marked the journey of the Movement of CL very clearly, tracing out a road for facing today's confusion.

That lesson, which in the meantime has been listened to and read by half the world and in many languages wherever Communion and Liberation is present, contains a passage that has struck everyone, because it condenses into two words a subtle but crucial distinction: “It is no longer history, or doctrine, or tradition, or a discourse that will move men and women today. Christian tradition and philosophy, Christian tradition and discourse have created and continue to create ‘Christianness,’ but not Christianity.” Christianity, insists Fr. Giussani, is “quite another thing”: it is “an announcement,” something “living” and “present.” It is difficult to find a more concisely effective formulation to indicate that the faith cannot be reduced to a cultural factor, ethical value, or naturally human impetus, no matter how good and true. Faith is another thing. But how can one discover the difference offered by faith today? How is it born? How does it come to the surface in our experience?

This edition of Traces speaks specifically about this, not only speaks, but tries to show it, revealing the places this strange difference, this presence, emerges, be it in the life of Western society or the “peripheries” of Africa. We do so during a period that is different from others because we are moving toward Christmas, the source of everything, the moment when this difference appeared in history for the first time, in the simplest of ways, as a baby. It is not a cultural tradition or a system of thought or values. The “social and historical furrow” of Christianity, a phrase used by Fr. Giussani, was still entirely, literally, to be invented, in the 2,000 odd years that have brought us to this moment.

And yet there, Christianity was already entirely present. With that baby, something unheard of entered the world: “A presence charged with proposal, […] a presence charged with meaning” never before seen or heard. The heart of everything, deep down, is there. You see this well in the image CL chose for its Christmas poster, in that Wise Man so struck by the announcement that he prostrates himself in front of the child, bowing himself, his history, and his humanly regal nature down in front of the most helpless presence that could be imagined.

That man must truly have been “poor in spirit.” The most sincere Christmas wish we can extend is that all of us, too, may be poor in spirit, now, so that we may recognize that Presence.