Traces N.4, April 2017

The One Who Leads History

There’s a simple way to understand what it is that the Church brings to the world: just look at what happened when Pope Francis visited Milan. Crowds everywhere, all day long. A million people, according to the counts. And it was a joyful crowd, happy, smiling despite their weariness. Not the weariness from the travel and hours out in the sun at Monza Park waiting for the Mass, but the weariness that comes from life, the weight of the ordinary burdens and anxieties with which daily life unfolds. “And yet every one of those fellows down there must have his own devil to torture him,” as Manzoni’s Unnamed said, watching the crowds that ran out to meet Cardinal Borromeo. Great–so that Saturday at the end of March was just like the book. But what were all those people expecting to get from the Pope? The solution to their problems? The untangling of every knot, of every burden? That was evidently not the case. At closer glance, it’s quite impressive. The expectation focused on that person who, in his essence, like every man, is so transitory and yet so decisive in that he incarnates the Church, and was an expectation of something even greater than a solution to problems. An expectation that’s perhaps unconscious but still great, because it encompasses all other expectations.

And the Pope responded. He embraced every problem and anxiety, one by one, doing what the Church has always done: broadening our perspective. Redirecting us to our relationship with God, our dependence on Him and on His mercy. He did it consistently, with every question that was posed to him. The peripheries? They are, first and foremost, the place, “to encounter the Lord, to renew the mission of [our] origins, to [return to] the Galilee of the first encounter.” Evangelization? It is joyful, but it is God who is acting; He “catches the fish,” because, “It is He who leads history.” How to educate our children? By keeping in mind the example of “the gratuitousness of God.” And he continued responding to other questions, leading up to the phrase that, in a way, summarized all the rest because it broadens our gaze, turning everything on its head: “We must not fear challenges, this must be clear. How often do we hear lamentations: ‘Ah, these days, there are so many challenges, and we are sad…?’ No. Do not be afraid. Challenges must be confronted like bulls, seizing them by the horns. And it is good that they exist, challenges. It’s good, because they enable us to grow. They are the sign of a living faith, of a living community that seeks its Lord and keeps its eyes and heart open.”

This is what the Church brings. Not the solution to all our problems, but “open eyes and hearts.” In other words, that “true attitude” that makes it possible to face them, as Fr. Giussani said. Religiosity, the awareness that we depend on God. “It is He who leads history.” And this gives us a new outlook that doesn’t distance us from reality or make us retreat from things. On the contrary, it pushes us to enter in even more by giving us energy and room to breathe, by helping us to perceive a weight–a depth–in daily affairs that we had never imagined.

As a result, the most common word
among the people of Milan was “hope.” Before and after Francis’s arrival. The problems are still there, for all of us. But the Church is also there, Jesus’s “eternal words” are still “alive in time,” as Charles Péguy writes in the text chosen by CL for this year’s Easter Poster. The problems are still there. But we can discover a sense of satisfaction in facing them.