A Mystery of Election

Notes from a conversation between Father Giussani and a group of Memores Domini Tabiano, October 1, 1995.

Lugi Giussani

Forgive this exception, but even if it arrived after the deadline, the question seems to me to be an important and valuable one
Question: I had the impression yesterday that the reference, the argumentation had to do with the foundation, with Mystery, that is, that it was of an ontological nature and not, instead, based on ethical consequences. I wanted to know if this impression is correct, and if so, why.
Father Giussani: I do not know if I will be able to answer the second part of the question, but this is the fundamental question.

I The lack, that is, the absence, the difficulty, which the human heart cannot reach if it is not taken under the arms by the Lord and lifted up and carried forward by Him (as Psalm 63 says, “my heart clings to you, your right hand supports me”), the great truth, is a revelation with an ontological value.
Ontological means, “having to do with the nature of reality.” What is reason? Consciousness of reality in accordance with the totality of its factors. Whatever is not consciousness of reality is fantasy dictated by feeling, egoism, pusillanimity, or pettiness. The ontological, even if it’s a hard word, means, “what is, in reality.” And in reality a thing is as it was made by an Other, not by us! The hands we put there, the mind we put into play, the heart we sacrifice “touch on,” as it were, play, as it were, put themselves on the line on something that belongs to someone else, on a reality, that is, on Being’s making itself present, on the way in which Being makes itself present, in which God, Mystery, makes Himself present.
I want to start from something that you don’t remember any more and that I remembered by chance yesterday or the day before. I read it now:
“Fundamentally, we have defined reason as a relationship with the infinite [just one millimeter this side of the infinite, of the ‘entire’ infinite–which is a contradiction, but it is a paradox even more than a contradiction–and you’re dead!] that reveals itself as the need for a total explanation. Reason’s highest achievement is the intuition that an explanation exists exceeding the measure of reason itself [reason’s highest achievement is the intuition that there is an answer, but this goes beyond its measure]. ...
“Now, when reason becomes conscious of itself down to its core and discovers that its nature is ultimately accomplished by intuiting the unreachable, the mystery, it does not cease to be a need for knowledge [reason does not cease being the need to know it, it understands that it cannot know the mystery, but does not cease, by nature it cannot cease to ask, to seek it].”
I am rereading Chapter 14 of The Religious Sense,1 which most of you have put in the attic, because it is a book… you’ve already read!
“Once this is discovered [that is, that the answer lies beyond itself], reason yearns to know the unknown. The life of reason is the will to penetrate the unknown (like Dante’s Ulysses), to pass beyond the Pillars of Hercules, the symbol of the continuous and structural [ontological] limit existence imposes on this desire [‘ontologically,’ by the very nature of reason, by the nature itself of things, by the nature itself of their meaning, which is called God]. Even more, in fact, it is precisely the endeavor to penetrate this unknown, that defines reason’s energy. As we have indicated, in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul, speaking before the ‘philosophers’ who habitually met together at the Areopagus of Athens, said: ‘The God who has made the world and all that it holds, who is Lord of heaven and of earth, does not dwell in the temples built by human hands [it does not coincide with anything to which you give shape as the ultimate desire of the instant; in the fleeting instant you give the shape of ultimate desire to a thing. Thus you create this shape, you identify this thing that is falsely present, because it does not last: “it is not,” while seeming to be], nor is He served by human hands as though He had need of something, for it is He who gives life and breath and everything to all… It is He who set limits to their epochs and fixed the boundaries of their regions [here measure comes in again, measure that is measurable by us, but made by an Other], so that they may seek out God, that they may one day come to find Him, going on gropingly, although He is not far from any one of us. In Him, in fact, we live, move, and have our being, and even one of your own poets has said, ‘For we are all of us His people.’
“All of the movement of humanity [the boy who today, Sunday, will take the train to go see his girlfriend in Rovigo; the girlfriend who will take the train from Rovigo to go to Como, mistaking the place…], all of the endeavor of this ‘laborious force which wearies us by keeping us in motion,’ is the knowledge of God [this is the meaning of every human action, even one that is the most wrong, even of a murderer]. The immense effort expended in searching is summed up in the expression ‘the movement of peoples’ [what is the alternative? That the movement of peoples become a formula of war: World War I, waged by Masons against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, because this was Catholic; Hitler’s or Churchill’s war, for the triumph of German or English power]. To discover, to enter into the mystery that underpins the reality that appears before us–what we see and touch [underlying the fleeting present that does not last]–this is reason’s motivation, its driving force.
“It is this relationship with that ‘beyond’ which ensures the adventure of the here and now. [Do you remember Dante’s Ulysses and his men? They test the ‘beyond’ on the other side of the Pillars of Hercules. This makes even what happens on this side a real adventure: they sail the Mediterranean with a tough grit that frightens even the fish! Imagine the men who saw them.] Otherwise, boredom dominates–a boredom which is the origin of either the elusive and evasive presumption or censorious desperation. Only the relationship with the ‘beyond’ makes the adventure of life possible. The will to penetrate the beyond [the attempt to penetrate, the impossibility of penetrating... but the impossibility of penetrating only tests the intensity of the will to penetrate] gives man the energy to seize the here and now. …
“But beyond the Mare Nostrum, what we can possess, govern, and measure [beyond these “few spans” which measure appearance], what is there? Beyond is the ocean of meaning [which looms]. It is in daring to go beyond the Pillars of Hercules–this extreme limit erected by false wisdom, and that oppressive security–and to advance into the enigma of meaning [only then does man begin to sense that freedom exists] that one really begins to feel [free, that is,] like a human being. Reality in its impact with the human heart draws out the dynamic that the Pillars of Hercules evoked in the heart of Ulysses and his companions, their faces taut with desire for ‘other.’ For those anxious faces and those hearts full of longing, the Pillars of Hercules were not a boundary, but an invitation, a sign, something which recalls one beyond. …
“But there is a text even greater... than Dante’s Ulysses–it is in the Bible, when Jacob returns home from exile.… ‘... You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel which means “I have wrestled with God.”’ This is the stature of the human being in Judeo-Christian revelation.”
And here is the sentence for which I read this whole chapter: “He who realizes this about himself goes among others as lame, singled out [whether he works in an elementary school or for television]. He is no longer like the others. He is marked.
“If this is the existential position of reason, then it is easy enough to see how it can be dizzying [just like it is for me now, when my blood pressure gets low and I stand up in a hurry without remembering the warnings Giancarlo and Adriano have given me: my head spins; after a minute my head spins].
“By law, by my life’s directive, I must hang suspended [‘ontologically,’ because this ‘is’ man in creation], moment by moment, upon a will that I do not know. This would be [hanging suspended on the will of someone I don’t know] the only rational position.... For one’s whole life [then], the true moral law would be that of waiting for the nod of this unknown ‘lord,’ attentive to the signs of a will that would appear to us through pure [only], immediate circumstance [and nothing more].”
Hardly utopian! The utopian is a falsehood, it is a violent lie, which liberates your dizziness in a spinning “busyness.” This, instead, is real being, real existence experienced, touched, recognized, and felt because of that tangential touch by which it is in relationship with the Beyond, with the Infinite. And this moment, the moment when reason touches its highest achievement, is called also by another name: mysticism.
“I repeat: man, the human being’s rational life would have to be suspended on the instant, suspended in every moment upon this sign, apparently so fickle, so haphazard, yet the circumstances through which the unknown ‘lord’ drags me, provokes me toward his design. I would have to say ‘yes’ to every instant without seeing anything, simply adhering to the pressures of the occasions. It is a dizzying position [like someone on a trapeze two hundred meters above the ground without ever having done it before].”
Remember that this is Chapter 14 of The Religious Sense, that you have never reread again. You read it thinking it was obvious, and instead you have never felt it, never! Whoever does not feel this, has not yet stepped over the threshold of childhood, when you can start to be bad, but not yet freely adhere to the good.
This is a premise. It is a premise that you will find to be confirmed by another piece that you are going to read: this is a text entitled “Faith is a Journey of the Eyes,” in the latest issue of 30Giorni [30Days].2 The first part of this “journey” underlines the necessity that one be what he is, otherwise he will not be able to find an answer to the question as to what he is. A good bit of the first part of this article corresponds to Chapter 14 of The Religious Sense; it recalls an exceptionally exemplary instance in my life, in my memory, that I have hammered into my head like a nail, therefore I remember it hundreds of times. Oddly enough, it is a circumstance I did not seek, I did not foresee, an occasion that dragged me into it, following the infinite logic that every circumstance that we live contains within itself; because, within itself, every circumstance has a logic that takes us to the heart of the world, which is called “the Word of God.”
That evening I was tired and I went to sleep (back then, when I decided to go to sleep, I slept: “When you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old somebody else will put a belt on you”–whenever he wants to, at three in the morning, for example; and so the next day you have a hard time talking–what can you do about it!–but when it is like this, the truth of your heart is provoked, the raw, objective, cutting acumen of your “gourd,” i.e, your head, i.e., reason).
So I went to bed. In the morning, since I had to turn in a piece of my thesis that evening, I immediately threw myself into the text Nature and Destiny, Reinhold Niebuhr’s greatest work, by the greatest thinker in America in the 1930s and 1940s. I opened the book, a certain chapter, and started reading. “Nothing is more unbelievable than the answer to a question that is not asked.”3 You will read the piece. “Two plus two is four” is not as evident as this! This is more evident, because it is more human and therefore more interesting, it pulls into it a much greater part of ourselves: “Nothing is more unbelievable than the answer to a question that is not asked.”
Christ is the answer to the man who consciously puts himself in front of this immense, unperishable, unexhausted quest that is the heart.
It is to the extent that one listens to his heart, understands his heart, takes his heart into consideration, has his heart in front of his eyes, has his heart on his horizon, has his heart in the face of the woman he loves, has his heart in the face of his logarithms and his math tricks, has his heart in his children’s faces, has his heart in the face of the crowd; it is to that extent that one can say, “What answer is there? What answer is there to my question?” But to that extent there is you, who perceive yourself, who can understand how much the answer to what you are is more important than what you are, because if there is not an answer to what you are, you are a poor wretch indeed!
Imagine going into Piazza Duomo in Milan at 6 p.m., in the summer, or the spring, or the autumn, early autumn. The square is practically full, people coming here, people going there; but notice that there’s something wrong: they are all headless! Imagine you are there, and nobody has a head–you are the only one with a head! Life is like this, the world is like this. You will read the whole first paragraph of the article in 30Giorni.
How can someone say these things without a heart? How can one think and hear these things without a heart? Only if you listen to these things heartlessly are they invalid, in the sense that they flow out the same way they flowed in: only if your soul is a void, because a void makes everything empty, it is like a bottomless pit. You have read this piece worse than you read The Religious Sense, much worse. They seem like things that have been said a thousand times and never–each time–are they said like before; never, not even once, not even by chance, just as they are said by chance.

II The One who guides man is the One who made him, because God has answered. To this human situation that He has allowed–described in the chapter that we read: man lives like this, human existence is this, structurally, ontologically–to this human existence, Mystery has given an answer. He has answered, as though in a dialogue, as though man’s cry were cried out within God’s heart, within God’s house, which is the eternal, which is paradise; as though the cry were cried right in there. There is someone, in there, who picks it up like an exceptional relay station. Man’s cry cries within the heart of God through an exceptional relay station: a man who is inside the mystery of God, inside the ultimate Mystery.
Go to page 14 of Time and the Temple, which I presented saying that it was like a summary of everything I had said in 40 years, of what I have “most” wanted to say over these 40 years. God answered. Man’s question, as it is described in Chapter 14 of The Religious Sense, receives an answer.
God, who made man like this, the God of whom all circumstances are the expression–and by themselves would be the only expression for man, the only reason, the only energy giving the reason for the steps made by a human blindness, by a man who walks totally in the dark, groping, testing the air in front of him, without seeing anything–God has answered “with…,” “with what” we shall say at the end of the paragraph.
I read, “So that Christ be everything in everyone [thus, it is clear that the answer is that the ultimate reason, the ultimate substance, what everything is made of, is called Christ], that Christ be manifested as everything in everyone [be manifested, be recognized, be seen, be experience that He is everything in everyone], that Christ’s glory appear as the form and the content of everything [this is “ontology,” not “morality”: reality is like this]–‘everything consists in Him’–that this may appear, there is, made by God, by the mystery, by the Father, a choice or election.”4
A choice lies at the root of God’s answer: a choice, an election, which would seem to be the “rebuttal” of an answer, because it is one point chosen as the entire answer, a detail chosen as the explanation of everything: a detail that becomes the explanation of the whole thing.
What choice is it? What election is it? What does choice mean?
“Choice” could have been the vase of flowers that Marco has on his windowsill; it would not have been mysterious, but undeniably irrational, because how can I cry out to a vase of flowers? I can cry out to someone who hears, like me, what I hear; who is like me, but is different from me; who is like me, but is what I am not, and it is this that I ask for as an answer: a man. He chose a man. He could have chosen him six years from now, in the famous year 2000, at the famous beginning of the third millennium that all the greats of the earth are talking about (before the dawn breaks of the third millennium, everyone is watchful and waiting: fat chance!), He could have chosen him in 6222, because the number, as such, is divisible by 2! And why couldn’t He have chosen that great murderer, Moses, a rabid patriot, so rabid that he treated another man like a dog?
Instead, He waited for the moment before Israel was destroyed as a people and the state of Israel razed to the ground, to the point that not one document dating to before the year 70 could be found. Precisely on this, everybody, first atheists and skeptics, then Protestants and even some Catholics, would base their arguments to maintain that Christ either never existed and is the fruit of a fairy tale or that He existed and cannot be known: this is the alternative with which Schweitzer concluded his study of Christ before leaving for Africa. We must admit that God truly has a great sense of humor! The pieces of papyrus5 found now all date to before 70! Do you think that these Catholic theologians will change their minds? The Protestants and the others will change their minds, but the Catholics won’t. The habit of dogmatism can make you a prisoner of your own skull. May the Lord forgive me if I laugh at this; but He may be laughing Himself: ludit in orbe terrarum, He plays in the existence of man.
“There is, made by God, by Mystery, by the Father, a choice or election.” This is the fundamental category to explain the connection between the creature and God, in as much as it is an aware connection, in as much as it is a comparison of two freedoms, in as much as it is dialogue and in as much as it is a challenge (God’s challenge to man and man’s to God), in as much as it is an angry recognition like Catherine of Siena’s or like that of a girl in her second year of novitiate whom I took by surprise one morning as she was crying. I said to her, “Why ever are you crying? Are you unhappy here?” “No! I just finished reading St. John of the Cross and I am crying because I shall never be able to love the Lord like he does.” Well! Once every twenty years you come upon something exceptional–the answer at least; I don’t know about her, but the answer, yes. May God grant me to remember it.
Jesus of Nazareth felt “seized” (tradition says above all at the moment of his Baptism by John the Baptist) as a man and destined to a task in the universe, to a universal task. This act of Being is a category that Being maintains, in as much as It operates on what It creates; it is a category that Being maintains and proclaims as Its method in Its relationship with what It created.
“Without this choice or election nothing can happen but a reality made up of a crowd of paupers, of beggars, who collect the crumbs that fall from the children’s table, precisely as the Canaanite woman said, ‘even the dogs can eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table.’”6
God answered the question described in Chapter 14 of The Religious Sense, that dizzying situation of the serious person, of the person who takes himself seriously, because otherwise “nothing is so unbelievable as the answer to a question that is not asked” (Niebuhr may go down in history for this statement alone, in my opinion. Indeed, if he goes down in history for this statement, it is more certain, clear, and fruitful than if he went down for all his limitless production, which made a great impression and had enormous influence on American politics in the 1940s and 1950s, but afterwards was replaced by its opposite.)
Choice and election. But I have already said this, in a brutal rough way and not dramatic as instead it is. It is the word “drama” applied to the mystery of the Trinity. And we can do this, because we can use only the highest words that describe our relationships for approaching the ultimate Mystery. It is the drama of the Trinity, of that communion which makes up the essence of Being, the nature of Being. This is always a question of ontology, Laura, as you have quite rightly pointed out.
This drama of the Trinity was the choice of a man. The man Jesus of Nazareth, chosen to be the humanity of the Word, the humanity of God, God who is the answer to the heart He created, the exhaustive, superabundant answer to the cry of the heart He created: a cry that reverberates in the nature itself of the mystery of the Trinity through the presence, an operation of the Spirit, of a Jewish man, born of a 17-year-old woman. I don’t know if I am more moved by the fact that He was born of a woman or that she was 17 years old, but it doesn’t matter (the latter is sentimental, the former is a marvel I am objectively bound to feel).
This choice or election is permanent as a fundamental category of the movement, of God’s way of moving with us creatures, with us conscious creatures, with the creature in as much as it becomes dialogue with Him, knowledge and consciousness of Him and submission to, obedience to, love for Him; this relationship is permanently determined, governed by the category of choice, of election.
And in fact, the Archangel Gabriel brought his announcement to this young woman in her little house in Nazareth. When you go into that little house, you really get goose bumps. I believe that even if I were an unshakeable atheist, I would still get goose bumps, so greatly does the objectivity, the ontology of Being, in the way it moves, give evidence of itself, leave a document of its movements, of its creation: it leaves on man’s earth indelible and indelibly efficacious traces.
But let’s leave behind the line followed by Time and the Temple, which you will read in its entirety. I am afraid that those who have read it, read it without making the connections (which are apparently evident), without the importance of one or the other of all these connections being perceived as determinant in terms of the whole list. The whole list is dominated by the different accents of the points into which it is subdivided.7
The first choice was the choice of this man! He was a man who descended from Abraham: it is through Abraham that He is a man descending from Adam. It is through Abraham. Not through Ham, Shem, or anybody else: through Abraham! It could have been Lot, who was Abraham’s nephew; he was there close by! God could have been off by half a millimeter! On these observations depends the value of heaven and earth, depends the value of the heat of the sun or the color of the sea.

III Listen: to elect this man, where did the Spirit of Mystery go? Where did He direct His steps? When did He go? It is not possible to avoid, in the category of choice, of election, this where and this when. “Where” and “when” are the two basic components of the expanse, of the great stretch of human space, of natural reality, of the material aspect, part, expression of man, because the material part of man defines man exactly together with and in the same way as the spiritual part: it is not possible to conceive of man without matter.
Do you understand that the concept of choice and election–election and choice on the part of Mystery within earthly human reality, within human created reality–imply a “when” and a “where” because time and space are unavoidable coefficients of what man “is,” they belong to the ontology of man, to ontology? Therefore a morality–but let’s not say so immediately, or rather, yes, let’s say so immediately–a morality cannot avoid depending on an ontology. A behavior cannot but depend on being, on what one is. Does temperament, for example, belong to morality or to ontology? To ontology. It is a color of ontology. Luckily there are reds, greens, and zebra-stripes.
It would be necessary to stay together a whole day, eating at noon, sleeping a while, but developing these things in a dialogue, as I seem to prefer. One of you cannot manage to understand the connection; another understands it very well but can’t absorb it and make it his own: he understands it with his head, but not with his life, with his existence, his “I;” not with his “I,” but with his head. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Tell me, please, if you understand this expression: election or choice entails the answer to the question “when” and “where”? Time and space. A time and a space: Nazareth! It could be: in “that” time, the angel of the Lord went to Ostia, near the capital city Rome. No! This would have been the center of all the world’s life at that time, the Mediterranean world, moved by military victories from Greece to Rome, and Ostia was the spearhead of everything. All the ships left from there and put in there. But the angel of the Lord took the announcement to this young woman of Nazareth, who gave birth, when her time came nine months later, in Bethlehem. Therefore, how strange that the heads asked Jesus, “Usquam animam nostram tollis?” “How long will you keep us on tenterhooks? Tell us who you are and where you come from.” I don’t know if He answered like this (the Gospel doesn’t say any more, but it does not exclude the possibility): “Please go look at the birth register in Bethlehem and you will have your answer.” Everything is played out within spaces and ways of happening that are absolutely and totally ordinary.
What is this first place from which this message–as an initial reality, as a germ, a seed–inserted itself forcibly and irresistibly into man’s life, into the history of the world? The womb of this woman! What an impressive thing!
And St. Joseph when he looked at Her! Here Joseph is the figure of man as “man.” There is no other figure of a man who can be compared to him. That is, man has to be compared to St. Joseph. In him is embodied that gaze two feet away from the face of the one he loves. No loving gaze can be more powerful than this one. May St. Joseph help us to have it! But this is already morality.
The womb of that woman and thus that little house. The first people, the first element of a people, the first document of a people who became aware of this young carpenter, in love with this girl, who finds himself facing something that absolutely crushes him on every side, would crush him on every side if he did not recognize it in its ontology: God’s mystery revealed, God who begins to reveal to man the answer to his “why,” the response to his cry. The more a man feels that cry within himself, the more he expects an answer, and the more he perceives the answer that comes: before dawn breaks, he lives in expectation. The most moving figures among the Jews, in the Jewish people as a society, in the Old Testament, the most moving figures are those who, intelligent or not (and there were intelligent, even cultivated ones: Simeon must have been cultivated; the Virgin must have read her “schoolbooks” carefully: she said her Magnificat stringing together Biblical phrases that she repeated all the time, therefore they were part of her), were waiting!
Precisely that little house, that very house. Then, afterwards, it started radiating out, and this radiating took up residence in the houses of some fishermen and, some time later, became fixed in the eyes of everyone in the street. But in the street He was a little too mobile, a little too easy to pursue, and so He would go one time into this house (Bethany), another time in another. Then the most terrible and sublime moment (which is the moment described in the four chapters of St. John which we read on Good Friday at the university students’ Easter Triduum), in that room dimly lit by torches, when that Man said (imagine the face of the others who were there, hearing him say), “Without me you can do nothing”8–nothing! nothing!!
To my mind, faced with one who says what I am saying, seriously, civilian society cannot help thinking, “It is better to shut him up in an insane asylum or eliminate him, rather than let him talk.” Because this discourse, this message is an unavoidable either/or: whatever is not this is illusion, falsehood, negation–always brandished about by those in power. Always, even from the point of view of education, which was the cauchemar, the nightmare, of Pasolini (what a pity that evening I did not approach him–I was waiting for the last plane from Milan to Rome–distracted by Msgr. Pisoni! If Pasolini had been at a couple of our gatherings, he would have covered us with invective, but he would have become one of our heads! Saying that these things must find their justice is saying the least that man requires to continue to feel himself a man!).
Well and good! Then, that little group was broken up, they could no longer meet together even in the street; then they let themselves be seen under the Portico of Solomon–there they had a headquarters, a room, the room where they had had the Last Supper with Him. And then, from there, they spread through the world. Thus Marco found the beautiful theme of next year’s Meeting: “An impetuous wind rose up out of the east [on one hand, “impetuous” can represent an invitation to enthusiasm, and on the other, could arouse the desire for punishment on the part of those in power: enthusiasm and prison] and certain [certain! What is the first condition of faith? Certainty, I studied when I was a boy, and they thought they could dissuade me when I was grown up] of their guide, they sailed to the ends of the earth.”
We are sailing to the ends of the earth, because the ends of the earth are not the ends of the “earth,” they are the ends of the earth in all of history. The ends of the earth are those whose waters, whose remnants, lap at the feet of Christ who comes to judge, “to judge all the humble of the earth,” says the Psalm, where “judge” means “exalt.” He did not come to judge the world, but to save the world!
Naturally, this whole network that had spread by this point over all the world was codified wherever it arrived: there are still traces in Kerala of the early Christians of the fourth century, there are traces of St. James at Compostela, as a researcher and scientist has demonstrated.
In any case, then it reached Ravenna. In Ravenna it was one of the most beautiful things, one of the most beautiful “wheres” and “whens” in its history! It produced a humanity that must be safeguarded by you and defended by you, because this is your task. And if you feel yourself to be poor and weak, attracted by a thousand things, this remains; that your dignity is this, remains. This saves you even if you committed seventy murders like the Good Thief, who would have given Him the same answer Simon gave Him; and Simon would have said the same thing, even if he had had his hands still dripping with the blood of a murder committed the day before. But this is another problem that, I regret, we can’t deal with now–we’ll treat it next time.
The new year is beginning, therefore our work on ethical commitment begins. But the conclusion of this year, so rich in discovery… discovering being, ontology, what everyone neglects because, like Aesop’s fox, they try to say something about it, to know something about it, and not succeeding, they repeat the famous phrase, “Nondum matura est,” “They were sour anyway,” which is like saying, “None of it is true!”
Now I want to come to a close.
We have recalled the way in which God answered the cry (the “way” means the arrangement in which the ontology of things places itself, posits itself, stands; the arrangement by which we understand what a thing is), man’s supreme thirst, described in Chapter 14 of The Religious Sense, because it is a question of the sense of self. The more one asks himself the question, the more he listens to his own heart, and all the more does he cry out to know the answer: “Nothing is more unbelievable than the answer to a question that is not asked.” And it is the negation, the denial of the heart that can make us indifferent to the answer.
The answer comes: God responds to the cry, which has entered into His very nature, into His very life; your cry has entered into His very life.
How has He answered this cry? By using a category which is the supreme affirmation of His freedom. The supreme affirmation of freedom is the absolute choice, it is the category of choice or election.
Why did You call this one? Because I–says God–wanted to call this one! And why did You not choose someone else? Because I did not want to choose anyone else! “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”9 Only in the mystery of God does absolute freedom equal the right to choose, not in us. The right to choose, in us, is a utopia in the sense of the rana rupta et bos, of the frog who wants to be as big as an ox and explodes in the effort. This category of choice immediately indicates a point, a point in the history of man, of human geography, of man’s observable universe, an infinitesimal point, therefore–infinitesimal in the true sense of the term: present as a point in the womb of a woman, a young woman of Nazareth, in Palestine, in the race of the Jews. Therefore, salvation will have to run through every bit of Jewish history. Whoever does not run through inside himself all the accents and dramas of the experience of the history of the Jewish people is not a good Christian, he does not understand what it means to be Christian. He is not a good Christian, because–St. Paul says–the history of the Hebrew people is pedagogy for us: it leads us to understand, for example, this concept of choice, of vocation-choice, which is absolutely a Hebrew trait, because the other peoples do not have it.
In any case, choice or election. Why are you here, why? Why is he here? Why are you here? Why am I here? I have enough imagination and mobility of feelings to have eyed an infinity of other possibilities which I will not list in detail, but I am here because I have been “made for,” elected. Then there is a moral component, which is my answer to the answer: to set my life along those lines, that is, answer. No matter at what point you put this choice on the trajectory of God’s intervention into your life, your life has been chosen and called to correspond to God’s great answer, therefore to correspond to Jesus, to the presence of Jesus–to correspond to this, not working, not doing this or that, not organizing, not creating movements; all this will be a consequence that comes, if God wants it to. My last thought, forty years ago, when I saw my dear old friend Adriano–whom I now see there in the section on the left–, the first time I saw him laugh or smile my last thought was that there would ever be more than 23 of us (there were three of us then).
The category of choice or election comes to the point, comes to its fixed object–it comes to Ravenna at a certain moment, which is not 1890, but is 1990–and is you. Because if it had been 34 years earlier, it would not have been you.
This is essential. It comes in a time and in a place: the coordinates, the conjunction of time and place. One comes into the other and they create a point. The gift which defines this point is also called charism, because normally it can be the vehicle of an “accent” in perceiving God, in perceiving Christ, in feeling Christ, in faithfulness to Christ, in sensing Christ’s greatness, in tenaciousness. The gift can signal this point of intersection which is you. You, because the “when” and the “where” comes to your house; it penetrates the windows and walls, it enters your mother’s womb, but you are already a child and you have already run outside; so then it looks for you, it goes to the school, there is your teacher, that teacher; then it goes to your friends, “those” friends: and there it stops and grabs you! You cannot run away any more; you can say no, but not escape. You can say no, but if someone rebels against two hands that are caressing him, he strangles himself. Freedom is answering; then those two hands become two supports.
The choice of you, your election coincides with a contingent reality of time and space, it is a place, a space in which you are reached (which, as in our case, has something exceptional to which to witness; because to say Christ in this way is an exception; to say Christ in this way is exceptional today; the good people says Jesus, and it is the moving adherence to something evident, more evident than life itself, and in fact people die in that name, for that name, but it is not exceptional). Gracious God, you could have been off by a millimeter! If He was off by a millimeter, the ray would have struck another; instead, it got you. It got you, and it is a pouring onto you, inside you, of that gift of the Spirit, or charism, by which you are better prepared to understand and to adhere to Christ and to be happy serene and joyous about it, no matter how weak you may be, because “God is our song and our strength” (not we are song and strength, but God is our song and our strength); you are made able, therefore, to be a witness before others. In as much as they are simple, they see you as a witness. In as much as they are simple: you can do ten times more than you do, you can make ten times as many mistakes, but they are not scandalized; they are scandalized, but they’re not scandalized; they are scandalized, but they do not stop, because the rétentissement, the reverberation of what you say, what you say resonates in them with a greater evidence than the shadows cast by your mistakes. Thus no one stops to think about St. Peter’s mistakes as an obstacle to their hope in that rock. “Whoever treasures this hope of Him purifies himself, to be pure as He is.”10
“Purifies himself, to be pure as He is.” During this year that is passing, we have been put together, held together by a strength and a song greater than our weakness and our carelessness, our pusillanimity, our cowardice; the coming year will be given to us, from the end of November, for this same reason: because we have to purify ourselves as He is pure, because this hope is the rock on which everything is built; on which everything can be built by us, on which we all build together!
The ontology that governs our relationship with the infinite–all our thoughts, all our actions, everything we are–reverberates on the earth, above all in an earthly “communion.” So that you get up in the morning and that house you see, with the five people that live in it (who make you sick because you, you, you’ve had it up to here, or because they are nervous wrecks, while thanks be to God you are insensitively oblivious), being with those five people is not benevolence on your part; you are there. And if they bothered you all day long? They are the mystery of Christ, right there, closer to you, which urges you–it urges you!–it presses on you, by that constant osmosis by which, as time passes and as you sail through all these places, you, each time, will feel less yourself, above all, and more like Jesus. But no, it’s not like that; you will feel more yourself, because you recognize and love Jesus more and more. This, in any case, will be the meditation that we shall develop from the beginning of Advent onwards for the whole year.
This year no one wanted to, but I myself chose to exalt Christian ontology as the new actor in the history of the world, as the winning actor: while He was killed He was winning, as Eliot says (go look it up).
Next year will be however it will be; but, since it is right to look ahead, it is moral to look ahead, it is our duty to look ahead, if God allows us to, we will develop that mysterious and beautiful phrase: “purifies himself, to be pure as He is.” Whoever has this reason for being–which is You, o Christ–purifies himself to be pure as He is, pure as You are.
There is nothing that we can exchange with each other as much as helping each other in this. If we gave each other all the money we have, if we gave our body to be burned (as St. Paul says in the 13th chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians), if we gave everything away, it would not be anything compared with this supreme gift of the human, because it is the reflection, it is the imitation of the mystery of God: charity, gratuitousness.
And gratuitousness is there where one recognizes and loves Jesus every day, from the morning Angelus to the evening Angelus and as often as possible during the day: it is the house. This is the value of the house: to be the first place that reminds you of Him, that renews your memory. Whatever operation or work you do, into which you throw yourself, into which you are thrown–and the more you generate the better it is–is not negative, but no work that generates, nothing of what you can create with your hands and govern wisely, intelligently, according to the taste of your own character, even if it is an instrument of mission, has any value compared with this place, so many times so shapeless, which you yourself make shapeless, this place which is so silent in the bad sense of the word, i.e., incapable of words, this place which is so hard to bear, this place which is so different in temperament and way of facing things, this place which is the house.
The house is the first source of memory to that vocation which established the “where” and “when” you would be hit.
Therefore, we must respond to an objective reality, one that is not a whim, not imposed by men or traditions, but imposed by Being, that is to say, having an ontological value.