A man who recognizes his own need, who acknowledges that he is needy, finds nothing more consonant to his nature than asking, entreating. Similarly, we who have met Christ share this need, but we know that the only way we can avoid reducing it to our measure is to entreat the Only One who can make Christ truly ours, reveal Him to our eyes, to our experience: the Holy Spirit.
For this reason, we begin this gesture of the Beginning Day with all the awareness of women and men asking for this Spirit, because only He can open our intelligence, our heart, to the measure of Christ.
Come Holy Spirit
I’ll begin with a brief summary of the work of the Regional Diaconia to prepare this gathering.
The Pope’s talk in Regensberg, which was the focus of last year’s Beginning Day, showed that throwing reason wide open happens with the recognition of the Mystery that is present in reality. Remember Carrón’s words: “Listening to the Pope, we are moved by him, but our adherence to his position, if it does not correspond to a recognition of the Mystery present in reality, is like adherence to a political party. In life, this serves neither us nor others.”
Therefore, reason broadens when it recognizes the Mystery present in reality, and this opening of reason is a necessity: reason is a fundamental endowment for living, and the recognition of the Mystery, therefore, is a necessity. Why? Because, in the face of reality, we need a position, a positive option; we need to recognize the positive that there is in reality; otherwise, death and contradiction conquer, and life submerges us. Life submerges us when the sense, the meaning, is lacking, when there’s no chance to detect, to perceive He who positively makes life. As Berdjaev said, “Truth must be realized in life.”1
We all recognize friendship, our friendship, as a reality that more fully carries the Mystery, the Mystery that makes all things, Christ (Christ is the name of the Mystery; He Himself is Mystery). In fact, as was said in the Regional Diaconia, if our friendship does not call our attention to the Mystery, if it doesn’t remind us of this positive factor upon which all things depend (the Mystery is the evidence of a Presence that we do not possess, but is evident, is not hidden), if there is not a call to this, then friendship, our companionship, the Christian gesture itself becomes a complication, sometimes even an unbearable one.
Therefore, the tension of life is to live the ordinary in an extraordinary way, to live banality in an exceptional way. As John Paul II said in 1980, speaking of St. Benedict: “It was necessary that the heroic become daily, and the daily become heroic.”2 These are also the first words at the foundation of the birth of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation–the words refer to the times of Saint Benedict, but also to our times, which are just as dark.
Last Saturday, I went to see “Cheese,” a trade fair in Bra (excuse the banality of the episode), and I met Carlin Petrini, the founder of Slow Food. As we were eating, we got to talking about Genetically Modified Organisms, and to demonstrate his thesis (he, who calls himself an agnostic, a left-winger, is against GMOs, and I’m for them), he spoke enthusiastically about the love for the land cultivated naturally by the peasant farmers of Latin America or Africa. I observed, “Yes, but what you’re talking about is an exception. How can this change the world?” He stopped me and said, “But, you and I both know that we’re living exceptions.”
What’s needed is an exception; what’s needed is heroism of life, not because this is against banality, but because it illuminates it. It’s like when a guy loves a girl and she says, “Yes.” The world is the same, but it’s different. The light is different, the flavors are different, relationships are different, what he does is different, his toil is different. Thus, the difference that makes it possible to live the ordinary lies in affection, which means being attached, in the passive sense and in the active, attached by and to what’s true, living reality intensely. The presence of the Mystery is awesome; our life is mystery; reality is mystery; the world is mystery. It’s our freedom that comes and goes. At times, we have the opposite impression, but it’s not this way: in order to see the presence of the Mystery, you have to ask–always!
As Fr. Giussani wrote in From Utopia to Presence, “The judgment of value is the first question of life.”3
“The word ‘affection’ is the greatest and most all-encompassing of all our expressivity.”4
“When a young man looks at his girlfriend and thinks, ‘Not even a hair of your head will be lost,’ this is like a volcano of tenderness, of sweetness, and of security. It’s an experience of unbounded gratitude! But if someone is a boor, incapable of loving, or if he is an abstract fellow who speaks of ‘Jesus Christ, the meaning of life’ without relating it to his love for his girlfriend….”5
“Seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God,”6 said Saint Paul, because this is what fills life with the intensity that makes it, to whit, heroic.
In the extraordinary, in the exceptional events–be they positive or negative–it seems easier to seek and ask for Christ. Instead, in ordinary things it seems arduous and difficult; that you ask for Christ is not a foregone conclusion. In fact, it’s almost more essential, because life is spent in the ordinary hours of our days. So then, we ask: “In this search, what is our personal responsibility? What help can our friendship give us?”
As Giancarlo mentioned, last year’s Beginning Day revolved around Pope Benedict’s challenge about the question of reason, about the necessity to broaden reason. We closed the year with the Spiritual Exercises, calling us again to religiosity, to Jesus’ ferocious insistence on religiosity. The two things illuminate each other reciprocally. What does it mean to broaden reason? It means nothing other than living religiosity, that is, recognizing the Mystery. What is religiosity? It is the apex of reason. Therefore, reason does not fulfill its true nature as reason if it does not open itself to religiosity; and religiosity remains a mere sentiment unless it coincides with our rational nature. John Paul II said so in an interview quoted in Fides et Ratio: “When the why of things is investigated with integrity, seeking the totality, in the search for the ultimate and most complete answer, then human reason touches its apex and opens to religiosity. In effect, religiosity represents the most elevated expression of the human person, because it is the culmination of his rational nature.”7 This is what prevents us from reducing reason and religiosity to any of the number of reductions in use among us, in our culture, that influence us as well.
If religiosity is the most elevated expression of man’s rational nature, then religiosity is the knowledge of reality, not something alongside reality–it’s the true knowledge, deep down, of reality (if it were something alongside, it wouldn’t interest me). This is fundamental because we discover religiosity, above all, not through the religious gestures we do, but by how we place ourselves in reality, and how we live reality to the point of recognizing the Mystery present. This makes us understand the motivation for Jesus’ insistence on religiosity.
Sometimes among us it’s as though the fact of the Christian encounter blocks this tension toward knowing reality in its totality. It’s as if we already knew: “We’ve already encountered the Mystery present in an encounter–isn’t this enough?” So much so that frequently we find among ourselves (as I’ll explain later) not a desire to enter more fully into reality, but to make a life–in a certain way–alongside it.
In order to understand how the Christian encounter doesn’t block, but opens, because it makes possible the ultimate broadening of reason, it’s enough just to look at the life of Jesus Himself. It’s not that Jesus–being God–was spared anything. Jesus lived all the difficulties, to the point of suffering and death, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, “In the days when He was in the flesh, He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save Him from death… [but,] Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered [He learned; being Son, He learned]; and when He was made perfect [He acquired His perfection through life, through the things He suffered], He became [in this way] the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” 8 This is said of Jesus–you understand? A fellow who had an inkling about religiosity! But even though He was the Son of God, He was not spared. Rather, it was precisely through everything, to the point of suffering and death, that He became the Lord of all. He entered into possession of everything precisely “through,” not “alongside” everything He had to bear and undergo. That is, He didn’t get there by eluding reality, but through reality.
Therefore, the insistence on religiosity serves to introduce us to reality according to its totality, so that we can possess reality, its meaning, in a true way. As Fr. Giussani always used to remind us, in His Ascension, Jesus became the Lord of reality; through His life–this is the value of His life–He reached the root of all things, of time, of history. Therefore, after the encounter with Him, life does not stop for us, we know well, and we can’t apply certain concepts to life as if to spare ourselves the road to travel; in fact, it is precisely the encounter that allows us to do it. It doesn’t spare us the road, but it allows us to walk it in His company, with His power. This is what we have to try to understand: which road are we to travel?
This is why Fr. Giussani (we’re reading this in the School of Community we’ve taken up again) said, “Jesus Christ was the concrete, physical type of this new humanity. He was so much like others that people would ask one another what it was He wanted. When He spoke, He used the words and ideas of His people. And yet it was another world that He revealed, one certainly not foreign to the human person. The hearts and the eyes of the people, previously unaware of this world, sensed their birth before them and within. Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘Verily, verily, I tell you, unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven’ [he cannot enter into reality].” Fr. Giussani continued, “Christianity is a new way to live in this world. It is a new type of life. Above all, it does not represent a few particular experiences, ways of doing things, additional gestures, or expressions or words to add to our usual vocabulary. The Christian uses the same vocabulary as others but the meaning of the words is different. The Christian looks at all of reality in the same way as a non-Christian, but that which reality tells him or her is different and he or she reacts in a different way.”9
For this reason, the alternative is all here: either do some gestures alongside others, some of “our” gestures alongside others, or enter into reality. If you decide for the first option, then it’s time for me to go; I’m not interested. It’s not that this doesn’t happen among us. One of you wrote to me, “One does the Movement perfectly with all its heft only in the religious moments like School of Community, the Exercises, etc., but outside this nothing is shared (no gestures, no judgments, no being together). It’s as if, having done our homework, our life goes on its merry way elsewhere. This division even happens during the religious gesture. In School of Community, we do the work and then we eat together, but the problem is that this dinner has nothing to do with what happened earlier–we chow down and talk about vain things.” This is seen in the way one places oneself before reality, before people. There are those who place themselves in reality with a project or scheme. The letter continues: “‘Be careful of those people,’” they say of those around them, ‘Be careful of them: they’re all false.’ Instead, for us, it’s meant to be a place of fascinating human encounters, full of prospects for companionship,” the letter concludes. You can be in CL and live in a certain place holding your nose, creating a life apart for yourself, above all completely devoid of the attraction to reality, which in this case means a lack of wonder at your friends and a lack of passion for their destiny (I’m not talking about others–I’m talking about us) and so it’s impossible to run any human risk–you already know it, as we already know Christ; you just have to apply it according to the project or scheme. Not only is this boring, but it holds no interest for living!
The Christianity that has been proposed to us is a new way of living everything, of entering into all of reality. It’s not doing some gestures alongside others or a discourse alongside others, so much so that, as Fr. Giussani continues in the School of Community, “What characterizes a Christian is a profound loyalty to his or her surroundings, because the place that God has entrusted to him or her is within this world, with its joys and toil; that is, in what surrounds him or her.” However, the Christian faces this small part of the world, clings to it, with a new heart and spirit born “not out of human stock, or urge of the flesh, or will of man, but of God Himself.”10 Jesus did not come to spare us the drama of our relationship with reality, but to make it possible: He became our companion to help us enter into reality, to reveal to us the meaning of everything.
This is why Fr. Giussani always used to remind us of Guardini’s line (he quoted it thousands of times): “In the experience of a great love… everything that happens becomes an event in its sphere,”11 as we know happens when someone falls in love: everything is illuminated (as Giancarlo said earlier)–work, free time, struggles… Everything speaks to us of him or her, that is, introduces us more to the meaning of reality, and doesn’t let us draw further back to make us suffocate and in the end tire and search elsewhere.
Guardini’s affirmation corresponds to one of St. Paul’s. Fr. Giussani wrote, “The same dynamic is expressed in an exciting sentence of Saint Paul’s: ‘Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me’ (Gal 2:20). (This ‘for me’ opens out to the whole world and seeks to embrace the world so that all may understand it.) ‘Although I live in the flesh’: to live Christianity we are not asked to renounce anything, but to change the way we relate with everything (‘…even the hairs of your head are numbered’…). ‘Although I live in the flesh’, means in the situation just as it is (not the way I expect it to be, not how I imagine it should be, but just as it is)–before the girl who interests me, in the family where Mom and Dad fight all the time, taken up with work twelve hours a day, sick, incapable of doing what needs to be done, distracted, forgetful …. All this ‘I live by faith in the Son of God,’ that is, I belong to an Event [pay attention!], to an origin that changes the modality of the gaze [this is the broadening of reason]: the modality of the gaze becomes faith. Living in the flesh, I participate in an Event that makes me capable of a new intelligence, deeper and truer, of my circumstances. What does it mean to look at the face of a girl, according to the flesh? It means that everything is reduced to ‘I like her’ or ‘I don’t like her;’ ‘She’s nice’ or ‘She’s not nice;’ ‘It’s hard for me’ or ‘It’s not hard for me.’ ‘Although I live in the flesh, I live by faith’ instead means facing the relationship with her in the faith in the Son of God, in adherence to Christ,”12 not with my measure, but with that throwing wide open that made possible Christ, the encounter with Christ. Without this love for Christ, without this passion for Christ, I reduce my reason to my measure, that is, to “I like this, I don’t like that.”
Christ doesn’t impede this opening wide; in fact, He is the only One who makes it possible, because without this–we see it, right in front of our own eyes–everything gets reduced to “I like this, I don’t like that,” to my measure. “And so [when I live with that throwing open that makes Christ possible] that girl is, in the measure of the attraction, the sign through which I am invited to adhere in the flesh to the being of things, to descend into the reality of things, to the point where things are made.”13
It’s not alongside reality that I meet up with Mystery: the face of my girlfriend is the sign through which I am invited to adhere to Being, to go down into the reality of things, because “there is no greater evidence, nothing is more evident for a human person who uses her or his reason, than the fact that in this instant… I do not make myself: I am You who make me. I am an Other who is making me [now!]. The mystery of God who generates me has descended so close to me as to reveal His identity with my creation, with my being, with my consistence. Saint Paul says, “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). There is a relationship with the Mystery that makes all things; there is a relationship with the Mystery become flesh, man, Jesus, who is immensely more human, more mine, more immediate, more tenacious, more tender, more inevitable than the relationship with anyone else–with your mother, your father, your fiancé, your wife, your children–with everyone and with everything. Everything, in fact, is born from there; it doesn’t make itself. For this reason, the person here in front of me, whoever she or he may be, is and marks the road I follow to reach Christ, to reach the You of whom everything is made, and therefore I esteem that person, respect him, adore her; I can adore that person’s face. But I adore this face if it is the journey toward the source of every thing, the source of Being. Otherwise, it’s like drawing a figure without perspective: it’s an infantile, primitive perception–“Although I live in the flesh, I live in the faith in the Son of God”: this is the definition of the profound change of the intelligence and of the expression of the human person. I go beyond to the root of the face of things and I reach the point in which the thing is an Other who makes it; it is the You who makes it, Christ. The Divine thus coincides with the ultimate consistence of reality, of the human person.”14
I want to know reality all the way to that point. So then, how does the Mystery come to help me? Through reality: people, events, and circumstances. Every piece of reality is the modality with which He calls me, because everything is a sign. A sign of whom? Of He who is the root, who took possession of all of reality in the Ascension–in Him is the consistence of everything. “Amor, amore, omne cosa clama,”15 “everything becomes an event in its sphere,” everything, not just some pieces of reality. It takes a hell of a lot of courage, my friends, for this not to remain mere words, for us to decide in every circumstance to travel this road all the way to the origin, to face everything, every circumstance, every tribulation all the way to the Mystery. All our toil is due to the fact that we stop before that point.
This is why I like “Il mio volto”(“My Face”),16 so much–and I thank Adriana Mascagni for this song–because it tells us the method, what it means to travel the road of reason: “My God, I look, and behold, I discover that I have no face; I look into my depths and see endless darkness.” We see darkness and talk about darkness so many times. We mustn’t pretend that the darkness doesn’t exist; we shouldn’t just think some spiritual thoughts about darkness; we can’t do something “alongside” the darkness–we have to look it in the face! “I look into my depths and see endless darkness.” What is it that the darkness can’t quash? It can’t stop my acknowledging this darkness, and it can’t stop the moment “when I realize that You are there,” when I realize that this circumstance, no matter how ugly it may be, is not made by itself; when I live through a dark period, even in that moment I am living, and even in the darkness, I do not make myself; in the darkness I have a radiant clarity: I do not make myself. We’ve sung, “Only when I realize that You are there, like an echo, I hear my voice again.” That is, when I discover that I have arrived, not at darkness, but at what is deeper still than the darkness; when I realize that You are there, I realize a fact: that I “am reborn like time from memory,” and all our chatter about the darkness doesn’t eliminate it. It’s eliminated by this recognition, this going deep to the bottom of this You. If any of us want to be spared this, they’ll remain in the darkness. We can’t avoid this road, nobody can spare us this road, and this is why Christ went deep to the bottom of the darkness: so that we can look at everything. This is anything but an intellectual exercise! It’s simply the recognition of reality according to all its factors.
Why is it so hard for us? Why does it seem that recognizing the Mystery is reduced to an effort of our thought? If by effort of thought you mean using reason, yes, it’s necessary to do something; but if by effort of thought you mean that it is a creation of my mind, no, because even in the dark, I don’t make myself.
Why does it seem to us that this You is a creation of our thought? Why are we used to thinking that He is a creation of our thought? Because we think everything is obvious. But all you have to do is slip and go sprawling, and you see right away that we don’t make ourselves. We think everything is obvious. But any kind of accident makes us realize this isn’t so. Recognizing that someone is giving us life now seems like a fact of our thought, but those whose life has been in serious danger, or who have been saved miraculously (as is the case for some among us), for these people, recognizing the Mystery isn’t a fact of our thought; it’s not a creation, they know very well, and how! (Our friends here who are ill know that this is true.) But since we take everything for granted, we’re not used to employing reason according to its true nature.
Paradoxically, the simple, the simple of heart, are those who are more open to this, and understand much more; for them, things are more evident. Fr. Giussani told the anecdote of the carrot in Living in the Flesh: “Once when we were on an outing to Brianza, we stopped to drink with the kids of the oratory (I was a seminarian) at a group of farmhouses, and while we were there drinking at the well, a woman arrived from the fields. I was wearing a cassock…. As soon as she saw me, a priest, she ran up to me and said, ‘Look, Reverend, at how great God is. The seed of a carrot is so small you can’t even touch it with your fingers, and look what’s come out!’ It was a huge carrot, this big!”17 Fr. Giussani commented, “Aren’t they evident?” [Aren’t these things evident?] They’re not evident for the kind of culture that surrounds us, but they are for a farmer [at least back then]: when a farmer hears these things, they’re crystal clear!”18 For this reason, he says in Certain of a Few Great Things, “The thing for which life is worth living, the Mystery, is an acquisition not just of the intellectuals or rich people; it’s the discovery of poor people,”19 which is what Jesus said: “I give praise to You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike.”20
I’ll never forget meeting our friend Cleuza Zerbini when I was in Brazil at the beginning of the month, at dinner. I didn’t even have time to sit down before she “shot” out what I had been repeating all summer, and what she had heard at the International Assembly: “Even all the hairs of your head are counted,”21 and she told me–with the joy, the exaltation I saw in her–that she said this to everybody who came to her to lay out their problems (and the problems put before this woman are no laughing matter); she made them feel this, this gaze with which she lived. I’ll bet that among all those who heard this sentence this summer, nobody has used it so often as she has. Nobody has entered into reality, challenged reality, any circumstance, like she has. Her understanding and embrace of the newness in “even the hairs of your heads are numbered” is so full that I was struck by how she repeated this sentence with a whole vibration that not even I had. These are the simple–not the idiots; the simple. Cleuza has understood more than all of us at La Thuile the magnitude of that line, perceived its value, not out of a woman’s sentimentalism (she’s not a sentimental woman in the least), but because of the judgment she had. With this gaze in her eyes, she was able to enter entirely.
For many of us, this familiarity with the Mystery in the way of living everything is still very extraneous, and it tells us about the long journey we still have to make before we are able to live this way. We saw this in La Thuile during the assembly on the content of the Fraternity Exercises. Do you want to try a test? Just place yourself before this sentence that we talked about at the Exercises: religiosity is nothing other than dependence on God. The alternative, Fr. Giussani told us, is this: “Either you conceive of yourself as free from the entire universe, and dependent only on God, or you conceive of yourself as free from God, and then you become the slave of every circumstance.”22 Do you want to understand your degree of religiosity? Don’t think about how many times you formally recite Lauds, but whether you’re free, because at times just someone’s judgment throws us into a crisis (not to mention the problem of the person’s role or the circumstances).
Because, friends, nobody can serve two masters. “He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”23 The nature of man is so organic, the nature of reason is so “one” that it accepts no other alternative: either we depend on God, we have the experience of this dependence on God where one finds his greatest satisfaction, or, whether we want to or not, with all the gestures we do, deep down, we depend on everything, we’re slaves of everything–in the way we relate with work, how we manage our money, how we use our free time, everything. This is why I say that it’s difficult to find free men, which is the same as saying finding truly religious men, for whom God is not just a sentiment, an ornament, but an experience in which dependence is the most profound expression of the “I,” that there it attains its greatest satisfaction, because of what we noted earlier about affection, as Giancarlo said. Saint Thomas emphasized this: “The life of man consists in the affection that principally sustains him and in which he finds his greatest satisfaction.”24 If there isn’t a relationship that gives us this satisfaction, we can’t base our whole life on this affection and then depend on everything else. This is why so often our criterion is not dependence, but success, which is the criterion of the diva, the non-religious person.
Therefore, Fr. Giussani told us, religiosity is not an ornament for pious people, but the one condition of the human, and this is discovered not alongside life, but living life. This is why Berdjaev was right: freedom must be attained in life; otherwise, it’s not truth, and you see that it’s not truth because we live like everyone else. This was the origin of the crisis in the Christian announcement, and we’re not any different. Cardinal Ratzinger said the same years ago: “The crisis in Christian preaching, which we have been experiencing to a growing extent for the last century, depends not to a small degree on the fact that Christian responses ignore man’s questions; they were right and continue to be so; however, they did not exert influence because they did not start from the problem and were not developed within its context.”25 The crisis in the Christian announcement is not due to lack of clarity in repeating Christian doctrine, but to the fact that Christian responses left aside human questions, life. Only those who engage their questions, in fact, can be surprised by who God is. Only those who look at bottomless darkness can discover that at the bottom there is a You who gives you a new birth. Those who never do this, those who don’t do this work completely, deep down, those who don’t use reason in this way, will always remain in the darkness, complaining about the darkness. But the darkness is not everything. At the bottom of this darkness is a You!
This makes us understand the second question Giancarlo alluded to at the beginning. From all this, you see that a beautiful proposal like the one we heard, following Fr. Giussani at the Fraternity Exercises, isn’t enough. That we can’t manage on our own is all too evident–from our difficulty in recognizing, in living reality, all the way to the source of this You in which our greatest satisfaction is found. This is why I quoted a sentence of Fr. Giussani’s at the beginning of the La Thuile booklet, “God, from whom everything derives, would remain vague [like us] and would not determine life if He Himself had not entered into life [into history] as the Factor of it [and if He had not remained as a Factor in it].”26 There has to be a place that undertakes this battle together with each of us, that helps us, that facilitates this recognition of the You who is at the bottom of the darkness. Asked what instrument is of the greatest help, Fr. Giussani said, in Certain of a Few Great Things, “Our companionship.” He quickly added, “But, mind you, you have to get down to the bottom of these words: it is companionship as rule of life…, as source of memory…, as remembrance of Christ…. Our Movement will not be able to have an impact on the Church and the world, …if it doesn’t create… a movement of adults, a unity of mature people, adult people.”27
So what is the purpose of this companionship? “The friendship and the companionship we mean to live are a means for not suspending or leaving suspended our initiative.” “Paradoxically, this is a responsibility [our initiative] that we cannot unload onto the companionship. The heart is the only thing in which we are not partners.” As we read in Traces, “This is why ours is a strange companionship,”28 because we can’t unload anything on the companionship. I bring this up, not to play the archaeologist, but because there is still a lot about the companionship that smacks of utopia: “For a social reality like ours, the word ‘companionship’ can become synonymous with utopia if we think of the companionship as something to which we entrust our own hopes,” as if it were enough to participate in certain gestures, and not as something that moves me to take initiative toward reality, all of reality, all the circumstances in which we are called to live. “Don’t you realize… that, humanly speaking, it is absolutely horrible to identify the companionship as the sphere that mechanically assures you the gusto in living? First of all, it’s naive! You’re not taking into consideration the precariousness and brevity of the companionship. But then, human relationships only give you true security and gusto when they are the outcome of a dramatic tension implicating the intelligence and freedom of the human person.” Therefore, a companionship cannot evade responsibility. This he calls “fundamental immorality,”29 and quotes Eliot, “They constantly try to escape/ From the darkness outside and within/ By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good,”30 that is, to move the “I,” to use our freedom.
But this is so evident. A young woman told me that the day she went to the Meeting in Rimini, she was sad because with all the work she had to do, she felt that this tension toward the Mystery was not present as an awareness. I told her, “Look, my dear, in that moment there was no other place on earth with more CL members per square foot, but not even this is useful for you, because the ‘I’ is the relationship with the Mystery;” the “I” is the direct relationship with the Mystery, and there’s no place, no den, that can spare us from our responsibility to take initiative. It wouldn’t be human. I’m enthusiastic about this “I,” so much so that this summer, speaking with a friend of ours who now is alone in a job in the United States, I said, “But now the Mystery will come to you through that circumstance there.” Responding to him, I observed, “What’s the difference between me, here in Milan, surrounded by the Movement, and you? Nothing, because if every morning I don’t put myself in relationship with the Mystery, it’s not that my friends, since they’re close by, will spare me it.” Nobody can spare us this, and I don’t want anybody to spare me this! I am delighted that every morning I can freely throw myself in with the Mystery, and recognize this You who makes me, now.
For this reason, since man isn’t a piece of an organization, we can’t be a piece of a companionship conceived mechanically, and, therefore, Fr. Giussani said in Certain of a Few Great Things (just think, it was in 1981), “What’s the visibly most urgent need of our communities and thus of our behavior, of the formulation of our life in community? The most urgent thing is the struggle against formalism. Formalism is every attitude that doesn’t derive from the question and from its development as cultural inquiry; formalism is every activity that doesn’t express your original desire, your own beginning.… Life [in this way] remains divided; formalism leaves everything divided…, leaves life in deceit, in ambiguity…. You do things, but without considering your own personal change or that of the person alongside you; you no longer think change is possible. What is the opposite of formalism [he asks]? The opposite of formalism is freedom, and this word, I believe, must become the password in our communities; living the community in freedom. In what sense is freedom the opposite of formalism [he continues]? Freedom is originally the impetus with which man lives, that is, strives toward his destiny. Freedom is the nature of man: the nature of man is an impetus toward the infinite [and he says, parenthetically, ‘religious sense’]. This freedom–this energy, this impetus–is set in motion because of an attraction that solicits it. Therefore, the beginning of freedom is a judgment, because the attraction that solicits me says, ‘This thing is true!’”31
So then, how can we provide companionship for each other? Only if we have this tension. That’s why I entitled the La Thuile booklet, Friends, that is, Witnesses; not “good buddies” but “witnesses,” witnesses to living this way, this tension, not because we’re good, but out of this overabundance of fullness that one lives. Like a friend told me, talking about what he’d seen in another, “Seeing him, looking at him, I asked myself, ‘Why does he strike me so much? It can’t be just his words, because I’ve heard similar words from others and they didn’t strike me in this way. So, what is it that strikes me so much? I discovered that the point is that he was living those words–they were flesh, they were His embrace, it was His precise face, it was Him through them, it was His presence.” This is what enables us to look at everything.
I’ll close by reading this letter from a friend of ours in Kampala, Uganda. When I go travel around the world I always have it present in my mind. I told you about Cleuza Zerbini, and now it’s Vicky’s turn.
“My name is Vicky. I am 42 and I come from the eastern region of Uganda. I want to thank you and God for the precious life that He has given me. In 1992, when I found out I was pregnant with Brian, my last child, my husband gave me the choice of giving up the pregnancy and remaining his wife, or separating from him if I wanted to keep the child. At the time, I only had two children, and I decided to carry on with the pregnancy, a choice that marked the end of my relationship with him. I truly couldn’t understand why he was so cruel and unyielding. Then, in 1997, when I lost my job because of sickness and, at the same time, my son Brian manifested the initial symptoms of tuberculosis, I began to have my first suspicions. The next year, I got worse. In the Nsambiya hospital, I was examined and tested for AIDS, and showed up HIV-positive. That was when I understood why my husband hadn’t wanted the pregnancy with Brian, because back then he had known that he was HIV-positive.
“Life at home with my three children became even more difficult. The two older boys were healthy, but we didn’t have enough money for school. We didn’t have food or money for medicine and, worst of all, we didn’t have love from anyone anywhere in the world. I really didn’t know whether God existed. In 2001, someone directed me to the International Meeting Point, where I encountered women with such joy on their faces, even though they too were sick with AIDS, that I found it hard to believe. They danced and were glad, and I wondered how anyone with this disease could sing and dance. At the Meeting Point, they welcome all with music and songs from different peoples–African, European, and Indian; I even heard some from my own tribe. After a long time, I began to see a glimmer of light shining on my ruined life, so I continued spending time with them.
“An important thing I’ll never forget is the day someone looked at me with a gaze shining with hope and love. In all the time I was bedridden, all my friends, relatives, and even neighbors looked at me and my children with rejection and contempt. This gaze of love and hope showed me something that brought life to my spirit and my ruined body. It told me, ‘Vicky! You have a value, and your value is greater than the weight of your sickness, greater than death.’
“In 2002, I began buying medicine for my child, who was on the verge of death, after taking him out of school because of the seal of discrimination they’d set on him: they’d nicknamed him ‘skeleton.’ In 2003, I began buying medicine for myself as well. I weighed 99 pounds, and now I weigh 165. Now Brian is truly healthy, and has begun going back to high school. My oldest son is attending the university, and the second is in the fourth year of high school. Where is the power of death? It is in the loss of hope and the lack of love. Now I am a volunteer at the Meeting Point, and every time I receive people I tell them that the value of life is greater than that of the virus they carry within their bodies. This affirmation nurtures the hope of people who are suffering and about to die, and brings them back to life. All these results have been possible because I have taken on the garment of something beyond death–in particular, love. I want to thank all the people who have educated us, even if we’ve never met them in person. Today, in the name of Fr. Giussani, Fr. Carrón has come among us, who were poor and forgotten. Who is richer than us now? We are the richest people in the world, because someone has brought a smile to the face of at least one person.”32
I keep this present in my mind; these are the friends who give me companionship, even though I probably will never see them again. After having found people like this, there’s no circumstance that I can’t look at face on; everything can change if you look with this wide openness that Christ has made possible. This is for each of us, in any circumstance. Maybe we would be smart to embrace it.
1 N. Berdjaev, Pensieri controcorrente, La casa di Matriona, [Countercurrent Thoughts, The House of Matriona] Milan (2007), p. 59.
2 Cf. John Paul II, Homily,.Pastoral Visit to Cascia and Norcia, March 23, 1980, 5.
3 L. Giussani, Dall’utopia alla presenza (1975-1978) [From Utopia to Presence (1975-1978)], Bur, Milan (2006), p. 23.
4 Ibid., p. 55.
5 Ibid., p. 362.
6 Col. 3:1.
7 John Paul II, General Audience, October 19, 1983, 1-2.
8 Heb. 5:7-10.
9 L. Giussani, The Journey to Truth is an Experience, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal (2006), p. 93.
11 R. Guardini, L’essenza del cristianesimo, [The Essence of Christianity] Morcelliana, Brescia (1980), p. 12.
12 L. Giussani, S. Alberto, J. Prades, Generare tracce nella storia del mondo [Generating Traces in the History of the World], Rizzoli, Milan (1998), pp. 76-77.
13 Ibid., p. 77.
14 Ibid., pp. 77-78.
15 Jacopone da Todi, Como l’anima se lamenta con Dio de la carità superardente in lei infusa, Lauda XC, in Le Laude, Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, Florence (1989), p. 318.
16 A. Mascagni, Il mio volto [My Face], in Canti [Songs], Cooperativa Editoriale Nuovo Mondo, Milan (2002), p. 203.
17 L. Giussani, Vivendo nella carne, [Living in the Flesh] Bur, Milan (1998), p. 250.
18 Ibid., p. 249.
19 Cf. L. Giussani, Certi di alcune grandi cose (1979-1981) [Certain of a Few Great Things (1979-1981)], Bur, Milan (2007), p. 107.
20 Mt. 11:25-26.
21 Mt. 10:30.
22 L. Giussani, All’origine della pretesa cristiana [At the Origin of the Christian Claim], Rizzoli, Milan (2001), p. 108.
23 Mt 6:24.
24 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II, IIae, q. 179, art. 1.
25 J. Ratzinger, Dogma e predicazione [Dogma and Preaching], Queriniana, Brescia (2005), p. 75.
26 L. Giussani, Alla ricerca del volto umano [The Search for the Human Face], Rizzoli, Milan (1995), p. 25.
27 L. Giussani, Certi di alcune grandi cose (1979-1981) [Certain of a Few Great Things (1979-1981)], op. cit., pp. 330-331.
28 L. Giussani, “Familiarity with Christ,” in Traces, Vol. 9, No. 2, (February 2007), pp. 3–5.
29 L. Giussani, Un caffè in compagnia [Over Coffee], Rizzoli, Milan (2004), pp. 129–130.
30 T.S. Eliot, Cori da «La Rocca »[Choruses from the Rock], Bur, Milan (1994), p. 89.
31 L. Giussani, Certi di alcune grandi cose (1979-1981), op. cit., pp. 332-333.
32 “The Greatest Hope,” in Traces, Vol. 9, No. 8, (September 2007), p. 33.