Encounter is the Substance of the Event

Testimony by Father Luigi Giussani at the close of the celebration of the centenary of the death of St. Leonard Murialdo, founder of the Congregation of St. Joseph. Padua, Italy, March 24, 2001.

Luigi Giussani

I am mortified not to be able to participate in person in your celebration, as you commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Leonard Murialdo, a holy educator from Turin whose charism has broadened the Church as a place of life in the world. Only because of the passion for education which we have in common with the “family” to which he gave life–in the manner of the family of Nazareth–more than a century ago, do I dare to say a few words to those from whom we can only learn.
I was asked to testify about the Movement of CL. And so I obey by communicating to you some thoughts which it is my habit to emphasize. I am a bit ill at ease at reiterating what the Movement is for me, because I perceive it simply as the desire to adhere to the Christian announcement in a way that makes faith itself easier and more suggestively attractive.
Our aim is to help each other to mature in the faith, that gift of grace which Baptism is in those who have received it. Nature offers us a great analogy: maturity is for generation. And just as two people are not a father and mother simply because they have brought a child into the world, but above all because they communicate to that child the meaning of existence, in this same way faith has been given to us so that it may become ever more mature in us, so that we may be active collaborators with our heavenly Father’s will.
St. Leonard, and with him the host of saints, shows us what it means to say that faith becomes mature: it means that one who is baptized, and who has thus been struck by the Spirit of the Risen Christ, almost without realizing it, by the exuberance of his heart becomes a communicator of the event which has reached him, creating a movement that shows the usefulness and creativity of faith in the spheres of daily life. If faith marks the irruption of a new protagonist onto the world stage, it tends to impact all of life, since it is the form of the person and of his self-expression.
This is how the Movement was born, almost fifty years ago–without my wanting it or imagining it–when I entered the Berchet High School in Milan for the first time. There were at least eleven hundred Catholics out of twelve hundred enrolled students (the rest were Jewish or Protestant). And yet–the memory is still very vivid–when I would approach some of these baptized Catholics, asking them what Christianity had to do with life at school, at first they would snicker, then they would get bewildered expressions on their faces when I asked them whether or not they believed in God. This fact, instead of depressing me, led me to desire that the Christian fact might return to being a presence in that school. What does this mean? That faith be perceived, welcomed, and lived as connected with the interests of life. And this depends on the mystery of God and on the testimony of those who acknowledge Him. If, in fact, the Lord has chosen us among many–has mysteriously preferred us–to make Himself known to our eyes and to our ears, He did this so that we could communicate Him to all those who come our way.
How can we achieve this purpose? Here, may I mention a characteristic of our Movement: the insistence on method. Faith lives in reality as a “fact,” an event which man can encounter and experience: it is the Christian people, the people whom Paul VI called an “ethnic entity sui generis” (General Audience, July 23, 1975). In this way, faith, which is in us through Baptism, becomes mature if we take part in the phenomenon that communicates it, i.e., communion. The event of faith is a lived communionality, within which faith, in accordance with the times and ways established by God, changes life, makes it more human, more glad, more free, more interesting, safer, more dramatic because of the presence of the great Factor which gives meaning and direction to the otherwise uncertain and doubtful wandering of man.
Without the aid of companionship, no progress can be made in the life of faith. This is why we have so often defined the Movement as “companionship guided toward destiny.”
In this way we accomplish what St. Paul wrote to the early Christians: “For none of us lives for himself and none of us dies for himself; while we are alive, we are living for the Lord, and when we die, we die for the Lord, and so, alive or dead, we belong to the Lord” (Rom 14:7-8). And again: “Whatever you eat, then, or drink, and whatever else you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). And finally: “Awake or asleep, we should still live united to Him” (1 Thes 5:10). Whether you are eating or drinking, whether you are asleep or awake, whether living or dying… This is the synthesis of all of human expressiveness, struck and transformed by faith lived in communion, the beginning of the new world that will be definitively accomplished on the last day, the day when Christ will be “everything in everyone.”
From today until the day of Christ’s final glory is all the time of history, which is the great channel of the mission: not a program, a project, or a calculation, because, as John Paul II wrote in Novo Millennio Ineunte, “No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which He gives us.” This means that the Christian’s way of being a missionary is by testimony “from person to person,” as Cardinal Ratzinger said one day, of the change that Christ has already brought about in me and that I tell about in my workplace, at school, at home, making my fellow man a participant in the incarnate truth which is Jesus of Nazareth.
And this missionary passion reaches the point of wanting to give life to forms of social grouping or to affect society incisively so as to make the Christian event present in the world. This is the concept of “work,” opus Dei, which the tradition of the Church has seen expand enormously over time, to the point of becoming a factor of civilization. Think of the so badly reviled Middle Ages (an epoch in which faith determined everything, how one thought and how one acted, it was what gave unity to an entire people); and think of the great season of Turinese saints, a season of which Leonardo Murialdo was a protagonist, creating works of education and charity which changed the face of the society of his time, rendering more human and dignified the life of many young people who would otherwise have been left to their own devices, and thus have become the victims of social conditioning and injustice.
Without the experienced awareness of the relationship with God, life is not lived to the full. Existence is a web of interests, it expresses itself as a clump of needs and desires. Now, the bond with God must determine both our consciousness of needs and our attempts to find answers to these needs. Man discovers God to be the “point of view” which makes it possible to understand reality according to the totality of its factors. Self-love, love for a woman or a man, the relationship with others, the way in which reality strikes the human sensibility, the desire to know, the experience of beauty, all this would be incomprehensible if there were no relationship of man with the Infinite.
This is why a grave defect of contemporary culture is the abstraction from life of the idea of God. The word “God” is abstract, even if it becomes for some the source of a religious devotion. But in this way, religiosity is identified with just some aspects of life, some “devout” gestures or sensations. Thus, the “religious” aspect influences the other aspects of life only externally, as law, as norms, which impose something or lead you to a certain ethical behavior; but there remains a fracture between the needs of life and the presence of Mystery. Consequently, the vicissitudes of existence are not approached using, as a starting point, the bond with God as what determines judgments and behavior, but following the suggestions of the dominant culture. In this sense, the word “ideology” defines the attempt to make one’s own partial point of view the basis of a system for man’s life, and this is incompatible with an impartial point of view like God’s. The common element of all ideologies is the repudiation of God as a definitive explanation of life. If, in fact, ideology’s declared claim is to give an exhaustive explanation of reality, then God has nothing more to say, or, even worse, He is forced to take the place assigned to Him by ideology–a place in church, for instance. God is assigned an “area of quarantine” in both social and private life. But in real, concrete life–interpersonal relationships, affections, society, economy, art, work, justice, politics, science–the relationship with God remains something meaningless.
However, the point of view that explains everything did not remain far off in the distance of Mystery, but entered the history of mankind as a “human fact” in the midst of other human facts. Mystery took form as Christ. So then, “that Man,” the relationship with that Man, knowledge of that Man, love for that Man, awareness of His presence, all this becomes the point of view which pulls together the entirety of personal life, the entirety of human reality. This is exactly what John Paul II said in his first encyclical: “The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history” (Redemptor Hominis). The relationship with that Man is the point of view by which we feel, understand, and face everything. So that in St. Paul, the phrase “God all in all” (1 Cor 15:28) is transformed into “Christ everything in everyone” (Col 3:11). God “all in all” is the formula of eternity, while Christ “everything in everyone” is the formula of existence and history. No one has proclaimed these truths with the same strength of persuasion as the Pope has done.
I remember that, as I crossed the threshold of my school for the first time in 1954, I was reflecting on what to say to my young students, what I should teach them in their religion lessons. I understood that it could only be what had hit me when I was fifteen years old. At that time, one of my professors in the Seminary, explaining to us the first page of the Gospel of St. John, made me understand that the “point of view” which enables us to comprehend everything is Christ. “The Word was made flesh” (Jn 1:14). Christ is, then, the truth of everything, the truth about everything, the exhaustive and definitive truth, the truth that leaves nothing out and denies nothing. Truth was made Man, that is to say, it is an historic event.
So then, to become a mature Christian–aware and capable of acting on the basis of this awareness–it is necessary to realize (remember, that is, make memory of) this Presence. Not of an enigmatic mystery, which would be open to our interpretation, but a real presence, a human reality, that I encounter, that I can touch, hear, see, as St. John writes in his first letter: we inform you of this, of “something which has existed since the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have watched and touched with our own hands, the Word of life–this is our theme. That life was made visible; we saw it and are giving our testimony, declaring to you the eternal life, which was present to the Father and has been revealed to us. We are declaring to you what we have seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:1-3).
In what way, two thousand years later, can someone see Him, touch Him, hear Him as a human reality present in the midst of other human realities? How does Jesus remain present in the world?
The Pope spoke of this to the youth of Rome: “I think that a great many of your friends, young people your age, have this empirical, scientific mentality; but if they could once touch Jesus up close–see His face, touch the face of Christ–if they could once touch Jesus, if they see Him in you, they will say, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (Jn 20:28)” (March 24, 1994).
The method that Christ has chosen to proceed through history is the “river” of men who believe in Him and whom He brings together in the unity of His Person: “Don’t you know you are members joined to one another?” asks St. Paul (cf. Rom 12:5). It is the Church, which reaches us through the changed humanity of men who acknowledge that they are together because of Christ.
I think now the method on which our Movement is based will be a little clearer. If someone is a Christian, if he acknowledges Christ right where he is living, he must be aware of himself as a being in unity with others who also acknowledge Christ, he must approach everything life brings his way with the maintenance of this unity as his starting point. The experience of a unity lived in this way is the global point of view of Truth. We promise young people and adults that they will encounter the truth of everything if they follow. Follow: this idea is the foundation of Christian pedagogy.
Faith thus has also its human flower, its human fruit: he who recognizes this Presence, he who lives this community dimension, changes the world. If our faith is an astonished and loving acknowledgement of Christ, this in itself brings about a hope for men, not only for the next world, because that concerns God alone, but also here, in this world, within the history of a people. Our hope begins here, in this world. The Gospel calls it the “hundredfold.”
Thank you.