In the Great Sea of Our Usual Life, a Continuous Newness

Notes from a retreat with Luigi Giussani for the Memores Domini, held in Gudo Gambaredo, Italy, on June 13, 1971.
Luigi Giussani

1. “Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus”– Life as offering
The life of the Trinity dominates the life of man and of the world. The liturgical time after Pentecost opens significantly with the Sunday of the Most Holy Trinity, which is the symbol of all Sundays. Sunday: the day of the Lord. But Sunday is the sign for the entire week, for every day, because every day is the Lord’s–as I saw noted on the wall in the bedroom of one of you: “…every day of my life.” Every day of our life is dominated, must be dominated by the mystery of the Trinity. The mystery of the Trinity is the “Dominus,” is truly the Lord, the Master, what possesses us, so that even the hairs on our heads are numbered1–there is not a throbbing of the soul or a sentiment of the heart that do not draw their energy and being from it.
“Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus.” I believe that this must be the theme of our meditation and the point of reference, the formula calling us for this whole time, until the Liturgy moves onwards at the end of the summer. This quote from the Liturgy, the one after Pentecost, so long, is precisely the symbol of life, drawing together all the notions mentioned before. This piece of Liturgy is the sign of life, the long walk of life, like the long Sundays after Pentecost. No other liturgical period is as long as this one; it is precisely the journey, or the sea of life we sail on.
The theme that dominates, the “Dominus,” is precisely this: “Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus.” For that matter, this call, this theme, set at the beginning of the summer, of that long period after Pentecost and opened on the Sunday of the Most Holy Trinity, also must or can be a reason why we have to be vigilant and take up consciously, always, the sign of the holy Cross: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. “Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus.”
The prayer over the gifts on the day of the Most Holy Trinity struck me even back when I was in high school, in the seminary, and I even wrote it on my school desk. It says, “Lord, we pray, consecrate through the invocation of Your name this sacrificial oblation, et per eam nosmetipsos, tibi perfice munus aeternum,”2 and through the grace of Christ, by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, fulfill us, make us an eternal oblation to You, an “acceptable” (“munus”) offering, an offering to You. Life as an offering to You, “every day of my life”–life as offering to You, life as sacrifice, everything as a sacrifice to You, a sacrifice of praise. We could also say: all of life as a prayer. By now, we know the meaning, the definition of Christian prayer, what distinguishes and in a certain sense separates Christian prayer from all the prayers man says–groping his way with the desire and expectation that by nature he carries within, but without the grace of Christ–according to the fullness that has been given to those who are called. Christian prayer is the memory of the fact of Christ. What is the memory of the fact of Christ? It is the revelation of the Trinity. Christ is the instrument–“medium,” mediator–through whom the Trinity reveals Itself to us, in which the Mystery that makes all things reveals Itself to us: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”3
The Baptism Liturgy–which we celebrated once again yesterday in our communion, even though it was amidst the distraction and indifference of many, who try hard to avoid sacrificing time for gestures, the only totally pure ones that are truly capable of renewing our faith–says, “These children will enter into the Christian communion, into the community of the Church and will turn to God, calling Him ‘Father.’” As Saint Paul exclaimed, nobody can say “Father” to God as we can. “As proof that you are His children, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’”4
So then, if the Trinity is the Lord of our life, the One who doesn’t miss one unguarded word,5 or who doesn’t miss even a hair of our heads–while, as the Gospel said the other day, we cannot make a single hair white or black6–if the Trinity is the Lord, the God, the Lord of our existence, of our life, as He is of the life of the world, then truly our life has being and meaning only as “munus,” as “munus” to Him, for Him. “Munus aeternum,” an eternal offering. The permanent truth, the real truth of our life is being possessed by God, that is, from our point of view, offering, sacrifice, prayer, exactly as was supremely demonstrated by Christ’s consciousness in His Death. The offering of our life, the acknowledgment that we are totally possessed by an Other, totally subject to an Other, only happens through the semblance of death, through the Cross, through the experience of the Cross.
The thoughts that must dominate through these months must be both the Trinity, one God, “Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus,” and, from the point of view of ethical consequence, the consequence in the way of conceiving of ourselves and acting, life as offering, as sacrificial offering, as the offering of the altar. Perhaps we never think what a great thing it is when the priest, in the new Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, says, extending his hands, “Lord, You are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness. Let Your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”7 What we have before us is an effective sign. But of what? A sign, an effective sign, thus the root of what we are about to say, because it contains Christ. But what we have before us with our hands extended is the sign of ourselves. What are these gifts? There we have the bread and the wine, which have truly to become the Body and Blood of Christ; they remain bread and wine, but they become the Body and Blood of Christ. At the same time, at least appearances maintain this contradiction but it is the mystical Body of Christ, the totality of Christ, of whom what we have before us in the Mass is a sign. And these gifts that must be sanctified so that they may become the mystical Body of Christ are us, each of us, our life. It is our life, each day of your life, every day of my life, all the flesh and blood, the heart and spirit, that is the Body of Christ and thus offering, sacrifice, in the literal sense of the word, to the Mystery that dominates all things, “Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus.” If we conceive of our person as nothing other than the memory of Christ, then we conceive of our life as nothing other than offering. This is why we can have a consciousness of our existence as nothing other than mission. We can only remember with gratitude (“Magnificat anima mea Dominum”8) the richness, the fullness, the intensity and the usefulness–the richness as fullness, intensity, and usefulness–of our life, even in its most secret moments. Not even a single breath is missed by this greatness. The consciousness of this slowly generates greatness of spirit or magnanimity, which life absolutely needs to be able to carry time and things. All this is whence comes the true autonomy of the person, the true consistence in ourselves, in imitation of God, who consists in and of Himself. “Make these gifts holy, that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ.” What does “make these gifts holy” mean? Perhaps the meaning of the word will be clearer by introducing the explanation with last Sunday’s preface in the Ambrosian Rite, when it says (the prefaces after Pentecost are among the most beautiful things in the Ambrosian Liturgy, which the Roman Liturgy, centuries later, wasn’t able to create): “You ceaselessly instruct the children of Your Church and never fail to help them, that they may be conscious of the good to be done and be able to do it.”9 This is sanctification: the consciousness of what we are–possession of God–the consciousness of what our being is, and the energy to live that consciousness, the capacity to accomplish (to accomplish: “Consummatum est,”10 Jesus said before giving up His last breath). This is the truth: realizing our own existence, our own life, according to the clear consciousness one has of what our being is, means being true, not being a lie. “And the truth of the Lord endures forever.”11

2. The Spirit of Christ “renews the face of the earth”
So, the preface says, “You ceaselessly instruct the children of Your Church and never fail to help them,” that is, You instruct, giving the power to be true in the face of the instruction received, that is, to accomplish it. Instruct. What is the name of the mystery of God that comes to mind right away with the word “instruction”? Through what does the Mystery that makes all things instruct the elect? “It is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” “But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to [will unveil for you] all truth. He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming”12–He will make you understand everything. In fact, in the Liturgy of Pentecost, there is another beautiful prayer, which says, “We beseech You, Lord, may the Holy Spirit, according to the promise of Your Son, the risen Lord Jesus Christ, reveal to us more openly the mystery of this sacrifice [may He make us understand the mystery of this sacrifice, the sacrifice of Christ dead and risen, the sacrifice of the Eucharist, which is the sacrifice of Christ dead and risen–“Do this in memory of Me”–that is the sign, hence, of the mystery of the mystical Body of Christ, of Christ in His mystical Body]; may He disclose all truth benignly [because all truth is in function of this new man who is in the world, of this principle of the new world, of the new heavens and the new earth, which is the mystical Body of Christ, which is Christ who reveals Himself in His Church].”13 The Holy Spirit is the principle of the consciousness of the good to be done, the principle of the new consciousness of oneself and of life, what makes us understand what the Trinity is for us, what It gives us and puts the energy to obey in our heart (“making Himself obedient even unto death,”14 “every day of my life”). What puts the energy in our heart to obey is the Holy Spirit. It is like Pentecost, which generates the long series of Sundays in the summer, symbol of life invaded, bowled over, dominated by the Trinity. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate [the Paraclete] to be with you always, the Spirit of Truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows It. But you know It, because It remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while, the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me, because I live and you will live. On that day, you will realize that I am in My Father and you are in Me and I in you. Whoever has My commandments and observes them is the one who loves Me. And whoever loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.[…] Whoever loves Me will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our dwelling with him. [It is the dominion that becomes the unity of love: “I no longer call you servants, but friends”–no heart is so ruled, no life is so ruled by the other as when this other is loved, as in a friendship; it is the one true dominion]. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words; yet the word you hear is not Mine but that of the Father who sent Me. I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in My name [His name is His Death and Resurrection, because “name” means “power;” death is what has acquired for Him the right, the power over the entire world], He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. [He will make you understand well, and from this, peace will come to you]. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.”15 It is the Holy Spirit. Brothers, “this God was revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. [What is this gift? Himself.] And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. [Which means that he is in the position of final judgment, in the final position; he has the ultimate criterion.] For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel Him?”16 But we have the mind of Christ.
This is why we say, “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth.”17 I believe that this is the concrete task for living the theme of this long time, the consciousness of being dominated by the Trinity, “Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus,” in the name of the Father, in the power of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (in the power, in the dominion). Nobody has as we do the profound, delighted awareness of being dominated; it can only be likened–but the paragon is an approximation by defect–to the joy and the pleasure the child has in being possessed by his mother, or a man and a woman in being possessed by and possessing the other. They are human signs, natural analogies, shadows compared to the profundity of the peace–the word Christ used–the only true pleasure of life, of existence, of the consciousness of oneself and the possibility for joy. Therefore, the task is the invocation of the Spirit, so that this theme may happen in our life in these months, and so life in these months may fulfill that theme, fulfill that dominion, recognize it, accept it, observe its commandments, that is, imitate it, imitate its Lord, live as an offering to Him, that is, respect His commandments. And His commandment is love, because “God is love.”18 I believe that nothing can make us face these other months of work–of journey and of life–like tuning ourselves, reminding each other reciprocally, each of us sure that the other also will invoke the Holy Spirit, will invoke the Spirit of Christ: “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth.” Not “discourses suggested by human wisdom” or intentions or projects and commitments based on our will in life, on our energy in action, on our pleasure in working, but a consciousness that plunges entirely into the invocation of the Spirit and an energy drawn only from this invocation. In this invocation lies the nourishment of the consciousness, the clarification of the consciousness, and the nourishing of the capacity for good, of the accomplishment, of the energy that accomplishes the good. We have to be aware that “Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus” means that the Spirit is sent by Christ. Let’s not isolate the thought of the Holy Spirit from the context of the one discourse. It’s just one discourse: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. It is the Spirit of Christ. Just as you can’t isolate Christ from the Father, you can’t understand the Father except through Christ, in His Spirit. It is in the cry, the invocation of His Spirit that we understand Christ, because I have even regarded Christ with mere human judgment, said Saint Paul,19 with the eyes of the flesh. We set our human mentality–and thus we reduce–even in the way we consider Christ, in the way we say, “I love You,” in the way we call ourselves Christians. We reduce Christ according to the measure of our minds, wise with human wisdom, and we reduce the word of Christ, the injunction of Christ to the sphere of ideals and sentiments produced by our heart of flesh, by our self-love. Therefore, Christ is reduced, as a way of conceiving and as a way of feeling, instead of our consciousness being continually converted to Christ, instead of our affectivity being continually converted to Christ. Take heed: the conversion to Christ of our consciousness, of our way of thinking, and of our affection, our way of loving, means that this consciousness and this affection are continually carried, transported where we never would have thought; they are continually urged to come out of themselves; they go out of themselves, are continually brought within a land, within a territory beyond the one conceived of or felt before. They are always introduced into an unknown; it is a measure that expands. Consciousness and affection are continually introduced into an unforeseen horizon, beyond our own measure. Beyond: we didn’t know about it before, so much so that the measure often has to be overturned; it’s a surprise, a discovery, not derived from the type of wisdom we had a minute before, not derived as the implication of the feeling, of the affectivity we’d had a minute before. It’s a new thing. This is why it’s mortification, a breaking. “When you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted, but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”20 Instead of being this way, with our measure of consciousness and our measure of affectivity constantly converted to Christ, we continually tend to reduce Christ to our measure; we tend to reduce the truth of Christ and the love and charity of Christ to the measure of our way of thinking and to the measure of our modus of affectivity.
This conversion to Christ, this “knowing” of Christ and this love of Christ, this knowing “nothing… except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,”21 this living that is no longer a living ourselves, but a living of Christ, who is in us, who died for me and gave Himself in sacrifice for me–“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”22–is the fruit, as the light and the fulfillment, the consciousness and the energy of accomplishment, of the Spirit of Christ in us. It is He who transforms us and “continually renews the aspect of our land, the face of our life.”
Let’s be quick to remember–this is a corollary to what we said before–that the Spirit isn’t a light and a force that make us more intelligent in our measures (as everyone conceives, at least as it was for a long time for me, and is continually a temptation today, and how I so often see that it is for others, at least as a temptation); it’s not a matter of invoking the Spirit as a greater capacity for developing our inquiry within the suggestions of human wisdom, which makes us more intelligent, after all, once again according to our measure. Invoking the Spirit means only one thing: that the Spirit make us understand and accomplish the dimensions of Christ, that He make us understand, comprehend the measures of Christ, therefore the structure of the fact of Christ, and that alone, that He make us understand and enact the structure of the fact of Christ; that He make us understand and enact the mystery of the fact of Christ in history that is the Church; that He make us understand and live this structure, and this alone.
So then, we agree that the task for these months is the invocation of the Spirit, that Pentecost may renew our earth, too, that our whole being change, because only in this way will our being become mission, as it was for Peter and the Apostles as soon as the Spirit descended. Mission is nothing other than the effect that our change has on the world–as is clear, for that matter, in our formula: Communion and Liberation. What liberates the world is our change, nothing else. What change? The change that is the realization of the structure of the Church, that is, of the Body of Christ, and this alone.
Let’s also resolve that in all our gatherings and also the gathering of our houses–every time we find ourselves praying together, be we few or many–to remember this and live this with the invocation of the Spirit. The line of the Psalm I quoted certainly reaches a fantastic point of expressiveness with “Emitte Spiritum tuum et creabuntur, et renovabis faciem terrae”–“You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth.”

3. The awareness of mercy
There is one final thing, or another thing, to add, and it is suggested by today’s Liturgy.23 It’s not a detail, even if it may seem so. I believe that nothing forces us to understand what God is for us, what the Trinity is for us, the absolute dominion of the Trinity over us, and what we are, possessed by It, more than what we are about to call to mind. To the degree that we fail to comprehend this, in that measure we will grope about in the dark, and our eyes will be covered by fog; we will still be a bit lost, disconcerted. Therefore, be attentive to the readings at Mass. I’ll just give the central idea. The prophet Nathan went to David and told him, “How many things I’ve given you! I’ve given you everything! And now you’ve also taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite, going against my law.” And David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan responded, “The Lord on His part has forgiven your sin. You shall not die.”24
The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians says, “If justification comes through the law, [if what saves me is that I’m able to respect the law, I’m a gentleman, I do well; if what saves me is this, if what saves me is my observation of the law] then [there is no longer need for faith in Jesus Christ, and] Christ died for nothing.”25
Instead, it is the gift of God. Doing His will, accomplishing obedience, is only the gift of God, only the gift of the Spirit. Nobody will ever be justified for his moral coherence, for his capacity for moral coherence, but only for the fact that just as we are–just as we are!–He called us friends. (A Pharisee said in the Gospel, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”26) The supreme gift of the Spirit is recognizing the fact that He calls me friend, just as I am: I acknowledge this. So then, the supreme gift of the Spirit is understanding the forgiveness of God, understanding that another force changes me, molds me, transforms me; it is the force of Christ and not my thoughts or my feelings, because my thoughts and my feelings will never save me or justify me. They’re not right; they can’t manage to be right.
Now, if it is an Other who saves me, who justifies me, what is this Other? It is the fact of Christ, the fact of Christ that involves me in His history, the fact of Christ in His Church. How does the fact of Christ operate? Mysteriously. Therefore, it seems that the accounts don’t balance, that the times don’t work out. It’s like the yeast in the dough, like the seed underground. You don’t see how and when, but it operates. It operates if I love it, that is, if I recognize and accept it, if I experience this forgiveness, if I experience forgiveness, if I experience being forgiven. This is the certainty in life, the certainty that my life will be sanctified, that my life is being redeemed, that my life is redeemed, that is, changes.
On the one hand, this experience of life as forgiveness (the memory of Him is the memory of His Death and Resurrection, that is, of His forgiveness, of forgiveness; life is forgiveness. “The Lord loves justice and right and fills the earth with His love.”27) makes me always strive to desire to do His will and, on the other hand, makes me continually perceive that I have been rescued, no matter how what I’ve done has been done. The Resurrection breaks the terrible law of nature: “What’s done is done;”28 it breaks it, because He “renews the face of the earth” and recreates.
This is why life is an inexhaustible certainty, and we live our life at peace, with the continual possibility of joy: because I am forgiven, because He died for me, gave His life for me, because He is risen and in Him I am risen, because “… One died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised,”29 so that “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” I am certain that this is happening and growing–like the seed, like yeast–with time, with God’s time. And in the full obscurity of the humiliation for my continual disparity, for my continual crime, my failure, in this obscurity I am full of certainty, the certainty of life and of goodness, of fulfillment in this world, in this world as in the world of God, in this life, which is the life of God in me, in this time–“Nunc tempus acceptabile,”30 this is the acceptable time–the time of God, and I recognize it, that is, I have faith. In faith, God is mercy, in faith one discovers how the dominator of all things, the “Deus”–this “Sancta Trinitas, unus Deus”–is mercy. The sign that we can experience is Christ on the Cross, dead for us, and risen; in fact, His mercy does not cover up, but renews, brings life to the surface, converts our evil into goodness. And thus one grows toward “the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ.”31
The supreme fruit of the Spirit is the awareness of mercy, the consciousness of oneself as forgiven, and the memory of Christ as forgiveness (dead and risen); it is the ever-greater evidence of forgiveness as the renewal of life, as the conversion of life, as life that changes. This is the supreme power that God demonstrates in our existence and in that of things: forgiveness. We are not the ones who justify ourselves, but it is that fact that we recognize, that fact among us that we recognize, and in which we place our only hope, from which we try to draw our only indices, criteria, reasons, feelings, inspirations; from which alone we want the face of our life, of our land, to be drawn. Understanding this, being introduced to this, that this be revealed to us, is the work of the Spirit. This is the profound work of the Spirit; this is the supreme content of the Spirit. Therefore, it is through the Spirit that the work of redemption is accomplished in us, without possibilities of sliding to the right or the left–according to an attempted reduction of Christ to the work of our mind and our hands–without superimposing or confusing the love of Christ with the love of our work. Forgiveness. Forgiveness is needed because, and not just in a manner of speaking, precisely the involvement of our mental energy and our will, our freedom, halts everything, diminishes, is a crime, fails, is a lack. “Look not on our sins, but on the faith of Your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of Your kingdom [according to Your will].”32 It is the Spirit of Christ, who communicates Himself to us in the measure to which we are inside the fact of Christ. It is this Spirit who creates newness on the earth–the newness in us and thus on the earth. It is He who creates His Church; it is He who creates us as His stones. His Church is made of living stones.

1 Cf. Mt 10:30.
2 Prayer over the gifts, solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.
3 Cf. Jn 15:15.
4 Cf. Gal 4:6.
5 Cf. Mt 12:36.
6 Cf. Mt 5:36.
7 Eucharistic Prayer II.
8 Lk 1:46.
9 Preface of the first Sunday after Pentecost, Ambrosian Rite.
10 Jn 19:30.
11 Cf. Ps 117:2.
12 Cf. Jn 16:7,13.
13 Prayer over the gifts, solemnity of Pentecost, Ambrosian Rite.
14 Phil 2:8.
15 Cf. Jn 14:15-27.
16 Cf. 1 Cor 2:10-16.
17 Cf. Ps 104:30.
18 1 Jn 4:8.
19 Cf. 2 Cor 5:16.
20 Cf. Jn 21:18.
21 Cf. 1 Cor 2:2.
22 Cf. Gal 2:20.
23 Eleventh Sunday in ordinary time, year C.
24 Cf. 2 Sm 12:7-10,13.
25 Cf. Gal 2:21.
26 Cf. Lk 7:36-39.
27 Cf. Ps 33:5.
28 O.V. Milosz, Miguel Mañara, Jaca Book, Milan, 2001, p. 36.
29 Cf. 2 Cor 5:14-15.
30 2 Cor 6:2.
31 Cf. Eph 4:13.
32 Mass prayer after the Our Father.