Mobilizing the Conscience

Notes from a meeting of an early Communion and Liberation group with Luigi Giussani, New York City, March 8, 1986.

Luigi Giussani

We are accustomed to identifying the life of the Church as that of the parishes. How do you, as the founder of a movement, see the problem of the relationship between the movements and the parish?

Why did we meet? And why have we in some way bonded together and become more or less close friends?
The first response that we can give to this is already something beautiful; we have become friends because our meeting each other has given us the hope of comprehending the faith and of understanding what the Lord is.
As the Pope told us in his address on the thirtieth anniversary of the Movement1, this apparent coincidence has caused an affinity to arise between us, so now we want to deepen this proposition in which we have become involved.
Now, this implies a dynamic, which is the use of relationships, to allow us to go more deeply into what we have discovered. It is like a family for a child: a child is destined to enter into all the world, to enter into relationship with all men; however, he will achieve this if he lives a loyalty to the family life into which the Lord caused him to be born. Thus, analogously, by deepening our friendship, the maturity we achieve will make us capable, sensitive, and attentive to the problem of human faith and the needs of the institutional Church, wherever we are. It is like parents whose children have reached a certain age in adolescence and, thanks be to God, have made good friends. These parents open their house to the friends of their first, second, third child, and they themselves become friends of all of them and help them all. This is the way–making a parallel comparison–that the parish priest must be, the father of all the life that the Spirit awakens. So these parents can quite properly say, “Help us to clean out the garage,” and there will be the more generous children and friends who will do it, and others who will go there, give a hand, and then go away.
Instead of “groups of the children’s friends,” in the Church they are called “movements.”
A living personal Christian life cannot exist unless it is in some way aroused by an encounter and has been faithful to this. In other times, the parish was the place where these living encounters took place, but now the social and cultural climate has imbued everything with a forgetting of Christianity, so that this encounter can happen in the parish and it can happen on the train, for example.
If for someone this encounter happens at school or work, first he must deepen this encounter, and then he will be able to understand his parish priest, help overcome others’ ignorance, catechize.
I have dwelt at length on this answer for one reason only: to emphasize that the faith becomes a living experience always through a human encounter and through loyalty and faithfulness to this encounter, because this is the system, the method used by the Spirit of God with Christ. John and Andrew had an encounter and then remained faithful to this encounter as well as they were able. Similarly, the Church as an institution becomes loved and not simply a place in which to placate the fear of the next world.
The Pope, in his talk to us, which was printed in the L’Osservatore Romano, said, “The Spirit, in order to continue the dialogue begun with today’s man, that dialogue begun by God in Christ, has given rise in the contemporary Church to numerous ecclesial movements.”2 I was lucky enough to have my enthusiasm aroused by a priest in my parish, but if at that time I had gone to the university instead of entering the seminary, I would have lost my faith.

What relationship is there between faith and culture, and what does it mean to say that faith must become culture?
That faith becomes culture means that the faith tends to determine how you look at your father and your mother, how a man looks at his woman and vice versa, how one sees and hears the people passing in the street, how one lives a curiosity for the study of science, how one judges literature and human experience expressed in literary texts, how one judges the way social and political problems are faced. And we know that facing life and all its problems without censuring anything makes us capable of facing them better, with an intelligence and a sensitivity that eschew partiality.
This is what Jesus says in the Gospel, with a formula that we have always used: “Whoever follows Me will have a hundred times more now and will be given eternal life.”3 What characterizes culture is the fact of being the systematic development of all factors of human life, but to realize this, a viewpoint is needed that is so comprehensive that it does not let me forget or deny anything. When Jesus answered the devil, “Man does not live by bread alone,”4 He assumed a real cultural position, because man does not have only his stomach and innards, but also a heart, and he can die because of his heart; he can die because of a hole in his stomach, but he can also die for his heart. So it is very true that economics is an important part of living together–for this reason, St. Paul told the Christians who were awaiting the coming of Christ “not to let anyone eat who refused to work”5–but using this as the viewpoint for approaching all of society means destroying man. If someone works and eats and does not await the coming of Christ, he is an unlucky wretch.
From the first discussions thirty years ago, the definition of culture that has always emerged among us is the critical and systematic development of one’s experience. But a point of view capable of embracing everything is needed: if, for example, life were you, Matteo, the point of view capable of embracing everything is not here (your nose) or here (your heart), but it is “out here.” Thus, only God’s point of view is capable of embracing everything. But God became a man; therefore, this man is the point of view from which to judge everything, and this man is in the life of the Church, there His body is present. Hence, the Church as the body of Christ is the point of view from which to judge everything. The Church is a communion that is lived. Consequently, pedagogically, educationally, if we live the friendship among ourselves as an attempt to live the Church, this companionship becomes a working hypothesis, as scientists would say, from which to approach everything.
This is already very simple in nature, because nature is born of God, just as Christ is born of God: a child grows up and attains a sensibility capable of judging if he starts from the viewpoint in which the Lord has put him for living his humanity, that is to say, the family. Only, the family must understand that in order to introduce him to the world it must help him to use everything; and so we help each other to use everything. What lively and fascinating fruits come from our companionship, when it is lived! From it comes a unity of life and a capacity for certainty that allows one to build, that capacity for criticism occurs that takes shape where there is a certain and clear criterion. I insist that criticism is born where there is a clear, simple, and certain criterion; otherwise, it is not criticism, but destruction, and then you can just be a criminal.
There thus arises in us a desire to understand everything, to embrace everything, and a characteristic of ours is the insistence on the force of reason, because reason is awareness of all of reality in all its factors. As the Gospel tells us, just as the Lord knows the number of hairs on our heads, so does the Lord make us want to know the world even in its smallest manifestations. An error can be recognized by the fact that it is forced to deny or forget something. Thus, we are obligated not to forget and not to deny anything.
At least some of you will learn that what I have said is precisely the way it is, because one thing alone shows that Christ is God and that the Church is his presence–the fact that living in remembrance of Christ means experiencing a greater humanity. In the Gospel it is called “miracle,” and by this they recognized Christ. The miracle was that with that man someone became more himself, and if he had crooked legs they became straight, but this was not necessary; in fact, He did not heal all the cripples, but He did make all the people who loved Him more human.
You know that the Covenant, in the Old Testament, implies the word Promise. The covenant that God made with us is Christ; if we follow Him. He has made us a promise by which we can judge Him, and that is that He will make us achieve happiness, but already in this way He will make us enjoy a hundred times more than the others.
It is with this that we must demonstrate that there is something different in the world, with our happiness and our intensity of life; we can judge Jesus by this. However, we too are judged–we will be happy and intense if we follow Him, if we are faithful to the encounter that He has led us to have.
I have been repeating myself and repeating these words to others for forty years now, but every time is like the first, which is the characteristic of the truth. In the Ambrosian Liturgy there is the most beautiful phrase that can be imagined and also the most comforting: “I will make known the power of my name through the happiness on their faces.”6 The happiness on one’s face is the only thing that cannot be created artificially; if it is, it becomes a smirk. A false happiness is cynicism.
In any case, even if you are alone–on a permanent basis it would be dangerous–if God asks it of you, know that it is so as to deepen the true nature of the companionship that is like a thought of the heart, a dimension of the heart. It is the remembrance of which Christ spoke when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”7

You have said that a true experience of faith arises from an encounter and faithfulness to this encounter. What is this faithfulness?
I am still loyal to the priest that I had in my parish when I was a little boy. What does this mean?
First, that when I meet him–he is much older than I am–I hug him (and not everybody has people who hug them).
And then I say to him, “Thank you,” after 40 years, and I remind him of some of the things he used to say to me and that now I understand maybe even better than he does. For the people with whom I have had an encounter, who have made me understand the value of what my mother said to me, what the priest said to me; for those young people who have told me, “We want to walk with you,” for those families who say to me every so often, “Tell us what we should do”–for these young people and these families who always make me understand more than I make them understand–I would lay down my life. This is much more than being brothers and sisters born of the same father and the same mother, and in fact I have a sister who is a friend like this to me. In growing up, there is something that goes deeper than flesh, because man is his heart.
So, to answer briefly:
1. In order for a friendship to exist, one must keep up relations as much as is needed. It may not be necessary a hundred times in one day; even just once a month could be enough.
2. Awareness of the presence of one’s friends must be in the heart every day, as much as possible.
3. One must seek help in every way possible, from writings, from discussions, so as to let oneself be trained to judge everything; thus, a faith grows that becomes culture.
4. It is necessary that there not be even one friend who, when he is in need, we do not try to help as much as possible.
5. One must want to do something, together with friends, for others.
If you understand these points, you can discover them in the relationship between Christ and his disciples. We want to live this presence.
Going on airplanes or along the street, sometimes I stop and think: These people don’t know that God is among us!
This is the greatest work in the world and in history: to make Him known; that is, to bear witness to Him. But, friends, this is not possible, it is not something that can be lived alone, not even with your wife, not even with your children, because the urgency of life overtakes you.
It is a stranger friendship, in terms of motive, and a greater one, that makes the family this way too.
In any case, authentic Christianity starts out as a meeting between people, maybe just to eat a sandwich. It implies the renewal of this physical relationship, meeting together, retaining the message that was contained in that encounter, helping each other to judge everything by this, changing our relationships so that the needs of one are felt to be the needs of the others; and then it implies the desire to do something for others. This is the beginning of a new humanity, where the dominant value is gratuitousness. All the calculations remain–concerning your girlfriend, your love for your children, your work–these remain, but what determines things now is no longer the calculations, it is gratuitousness.
Destiny is not something that has to come from far away, but is present here and now, it is Christ, and He must be made manifest to all. This is the meaning of life and history, much more than discovering the laws of “quantums”. With this Presence, also the “quantums” become much more beautiful. In short, our idea is that Christ has brought a different taste for living, one that is more enthralling; otherwise they wouldn’t have followed Him! This is not a casual statement, because it implies work, a progression. Perhaps the aspect of human experience where Christ becomes most perceptible in his force for transformation is the affection of a man for a woman: in its most profound form, which is virginity, and in its most usual task, which is the family. If you stay together, you will clarify these things too, and in effect the most impressive test is the affection that faith in Christ, when it is lived, arouses for any person, even the most distant or inimical.
I say these things at my age with great awareness and conviction. Since even only listening to these things, you have a foretaste of their truth, then, for this reason, you must remain faithful to the companionship and work as well as you can, with two great and fundamental conditions for being Christians in this anti-Christian world:
1. You must beg for Christ; prayer is begging for Christ.
2. Love yourselves. The first time that I used this theme in a course of exercises for university students in Milan, I received at least a hundred letters amazed at what I had said, which was that to understand who Christ is, you must love yourselves.

Father, when I met you in Italy, there was something in you that I liked. I don’t know why, but I liked you. Now maybe I realize what it is: when I was a student, a friend introduced me to the Movement; he talked to me about the Movement’s philosophy and its great ideals. For the way you talked in this meeting, what I like is that you are a very practical man.
It is Christian faith that is realistic.

And I remember that there were some doubts at that time concerning the Movement and its chances for success in America, precisely because the American people are a practical people. Now I understand that it is possible in America, because I see it is possible in New York.
I am glad I came here, if only for what you just said.

I have been wondering about people I have seen at work in Italy. They are people who can explain the Movement, and I think the reason is that they were educated to the Movement…
Being educated to the Movement: if you–better still, together with others–responsibly (and responsibility is something very practical) even just think over the things that we have said this morning, you will understand slowly. All those that you met in Italy, even before they understood, did not understand. Before they could give reasons, they heard these things without knowing how to give reasons for them. First you hear, you intuit, then you begin to give reasons. But there is an important formula: you must be faithful to the companionship, freely, but faithful.
This companionship of ours is like a little stable near the town of Bethlehem, in which Christ is born in the United States.
Christ being born is a fragile thing, with a desire and a claim in it that is ridiculous in its lack of proportion, but Christ in the United States, as in the world, is born in thousands of stables. The true threshold of faith is approached when someone, even though trembling, would do it even if he had to do it alone.

But catechism is necessary for this, because young people are lacking the basic tools of education.
Here, first of all, we must announce, not catechize.
Christ did not persuade because He catechized, but because He showed who He was. You see, among us, being together, catechism develops too, but later. I learn the Christian truths analytically, if I am fascinated by the Christian fact. This is why so many of us in Italy, whenever we can, catechize in the parishes, but the main thing is that one be struck. Think of the way Christ looked at Zaccheus; Zaccheus did not understand anything from that gaze, but he understood everything.
Later, following Jesus, he will understand many things, but the important thing is that he was struck by that gaze.
All of us who are here have heard an accent of truth, and the truth is something that corresponds to our life and our destiny; faithfulness to this initial accent is the test of our life.

1 Cf. John Paul II, “Fatevi carico del bisogno della Chiesa” [“Take on the Church’s need”], in La traccia, September 29, 1984, pp. 1027-1028.
2 Ibid, p. 1028.
3 Cf. Mt 19:29; Mk 10:30.
4 Mt 4:4; Lk 4:4.
5 2 Thes 3:10.
6 Cf. “Confrattorio della IV Domenica d’Avvento ambrosiano,” in Messale Ambrosiano, Milan 1942, p. 78. Cf. also Vulgate, Is 30:30.
7 Lk 22:19.