As this year begins, let us ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of wisdom, that we may understand the problem of problems–the meaning of life–and become truly willing to pursue the modality with which the Mystery has reached us and continues to reach us now.
Come Holy Spirit
Greetings to all of you present here and all our friends who are joining us by satellite link in different Italian cities and abroad. I will read the telegram we sent the Pope:
Your Holiness, 50,000 adults and university students of Communion and Liberation gathered in Milan and joined by satellite link in a score of cities in Italy and abroad for the Beginning Day, grateful to God for the beauty of your journey in the United Kingdom, wish to place themselves in your hands to be, like Your Holiness, at the service of an Other, so as to make the announcement of Jesus Christ accessible to their fellow women and men. In a society indifferent and hostile to the faith, deepening the charism of Fr. Giussani we confirm our commitment to shine with the light of the Risen Christ, the full answer to the yearnings of the heart of each of us.
Since I have the task of highlighting the steps taken during the past year, I’ll read a few lines of Fr. Giussani’s book, The Journey to Truth is an Experience: “Christianity is not born as the fruit of our culture or as the discovery of our intelligence. Christianity does not communicate itself to the world as the fruit of modern or effective initiatives. Christianity is born and spreads throughout the world through the presence of the ‘power of God’: ‘God, in Your name, save me.’ God’s power reveals itself in facts, events, which constitute a new reality in the world, a living reality; in movement, and thus in an exceptional and unforeseeable chronicle within the history of humanity and things” (L. Giussani, The Journey to Truth is an Experience, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006, p. 87).
This also helps us to understand the task of a Christian presence in society. We have just heard it. It is not a matter first of all of our wisdom or the fruit of our initiatives, such that we can congratulate ourselves when this presence is acknowledged or, on the contrary, run for cover when it is attacked. In fact, if this were the case, we would no longer be capable of being amazed at anything; deep down, everything would already be codified, already known. Instead–we have just heard–the power of God is revealed in facts, events, that constitute a new reality in the world.
Well, we here today want to tell each other that this year we have been witnesses to and participants in facts, some more evident, that have involved the whole Movement, and others that we can find in our own personal experience. Remember the gesture of Rome on May 16th with the Pope, where already in the preceding weeks we were introduced to a different judgment, not ideological, on the meaning of that gesture, such that many of us, maybe because of previous commitments, decided at the last moment to participate notwithstanding obstacles and impediments. In this regard, we all remember that in this change, also concerning decisions made, we were helped by Carrón’s words: “We do not go to Rome above all to defend the Pope, but to acknowledge and affirm the rock upon which we are anchored in this moment of trial for the Church.” This changed the gaze on what we were doing, because it introduced a new human position in response to the attack, one that enters into things unarmed, to know, to understand more. This was without a doubt one of the unforeseen outcomes of the work of School of Community this year, and certainly the School of Community with Carrón (accessible for all who wanted to follow it) is the point that reached us all, showing us this method in action.
A reverberation of this positivity before the reality one encounters was felt in the Meeting. Just think of what the many testimonies on many fronts meant. For brevity’s sake, I will not quote them here, but you will find many of them in this month’s issue of Traces. In brief, we can say that the hope that comes from the Christian experience makes us surprisingly–and let me say it, also unexpectedly–capable of facing all circumstances, even the most difficult, experiencing an intelligence of initiative and, at the same time, a depth of gladness that has no need to reduce the drama of what we are experiencing, as instead one is often tempted to do, in order not to succumb to desperation.
And, then, one is prompted to ask: Where does all this come from? What lies below? A month ago in La Thuile, during the International Assembly of Responsibles of Communion and Liberation, Carrón quoted Giussani, who said, “We cannot file reality away [after the Christian encounter] thinking we already know everything, that we already have everything. We do have everything, but we come to understand what this ‘everything’ is [what Christ is] in the clash or, better, the encounter with circumstances, people, and events.” (“Living is the Memory of Me,” Assembly of Responsibles of Communion and Liberation, La Thuile, Italy, August 2010, p. 51, on the CL website: http://www.clonline.org/articoli/eng/AIR2010_eng.pdf ).
An extraordinary example of this was another fundamental step last year, which we absolutely must not miss, Carrón’s article in la Repubblica (April 4, 2010), on the storm about pedophilia that struck the Church. In the face of the great contradiction one experiences (and this is true for any contradiction; it is true for pain in and of itself), an insatiable need for justice and truth imposes itself in us, and nothing suffices to heal the wound that has been opened–nothing that we can do–because the justice each of us expects is not merely the restitution of what has been taken from us, what we had placed our hope in, our expectations; the justice we were made for is much more than being repaid what is ours. What we truly expect is more, a superabundance. In this regard, there is a very significant episode in the first steps of Mother Teresa of Calcutta: the young nun came upon a poor dying man abandoned in the street. She brought him to her home, treated his wounds, cared for him. Shortly after, the man died but, before dying, said these words: “I lived all my life like a dog, and I die like a king.” Mother Teresa probably did nothing more than a nurse, hopefully a compassionate one, could have done in that situation, and yet that man said those words. What had he seen? What could he have seen, that he had waited for all his life? In the gaze of Mother Teresa shone the gaze of Christ. In her voice vibrated the voice of Christ–this is what he had waited for all his life, to meet this gaze. Carrón said in La Thuile, “The truth is not something abstract–it’s this Love that bent down on our nothingness, [...] this being moved by our nothingness. [...] This is our responsibility: to convert our ‘I’ to the present Event, that is, to this Love that bent down over me” (J. Carrón, “Living is the Memory of Me,” op. cit., p. 9).
Entrust ourselves to this gaze: this was also the invitation the Pope extended to us in Saint Peter’s Square. The word that dominates the concern of he who guides the Church is the word “conversion,” and the Pope reminded us again last week, during his historic visit to Great Britain for the beatification of Cardinal Newman: “Newman teaches us that if we have accepted the truth of Christ and committed our lives to Him, there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives. Our every thought, word, and action must be directed to the glory of God and the spread of His Kingdom” (Benedict XVI, Prayer vigil on the eve of the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, London, September 18, 2010).
We ask you, then, introducing us to this new year beginning: what is this conversion of the “I” to the present event to which we are invited?
1. The humanity born of faith
We celebrate this Beginning Day still impressed by the gestures of this summer: from the vacations of our communities to the Meeting in Rimini; from the International Assembly of Responsibles to the CLU and CLE équipes. And, more recently, the Pope’s journey to Great Britain: what he underlined on the occasion of this visit makes us understand what challenges our faith is called to face today. Reflection on what he said helps us contextualize the importance of the journey we are making and offers us even more reasons for making it.
Benedict XVI went, as all know, to one of the most secularized places in the world, and testified to us about what a presence is. He was well aware of the importance of the trip, and said so this week reviewing the stages: “In addressing the citizens of that country, a crossroads of culture and of the world economy, I kept in mind the entire West, conversing with the intellect of this civilization and communicating the unfading newness of the Gospel in which it is steeped” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, Saint Peter’s Square, September 22, 2010). In order to show what this newness is in that context, the Holy Father drew upon the figure of Newman, whose beatification was the fundamental reason for his journey: “Newman, by his own account, traced the course of his whole life back to a powerful experience of conversion which he had as a young man. It was an immediate experience of the truth of God’s word, of the objective reality of Christian revelation as handed down in the Church. This experience, at once religious and intellectual, would inspire his vocation to be a minister of the Gospel, his discernment of the source of authoritative teaching in the Church of God, and his zeal for the renewal of ecclesial life in fidelity to the apostolic tradition. At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfillment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is Himself “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6)” (Benedict XVI, Prayer Vigil…, September 18, 2010). In fact, if religion is a purely private and subjective fact, a question of personal opinion, the consequence is obvious: relativism. Relativism is the failure of man’s capacity to know the truth, to find in it the definitive freedom and fulfillment of the deepest human aspirations, that is, to find the full answer to his needs. In fact, if man does not find what answers this aspiration, this need, everything is relative, everything is debatable and nothing manages to grasp all his full “I.” Instead, the Pope said, “To the multitudes of the faithful, especially young people, I chose to present anew the luminous figure of Cardinal Newman, an intellectual and a believer, whose basic spiritual message testifies that the path to knowledge is not withdrawal into ‘self,’ but openness, conversion, and obedience to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, 22, 2010).
In light of this, one understands the importance of the journey we are making to abandon the rift between knowledge and belief that relegates belief to the sphere of the subjective, of personal opinion, that would say man is not able to know the truth that fulfills his life. But is this a problem that only concerns intellectuals like Newman? Or does it concern everyone?
Here we see the full import of the call to conversion that the Pope is extending insistently to the entire Church. But nobody will truly take this call to convert seriously if they do not feel it urgently for themselves. The songs we sang can help us in understanding this urgency: “He was a bad man, / really bad, bad, bad” (C. Chieffo, “L’uomo cattivo,” Il Libro dei Canti [“The Bad Man,” Book of Songs], Jaca Book, Milan, 1976, p. 291). The term “bad” here means “immoral,” not in the usual sense in which we reduce it to ethical incoherence, but in the deeper sense of an inadequate relationship with Being. Fr. Giussani says, “I use the word ‘moral’ or ‘morality’ in its deeper, more substantial sense, which is the stance of the person before Being, that is, before life, existence, as origin, consistence, destiny” (L. Giussani, L’io rinasce in un incontro 1986-1987 [The I is Reborn in an Encounter], Bur, Milan, 2010, p. 42). As the song goes on, you see that this is the meaning used for this word. When he got up in the morning, he did not feel remorse for something that was mistaken, no: “When he got up in the morning/ everything annoyed him/ beginning with the light; even his milk and his coffee.” We can have had the Christian encounter, and yet we, too, get up in the morning and everything annoys us–this we know well. But this does not stop the Lord: “The Lord of heaven/ sent him many gifts;/ he hardly looked at them/ and even at times complained about them.” The outcome of our incapacity to grasp reality as it is, that is, as gift, in its truth–that would lead us to gratefulness, to gratitude when we open our eyes in the morning–blocks us from experiencing the fulfillment of life, as seen by the fact that what prevails is complaint as the final sentiment of self. We have not excuses, my dear friends! Nobody is spared living life, even after having had the Christian encounter. If we look loyally, fearlessly at our human experience, it is difficult not to feel moved when we sing “I Wonder”: “I wonder as I wander out under the sky [like a bothered vagabond, I can feel all the amazement, all the marvel], that Jesus the Savior should come for to die, for poor hungry people like you and like I” (“I Wonder” Canti, Cooperativa Editoriale Nuovo Mondo, Milan, 2002, p. 283). Nothing else can make you feel pertinent now like the irritation you experience, like the incapacity to come out from it by yourself. This irritation and this complaint can become the occasion for each of us to understand who Christ is, because “we don’t know who He was” (title of the song by A. and G. Roscio-A. and G. Agape, in Canti, op. cit, pp. 206-207); if it does not happen again now, we do not know who Jesus truly is, but with Him, when He happens anew, when He overcomes this irritation in us, we begin to enter into reality, into the truth of reality, like that bad man: “But one day he asked himself who it was/ that gave him life;/ one day he asked himself who it was/ that gave him love,” that is, the man begins to truly realize Who gives him life. Let us begin, then, to change our stance before things and let us begin to see what we did not see before: “the color of grapes” and the “child who smiled at him.” How many children had he seen smile, but not seen! So then he “put a hand on his heart/ and cried almost a whole day.” And this is what enables the Lord to give us everything: “And God saw him and smiled;/ He took away his pain,/ then He gave him even more life,/ then He gave him even more love.” Conversion, my friends, the full awareness of reality, has a clear goal: more life, more love.
Someone wrote this to me: “Dearest Fr. Julián: It is with great effort that I decide to write you, but the insistence of a friend of mine is a good reason to do it. What is characterizing my life is the entreaty, the entreaty that Christ communicate to me His nature. For several months now, I have been separated from my wife and am experiencing pain and toil. This year, after years of evasion of the Movement, I returned to the community vacation because I wished to have my son see and participate in something greater than him, than me, than the painful and toilsome circumstances we are living through. After two days of ‘stand by’ in which I stayed a spectator, that thing happened to me: I–with all my pain, my anguish, and my nothingness–crashed into a fact. It was an embrace that reawakened my heart, and this was the beginning of a proposal for my life, that in primis was made by my heart and that found life in the companionship around me. I felt, with great unworthiness, that I was the object of an immense mercy; I felt myself brought back to life. The encounter with a friend, his gaze, the passionate gaze of everyday life in the faces of those around me, who in every moment looked at life as a gift of an Other and had no fear in their hearts: there I understood that I knew nothing about Jesus. I had not understood a thing about Jesus, even though I had led a community, even though I had seen Giussani. I had not understood a single thing, and I began to say, ‘Jesus, I want to know You.’ For too long, I had been in the Movement and in the Church thinking I knew who Jesus was, looking to see whether the others adhered to my idea of Jesus or of life, or even verifying whether Jesus fit my idea. Meeting this friend, his gaze on me, a stranger, threw open that chink that had opened up. The summer then became the time of memory (how many times had I heard Giussani speak of it and tried to do it, continually shipwrecking in my limitation), the time to seek that gaze and go where I was looked at this way, where I saw people looking at reality this way, to throw myself in. I spent the summer going around the Riviera to meet friends to see that gaze again, and I read a lot to see that gaze again–I sought that gaze everywhere. In this way, the profound conception began to make space in me [this is conversion!] that I am a gift to myself, that I myself am a gift, and thus my life should be an entreaty if I want to respect my nature. Thus, not a day passes that I don’t desire that gaze to learn who I am and to know reality adequately, and I have begun to look this way; I’ve discovered myself looking at everything this way. So not a day passes that my question doesn’t become an openness to reality, to the point of wanting to encounter Him daily in the sacraments and in prayer, the foundation of my being and our unity. The problems remain; anguish always looms and at times the pain is so strong that it burns my flesh, but this is not an objection to the truth of what I have seen, the truth of that gaze. Rather, in my freedom (as I manage and as I can) the pain throws my entreaty wide open. It is a strange and mysterious coexistence of pain, joy, and gladness!”
Let us look at this testimony: what overcomes relativism, the reduction of reason and freedom that impedes knowing and adhering to the truth that gives us more life, more love? The contemporaneousness of Christ, the only thing able to magnetize all our reason and affection if He finds in us the willingness that this friend testifies to us. The state we are in does not matter, nor do the years of evasion of the Movement.
This contemporaneousness, this power of God, makes itself present in facts and events, or in witnesses like those we have seen this summer. But the Lord continues to have mercy on our nothingness and has given us an even more spectacular one: the Pope himself. He has witnessed to this victory over relativism not only in what he said, but above all in what he testified, in his stance. In fact, the Pope not only defended the true nature of man against any kind of reduction, but he also turned to the person without reductions, to what is most original in the person, deeper than all the cultural encrustations–the heart–and he did it witnessing today to Christ’s passion for man. He said, “And in the four busy and very beautiful days I spent in this noble land, I had the great joy of speaking to the hearts of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom and they spoke to mine, especially with their presence and with the testimony of their faith. […]To the numerous adolescents and young people, who greeted me with pleasure and enthusiasm, I proposed that they should not follow limited objectives contenting themselves with accommodating decisions but to aim for something higher, in other words the quest for true happiness which is found only in God. […] I also wished to speak to the hearts of all the inhabitants of the United Kingdom, excluding no one, of the true reality of man, of his deepest needs, of his ultimate destiny (Benedict XVI, General Audience, September 22, 2010).
So then, what did the Pope witness to us? He witnessed what Christ is able to do in a man who is willing to let himself be generated by Him. Christ generates a creature so new that he leaves everyone speechless. You see this in the use of reason the Pope witnessed to, by an intelligence of faith that becomes intelligence of reality, by the freedom to engage without ambiguity in the reality before everyone, by a disarming humility that astounds everyone, by the candid boldness of a warm, passionate, and intelligent testimony to Christ. Everyone was left speechless listening to him. Just read the English newspapers. I’ll quote one, the editorial of The Telegraph: “Some listeners may have taken offence at these words, given the Vatican’s failure–now properly acknowledged by Benedict XVI–to address the grave crimes of a small minority of its clergy. But we suspect that many more people will have set aside their reservations about the Roman Catholic Church and said to themselves: ‘He has a point’” (The Telegraph, September 17, 2010).
This is the humanity that is born of the faith, a human stature able to contribute decisively to the life of men and women. Who of us does not desire such a humanity, a capacity to act in our environments of work, in the university, with family or friends, alone or in groups, with this intelligence and freedom, with this passion for each person? In order to reach it, friends, we must pursue our journey, because this humanity does not become ours mechanically; let’s not kid ourselves: a journey of conversion is required, like the journey made by Newman, to overcome in us the influence of relativism, which hampers the capacity to know the truth, the truth that gives us more life and more love.
2. The three reductions
But for us, who have already encountered the Christian event, what is the impact of relativism (this cultural climate that hinders the capacity to know the truth of reality)? Once again, Fr. Giussani accompanies us on our journey and identifies three reductions.
a) The first is the prevalence of ideology on the Event: “The relationship with reality that man lives from morning to evening can be a continual initiative, a continual attempt before what happens and what he experiences, or man can be moved, can let himself be moved by something, can obey something that is not born, does not flow from his way of reacting to things he encounters, into which he runs, but from preconceptions [terrible!]. The Christian’s point of departure is an Event. The point of departure of all the rest of human thought is a certain impression and evaluation of things, a certain position that one assumes ‘before’ facing things, above all before judging them” (L. Giussani, L’uomo e il suo destino. In cammino [Man and His Destiny. On the Journey], Marietti, Genoa, 1999, p. 109). And this happens in front of the same things! Listen to what one of you wrote to me: “Dear Julián: The journey you are having us make is increasingly more decisive for me and many friends. One thing that has emerged resoundingly from the School of Community on hope (Is It Possible to Live This Way? Vol. 2 Hope, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 2008) is that so many of us weren’t certain! Even for those who have been in the Movement for a long time, life rested on other things and our hope–actually experienced–was only that circumstances would be favorable. An important thing was re-thinking my responsibility (I guide a School of Community and am the prior of a Fraternity group); I realized that it has become my ‘trade’: after many years in the Movement, you always have the ‘correct’ little answer that garners everyone’s consensus, you go get a sentence in another book of Giussani, you quote other appropriate texts, your respected friend always tells you something interesting that you never fail to refer to in the meetings, and all this makes you cut a certain figure. The problem is that I rarely made a contribution of real lived experience in light of what we were saying to each other. I was the first not to enter into reality with the hypothesis that was suggested to us–thus, I was the first to be trapped by circumstances. In the face of the problems of life, putting myself in front of the things we are told at times irritated me, because I wanted something that resolved the problem; I was not interested in something that put me in the right position. It even happened that the testimonies, paradoxically, put me off, increased my skepticism, and, deep down, I said to myself, ‘What happens to them will never happen to me.’ What a grace that I realized this! The Exercises were a decisive rallying point, and I began to face reality trying to be conscious of the challenge you made to us. In this regard, I want to tell you about a fact that struck me a lot. A friend was facing the reality of his job with a superficiality that appalled me, risking an excellent position that, if lost, would have plunged his big family into a dramatic situation; he wasn’t taking reality into account, but letting himself be guided by prejudice and by ‘I like it.’ I was very sorry and said, ‘How can anyone act like that?’ Then, reflecting on what this provocation might mean, I realized that I was doing the same thing in facing reality. Thus, the Mystery corrected me through that circumstance. Surprisingly, I was moved, and felt myself loved in a way that rarely has happened to me, and from then on a new dynamic has been unleashed in my life: reality begins (slowly, slowly, but it begins) to be the place where One calls you, and this gives a previously unknown gusto. Before, it seemed to me that nothing ever happened in my daily life. Now, everything always happens. Everything–the situations, even the hard ones, begin to be faced with a new impetus, boldness, and desire to go deep down in things. How evident it is that this energy does not come from me! What moved amazement to see so clearly how Christ changes me! And who, if not Him? Other times, I would have said to myself skeptically, ‘Yes, now it’s this way, but later everything will go back to the way it was.’ Now, this doesn’t matter anymore, because He will work it out so that I will acknowledge Him again, moving me once again. Only my ‘no,’ with my elbow in front of my eyes, can block my rebirth.”
This friend testifies in a positive way that without even realizing it, an already heard discourse erupts into the judgment on things (the just right word, the perfect little answer, the preconception that enables you to cut a figure). All this regular recourse to ideology is more widespread than we think! Instead, Christianity is an event, and therefore is present, and the point of departure for the Christian is not ideology or preconception, but an event. Only acknowledgment of this event keeps us from being servants of an ideology, which is the logical development of preconception. The ultimate form of ideology is the negation of facts that make this event contemporaneous now, leaving us prey to interpretation: “There are no facts, only interpretations” (F. Nietzsche, Frammenti postumi 1885-1887, in Opere [Posthumous Fragments, in Works], Adelphi, Milan, 1975, vol. VIII, fr. 7 , p. 299). It sends a chill down my spine to think of the fork in the road before us: “His presence is made visible, tangible, and livable by the fact that it changes the life of the people who are in the community, in the companionship. For this reason, the perspicacity with which one perceives the testimony of one or the other–even those who aren’t leaders–the acumen with which one perceives the testimony, even surreptitious, even entirely discreet, present in the people of the community, is the greatest sign of the honesty we spoke of earlier. Inversely, there is no greater sign of dishonesty than noting above all the defects within the companionship. Similes cum similibus facillime congregantur. One perceives what is similar to oneself. If evil predominates in you [bad, bad, bad], you will complain about evil; if the search for truth predominates in you, you will discover the truth” (L. Giussani, Uomini senza patria 1982-1983 [Men Without a Homeland], Bur, Milan, 2008, p. 277). This is the extreme attempt to avoid conversion: denying the existence of the facts, of the events (because if the man born blind was not healed, then the Jews would not have to change their attitude about themselves; thus it is sufficient to deny it in order to continue unperturbed along one’s road).
b) And now a second reduction: reducing the sign to appearance. “If man yields to the dominant ideologies that rise from the common mentality, then there is a struggle, a division, a separation between sign and appearance; from this follows the reduction of the sign to appearance. The more you are conscious of what the sign is, the more you understand the filth and disaster of a sign reduced to appearance. The sign is the experience of a factor present in reality that refers me to an other. The sign is a reality I can experience, the meaning of which is another reality; it reveals its meaning leading to another reality. Therefore, it would not be reasonable, human, to limit the experience of the sign to its perceptively immediate aspect or appearance. The perceptively immediate aspect of anything, the appearance, does not say everything about the experience we have of things, because it does not say the value of the sign (L. Giussani, L’uomo e il suo destino. In cammino [Man and His Destiny. On the Journey], op. cit., p. 112). Look at this testimony: “Hi Julián: I want to tell you about something that happened to me this summer during the pre-Meeting (I have always worked on set up, sharing responsibility with the others), a fact that would have slipped off like water, if it weren’t for what you have shown us these years through the way you have always gotten involved in what happens to you and in the work of School of Community. This is the fact: one evening, after the work in the Expo Center, I went to dinner with some friends from Cremona and Milan, and one of them said, ‘There’s a kid with us who isn’t in the Movement, and I told him that he should come too. Is that a problem?’ ‘Absolutely not,’ I told him. And so we met in a restaurant on the beach to eat some fish. This kid is a 23-year-old worker, and since he is not in the Movement, had no idea what the Meeting was, or what to expect. Suddenly, he said, ‘In these days in the Expo Center, I saw right away which stands you were working in and which the set-up firms were working in.’ I was immediately struck by his unexpected observation, since he was at the pre-Meeting for the first time and had been in the Expo Center just two days. The next day, at all costs, he had to find a priest for confession (it had been six years since his last confession). This fact–the clarity of the judgment he gave impulsively the evening before, and what happened the next day–set me in turmoil and judged me profoundly. I asked myself, ‘What did he see?’ Exactly what my eyes saw, and the eyes of all the others working in the Expo Center, nothing more or less, and nobody gave him speeches or preached at him. So how was it that the same thing provoked a leap in his heart, while for me it was all normal and taken for granted? So then, in order to recognize the great Presence, it really is true that the problem isn’t what I see; you don’t need a sensational fact, but everything depends on how I am before reality as it comes to me! From that moment on, I couldn’t help but look at this fact, and so from that moment everything changed for me: things were the same as always, but it was no longer the same, and when the Meeting ended and I returned to work, I wanted to begin working because entering within reality with this gaze, desirous of discovering how I would be surprised by the Mystery, what facts would happen to me within the normality of work, is precisely what I most desire, because nothing, absolutely nothing, is against me. Thank you for how you are challenging us, accompanying us as a father, but without sparing us anything.”
Fr. Giussani explains it very well: “Man’s great temptation is to exhaust the experience of the sign, of a thing that is a sign, interpreting it only in its perceptively immediate aspect. It is not reasonable, but all men are lead, by the weight of original sin, to be victims of the apparent, of what appears, because it seems the easiest form of reason. A certain attitude of spirit acts more or less this way within the reality of the world and existence (circumstances, the relationship with things, a family to set up, children to educate…); it feels the blow, but arrests the human capacity to enter into the search for meaning, to which, undeniably, the fact itself of our relationship with reality solicits human intelligence. It arrests the very capacity of human intelligence to enter into the search for meaning which our relationship with what strikes us undeniably solicits. Instead, human intelligence cannot run up against something without perceiving that it, in some way, is a sign of another reality, that it transmits the hint of another reality. An echo of these concepts is found in the statement of Hannah Arendt: ‘Ideology is not the innocent acceptance of the visible, but its intelligent removal.’ Ideology is the destruction of the visible, the elimination of the visible as the meaning of things that happen, the emptying of what one sees, touches, perceives. Thus, one no longer has a relationship with anything. When Sartre speaks of his hands–‘My hands, what are my hands?’–he defines them as ‘the incommensurable distance that divides me from the world of objects and separates me from them forever,’ thus operating a removal of the visible, of the contingent aspect. The removal of the contingent is, for example [look at how Fr. Giussani makes the thing clear for us], affirming that what happens ‘happens because it happens,’ thus avoiding the impact and need to look at the present, a certain present, in its relationship with the totality” (Ibid. pp. 112-113). Thus, we no longer have to change; we no longer have to convert. I am truly dumbfounded by certain interpretations that empty what happens among us…
Fr. Giussani concludes this point by alerting us about the battle underway behind the scenes: “The sensibility in perceiving all things as sign of the Mystery is the tranquil truth of the human being [we have seen it: the last arrived is able to perceive it]. This is opposed by the tyranny of those who hold power in their hands, motivated by an ideology, that denies this consideration that man makes of a thing” (Ibid. p. 114).
c) Why does it happen this way? Because of the third reduction, that is, because we reduce the heart to sentiment: “We take sentiment rather than the heart as the ultimate engine, as the ultimate reason of our action. What does this mean? Our responsibility is rendered vain precisely by yielding to the use of sentiment as prevalent on the heart, thus reducing the concept of heart to that of sentiment. Instead, the heart represents and acts as the fundamental factor of the human personality; sentiment does not, because taken alone sentiment acts as reactivity; deep down, it is animal-like. ‘I still haven’t understood,’ says Pavese, ‘what the tragedy of existence is […]. And yet it is clear: one must overcome sensuous abandon and stop considering moods as goals unto themselves.’ Moods have a far different purpose in order to be dignified: they have the purpose of a condition placed by God, by the Creator, through which one is purified. Instead, the heart indicates the unity of sentiment and reason. It involves an unblocked conception of reason, a reason according to the full breadth of its possibility: reason cannot act without what is called affection. The heart–as reason and affection–is the condition for the healthy realization of reason. The condition for reason to be reason is that affectivity invests it and thus moves all of man. Reason and sentiment, reason and affection: this is the heart of man” (Ibid. pp. 116-117).
3. The victory over relativism: memory
This observation of Fr. Giussani can help us to identify the road to victory over relativism, with which I intend to conclude. When are we surprised, seeing the event prevail over ideology, the sign over appearance, the heart over sentiment? Can we put an image before our eyes that makes it easy to understand? I, like you, am surrounded by testimonies, by exceptional facts that amaze me because of how well they document the contemporaneousness of Christ. And I asked myself, “When did these facts bring me to recognize Him?” I found the criterion Fr. Giussani offers us very helpful: “When did we seriously think of Him, with our heart, in this last month, in the last three months, from October until now? Never. We haven’t thought of Him as John and Andrew thought of Him while they watched Him speak. If we asked a lot of questions about Him, it was out of curiosity, analysis, the need for analysis, for research, for clarification. But we need to think the way one who is really in love thinks about his beloved (even in this case it happens extremely rarely because everything is calculated to get something in return!); solely in a way that is absolutely, totally detached–a sole desire for the good … so much so that if the other doesn’t respond in kind, the desire for the other’s good is nourished even more!” (L. Giussani, Is It Possible to Live This Way? Vol. 3 Charity, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 2009, p. 11).
Here, two ways of knowing are contrasted. Thinking of Him seriously, with the heart, means thinking of Him like John and Andrew thought of Him as they watched Him speak, totally taken, magnetized by His presence, where reason, which helped them to enter into the profundity of the mystery of that person, was saved by affection. How different this is from the predominance of curiosity, analysis, the search for clarification, where reason is reduced to its instrumental use–the sign reduced to appearance–because it is detached from affection. What a chasm between the two! Who knows more, those who think as the lover thinks of the beloved, or those who stay there analyzing? How would we like to be looked at? Who most grasps the value of our “I?” The verification that we have left this reduction of ourselves–who are reason and affection–and of reality is that we have discovered in ourselves the concise experience of John and Andrew; because there, in that encounter, the first victory over relativism happened, and thus it offers us the criterion for always acknowledging it.
With these words, what is Fr. Giussani describing? Memory: “Thus, Christianity is an event and therefore is present, now is present, and its characteristic is that it is present as memory; where Christian memory is not identical to remembrance, in fact, it is not remembrance, but it is the re-happening of the Presence itself” (L. Giussani, L’uomo e il suo destino. In cammino [Man and His Destiny. On the Journey], op. cit., p. 111). Christianity is born as event that incarnates in the present as memory. And memory is the content of the consciousness of the Christian. We understand this well looking at John and Andrew: what dominated in their eyes was Christ, and for this reason memory is the victory over relativism, because we were created to know Christ. What we lack is “the existentiality of memory” (L. Giussani, L’io rinasce in un incontro [The I is Reborn in an Encounter] op. cit., p. 47); we do not even see it from the corner of our eye, Fr. Giussani tells us.
What a long journey of conversion still lies before us until He becomes familiar. We see this from the few times we discover in ourselves the experience of John and Andrew while they watched Him talk. I realize it when by grace I have been saved from myself, from the reduction into which I had fallen. This week it happened to me on several occasions when I was entirely attached to something I was seeing through the person who was recounting it to me. For example, I was left slack-jawed when a person told me how, in the culminating moment of falling in love, she discovered she perceived the power of the presence of Christ that overturned her entirely. This person is the first to be the victor in that situation. And this facilitates in me the repetition in the present of the experience of John and Andrew, so much so that the next morning, while I was observing silence, I discovered myself thinking of those people who had pulled me out of my reduction to be entirely magnetized by His presence.
Without this event, the division between knowing and believing is not overcome, and relativism wins, because nothing manages to attract, to magnetize my whole “I.” This once again tells us what attention to reality is needed, what an entreaty to Christ must be ours: that He make Himself so present in the flesh. We can reduce John and Andrew to an evocation from the past, and not make them the criterion for judging our experience now. With the use of the Gospel episode we have seen, Fr. Giussani draws John and Andrew out of the possible sentimental reduction, making them the criterion for acknowledging the victory over relativism. It is beginning to be this way for some people: “Dear Julián: Be patient; every so often I just can’t help writing to you, since I can’t speak with you personally. When I encountered my friend just back from the last International Assembly of Responsibles, I believe I understood what the wife of Andrew and his brother Simon saw on his return from having met Jesus. I don’t remember a word of what my friend said (also because he couldn’t manage to put it into words), but I saw his eyes, his heart, and I waited anxiously for the September Tracce with its precious supplement to arrive by post. Only this evening did I finally lay hands on it. On page 8, I froze. You say [actually, it is Fr. Giussani who says it]: ‘When did we seriously think of Him, with our heart, in this last month, in the last three months, from October until now? Never.’ Forgive me, but from my heart surged the answer, ‘Always!’ I couldn’t even breathe if I did not meet Him every day in that way. That’s the way it is; I can’t live without it happening again to me in this way every day. I thank you from the heart because the work done with you this year, following you so closely I can hear you breath physically, has made me capable of never giving up, of breaking through every circumstance of life, beautiful or ugly, positive or negative, and of being moved just by the amazement at such evidence, totally a gift, totally gratuitous. I want to say that He is here, and is always here, here in the luminosity of the sun and in the insidious rain; here in the blackest black of a dark night; He is always a living relationship, and when there isn’t a relationship of two, it is never because He is the one absent.”
Whatever form through which it happens now, the victory over relativism will always have as criterion that unique attachment to Christ present that John and Andrew document for ever and that can never be reduced to our analysis, much less to a comment or a pure emotion. The signs of these reductions are irritation and complaint. The alternative to irritation and complaint is life as memory: “Living is the memory of Me!” For this reason, Fr. Giussani continues, “For this daily battle against the logic of power, for this daily victory over the apparent and the ephemeral, to affirm this presence that constitutes things in their destiny that is Christ, what personal movement is needed! It is the retaliation of the person against the alienation of power. What personal movement!” (L. Giussani, L’io rinasce in un incontro [The I Is Reborn in an Encounter] op. cit., p. 194). This personal movement is conversion.
Friends, we have to decide what to be when we grow up: whether we will continue to settle for “second choices” as the Pope described them to British youth (money, career, etc.), continuing to let ourselves go, without ever seriously taking a position before Christ; or if we will belong to Him. The problem for many of us is that we are already grown up and time is short. For this reason, at the beginning of the year, my wish for you is that you decide, ask, beg to belong to Him, to yield to His attraction. In this way, we can see the defeat of relativism happen in us. The important thing is that we not settle for anything less than Him, like the tenth leper. Thank God that there are increasingly more people among us who no longer settle for healing, or for the good companionship of the other nine: just like the tenth, they want Him! True companionship is made up of “tenth lepers,” people like the tenth leper. This is our responsibility; it depends on us. In this sense, personal work and responsibility for the others coincide. This is why Fr. Giussani’s sentence, “Responsibility is conversion of the ‘I’ to the present event,” summarizes what awaits us: we cannot contribute to the victory over relativism if we ourselves do not first make the journey. If we accompany each other in this, we can become a presence, a different presence in society, showing the truth of what the Pope says and witnesses to. Each of us has to be well aware of the responsibility before God, of the work we are called to do, in order to witness to Him in whatever sphere we are. As a prisoner testified to us: “Looking at myself today, I am aware that in freeing myself from stereotypes and social and cultural cages, I enter into a new reality. This beauty is unique, unrepeatable.”
HOMILY - HOLY MASS
The simplest sign that Christianity is an event and not an ideology is precisely the gesture we are celebrating, and the extent to which ideology grows in us or impacts us is seen in the fact that often we think that this gesture is an addition to the important one, the Word. Instead, the Church constantly challenges this way we reduce Christianity, inviting us to participate in an event, the event of His presence now, which is this eucharistic gesture, where the Word is proposed anew, now, with all Its power within this event of His presence that we will see happen in the change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This is not an ideology–it is an event. It is within this event that we can understand all the importance of the call we have made to conversion. He, present in our midst, contemporaneous with us, calls us to conversion through the readings we have just listened to (Am 6:1.4-7 and 1 Tim 6:11-16;) and that speak of the importance of the call to conversion. We can be here–as the prophet Amos says–carefree and sure, without truly understanding that the problem of problems is the relationship of life with the Mystery, like the man in the parable, who lived entirely distracted, absorbed by other things, but–as St. Paul said to us–there is One who calls us: “Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life,” because this is the question, friends, as the Mystery calls us anew and many times. But it happens to us as it did with that rich man in the Gospel we listened to (Lk 16:19-31), who, as soon as he arrived on the other shore and realized the truth, the eternal importance of life, immediately felt the urgency to help those he loved, his family, and what did he think of asking? “I beg you, father, send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.” But Abraham answered, “They have Moses and the prophets.” And the rich man: “Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Abraham answered, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”