The Event that is Present

Notes from the interventions of Giancarlo Cesana and Julián Carrón at the Annual Opening Day for the Adults of Communion and Liberation of Lombardy, Milan, October 1, 2005.
Luigi Giussani

Many points arose in the reflection of the responsibles of the diocese and the region, in preparation for this Annual Opening Day. They can, however, be summed up in two considerations, which are also fundamental needs or questions.
1. The first is that we see that frequently–not only for others, but even for ourselves–the presence of Christians in the environment (whether work, parish or neighborhood) is dispersed. That is to say, it is lived as a personal commitment, perhaps even an intense commitment, of thought and witness, but this is not enough. It is not enough for the ones living it, or for those seeing it. It is not convincing, because that fundamental aspect that is the mark of a Christian presence, is missing–a tangible unity. The Christian presence is understood from the fact that we are united, not that we are more intelligent, better, more analytical, more committed, more moral, more decided, more everything. So what is lacking is this tangible unity–being together not simply on certain occasions, or out of politeness or “refinement,” but as a systematic support to a friendship guided toward destiny, as Fr. Giussani defined our Movement: “A friendship guided toward destiny.”
We held our Spiritual Exercises with the title, “Hope Does Not Disappoint.” As Alberto Bonfanti said (I quote the names of those who spoke, even if they are unknown to most of us, simply in order to say that the Movement is not a series of ideas; the Movement is people), “The physical place of hope is the tangible unity as a confirmation of the love God gives us, through witness and mutual support.” It is the certainty of being neighbors.
Unity, then, not an ideological unity (we are not together for ideas)… Our unity is an affective unity, able to acknowledge and embrace forever those who are given to us as companions, whoever they are, because our companions, the companionship we are given, the friendship we are given is the unforeseen, positive, and vital manifestation of the Mystery of Christ. There is no other way to know Christ.
2. This leads to the second consideration, which I believe is particularly important after Fr. Giussani’s death. It concerns the need that what guides our life, what our life feels as a reference point, as its constitutive factor, be not the application and the mechanical development of a theory or an organization, however intelligent the theory and organization might be, but involvement in an event–that unforeseen event I just spoke of–which cannot be that of a people if it is not first of all personal and familiar; in other words, a daily event, tied up with everyday life. This unforeseen manifests itself in what we feel as the most foreseen thing, the most normal; it is an event that is exceptional precisely because it manifests itself in day-to-day things, which then are surprisingly transfigured, deeply changed. Our daily reality and relationships become fascinating not when they are all of a sudden transformed according to our dreams (this happiness lasts only a moment), but when they are perceived in the depth of their meaning, of their being forever the sign of our life’s salvation. This is the event; this depth within reality is the event, this mysterious depth that changes reality is the event. “Reality is Christ,” as my wife wrote in her diary, quoting St. Paul.
“For those who took part in it,” Richard from Peschiera wrote, “the Meeting was an exercise in watching and listening.” Watching and listening is what we are called to do, first of all, to do in the sense of doing, of working; our life’s work is to learn to watch and listen, if we want the encounter–the encounter with others and with Christ, who is their depth–to be, as Romeo Astori said, immediate, and not mediated by calculations or politics, whether clerical or lay. (In a meeting with university students, Fr. Giussani said, “When you look at your girl, that girl you love, what is she made of, in the end? In the end, what constitutes her, what makes her unique? Christ!”)
As Cardinal Ratzinger said in the introduction to the first volume of the History of Communion and Liberation, “Identity is not produced by discussion [that is, what I am and what you are is not the product of a discussion between us], but is its presupposition and so the truth is not produced by discussion [it precedes discussion, it precedes our efforts], and it is not to be created in discussion, but rather discovered [acknowledged, yes, through our efforts].” Our effort is to find, not to create; our work is to find. This is the only possibility of dialogue even for us. Today’s meeting is an invitation to this work, to the ongoing change we are called to, so as to discover–as it was repeated at the Assembly of the Responsibles of CL this summer, and reported in Traces–that “Something within something”–“reality is Christ.”
Our being here today is an invitation to this work: a work of passion, of dedication and of prayer that our judgment, that is, the way we look at ourselves and the whole of reality, be not a cold definition, but an act of charity that grows in time, because everything grows in time.

The origin of the tangible unity (the first point) is an event (the second point); I’ll begin from this second point.
As Cesana said just now, since the event is unforeseen, what attention is needed in order to spot it and let oneself be struck by it! In this moment of our history, we should be particularly on the watch for the unexpected.
After Fr. Giussani’s death, each one of us asks himself this question: “Now what will happen ‘without’ Fr. Giussani?” We are all convinced that our being together was not the outcome of a clever organization, and it can’t be the outcome of the development of a discourse. We are convinced that the only possibility for this history to go on, and draw us along with it, is only this: that what happened in our encounter with Fr. Giussani and the history born from him should go on happening, a present event, present here and now. Otherwise, we would have to be content with nostalgia for him until time has him fade into the distance and forgetfulness takes hold of us. We can’t live for the past, on interest from the past; we need something present, and we know we are so fragile that we need a presence that is so constant, so permanent amongst us as to pick us up continually, almost every instant. So a discourse is of no use; the past is not enough. I need something today, now, to pick me up again.
So what is happening amongst us? What has happened since Fr. Giussani left us? My invitation is to watch, as we heard just now. To watch what? To watch what happens, because no reflection can take the place of the event. And what has happened? Let’s make a list of the facts we have all taken part in. Think of the Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity (I don’t need to say more about that because we were all witnesses); then, this summer, the Exercises of the Memores Domini; the Rimini Meeting, at which many of you witnessed the spectacle of beauty and unity we lived there together; and the International Assembly of the Responsibles, after which one of you sent me this letter: “Dear Julián: I write to you with the extraordinary days we spent at La Thuile at the International Assembly still before my eyes. Full of gratitude and surprise, I saw an irresistible desire for fulfillment arise in me. The days of the Assembly were so full of intensity that I cannot but desire that this density of life go on as I get on with day-to-day life. When you experience “something more,” how can you break off with it, or remain indifferent, or not ask that it happen again every instant and, above all, that we recognize it, remain attached to this question without going away before it shows itself?” It is this event that went on during the Priests’ Retreat, in the CLU Equipe, and in the GS Equipe, not to speak of all the witnesses during the vacations of the various communities and Fraternity groups. As I was told by a priest who came from a mission abroad, after visiting several groups on vacation, “There is a new breath of air blowing amongst us.”
Everyone can see, not what I answer, or what Giancarlo answers to the question, but what He who is amongst us is answering. “This is the work of the Lord, a marvel in our eyes” (Ps 117).
This is why we need to watch. Who would have imagined it? Who would ever have imagined that after Fr. Giussani’s death we would have had before our eyes all that we have now? All we have lived together has one protagonist: the true protagonist of this is Christ present amongst us.
Try to watch, dear friends. Let us ask our Lady to bring us out of the distraction into which we usually fall, to look at what is happening. Try looking at it and then tell me if you can fail to be moved by what is happening.
This makes us perceive more about the way Fr. Giussani is present, because it is impossible to look at all these things without thinking of him, of how he goes on “working” amongst us, now, in a more effective way than he did before. From heaven, he goes on making Christ present, witnessing to Him. He is at work up above no less than he was when we saw him amongst us.
Are we seeing visions? This morning it came to my mind what must have happened to the disciples after Pentecost. They didn’t see Christ any more, but what an imposing presence they felt, thanks to the power of the Spirit, that made Christ more theirs, for each one of them, more intensely theirs! It’s the same for us now, more ours, more and more ours. Where does this energy come from, this intensity of Christ’s presence, if not from Fr. Giussani’s continuous intercession for us?
This Presence amongst us does not happen only in these extraordinary, exceptional moments, where His presence imposes itself so intensely. There are witnesses of how this Presence accompanies and transfigures the daily life of so many of us, even in the most complicated moments of life.
Recently, two friends of ours lost their son in a motorcycle accident, and before this total impotence that such an event makes one feel, the father, in the midst of this immense pain, cannot but acknowledge that in this circumstance something much greater became evident, even more evident, something called Christ. In order to recognize Him, he said, you have to “look at reality for what it is without inserting ifs and buts. This is why we put a phrase from Fr. Giussani on Andrea’s memorial card, which ends, ‘Now you are near us in a different way, but infinitely more than before. And you look at us with the same pity and in the same way as Him in whom you are.’”
It is the same look that one of you discovers in a friend present who looks at him in this way and makes him ask, “Who are you who love me despite my evil? Who are you who that day looked at me and loved me as I would never have thought possible before? Who unexpectedly called me and preferred me like this? To whom do you belong? Who constitutes you? I cannot but repeat ‘you,’ say ‘you,’ but more deeply, with the desire that it be more conscious, because I am responsible for this great gift you have given me of having perceived the tenderness of the Mystery toward me, the eyes, the look of a lover of my life. And when you have received a grace like this, you cannot go back, because you would have to suppress your own heart and the nostalgia that comes.” This is a look that is present, a look, Fr. Giussani used to say, that gives form to the look, and that we can recognize now amongst us.
The mother of the boy who died in the accident, Antonio’s wife, of whom I spoke earlier, wrote, “My heart, thanks to the grace of God, has never been in despair or at a loss [in this tragedy], but despite the immense pain, has been in deep peace. I was surprised at this [this is the word–surprise–because who could say such a thing?], as a fact that astounded me and then, afterward, I came to know, those who were close to us. I was sure that my son had reached his fulfillment and was looking at the face of that Mystery which draws us and fascinates us all [for a mother to be so sure that her son is now in that fullness and is looking at the face of that Mystery whose fascination we can only glimpse faintly, is truly something out of this world]. My son has literally regenerated us; we see it in the different way we treat each other, and the deep change it provoked in me and in my husband in the way we look at each other. Realizing that, in spite of death, something positive was happening, made us certain and free to communicate to everyone the reasons for our faith. The only task I had for thanking the Lord for not letting death prevail in our life was that of witnessing to Him. I had often heard repeated that only a great joy can make us His witnesses, and then I realized that that was what was happening to me. It is absurd to be able to feel peace and serenity; I am ashamed to pronounce these words before the death of my son. Never, as in this period, have we realized, in the facts that happened, that what we have encountered is true for us, as a human answer to every situation, and is so for all our friends, whether Christians or not. This is already the hundredfold here on earth, as I said to my husband. Our friendship has been an immense comfort; not just a comfort, but a companionship. We realized in a tangible way that we are not alone on the journey of discovering and living the meaning of our Destiny and of our life. So I cannot but thank the Lord for the great gift He gave me in having me meet the experience of the Movement thirty years ago. In these years, many things happened, but all of them served to bring me to this appointment with this human position, a human position that I would not have had if I had not met the experience of the Movement. It is not that the other questions have vanished–they have become even more pressing–but that now my certainty that the Lord has won, making all things new, is greater. And the question has really taken up the form of prayer. What has happened to us in these two months has made the Mystery more familiar to us.”
This is the certainty that overcomes every temptation of nihilism, when nothingness seems to be knocking at our door so loudly, like death. How imposing His presence needs to be if nothingness and despair are not to win definitively!
Perhaps it’s simple. One of our friends at the university told us that her aunt had died, and her grandfather (the father of the aunt in question) told her, “See, Alessandra, Jesus is not simply good, but very good!” He said this before the coffin of his daughter, and then added, “You have studied a lot, but I learned what is important going to the fields and watching my donkey: the law of life is obedience. In any case, life is simple! You know why? Because it is given.”
It is enough to welcome this gift, to be ready to welcome the way in which it is given us. This is why He has begun, with each one of us, this fight for our destiny, for our good, as witnessed by another person involved in this fight: “I felt a certain malaise, and was telling everyone, ‘I am tired,’ without giving further explanation. Then I began to feel everything as a burden. When I would go to see a friend I could not look her in the face, because she would ask me, ‘How are you?’ I would get angry and say, ‘I’m okay, I have nothing.’ And in the beginning it was true, that is, I had not realized I was dissatisfied and weighed down. Moreover, there was no reason for my being like that. This fact of slipping into formalism and dissatisfaction without noticing it has always happened to me. For a long time, I didn’t do anything about it except wait for it to pass, without judging it. In fact, no one had ever put me on the spot by asking me, ‘How are you?’ as my friend did. Only this time I finally understood what it means: that I was lacking Jesus, Jesus Himself, the concrete Jesus, the one who fills the heart. For if He was not there, or if my heart was not made for Him, then I would not have been so dissatisfied and irritated. I discovered that He is a person so concrete that you miss Him when He is not there! Like I miss a friend of mine who has left for the missions… I also discovered what St. Augustine meant when he said that our heart is restless until it rests in Him, because until I was helped to say, ‘You are the one I need, You are the one making Yourself felt in this dissatisfaction,’ I couldn’t be calm. At a certain point, I could not just say, ‘I have too much to do.’ Then I thought that this malaise that I had ‘cursed,’ because it made me suffer, is, in the end, a way Jesus has kept a hold on me; thanks to my friends, He doesn’t let go of me in this unease. I had never felt this so much on my own skin–and when someone asks you, ‘How are you?’, it reawakens the drama–and I felt rage and rebellion inside me, saying to myself, ‘Enough of this, I want to be left in peace, I want to be free to feel bad!’ But this friend of mine kept annoying me; through her it was really Jesus who was shaking me, and I was saying, ‘Why don’t you leave me alone?’ For a moment, I even thought of going away, but it was clear that it was a matter between Him and me; things would not be solved by moving somewhere else. By now, I am marked by the encounter with Him. I can even run away, but where? He, or His lack, is always with me. One part of me was asking continually, ‘What is it You want?’ and another part of me was saying, “No, it is not enough for me to be merely content; I want to be happy.’ Then something a friend had said to me came back, that vocation is saying, ‘Jesus, You have looked at me and I belong to You.’ It’s true, after I was looked at by Him, and I saw that look, I can no longer be myself if I break away from Him. This can be said with gratitude, or with resentment, as I did the other evening. And I felt myself cut up saying it, because it was an evidence, but I wanted to say, ‘No!’ just like a child being naughty. I don’t know if I exaggerated, but while I was fighting between giving in and refusing this belonging, I had the impression that it was a crucial, vital moment, that I could perhaps stay in the Movement, and do everything as before, but if I didn’t reach the point of saying, ‘You. Here I am, take me back,’ I would have been lost all the same. I don’t know if I’m being clear. I was struck, too, to think that I could dig in my heels and say no, that in the end no one could force me to give in. So I just said, ‘If I belong to You, take care of me. Alone, I cannot give in and say, “Here I am.”’ It was the most I could do. Then I thought it was the right time to see if the sacraments are really a power from on high, and not mine. The following morning, I went to Confession and Communion. In the afternoon, with a huge effort, I told my friend, ‘You were right. I was lost. But I want my “I” to live. It’s not true that I don’t care.’ The other evening, I decided for happiness once more; what interests me more than everything is that my ‘I’ should live. It has been dramatic and painful like never before and I am amazed and thankful for the fact that God made me feel His lack so ‘unbearable,’ and that He put me near this friend; if not, who knows if and when I would have come to my senses. I was also very struck to see how much you can go on stubbornly saying no when you have all the reasons for saying, ‘I am a poor wretch, keep me with You.’ The fact that Jesus has conquered me again is something great! I understood how it is really vital to do the work you say, and how a companionship to support me in this is indispensable. This is what Communion and Liberation means; this is the friendship of that friend, Jesus, who picks me up and with patience and sacrifice provokes my freedom and waits and prays for my freedom to say yes.”
This drama is familiar for us because it is the drama of our lives, between giving in to that Presence and resisting. The work to be done is nothing but this. In the end, it’s simple: put nothing before this Presence. It is enough to give in to His powerful attraction, it is enough to have the smallest desire for happiness, an instant of tenderness, of sympathy for ourselves.
It is a work to be done, my friends, because often, as we see, the fog rolls in. The other evening, with a group of lawyers, I gave this example: How many times has it happened to you, wife and husband, to be in the kitchen alongside each other and feel yourselves miles apart? Not that you are physically distant, but you feel the other to be very far away, because the heaviness, the fog, the stupidities of life get between us. Imagine if that person who had once fascinated you, and now seems so distant, were to have a heart attack–the fog would disappear at once. And I said to them, “Which is it to be, a heart attack, or an education?” In other words, either we help each other to pass through this fog that gets between us–that comes between what we see and the reality behind it–in such a way as to be struck and attracted by Christ and by the other standing before us, or all the rest prevails.
This is why, with the re-publication in Italy of The Risk of Education, this year we will take up again the theme of education as introduction to reality as a whole, that is, to the Mystery, the Mystery of things, because, as Fr. Giussani told us, if there were an education of the people (amongst us, too), everyone would be better off. So the work is this personal initiative, of each one of us, to get through the fog, an initiative to dispel the fog that is gathering, an initiative against this inability to see what is before us, an initiative for discovering that “Something within something” that we spoke of at La Thuile.
As a teacher said to her students, struck by what she had heard from a girl from Florence, “That girl from Florence struck me; you will read her experience today. Moved by the two-day meeting of the Responsibles, she looked for the ‘Something within something’ in rather negative circumstances. The same thing happened to me as I was at home ill. Who would have expected to get influenza in September? This objectively negative experience pushed me to ask myself every morning–as I awoke, with a headache, earache and pain in the joints–what was this ‘Something within something’? It was there present, forcing me to desire to get well so as to go back to school. I think desire is the fundamental word. I desire to start off again looking, in day-to-day life, for that Something that makes it fascinating and full of novelty. I hope you will help me in this.”
This is what interests us: to look, in day-to-day life, for that Something that makes it fascinating for you and full of novelty. This is the origin of the tangible unity in the environment; this is what makes us truly free–an attachment for Christ so great that it makes us free to be ourselves in any place whatever, and therefore recognize among us the belonging to this unique Presence that has drawn us all along.
This is why being together is only the outcome of following–every one of us–this Presence, of this giving in to the attraction of this Presence. So, following is the origin of a lived communion, and it’s worth our while, because without a companionship in reality, as the witnesses I read testify, we cannot manage. We can expose ourselves in the environment precisely because of this victory of Christ amongst us, to which the visible unity is a witness like nothing else.
We have before us a year full of ecclesial, cultural and political events. Our contribution to the good of all will be that of being ourselves, with all we have encountered and seen, with the novelty we carry.