As we begin this new year, let us ask for the power of the Spirit, aware of the need we have, aware of our boundless frailty.
Hymn: Come Holy Spirit
We are all still feeling the effect of the Pope’s address in Regensburg, with the often violent protests that it aroused, both among Islamic fundamentalists and among the liberals of the New York Times, as well as the “politically correct politicians” of Europe, including the Italian Parliament, who refused him their solidarity. As I heard Carrón say, “Freedom is a rare commodity” (this can be the case even amongst us), and we are justly indignant at this. However, we should not forget, we cannot fail to keep sufficiently in mind that we have been at the Rimini Meeting this year that was dedicated to the question of reason, the same central theme developed by the Pope, in the course of which we said that reason needs God, the Infinite, because human reason is God’s creative intelligence. Without faith, reason does not subsist, and, vice-versa, faith must give reasons for itself.
The reason the Pope’s address aroused such discontent–both among the “anti-democrats” and the “super-democrats”–is that the Pope told the anti-democrats that you cannot do what you like with God, while to the super-democrats he said that God has to do with everything. If God has to do with reason, then He has to do with everything–with money, with politics, with culture, with everyday interests.
Now, reason can certainly be explained in words, but above all it is documented and can be seen in a life more in tune with reality, like that which struck the managers of our friend Ugo’s firm. Here I quote the first of a series of testimonies at the Diocesan Diaconia, during which we prepared what I am saying. These managers, whom he invited to the Meeting, were taken aback by the humanity, the experience, the way of being that they saw there. Reason is documented as relationship with reality, as a particular way of living that we take for granted. Now the first thing we should not take for granted is what we are. As Fr. Giussani says in From Utopia to a Presence,1 we run a great risk of not being original, but reactive, as if what happens suddenly awakens us from an anesthetic. In other words, we are absent minded until something suddenly happens that brings us to our senses; and we are not the ones to bring about the change, but what happens brings about the change. Now, a purely reactive Christianity–Tiziana said–is an anesthetic, that anesthetizes the wound we have inside us, the urgent question that made us followers of Christ, followers of the Church and of the Movement, followers of the humanity with which God got involved with us. God got involved with our humanity so as to help us–as Tiziana said again–not to cheat with our heart, not to let us get anesthetized, not to let us “turn away,” not to let anyone take away what we are entitled to–to be protagonists in the world in which we live; not to cheat with the positive promise of life, despite all the difficulties of life and of our heart.
As Karl Popper, the philosopher of science, said, when discussing the theory of the experimental method based on the pure observation of phenomena: observation is not enough for the progress of science. There are people who observe and see nothing; they don’t see what happens. Jesus says the same thing in the Gospel, when He speaks of the rich man who asked to send Lazarus back from the dead so that his brothers could have the chance to change their lives on seeing someone coming back from the dead. “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, then they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”2 So there are people who observe and see nothing. An intuition is needed, a human genius (Carrón spoke of this at the Responsibles’ International Assembly3) that sees what is before the (apparently blind) eyes of everyone. A person of genius, Fr. Giussani always told us, is the one who sees and makes others see what is there, but that others cannot see.
We need humanity, that humanity that comes if we “‘learn Christ’” (Eph 4:20)–as the Pope said at the Audience on September 6th: “… therefore, not only and not so much to listen to his teachings and words as rather to know him in person, … for he is not only a Teacher but a Friend, indeed, a Brother.”
An atheist girl told our friend Claudio, “What I desire most is humanity,” and a taxi-driver, more prosaically said, “I like your Christianity because it is a Christianity that makes me feel better,” that is to say, that makes you a man. In the same audience, the Pope observed, “It should not be forgotten that according to what Mark writes, Jesus chose the Twelve primarily ‘to be with him’ (Mk 3:14).”
The aim of the Movement is to have us stay with Jesus. We ourselves, through our friendship, need to stay with Jesus, not adapting to each other with deferential tolerance and therefore political calculation (because deferential tolerance is a political ruse; it convinces nobody), but in a continuous comparison of our life, as Cesare said, that makes us look beyond what happens and not to what we already have in mind, what we think should happen, as Fr. Mauro added.
Raffaello said that Christianity is not the good and indisputable religious inspiration of those who then pick and choose what they want from life, like in a supermarket–first of all, because life is not a supermarket, but above all because Christianity is a judgment full of affection and mercy, and precisely for this reason it is an invitation to change (we cannot stay together without changing) or, more correctly, to use the Christian expression, to be converted. In order to support us in our frailty, God proposes just this: to be together. He proposes a tangible unity with the current of His friendship in the world–the Church, the current of God’s friendship in the world.
There is one last difficulty that constitutes the central core of the question I leave to Carrón. Why is it, as Michele observed, “that after many years of Christian life–at times, not all that rarely–in us adults instead of begging or entreaty, what grows more is pretension?” And Fabio asked, “Why is it that while remembering the phrase of Fr. Giussani’s mother that he so often repeated, we often say, ‘What a beautiful world!’ and yet find it so hard to say, ‘How great God is!’?”–we find it so hard to acknowledge that it’s not we who have created the world, and that everything is given us.
In this connection, it is worthwhile quoting a short piece by Oriana Fallaci from her book Un Uomo (A Man), that Fr. Giussani also cited: “The bitter discovery that God does not exist [she was an atheist] has killed the word destiny. But to deny destiny is arrogance; to affirm that we are the only maker of our existence is madness–if you deny destiny, life becomes a series of lost chances, a grieving over what has not been and could have been, remorse for what we haven’t done and could have done, and we waste the present making it another lost chance.”4
So there is not only hesitation in saying, “How great God is!” but even in saying, “What a beautiful world!” We are asked to say this every day, from the moment we get up, because how can you start your day without loving the world? We need God; we need His friendship.
We are here today seeking the tension of this begging.
A doctoral student in one of America’s finest universities told me what happened to him recently. He got the best grades of all the students because of the way he went about his work. The professor who was giving him his results, normally reluctant to express his congratulations, told him that after many years of teaching he had never seen marks so high. Many of his colleagues would have literally jumped with joy at such a fact, but he was totally unmoved, as if the news was unable to take hold of his whole “I,” because of a difficult moment he was going though. His professor was so surprised that he asked him if he was alright. As I was listening to him, I thought of Jesus’ phrase: “What use is it for a man to gain the whole world, if he then loses or ruins himself?”5 It’s right here, in cases like this, that life appears in all its thirst for an answer; here is truly revealed the nature of the “I,” of the heart, which is need for totality. “Quid animo satis?”6 This morning, as I remembered the episode, I thought, “Who are You, Christ, who are You who, if You are not here, all the rest, even the whole world, is not enough?” Because Christ is not something added, not even the most important thing. He is something else again, the cornerstone, the keystone in which you find that correspondence that makes life worth living.
That episode helps us understand truly what life is all about, what the drama of life is–the options are Christ present, capable of capturing our whole heart, or nothingness, because nothing is capable of capturing it, nothing corresponds like Christ. This is how we understand the need we have inside–what we call “reason.” Reason is not something abstract, it is this need for global meaning that we have inside us, so much so that we can gain the whole world and not be satisfied.
If reason is not an intellectual question, but this need for global meaning that we have inside us, then the discussion aroused by the Pope in Regensburg is not a question for experts (philosophers, thinkers, opinion makers), but something that affects everyone and that affects everyday life. Over the last few weeks I kept thinking of something I have repeated a number of times: we have done something really fine, defending the Pope from the attacks against him and distributing his address. Lots of people were grateful for this gesture, with the thousands of copies offered in the universities, in various environments and in the parishes. We found the vast majority of people keen to accept the leaflets, and not a few came back to ask for more copies. This battle is absolutely in line with our history, because Fr. Giussani started off in the Berchet High School with this fight in defense of reason, this need for global meaning that constitutes us.
But it is not enough to have made this fine gesture, though we will go on making it. We cannot get off so lightly, because the Pope’s indication is something that affects us first; it’s an indication for us. For we cannot succumb to this paradox–defending a just conception of reason and then, in day-to-day life, go on using another, using a conception in contrast with that which the Pope defended, a rationalistic conception of reason, in contrast with the one we have defended.
That this is not merely a possibility can be seen in what was said earlier–that it is often easy for us to say, “What a beautiful world,” but we find it hard to say, “How great God is!” This shows that we often use our reason just like everyone else. You have only to ask yourself when was the last time you said, “How great God is!” when looking at some part of reality (not while doing meditation or saying Morning Prayer!). When was it that, on looking at some aspect of reality, or while taking part in some event or gesture, you didn’t stop short at appearances, but were astonished at Him who generated it. Why do we say, “What a beautiful world,” detached from, “How great God is!”? It is a use of reason that stops at appearances; it is a rationalistic use of reason. It’s not that we never say, “How great God is!” but we say it as something stuck onto reality, not a way of looking at reality.
So, we cannot merely defend the Pope, limiting ourselves to giving out copies of his address; we defend the Pope by following him–by using reason according to its true nature as need for global meaning. This is what can make us and others understand the importance of what the Pope said.
What difference is there between living reason according to its nature and living it in a rationalistic way? We have to understand the difference, otherwise, as I was saying, though we defend the proper conception of reason, we actually live reason like everyone else. The difference can be seen in the way we live things and circumstances. Often, while defending the proper conception of reason, we drown in reality, we suffocate in our prison, the prison of the circumstances, of our job, of our family, like everyone else, and so we don’t really defend the Pope. True defense of the Pope is witnessing to everyone, first and foremost to ourselves, that a true use of reason makes life different, more in keeping with reality; it makes us breathe in reality, because it corresponds to the needs of our heart.
In evidence of this, I’ll read you a letter: “I have been married for a year and I am expecting a baby toward the end of November. I have been off work since August and as a consequence the rhythms of life have completely changed. The days seem more and more empty, not just of things to do, but–what I find hardest–empty of meaning, too [even if you are home instead of at work, you are need for meaning]. Often I get up in the morning already fed up with a day that promises to be sterile, arid, and often boring inside these four walls. The only thing left to occupy me is the course of specialization in education, which couldn’t be more frustrating. So I have little to do, and what little there is annoys me. I often reach the end of the day empty and sad. What surprised me is that my husband has been living with the same feeling of sadness and sterility for some time, since he lost enthusiasm for his job, because the circumstances have changed and he has no longer any taste for what he does from morning to night. How painful it is to realize that it took so little for us no longer to feel that fullness that the Movement had brought into our life! This shows that the problem lies not in what we do, whether it be little or much, since the outcome is the same–a deep-seated dissatisfaction. We know that the problem is not primarily to try to change the circumstances, but to answer the questions that this period has brought out dramatically: who or what can fill my day? [This is reason, this is the need we carry inside us.] Where am I going, and with whom? Translated, this means: what do we mean when we speak of living reality intensely in day-to-day circumstances, however good or bad they may be? In view of the Opening Day, I wanted to ask you these questions.”
We cannot drown in the circumstances. This letter was not written by an outsider, but by one of us. Perhaps many of us identify with it, though the particular circumstances may differ. This makes us understand why it’s not enough for us to defend the Pope; rather, the problem the Pope brought up touches us first of all.
This is why last year we addressed the question of education. We are the ones who need to be educated, to be introduced to reality as a whole. And I hope that we don’t confuse this with being experts in the theory of education, even if it be Fr. Giussani’s theory, because what we need cannot be reduced to this. We need people who are educated to live reality in its wholeness, people who are able to introduce us–by sharing their life–to the sense, the meaning of reality. This is what we set as the theme for the Rimini Meeting: reason is need for the infinite. So it is not enough just to switch “cells,” to use Kafka’s expression again,7 or to wait for the circumstances to change–these will always be limited. “Reason is need for the infinite and it culminates in the sigh and the presentiment that this infinite be manifested.” Reason cannot be satisfied by what it sees, the beauty of the world; it is need for something else, for the infinite, for the greatness of God, without which it cannot subsist. We find this sigh, this longing inside us, this human urge, this intuition that the infinite should reveal itself.
We still have to complete this journey; we can see this in the difficulty we have in using reason in a proper way. But we have a whole year ahead of us! The difficulty our friend spoke of in that synthetic phrase (“It’s easy for us to say, ‘What a beautiful world!’, and yet we find it hard to say, ‘How great God is!’”), is documented in many circumstances.
This summer, we invited Sotoo, a friend of ours, to the Responsibles’ International Assembly in La Thuile (as you can read in Traces).8 We were all there listening to him and, as he came to the end of his witness, he acknowledged that, for him, the place he was in at that moment was like heaven. I was asking myself how many, before the very same thing, have discovered in themselves the same experience that he has. Many people told me they were moved that day, so at the end of the assembly I asked, “Many of you have told me you were moved, but how many of you have said ‘You’ to Christ?” It’s the same thing. We can say “What a beautiful world!” or, “It’s great to be together,” to the point of being moved, but how many reach the point of saying, “You,” of saying His name?
The day before yesterday, I was invited by a group of GS and the same thing happened. They, too, had defended the Pope, but one of them said, “But I drown in my chemistry lessons.” It’s the same thing again.
Now, how can we get out of this difficulty, the difficulty we have in acknowledging Him present–in other words, in using reason according to its nature as the capacity to become aware of reality in all its factors? Without this, unless we acknowledge it, unless we get to the point of saying “You,” we don’t breathe. So how can we learn to use reason properly? We don’t need a strategy, we don’t need to attend the philosophy faculty. The Pope stated clearly what the aim of his address at Regensburg was. Here are his words: “… broadening our concept of reason and its application.” How is this broadening of reason possible?
Listen to what Fr. Giussani says in the Preface of At the Origin of the Christian Claim: “What makes us grow and broadens our mind is not abstract reasoning [so it’s not an abstract strategy that broadens the mind, that makes reason expand], but finding in humanity a moment when the truth is attained and uttered.” It is a fullness of humanity before our eyes. Fr. Giussani goes on, “This is the great inversion of method that marks the passage from the religious sense to faith–no longer a search full of unknowns, but surprise at a fact that has happened within the history of mankind.9
It is only surprise at a fact that is able to broaden our reason. It is an event that educates us; it is taking part in an event that is constantly able to take us beyond our own measure. It is because we experience the Mystery present that we use reason according to the nature of the Mystery, as the Pope said. But this requires not only the religious sense, but faith, too; a present event is required.
What educates us is an event. It is fundamental to help each other to understand this. So our meetings are gestures, not simply words. What broadens the mind is not an abstract argument, but taking part in an event (this is why I hope that you will not go away, but stay here for the Mass, because the Mass is part of the gesture). It is not a matter of ability or cleverness. We are poor wretches. It is only by letting ourselves be involved in a gesture as beggars, going to Communion as poor wretches, to receive strength from an Other, that we can breathe, for Christ came for this, to facilitate this use of reason, to broaden it.
“Soon afterward he journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you, arise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, ‘A great prophet has arisen in our midst,’ and ‘God has visited his people.’”10 Why do they think of God? Why can they not stop at what they see? The event before them will not let them get bogged down in their own measure. This is what facilitates the broadening of reason, to the point of recognizing God, of glorifying God.
Now this is the definitive method. In all circumstances we can verify the Christian faith, because the Christian faith is not the prolongation of Christ’s words–if there is faith, it is because the event of His presence goes on happening amongst us. Either Christianity is an event in action, or it has changed its nature–in other words, it is no longer Christianity. It’s not just a matter of using the expression, “Christianity is an event.” It is not an event because I say so, it is an event if it happens. We cannot get out of it by using formulas or labels–it is a present event.
As I have said on a number of occasions in various settings, I am really astounded at how many events have happened amongst us over the past year. But I need to acknowledge them, I need that “human genius” Fr. Giussani spoke of, and that we recalled at La Thuile, that poverty of spirit that makes us let ourselves be struck by what happens. We are often concerned with other things, and not open to accept what happens; our thoughts or our opinions seem more useful, more intelligent than what happens. But reality is stubborn and, as Pavese said, “the most resolute thought is nothing compared with what happens.”11
Here is what happens when a person is willing to be struck: “I would like to thank you because these days have been a privileged occasion for me to grasp better to whom I belong.” The writer is a university man. “When we are with you, this comes out more and more clearly. Some weeks ago, I began to study again At the Origin of the Christian Claim and I was struck by what Fr. Giussani said in the Foreword: ‘What makes us grow and broadens our mind is not abstract reasoning, but finding in humanity a moment when the truth is attained and uttered.’ This happened to me. I have grown, I went away more expert in life, in myself, not because I learned something new in the argument, but because I met someone who introduced me to this absolute novelty. Now I am more certain that the only road is this sequela, curious to discover, to know and to fall more in love with Christ, through those who, in reality, make me meet Him as a living reality. Thank you for the education you offer me–it is the only way not to succumb to nothingness.”
Here is another letter, written at the end of the CLU Équipe[CL university leaders’ meeting]: “Dear Julián, I came here expecting a change and, right from the start, I understood that the challenge you threw to us the first evening had me in mind. At dinner the first evening, and then in the introduction, you said that we were here either to go home better ‘functionaries,’ or to go home more certain that the road we have embarked on is that on which the fulfillment of our thirst for the infinite really happens. Today, as we approach the end of this Équipe, I have to admit that Christ is winning, winning because He doesn’t stop taking the initiative, He doesn’t stop calling me to acknowledge His present presence. While you were speaking to us this morning, I felt the recoil of Christ’s being present, the recoil of a Presence I can relate to in every instant. I was particularly struck by the last phrase in the assembly, when you said that in the name of Christian morality I can do the most immoral thing–not let myself be attracted by Him. I couldn’t use my nothingness as an objection, because He is. It is a miracle to be able to say this, and all my aridity was unable to oppose it. As I left, I felt that the silence was mine, profoundly mine, because I wanted nothing to be lost and to go on relating to Him. Even outside the hall, as I was speaking with my friends, I wanted to speak every word without taking my heart from His presence. Now I want every instant of my life to be silence–memory, relationship with Him.”
Why does someone want to live silence, not want to lose this relationship with Him, but want to live in memory? Only because Christ corresponds like no one else to the desire, the needs of the heart. That this goes for everyone, even those who were not at La Thuile, can be seen in this letter a girl wrote to her friend: “I rang you just to tell you this: I am re-reading Memory: Method of the Event, the text of the Responsibles’ International Assembly. I feel a total correspondence, to the point that every so often I have to take a break because I cannot hold any more. In these moments, I understand, as I was told, why Jesus revealed Himself over time–the disciples would not have supported the weight of that Presence all at once. In some moments, I can touch my limitations and God’s greatness with my hands.” Something that happens makes you touch God’s greatness with your hands. Far from just thoughts!
Another person, who wanted and attended our visit to South America, wrote to me: “Before you arrived, I asked myself many times what I wanted, after all, from your visit, what I was expecting, and the only answer I was able to give that really satisfied me was what Fr. Giussani had said in ‘It seems to me they are not looking for Christ.’ What I wanted was this. Fr. Giussani affirms, ‘If you could carry with you the content of the awareness of all the past days, of the years spent in the Memores Domini or in the “verification” or in the Movement, I don’t know if you wouldn’t feel covered with shame […] if we were to realize in that moment that we have never said “You.” [We can ask ourselves this–when was the last time we said, “You,” with all the awareness and emotion we are capable of?] Lord, You are the One I love [St. Augustine said]: “What does man desire more than the truth?” What is the truth? A man who is present, a man who is present: he cannot be squandered or washed away by the pretty and jolly appearance of the companionship of faces that should be a sign of Him! This happens when you really say “You” with all the awareness of your “I”–the more you are aware of yourself, the stronger, greater, truer, simpler and purer is your devotion to Him.’ Your simplicity, your clarity, your affection, your way of constantly challenging reality, seeking a verification in it, have truly won me over and made me understand once again the preference and the fullness of the life of Jesus, the life Jesus has us experience every day, and now there is all the desire that this beauty accompany my life and that of all my friends who have seen it.”
In this way, each one of us can become a companion for others. It is not a question of being good (and we will not be), but of letting ourselves be drawn along by His presence. This is what enables us to look at everything, even what doesn’t look nice. “After the Fraternity Exercises, we lost our third child, in the third month of pregnancy, but reality did not correspond to my desire. Where was the infallibility of the heart you spoke of? Where was I going wrong in wanting life for my child? I didn’t like being told that this had happened for the best. My demand for life and truth [reason, the need for meaning] remained unsatisfied, and I made this demand, I shouted it out, I shouted out my limitation to my friends–my Fraternity group, my School of Community group. Little by little, more and more clearly, like the first hint of the sun rising in the morning that slowly but inexorably becomes light, Christ’s face appeared to me, His presence revealed itself to me. As you said at the Exercises, ‘We must not look away and be distracted: I can look at the dead body of my father and say, after all, “Reality is Christ, there, Christ is there.”’ I had to look hard at the pain in my heart in front of this child who is no more in order to perceive that the correspondence you were speaking of is not the fulfillment of the desire that my child live, but it is beyond this, in the revealing of Christ’s face in my life. After all, no child can fulfill my heart, only Christ can do that.”12
So we understand why Fr. Giussani from the start said, as you can read in Dall’utopia alla presenza, “The problem is not the community […] but me. We don’t need something that changes my actions, but something that changes my person. What is at stake is my life vocation, a conscious, stable identity; and the stable method of life is unity in yourself and unity with others. Unity of self is found in unity with Christ. A stable and conscious identity lies in my relationship with Christ. Since ‘Where there is no temple there shall be no homes.’ This means that finding unity in yourself coincides with the maturing of your unity with Christ; and unity with the others is a consequence of this, a mere consequence of this. But unity with Christ is conditioned [as we have seen] by the way in which this Presence [becomes present] becomes tangible–by the body in which it is revealed [taking part in a gesture, in the life of the community], in other words, the life of the community in as much as it realizes the mystery of Christ. So, following the community is the method by which we increase our relationship with Christ [because Christ came precisely for this], and therefore [increasing] your own identity and the unity with the others.”13
We have to remind each other every day of the fact that is among us and motivates our unity. This is what increases our judgment, our stable consciousness, our conscious and stable identity.
“What touched me most this year, since I was not worried about defending a role, was the search for the essential. Over the years, I had always sought other people’s approval, as in a reality show, I wanted other people to see how good I was at what I was doing. Then, privately, I was dissatisfied. I lived for other things, filling the void with other things; I was never fulfilled. The friendship with Giorgio, my wife’s love for me, the mere following of the Movement this year, filled me like a glass is filled, drop by drop, and in the end I was filled to the brim and overflowed without realizing it. One of Giorgio’s latest outbursts left a phrase impressed on me: “Where is your consistence [a conscious and stable identity]: in what you do, or in What has taken hold of you?” After La Thuile, I came back wanting to live more and more what is essential and not because I want to join the Cascinazza, because what is essential for me is what happens. That is why I liked the meeting at La Thuile, because for the first time what first came to my mind was not ‘Now I am going back and I must be invited somewhere or to some Fraternity,’ but I began to want to be where I am and say, ‘Jesus, let me see You, and not close my eyes; let me acknowledge Your presence and be aware that this is why we are together. Help me to acknowledge Your presence in my life.’ I have felt a certain enthusiasm other times, over the past years, but it was merely euphoria, not a judgment. Now I can say that it is a judgment, rooted in the conception I have of myself.”
This is what broadens reason and make possible a stability, a stable, conscious identity, and this makes inter-religious dialogue possible, as the letter published in Tracce witnesses. 14The letter is from two Italian mothers who met two Chinese mothers as they were taking their children to school. They eventually became their friends and the Chinese mothers said, “We don’t know Christianity, but we sense that it is a true road, fine for our children.” (They were preparing to have them baptized.) In order to recognize what there is among us, it’s enough to be free of prejudices. As Michele, from Bologna, writes, “I was invited to Rimini for a competition in political culture for university students, organized by the Italian Mazzini Association. As I had expected, the environment proved immediately hostile, [because the advertisement said that] since men must grow without conditioning by anyone else and in particular by the Catholic Church, which shapes people’s awareness by means of their religious schools and interferes with the choices of the State. Since I was not there for an ideological battle, I wrote in my essay simply what I have learned in my experience under the guidance of the Movement–that a clear educational proposal, as well as the freedom to criticize it, is fundamental for the formation of free people. I gave the revolt of the students in France as an example of what happens if no one takes the responsibility of making a precise educational proposal. Some weeks later, something happened that I would never have expected. I was called by the organizer, who told me that I had come in first in the competition. I went at once to her house to collect the prize and I was struck when she told me that the jury (the Grandmaster of an Italian Masonic lodge was among the members) was very pleased with my essay. When I told her I was a Catholic, she was taken aback and said that it was paradoxical that such an antireligious association should have given the prize to a Catholic, of all people. Two weeks later, I gave her The Risk of Education as a gift, and she said that despite her distance from the thought of Giussani, she would read it. The reason I wrote this letter is to tell you how I found in my experience that the education Giussani gives us corresponds completely with the nature of man and his desires, so much so that a jury of that kind acknowledged my essay as the more reasonable and the more human. So I am full of gratitude because I realize that what I wrote didn’t come from my own merit.”15
Even others acknowledge this! I hope we begin to acknowledge it, too. This is the task that is waiting for us this year.
In conclusion, we have good news to announce: the Pope, Benedict XVI, has acceded to our request for a meeting with him next February 10th in the Paul VI Auditorium, Vatican City.
1 Cf. L. Giussani, Dall’utopia alla presenza [From Utopia to the Presence], Bur, Milano 2006, p. 52.
2 Lk 16:31.
3 Cf. Memory: Method of the Event, supplement to Traces Vol. 8, No. 8 (September), 2006, pp. 8-10.
4 O. Fallaci, Un uomo, Euroclub, Milano 1980, p. 151. (English edition out of print: A Man, 1980, 1981.)
5 Lk 9:25.
6 Cf. A. Gemelli, Il Francescanesimo, Edizioni O. R., Milano 1932, cap. XIII.
7 F. Kafka, The Zurau Aphorisms of Franz Kafka, to be released on December 26, 2006.
8 Cf. E. Sotoo, “A Son Coming Home” Traces, Vol. 8, No 9, (October) 2006, p. 36
9 Recent edition in Italian, p VI.
10 Lk 7:11-16.
11 Cf. “Il tormento di Pavese, prima che il gallo canti,” in La Stampa, August 8, 1990, pp. 16-17.
12 Cf. “The Infallibility of the Heart” in Traces, Vol. 8, No. 8 (September) 2006, p 6.
13 L. Giussani, Dall’utopia alla presenza, op. cit., pp. 8-9.
14 Cf. “Battesimo cinese,” in Tracce-Litterae communionis, no. 8, September 2006, pp. 10-11. (Not published in the English language edition).
15 “Vincere il premio,” in Tracce-Litterae communionis, no. 9, October 2006, pp. 12-13.
On the first Sunday of Advent, we begin the new life of the Church, a new year. A year is of great importance in life because there are 80 or 90 years in a lifetime (at best 80, and 90 for the really lucky ones1). Of these 80 or 90, 15, if not 20, are wasted, or almost, lived in distraction (for those who have met the Christian community, we could say 17 instead of 20!). So, one year is of great importance in life. And even if from one point of view it might seem artificial to divide time in this way, I think it is more intelligent than artificial to give importance to this division. The Church greatly increases this certainty because, at least in the Western world, by following the rhythms of nature and comparing them with the rhythms of Christian life (of Christian life as history and Christian life as person), in the liturgical year, marking its year with nature’s times, which so closely symbolize and mark the times of personal life and the times of historical existence, the Church carries out a true work of education.
I believe that this moment is really very important. It is important, once we recall it, more for the birth of a new awareness in us, a vigilance, than even for the words that we can hear about it. A few words, though, can help our awareness, but the whole problem lies in our awareness.
1. The incumbency of His coming
The Liturgy of the first Sunday of Advent2 is crucial in this sense. From the second chapter of the Book of Isaiah, verses 1-5: “The vision of Isaiah, son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem [a ‘vision,’ an intuition of God’s plan, ‘concerning Judah and Jerusalem,’ concerning the chosen people and its human settlement, which, unlike other human settlements, has an everlasting meaning because the settlement of the people of God is the sign, the sacrament, of the ultimate human settlement, which is heaven]. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”3
The first word that this text of Isaiah suggests is a word that must immediately determine our awareness of finality. The awareness of finality is like our self-awareness: it is fixed forever. It could form the basis for an examination of conscience for the Mass today, or for the day with its sacrifice. The awareness of finality must accompany us as our self-awareness, as awareness of what we are. For self-awareness is the awareness of something definitive, because our “I” is definitive. All the more definitive is the meaning of our “I.” And the meaning of our “I” is Jesus Christ and His mystery, so this finality regards our adhesion to Him, our adhesion according to the formula that He has decided for our life (because there is no other formula, in order to adhere to Him, there is only the formula that He has decided for our life). The awareness of finality is like the most exact symptom of true Christian self-awareness, of the self-awareness that has us perceive life as vocation.
There is a word that immediately brings to life the awareness of our finality. Without this word, finality is not alive; it can be an already-established automatism. Without the word I am about to say, finality is automatism. So, like all automatism applied to conscious life, to intelligent life, to sensitive life, to life as freedom and will, it brings rigidity. And it is a rigidity that seems not to gnaw at our consciences, when it does not lead us to mortal sin, but is a rigidity that carries no sign of Christ around the world and least of all in the “house.”4 Or, automatism brings a rigidity that, in various ways, makes us Pharisees; in other words, it tends to make our attitude the measure for others–the measure of our life, which then becomes pretension, and the measure of the goodness of others, of the value of others, of the usefulness of the house or the usefulness of the relationships. Or it leads to a Pharisaism that, in the end–before our permissiveness, before the liberties we take and that scandalize the house or scandalize relationships or cut us off from relationships, make us useless, futile, ineffective, with no fruitful relationships–makes us say, “What’s wrong anyway?” or, “What am I to do? What can I do about it, after all?” If this is not a theoretical way of justifying yourself, then it’s a way of justifying yourself to yourself, like being indignant when others dare to object to your behavior.
It is an automatism that makes all spiritual life, the life of our spirit, rigid and tasteless, with no sàpere, no taste. Or it is a pharisaic automatism that makes our pretension the measure of our life together (when we want to talk, the others have to talk, but when we want to keep ourselves to ourselves, the others have not to expect anything; we have the right to keep quiet and to talk when and how we like–with that characteristic pretension stagnating deep down in our heart, and even though we dare not admit it, the others sense it, like when they elbow us in the ribs and see our face), or that Pharisaism that justifies our behavior to ourselves, if not theoretically, then at least in practice. Without the word that the prophet Isaiah was the first to announce our finality degrades into all I have said–because I am describing you, I am describing us; and that word is that Christ, His Coming, is incumbent: the incumbency of His coming.
Words are interesting! “Incumbency” has two meanings: it can mean a duty or something that is hanging over you, something imminent. Incumbency means duty and also means imminence. I want to speak first of all about the second aspect, because it is evident that the first aspect derives from it–if something is incumbent, imminent, then it becomes a duty; it produces and imposes a duty.
The imminence of His coming, the incumbency of His coming… St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “Brothers, you know the time, it is time for you to wake from sleep, because salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far spent; the day is at hand”5–it is time for you to wake from sleep. St. Matthew’s Gospel says, “As in those days… they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Know this: if the householder had known at what hour of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”6 It is an incumbency, an imminence that has as its privileged meaning, its supreme meaning, the literal one–the incumbency and the imminence of death, because death is the Son of Man who comes, in the whole breadth of its meaning. But this not knowing when death will come, this duty to keep watch, this end of time when the Lord “will establish the mountain of his house,” the fact of not knowing the moment in which the Lord comes, clarifies or, rather, is the only way of making our awareness, all the awareness of our actions, reach out to or be determined by the final meaning.
Our every action, every moment is a step toward the Lord who is coming. So every action and every moment is the Lord who is coming, just as every action and every moment can be the last. If only fear were dominated by desire, if only dread were dominated by expectation! This is what it means to live the imminence of the Lord who is coming, to live the incumbency of Christ, of Christ’s coming. Literally, every action has its meaning in His coming, in the strict sense of the word–death.
2. Vigilance and contrition
When He comes, He will judge. This is the second moment of our reflection, the second topic for our meditation. When He comes, He will judge. Then, as the Gospel says, “there will be two in a field: one will be taken and the other left; two women will be at the grinding stone together: one will be taken the other left.”7 When the Lord comes, He will judge. What a wonderful song is Sing a New Song to the Lord,8 which concludes its joyful shout with the thought that the Lord is coming to judge the earth. This is the expectation and desire that dominate and master fear and dread. Imperceptibly, fear and dread drive out of our mind the most rational thought we can have–there is no thought that is rational unless it is awareness of the end; no action is rational except in so far as it is loaded with awareness of the end. No thought is more rational than that which fills the soul with His incumbency, His imminence, with the imminence of His coming. But fear and dread eliminate this thought, and they only reawaken it now and again–unless expectation and desire flare up like dynamite–to burden Christian life with a rigidity that makes it no longer a witness to anyone but only a yoke without the promised easiness.9
It is expectation and desire that have to determine and control fear and dread. The fear and dread are still there, but as expectation and desire; in other words, they are overcome by love. Because fear remains in love, and the “holy fear of God” indicates both these components of our awareness of relationship with Christ, of the awareness of the relationship of our life with the eternal and with God. But the form of this fear, what determines it, the face of this crude, ugly matter that is fear, is love, where “love drives out fear,”10 as St. John said in his first letter; it “drives it out”–in other words, it transfigures it. For even in love between man and woman, or in the love of children and parents, there is no love without respect, without “reverence,” which is a word derived from the Latin revereor, meaning “to fear.” Our love is not a love between equals. For us, love between equals would be like a business contract–this is the ideal of marriage, in the bourgeois mentality, or according to the ideologies of the student protests, or even the banners of the Paris protests in May 1968. We are dependent on everything, precisely because everything that reveals God’s plan is a word for us–every single thing: every object, every person and every event.
So, in the end, He will judge; His coming will be a judgment. How can we make a judgment become expectation and desire, if that judgment does not tend to become a paradigm, a criterion, the inspiration, the law of every action (since every action is a step, every moment is a step toward that end or that destiny)? Only if that judgment becomes paradigm, law, measure, and inspiration, in other words, tends to determine action (every action, every step), does every step become expectation and desire, expectation of desire; then every step becomes love and love transfigures fear, and the “reverence” becomes “devotion,” a dedication of one’s whole being–in a word, love.
“Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the weapons of light. Let us conduct ourselves becomingly, as in the day [as in ‘that’ day, because it is that last day that enlightens all the days of our life; it is not the first day, because the first day was like a seed; it is ‘that’ day that brings to light all the dimensions, all the implications of the seed; it is desire for the end that brings alive the beginning], not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ [put on judgment, the last judgment, because the last judgment is His coming; in other words, He who is coming, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires do not follow the world’s criteria, despite all the inclinations that original sin arouses in us].”11
“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ”: make yourselves one with the Lord Jesus Christ, so that action is desired as imitatio Christi, imitation of Christ. But, in its most complete form, is imitation of Christ not virginity? “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” so that every action be inspired by virginity, have the form of virginity! “Whoever wants to follow me…”12 “Follow me.”13 Follow me: “Where the master has passed, there the disciples will pass”; “as they have treated me, so they will treat you, too.”14 Every action and every moment, therefore, anticipate the last judgment.
Every action is a judgment. Confession can be so counterfeit, an intellectual game, a spiritual charade for all its apparent sensitivity, an episode without any true effect on life, insignificant for life as a whole–whether it be the Sacrament of Confession or the Act of Contrition that the Christian community requires at the beginning of the assembly! Every hint of judgment, or of the last judgment, is punctually expunged from our day. It was called “examination of conscience,” because “Jesuitism” and the intellectualistic, rationalistic and voluntaristic reduction of the Church of the last 400 years hid the fact that the true expression is “contrition.” The contrition of the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy…”15 or that of Peter, “Lord, go away from me; I am a sinful man,”16 that contrition must be present in every day we live. And if it is a judgment, like that which Christ gave in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel, “Come, you blessed,”17 then it is full of love and is, by its very nature, longing for the realization of His coming into the world; and if it is a judgment like the other given in the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (“Depart from me, you cursed”18), then it is at once weeping and grinding of teeth. Thus, contrition eliminates hell and transforms even an unjust act, an “evil” act, into expectation and desire. “Deliver us from evil.”19
But day-to-day contrition, as Christian maturity grows along the way, is always on our doorstep. We embrace it and take it by the hand, we walk along with it, tending always to abandon ourselves to it in all we do, or at least in the evening. Above all, though, the contrition that begins the Christian assembly or the contrition that lies at the heart of our participation in the mystery of Christ–the Sacrament of Confession–this contrition must mark our year. Without this contrition, our expectation and our desire are too childish, superficial, and too easily taken for granted. Only with contrition are the incumbency of Christ and the imminence of Christ splendidly alive in us, and is vigilance achieved. So, vigilance is contrition. Existentially, all through our life, vigilance is contrition filled with love; this is what nourishes our expectation and our desire. Clear awareness, real experience of the incumbency and the imminence of Christ is in expectation and desire. “As in those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away… therefore you also must be ready.”20 “Be ready”: this is our action, our expression as judgment, our moment as judgment.
How can we have this self-awareness of being one with Christ? Christ is not the Christ of the dead, but the Christ of the living, so the Christ who is about to come is Christ died and risen. How can we live this Christian self-awareness, if not in the vivid feeling of the imminence of His coming, as the meaning of life that has its summit in death, as the meaning of death, unless by means of awareness of the action that anticipates death? Death is anticipation and action, which is judgment, anticipates this judgment, because that judgment will be the result of this judgment: “Whoever does evil is already judged.”21 We are already judged, and so “we have passed from death to life.”22 “Who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus who died, yes, and was raised from the dead for us?”23 This “for us” must become ours, become awareness.
So, vigilance is the theme the Church places at the beginning of our new year of life, as the meaning of the imminence of His coming, and therefore as expectation and desire for His coming, and, so as not to be superficial and fatuous, these have to arise from contrition, precisely as an exercise of the spirit, as ascesis, as an ascetical act for us; it is like the theme of our personal awareness this year. Contrition during the day, contrition at the end of the day or in the morning, contrition that as far as possible fills our day, and as far as possible tends to become the beginning of every action, of every relationship, always on our doorstep, our companion every time we go out, but above all contrition at the beginning of Mass–true, spoken or unspoken (our saying it must increase the truth of it)–and in the Sacrament of Confession, which the majority of us do not yet live. Vigilance as contrition, the vigilance of the imminence of Christ as contrition.
3. Building God’s house
We said at the beginning–and this is the third and final point–that incumbency has another meaning. It is synonymous with duty. What duty? That for which life is given us, that for which Christian life has been given us and that for which we are given the vocation to virginity, that for which we have been given life which is vocation. Why have we been called? For what? It would be interesting to hear what you have to answer. Life is given us for the mission, and that’s all, so as to be collaborators in God’s plan which is Christ. And we know this; “We have the Spirit of Christ.”24 “We have the Spirit of Christ;” it is given us for the mission. The psalm we have recited today says, “I rejoiced when I heard them say, ‘Let us go to God’s house,’ and now our feet are standing within your gates O Jerusalem! … There were set the thrones of judgment of the house of David. For the peace of Jerusalem pray: ‘Peace be to your homes! May peace reign in your walls, in your palaces peace!’ … For the love of the house of the Lord, I will ask for your good.”25 And it is here, we ask in the Alleluia verse, “Show us Lord, your mercy, and grant us your salvation.”26 “Salvation is closer to us now than when we first believed.”27
The mission is to build Jerusalem. But what does it mean to build Jerusalem? What does it mean to build God’s house? What does it mean to build the Church? “Peace for those who love her, peace on Jerusalem. May peace reign in your walls. For love of my brethren and friends I say, ‘Peace upon you!’” This is the throne of judgment of the house of David, that which says: “Peace upon you!” It is here that the “mountain of the house of the Lord… shall be raised above the hills, and all the nations shall flow to it. … ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”28
To build the Church means to build a network of charity, the brotherhood of the children of God. Only from the place of brotherhood does judgment go out over the nations, over the peoples; so it is only from the place of brotherhood that light goes out onto others,so that the nations flow to it. Those who want, those who have open eyes and a pure heart, those who are pure in heart come; those who are poor in spirit know where they have to go. Only from a network of brotherhood does judgment go out; the poor in sprit know where they have to go. Only a network of brotherhood, only a network of charity, only a network of relationships lived as communion, only this judges the world: “Don’t you know that we will judge the world?”29 This is God’s house. It is not built on any hill, but “established as the highest of the mountains;” she is the hill to which all nations trudging across the plain look up, in so far as they are poor in spirit. It is only in brotherhood that our argument is understood, truly understood, not that we know how to repeat it, not that we are able to say it again, not that we are able to build up ideologies on it. Only those who live this network of charity understand the argument, much more than all the so-called “cultured” people. Only by living a network of brotherhood and communion are we missionaries, are we apostles, can we announce.
The announcement is only there. This is why the last judgment will be on charity, on communion, and, at the same time, on witness. These are the only two elements of the last judgment indicated in the Gospels: witness to Christ (“that you bear fruit30), and communion (Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel: “I was hungry and you fed me”31). This is the last judgment; it is clear because the last judgment has Christ as its criterion, as its content; it is comparison with Christ, not with laws; it is a comparison with a reality that happened in the history of our life–a fact that took hold of us, and involved us in His communion, that’s all.
This is why every action of ours, every moment, in vigilance, must be communion and impulse–as St. Paul says in Chapter 5 of the Second Letter to the Corinthians32–the impulse to witness, to announce, a missionary impulse. On this is judged the action, the moment, on its impulse for mission and on its reality of communion, and that’s all. “Do not be afraid, little flock, I have overcome the world.”33 Even if we were to control the governments of China, Russia and the United States, Christ would still tell us, “Do not be afraid, little flock, I have overcome the world,” not our strength. And the strength with which He overcomes the world is the communion of which He makes us capable and it is the announcement of which He makes us capable–the word of God “convertens animas,”34 that overcomes man.
This, then, is the object of contrition, nothing else, only this: if our relationship has been communion, if our giving up or not giving up has been in communion, if our contribution or our flight has been in communion, if our sacrifice, our work or our rest have been in communion, if they have been dominated by the missionary impulse… So, contrition regards the absence, the disproportion of our charity, charity towards Christ: the zeal for witnessing, in which our life should die–martyrdom! And charity toward others–which is the same thing: communion. Because, it is through communion that witness is given and it is in the impulse of the will to witness that communion is made possible, that relationship as communion is made possible. Otherwise, “Even though I give my body to be burned and give away all my belongings, but have not charity, it would be worth nothing.”35
1 Cf. Ps 90:10.
2 Liturgy of the First Sunday of Advent, Year A Is 2:1-5; Ps 121; Rm 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44.
3 Is 2:1-5.
4 The word “house” is used in the sense of a stable community of the Memores Domini association.
5 Cf. Rm 13:11-12.
6 Cf. Mt 24:38, 42-44.
7 Cf. Mt 24:40-41.
8 Ps 97
9 Cf. Mt 11:30.
10 1 Jn 4:18.
11 Rm 13:12-14.
12 Cf. Mt 16:24.
13 Mt 9:9 (amongst others).
14 Cf. Jn 15:20.
15 Mt 8:8.
16 Lk 5:8.
17 Mt 25:34.
18 Mt 25:41.
19 Mt 6:13.
20 Cf. Mt 24:38-39,42.
21 Cf. Jn 3:18.
22 1 Jn 3:14.
23 Rm 8:34.
24 1Cor 2:12.
25 Ps 122:1-2, 5-7,9.
26 Ps 85:8.
27 Rm 13:11.
28 Is 2:2-5.
29 1Cor 6:2.
30 Jn 15:16.
31 Cf. Mt 25:35.
32 Cf. 2Cor 5:14.
33 Cf. Lk 12:32, Jn 16:33.
34 Ps 19:8.
35 Cf. 1Cor 13:3.