The Journey to Truth: An Experience

Notes from the synthesis by Julián Carrón at the meeting with the national center of university students of Communion and Liberation (Milan, Italy, June 18, 2011).
Julián Carrón

This morning, we reviewed the journey made together during these months, beginning on January 26th with "The Religious Sense, Verification of the Faith" and then developed in all the other stages: "The Source of Judgment," "The Urgent Need for Judgment," and the Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity. I will have the opportunity on another occasion to return to this trajectory. But for now I am curious to hear how you would respond if I asked you what, this morning, showed us that the religious sense is the verification of the faith? For me, listening to your words, the most obvious sign before our eyes of the experience of faith we are having was the emergence of the question.

I'm thinking of what our friend said toward the end of the assembly. How often he must have repeated certain discourses as things already known! Today, instead, at a certain moment, he admitted, "Everything we tell each other is very true. In fact, I'm here. I'm not denying anything. I continue going to Mass; I do everything that's proposed, but if I have to say that the fact that Christ exists is the point of departure of all I live in my day, that it's the hypothesis with which I enter into reality, I can't say it. It's not so. I desire it with all my heart, but I'm unable. I see that I'm lacking in everything and I see that at times our being together is, too–that is, lacking Christ. You spoke to us of a journey, and I'm willing to make it. But I ask myself: How does one make this journey?" We have to thank him for the simplicity with which he asked the question. It is a help for everyone, because he makes us aware of the challenge, how much Fr. Giussani grasps the core of the problem. In fact, we can stay together for years and in the end observe that the essential is missing. I think of what another person highlighted this morning: "Many beautiful things have happened to me, but my sentiment of myself hasn't changed. When you spoke of what happened to Our Lady, of that 'profound, mysterious sentiment of herself: a veneration of herself, a sense of greatness equal only to the sense of her nothingness,' I said to myself, 'But I don't have this sentiment of myself!' What can be done to have it?"
Here is the first point. Let's begin not taking things for granted; let's begin to see our need emerge and understand that staying together in a certain way is not enough for responding to it. Precisely this reawakening of the religious sense, of our "I," realizing that repeating a discourse or formula is not enough, is the sign of the contemporaneousness of Christ in our midst. In fact, this reawakening is the thing least taken for granted that there can be. Often, even living with each other, we ourselves can become flattened, as it were. So then, discovering the emergence of certain questions in us, the fact that one does not flee them, or that one begins not to take for granted that another one asks, shows a difference in action; it's the sign that something of our "I" is beginning to move, to reawaken.

This is also what enables us to enter into dialogue with the other, as shown in the encounter one of us had with a lady at the market, recounted in a contribution this morning: "In receiving the flyer "Ready to give an explanation of the reason for our hope," a lady responded suddenly, 'There is no hope in my life. Ever since my son died, my existence and that of my husband has been destroyed. I'm trying, through therapy, to get over what happened, because I manage to live only when I don't think about it.' So then the girl who gave her the flyer, who had had a similar experience in her own life, stopped and told her, 'But I've encountered people who, in the face of death, did not have to censure it, but can stay consciously, with all the questions they have, before what has happened.' At this point, the woman's attitude changed. 'I've only encountered people who've tried to console me, telling me that sooner or later everything will pass, or who've begun avoiding me because they couldn't stay in front of me. I would very much like to have the experience you talk of, too. If it's true that you've encountered the people you've described, tell me where I can find them.' And the girl invited her to School of Community."

A testimony like this shows what the "I" is and makes us understand why not every answer is adequate to the question we are. Some tried to console her, as if her problem was merely sentimental, and others couldn't stay before her, but for this woman, consolation was not enough, escape was not enough. What is able to respond to her need? In front of the girl, she asked, "Do you have an answer? Where do you meet?"
Pay attention, because we do not need easy consolation, a sentimental way of living the companionship, either, whatever our intentions. When the "I" begins to reawaken, we cannot reduce it to our liking, as if we were its master. The heart is objective and infallible, as we said, quoting Fr. Giussani. The need that defines it cannot be manipulated, so much so that that woman can receive consolation, but it is not enough for her and she feels all the insufficiency of the answer, as we feel it, because we can stay together, but this staying together is not enough for us, not even if we say that we are together for Christ, if Christ is not there!

So then, from within our experience, there is a growing need to find a road, to have a journey clear before us.

Our friends asked this morning, "How does one make this journey?"–It is meaningful that after the encounter, one continues to ask how to make the journey. It means that what happened in the encounter is still not ours. You begin to realize you desire truth, fullness, but you cannot succeed in actuating it; you see all the disproportion between desire and success. But precisely when this begins to take hold in us with the awareness with which it surfaced today, we truly begin to understand what we need. What do we need? We need a road, a journey. How can we identify this road, this journey? We have to go back to what happened to us. When did a hypothesis of an answer begin to penetrate us? In the encounter. In the encounter a promise, a presentiment of a road began to appear before our eyes.

Now, as we said at the Fraternity Spiritual Exercises, nobody can stop the encounter from happening, but we can avoid its becoming a road, its becoming a history. This is the awareness we must have of the influence of power: we can be here, without the encounter becoming road, becoming history; so, years later, we still ask how one makes the journey. I'm not saying this as a rebuke, but so that we can be increasingly aware of the battle we are immersed in. We have to learn from what we see happening in us, without being frightened. What is emerging is a grace–it is the Mystery, in fact, who gives us this awareness–and we have to use it for our journey, to continue in the battle, to collaborate in the battle that the Mystery Himself began in us in Baptism. As Fr. Giussani says, in Baptism the Lord, as vir pugnator, began a battle with each of us "for the invasion of our existence." We must not be frightened, but should treasure what the Lord gives us, through the lucidity that He makes possible in us, to make us aware of what the point is–the fact that we ask how one makes the journey tells us that it is as if we had not truly taken seriously the hypothesis that surfaced in the encounter. It is seen in the fact that, as was said before, we often enter into reality without starting from it–it is the last thing that crosses our minds. Maybe we use that hypothesis for certain gestures, because the Movement proposes this to us, but in the rest of life, in facing everything–affection, work, study, the problems of fulfillment and of satisfaction–we use the hypothesis everyone else uses. For this reason, after years, we can be here and ask how to make the journey, as if we were as lost as everyone, confused like everyone else.
Therefore, the first challenge is to grasp the newness that entered into us in the encounter. There, something happened. We had a premonition of something, and we must with simplicity go back to that moment, to what happened in us, to fish up now, in the present, today, what entered us in the encounter, and take it up again as a hypothesis for entering into reality. We have to make ourselves more aware of what happened, because it is as if in that moment we did not understand deep down what happened. Now we begin to become more conscious of the grace that was given us, because of that glimmer that entered us, but in order for it to become history we need to take up again what happened as a "working hypothesis," according to the beautiful expression used by Fr. Giussani. What happened must become a working hypothesis in our relationship with all of reality.

Only those who take the hypothesis seriously can, at a certain moment, like the writer of the letter quoted this morning, realize that this hypothesis is no longer just a hypothesis. I'll re-read a passage: "I have always had before my eyes the inability of things to satisfy me, ever since I was a little girl, and I have always been aware that I can also try hard to be happy, but am not capable. In the face of this insubstantiality of things and my attempt, however, my heart has never surrendered. I have always repeated to myself: 'Life can't be this way. There must be something else.' And under the impetus of this desire, because of the education I have received and because of my first encounter with the Movement, I took seriously the hypothesis that this 'other' could be Jesus Christ. So I began to entrust myself to Him, even though He remained substantially a stranger to me. Embracing this hypothesis has marked my life till now. But even so, it was always a hypothesis. Instead, at the last School of Community, while someone was recounting his experience, I realized with unexpected clarity that now I am no longer living a hypothesis. A few days ago, like most of my days, I was an embarrassment to myself, with my heart wounded, longing, speechless. I couldn't look at myself with any kind of tenderness; I didn't even know how to see myself, how to begin again to move a finger (every so often I am so sad that I don't do anything). But, in this usual situation, in a very clear way, a face–that of a certain friend–ripped through my solitude. I thought, "Well, in any case, she's there," and I was almost amazed at myself . Before being capable of bearing the weight of this heart of mine, of resolving it, of reconverting to His presence; before yielding, asking forgiveness; before breathing again, smiling, loving, before all this, she, with her life entirely stretching to Christ, she exists, and because of her relationship with Christ, she loves me. In fact, only because He exists can she love herself this way and love me, and I can identify with, immerse myself in her gaze and love myself. Before, I lived with the tension of entrusting myself to a stranger, but now I realize that I can immerse myself in, identify with that gaze of love upon me. For this reason, Christ is no longer a hypothesis for me. He is a presence that reaches me, in a mysterious way–I have to admit–but He exists."

Now, what makes a hypothesis become no longer just a hypothesis? A journey. I need to have had an experience, a journey; I need to have verified the hypothesis in the relationship with reality. In this way, one discovers that it is no longer just a hypothesis, but it is a certainty. This is why the answer to the question that has emerged is not a formula–as Fr. Giussani always told us, the journey to truth is an experience. Now do you understand why in recent months we have insistently talked about Fr. Giussani's formidable provocation? "I came to believe deeply that only a faith arising from life experience and confirmed by it (and, therefore, relevant to life's needs) could be sufficiently strong to survive in a world where everything pointed in the opposite direction" (The Risk of Education, The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001, p. 11). The road to truth, to certainty–Fr. Giussani tells us–is this experience; faith as present experience. Only this makes the hypothesis no longer just a hypothesis.

The companionship we give each other is not meant to substitute the experience that each person must have, but to witness to each other and challenge each other to do it. Each of us needs this experience personally; we cannot live just on the experience of another, because I'm the one who has to take the Latin exam; I'm the one who has to stand in front of my girlfriend, not someone else; we're not all together. I'm the one who is there before the drama of living. For this reason, the formula we have used–"Expect a journey, not a miracle that dodges your responsibilities, that eliminates your toil, that makes your freedom mechanical" (L. Giussani, "National Gathering of High School Seniors," Rimini, September 28-30, 1982, CL Archives)–is Fr. Giussani's gesture of charity for all of us. It is as if he said to us, "Look, if you think you can get by simply eluding your responsibility, not involving yourselves in a verification of the hypothesis started with the encounter, what we say will never be yours." Fr. Giussani is so realistic, such is his love for our destiny, that he does not promise us that one can reach fulfillment eluding his own freedom. He tells us the opposite: if you think you can go forward without personally getting involved in the verification of the Christian hypothesis, not only in certain initiatives, but in every particular of living, you won't be able to resist even here, because "if you are not striving to understand and if you are not stretching to love life and its destiny, you will leave us" (L. Giussani, "National Gathering of High School Seniors,"op. cit., CL Archive). Not even the Movement will remain interesting for us. Instead, when you have an experience, when you conduct the verification, you begin to "look in the mirror and sense that your face is more substantial, your 'I' is more substantial, and your journey among people is more substantial; it doesn't depend on the gazes of others, but is free; it doesn't depend on the reactions of others, but is free; it is not a victim of the logic of the power of others, but is free."
So then, everything that happens to us in life serves the making of this journey with that hypothesis in our eyes. Because facts break into life, and in these times facts have not been lacking. You experienced this many times in the recent elections; every encounter called you into play, called into play your reason and your freedom; your reason, not to stop at appearances, to see reality as a sign that calls us beyond, and calls your freedom to adhere to that beyond. So, one begins to treat everything differently, begins to treat things not "as if they were 'gods,'" as I reminded the friend who told us about his experience with his Latin exam. In fact, "if you treat things as if they said, 'I am everything,'" you do not truly possess them. When do you most enjoy the flowers you've been given? When you say, "The flowers are everything," or when you look at them saying, "It is not here; it is not for this; it is further on"–that is, when the flowers point to the beloved who sent them to you? If we stop at appearances, identifying people and things with the everything, "as if they were 'gods,'" the relationship becomes dishonest, because they are not gods. This week, the Pope spoke precisely about this, about idols, referring to the prophet Elijah (Benedict XVI, General Audience, June 15, 2011). What is an idol? It is something you affirm as a god, when it is not a god. This affirmation is a lie, which in time is uncovered and then the thing reveals its true face. And its true face cannot help but disappoint you; it is full of sadness. "The problem, in fact, is not to live relationships as if they were 'gods,' as if they were relationships with the divine; they are relationships with the sign, therefore they cannot fulfill, they can become road, landscape, sign, can point beyond, as Clemente Rebora said […]:'Whatever you may say or do/there is a cry inside:/that is not why, that is not why!': all the things you take tell you 'that is not why, that is not why!'" (L. Giussani, L'io rinasce in un incontro [The "I" is Reborn in an Encounter]: 1986-1987, Bur, Milan, 2010, p. 385). Thus, it is not enough to become aware of the insufficiency of things, because things are a sign.
So then, there is a second part of the question: you can have true possession of things only if what they point to has become so present, if it is so present now, that it makes possible for you a new way of relationship with them, which is called virginity.

Virginity–this new, true way of treating things–is the ultimate expression of charity; not of charity as something we do, but of charity as something we receive, according to its true sense: "I have loved you with an eternal love and I have had pity on your nothingness" (Cf. Jer. 31:3). But if I encounter one who has pity on my nothingness, I am so moved by this that, under the pressure of this deep movement of emotion, bowled over by this movement of emotion, bowled over by this presence, I can treat everything in a new way. Otherwise, there remains only what you lack. Here is the verification of faith, kids: given the Latin exam, given the elections, or given illness–because the train of life always arrives punctually at the station–you test what prevails; you see if what prevails in you is what is missing or is the superabundance of His presence. It is either one or the other; there is no way of avoiding it. And if one thing or the other prevails, we do not establish it, but we discover it; you just have to be attentive. In fact, we cannot change one thing for the other at the moment, using interpretations or comments or power or an accord. In that moment, I verify whether faith is a present experience in me or not; that is, I verify, as the Easter poster says, whether Christ is happening to me now. I do not verify what I know or what I have, but whether what I know and what I have is a present experience now. And this is documented in how I live reality, whatever part of it, starting when I wake up in the morning. The acknowledgment of His presence now, in fact, is what 'blocks our distraction as human persons, […] introduces our life to the accent of happiness, even if it is intimidated and full of inevitable reticence'."

As you see, pedagogically we travel a road, put one point after the other, but in experience everything happens contemporaneously. Either there are all the elements of the Christian experience, or I treat things as "gods" and this inevitably leads to a lie, to disappointment. It can happen to you with Latin, or with your girlfriend; it can happen to you with work, with a project you have in mind, with everything. The alternative is if you expect salvation from what you manage to do, if salvation is what you are able to do, your attempt, or if salvation is what has happened to you and that happens by grace, as something absolutely unexpected. Here is the question. So why do we say that a journey is necessary? Because only a person who commits to a journey can see the miracle happening in her life. Only if I engage in the personal verification of the Christian hypothesis can I reach the point of saying, "What is this that I have encountered, that not even illness can defeat, not even evil can stop, that nothing can defeat? Who are You, who performs this miracle in me, who realizes in me this otherwise impossible change? Therefore, faith becomes a present experience that I can no longer shake off, no matter what I do or face. How many times, instead, do we see as opposites journey and miracle, freedom and event, freedom and grace!

In order to live the experience I have described, it is enough to have the simplicity of the journey, that is, to live what Jesus proposed. In fact, making a journey is called following: "Those who follow Me will have this experience of living, even making a thousand mistakes." The example of Peter is spectacular. He decided to follow, made mistakes many times, backslid, blurted out all sorts of stupid things, and Jesus had to reprove him more than any other, but, in the end: "Do you love Me?" What was the miracle? Christ entered into the marrow of Peter's bones. "Look, Lord, I don't know how, but all my human fondness is for You, all my human vibration is for You; You know that I love You. Your presence has become so unified with mine that before You I can't help but say, 'I love You,' even if five minutes later I can still betray." He followed Him and witnessed the miracle of himself: a more humble Peter, less presumptuous, not at all presumptuous, wearied by all his own evil, but not defeated. The evil in him did not prevail. His affection for Christ, his human fondness for Christ, had so completely taken his inner being, every fiber of his being, that the evil done could not prevail. To separate the presence of Christ from the fibers of Peter's being, it would have been necessary to kill him; he could make a thousand mistakes, but to separate him from Jesus, it would have been necessary to kill him. Peter's was a very human journey. And the same is true for us. So then, let's begin to stay in reality in a new way, with a new way of possession; otherwise, the possession of everyone will prevail, as will the sadness of everyone; we will live everything the same way everyone else does. What overcomes this? It is a matter of being willing to make a journey, precisely in order not to lose the best.

Only if we have the experience we spoke of will Christ be able to enter into every fiber of our being, and we will be able to see that the lines we have read in the flyer are not just words: Christ is something happening in me, and I see it in the way I face the most glaring questions, most challenging, in the freedom I have before an exam, in the capacity to look at my girlfriend differently, in a new modality of staying together. These are all signs of the newness that Christ introduces into our life.

Then Christ is no longer a hypothesis, but an experience, and this generates a united subject (you said before, "I want a life that is full and united"), not in pieces. What makes the subject united is not always dealing with just one thing, because this is impossible; we deal with many different things–relationships, studies, family, friends–but what unites everything is a dominating Factor. Without this Factor life is in pieces, as we said before, and we do not resolve the fracture because we impose more order, seeking a balance among the different aspects. There is a point that unites everything, that attracts everything to itself, that makes me regain everything: facing everything from within His gaze, from that wellspring that is His beloved presence, unifies life. And thus the affection for Christ grows and you can no longer leave Him outside; you cannot help but feel Him vibrate when you err or when you are before a drama or when you are in front of an illness or an adverse circumstance.

Only if the Lord introduces in us true freedom in living everything, if He makes Himself so present, if He so totally invades our life as to make us free, can we be unashamed of Christ in any circumstance. Not because we say the word "Christ"–at times it is not necessary to say the word–but because, as one of us said, it is impossible for us not to look at the other, even someone everyone rejects because of the evil he has committed, moved by Christ's love for us: "I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have had pity on your nothingness" (Cf. Jer. 31:3). Above all, we can no longer look at ourselves without being moved by His love. Do we realize what life is when, through grace, through the power of His presence, we manage to look at ourselves in terms of the moving love of Christ? Who would not desire this?

We are together so the superabundance of His presence may prevail in us: in fact, this is what makes us be present in reality with a difference, what makes us be a presence that is such exactly because it has within this difference. What is most fascinating is that the Lord makes us live all the circumstances precisely in order to make us have the experience of what He means, of who He is. How do we know Him? I realize who Christ is not because I do abstract reflections or because I read books, but because I experience Him in life and everything becomes different. In the same way, the others do not need our speeches, do not need our projects, but need to feel upon themselves the same gaze that grasped us, which is the same need we have.
Therefore, I propose using as the theme for the summer vacation the line of Fr. Giussani that we have pointed to: the journey to truth is an experience. It makes us penetrate what we said before: "Expect a journey, not a miracle that dodges your responsibilities." It contains the response to the urgent need that emerged today: "How does one make the journey?" Fr. Giussani's answer is succinct: the journey to truth is an experience (the hypothesis must become experience). This sentence summarizes everything we have said: it contains the urgent need that we have called each other to many times. "A faith that does not become a present experience cannot last." It contains this provocation: "Expect a journey, not a miracle that dodges your responsibilities, […] your freedom" (Fr. Giussani, "National Gathering of High School Seniors," op. cit., CL Archives). It contains the meaning of the final part of the Spiritual Exercises, that the clear sign that we are making the journey is freedom: ubi fides ibi libertas ("Whoever is in Christ is a new creation," supplement to Traces, Vol. 13, No. 6, 2011, Società Coop. Ed. Nuovo Mondo, Milan, 2011, p. 37).

Therefore, we have plenty of meat on the grill for our vacations and the summer. As we always say, vacations, free time, are precious for us, precious for the verification of faith. The verification of faith does not happen just in elections or in preparing for an exam. It is above all in our free time that what we hold dearest emerges. Therefore, this period of vacation will be a stupendous opportunity for us. When we see each other again in September, we can ask, "What happened? What did we experience? What experience did we have regarding the hypothesis we spoke of?"

What we said today is a summary point for our vacations. As you see, nothing is left out. Rather, it becomes increasingly clear that the two lessons of the Fraternity Spiritual Exercises–which we will work on–necessarily have to be kept together, contemporaneously, because only those who have an alive question can realize that no answer is sufficient, and therefore understand what grace the encounter with Christ is. Then one is happy because He exists, glad that Christ exists, that we are not alone with our nothingness. And precisely because Christ exists, there is a journey; that is, we can respond in a true way, not just hypothetically, not as an image that we construct for ourselves, among the many that religious humanity can construct. Christianity is not one of the possible constructs of human religiosity, but the road traced by the Mystery. For this reason, in the Gospel, Jesus summarizes the entire journey in two words: "Follow Me." It is sequela. Once He proposes the road, the only true challenge for reason and freedom is to follow, to be able to verify in experience the truth of the proposal. This is the great advantage since the Word became flesh: we can verify whether what we are told is true or not, and therefore reach an increasingly greater certainty. Then it is a very beautiful opportunity that we have before us. Let's help each other not to waste it.