The Jubilee and Life

Notes from a talk presented by Luigi Giussani in preparation of the Jubilee of the Redemption. Duomo of Palmanova, June 15, 1983.
Luigi Giussani

Everyone knows that the first official and clamorous act of John Paul II's pontificate was the encyclical that began with the words Redemptor hominis, Jesus the Redeemer of Man. Redeemer of man means first of all that Christ ensures the meaning of life and therefore clarifies destiny and gives the strength to reach it. Once it would have been said, "He is Redeemer because He is the savior of the soul, because He saves the soul." But the Pope did not use the expression "save the soul," he used the term "Redeemer of man." And man is undoubtedly he who has eternity in his belly, in his immortal nature, but first and foremost he is one who has to make his journey on this earth, he has to live an existence in time and space.

Christ the Redeemer of man does not mean therefore only He who ensures man's eternal destiny, eternal salvation, as the old catechism used to say, but also He who saves, in other words, redeems the life here below of man who journeys, of man who gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night: Christ is the savior of the whole man, today and tomorrow. Perhaps at one time only the tomorrow was stressed. But then, what is the present given us for if not for tomorrow? What does a journey mean if not the end, the purpose, the horizon, destiny? But today, I think that man needs to complete the proposal, to feel it completed and to understand first of all in what way Christ is the Savior of his present life.

They explained to me that the Venetians, who built Palmanova as a fortress in defense against the Turkish menace and against Nordic imperialism, defined this city, built especially, "propugnaculum Patriae, propugnaculum Italiae et propugnaculum Fidei": a defensive outpost for the Fatherland, for our Friuli, for Italy, and for the faith. This deep unity seems strange to us, but at one time it was quite normal in Christian awareness, because the faith that vibrates in the person's awareness always becomes light and energy for relationships and hence the source of social life, thus tying in time the destiny of the individual with that of his people.

I believe that no one has revived this unitary vision-because he possesses it in the marrow of his bones and in his heart-like John Paul II. He possesses it in the depth of his heart, because the faith, in the Polish tradition, has never lacked this unity, this depth and unity of conception.

Destiny of happiness
I would like first to deal with this traditional, immediate, and last aspect of John Paul II's first encyclical: Christ the Redeemer of Man as He who saves man and his destiny, because as the great Jewish-American philosopher Heschel says, man is not interested so much in knowing his origins as in understanding where he is going to end up, what his destiny is.

If a woman were so reflective that on giving birth to her child, looking at it and holding it in her arms for the first time, she were to ask herself what its end will be, what will become of it, if in the intense emotion of that moment she were to think of these things, she would be assailed by an unexpected fear, because she cannot protect it, she cannot protect her creature as she did when it was in her womb and safeguard it from everything. I remember a lady who used to come to confession to me many years ago, regularly, every week. She had a daughter and at a certain point she stopped coming. She came back again after a month and said to me, "You know, I have had a second child." And before I could congratulate her she said, "Do you know the first feeling I had as soon as I realized it was born? I didn't wonder if it was well, or whether it was a boy or a girl, but 'there it goes, it's beginning to go away'." This is the most dramatic feeling that, consciously or not, rules in the heart of a woman who becomes a mother, because as time goes by that creature, that is so much hers, becomes as it were more and more not hers, precisely as destiny. So, if a woman like her gives birth to a child and were to think, "And now where is it going to end up?", if there were not a destiny of happiness, it would be a crime to give birth, for not only killing is a crime, but also placing someone in the condition for being killed is a crime. Without a destiny of happiness it is not only a crime to inflict pain and suffering on a living being, but also to place it in the condition in which it will suffer pain, even atrocious pain. Who can know it or who can avoid it with certainty? Who can make a plan that does not imply this possibility? The only thing that makes giving birth reasonable is the announcement and the security of a good end or, as I said before, it is the word that only the faith pronounces seriously, the most serious word in life that, without the faith is enfeebled and emptied of all of its grand content: the word "Happiness."

Only the security of a destiny of happiness makes being a mother reasonable. Is there an act more natural than being a mother? No! Therefore there is nothing more necessary, more consonant, more near to the flesh of a mother and therefore to the most original expression of nature, than that Voice that entered into the world and has never left: no one can tear from the ears of a man this "physical" voice that assures man of his destiny of happiness. "What does it matter," this voice said amongst the people gathered around Him in a square, "if you gain the whole world and then lose your own self? Or what can a man give in exchange for his own self?"1 It is this supreme value of the person that a mother, in concrete, in practice, feels and lives when she looks at and turns to her own child-even if she has seven, even if she has twelve children, because the "you" that refers to every one is unmistakable. What she recognizes is the irreducibility of this mystery of destiny, of happiness that is man!

Out of love for each man
I remember and I will always remember, so much so that every so often I tell it to my young friends, the time I went to visit a mission in the Amazon, on the equator, an immense territory covered [as a missionary work] by the Fathers of the Milan Foreign Missions (PIME). Each priest was responsible for a zone, so that once a year they would visit all the inhabitants of that territory in which there are no roads, but only rivers in the forest and which though as large as Italy had only sixty thousand inhabitants. When one of these fathers was going in "desobriga," as they called it, he would receive the absolution in articulo mortis, because that journey in the forest infested with snakes and animals was a mortal danger. One day a certain Fr. Titta was to leave for his journey and he said to me, "Come with me." I didn't catch the humor behind his remark, and I answered "yes" immediately and went. The evening came and I saw him suddenly put on a pair of gumboots that reached up to his hips and then, smiling, he sank into the swamp. The mud reached up over his knees. It took him a minute to move a meter and there was a cloud of insects that was disturbing him. "You can't come any further," he said. He had to travel eight hours through the night at that rate in order to go and see a man, they call them "caboclo" (meaning one of the natives who live by drawing rubber from the trees, earning a few cents)-to go and see one person, one! I can still see myself in that spot, while the missionary was going off with such a struggle, and every so often he would turn around to greet me with an ironic smile. I was thinking, "he is risking all this, risking his life in order to go to see a man that perhaps he has never seen, and will never see again, just one man." And there before the setting sun, I remember that I had in my eyes much more than the blinding light, I had in my eyes the grandiose idea that came into my heart, "What is Christianity? It is love for man, not for humanity, but for man, in other words every mother's child."

As the Pope says-when he speaks of humanity he always repeats, "I am speaking of every man," and every so often he says "you"-Christianity is the love for man that only God could have had, can have (a love greater than that of a mother). "Christ, God made man for love of man, gave Himself for me and died for me,"2 said Paul. There is no human reality, no human invention that looks at man in this way, that looks at man as a person and looks at the person as a being with a destiny that is beyond compare, irreducible, an eternal destiny. All that man does, any man whatever, for another man, even in the best of cases cannot avoid what a secular philosopher like Kant observed, "No man can do something for another man without there being some hint of interest, a criterion of repayment, some expectation."
Absolute purity, true gratuitousness, is called "charity," in the literal sense of the word (because the Greek term for gratuitousness is charis). This is possible only for one who truly tries to follow Christ like that father who is still in my mind and in my eyes. Christ is the salvation of man, He who assures the mother who will have a child of the reasonableness of the event, He who assures man of the eternity of his destiny and the fulfillment of his inexhaustible thirst for perfection or for satisfaction (two words that in Latin mean the same thing), or for happiness.

An event that touches time, the instant So, that evening in the synagogue, when they were all scandalized by Christ's way of talking-"You will eat my flesh"-to the question that broke the heavy silence, addressed to those few remaining, "Do you want to go away, too?", St. Peter blurted out, "We don't understand what You are saying, either, but if we go away from You, where will we go? Only You have words that give sense to living."3

There we are: Christ is the Redeemer of man, not only for his final salvation, but also for this time of existence that passes through the most varied conditions, precisely because this certainty cheers the soul, comforts the soul, the heart of man who is traveling day after day. There is nothing that gives us breath now, in the precise moment in which you think of it or hear it, there is nothing that gives you a breath, that consoles you and makes you live, as this sure and certain announcement: "Come to Me, you who are worn out by life, and I will restore you; I will restore you, take up my yoke and come with me, for my yoke is easy and my burden light."4 So this is why from the depth of the heart this Redemption touches time, touches the instant in every condition.

There is no suggestion, as I said before, that makes us breathe fully, filling the lungs, there is no promise or joy outside the horizon of this certainty: the joy that man manages to obtain is a false joy, not in the bad sense of the word, but because in order to go on for a few hours, it has to forget or deny something.

But in front of that man and the promise He was (this is why the people followed Him, for this promise that He was!), the people were saying, "This man speaks with authority!"5 Authority, each of us knows, is the experience of an encounter that makes us live again, makes us feel more deeply ourselves. They were saying, "No one has ever spoken like this man!"6-the great criterion that is applied in the pettiness of our daily choices (a film to go and see, whether to go to school or not, the way in which you decide to stay home from work) is one: it is this thirst for happiness that drives us from within. No promise, if not That, opens the heart and the lungs, restores and refreshes. Within that aura, within that climate that it creates, even our burdens become tolerable.

In this moment there comes to my mind a girl who died a few weeks ago. Up to three or four years ago she rebelled deeply against the whole of her life, which was a martyrdom from the physical and family point of view, but then she found the faith and came to take it calmly. Six months ago a cancer broke out and when she found out two months before, she telephoned all her friends she had not seen for ten or twenty years to say, "Come and see me because I am going to die soon." When I told her how I was edified by her she said to me, "But I am happy and I say to all my work mates, 'You who are intelligent, you don't have something for which the instant is full, full of enjoyment. For me the instant becomes full and I know what it means to offer'."

There is no promise more human, no human promise, if not That. This is why what St. Paul says is true: the adhering to Christ, the Pietas (pietas is a Latin word that means the relationship that binds us with the principles of our being and for this reason we say that we have pity for our parents, pietas in parentes, or for one's land, pietas in patriam, or for God, pietas in Deum), in other words the relationship with Christ "ad omnia utilis est,"7 is useful for all things, having in it the promise for the future ages and for the present. It is this above all that John Paul II has before his eyes when he proposes Christ the Redeemer.

A radical disproportion
I would like us to understand better. I'll indicate the two factors that Christ, entering into our life, sets into play. First of all Christ reminds man of that which even many theologians seem to have forgotten after the Second Vatican Council (rarely, very rarely has it been spoken of in the twenty years since the Council): man is incapable by himself of being man. I explain it to my young friends in this way: "Tell me if there are three experiences more human than these: the love of man for woman; the love of parents for children; and the love, the passion for the life (in its general sense) of men, in other words politics (politics is concerning oneself with men for their welfare). Now tell me, please, if there are three sources of selfishness greater than these-you see, man has a division in his heart." Christian doctrine calls it original sin.

I allow myself to read some passages of the Pope on this topic: "[Man] has to take account of the radical poverty of his condition as creature, hemmed in by limits of all kinds; he must also grope through the dense shadows that obstruct the journey on which his intelligence is striving in its thirst for the truth; above all he experiences the heavy bonds of a moral fragility that expose him to the most humiliating compromises [and to selfishness]. Do not be afraid to remind the men of today of their moral responsibilities! Amongst the many evils that afflict the contemporary world, the most disconcerting is constituted by a fearful enfeeblement of the sense of evil [we have said it earlier: in order to be at ease man uses denial or forgetfulness as a weapon, but this is against reason]. For some, the word 'sin' has become an empty expression, behind which there are to be seen only deviant psychological mechanisms, that are to be brought back to normality by means of proper therapeutic treatment [just a bit of psycho-analysis and all is put right]. For others sin is reduced to social injustice, fruit of the oppressive degeneration of the [so-called] 'system' and therefore to be blamed on those who contribute to its conservation [so it's enough to change the system, as the great English poet, prophet of our age, Eliot wrote, 'They constantly try to escape from the darkness outside and within by dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.'8 Eliminating, that is, the responsibility of the person]. For others again, sin is an inevitable reality, due to the invincible inclinations of human nature and therefore not imputable to the subject as personal responsibility. Finally there are those who, while admitting a genuine concept of sin, interpret the moral law in an arbitrary way and detaching themselves from the indications of the Magisterium of the Church, align themselves blindly to current fashions."9

The man of today, says the Pope, seeks in all ways to avoid responsibility that is personal, thus eliminating sin. The consideration of these different attitudes reveals how difficult it is to reach an authentic sense of sin if one closes himself up to the light that comes from the word of Christ.

"When one bases himself only on man, on his limits and unilateral views, one arrives at forms of liberation that end up preparing new and often graver conditions of moral slavery." This is what the Pope said at the end of his discourse at the Meeting in Rimini in 1982 when he affirmed that man, in the modern era, has done everything to make the world and life more human, more livable, but the outcome has been that man is always worse off as man; and he said that this degradation appears to be unstoppable.

The first truth that the Holy Year reminds us of, that Christ the Redeemer imposes on us, is that man is a sinner. "Sin" in all Western languages, whatever its formulation, means "failing," so much so that it is equal "to defect," which in Latin means, precisely, failing, as when one is in a faint. Sin is failing oneself. Sin is to say you love a woman when it's not true, or saying that you love your children when it's not true; it's saying that you love mankind when it's not true. It's the "not true," so much so that St. John in the Fourth Gospel identifies the word "sin" with the word "lie."10 When Christ says, "You are all evil,"11 He meant that man is incapable of realizing what he feels the need for as nature, he is unable to realize himself.

The man who looks at himself cannot avoid the temptation to be disheartened and, precisely to avoid this, the dominant social mentality seeks to eliminate the consideration of his substance and to throw out the idea of sin, whereas without the idea of sin (what a paradox!) man is a puppet, without the idea of sin he is a mechanism, because he would not have freedom.

The Pope has had the courage to say, in his address to UNESCO on June 2, 1980, that without its fulfillment in Christ reason does not remain reason.
The first thing that the Holy Year must produce in us therefore is the reawakening of the sense of our being sinners, of man's incapacity to reach what he aspires to in some ideal leap of his heart.

I often repeat a piece of the Protestant writer Ibsen, in which he tells of a man who all his life seeks absolute honesty. In the last scene, while he stands up straight in the center of the stage, near his shack half-way down the mountain side, he hears a huge avalanche break off and begin to fall in his direction, and he cries to God as the roar of the avalanche gets greater and greater, "Answer me, O God, in the hour in which death overcomes me! Can man, with all his will, manage to perform just one perfect act?"12 I don't think that these are abstractions or subtleties proper to certain spirits: this, in my view, is the poison, or the remorse that writhes within us every day and consumes our best energies. It is the reminder first of all of what we are: thirst for the Infinite, ideal impetus, but incapable, even in the short acts of every day, of being as gratuitous as the law is for us, for the spiritual being, of having gratuitous love, the capacity for gratuitous, true, pure love, in everything for man, for things, for ourselves. We must continually cover ourselves with lies in order to endure ourselves, we have to forget or deny in order to endure ourselves.

Protestantism would reach this point and then would say, "But, although we are like this, Christ will save us in the end." Whoever has seen the film Dies Irae, of the great Protestant artist, Dreyer, will certainly have been struck by it, because this is the fundamental idea of the great spirit of Martin Luther: a vivid sense of what man is and that Christ has revealed clearly, of man the sinner, but this Christ, who reveals you as a sinner; will save you all the same when you die!

Mercy: Justice that recreates
The Christian announcement is not this, for the Christian announcement is not just Christ, God who comes for you because you are guilty and a sinner, but it is God who dies and rises and places in the flesh and blood of mankind the possibility of belonging to this Resurrection. The Resurrection of Christ constitutes the beginning of a new world, it constitutes the origin of a possibility for the recovery not for the man of the world to come, but for the man of this world. The risen Christ is more powerful than sin and death and together with Christ we can-this is the word-change. We are like people with a long-term sickness who are unable to stay on our feet, but with our arms on the shoulders of a nurse or a relative, we can begin again to take a few steps.

Only in the company of this Man, who is God, can man change. Therefore the proper virtue, the proper characteristic of the Christian's heart is hope. Hope not as it is usually thought of in the life of the world, that in order to affirm itself it needs to censure, that is to say to forget, but that which is born of the clear consideration of one's own misery, one's own sin. St. John in his first letter said to the first Christians, that we have believed in Love.13 Recognizing the Presence of this God become One among us, of You, O Christ, a thousand times you give me the courage to recover. How many times must we forgive? Always! To forgive does not mean, "Let's cover it up." To forgive means to make live again, to give new birth to. The true word that the Pope uses for the Holy Year, the great word, the word with which God has definitively defined Himself (not the God of thought, not the God of the dead, but the God of the living, the true God, the one who entered history) is the word Mercy.
A girl called me once from the clinic where she had been admitted and said to me, "You know, Fr. Giussani, I have understood what mercy is." I asked her, a bit taken aback, "What is it?" "It is Justice that recreates," then she hung up. Rarely have my teachers told me a truth like that. "Justice that recreates," because it does not obscure what I am, but it gives me the strength of a Presence, so it reconstitutes me a thousand times a day. Man is no longer defined by his mistake, but is defined by this Presence, he acknowledges this Presence as the whole of himself. This is called "love", because love is affirming Another. So man is no longer defined by his mistake, but is defined by love, in other words by acknowledging You, O Christ.

Once they found St. Francis of Assisi in the undergrowth of La Verna with his face to the ground, repeating continually, "Who am I, who are You?" This is the announcement of the Holy Year: a renewed hope.

Hope in a Presence
In Guatemala, during the pastoral visit in March 1983, John Paul II said that Christ is the new weapon of a new world. But this hope is not based on my resources or on the resources of that projected "I" that are the society, the bosses, the things man creates; this new life, this hope is founded on this Presence. Faith is basically acknowledging a Presence, and acknowledging this Presence gives new heart a thousand times a day, in any position one is in, even in death, and therefore gives the capacity to open up to others with purity, and that is to say with gratuity. This is why Christ the Redeemer of man is not for the next life only, but for this life, today, this hour, an hour from now, within the company where I am, within the company where I will be, and so this hope has no bounds, it embraces the world.
Of its nature this hope is social, by its nature there is no problem or need or human situation that we don't feel struck by and in which we don't feel positively interested. The great formula of Christian life spoken of by St. Paul is "In spe contra spem."14 This is why the Christian is eminently a man who commits himself in the impact with persons and things in any condition at all, even in politics, because this Presence has moved the waters of our great, terrible, horrible state, of our great swamp of impotence; this Presence has come in and moved everything, and its waves reach up to the furthest banks. In other words, they embrace the world, up to the ends of the earth. For this reason there is no longer anything that is extraneous to my concrete instant; so I live my concrete instant with an attempt at love that in Christian language is called "offering," for the whole world. This offering makes me cry with pain for my pettiness and opens me up in the joy of a hope precisely because it is not founded on me, but passes through me, uses me. So even though I am so petty as to be capable of giving very little, I give this little. The most intimate essence of every Holy Year lies precisely in a spiritual movement of faith and hope that brings the faithful to converge with a renewed energy toward Christ the Redeemer. You are a piece of this spiritual movement, but this movement cannot subsist if not with the responsibility of each one, just as He is.