The Long March to MaturityNotes from a talk by Luigi Giussani at the “Scuola quadri” [CL responsibles meeting] of Communion and Liberation in Milan, on February 27, 1972. An unsigned summary was published in the June 1972 issue of Litterae Communionis (Volume 17, pp. 3-9).
1. What we are seeking
The moment in the history of the Movement that today we have to look square in the face is the time when the experience of the Movement felt the biggest shake-up: [the student unrest of] 1968.
Perhaps it is useful to remember that in the life of those He calls, God never lets anything happen unless it serves for the growth and maturation of those He has called.
This is so above all for the life of the individual, but in the final analysis, and more profoundly, for the life of His Church, and therefore, analogously, for the life of every community, be it a family or an ecclesiastical community in the broadest sense. God never permits anything to happen unless it is for our maturity, our maturation. In fact, the truth of the faith is demonstrated precisely by the capacity of each of us and of every ecclesiastical reality (family, community, parish, and the Church in general) to valorize what appears to be an obstacle persecution, or difficulty, as a road to maturity, by the capacity to make it an instrument and moment of maturation. This is why the Lord says, speaking of the end of the world–but the end of the world is every turning point of history–that “evil will exert great attraction; there will be many false Christs and false prophets, and then the love of many will grow cold.”1
This, we can say, is the indicator of our faith’s truth, its authenticity or lack thereof: if the faith is truly in the foreground, or if in the foreground there is another kind of concern; if we truly expect everything from the fact of Christ, or if we expect from the fact of Christ what we decide to expect, ultimately making Him a starting point and a support for our projects and programs.
The law of spiritual development, this dynamic law of the life of our faith which we have just mentioned, is truly of extreme importance for individuals, as it is for collectivities; for collectivities, as it is for individuals. It always remains true that, for those who understand and love God, everything works for the good; and it always remains true that, in difficult times, whether you love God or not comes to the surface. It’s the eternal dilemma at the wellspring of all public declarations of position, of each of man’s actions, each of man’s expressions; it’s the alternative that lays bare the ambiguity possible at the root of every human inflection.
The world is a great ambiguity for the unclear spirit. The spirit of man is tempted by ambiguity above every other thing. For good reason, Christ spoke in parables: “So seeing they may not perceive, and hearing they may not understand.”2 The whole world is like one big parable: it demonstrates God, as a parable demonstrates the value it wants to teach, and “those who have ears to hear, listen.”3 Listening to the parables, the secret thoughts of the heart are revealed. What man loves comes to the surface in the face of problems, questions, and difficulties.
But this structural law for the creature, for the relationship between the creature and its creator (the very existence of God is perceived, grasped, affirmed only through the elimination of this ambiguity) holds for any type of authentically religious experience, and therefore also holds for the Christian life and the life of the Church; faced with an obstacle, what you want comes to the surface. If living communion, if living community, if working morning, noon, and night for the community, you wanted Christ, you were after Christ, or after yourself, this is seen in the moment in which the difficulty, the obstacle comes to the surface and would insinuate, “Forget about it,” or would insinuate, “What’ve they been telling me all this time? They tricked me!” or, “They don’t understand me; they don’t value me.” It is precisely and only in front of objections and during our trials that we see if the attitude of our spirit is wheat or chaff,4 to use St. Paul’s expression.
It was important for me to start today’s recollections with a reminder of this spiritual norm, this unmistakable, precise spiritual sieve. For that matter, it imposes on us another imitation of Christ, because it was through His Passion and Death that Christ was seen as truly the Son of the Father: “Not my will, but Your will be done,”5 or “consummatum est,”6 “I have obeyed fully.”
What we want, giving all our time, energy, heart, and concern to the Movement, in whatever way, if we want Christ or if we’re searching for ourselves, comes to the surface during our trials. I keep insisting on this because, from secretarial functions or the simplest manual labor to the highest functions, this is really the point we must always keep in mind. If we don’t keep it in mind, first of all, we won’t manage to be the least bit contrite (contrition can only happen on this level) and, secondly, when we have difficulties, we’ll decide ourselves whether this difficulty is sufficient to make us leave or if it’s insufficient, and we continue to stay in. Do you understand? We keep in our hands the ultimate criterion for deciding if what we do is right or not!
If what we are after is Christ, or if it is our own self-love, the affirmation of ourselves, under any inflection, according to any point of view–this, comes to the surface in the exact moment of the trial and the difficulty, when we don’t see clearly anymore, or when we no longer enjoy what we’re doing. And that is the moment when the attraction of the world, and thus of the diabolical, of deceit, according to its attractive mask, sets itself before us and creates alternatives: “It’s better to do something else; it’s more right elsewhere” and, as it says in Claudio Chieffo’s song about Judas,7 we feel we’ve been betrayed by that for which we’ve sacrificed so much. But really, we hadn’t sacrificed anything; we’d sacrificed for ourselves, for our self-love. Only this observation provides the light for reading with exactness what happened.
2. The factors of what happened
What I’m touching upon now is only an example, a proposal, and it’s an analysis that could be enriched by your contributions as well. First of all, as noted on the sheet you’ve received, I’ll review the most striking and clearest factors that after years jump before our eyes, come to the surface, reminding us about the phenomenon we went through, above all from the perspective of the developments that have happened. I believe we should review the factors noted on the sheet:
a) The birth of the phenomenon of student protests struck us, first of all, because of its fundamental demand for authenticity in organizing things, in the general sense. The first factor that struck us was the fundamental demand for greater authenticity in life, in public life. I want to emphasize this point of public life, the life of society. A notation of this kind could only have been formulated because what drove an accusation of this kind and an exigency of this kind was restlessness. Human restlessness is always prompted by a need for authenticity; unease and imbalance are always generated by deceit, which in some way insinuates itself into the lived attitude. This urgent need for authenticity in social living had to be dictated by a restlessness that implied the search for an authenticity for the person as well, for a personal authenticity.
I believe that the commitment to global transformation of society–so the face of society may be more authentic, more human–should not be forgotten. We have to keep it continually present as God’s challenge to our inertia and our laziness precisely through the world. In Church history, it has always been this way: the commitment demonstrated by the world–which, no matter how partial and sectarian, expresses an urgent need or an aspect of life–provokes the renewal of consciousness, the crisis and renewal of consciousness within the authentic Christian people. God uses everything that happens. Remember the premise: everything that happens, God permits for the maturation of those He has chosen. And we can find such authenticity at a certain point on our journey along the side of the road, in those who haven’t had the grace we’ve had. This is the way God punishes us, punishes our self-love. But God castigates those He loves in order to purify them–as it says in the Scriptures, “Whoever is dear to Me, I reprove and chastise.”8
b) The second factor, clear and exemplary in remembering what happened: In order to obtain that transformation of society or to affirm authenticity in place of the ambiguity and deceit (the mask with which people lived), the proposal fundamentally and globally set itself up as the need to overthrow the past, as enmity with the past, hostility to the past, negation of the past, or, at least–but this is the same thing–forgetfulness of and lack of interest in the past. Forgetfulness of the past is always hostility to the past, because the past as such presses, proposes itself; it would be equal to zero if it didn’t propose itself to the present. The past is such, for those who live in the present, only and precisely inasmuch as it proposes, presses at the door, because we are born of the past. (This is why forgetfulness of your mother is potentially a form of hostility toward your mother.)
Clearly, this leaves intact the need for new formulations, but the factor determining for us the face of what happened, above all seen from the perspective of interior developments, is the negation of the past, hostility to the past. Overthrow, revolution as overthrow, the concept of worldly revolution can’t help but coincide with war against the past.
It’s clear that there’s a fundamental naivety at the root of such behavior, such an attitude: it’s the fundamental naivety of Adam, who believed that by eating the forbidden fruit he could know the fullness of good and evil. It’s the naivety of me, the “measure of all things,” the naivety of the man who says, “Get out of the way and let me set things right.” It’s the naivety of man as measure of all things, the naivety of self-love. It’s a naivety, from the technical point of view. From the moral point of view, it’s crime, deceit, the diabolic–to draw again from the first page of the Bible.
What melancholy! What melancholy we immediately felt, and how it’s been deepening with the passage of the years! What melancholy we felt right away in the face of society’s will to change. Many among us, those who didn’t immediately share the issue, felt it. Before the prospective of society’s change, an interrogative established itself in our soul, because we were surprised by a pressure and by a will to change within our type of experience that was ignorant of those problems, un-evolved in terms of those problems, on an earlier level in terms of those problems. Our type of experience was substantial but, before the urgency of the cultural inflection, it was still clumsy and ignorant (it is through encounters and conflicts that the seed expresses its full potential).
In any case, our interrogative was intimidated, curious, and still respectful, so that we made all the distinctions with care (for, in terms of the effort for change, who could have anything to say?). In any case, it was a great interrogative, a great fog, deep-down respectful of the event. But melancholy immediately took hold of us when, before the urgent need for authenticity, we saw the type of relationship, for example, that proclaimed itself, that made itself obvious, between young men and young women, because this is certainly–even for ethnologists, I should think–one of the typical points for evaluating the morality of a population, of an era.
In fact, it is one of the most symptomatic points in the visualization of the moral stature, the dignity or the moral maturity of a person or of a situation. Naturally, I’m speaking of the judgment, the conception. As conception, the authenticity that was being sought generated licentiousness, a concept of “free love” that has nothing over the lowest and most corrupt moments of bourgeois society, but was nonetheless the fruit of hostility to the past, reaction to the past, fruit of the attitude that said, “Get out of the way and let me set things right,” and, therefore, what I experience, what I feel was the originality, the original purity, the golden age of humanity!
These were, it seems to me, the two most striking factors that emerged to our eyes, of the situation then. How did the Movement, in its predominant aspect of the time, Student Youth (GS) and Young Workers (GL), experience the blow?
There was bewilderment, as I mentioned earlier, a lost feeling characteristic of those who, carrying on their road and living their fundamental experience, are surprised by events that demand an inflection, a translation, an interpretation, and a decision on a level their own experience hasn’t yet reached; a level that their own trajectory, their own journey, their own itinerary hasn’t yet reached. It was as if, in a city under siege, people were preparing for the war, the defense, setting up the bulwarks, etc., and the enemy arrived three days earlier than expected. There’s no way–except where the ideas are very clear in a mature way, as they are in well-trained generals–that on such an occasion the city wouldn’t be seized by panic.
There was bewilderment: this is the word that benevolently explains what happened; a general bewilderment. This bewilderment didn’t characterize just a certain part, but everybody. I insist on this word, because it soft-pedals benevolently, offering a benevolent explanation for what happened.
On the one hand, this bewilderment can be overcome energetically. How? Getting excited, being enthused about the just aspects of the situation. Otherwise, the bewilderment stagnates. What further rigidifies the bewilderment? The perception of the mistaken modality, inflection, method with which the event presents itself in its claim to change things. What do I mean by mistaken method? Maybe it’s too early to say this; let’s say then a method not in conformity with what we were educated to, a method not in conformity with our own history.
In the first case, the bewilderment is overcome suddenly through an energy and a will to intervene, to operate, to act, to–using the Christian term according to the aspect of sacrilege–“incarnate” (for a Christian, it’s sacrilege to use the world in a way not according to the mystery of Christ). The bewilderment is overcome suddenly as will to intervene, solicited by the positivity immanent in the phenomenon, by the proclaimed will for authenticity, by the accusation of lack of authenticity, etc.
However, you can’t detach suddenly from the whole history you’ve adhered to toto corde, freely–whatever they’ll say of it later–a history you’ve adhered to with all your heart, enthusiastically. You can’t detach yourself suddenly. Therefore, the passage from one matrix to another was accomplished, produced, in order not to undergo the humiliation and the grave shock of a sensation of betrayal of acknowledged values, by minimizing and making as abstract as possible the discourse and the type of experience in which you participated before. “Minimizing,” as it says in the sheet you were given, “the historical and social importance of the Christian Fact.” The historic import of the Christian Fact was reduced or trivialized. The passage from serving a certain kind of discourse to serving another kind tried to “hold back” the first in order not to undergo the shock of the sensation of betraying values; it tried to deal with the first kind of discourse by minimizing its historic import, “making it disappear;” as much as possible making its historic impact something fleeting, distracting it toward a purely eschatological interpretation, and therefore abstract from the world and from life.
Perhaps the term minimization, which is used in the sheet, is the most fitting: a minimization of the power of the presence, of the present weight of the Christian Fact. It is the attempt to reduce the Christian Fact to Liturgy, sacrament, which through the entire life of the Christian community is certainly the fulcrum, the root (it’s the Death and Resurrection of Christ, the anticipation of His second coming–and we acknowledge that the supernatural is the root of our whole life!). But precisely because the sacraments constitute the source of Christian life, the source of the renewed world, the source of the renewed existence, precisely for this reason, humanly, socially, historically speaking, they are the strangest gestures, the most extraneous to the usual perception of things, to the face of usual daily commitments. Thus, the sacraments were conceived of and lived according to their essence of eschatological reminder, eschatological preparation, but this preparation and this reminder were totally emptied of their content of presence.
This minimalization of the way of conceiving of the Christian Fact inevitably brings with it a final dualism as a presence in the world, a dualism in which a factor–the explicative and ultimately salvific factor–is affirmed in a supernatural immanent to the present, but without impact on the present, without being able to judge the present moment in history, without being able to inspire a manipulation of the present moment of history, without being able to help the present, except in a purely moralistic sense of inspiration to action: “You must get involved.” It remains a vague inspiration to action, a moralistic call in the vaguest sense of the word: “You must get involved with the world”–a world that, having said this, abandons you. On the other hand, there are the consistence and power of worldly needs that are faced according to your instinct, your blood, your way of seeing, your way of feeling; according to your analysis, your theory; and according to the violence of your praxis.
4. The reduction
of the Christian Fact
What were the consequences identifiable in the attitude assumed by this large sector of the Movement in the era we are commenting on?
a) First, as it says on the sheet: “An efficientistic conception of Christian commitment, with accentuations of moralism.” Not accentuations–with wholesale reduction to moralism! Why should anyone remain Christian? Because Christianity pushes you to action, presses you to commitment, no other reason! It’s like a father and mother who tell you, “Come on, you have to do this!” and then they leave you alone to do it yourself, as if they weren’t there. (Instead, Jesus says, “I will be with you to the end of time.”9) This is a concept of incarnation in which the Christian is truly cut in half, cloven in two. And from the contingent, historic point of view, Christians still have the right to remain in the world only to the degree in which they throw themselves into worldly action: it’s ethical Christianity, that is, Christian ethics, Christian behavior, which means being Christian in the world identified with worldly commitment. So, being Christian in the world means being concerned about the emarginated, the poor, wage inequality, injustice in the world of work–this is what it means to be Christian; Christianity reduced to an “efficientistic” moralism.
I remember when a certain fellow, a former GS leader, whom I’d made fun of a bit, said to me outside Catholic University (we often saw each other at Catholic University and they were always boutades, one against the other, serious, but laughing–that time he wasn’t laughing), “Look, I’m wondering why I should still be Christian.” I answered, “Yeah, I see, if being Christian means doing what you do! The others taught you to act this way; but they’re better than us and so I don’t understand why you shouldn’t simply identify with them.” Now it seems clear to us that being Christian isn’t doing sit-ins in front of Catholic University (Christian commitment can prompt such action, but that’s another problem; Christianity isn’t that!), but then, in the bewilderment of the times, it wasn’t so clear.
So, above all, an efficientistic conception... And as the years have passed, in those who have trod this road, if they have remained Christian, you can physiologically sense the dualism, the division. Maybe they’re even part of the “Christian Democracy of the Left,” but the Christian Fact has absolutely nothing to do with what they do with the post-war Christian Democracy, identifying precisely with the same mentality, with the same spiritual attitude.
b) Second consequence (and this is the gravest thing): the incapacity to “culturalize” the discourse, to bring one’s Christian experience to the level in which it becomes systematic and critical judgment, and thus a prompt for a modality of action. It’s the Christian experience blocked in its potential for impact on the world, because an experience impacts the world only to the degree to which it reaches a cultural expression (which doesn’t mean only to the degree to which it reaches the university–this has nothing to do with it!). Cultural expression means judgment, capacity for systematic and critical judgment of the world, of worldliness, of the historic circumstance, and thus it becomes a suggestion for a modality of program and of action.
Experience that doesn’t reach this point has no face, lacks a face in history; it has no face and therefore can subsist for a long time in “pre-historic” eras, but to the degree to which the relationships in society, in human life become denser, press against that experience, it disappears, because it’s alienated in the pressures of the environment. This is exactly the destiny realized by so many attempts of our families (by now, there’s no need to name them anymore): these attempts to group together haven’t become “settlements.” They begin to be an attempt at experience-become-settlement only to the degree to which they respond to a cultural expression, to a critical and systematic judgment, therefore to a suggested program and a modality of action. They can’t happen if the little group wants to act alone, as these groups have always sought to do. If a little group were truly capable of acting alone, it would generate a network of relationships with the entire Movement–which is what we desire–and would positively influence change in the Movement.
The second consequence is therefore an incapacity to culturalize discourse and, therefore, as a corollary, an incapacity for unified judgment on the situation. Only cultural expression sprung from a unified experience can make people capable of a unified judgment on the situation. Instead–as in Aesop’s fable of the sour grapes and the fox–in the GS and GL of the time, members came to exalt as normal the disparity in their various stances in the situations but, since they had the power, on the organizational level they imposed a certain inflection. Therefore, there was a theoretical exaltation of division, of the indefinite multiplicity of judgments and stances–“We’re free; one can be right-wing and another can be left-wing”–but if anyone hinted at not being ultra-leftist, he was put out of commission, if not lynched (because the moment hadn’t yet arrived); not lynched physically, but lynched morally.
Therefore, there was a division in the face of the world in its contingent urges, in its contingent need; a terrible division that once again, still again, annuls the capacity of the Christian Fact to witness to the world itself. In fact, the testimony of the Christian Fact to the world lies in its presence to the needs of the world, in the presence of the Christian Fact to the neediness of the world, not in the presence of the Christians at the protest marches of the “Red flag.”
c) Third consequence: the theoretical and practical underestimation of authoritative experience, of authority. No systematic action and systematic thought exist without becoming disciples of some master! So there are two options: either you acknowledge given, offered authority, or you choose it; either authority is the grace of your history, the grace of God within your history, or you choose your authority. The names of the ringleaders of the time (and at least a few today) were used the same way the names of such-and-such a priest or such-and-such a fellow were previously used to endorse what you were doing. The Christian Fact–let’s repeat it–has in the authoritative function created by Christ the geometric locus where the Mystery saves; it has there the place where the acknowledgment and the respect of the Mystery are documented, guaranteed, attested to. I think that few people like us are forced to repeat these things almost with rage, for how much it hurts. What a pity that we don’t still have people who can express this literarily! And I don’t know whether it is the laziness or negligence or “instinctivity” with which we move that doesn’t allow us to identify a more adequate hierarchy of commitments that, according to the charisms we have, we should take on.
So then, in the general bewilderment, the first attitude that concretely, historically dominated GS and GL (GL quantitatively as well, almost 100%; GS, instead, quantitatively no, quantitatively it was a majority, but not a big majority; however, the physiognomy of GS, because of the way it was conducted, was dominated by this) was to overcome the impasse by jumping headlong into following the world. One’s own history, its contents of value, were minimized, interpreted as much as possible according to an abstract version of life, as excluded, ostracized from the possibility of impact on the historic contingent and therefore of a true incarnation. The historic heft of the Christian Fact was eliminated (again, this is the best expression). The result was a dualism in those who remained, in those who wanted to remain–I say in the Christian sphere. It was a dualism between a looming heaven and an earth that went after its own ways and its own destinies. From the point of view of Church history, this is (in the essential sense, in the pure sense) the Protestant attitude. Secularist theology, which so acrimoniously engaged the youngest and most lively members of the Catholic clergy, and thus also the young people who gathered around them, can only be interpreted in the final analysis–not in terms of intentions and not according to a judgment of coherent actuation, but from the cultural point of view–can only be seen and judged, I believe, according to the category of an authentic, pure, orthodox, and, let’s say it now, Barthian Protestantism.
5. The abandonment of discourse
So then, there are three important consequences to note, and the importance of the notations is not dictated by mere love for historical analysis, but by the fact that this dialectic will always be present; be it slight or strong, this clash, this trial (and this temptation) will always be present. The first is an efficientistic, moralistic conception of Christian commitment: before the neediness of the world, there is an analysis of it, the theory to use in responding to it, and the response according to this theory. Everything is played out according to man’s measure, and Christ has nothing to do with it; He has something to do with it only on a level beyond space and time, as a moral inspiration that is beyond space and time–“transcendental.” The second is the inability to culturalize the discourse, because the culturalization to which one abandons oneself has the matrix of Marxist analysis or Marxist theory, or in any case worldly analysis or worldly theory. The culturalization to which one abandons oneself has the matrix of worldly experience, not Christian experience, and thus it has the theorization, the exaltation, the idealization of the diversity of opinions and approaches, exactly like the trajectory of the Student Movement [comprised of protesting university-student organizations], to the same degree that practically, organizationally, a certain “univocal” directive is imposed. The third is the theoretical and practical underestimation of authority, because authority is the function that guarantees the authenticity of Christian experience.
From the contributions offered to me, a great deal of documentation could be drawn in this regard, both about the impetus full of desire for real authenticity, and about the passage that betrayed our own history. We can read a few excerpts from a certain student newspaper put out by the Student Youth (GS) of the time:
“We, too, began the school year full, everyone concerned about launching the first semester initiatives, estranging ourselves from the real situation of school, even though we timidly stuttered the need for greater participation in the environment. But all this was still exclusively finalized toward our initiatives, toward our proposal.” Just an analysis of this excerpt is enough to go to the heart of the question of the time. It’s clear that a similar unease was felt by those who were energetic and alive, not the bumps on a log. But, first of all, do you see how the discourse of the Movement, the discourse of the history of GS, had already been abandoned? Notes on the Christian Method had been radically abandoned. The premise of Notes on the Christian Method,10which is the keystone of our position, no longer existed; it was no longer considered.
“We, too, began the school year full, everyone concerned about launching the first semester initiatives.” And, in fact, for extremely incisive and decisive people of the time, the texts were no longer Notes on the Christian Methodor Traces of the Christian Experience11 (except for a few readings about globality of decision in Gioventù Studentesca [GS] or Student Youth: Reflections on an Experience), but those of Gonzáles-Ruiz, Christianity Isn’t A Humanism,12 etc. Deep down, in a moment of trial–this is another version of what I said before, as a premise–what comes to the surface is what we had chosen from the beginning: we have always chosen something else if, in an interrogative, in a problem, we go astray.
The situation of Student Youth (GS) facilitated a collapse exactly because discourse had been abandoned. Perhaps in the directional groups of the time it hadn’t even been grasped; in any case, it was no longer, at least, the cultural instrument from which one drew inspiration and which one used. In fact, even before the occupation of 1968, a notable efficientism created unease in those who looked at things with a certain objectivity or with a certain consciousness of the discourse we’d always used. The phenomenon of cultural expression was already in act as attempted research, as in an anthology, of what the others were saying, and not as a deeper examination of things or a way of dealing with things using an inspiration drawn from our experience. It was like a city besieged and taken because it lacked vigilant guardians: the sentinels, the guardians on the bastions had been removed; the guardians on the bastions of the city, the vigilance of discourse had been removed.
But this can’t be understood if you can’t immerse yourself in the “why” of it, and the “why,” in the final analysis, is the difficulty of Christian discourse, Christian experience, in becoming mature. If we don’t keep this in mind, in addition to scandalizing and judging (in the bad sense) our old friends, we also run the grave risk of failing in the present. Impatience isn’t the last trap, but the first. Christian experience will change the world; however, in order to change the world, the entire trajectory of history is required. It’s a sobering analogy: Christian experience will change my life, but the trajectory of existence is required; it will change our groups, our communities, but the whole trajectory of existence of these groups is required. A whole trajectory is needed!
Christian experience doesn’t satisfy man’s feverish efficientistic drive to have immediately, to have, because this is the temptation of the Pharisees, who said to Christ, “Do a miracle the way we want it; send us thunderbolts from the sky. Send us thunderbolts, and we’ll believe in you.”13 They established how the miracle should be: if Christ gave in to their measure, then they would believe. This is truly the pathos underlying the drama of the time and the uncertainty, melancholy, weariness, and doubtfulness of today.
At this point, you understand, you realize what faith means: believing, believing in Him; giving credence to the Christian Fact. In certain moments, it’s truly like dying to yourself. It’s truly dying to yourself. The excerpt continues, “We realized first of all that we hardly knew anything and had nothing to say.” Do you understand the mistake of this sentence? It’s like what they said before: “But all this was still exclusively finalized toward our initiatives, toward our proposal.” They took on themselves the accusation we often hear leveled at us: that we want to affirm “our thing.” Certainly, we want to affirm the fact of Christ; we want to affirm the Church, precisely because the Church is the salvation of the world!
“We didn’t have anything to say.” Since past history, since commitment with Christianity, with the Christian community, doesn’t make us capable of going against the professors with shrewdness like the Marxists, they said, “You see? They betrayed us.” In the song, Judas says, “It wasn’t because of the thirty pieces of silver, but for the hope He had aroused in me.”14 But it was a hope according to his measure! “So we contacted people and groups who had already experienced protests in the schools, to get a clear idea of the terms of the problem through their testimony and their work.” This is everything. The reduction is already completely underway. The reduction has already been totally accomplished, as you can also see in the editorial of the Michelaccio–the Michelaccio of the time, understand –that asserts that democracy is the only problem. Everything was slowly, tentatively, balanced on the concept of democracy, but the problem was the one stated earlier. What’s the difference between Christianity identified with social action, as in today’s Catholic-Marxist protest groups, and–as method–these sentences, this attitude? Look, precisely the most lively aspect of our assemblies, the most lively aspect of our groups–most lively in the sense of human energy–was the most subject to this temptation. I’ll read the last sentence: “The biggest question all of us are asking is how to insert ourselves into society.” It’s the ambiguity of these sentences, as they sound; but it’s the choice already made that lies underneath that is contradictory to all of our discourse.
6. Faithfulness to your own history
The third element of our diagnosis: In the general bewilderment, a certain portion of Student Youth, and our first university students, as well as our first adults (our university students and our first adults almost totally) felt stunned, blocked, intimidated, and confused by the situation. But one thing was immediately clear, at least to many of them: faithfulness to your own history had to be stronger and more decisive in the face of the clamor of the rightful demands and the power of the practical efficiency of the others. This, for those who, excuse the term, were “saved,” was undoubtedly the catalyst for their fundamental attitude: faithfulness to their own history.
This faithfulness to your own history had two important factors from the point of view of the reflection on their self-awareness:
a) The first factor is indicated on the sheet with the word “Mystery.” Faithfulness to your own history wasn’t motivated by fideism, or even by “faithfulness-ism;” it was faithfulness to your own history inasmuch as it clearly brought the decisiveness of the religious dimension for man’s existence and history to the gaze of your own consciousness. The religious dimension for the life of man and history means consciousness of the Mystery’s impact on the contingency I am living. The Mystery that affects the reality I am living is called Christ in His historical continuity: “Church.” This was immediately clear.
b) The second factor of this faithfulness to history was the sincerity and coherence with which people esteemed and trusted authority, therefore leaning on the authority; the rediscovery, the blunt discovery of the extreme importance the function of authority had had in their lived history. For that matter, the function of authority is precisely the guarantee for the respect and utilization of the mysterious term.
So then, those who were saved, were saved through the sentiment of faithfulness to their own history, inasmuch as they had a clear idea–exclusively, one can say–of the power of the religious dimension as impact on the concrete contingent, therefore the presence of the Mystery as a factor that impacts on the human contingent and, secondly, they were saved through a loyal and clear rediscovery of giving proper credence to authority, of the historic function of authority.
To varying degrees, for a long time this position stayed blocked within the confines of immaturity because of a lack within the evolution of our experience of the discovery that has characterized these last two years, that started out from the Péguy Center proclamation of the “Cross and Resurrection” dialectic. But the precise point in which the factor that mobilizes took off, shattering the limits of immaturity, has been the call to “self-awareness” over the past two years. Back then, the time hadn’t come, and therefore there was a rigidity within the confines of immaturity that promoted a mechanical faithfulness in forms. For this reason, a conformism, a slavery to frameworks, and a certain aridity carried on for a long time, especially on the educational level, and undoubtedly it is only now, in 1972–if we truly overcome this immaturity in ourselves–that we can perhaps begin to decisively obviate its consequences.
Precisely this absence of self-awareness, of the awareness of what happened to me with Christ (that even if the whole world, including all the world’s clergy, became something else, I wouldn’t move, because this is me, a fact that defines my flesh, my bones, my spirit, my whole ontology: it’s the new creature), the absence of this awareness left people with that inferiority complex both in the first years at the university and for a long time in the schools, (including now on many levels, though from this point of view, at least, over the past few months there has been a changed climate) that persuaded many to go somewhere else and that also dug like a thorn in the flesh of those who remained faithful to our history, rigidifying their movements, their way of speaking, making the way they offered themselves schematic and mechanical, and thus generating nothing.
Of course, these observations are broad-sweeping, because not everyone was this way. Listen, for example, to a document of the time, even though it wasn’t the climate in our communities: “The point of departure is that the solidarity efforts and the groups already existing on the university level have to stop being groups justified by having to do or having to say something. They need to become the sphere of conversion for each of us, the place of experience of communion as personal awareness.” Or again, “Above all, our way of cognition is the new life that has been given us. Let’s not set a theory that seems more all-encompassing, more human, against that of the Student Movement; let’s propose a different life, from which we possess another way of knowing [this is already perfect!], and this is the foundation of our consciousness. But, more in general, saying that our daily experience is the life of communion means saying that there is a place in the world that has come into being only by the power of God. The Fact that we exist, even though we can’t trace it to the interpretation of a historical theory, is at the same time visible; we can touch it, so much so that we are the first to be surprised by it.” Certainly, you can touch it in the Church, in the sacraments–in the Eucharist, for example–but there’s no way you can’t understand that the tension of being Christian is to make visible, perceptible, this Fact at the university or at work.
And then, “The question that our existence at the university poses to categories such as ‘global contestation,’ ‘revolution’, ‘anti-imperialist struggle’, or ‘class struggle’ is much more radical and original: it’s a matter testifying to a dimension of faith and a consciousness of living communion that prevents the political horizon within which the Student Movement moves from ‘absolutizing’ and becoming exclusive, to the detriment of all other visions of the world. Social alienation can’t scratch out the gratuitousness of a gift that offers man the possibility of being born again from on high.” They are very clear words, the expression of a very clear awareness, even back then, even though–each of us notes it–there’s just a far-off dawn, barely hinted at in a few sentences, of the positive aspect of impact, of an alternative to the world’s mentality and theory. It isn’t here yet, but this–here’s the importance of the thing–is the method for arriving there.
The thing that saved the continuity of our experience, even if we went through a bewilderment that caused us to rigidify, through years of confusion and inferiority complexes, mechanisms pursued with slavery to frameworks and repetitive conformism to things done in preceding years, with perhaps an adolescent attachment to an authoritative function, the thing that in any case made it possible for spring to follow winter and for the tree to continue, was the faithfulness to our own history. Gnoseologically, methodologically–from the gnoseological and practical points of view–this was everything.
Our little contingency, our ephemeral historical attempt repeats analogously what happens for the Church in the history of the world: the faithfulness to tradition is what makes the Church a healing, liberating presence for the world. There’s nothing else but faithfulness to your own history. Certainly, this is the faithfulness of man alive, not of a bump on a log. This is a given. It would be an insult if we treated ourselves without this given: it’s the faithfulness of man alive, therefore man who feels the problems of his time, who applies his intelligence and uses everything, like a good father, who draws from his treasure the new and the old, as Jesus says in the Gospel.15 Who’s afraid of these things? Who doesn’t know these things? But the problem is the specific form, the self-awareness, the personality that draws his whole nature from the Christian Fact and therefore carries out his task in faithfulness to history, faithfulness to the history of our experience: this is the most all-embracing and concise formula of the healthy methodology, from the gnoseological point of view, that of cognitive formulation, and from the point of view of practical formulation. This is what saved us.
And so, almost suddenly, in the past two years there has been a change (the upheaval happened in 1968, a matter of four years ago, then, but the antecedents were already grave in GS at least two or three years before: that efficientism, that absence of cultural development, etc.). Who among us doesn’t feel these accusations as something far away–the accusation of lack of will to have an impact on the world, of not participating in the problems of the world–even though we still feel bewildered, still confused in a lot of ways. I was thinking this the other day as I read the outline of the cultural activity of our university group in Cagliari. I was moved, and thought: When did this thing arise? It’s like a miracle! It’s the miracle that has flowered from the activity of these two years. In their precarious situation, with the still sporadic and fragmentary help they receive, I’d almost say: how daring they are in their challenge! We simply and truly must continue in the faithfulness to our history, to our experience as the matrix of our cultural engagement and our political commitment.
The factors, the humus, the sap for our presence, the face of our presence, thus the capacity for collaboration that our presence gives the world are found only in the memory of ourselves–only! In the measure to which we are memory, therefore in the measure to which the sense of the Mystery and the sense of authority are truly the two decisive factors (the one ideal, of conception, of consciousness, the other of practical, concrete methodology), in the measure to which we are this memory will we truly become fathers of families, of the family of the world, who draw from their treasure the old and the new; we won’t miss a hair on the head of the world, we won’t miss the lily of the field, the little wildflower of the world, just as they didn’t elude the eyes of Christ. But the call is that we have to overcome the immaturity, this rigidity that still keeps us in a framework of ice. Mark my words, the heat that breaks the ice, the energy that shatters the ice, the heat that melts it, doesn’t come from being busy, but is conversion, according to all its dimensions.
“Communion and Liberation” is certainly the formula that comprehensively defines all the development, the last point of our history: “communion” and “liberation” must be truly understood, because it isn’t yet. It’s truly embryonic in most of us; I am not talking about the workers who’ve only got a third-grade education, but the university professors. It’s still embryonic for us, still has predominating moralistic or activistic or aesthetic elements.
Our true problem is to leave our immaturity behind. But I hope that at least someone here has thought in this moment about what it says in the premise of Notes on the Christian Method.16 Because, I’ll say in parentheses, thinking especially about the “scribes” and the “Pharisees” in our people of God, who are those to whom most is given, or, in other words, those to whom it is given as a charism or as a possibility of time, to cultivate cultural inquiry, interest, and expression: I don’t know whether our texts truly form their matrix! In any case, the methodology is faithfulness to experience. I don’t know whether anyone here has remembered in this moment what it says in the premise: that Christianity spreads in the world not because of our work, but by the grace of God. So then, leaving behind our immaturity, becoming mature, is a grace of the Spirit within us. Let’s keep reminding each other! The Holy Spirit descended where they were gathered together in the Cenacle, where they were all gathered together. The Holy Spirit descends upon our communion. Therefore, for example, a “settlement” is an outcome of cultural expression, but before being an outcome of cultural expression, at least as a tendency, it’s the premise for cultural expression. In fact, our maturity is expressed in our passionate desire that the Church of God live visibly here where we are, in our striving that it be lived here, and therefore that Christian communion be built here and wherever we are, so that this “new person,” this “one body” as Saint Paul says17–“in which there is neither man nor woman, neither Greek nor barbarian, neither left nor right” (“All of you are one, one person in Jesus Christ”)–may bring good to the neighborhood, university, work, parish… bring good to the world, as an incarnate presence, incarnate!
But the logic of the incarnation, that is, the logic of mission, happens entirely in us, because the incarnation in the world, in the sense of interest in and help for the world’s problems, of real collaboration in the world’s struggle for authenticity, is only a ray of light, only an inevitable consequence of those problems, of the world’s needs, of flesh and blood, of the world, of life lived as Christian community, converted, translated in terms of faith. Incarnation doesn’t mean getting involved in the labor union, the factory, or university. Incarnation, that is, mission, is living the university, the factory, etc., as communion. It doesn’t mean getting involved in this or that cultural or practical or socio-political problem, but living our whole humanity as communion.
Summarizing, the world’s turmoil is an instrument of God’s call to authenticity and to truth of life for everyone, but in particular for the Christian, who is like the sentinel on the battlefield of the world. Authenticity, the need for authenticity: this is the value that was at the heart of those times, of the “uprising.” (Think of our presence in the Church, for example–do you understand that we were treated like the opposition protesters? For the others, to a certain point, we’re part of the phenomenon of 1968: the opposition protesters. In fact, what moves us in the parishes or in the dioceses is a desire for authenticity!) But this authenticity was pursued by denying the past, like a sudden eruption; the “new” was understood as an eruption without antecedent nexuses.
In the second place, in the face of what normally happens in the world, we’ll find ourselves a bit bewildered, with an inferiority complex, because ours is a long road to maturity–we’ll have complete maturity at the end of the Apocalypse. In Church history, however, when the Church and Christians didn’t have this inferiority complex, how many times did they experience the worldly misunderstanding (from Humanism onwards)? The grace of a St. Thomas Aquinas is a miraculous grace that God bestows in history, not a necessary grace, and therefore He grants it when He wishes. Deep down, as a law, we can’t avoid this bewilderment. “The world will laugh, and you will cry. The world will deride you.”18 It’s the concept of persecution. And mark my words, we give the world good reason to persecute us, because we scandalize it, and it’s right from the point of view of the mechanical cue. Our behavior always gives persecution an excellent cue, and therefore in this bewilderment we don’t even have a clean conscience. We can’t say, “I’m pure, but I’m afraid.” In our bewilderment, we have to say, “I’m a sinner.”
In this bewilderment, here’s the watershed: those who remain faithful to their own history, to what they’ve seen (“Renew, O Lord, the word in which you have evoked hope in me”) and those, instead, because of the impatience in the song about Judas, because the promise doesn’t correspond to the urgent need as it’s felt in the present, borrow from the world that which satisfies and makes them feel worthy of living, borrows from the world the meaning of their contingency, borrows from the world the meaning of history; and if they retain the ancient, if they retain the faith, they do so eschatologically, as a far-away point, anticipated in strange gestures (the priests in the Church, the religion of the sacraments). Operatively speaking, the energy of the Christian Fact is reduced to, “Be good, get involved in the world”–an encouragement to be committed, to moralism. But in the face of bewilderment, those who remain faithful to their own history will have a longer or shorter time of martyrdom during which they’ll understand that something should be done but won’t know what to do and, therefore, on the one hand, will be derided by the world, kicked around by the world, and, on the other, feel from within doubts about the faith, and therefore will have to battle on all fronts. There will be trials, truly. A little or a lot, it’ll always be this way, unless we become bumps on a log, just withdrawing into our churches or groups of communion, according to the immaturity described above.
Therefore, it’s extremely important for those whose criterion is truly faithfulness to their own history to eliminate immaturity. All our difficulties in perceiving in a unified way the problem of Communion and Liberation in the factories or at the university, in our own parish groups or our own group of communion with other families of friends–what else do you think they are, if not immaturity? Because the person is one (self-awareness) and the Christian Fact is one. It doesn’t mean, then, that I choose my parish. God is the one who chooses for you, and if you go to work, if you go to university, it’s exactly the same as in the churches! And when you return home, after having battled in the labor union, in labor union work, it’s another sphere and in the degree to which you devote your energy and time, there, too, you have to live the mystery of communion.
Immaturity… On the other hand, however, those who break the line of faithfulness to tradition and rest their hopes, as the prophet said, on horses and chariots, on the Egyptians, on alliance with the Egyptians (and they don’t say that they break the alliance with Yahweh, just that they break it if they form one with the Egyptians, and God tells them this; see the first chapters of Isaiah, or chapters 30-31), they wed with activism, immediate efficiency. Is there a more worldly criterion than this? “False Christs, false prophets will come, and they will do such great works that all the world will be amazed, such that the charity in many will fade.”19 What is charity? Faith in Christ, adhering with your own life to Christ, acknowledging Christ, and therefore acknowledging communion. This is charity. Since others do greater things, some will disregard communion and throw themselves into efficient-ism; from here the un-translatability of the Christian Fact, of faith, in cultural terms, as cultural expression, therefore completely withdrawing your collaboration with God in the world, leaving everything totally to the Holy Spirit, not caring about the presence of His Church in history, not collaborating, then, in translating the world into Church. It’s like saying the Church is indefectible, because there’s the Holy Spirit; even if I no longer get involved, it goes ahead anyway.
In faithfulness to your own history, two hard points come to the surface. One is cultural, the impact of the Mystery in your way of conceiving, analyzing, and theorizing; the impact of the Mystery in cultural inflection, methodologically. This is hard. This is immaturity in us, because our methodology is still worldly in its cultural expression (and will always tend to be so). But the Mystery isn’t “the mystery.” “God” is Christ and the Church. The hard point is the Christian community, the mystery of the alliance, of communion, as a factor that methodologically determines your own way of thinking, your own culture. This is the point. On the other hand, the other hard point, the hurdle, is our own self-love. The first is the difficulty of metanoia [work] as culture, the second is the difficulty of metanoia as morality, countering self-love and acknowledging authority, the function of authority.
1 Cf. Mt 24:11-12.
2 Lk 8:10.
3 Lk 8:8.
4 Mt 3:12; Lk 3:17.
5 Lk 22:42.
6 Jn 19:30.
7 C. Chieffo, Il monologo di Giuda [Judas’ Monologue] in Canti [Songs], Cooperative Editoriale Nuovo Mondo, Milan (2002), p. 205.
8 Rev 3:19.
9 Mt 28:20.
10 Cf. L. Giussani, “Notes on the Christian Method,” in The Journey to Truth is an Experience, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal (2006), pp. 87-141.
11 Cf. L. Giussani, “Traces of the Christian Experience,” ibid, pp. 53-85.
12 J.M. González-Ruiz, Il cristianesimo non è un umanesimo...: appunti per una teologia del mondo, Cittadella, Assisi 1968.
13 Cf. Mk 8:11.
14 See here, note 7.
15 Cf. Mt 12:35.
16 See here, note 10.
17 Cf. Gal 3:28.
18 Cf. Jn 16:20.
19 See here, note 1.