The Most Powerful Challenge to the Positivity of Reality

Notes from Fr. Julián Carrón’s Assembly with students of the Faculty of Science at the University of Milan, on the occasion of the death of their friend Giovanni Bizzozero. Department of Physics, Milan, Italy, November 9, 2011
Julián Carrón

On November 4, 2011, Giovanni Bizzozero died in a motorcycle accident. He was 23 years old and he was a veterinary medical student at the University of Milan.

One of the things Fr. Julián said Friday morning, when he learned of the passing of Bizzo, was: “With his death, Bizzo has extended a great gesture of friendship to us, because he has set us before eternity.” From the experience I’ve had in these days, I can say that this sentence is true. My desire today is that we can help each other look at what has truly happened, allowing ourselves to be provoked deep down. Can we say, even today, with the death of a dear friend, that reality is always ultimately positive? What signs in experience enable us to say this? Our life is at stake in this question. I am here with the desire that we can help each other look at the deep needs that have emerged, and Fr. Julián has given us a great opportunity in accepting our invitation to come, so let’s not waste time.

Contribution. I haven’t reduced Bizzo’s death. I was blown away and still struggle to be fully conscious of it. That evening, I looked at his body and said, “Where is the positive reality? Where?” In this period of sadness, I need a Christianity that responds deep down to what has happened. I have two examples to share. During the Rosary, I heard a father telling his little child, “Look, Giovanni hasn’t left; he’s still here with us.” I immediately had the reaction, “What does that mean? Is it a line we give children to console them, or is it true? What really tells me that Bizzo is not in the void? What tells me that now Bizzo is fully realized? Is it a leap that reason cannot comprehend?” In all of this, I keep hearing the words his mother said at the funeral: “Kids, don’t believe what they tell you; reality is truly positive.” This is the evidence that there is a Christianity that is convincing and overflowing
with reasons, one I desire but don’t know.

JULIÁN CARRÓN. I did not think we would have had to verify our words from the Beginning Day so quickly. But life pushes. And I am happy, because the way you
are asking questions shows the reasonableness of the journey we are making. As we see, we have not been able to reduce this circumstance–as, instead, happens so often– to the usual. So, the question becomes even more decisive: where is the positivity of reality in the face of this fact?

What is the newness of your contributions? That you already begin to sense that we need a Christianity able to respond to these challenges. In the face of this fact, is it true or not that “reality is positive”? Do we tell ourselves it is positive to console ourselves?

If we look back at the Beginning Day, Davide Prosperi ended his contribution with this question: “If what we most need for living (on the same level as the air we breathe) is a reason capable of recognizing reality in all its profundity, we ask you: Where does a reason like this come from, and how can it be reached?” And I answered that a reason capable of recognizing reality in all its profundity is born of and is realized in the Christian event. Through the power of the Christian event, reason fulfills its nature of openness before the very unveiling of God. One understands why Fr. Giussani says that “the whole problem of intelligence is there” in the episode of John and Andrew. Why is Christianity this? Fr. Giussani says, “The heart of our proposal is ...the announcement of an event that happened, that surprises people in the same way the angel’s announcement two thousand years ago in Bethlehem surprised the poor shepherds. An event that happens, before whatever consideration of religious or non-religious person” (L. Giussani, Un avvenimento di vita, cioè una storia [An Event of Life, That Is, a History], Il Sabato, Rome/Milan, 1993, p. 38). What shows that it is this way? What happens when Christianity happens? Does it make us more visionary, so that we can console ourselves in the face of the blows of life? Does it take us outside reality, or does it enable us, as never before, to experience a use of reason that is finally true? Fr. Giussani
said that Christianity happens as an event. Not when we talk nonsense, and nothing happens. Not when Christianity is reduced to a series of instructions, so we continue living like everyone else, but put on our “Christian hat” or do some activity to distract ourselves. No! Christianity only happens as event. What happens when you fall in love? Does something happen in your “I” or not?

If Christianity does not happen, if it is not an event, then I understand why in the face of these things we are lost like everyone else. But when it happens, what happens? A sentimentalism? Is it only an emotion? Is it just the application of a set of instructions? Fr. Giussani says, “This event [when Christianity is an event] resurrects or empowers the elementary sense of dependence and the complex of original ‘evidences’ that we call ‘the religious sense.’” What does it mean to say that it resurrects and empowers the “I” of the
person? The Christian event makes man man, that is, more capable of living according to his original “evidences,” more capable of being struck by reality, of living reality according to its truth, because he is capable of using reason according to its true nature of openness to the totality of reality. So then, when we are in front of this fact, the death of Giovanni, each of us, whether we want to or not, verifies whether Christianity has happened as an event for herself or himself. We know if it is only a consolation or if something has happened, such that nothing–not even such a dramatic fact–can close reason and keep it from acknowledging all of reality. I challenge you! I thought of this when my father died: imagine John and Andrew. They lived with Him, they saw Him, they saw what they saw, all the facts, all the signs, all the proof of who He was... to the very end, when they saw Him risen. Imagine when the first of the twelve died: they found themselves in our same situation, before a friend who had died. What did they think? What was the thing they could not remove from before their eyes, not for all the world? That they had seen One alive. Alive! Only because they had seen One alive could they use an open reason, not a closed reason, stopping at the appearance of
reality. They could not look at their friend’s coffin without seeing before their eyes what they had seen. Were they visionaries? Or did that fact enable them to use reason according to all its nature as reason?

Without this, without Christianity happening in us as an event, anything–not just a drama like the death of a friend–closes us. And we look at reality the same way everyone else does. But when John and Andrew thought of Him, was it to console themselves or was it a fact of knowledge that they could not remove from before their eyes? Was it real or not? Each person must decide. What is more complicated, acknowledging that now none of us gives ourselves life (do you have to be visionaries to acknowledge this?), or acknowledging that He who gives us life can give it back to us for eternity? Doesn’t the acknowledgment that now none of us gives ourselves life make us capable of acknowledging that He who gives us life can give it back to us for eternity? Are we visionaries when we think that we do not give ourselves life, or is it the use of reason that enables us not to be mindless and presumptuous and think the opposite? If we do not give ourselves life, I repeat, is it more difficult for God to give us life now or to give it back to us later, for eternity?

The problem is that we live with our head in a sack. We do not recognize the things present as Presence. We take everything for granted. And since we do not discover every morning that life has been given to us, that it is given now, we find it difficult to think that He who gives us life now can give it to Giovanni, now. How can we explain it to ourselves? What enables us to use reason this way? What shows that reason is right? Only an experience like the one we are living is able to not close the question. Without this, we cannot help but think of faith as a consolation. We are unable to acknowledge that the Christian event enables reason to acknowledge reality according to all its factors, because rationalism, a reduced use of
reason, has become so much ours, one with us.

This is what Christianity as event continually challenges and blows away. From the moment that we first experience that something happens that makes life explode, giving an intensity to living that we could never have dreamed for ourselves, then this measure of reason begins to be obsolete and we begin to throw ourselves wide open. When we begin to use reason in this way, we cannot look at reality without thinking of the Mystery who dwells in it, to the point of saying, in any circumstance, that reality is positive precisely because of the Mystery who dwells in it. Not because we make it become positive ourselves, but because we cannot reduce it to our measure, because of what happens. Our measure is blown away, because of the facts that happen. This is why Christianity challenges the use of reason, as nothing else does. Reason throws wide open, resurrects, and empowers–being visionaries does not do
this! If we were visionaries, the things we say would not be facts we experience. It would all be virtual, but we all know the difference between the virtual and the real. If not, life makes us understand, because the train arrives promptly at the station.

Contribution. Friday morning, Riccardo told me, “Last night, Bizzo died.” Suddenly, I realized that life, all of existence, is powerfully “other” than my capacities.
Truly, my life does not depend on me. My being, that of Bizzo and of those dearest to me, no matter how grateful I am for their presence, does not depend on me. Not even my great desire that they exist keeps them at my side. I realized profoundly that I am a creature; Bizzo is a creature; we are created. I was even a surprise for my parents. I realized that all my features, my character and my disposition came to them unexpectedly. My existence is a surprise for me, too, and so the question bursts forth, “So, who made me? Who thought of me?” I slammed into the fact that One, before any other, desired Bizzo, and not just so to speak, but to the point of making him, drawing him forth from nothingness, making him exist, giving
life to the fibers of his body, thinking of a unique face for him. Continually, I find myself thinking that we could have not existed, but, instead, here we are. And I realized that my being, the being of Bizzo, is the gesture of One, the continual act of an Other. In the face of this, how can I think that He, who more than anyone else desired Bizzo, would at a certain point forget him, not take care of him? So, when I heard people saying, “What happened makes no sense,” an incredible rebellion surged up in me. I wanted to say, “How can it be that He who was faithful to Bizzo more than any of us, more than any of his friends, making him exist second after second, would forget him?” In front of the body at the wake, I asked myself, “Where is Bizzo now, truly?” Because of the power of realizing that we are creatures, I couldn’t help but answer, “He has returned to the Father, to his Father’s embrace.” At the funeral, I
was moved. I was totally wounded because of being a creature. I thought of that passage from the Bible: “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you” (cf. Jer 31:3). I trembled to realize that I was molded by an Other, that I was desired, me, by an Other. I rediscovered that I am a daughter of God, a tiny dot in reality touched and wanted by the Mystery. And I wondered, “Why is it given to me to live? What is my task?” And there emerged a great dizzying desire to live, obeying the Father. At the cemetery, when they covered Bizzo with earth, I felt a great need for eternity explode inside me, and felt again the question that accompanies me and wounds me: “What is forever? What of me is eternal?” It is unbearable that my life should be a parenthesis. Before the great need of my heart and before Bizzo, who is buried, who is so “other” than what I can understand, I throbbed with the realization that the love of God for me and for us, His creatures, is eternal. I see the total disproportion between this consciousness of myself as creature, daughter of God, for whom my heart yearns, and a reduced conception of myself. I wanted to ask you: How can this consciousness that has emerged so clearly in these days become stable and rooted in me? I see that it is easily clouded, covered by thousands of worries, and the fact of living is no longer a provocation, but a worry; I feel again the fear and fright that in this obedience to the Father I can lose something.

CARRÓN. Marta, how did you come to this awareness?

Contribution. Since last year, since the work on the Spiritual Exercises, I have found myself wounded and needy. Throughout this period, I have found nothing so commensurate to my need and my wound as the fact of Christ.

CARRÓN. And only this. Therefore, we do not understand these things just because we say them–only when they happen do we understand. What makes us this way? A reason capable of acknowledging reality in all its profundity is born and is realized in the Christian event. We participate in this event of the Christian community only if we live in the Christian community this way, as you described. A Christian community that constantly challenges us causes things to happen that continually educate us to this. Not even an event as painful as this one, in fact, can keep the wound fresh, because reason falls away. We have heard it many times in School of Community, or in the letter of that young man from Rome at the Beginning Day: when he was in the hospital everything was new, nothing was taken for granted, but, when he left, everything returned to being taken for granted. It means that not even a fact that wounds us so much is able to keep reason open. The only thing that makes it possible is being inside the Christian community, which tells you a lot about what
the Christian community means for us.

When we realize that it is only the Christian community that makes us live reality, as Marta testified to us, what does this say about the Christian community? What is it? Why can a group of poor people full of limitations–as anyone who is minimally aware knows he is– give such a decisive contribution to living reality with this truth? Because we are excellent fellows? No, we all know we are not. “Only the divine can ‘save’ man. The true and essential dimensions of humanity and its destiny can only be preserved by He who is their ultimate meaning” (At the Origin of the Christian Claim, McGill- Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 1998, p. 83). Only He can bring them forth to the consciousness of each of us. So then, when we speak this way of a Christian community, it shows this about its origin: in the clay vessels that we are, the divine dwells. No other fact, no matter how sensational, has the ability to keep us open, Marta. Not even a fact as enormous as the death of a friend.

What impresses me about Marta’s testimony is the gaze that, when everything seems to crumble apart, enables her to use reason as she has used it. She did not tell us that she had a vision that enabled her to experience this. She began to wield reason, that is, to look at herself without taking herself for granted! She began to look at herself as created, as creature, to see her existence as a surprise, as something not taken for granted, to the point of acknowledging One who desired that Bizzo should live, because life is a continual act of an Other, to the point of feeling rebellion surge up in her when someone tried to reduce it. As someone at the CL University Equipe [leadership meeting] said, this acknowledgment of an Other is anything but a complication! What rebellion! The entire “I,” every fiber of one’s being, rebels against this reduction of reality.

Precisely because Christianity generates a person like this, a person able to not reduce, who rebels when she ears someone reduce, then you begin to understand that the One who has the power to generate us also has the power to give us life forever. We are born to live forever. There is One who has the power, the energy to generate us from nothing–so of course He has no difficulty giving us life forever! How can I say this? Just think what happened in your life when Christ happened, not as a mere name! Do you give yourself that intensity of life,
that capacity to stay in reality, that positivity in facing everything, that consciousness of yourself, that amazement at your existence, that intensity, that ‘extra’ humanity? Not a speck do you give yourself. So then, the only way to explain the fact that we are the first to be amazed at this intensity of living, an intensity so absolutely disproportionate to our efforts and attempts, is to yield to the evidence of this Other who is in our midst, because it is so evident that we cannot create it ourselves. This means that He is at work, and that therefore we are not alone with our nothingness. Reality is positive because He exists, because He is reality, as St. Paul says (cf. Col 2:17). Reality is positive because it exists, and for this reason we can acknowledge reality–even in this moment. Rather, this moment challenges us more than any other thing: it awakens a question so powerful that we have to find an answer that is commensurate.

We truly must realize the nature of this life that has been given to us and is given to us, the nature of the intensity of life we have encountered in the Christian event; only this keeps us from reducing reason. We are not talking about abstract theories, but about life. If the life we are living here, now, is not true, if it is not life, if it is not real, then not even the death of Bizzo is real. Is life real? Is the intensity of life we find in living the faith real or not?

The issue, then, is that this reality has a real origin: One who is real. It is not something that appears virtually. The origin has to be as real as the life that has been given to us, as real as the intensity of life, as this “extra” in life that Christ introduces. Real! So much so that outside Christianity, we could not have even dreamed of it for ourselves.

Therefore, in the face of a fact like the death of Giovanni, those who have not lived Christianity as a real event are bewildered, and the rationalistic measure prevails in them, and thus they do not understand anything. They experience the drama of the question without possibility of an answer. We have the answer, but not because we invent it ourselves, or pull it out of our pocket; we are not visionaries. We have the answer in our bones because we cannot remove it from every fiber of our being. We do not invent it ad hoc to respond to this question. When such a powerful challenge arrives, we truly realize what has happened to us in life, what grace has happened to us!

Marta told me these things Friday night. They really challenged me. I felt an unbearable anguish, a void. I was silent with my friends. I didn’t know what to say at lunch, at dinner. I tried to totally identify myself with what Marta told me, I swear, I sincerely tried, because I was raw and naked in the face of what was happening. But I couldn’t do it; I can’t find peace...

CARRÓN. What do you learn from this? Do you see? If faith does not happen, if Christianity is not an event, we cannot succeed in convincing ourselves with our
attempts. Try it! Are we the ones who invent it? She would like that; it would make all the difference. But she is unable. Do you see how the lie emerges? Not her lie, but the lie of saying that this is our invention–there is no way in the world that she could manage to invent it! And this, two thousand years after the Resurrection of Jesus, understand? Two thousand years after someone said Jesus was risen. Not even after two thousand years, in which we have heard it thousands of times, can we succeed in generating it ourselves. So then, as the Pope asked years ago in Verona, is faith a creation or an acknowledgment? Only a person closed up in his room can try to generate it like his own creation and settle for it. But when life
pushes, the last thing that comes to mind is that we generate it. Lies have short legs: at the first bend in the road, they are already defeated. So then, where is your error? That you did not need to start out from an effort to identify with what Marta experienced (which is easily reduced to your imagination). Instead, you need to start out from what has happened to you in life and that you cannot remove from the marrow of your bones. Bizzo’s death makes you realize that you are here now. Do you give yourself life? This means that our difficulty is not in being visionaries, but, on the contrary, in acknowledging reality, in starting out from reality as experience. And when we try to substitute it with an attempt to create or imagine something, we realize even more that we do not generate it ourselves. Do you have any difficulty acknowledging that you exist? Do you have any difficulty acknowledging that there is light in this classroom? That there are a lot of us here? Do you have difficulty identifying with this? It is this way. You do not have to identify with what Marta tells you as discourse, but in
what she tells you about how she experiences reality. So then you begin to use reason differently. But since we are not used to it, it is extremely toilsome for us.

Contribution. I have no difficulty in acknowledging that I am nothing, that I am fragile. Because that’s the way it is. But this does not make me certain that Bizzo is now fulfilled.

CARRÓN. One thing at a time. What makes you understand that you are not making yourself at this moment? You don’t have to do triple backward somersaults; just begin to use reason. The fact that you do not give yourself life–what does this make you understand? Not that Bizzo is fulfilled, but what? What does the fact that you do not give yourself life implicate? Maria, use your head! Don’t let yourself get blocked! Do you all see? We constantly let our sentiment block us and we become idiots. Idiotsmeans that reason is paralyzed. But you are not an idiot, because if you have made it all the way to university... you have done something! If you can acknowledge that you are here now, the most evident thing is that there is an Other who is making you now. Is it hard for you to acknowledge it? This is the first step. So then, it means saying that He who is making you now, He who made Bizzo, is at work in reality; if He were not at work in reality, you would not be here. If you begin to look at what makes you present now, you will begin to look at reality not only on the basis of your ability.
If you look only on the basis of your ability, you think that what happens in reality is only what your littleness succeeds in imagining–since your littleness, your reason as measure, cannot imagine how your friend can live forever, this for you means that it is not true. And if someone told you otherwise, you would think him mistaken, because your measure is a reduced reason. But how many times in your life have things happened that you did not think of? “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your
philosophy.” (W. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene V). When we say that reason is a measure for us, are we talking about a problem for philosophers, for the specialists, for people
who complicate life? When something arrives that is beyond our ability to imagine, our ability to measure, our ability to see how it can happen, we say, “It is impossible.” We deny the category of possibility, that is, we deny reason. So then, we get blocked. But is this true or not? Is it true or not that many things have happened in your life that you did not think could happen? Is it true or not that this measure has been blown away thousands of times in your life? So then, who can tell you that it cannot be blown away again? As you all can see, this is a slower journey, but one that helps us use reason. It does not convince us of anything, nor does it eat our brain: it makes us use reason according to its nature. If you look at The Religious Sense again, you will see that the attempt we are making together is to learn to use reason without taking any step that you do not already see in experience, in reality. We do not need to convince ourselves; we need to realize. It is different. You have no difficulty in realizing what I am telling you, in the measure to which I explain it to you and set you in front of the facts; I am not trying to convince you of what does not exist or what you do not see, until you agree. I do not need to convince you that there is light in this classroom. It is the
same: the possibility that you cannot absorb right now is made possible only by He who is giving you life now. Only if you accept this will you be able to respond to the urgency of your question. This is the challenge that circumstances, the facts of life, throw at us. You will find an answer only if you accept this challenge, this provocation of reality, without stopping until you find an adequate reason. If we miss this opportunity and if we think that someone can spare us this journey, we become less women and men. It has to be an education–not to imagine what does not exist, but to realize what does.

When I heard about Giovanni, I wondered what I should do. Then, when I arrived at the wake, Feo told me your words: “Giovanni’s final gesture of friendship was to set us before eternity.” That was the beginning of a journey for me. I began to look at things as given–his friendship, the relationships I have, the things to do–to the point of being able to say, in a way that wasn’t artificial, “I am You who make me.” I immediately felt the desire to waste no time. When I returned to the Agriculture Studies building, I was impressed to see that many of us were still there studying (and it was a Friday– until 7 pm there must have been 20 people!). Then I went to my lesson with the flyer “The Recession: A Challenge that Calls For Change,” because I had a desire to say that I am coming to understand that reality is this, that is, something that, deep down, is imbued with a good Mystery.
When I went to the professor with the flyer, all uncertain (because uncertainty doesn’t go away), it corresponded for me, because it was like saying, “I am this relationship with Christ.” These days the pain has been great, and getting up in the mornings requires a decision. Today, though, going to that lesson and giving the flyer to my classmates was a statement. Coming here, I had a question: “How can I be like Giovanni, who gave everything?” I realize, however, that everything is already there: today, going to classes, I didn’t need my friend to give out flyers with me, as a supplement of certainty, as we have said many times. But I am this relationship and I say it to the world. This is what is beginning to make me perceive that, truly, everything is a good.

How can a person, after the death of a friend, return to the Faculty and find everyone studying? It seems banal, absolutely banal, a simple fact that you can take for granted. But is it possible to explain it without something else happening? So then you begin to say, “I am You who make me” in a way that is not artificial. When a person needs to say this, it means that you have said it many times in a way that was taken for granted. Something begins to happen in the way of living things. Something happens that makes everything begin to be different, new. I am this relationship: this is the event that happens, that enables me to study in peace, even in the midst of pain, enables me to give the flyer to the professor, enables me to enter the classroom, makes me need everything urgently. But precisely because of this pain that pushes me, I need the memory of Christ to be able to stay in front of it. I need to use reason without reducing it. What does the memory of Christ mean? Using reason again according to its nature! That is, not reducing my reality, my “I,” to my mood. If I reduced everything to my mood, after a few days I wouldn’t be able to go on. Someone could say, “She’s really suffering from Giovanni’s death....” I assure you, instead, that if you stayed at this level, in very little time you wouldn’t be able to go on. You would need to forget, in order to continue living. Only a person who does not need to forget (rather, remembering urges him to the memory of Christ) can stay in front of death and can remain Giovanni’s friend in another modality. The others, whether they want to or not, would erase him from their lives. Not out of spite, but because they would not be able to stay in front of him, and would have to forget. And instead of staying before the eternal, they would have to return to the usual life and reduce reality to appearances. Instead, every time it hurts, every time I feel the wound, if it is an occasion of memory, we see how Giovanni remains our friend. He is more a friend than ever, because nothing has made us live before the truth, that is, before the eternal, the way Giovanni’s death has. And this judges all our friendships, which, many times, rather than helping us to live before the eternal, make us forget it, distract us from the eternal. What kind of friendship is ours? It is as if the death of a friend puts our backs to the wall: what kind of friendship is ours, if not for being able to look at this? If we are not friends in death, then we are not even friends in life–even if it does not wound us as much as a death.

Lately, I’ve had to deal with death often. A year and a half ago, a fellow I’ve known since high school died in an accident. This provoked me deeply. Then, about a month ago, another friend died in an accident at work, an adult, who was also my advisor in what I study, a mentor who taught me many things. And now Giovanni, my great friend... In this year and a half, above all in these recent days, I am beginning to understand something; I am beginning to be certain that all these facts are related. The Lord is asking something of me. The problem is that now I sense this question, but I don’t yet understand what He’s asking of me.

CARRÓN. Don’t worry: when God wants something, He makes you understand it with all the clarity of the universe. Calm down, give yourself time! Wait and you’ll see that the Lord will give you all the signs you need to understand.

Let’s finish by saying this: we cannot fill the void left by death with our imagination. What is of Giovanni now? What do you think? To think about it, from where do you start? Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3). Eternal life begins to be an experience in the Christian encounter, in the measure to which each has had the experience of the Christian encounter. And if the intensity of life that the Christian encounter introduced in every fiber of our being (Fr. Giussani said, “A fever of life!”), if this is the first “taste” of what Christ is, imagine what the fulfillment will be like! So stop thinking about Giovanni except in this way, because, otherwise, our imagination fills in what we do not know. The Mystery is unknown, but we know something of this unknown Mystery, because Christ has revealed it to us, and we have begun to experience it. For this reason, the only modality for not filling in this unknown with our imagination and then attributing it to the Mystery (which is almost inevitably the risk we fall prey to if we are not careful), consists in helping each other look at Giovanni starting from the experience we have had with Christ. Because Giovanni, now, is living the fulfillment of that experience, is living that experience more intensely, is living the whole of that experience, of that beginning. But it is the fulfillment of what he was already living here! It is not something else; it is the fulfillment of that. So then, eternal life is not eternal boredom, such that in the end we could think, “Poor fellow, what a shame!” Perhaps Giovanni is more fortunate than we. Rather, not perhaps: he is more fortunate than we, because today he is telling us, “Look, life is this!” With his living this fullness now, he is saying to all of us, “Look, friends, life is this! Life is Christ, and death is gain.”