1. THE GENERATION OF A SUBJECT WHO
IS NOT ALIENATED
Fr. Giussani grasped the crucial point: "As a result of the education I received at home, my seminary training, and my reflections later in life, I came to believe deeply that only a faith arising from life experience and confirmed by it (and, therefore, relevant to life's needs) could be sufficiently strong to survive in a world where everything pointed in the opposite direction" (The Risk of Education, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 2001, p. 11). This is why he always insisted on the need for each of us to start from experience, to focus constantly on experience. Otherwise, nobody would be strong enough to hold out in a world where everything, everything, says the opposite. It is the same need that is noted in other terms in the first pages of The Religious Sense, as we have discovered reading the text together in these months: "If I did not begin with this existential inquiry, it would be like asking someone else to define a phenomenon that I experience. This external consultation must confirm, enrich, or contest the fruits of my own personal reflection. Otherwise, I would be substituting the opinion of others for a task that belongs to me, and, in the end, I would form an inevitably alienating opinion" (The Religious Sense, McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal, 1997, p. 5). Fr. Giussani wants to make us become adults, subjects capable of judgment; he does not want us alienated. Thus, his words in another passage of The Risk of Education are very significant: "The purpose of education is to fashion a new human being; for this reason, the active factors of the educational process must guide the pupil to act with increasing independence and to face the world around him on his own. To do this, we must increasingly expose him to all the elements of his environment, while also gradually allowing him more responsibility for his choices. This is in agreement with the outlines of an evolutionary path according to which the pupil must, at some point, be able to 'do it himself' in every circumstance. The teenager must be guided gradually as he matures toward a personal and independent encounter with the reality that surrounds him. It is here that the educator's stability becomes important, for the increasing autonomy of the student is a 'risk' for the teacher's intelligence and heart, and even for his pride. Then again, it is precisely the risk of confrontation that helps create the pupil's personality in his relationship to all things; it is here that he develops his freedom" (The Risk of Education, pp. 80–81). This is what motivates the continual insistence on judgment, the need for comparison between what we live and the heart. This work is as simple as it is unpopular, as we have seen. It is very easy, in fact, to repeat formulas or go from quote to quote, however correct, or to appeal to another to supplement the certainty I lack. But, as I always tell you, you have to decide to become adults or not, that is, to live an experience that enables you to stay in reality through the judgment that emerges from experience itself, or to be increasingly prey to all the fears as soon as reality does not coincide with the image you have in your head.
2. THE INEVITABILITY OF JUDGMENT
The first thing that emerged clearly this morning is that we always judge. How do you see this? From the fact, for example, that we are afraid, that we are lost, or, the opposite, that we experience freedom, that we see in ourselves a different capacity of intelligence. Behind all these moods or effects–call them what you like–deep down there is always a judgment: it can be a judgment that one does not confess, even to oneself, but it is there. Life "sings" it in every moment. The good thing about the critical juncture of our times is that we find it increasingly untenable to avoid judgment; it is becoming an existential need. So there has been a passage from conceiving of judgment as something stuck on, one more complication, something that we do not really need, something we can avoid without anything particular happening, to conceiving of judgment and living it as an existential need. We will begin with a few examples from this morning.
Remember what our friend said about the death of his grandmother and the last weeks he spent with her? "The times I ended up staying the night in the hospital with her, I was seized by a ferocious fear that everything about her, and by extension, about me, could disappear into nothingness. So I did everything to escape from certain questions about life, about my consistence, and, as soon as I could, I also escaped from the hospital. The following days, there was an initial attempt to hide what had happened, but then I couldn't handle it any more: the questions continued to come. I finally realized what the problem was: it is inevitable in life to measure what happens against something of yourself, but before my grandmother I made the comparison with the fear I felt, and inevitably…" And here I objected: "No, you didn't make the comparison with the fear, because the fear was already the sign or effect of a comparison you had made between what was happening to your grandmother and your needs." The fear was not the origin, but the consequence of the judgment he had made; in other words, the consequence of a comparison between his needs and what was happening. The outcome was that what was happening–illness and death–was everything for him. But this is precisely what we have to question: what was happening before his eyes, or better, what he saw–was that everything? We take for granted that it was, by default, without even realizing it, and then we think the comparison is with the fear. No, the fear is the consequence of a judgment, and the true resistance is to questioning our judgment, our judgment about reality, about what exists, or, in other words, whether or not there is something else. In a situation in which our need for the eternal–for a person we love–is without a response, we are seized by great fear, and it is normal that we should be (thus, this tells us that we are normal). If what you see is everything, the ultimate consequence is fear. But this is the question: is this judgment true or false? How do you see that it is false? Let's begin with the symptoms. What can we start from to see whether a judgment is true? What does a true judgment implicate? Freedom. A true judgment liberates, and that judgment does not liberate. Therefore, we have evidence in experience of a true or false judgment.
Then he added right away, "After these days, which were very dramatic for me, I truly understand that Christ is either everything or I succumb." And I intervened again: before saying whether Christ is everything or is not everything, I have to be able to say that He exists or does not exist. If He does not exist, in fact, I can also say that He is everything, but my life has no foundation, and it does not take a tsunami to make it collapse. You only need a "discordant accent" to cause a collapse. Does He exist or not? We have to realize that this is a problem of knowledge. It is in our best interests to face it; otherwise, we will always suspect that we invented the object of faith. How do you know that what you are saying before the problem of death is not just a projection of yours, a projection you make because otherwise you would not know how to deal with the problem? These are the questions we find ourselves facing, that come to you and come to me, that anyone can throw in our faces. If we cannot reach the point of stating why it is not a projection, we will always bear within the virus, the doubt, the suspicion that deep down faith is our own creation, not an acknowledgment. Are you the one who invents yourself and plans the response? Is faith a projection or is it an acknowledgment?
I'll turn to another contribution this morning that highlighted another aspect of the same question. "As I was returning home, a friend called to tell me that a third child in our friends' family was just born, and that he had a grave heart malformation (the first child was born with very serious problems, as well). Naturally, the news of this fact shook me, but something else shook me even more. During the phone conversation, this friend spoke with a strange embarrassment, because in telling me about the event, he didn't have the courage to say what he was thinking deep down. He kept circling around the problem, but if he were a cartoon there would have been a balloon over his head that said, 'It's an injustice."'
Do you see? Behind everything, there is always a judgment, whether you like it or not. It is impossible not to judge. Behind the fear of the fellow who spoke this morning, there was a judgment, and in the same way, in the story of the friend, who said it and did not say it, he felt that, hidden deep down, was a judgment. The true issue, friends, is not that we fail to judge; the true issue is whether we decide to look these judgments in the face and have the courage to ask, "Is my judgment true or not?" We always make judgments. How do you see this? From the experience we have, from the effects within us, so much so that the first person who hears us talk immediately perceives the embarrassment. Life "sings" that there is a judgment, in one sense or in another, but it is always there. It is impossible to live even for an instant, as Fr. Giussani observes, without saying why, deep down, that instant is worth living; there is not a minute in which one does not affirm something ultimate.
So the contribution continued: "A struggle began within me, because I couldn't bear that phone call. I began to say to myself, 'Is this fact an injustice?'" Here, this is the urgent need to judge. When you feel something that pushes you in life, you sense all the urgent need to judge. It is unbearable not to reach a true judgment. When we do not feel this "unbearableness," it means that our humanity is limited, that we are close to being a stone: the problem is not that judgment is something added on for people who get a kick out of it, but that we are becoming more like stones. When one is a full human being and stays before reality with loyalty, not judging is unbearable. Judgment is not something stuck on, for people who have nothing better to do than to complicate their lives, as we so often think deep down (we say this about judgment just like the friend said that the malformation was an injustice). We think that the judgment is a monumental complication, that it keeps us from enjoying life… until life pushes! Then things change. What does it mean that life begins to push within us? What is this a sign of? It means that a glimmer of humanity is beginning to kindle.
"In this struggle, I imagined that I was in front of the friend who had the child and that she asked me, 'What do you think about this fact? Is it an injustice?' and I found myself working to explain the experience I have." At times, our simplest and most decisive contribution is to ask the question that the other lacks the courage to ask. It seems like nothing, it seems banal, but asking the right, true question is the first contribution we give to the other–it is not in resolving the problem but in beginning to ask the question. "Something began in me that seemed like judging; that is, I began to identify things in my experience that could make me say that the malformation wasn't an injustice. There are many, many facts, from the first encounter, to the School of Community the day before, when you read the Easter poster at the end. You did nothing other than announce again to me that this fact is not an injustice. Because if Christ is risen, this fact is not an injustice. At this point, I saw a struggle in me, the fear of saying something exaggerated: Christ is risen! But I realized that what you said at your School of Community–'Christ Risen is either an event or does not exist,' and 'my acknowledgment of Christ is either now or it does not exist,'–established the radical difference and remained impressed in me. So, returning home, I said to myself, 'I have to tell him. I have to tell my friend,' and I wrote him a message right away: 'In any case, Christ is risen.' Christ's Resurrection is something that our experience documents constantly, and we can only start out from this datum, otherwise, we are incorrect, partial." Do you see? So often, the things we tell each other, no matter how right, seem exaggerated to us. Even after having experienced it, saying "Christ is risen" seems exaggerated to us. We have to come to grips with every shade that leaves a shadow in us. If, when I say, "Christ is risen," I feel a shadow and do not look it in the face, the shadow becomes a judgment. We can say all the holy words we want, but what remains is the shadow. How do you see this? In the fact that it determines my "I" in the present. For this reason, seeing how one's humanity vibrates, realizing–as Fr. Giussani says with a beautiful expression–it is revealing to see what "sentiment of the 'I'" we have: it seems almost banal, but instead one understand from the sentiment of the "I" what prevails in us, what our ultimate judgment is. One sees whether, even while we say, "Christ is risen," deep down there prevails the thought, "It's exaggerated." (We do not have the courage to say "It's false." We simply say, "It's exaggerated.") This determines our way of staying in reality, of perceiving ourselves. Here, one sees the decisiveness of what I underlined in School of Community: if you do not have an experience, if Christianity, if faith is not a present experience–present!–if it is not something that finds confirmation in experience, it fails to resist not only a tsunami, but even the least little adverse circumstance.
3. THE BEGINNING OF LIBERATION
So here is the point that emerges from the experience you have documented: we begin to feel within that a certain way of living is unbearable, that we cannot go on without judging consciously. This, friends, is a beautiful promise for all of us. If in fact judgment is the beginning of liberation, beginning to perceive the urgent need to judge is the dawn of the beginning of liberation. Happy days are in store, if we are loyal with this urgent need, if we experience more and more that unbearableness inside. Mark well, feeling the unbearableness does not mean making a problem of it; it is the beginning of a greater humanity, a sign of the awakening of our "I," and for this reason it is positive. It is the sign of the human, because it should always be this way, so much are we determined by that set of needs and evidence that we call the heart (even if, as we know, the awareness of these needs and evidence can be obscured).
Therefore, if we always judge, the question–as emerged clearly this morning–is whether the judgment we make is true or not. We have to verify whether what we tell each other is true, in the face of the tsunami, in the face of death, in the face of illness, in the face of boredom. We have to come to grips with every shadow that looms over us. Friends, I have told you other times: we are not condemned to live life enduring the shadows; we are not condemned to bear looming worries without judging them. Rather, precisely because of that unbearableness we feel within, we understand how much judging is decisive and liberating. In fact, we know that we have judged precisely by the liberation we feel vibrating within us, and not because we have said the correct line. You can say the correct line and not have judged, and thus not be free.
I found notes from an assembly Fr. Giussani led in 1986, in which he speaks of judgment and deals head on with our question: "Look, judgment is the event of the man who begins; judgment is the event of man who is formed and then is completed in affective action. We all acknowledge that Christ is reality [the right line], but it doesn't penetrate within existence. It is not a true judgment; it is an idea, not a judgment. It is an idea upon which one builds an ideology and a praxis according to it, as is the case for most of the leadership of the Movement [he said it this way, en passant…]. It is an idea–that of faith, of Christianity–upon which one builds a more or less culturally evolved ideology and thus one that determines practical choices. But faith, that is, the acknowledgment of this Presence, does not become a judgment, in the true sense of the term, the one the Bible uses. [He gives an example:] Here, you're driving your car on a mountain road, and from a distance of a half-mile you see that a big stone is rolling and stops in the road. You say, 'There's a big rock on the road!' and you hurriedly stop the car. Judgment is something that has energy and consistence, that challenges the rest of life. True judgment is something that has consistence and power that is like a check in chess, that changes all the rest. Maybe it does not succeed, but you feel the push within; you feel it. While you say, 'Christ is reality,' nothing pushes within, you don't feel the 'boom boom' of the miners who are exploding the mines or the hydraulic ram trying to crumble your wall; at the moment, it doesn't succeed, but with the passing of the years, it can't help but succeed. This is the meaning of a life as work, as journey, while for many among us there is no journey–because there are all these abstract ideas, that don't go 'boom boom' inside, that don't challenge anything. You can err a thousand times a day, but there's the pain that doesn't leave you, that can't leave you. And thus there's the resumption, because the pain is a resumption. That Christ, that this Man is reality, I can't understand how–because I'd have to be God–but I understand what it means and I acknowledge it: that everything must be determined and changed by this Presence. Here, this is a judgment if it changes me, if it challenges me, if it challenges flesh and blood: 'For You I long; for You my soul is thirsting. My body pines for You like a dry, weary land without water.' (Psalm 63) 'My body pines for You': this is the judgment, and it is this judgment that changes the world. This is penitence, metanoia; this is conversion."
Judgment sets into motion conversion. This is where we see whether faith is a real judgment or the mechanical repetition of a formula: it is a real judgment if it changes me. This is why Fr. Giussani always returns to John and Andrew. In fact, if what happened to John and Andrew, who were changed by the encounter and the acknowledgment of that presence, does not happen to us, we are not talking about the same thing; even if we repeat the lines that describe John and Andrew, we are not having the same experience as John and Andrew. For them, judgment was not the repetition of a formula, but being seized to the point of being changed. You understand then why Christian faith cannot be a creation: faith is an acknowledgment and not a creation because John and Andrew could not generate by themselves–not even for a minute–that being seized. It was a surprise; they felt seized, magnetized. That being seized, that judgment, dominated their lives in every moment.
If the judgment called faith dominates life, you see it in the fact that this being seized is what comes forth in the way we face all the circumstances of life; it comes forth by default, as they say, as when one, no matter what experience she has, no matter what happens to her, is invaded by the memory of something she cares about, a presence she cares about. So then, you see that the relationship with His presence dominates because it re-appears with evidence in every experience; I do not invent it when I need it. I do not create it when faced with the dramatic circumstances of living. It comes to mind, imposes itself on me, in front of all the circumstances, be they beautiful or ugly. At times, they are more meaningful when they are beautiful because they are less at risk of "being invented;" when they are ugly, since there has to be some meaning, one can run the risk of inventing a meaning. When life is full, this risk lessens: that acknowledgment imposes itself and that memory arises, because I cannot watch the sunset or look at the beauty of the mountains, or an evening together, without the emergence of that urgent need, that strong pressure to say His name. This is why the simple facts we tell each other are what surprise the others more than us; the experience we ourselves have of them confirms for us that we are not creating the object of faith, that faith is the healthy actuation of reason in the face of those facts. If I do not acknowledge His presence, if I do not acknowledge the reality of those facts to the point of saying His name, I cannot give a reason for them, for the facts I see and that everyone sees. Often the question arises, "How is it that after certain moments in which I acknowledge His presence with perfect clarity, I then fall away?"–and we feel scandalized. I answer with what Fr. Giussani testified to us in the last point of his talk in front of the Pope in Rome in 1998. It is something we, who live in history and see our continual "falling away," must return to always.
"Infidelity always arises in our hearts even before the most beautiful and true things; the infidelity in which, before God's humanity and man's original simplicity, man can fall short, out of weakness and worldly preconception, like Judas and Peter. Even this personal experience of infidelity that always happens, revealing the imperfection of every human action, makes the memory of Christ more urgent. The desperate cry of Pastor Brand in Ibsen's play of the same name ("Answer me, O God, in the hour in which death is swallowing me up: is the whole of man's will not enough to achieve even a part of salvation?") is answered by the humble positivity of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus who writes, "When I am charitable it is only Jesus who is acting in me." All this means that man's freedom, which the Mystery always involves, has prayer as its supreme, unassailable expressive form. This is why freedom, according to the whole of its true nature, posits itself as an entreaty to adhere to Being, therefore to Christ. Even in man's incapacity, in man's great weakness, affection for Christ is destined to last. In this sense, Christ, Light and Strength for every one of His followers, is the adequate reflection of that word with which the Mystery appears in its ultimate relationship with the creature, as mercy: Dives in Misericordia. The mystery of mercy shatters any image of complacency or despair; even the feeling of forgiveness lies within this mystery of Christ. This is the ultimate embrace of the Mystery, against which man–even the most distant, the most perverse or the most obscured, the most in the dark–cannot oppose anything, can make no objection. He can abandon it, but in so doing he abandons himself and his own good. The Mystery as mercy remains the last word even on all the awful possibilities of history. For this reason, existence expresses itself, as ultimate ideal, in begging. The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man's heart, and man's heart that begs for Christ" ("In the Simplicity of my Heart, I Have Gladly Given You Everything," Rome, May 30, 1998. Published in Generating Traces in the History of the World, L. Giussani, S. Alberto, J. Prades. McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal, 2010, pp. xi–xii).
4. CHRIST RISEN: A JUDGMENT ON US AND HISTORY
To the degree to which all this truly becomes experience, we can understand the importance of the Christian announcement for ourselves and propose it as judgment to the world: what we need, because of its objectivity, is what the world needs. This is why this year's Easter poster returns anew to the origin. How did these posters begin? As a judgment on history and on ourselves. What do we say in the face of the tsunami or war or the weakening of the "I," that is, in the face of that lack of judgment in which one feels humanity disappearing? Our judgment is the content of the Easter poster, which asks two fundamental questions.
a) The affirmation of the fact: Christ is risen. If Christianity is less than this, it is not worth it; it is no longer Christianity. It would be reduced simply to the patrimony that a great human personality left to us. What do we do with this patrimony when faced with something like the recent tsunami in Japan? As the Pope says [quoted in the Easter poster], "we would be alone" with our absolute incapacity. "Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind. Then He becomes the criterion on which we can rely."
b) But in order for this statement to be a judgment, in the sense described before, there has to be an experience in the present. This is why we have taken up again a text of Fr. Giussani [for the Easter poster]: "What we know [that Christ is risen] or what we have becomes experience if what we know or have is something that is given to us now [now]–there is a hand that offers it to us now, there is a face that comes forward now, there is blood that flows now, there is a resurrection that happens now. Nothing exists outside this 'now'! Our 'I' cannot be moved, aroused, that is, changed, if not by something contemporaneous–an event. Christ is something that is happening to me [now]." When do I see it? In the fact that I can stay in front of reality without fear, that I can look at everything without being ultimately defeated. If I am not defeated, it is not because I can give all the explanations, but because of something that is happening to me now and that stops my reason from being overcome with fear and becomes measure, making me seem–as our friend testified about his dying grandmother–that everything I fail to understand does not exist and has no meaning. The affection for Christ that is happening now, for Christ, a contemporaneous presence, helps reason be faithful to its true nature as reason: openness to reality. Any other judgment is false, simply false, because it eliminates this factor.
What saves us is not a deduction; it is an event that happens now. Christ is something that is happening to me now, and thus changes me, determines my present, is the most determining factor of my present, more powerful than any tsunami, any pain, any disease, any death, because I cannot shake it off now.
We can communicate this hope to everyone, distributing the Easter poster at the university, if first of all it is a work for us; otherwise, we will give the right doctrine without participating ourselves in the newness it brings. But we communicate nothing unless it is as experience, and thus we can give our contribution to others only if we yield to the event that Christ is now, if we are so simple as to experience what is given to us now. The others will decide later with their freedom. This Easter poster is the grace that happens to us now. Who, to stay in front of everything that happens, has the opportunity to have such a decisive instrument in their hands, one that offers us at the same time a method, a road, a journey to travel so that what we say becomes ours, without discouraging us with what is still missing, but already participating in the victory that we begin to taste? Distribution of this poster is a stupendous opportunity for all of us; it is the most adequate instrument for our moment in history for participating in the victory that Christ is in history. Communicating it to others and seeing what happens is in the best interests of everyone, in order not to miss the confirmation of the truth of the words we find written there. We have nothing greater to say to the world. This is why it seems to me a stunning challenge for each of us.
1. THE GENERATION OF A SUBJECT WHO