Witnessing to Christ in the Life of Everyone

Criteria for Understanding Godís Directions. Notes from a conversation of Luigi Giussani with a group of young people in the course of verifying their vocation.
Luigi Giussani


a) Building the Kingdom of God in history

The Bible ends with the invocation, ìCome Lord.î1 The entire historical journey of thousands of years, created by God as the locus of truth and salvation, the whole story from Adam and Eve up to Christ, and then the whole beginning of the new history after Christ ends with the words, ìCome Lord.î If one truly acknowledges Christ and is astounded by His presenceñlike Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, or the women who was a sinnerñhe desires that He come; in other words, that He reveal Himself.

And ìthat He reveal Himselfî is not at the end of the world, but at once. As the Pope said, ìThe Kingdom of God begins within history and this Kingdom is the mission given to the apostles;î2 that is to say, to the Churchñto us.

The aim of life is building the Kingdom of God in history. But how can we understand what God wants from each one of us? We have to follow Godís directions.

The way to prepare oneself for understanding the symptoms, the signs that God puts in our life, is not to think about vocation, but to desire deeply in oneís life what we say every time in the Our Father and in the Angelus: ìYour will be done,î ìBe it done to me according to your word.î

b) Availability

This means educating oneself to be available. This is the most important thing. So only if we grow in availability, in desire that it be done to us according to His word, will we be more able to spot the signs of our vocation.

ìWhoever loses himself finds himself.î3 We have to lose our attachment or the anxiety to know what our vocation is. If you lose yourself for the Lord, then you find yourself. And this is true in everything. A man who is to marry, for example, in order to love his wife truly must lose her, he must affirm his relationship with God before that with his wife; in other words, he must live the relationship with his wife in the light of his relationship with God.

In doing this you have the impression of losing, but on the contrary you find again. You have to lose the attachment to the definition of what you will do in order to uncover, to make normal in yourself the desire that the will of God be done.

So availability to the will of God comes before the problem of the form of the vocation. Oneís vocation in the strict sense of the word presupposes the fundamental vocation, which is that of being Christian: a creature called to Christ.

ìMy life, Christ, is at your mercy. Make me able to be faithful to what You want of me. I donít know yet what You want, but thatís not what concerns me for the time being.î We have first of all to favor this point of view, we have to foster the root of the question: the great vocation to the will of God, as creatures and as Christians. So we have to see to it that our life be available to God.

We have to be as available as the young Samuel who heard the voice of God in the night, ìSamuel, Samuel.î Believing it was the voice of Eli the priest, he ran to him at once and said, ìDid you call me?î His working hypothesis was, ìThe priest is calling me.î So he ran to him at once, but was told, ìI didnít call you.î And again, ìSamuel, Samuel.î He ran again to Eli, ìDid you call me?î ìNo. I didnít call you.î The third time, ìSamuel, Samuel.î He runs, ìDid you call me?î So Eli tells him, ìListen, my boy, itís God who is calling you; next time answer Him, ëSpeak Lord, your servant is listening.íî4

The silence you are asked to keep is the moment in which you think of this. This is the verification: seeing that the new discovery of Christ, given by the hypothesis of the vocation, changes your life, makes it more human.

You donít know these things, you have to learn them; they are a new way of seeing, a more just way, more aware; that is, the experience of the Movement in action.

c) The proposal becomes a working hypothesis

Your vocation is a proposal; it doesnít force you, but it must become a working hypothesis. If the proposal is made to you by someone passing along the road, you donít take it seriously, but if it is made by the Lord, then it must become a working hypothesis. That is, it must immediately determine our approach to life, in order to see whether or not we have understood (like pharmacists testing a new medicine).

It is only by taking this proposal into consideration that we can understand whether or not we are ready for it, whether or not we are available to God. If I am God and I tell you, ìCome here,î you are honest with me if you try to come here at once. Maybe I have dug a ditch and you fall into it on the way. Then you will say, ìI wasnít made to reach there.î The ditch represents invincible objections.

As is said in The Religious Sense, in order to understand if a hypothesis is true you have to take the positive road; if it is true you will find the goal. If you begin to say, ìNo, it will be a disappointment,î even if this is true, you will never find it! When faced with a proposal, the only way to understand whether or not it is true is to take it seriously. This is true even for the existence of God: if you start off with a skeptical or negative hypothesis, you will never find Him.

If someone prepares himself to understand the signs that God puts in our life (His directions), not thinking immediately of the form of his vocation, but desiring that in our life it be done according to His word, this is called availability.

1. Witnessing to Christ

The first criterion for understanding the plan of God lies in the fact that each one of us asks himself, ìHow can I serve the Lord, just as I am? How can I serve the Lord more, in all the circumstances I meet? How can my life witness to the Lord more? How can my life, just as it is, give more glory to God, more glory to Christ?î

The kingdom of God, the glory of Christ, coincideñas a reality that is physical and tangibleñwith the good of the Church. The glory of Christ is the well-being of the Church. Witnessing to Christ increases the life of the Church.

Therefore the first criterion for understanding the plan of God for your own life is asking yourself what is the greatest need that the Church seems to have in this moment, and making yourself available for that.

What does the Church need most today? What does witnessing to Christ coincide with?

The world today is atheist, the whole world, often even that world that calls itself Christian. An atheistic world is a world where Christ is no longer relevant to life. So the most urgent need of the Church today is that of a witness that makes Christ present in day-to-day life. And this coincides with witnessing to the fact that Christ realizes humanity in man more than anyone else who is followed: He fulfills what is human, He frees every man within every life, in every situation.

That Christ be witnessed to means that Christ has appeared as the One who, if a man follows Him, makes him become more human. This happens above all in that which in everyday life is most valued these days: work, which is todayís religion.

In our present day it is said that man is the measure of all things, man is the value of the world, so workñthat is to say, the expression of man in the worldñis that which we need to tend toward. Abbagnanoís History of Philosophy says, This is reason: a human power for making the world human. And work is reason applied to the world. Where did Abbagnano go wrong? Reason does not make the world more human, but more inhuman, because there is original sin; so much so that we have reached the point where Reagan and Gorbaciov became partners because they were afraid of creating too great a disaster, the destruction of humanity.

What the Church needs most is to show that Christ not only can be present in life, but that, if He is present, He makes the life of the individual and of society more human. We need to witness to the fact that people who live in this wayñfollowing Christñfeel better than those who do not live in this way, realizing a humanity that is more intense, more charged with intelligence of the aim and of affectivity, more open to others and more constructive than that of others.

Everyone takes for granted that a priest should speak about Christ; but it is not taken for granted that a young woman, an engineering graduate, working in a large construction firm, discussing the building of the highway from Livorno to Civitavecchia with the bosses, should say she is consecrated to Christ and lives a life of virginity.

This is the kind of witness needed today.

Imagine if instead of ten thousand there were one hundred thousand or a million people like this. In the Middle Ages this was the case. With a population that was a tenth of what it is today, there was a monastery every ten kilometers, with 200, 300, or 400 people. In this way, the whole of society was transformed by a network of people dedicated to God.

So whatever the particular form, what builds is the imminence in the life of the world of a witness that becomes an inconceivable miracle. Nothing demonstrates more than this the truth that God is present, that God exists.

This observation is very important: even in the various already-established forms, we have seen an attempt to be more present in the world like all the others. I donít say that this concrete presence is necessary, I say that this is the most immediate, the most impelling and clearest need that the world and the Church have. If the world needs Christ and if the Church is the place where Christ is witnessed, in the Church the most urgent and greatest witness is that which I have described: witness in the life of the world, according to the worldís style of life. This is the challenge.

It is as if the world were telling Christ, ìLet whoever wants You follow You, but let them keep apart! Let religion stay in church, in the Catholic associations.î Our reply is: Christ in the world, because Christ shows His dignity by changing the world, and in order to change the world, He must be in the world.

Christ challenges the world on its own ground. The world has placed its hope of happiness in work, and Christ must show His presence, which makes work more true, precisely within the work environment. This is why our Movement stresses forcefully that the Christianís first and fundamental duty in life is to bring the supreme witness to Christ into the lives of everyone.

This need brought to life the ìGruppo Adulto,î which has as its meaningful formula the name Memores Domini, those who live the memory of Christ; in other words, the awareness of His presence at work, in the normal expression with which man lives, manipulating things in order to modify them according to His ideal.

2. The circumstances

The second criterion for understanding Godís directives are the circumstances through which one is called, the situation you find yourself in.

For example, you want to become a hermit, but your parents are eighty years old and your brother goes off to Australia. This is a circumstance which can block the whole process that has led you to choose going to a hermitage; the first duty you have is to help your parents. You will do what you can, but you must choose something that will make you able to help your aged parents.

In the Memores Domini, for example, one is obliged to live in a house with others, but if one has a problem of this kind, he then stays with his parents and only refers to a house. In other words, he belongs to the company, but his residence remains his own home. These are circumstances that determine oneís path.

There is a meaning of the word ìcircumstancesî in deciding the path that needs to be considered. If one is living the life of CL or finds in the reality of the Movement a help for his vocation, he looks for a solution according to the life of the Movement. And the life of the Movement has created a road, its own road of dedication to God in the world, and itís called Memores Domini or ìGruppo Adulto.î

Following precisely the first criterion, the Movement offers you first of all the existence of the Memores Domini: it is the witness to God in everyoneís life, even as regards the place of residenceñan apartment just like the families have nearby.

3. The freedom of the Spirit

Third criterion. The choice must be made from within the heart. Everything has been given by the Spirit, even the circumstances, even the perception of the needs the Church has, even the need for witnessing to Christ as the most important thing in life.

The Spirit can bring you, from within, with a growing clarity, without artifice and pressure, to a reflection, to a translation of your own will to witness Christ in the world.

For sure, if you had never met that missionary priest, you would not have had the idea of mission, of accepting an obedience that could send you to Africa or Asia; but since you did meet him, this idea from within can be enlightened more and more until it becomes evident. The proof of the truth of this particularity is, on the one hand, that it includes and affirms the general criteria we mentioned above and, on the other hand, that it appears as an obedience to the Spirit who makes that image develop.

Thus the idea of becoming a priest can be born (but how different the priest will be if he clarifies the thing up to this point!); or one may understand that there is a heart of hearts of everything else which is the witness that only the angels of God see, that is the contemplative life in the cloister; or one can think of any other form.

What is the link between the second criterion and the third? The alternative solutions all have only one meaning: that of helping those who are in the world to witness Christ.

Someone enters an enclosed convent in order to help those that are in the world, as did a novice of the Memores Domini who I spoke to. She had been to the monastery of Vitorchiano and came home moved because of this. ìThey are there for me, in order to sustain my presence in the world, and I am their presence in the world.î

Thus one can choose to dedicate himself to poor families as an application of the earlier principle: ìin the world.î

But the criterion is really only one, which finds in the Memores Domini its most typical expressionñbecause it is without presumptionñand also the hardest. God wants us for a journey that may give more glory to Christ; that is, to the Church. What the Church most needs is witness in the life of man. This is the sign of the times.

Your history in the Movement points you to the Memores Domini. There are other forms, too, in the Church, but the circumstances of life have placed you in the Movement. However, the Spirit is free even of these directives.

The value of this third point is that any other road has for its aim that of helping the witnessing in the world.

For example, you may feel, quite calmly, increasingly, even with pain, the ideal of the monk. The Movement has seen the birth of a monastery, the monastery of Cascinazza, that has the Christian characteristics proper to the Movement; so before entering another monastery, you visit Cascinazza.

This third point, however, must confirm the second; it is not an alternative. It is a sacrifice for the second point.

Note that:

1) It is important that in those who guide us there be a true love for the Church and a true love for the experience of the Movement, and that they understand and value its accent.

2) If we are really available to Jesus and to the Church, to the glory of Christ in the world, any road can be the right one.

What remains clear in any case is that what the Church needs most today is to show that the faith makes us live. And an army in the moment of attack needs living realities. This is precisely the moment of attack. It is not a role that shows this. It is not a role that expresses this. Someone can go to Japan or be a priest in Milan and not witness that Christ makes life human. Certainly one can be in the Memores Domini without giving this witness, but then it is useless to enter.


Keep these principles in mind:

1. The supreme criterion is the witness to Christ; that is, the building of the Church in todayís world, an atheistic world. Too many Christians, as well, believe in a God who has nothing to do with life. The Church needs witness that Christ makes life more human, even in work.

2. The inevitable circumstance, your history, has a solution: the Memores Domini. This is the first choice to consider because apart from being coherent with the first point, it is indicated by your history.

3. But the spirit is free and can, from your heartñnot from outside (pressure from a friar or a dream of the solitude of a cloister)ñ, in a calm way, open to all, indicate another road. Every other road must sustain the characteristics of the first point.

Those who geographically (not in the Spirit) are in the rear guard, are there in order to support those who are bearing arms.

A final recommendation: if you have people you refer to personally for help, they must be consonant with our experience.