Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The affirmation of the "I"

This is a question and answer from an Assembly during the Communion and Liberation International Responsibles' Meeting held in La Thuile In August 2007. Cesana is one of the major leaders in the movement -- and, of course, Father Carron is the leader of the whole movement.

Cesana: At times, it is as if the affirmation of the "I," the affirmation of self, instead of being a liberation, is a prison of unrealized desires, even Christian desires, of incapacity for relationship, etc. Why is it that the "I," the affirmation of the "I," instead of being a liberation, becomes a prison?

Carron: The affirmation of the "I" becomes a prison when it does not correspond to the true nature of the "I." What is this true nature? What defines me? What I am able to accomplish (and so I can never be satisfied), or relationship with the Mystery? It is only because the nature of the "I" is relationship with the Mystery that we can be free. If many times we are stuck, if life becomes a prison, it is because on this point our mentality is just like everyone else's -- for us the nature of the "I" is not relationship with the Mystery. So this morning, as I re-read this passage, it struck me again: "...outside the awareness of the totality, man will always feel imprisoned or bored." We are imprisoned or bored when the awareness of the totality, of the Mystery is missing. This is why I think these Spiritual Exercises are absolutely crucial: what is in question is a mentality, a conception of self. All that happens in life, feeling stuck, imprisoned, or bored, is the echo in me of the fact that I am made for relationship with the Infinite. I feel imprisoned or bored because I am not made for anything less than the Infinite ([everything else is] like a shoe that doesn't fit). If we don't take a step forward in the conception of our "I," in the way we look at ourselves, we are ultimately like everyone else, with the same mentality. We may add some pious exercise, organize meetings, do whatever we like, but we have the same mentality as all the others.

Since the "I" is relationship with the Mystery, if this does not become familiar, then we are prisoners. All of Fr. Giussani's insistence in Chapter 8 of At the Origin of the Christian Claim, which we took up at the Exercises, all the insistence and tenacity of Jesus in recalling people to religiosity, are to bring us out of this prison. Religiosity seems to us like something "pious" for experts, for "religious" people, not for the nature of our "I," and in this way we suffocate in reality. Either we understand why Christ came into the world to introduce us to religiosity, why He insists constantly on the fact that without this religiosity there is no humanity, that religiosity is the condition for humanity, or we remain stuck, imprisoned. This is the great challenge: the fight that is going on in the world today, the great cultural debate is concentrated here. Either we experience this, or we are like the others, prisoners. Then we can tack all the discourses we want onto this experience, but we bring nothing new.

What did Jesus do? Jesus entered history in order to reawaken this way of looking upon man. And how does He reawaken it? By making it happen again. So we are friends if, when we are together, entreaty opens up, that is, if we have the aspiration that the Infinite come in. Here lies the question. If it is not clear to us, then we must give it all the time it takes; we are not in a hurry, because all the other things that we don't understand, all the other things that make us suffer, that make life burdensome, depend on the fact that this is not clear, is not resolved. Fr. Giussani states that without awareness of the Mystery all the other most significant human experiences are nothing, meaningless, empty (the relationship between husband and wife, work, etc.). So we suffocate. We have to give ourselves all the space we need to help each other in this, to document it in various ways. But let's be aware that what we are doing cannot be clarified only by holding assemblies; someone has to have the courage to verify it in life, because all this can only be clarified in experience ("reality becomes transparent in experience").

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."