Friday, April 4, 2008

The beginning and end of Christian morality


I've been reading ahead in Is It Possible to Live This Way? and stumbled upon the chapter on freedom. After a long discussion on the true meaning of freedom, Father Giussani writes: "Freedom isn't choice, it's only a possibility to choose because it's imperfect" (p. 76). And then on the next page:

Yet carrying out this correct choice demands a clear awareness of the relationship with Christ, of the relationship with destiny. It's the lived religious sense. Read the gospel...Jesus had made breakfast for everybody -- what care -- and no one dared speak because they all knew it was the Lord. He's near Simon and He says to him, very softly, without the others realizing, He says quietly, 'Simon, do you love me more than these?' This is the culmination of Christian morality: the beginning and the end of Christian morality. He didn't tell him, 'Simon, you betrayed me. Simon, think how many mistakes you made. Simon, how many betrayals! Simon, just think that you can make the same mistake tomorrow and the day after... Think about how fragile you are, what a coward you are in front of me.' No! 'Simon, do you love me more than these?' He went to the depths of everything, to the bottom of everything; so this bottom of everything pulls everything along with it. And Peter, who loved Him, ended up dying like Him... Man finds his dignity in the choice of what he values most in life and from which he expects the greatest satisfaction. (p. 77)

I am so grateful for this text. I have understood for a long time that freedom and morality are tightly bound in Father Giussani's thought. I have also grasped that his denunciation of moralism was never brought on by a disdain for morality. But to have this point so clearly spelled out for us is a gift to everyone in the Movement: "Freedom isn't choice..." There it is, so clear, so transparent! And the heart is not "what I like" or "what I want" -- it's the constant thirst for what I'm made for, my destiny, Christ. I can be seduced to imagine that something I want is my destiny -- if I lose sight of the ever-expanding horizon that calls me with an Infinite love. Moralism's answer, which says we have to suppress our desire, do violence to our desire, is useless, even mortally dangerous, to our souls. It is the solution of a lonely humanity, a humanity that has ceased to listen to the voice that calls each of us by name, a humanity without Christ.

We need to hear Him ask us, "Do you love me?" We need to let that question burn into our hearts every minute of every hour, engage us, draw us through our days. Who will speak this question aloud for us? Because even those who are so blessed to have heard Jesus speak directly to them through metaphysical means, do not hear this question so perfectly and constantly that they can forgo the Eucharist or the people of God, who make up the Church. No, God has willed it that we must turn to one another -- there is no other way -- and remind each other that He asks, He continually asks, "Do you love me?"
If you expect your satisfaction from something that can be dust tomorrow, you'll have dust. But who calls your attention to this? No one can, none of us has the strength to do it for himself: only together can we do it. This is the way that the Church, in the world, calls the world's attention to this... Only in the companionship are you recalled to this fascination with being or this awareness of our own fragility due to something that is a choice -- to be able to choose a good... to adhere to what brings us to destiny and to await destiny every day; to wait, every day, for it to come. (pp 77 and 78)

"Only in the companionship..." It is another unambiguous, completely transparent remark that we cannot sidestep -- we must look it in the face. Who are these people, these fellow Christians, surrounding me? Why has God placed them, and not some others, in my path? How do they reveal my destiny to me? Do I treasure them, as the life blood that connects me to the voice of my Beloved? Do I love them?

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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."