Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Figuring it out as I go

I had a question about fraternal correction that I submitted at the national diakonia of Communion and Liberation. I had been really hoping that my question would be chosen, so I could hear what light Father Carron might shed on his exhortation to all of us that we should be constantly correcting each other, and I was tremendously disappointed when it seemed that he didn't answer me.

But after transcribing my notes from his final synthesis, then reading them again several times, I had a sudden realization -- the question had been addressed and answered and enlarged upon during the entire Diakonia. Sometimes I am so dense! It is because when I read the word "correction," I assumed it meant that we're supposed to correct each other's bad theology, moral inconsistency, misunderstandings and misapplication of doctrine. But this is not what Father Carron means at all -- by "correction," he means to remind each other, constantly, that "even the hairs of your head are numbered." As Don Giuss said, a true friend is the one who asks us, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?" It is the constant reminder that we must give to one another that we do not make ourselves -- that there is another who generates me in every moment.

[When we have difficulties, we have to remember to face] this situation with Christ in my eyes, looking at the difficulties and repeating [that] even the hairs of your head are numbered. But many times when we are in the bottom of our nothingness we forget this and we need somebody, some witness that can gaze on our life with the life of Christ and this -- it's not possible to do alone.

This is why we need friends -- friends who will witness to the true value of our lives.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

New Website

I've decided to start something new. Here is a link to a new web site that contains articles and links for catechists. If you go to the "Contact Us" page, you can leave a question. I will do my best to research the answer and then post the FAQ's as they develop over time.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

One hundred thousand smiles

Notes from a discussion between Father Carron, Chris Bacich and teachers and educators:

Question: Should we choose texts according to our mentality, that is "Catholic" texts?

  • No! Then the novelty of what we've encountered doesn't enter, and we introduce duality. There is no literature that doesn't have to do with religion -- it engages the senses, Life, Beauty...
  • This method -- with this method, the curriculum is a way in which we recognize, people can recognize the newness.
  • There is no "Catholic" literature -- just literature.
  • We have a new way of facing everything -- even something that is wrong.
  • We don't have to face "Christian" topics. We have to face topics!
  • Because otherwise we bring through the door that which we just threw out the window. And we reintroduce dualism in the way we face the topic.

Question: The students I have are impossible to engage. Even after a semester, all but two of them are lying down with their heads on the desk, asleep. So, my question is about method...

  • Are you determined by this lack of success?
  • These circumstances are a provocation to our faith.
  • If we can't find a way to face this class with newness, it becomes our tomb.
  • Books don't complain or protest.
  • Do not be discouraged.
  • Too much attention to curriculum, methodology -- these things don't make us secure.
  • If we live something that allows us to be alive in our life -- this is the question. How can we help each other become alive? We belong to Christ because otherwise we are not alive.
  • How can we help ourselves to enter the topic we need to face in a way that can be interesting to us and our students? I need to be passionate about what I am doing or else dualism is within me. If I speak of Christ but life is just something I put up with? No! That's dualism. When I taught, I had to be myself during the hour of the lesson. Nobody could stop the students from speaking during lunch about what I had taught them in the hour before.
  • Education is a communication of oneself.
  • Just like for parents. The way you face reality. How we react, live our free time, use money -- these all become factors for education.
  • This is the victory -- education!
  • It's not a problem of communicating a discourse, but Life -- and nothing can impede us from communicating this -- even in prison we can communicate this -- even jail can be a different place if we have encountered Christ.

Question: What about students who seem to live inside a bubble and are ever more defensive against any adult who tries to make a proposal?

  • What charity is needed to overcome this resistance!We need charity to wait for something to happen.
  • How many smiles must a mother make to receive one smile in return? Maybe a thousand? This is not a mechanism!
  • So, if it's like that for an infant, before any damage, then we need one hundred times the smiles. Maybe a million times, maybe more! This is only possible if we are Christian. Only if we're so grateful, so moved by the tenderness of God for our humanity.
  • But if we get angry and quit smiling, we choose a new method -- rules, preaching, shouting.
  • What if a mother said, "A smile doesn't work, I'll yell or preach"?
  • Only if we're so happy we can be free from the results.
  • Education, care of others, it's a question of the Church, a work of the Church. Only someone who is so grateful, so free -- this is a verification of our faith.
  • Only because Christ became man -- he has a passion for our life -- there is no other reason.
  • Otherwise we complain because the results don't arrive.
  • We need to recognize that the difficulty is convenient for us, that the difficulty is there to help us to verify our faith.

Is It Possible to Live Like This?

Here is a transcript of the talk that Father Julian Carron gave at New York University to introduce the new book, Is It Possible to Live Like This? (However, it will be much easier for you to read if you download it from the CL website (If, by chance you do want to read it here, click on each page to enlarge):

this gaze, this embrace...

I have so many more notes that I haven't yet posted, but I need to take a break from simply transcribing my notes because there is something more important than any phrase I heard and jotted down during the past weekend -- something that is welling up in me and urging me to express it.

The remarkable thing about what Father Carron insisted on with so much passion during the Diakonia is that Christianity is a fact, and the evidence of this fact is an exceptional flourishing in the humanity of those who have encountered it. Now, this insistence of his would not have been interesting at all -- it would have been a mere slogan, if what he described and insisted on were not happening. In fact, if the hotel we were staying in were not permeated by a particular and palpable flourishing in the humanity of those assembled there, it would be worse than uninteresting. It would be a tease and a lie.

It is not that everyone I met announced to me, "Yes, my humanity has flourished!" -- as if being a witness means giving a deposition.

Finding myself at a loss to describe, in concrete terms, what I myself saw and heard during the Diakonia, I will defer (for the moment) to His Excellency Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, who presided at our Mass on Saturday evening.

During his homily, he told us that he had experienced a palpable holiness in us when he came among us, and he encouraged us to go on doing what we were doing. His observation is useful for two reasons -- he has been formed in the art of sniffing out holiness, and he came from outside our companionship and had nothing really at stake in making his observation.

What precisely did he see, though? He didn't give details (none that I can remember), but he must have seen animated conversations between persons making discovery after discovery -- points of connection, as well as interesting particularities were offered with excitement and received with pleased amazement. Really, the feeling in the air was the same as on board a ship about to sail on a great adventure or at the height of an exploration already underway. Anticipation, expectation, fulfillment...in the elevator strangers would meet my eyes with a look of confidence, which seemed to say that this occasion (ascending three stories together in an enclosed box) would surely yield some treasure for their lives.

I, who am quite shy, found myself with a different set of people at each meal, and each time I would learn something new and fresh, whether I had known my table mates for years or for seconds. It wasn't that there was no tension -- on the contrary, there was the high tension of curiosity and the passion for anything that came into each person's field of perception.

People did not speak of Christ constantly, but He was present there. I heard no pious remarks and saw no extraordinary or heroic demonstrations of religious fervor. The overall mood was of ordinary, unforced happiness, but in fact, this ordinary happiness is quite rare in the world. It isn't something that I want to take for granted. Because it's only possible when we have the courage and strength to face all of what life presents to us in the confidence of being generated, being born continually as a child of God.

In Father Carron's final synthesis, he said that this companionship reveals me to myself. How was I revealed to myself? I am not my own invention, a list of accomplishments, the details of my daily life. If instead I am an exclusive relationship with the Mystery, then I ought to feel most myself when I am among others who know, who are certain about this fact of my own identity. I can say that this notion was proven this past weekend.

There were so many moments when someone looked at me and I saw the full recognition in his or her eyes that I am precisely what Christ himself teaches us -- a branch of the True Vine, this direct relationship with the Infinite; but here I will spare you all those stories and only tell the most dramatic one. During the talks and assemblies, I usually sit near the front because it is easier for me to concentrate on what is being said. Several times while Father Carron was speaking, I felt as if he were looking right at me and speaking directly to me. But then I thought to myself that I was sitting in a room with around four hundred other people, who probably felt he was looking right at them and speaking directly to them, too. Then, during one of the breaks, while I was standing in the hall, I turned and saw that Father Carron was walking toward me. We had never been introduced to one another; yet he noticed me, looked at me as if we had been friends for years, his eyes got wide with excitement, and he said, "Oh it's you!" Then he embraced me. I said, "yes!" Because he was absolutely right -- it was indeed me.

Synthesis at the national diakonia 1/08

My notes from Father Carron's synthesis at the Communion and Liberation national Diakonia:

What is the evidence that John and Andrew had encountered Something
crucial for their life? The sign is that they decided to come back to
be with Him the next day. [It seems] simple, but in this event is the
whole of Christianity.
I am always struck that we meet many people in life -- but what makes us want to come back to [a person]? What awakens in us a curiosity to the point where we decide to come back -- like what happened with the disciples? Little by little they became friends -- this is the victory of Christ in life -- that we become one thing in Him, and this is the defeat of individualism. They needed to meet him again and again every day. They couldn't live without him. This is the evidence of the meaning of the encounter that they had with him. This is the same [thing] that happens with us. We encounter Somebody -- the Christian community in which we find something for our life that we desire forever. For this reason we are happy to be together in these days. Because the Life passes through this event of being together, of this event of the encounter with the community, [the] Christian community. And I hope that always more we become friends and we sustain each other in our path, our journey to our destiny, our happiness, and become more and more one thing, One Person in Christ. And what did we live these days here? What is the content of what we are living here?
At La Thuile a proposal [was] made that we have these friends, witnesses. This is the proposal that [the] Christian community, the Movement has [made] to us. This is what this booklet ["Friends, that is Witnesses] did [for] us. [Now] we meet after six months to verify that this has happened. What is the work that we have done together? To accompany each one of us in this journey for learning the way of life.
I want to repeat in [this] moment the most important words of the School of Community for this year. Because, in this work we have the proposal of the movement once more. And encounter -- that is the grace greater than any other we have received in life. The encounter with Christ in the Christian community and this is the encounter with a real thing, a community, as John and Andrew encountered a real person, Jesus, who they could touch and see. We can touch and see in the Christian community. An encounter in School of Community that reveals one to oneself. [It] reveals who I am.
[That which] is the real desire of my heart wakes the whole desire of my heart. In this sense [it] reveals myself to myself -- who I am. For this reason, the School of Community is a grace, a gift, the most important gift because all our attempts are not able to give an instant of what the encounter does. Because nobody has looked on our life with the kindness, mercy, love -- as Christ has done with us. Even the hairs on your head are numbered. This is the grace of the encounter that embraces our whole person, whatever the circumstances, whatever [...].
There is no encounter without a proposal. There is no encounter [in which] we don't [also] meet at the same time a proposal for our life.
What is this proposal -- the working hypothesis that Christ put in our heart, eyes, mind, to enter into reality [...] to embrace myself every morning and to look at the sea or the sun, our friends, the people -- to face every need we face in every moment. The proposal is to live, to enter life.
The proposal is not to be together in some moments, for meetings, a club. [This holds] no interest. I'm not interested. [It is] a proposal for the whole life, because only if we enter [into] life with this proposal can we recognize the value of the proposal, the promise of Christ for our life. Don't take this for granted because the last thing we consider is the Christian proposal when we face life. First we verify the ideas in our mind, our attempts at solutions -- many times the last [thing we consider] is the Christian proposal. [But] when we think of [these] other possibilities (our own ideas, attempts), it's the death of Christian faith. We complain Christ doesn't fulfill this promise but the question is if we have taken seriously this proposal. The truth of it can only be discovered in life, in the relationship with reality. We should verify its truth in reality. Verification is in the relationship with everything that happens in our life -- that Christ can [answer everything].
For this reason Father Giussani said in the School of Community, to verify we must commit ourselves completely with clear and renewed concentration. This is what I call "our work." The work is this commitment -- not only [to] a meeting, a gesture, with some kind of [...] within us. The commitment is in the way we face everything. Communion and Liberation is not a club. It is a proposal for the whole of life.
The reason for the encounter [is that] we need to do this verification in community, in the relationship with the community. For this reason the victory over individualism is decisive. We can't do it alone.
[When we have difficulties, we have to remember to face] this situation with Christ in my eyes, looking at the difficulties and repeating [that] even the hairs of your head are numbered. But many times when we are in the bottom of our nothingness we forget this and we need somebody, some witness that can gaze on our life with the life of Christ and this -- it's not possible to do alone. For this reason, the apostles came back again and again and again to meet Jesus because they were needy for this gaze, this embrace.
Verification not of our images, our thought, our feeling. Christianity is a FACT -- a different thing. It is in this moment, when we recognize this, that somebody can look at [us] with [a] kindness, a mercy, a tenderness, that we can't imagine -- when [we are] at the bottom of our nothingness. This is the experience of Christian faith that makes it reasonable to adhere to Christ.
This is the verification -- so we can recognize how reasonable it is to be Christian because we can face every moment of life in the company of Christ.
Encounter is experience because in that moment we can make the comparison [between] the proposal of Christianity with every other proposal and we can recognize the difference between the proposal of Christ [and all the others].
This is the proposal for life, to enter in life, in everything of life, and it is in reality that I become always more supported [by] Christ and enthusiastic [for] Christ.
Because it is life [which is the place where] we recognize that Christ enters into our life and changes [any] circumstance.
[It is for this reason that Father Giussani said that] Christianity is subversive [...].
[Otherwise, there is] no reason to remain Christian. We cannot repeat doctrine as if this were enough. It's the new experience of living ordinary things in a new way. This is what makes us enthusiastic [for] Christ, this experience.
From the beginning of this [Diakonia we have asked], What is the problem of our Christian life? Christianity is easy: always the child needs to find his mother beside him and life is easy. For us Christ is not so real as mother/child. Why? Because Christ is not real? This is the problem we need to face in the School of Community. This is the first problem. This one. That we are not sure of his presence. Many times Christ is an extra thing. Not so real as the mother is for the child.
Many times we live as orphans instead of as sons. Nothing is more evident than [the fact that] at this moment another is making us. Many times we reduce [Christ] to a feeling. [Then] when I don't feel him, he doesn't exist. We are in the context of our culture. For many people religion is a matter of feeling and ethics.

[As the Pope said] we live in a world that has decided not to face the problem of the truth. Our faith opposes this resignation in front of the truth.
[This is the problem: we think that] we are not able to know the Mystery. [We think that ] faith is not a knowledge. [We think that the] religion of Christianity is only a feeling that we feel.
It is possible to know the Mystery. Faith is a question of knowledge. Can I really know Christ, as I know this glass? [Is Christ a reality] or is [Christianity] something without consistency? The encounter with Communion and Liberation helps us understand the profound meaning of these words of the Pope.
From the beginning, Father Giussani [emphasized the connection between] faith and reason. [When] teaching religion, [he had] this passion that faith first and foremost must demonstrate that it is reasonable and this is crucial for us in this moment. School of Community is the tool we have [in order] to face the reduction of faith to feeling or to ethics. Faith is a question of knowledge. We can start School of Community [after this Diakonia] more aware of the importance of this question for our life. [It]is not a question for philosophers. [It is for Christians] to live Christian faith in this cultural situation in which faith and religion are reduced to feeling and ethics.
For the knowledge of reality, Father Giussani insists, involves our person. Even more important, we need to face a method of knowledge that needs to involve the whole person [in order] to verify the credibility of this witness.
The third premise of the Religious Sense [is so important] because knowledge always involves reality. The position of our person before reality [is what determines] our capacity to say yes or not [to Christ's proposal in the same way as] to say yes when I ask is this paper white? We need to answer, but this [requires] a commitment of the whole person. We have before us a possibility, a proposal that fits perfectly with our situation -- in which the Mystery in his kindness, tenderness, [comes] to help us -- in this moment in which we are called to live our Christian faith, to commit ourselves in this world.
[The School of Community exists] to help us, to accompany [us, so that we can be] together]in this journey. I hope that every one of us can be available to this work, to answer to this grace, because it is a grace. To answer in this situation that we have tools, this powerful instrument, that allows us to face [our cultural situation]. So, good work to everybody!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Local Politics

This post, on my friend Justine's blog, Justinespired, reports on an event that occurred recently in our town:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Playground lessons

Last week I went to a city council meeting to protest an ordinance that would have allowed a bar to relocate to the middle of one of our city parks.

I changed out of sweats before I left because I wanted to make sure my clothes sent the right message to the council. I wasn’t sure, though, which message would be more effective: “Stylish Concerned Mother of Playground-Aged Kids,” or “Fashionable Mature Tax-Paying Property Owner.”

Instead, I chose “Currently Not Homeless Person Qualified to Sign a Petition,” because it was the only thing left in the laundry pile that I didn’t have to wash, iron, or lose 10lbs. to wear.

And besides, if people judge me by the way I look, that’s their problem. And, besides, it’s winter and I didn’t have to take off my coat.

The meeting was already crowded when I arrived, and I had to squish next to a man whose attire said to me, “100% Genuine Article Gangsta.”

I know I just got finished saying that it's wrong to judge people by their appearance, and if my kids were with me and we saw the same man on the street, I would say to them, “He might look like a bad man, but maybe he’s not. Maybe that scary black leather jacket, and that black scary t-shirt, and those scary baggy pants with the chains are the only clean things he has to wear because he has a psychological block against buying clothes that actually fit him without first having to lose 10lbs. Some of the nicest people you know suffer from that same problem.”

Then I would throw my kids in our van and speed away without buckling seat belts, because I would judge him to look like trouble. I nodded in greeting, but avoided catching the man's eye. It was my first city council meeting, and I had no idea what kind of weird grievances were on the agenda. I heard Mr. Gangsta and a gentleman next to him discussing “the charges in your case,” and when Mr. Gangsta muttered, "I’m scared, man, I’m scared,” I was glad we had all walked though a metal detector.

As the room continued to fill up, there was more squishing and rearranging of bodies, and Mr. Gangsta disappeared somewhere down the row, and then out of sight. The meeting was called to order, and after the proposed ordinance was read, citizen, after respectable citizen, got up and presented a list of convincing reasons why an economically struggling town with already crappy parks should not invite a bar to move into one.

(Really, Council, did we have to tell you that? Did you think we had nothing better to do with our time? Laundry perhaps?)

Parents, homeowners, and a retired D.A.R.E. police officer spoke. The crowd applauded after each speech until the mayor and his gavel forbid such outbursts. Cute old ladies made their way to the front to give the council a piece of their mind. So did businessmen, college professors, and elementary schoolteachers. Many people seemed a little nervous speaking in public-- they leaned on one leg, their voices wavered, their prepared comments on paper shook in their hands--but they got their point across. About 80 people packed into that room to protest the proposal. I was getting a little hot with my coat still buttoned up.

Then somewhere off to the side, the crowd parted. Suddenly, I realized that the man standing front and center was my old neighbor, Mr. Gangsta. He gave Council his name and address in a slow and steady, deep voice. He said he had been a recovered alcoholic for six years, and that he was an ex-felon. He said his Grandma had raised him and his siblings with “good morals,” but then “some of us chose to go our own ways.” He straightened out and moved back to our small town from Chicago because he thought it would be a good place to raise his kids. He slipped back into his “old ways,” but then straightened out again. He said he personally knew the devastation of alcoholism, and that the recent spate of shootings in our town was caused by “alcoholic rage”-- by kids getting drunk and hunting down other kids they hated. He knew this because he knew those involved. He stood with the confidence of a man who knew he was forgiven for his sins, and when it came to putting the temptation of alcohol next to a playground, he asked Council to vote “No”.

Gavel be danged, I clapped with everyone else when he was done.

If life were a good movie, Mr. Richmond’s words would have been the last ones hanging in the air before the votes were cast, but a few more folks insisted on having their say, and the drama slightly deflated. Whatever. We still won! The ordinance that was predicted to pass with a 6 to 1 vote going into the meeting, was defeated when three councilmen changed their minds and voted it down, 4 to 3.

The newspaper account cites a number of reasons for the councilmen’s switch (and that’s a topic for another post) but I want to thank Mr. Richmond for having the guts and the humility to get up in front of that crowd, and for reminding us that although the clothes might make the man, no matter what they say, there's always hope that everyone can change.

Many thanks to Michael Hernon, our former councilman-at-large, for keeping many of us informed of these important issues. You can visit his new initiative, The Catholic Association, to learn about his work on a national level.

I like the way that Justine makes this experience personal. The story also underlines what happens when people feel empowered to step forward and speak, in short, to act. It also contains a beautiful message about prejudgments and the power inherent in listening to others and recognizing their humanity. Thanks so much, Justine!

Can you imagine it?

That moment, when Jesus stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of Isaiah -- can you imagine being there, with the others, listening? You are a part of a people who has longed to see His face, who had been begging God to send his anointed one, to bring freedom and peace. How many hundreds of years, through a difficult and often sad history, have your people been waiting for this face to appear? And now, today, this man stands up in front of you in the synagogue, and reads the words of Isaiah -- words you already know by heart, they are such a part of your longing and hope. He reads those words out loud, so that everyone present can hear them well:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring goood news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then, in a silence that was complete, he carefully rolled up the scroll and handed it back to the attendant. Then he sat down. He sat down! Then -- can you imagine this? -- Jesus said, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

To have been there! To have heard those words! What was it like for all of those people listening?

What is it like for you?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Silver Giussani medals on ebay

If you are interested, click here.

The Sign of Signs

I got the title for yesterday's post, "Vocational Companionship," from this talk by Don Giussani. In it he provides a commentary on the Angelus that opens me more and more to the beauty of this prayer:

"Be it done to me according to your word." Mary accepted straight away, and this is the source of mysterious things which, if you are faithful to your path, the Lord will make you understand, more and more, more and more.
If we too could say what our Lady said - say what the Angelus says: our Lady's yes - with that total, global, deep persuasion that was in her, in the same way that a baby recognizes his mother without any hesitation when he hears her voice or sees her face - a little baby picks out his mother's face from a crowd of women and stretches out his arms to her -; if we could really live the way everything began, the first moment, the way it began with our Lady, the announcement of the angel - an exceptional presence, which imposes itself so much, which is so obvious to someone with a simple and intelligent soul as only God can intend and want to create in a creature -: it would be really beautiful!

This is how I want to live. I want to be faithful to my path. What is so astonishing to me as a live more and more according to the charism of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and now also the charism of Communion and Liberation, is that the path is given. It is not something I forge or map out in advance. Sometimes it even involves taking a step in the dark and trusting that my foot will come down on solid ground. Christ is the path, the Way, and also the Light by which I see the path. When I speak of "a step in the dark," I mean that the darkness is the limit of my own understanding.

The way he reaches us cannot be different, there is no difference between the way in which our Lady realized - so much so that she said yes immediately - and the way in which it happens to us.
The Gospel calls "an angel" that mysterious personality which spoke to our Lady, giving her that enormously strange message, but in such a way that her heart (she was about 15, 16 or 17) was immediately invaded. And this was made possible, conceivable, by the human structure proper to Judaism, which has been the vehicle in history of God's covenant with man, that is, of the way which God has used so as to be able to give himself, to be able to help men. It was the same way for Our Lady, the identical ultimate way in which God dealt with the Jewish people: identical. Throughout history he expressed himself through the leaders of the people and the prophets, because it was the leaders of the people that dictated to the people what they should do: the psalms... (the whole Bible tells what the Lord made known through the leaders and prophets). But with our Lady he was more direct, he actually placed himself before her. In the Gospel there's no detailed description of what our Lady said; it is simply clear that what was happening was a mystery, the source of what was happening was a mystery, but in such a persuasive way that, given the education that she had had, it was likely (it wasn't impossible, it wasn't unlikely). Our Lady just said yes, "Fiat."

"The way he reaches us cannot be different..." It is Don Giussani's insistence on the presence of angels, who face us and who communicate God's message to us in profound and dramatic ways, that sets my spine to tingling. The Gospel doesn't give us any physical description of the angel. Artists tend to depict him as a man, with wings. But we really don't know what Mary saw that day. So, what do we see? How do we see God's messengers, God's signs in the world?

"And the angel left her." What I want tell you, what I've just sketched out now, roughly, pointing out what happened to our Lady, happens to us! It has happened and it does happen to us! Not like a mechanical repetition, not like a rather formal repetition in which we insert, or try to insert the way we understand the thing. A seed, says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:36-37)... notice that a seed develops and then there's nothing left of it other than the memory of someone who keeps in mind all the factors of a history. This happens to us. Anyone who is called in Baptism is destined to be, in the world, part of that reality in which the factor of what the Gospel calls an "angel", what appeared to our Lady as an angel, is brought about in history. It's exactly the same process.
From whom did we receive the announcement that God became man? From our father and mother, from our parents. But along with them? From the parish, the groups in the parish centre, our friends there, from the atmosphere of a people which is Christian. The particular circumstances may differ in their details, but it is through that: for you the angel is this company of yours, that person, the Bishop and the Pope. The angel is called Church.

It is a scandal! If we're not even a little scandalized, then we're not thinking about what this means. If we don't say, 'But Scripture says 'he has made man little less than the angels...'" -- but look at your translation again. The Hebrew word that is sometimes translated as "angels" is "elohim" -- literally "divine ones." And in any case, it is a description of man even before Christ initiated his redemptive work in the Sacrament of Baptism, which completely transforms us through the power of the Resurrection.

I don't want to speed over this passage, or take anything contained in it for granted. It changes everything, the whole structure of the world! The angel is called Church -- rocked by scandal, with a chequered history, made up of persons who live and die -- the angel is called Church; the angel is this company of ours, led by the bishops and the Pope.

Now the problem is this ­ and with this I conclude -: in the apostles, faith in Jesus is understandable, but how can we know if Jesus is God or not, that God became man, that he is among us through this figure, this figure of a man, historically datable but without compare, lasting in the world (because the Church is Christ who is living right up to now)? And how do you have faith in the Church? You should already know the answer: through the vocational company; when the Church becomes a vocational company. This makes the relationship between man and woman a sacrament, a mystery.

Finally we come to this term, the vocational company. The vocational companionship is a very particular relationship among members of the Body of Christ, of which marriage is a type. We will "see" the angel when the Church becomes a vocational company. This is what the Sacrament of the Eucharist causes to happen in us: "Then as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing" (Euch prayer I -- the meaning of "every grace and blessing" becomes refined to its essence in the other Eucharistic prayers): "May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit" (Euch prayer II), "Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ" (Euch prayer III), "and by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise" (Euch prayer IV), "By the power of your Holy Spirit make them one body, healed of all division" (Masses of Reconciliation I), "Fill us with his Spirit through our sharing in this meal. May he take away all that divides us" (Masses of Reconciliation II), "Though the power of your Spirit of love include us now and for ever among the members of your Son, whose body and blood we share" (Euch prayer V).

And then the Don Giussani's talk concludes with the introduction of a new term, "house":

And this vocational company has the house as its first way of documenting itself - not only in a chronological sense, but also as the force which shakes us as the angel "shook" Mary, shook her heart. So this word ... carries the total meaning of our lives: either we learn through that company or else we don't learn at all. This is why the Bible would make us talk about the house as the place - according to all the analogies the term has - where God communicates himself in his humanity, i.e. he communicates himself as Man-God.

When we begin to ponder what he could mean by "house," we have to turn to all the ways the word is used in the Bible -- "House" of David, meaning the unbroken line of descendants who are connected by the bonds of blood; "House" of the Lord -- the habitation, the place where God's glory dwells, the place where we go up with joy; "House" of God, where Jesus was outraged at the money-changers; "House" of his own body, which he would rebuild in three days; "House" that we build on the Rock and not on sandy soil; "House" or temple of the Holy Spirit, that is, our bodies; "House" built of living stones, of which Christ is the cornerstone and the apostles are the foundation; "House" of the new Jerusalem, bedecked with jewels, in which a room will be prepared for us...

On the wall of every Memoris Domini (The living "memory of God," present in the world -- "Memory is the consciousness of a presence that has begun and lasts: memory is the consciousness of His presence.... Memory has become the most important word of our community: the community is the place where one lives memory. I would like to detail some aspects of this reality of the community, a word that indicates a companionship that is not born of the flesh or blood but from Christ, whose life is memory. As St. Catherine of Siena said: 'Memory has been filled with blood.' Our memory is filled with the blood of the cross and of the glory of the resurrection, because the Cross of Christ cannot be conceived without the resurrection" -- Don Giuss) house, those who make up its companionship place a sign, which says, "The house is the place of memory."

The house is here, a reality that God has made present on earth, and we can enter it with the help of the Holy Spirit. But how beautiful it is to enter together, with one's friends!

Someone at La Sapienza has the courage to embrace Holy Wisdom

University students greet the pope with chants of "Freedom, Freedom!"

At the general audience, a group of students demonstrate their solidarity with Benedict XVI, who declined to participate in the inauguration of the academic year of the La Sapienza university of Rome, because of opposition from a small group of teachers and students. To those present, the pope again illustrated the figure of Saint Augustine.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Freedom, Freedom!": the shout raised by a group of university students of the Communion and Liberation movement, at the beginning of today's general audience, met with warm applause from the six thousand persons present in the Paul VI audience hall, and was an echo of the decision Benedict XVI took yesterday not to go to the La Sapienza university of Rome. The decision was due to opposition from a small group of teachers and students, against the invitation that had been extended to him to participate in the inauguration of the academic year. "So there are three places where the pope cannot go: Moscow, Beijing, and the university of Rome", commented one of the young people present at the audience. "If Benedict does not go to La Sapienza, La Sapienza comes to Benedict", read one of the banners that the young people raised....

Read the rest of the article here.

And here is another example of Wisdom making her presence felt at La Sapienza.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Vocational Company

I want to say thank you for an answered prayer.

The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary
and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord
be it done to me according to your word.

And the Word was made flesh
and dwells among us.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Pray for us O holy Mother of God
that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech thee O Lord, thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ our Lord was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross, be brought to the glory of his Resurrection, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI

It seems that people deliberately twist his words, or they get so hysterical at the thought of this man that they are willing to believe any stupidity others tell them about him. Here is what the pope actually said about Galileo:

"...Here, I wished to recall a symptomatic case that illustrates the extent to which modernity’s doubts about itself have grown today in science and technology...

"...the synthetic judgment of the agnostic-skeptic philosopher P. Feyerabend appears much more drastic. He writes: 'The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism.'"

In other words, he is characterizing the "drastic" thought of an agnostic-skeptic, whose opinion of Galileo demonstrates "modernity's doubts about itself."

And here is the passage from Spe Salvi that the university professors and their students claim/imagine shows that the Pope is hostile to science:

“Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it.”

How does this statement denigrate science? Where is the hostility? Isn't it self-evident that man cannot be redeemed through science?

It really isn't so amazing that there are university professors who would actually sign their names to something that is false. Given that the intellectual climate at many universities is hostile even to the notion that there exists an objective reality, it is no wonder that many so-called scholars have never been trained to recognize the truth. So long as academic pursuits consist mainly in multiplying opinions, who will value the kind of painstaking detective work that produces truly useful insights?

Here is the press release from Communion and Liberation:

Communion and Liberation:
La Sapienza University, another disgrace for Italy

Popes have been able to speak everywhere in the world (Cuba, Nicaragua, Turkey, etc). The only place where the Pope cannot speak is La Sapienza, a University founded, after all, by a Pope.
This brings out two extremely grave facts:

1) The inability of the Italian Government to guarantee the right of expression in Italian territory of a foreign Head of State, and Bishop of Rome, spiritual guide for a billion people. In preventing what the vast majority of people expect and want, some small groups find, in fact, protection, even authoritative protection.

2) The cultural ruin of the Italian university which makes it possible for an athenaeum like La Sapienza to transform itself into an ideological “rubbish dump.”

As citizens and as Catholics we are indignant at what has happened and we are sorry for Benedict XVI, to whom we feel even more closely bound, acknowledging him as the defender—in virtue of his faith—of reason and freedom.

CL Press Office

Milan, January 15, 2008.


I had to recopy, by hand, the entire text of "A Mystery of Hope, Forgiveness, and Resurrection" in order to be able to even start writing what I want to write about mercy. That article is so amazing. I've read it over and over in the past several weeks. I am reminded of something someone said in School of Community last week: "Without being able to forgive, we would be walking corpses." It sounds a lot like what Father Giussani says in "A Mystery of Hope, Forgiveness and Resurrection" -- "without forgiveness we could not exist, we could not continue living." Of course, Don Giuss means this phrase to carry at least two meanings -- that our life, when we do not participate in the divine (of which forgiveness is the greatest sign), is swallowed in nothingness, but also that forgiveness itself is what breathes me into existence: "that forgiveness which comes from without me, i.e. from the mystery which makes all things and invests me and embraces me and gives me courage and renders me capable of continuing until the next time. The presence of this factor, forgiveness, which has a name - Jesus..."

Remembering again Father Giussani's definition of forgiveness as the capacity to tolerate difference reminds me of a time in my life when it was impossible for me to forgive others. What a painful time it was. Back then, a very wise friend told me that I was like a homeless person who had to wear her entire wardrobe all the time, even in the heat, because I had no place to put my things. She said that to me before she even knew just how "homeless" I really was -- that all the travel I had experienced as a child (and it enriched my life tremendously and I wouldn't trade it for anything, even a history of stability) had left me with a feeling that I didn't belong anywhere. No matter where I went, I was out of place.

But so, I couldn't forgive, even though I wanted to do it and I knew it was the right thing to do. I did not understand that it was my inability to tolerate difference that made me so radically not at home in the world. I didn't even realize that I was intolerant of differences. The great criterion for friendships in those years was for the other to be "like me." No one could be exactly like me, but the way in which many of my friends were like me was that they shared, with me, a certain kind of melancholic, ruminating incapacity. Most of my friends were like me in that they were self-absorbed, insecure, subject to depressions and anxiety attacks, and often judgmental of others who were more "together." We would often discuss our suspicions that our more stable and consistent and morally behaved acquaintances were papering over some awful secret. Our thesis was that we, who appeared to be far more lost, were actually living honestly and with integrity while what passed for integrity was just a sham.
Now, from a vantage of over twenty years, I can see that what made me intolerant of difference was fear -- fear of rejection and abandonment, fear of misunderstandings, fear of being undervalued and dismissed, and just plain old irrational fear. Of course, there was more than a little jealousy acting as a motor for this fantasy that people who seemed happy were faking it.

So, how did I move from that positionless position to this Rock I now inhabit? When you look at a life, there are so many factors to consider, but the one thread that seems to have been my lifeline is acknowledging my lack of control over anything while recognizing that there is too much I do not understand about everything. Lack of control and lack of understanding have led me to search for help and to risk trusting -- trusting Christ and also the world he animates and inhabits. "The mind unlearns with difficulty what has long been impressed upon it" (Seneca). But the mind must unlearn what is false when faced with overwhelming evidence.

The overwhelming evidence struck me like a boulder to the chest when I became a mother. When I held my first child, I was overcome with tears of amazement and gratitude for the mystery of this new life which had been placed in my hands. It was really as if I myself had been born. I knew I was completely unworthy of the gift I had received. The wonder and fear of the Lord I experienced in that moment gave birth to a love that was completely new and unlike any love (even for my own mother or my husband) that I had ever experienced. It was in that moment that I began to learn about just how much of my own comfort I was willing to sacrifice so that life could be beautiful, truly beautiful. When one's own incapacity comes face-to-face with the gratuitous gift of a love that has the power to regenerate one's soul, Christ finds a way into that life.

Every day I beg to be worthy of this life I've been given, and of the five daughters whose lives have become so great a part of my own, and of a marriage that can continue to generate so much beauty.

It is only because the Almighty has looked with so much mercy on my own littleness, nothingness even, that I am able to tolerate differences -- even love them. Whenever I experience myself holding onto a hurt, I just remember who I am -- little as I am, I am a child of God -- and that I lack understanding; and I remember Who has given this life to us all -- Who resides at its foundations and Who holds the key to the meaning of everything. I leave it in his hands, because he is mercy and love. To see the other through the lens of His preference is to see another being altogether -- one who is loved as I am loved -- something breath-taking!

"Simon, Do You Love Me?"

A passage from the book by Luigi Giussani, Stefano Alberto and Javier Prades, Generating Pathways in the History of the World:

In Chapter 21 of St John's Gospel we find the fascinating documentation of the historical birth of the new ethics. The particular story that is documented there is the keystone of the Christian conception of man, of his morality and of his relationship with God, with life and with the world.
The disciples are on their way back at dawn after a bad night on the lake, in which they had caught nothing. As they approach the shore they see on the beach a figure in the process of preparing a fire. They would see later that on the fire were fish collected for them, for their early morning hunger. All at once John says to Peter, "But that's the Lord!". Then all their eyes open and Peter dives into the water just as he is and reaches the shore first, followed by the others. They sit in a circle, in silence; no-one speaks because they all know it is the Lord. Laying there eating they exchange a word or two amongst themselves, but they are all afraid at the exceptional presence of Jesus, the risen Jesus, who had already appeared to them several times.
Simon, whose many errors had made more humble than the rest, was lying amongst the others before the food the Master had prepared. He looks to see who is next to him and, amazed and trembling, he sees that it is Jesus. He turns his glance away from him and sits there, full of embarrassment. But Jesus speaks to him. Peter thinks in his heart, "My God, my God, what a telling-off I deserve! Now he's going to ask me why I betrayed him. The betrayal had been his last big mistake, but the whole of his life, even the familiarity with the Master, had been troubled by his impetuous character, by his instinctive impulsiveness and unguarded forwardness. He saw the whole of himself in the light of his defects. That betrayal had emphasised clearly the rest of his mistakes, how little he was worth, how weak he was, so weak it was pitiable. "Simon" ­ who knows how he trembled as that word entered his ear and touched his heart ­, "Simon" ­ and here he would have made as if to look towards Jesus ­ "do you love me?" Who would ever have expected that question? Who would have expected that word?
Peter was a man forty or fifty years old, with wife and children, and yet so much a child before the mystery of that companion he had met by chance! Imagine how he would have felt pierced by that look that knew every part of him. "You will be called Cefa"1 His difficult character was identified by that word, "rock", and the last thing on his mind was to imagine what the mystery of God, and the mystery of that Man ­ Son of God ­ was going to do with that rock, was going to make of that rock. From their first meeting He occupied his whole soul, his whole heart. It was with that presence in his heart, with the continuous memory of Him that he looked at his wife, his children, his work-mates, his friends, and strangers, individuals and crowds, that he thought and that he went to sleep. That Man had become for him a great immense revelation that was still to be clarified.
"Simon, do you love me?" "Yes, Lord, I love You". How could he say such a thing after all he had done? That "yes" was the affirmation of his recognition of a supreme excellence, an undeniable excellence, of a sympathy that overrode all the others. Everything was there inscribed in that look of theirs, consistency and inconsistency seemed finally to be relegated to second place, behind that faithfulness that felt like flesh of his flesh, behind that form of life that the encounter had moulded.
There was, in fact, no reproof. Only the same question repeated, "Simon, do you love me?" Not unsure of himself, but fearful and trembling, he answered once more, "Yes, I love You". But the third time, the third time that Jesus asked him, he had to ask Jesus himself for confirmation, "Yes, Lord, You know that I love You. All my human preference, all the preference of my heart is for You. You are the extreme preference in life, the supreme excellence of things. I don't know how, I don't know how to say it, or how it can be, but despite everything I have done, despite all I might do again, I love you".
This "yes" is the birth of morality, the first breath of morality in the dry desert of instinct and of pure reactivity. Morality sinks its roots into Peter's "yes", and this "yes" can take root in the man's earth only through a dominating Presence, that is accepted, embraced and served with all the energy in one's heart, that only in this way can become a child again. Without the Presence there is no moral action, there is no morality.
But why is Peter's "yes" to Jesus the birth of morality? Don't the criteria of consistency and inconsistency come first?
Peter had got just about everything wrong, and yet he lived a supreme sympathy for Jesus. He understood that everything in him tended to Christ, that everything was embraced in those eyes, that face, that heart. The sins of the past could not constitute an objection, and not even all the inconsistency he could imagine for himself in the future. Christ was the source, the place of his hope. Even had what he had done and what he would possibly do been thrown at him as an objection, Christ was still, through all the fog of those objections, the light of his hope. He valued Him above everything else, from the first moment he had felt those eyes fixed on him, had felt that look. He loved him for that.
"Yes, Lord, You know that You are the object of my supreme sympathy, of my highest esteem". This is how morality is born. Yet the expression is very generic, "Yes, I love You"; but it is as generic as it is generative of the pursuit of a new kind of life. "Whoever has this hope in Him purifies himself as he is pure".2 Our hope is in Christ, in that Presence that, however distracted and forgetful we are, we cannot take away ­ at least not completely ­ from the earth of our heart for all the tradition through which he has reached right up to us. It is in Him that I hope, before counting my mistakes and my virtues. Numeric quantities have no place here. In the relationship with Him numbers don't count, measured or measurable weight has no place, and all the possible evil that I may bring about in the future, even this doesn't count, it cannot usurp the first place before Christ's eyes that is held by Peter's "yes" repeated by me. Then a sigh comes from the depths of our being, like a breath that rises from the breast and elates the whole person and makes it act, it makes it long to act more justly; from the depths of the heart springs the flower of the desire for justice, for true, authentic love, for the capacity for gratuitouness. Just as our every move does not start off as an analysis of what our eyes see, but the embrace of what the heart is waiting for, so perfection is not the keeping of laws, but attachment to a Presence.
Only the man who lives this hope in Christ goes on for the whole of his life in this ascesis, in this striving for good. Even when he is clearly contradictory, he wants the good. This always wins, in the sense that it is the last word on him, on his own day, on what he does, on what he has done, on what he will do. Whoever lives this hope in Christ goes on in ascesis. Morality is a continuous tension towards perfection which is born from an event in which the relationship with the divine, with Mystery, is marked.

The ultimate reason for the "yes"
What is the true reason for the "yes" said to Christ by Peter? Why does the "yes" said to Jesus have more value than listing all one's mistakes and all the possible future mistakes that one's weakness implies? Why is this "yes" more decisive and greater that all the moral responsibility translated into detail, into concrete practice? The answer to these questions reveals the ultimate essence of the Father's Envoy. Christ is the "Envoy", the one sent by the Father, he is the One who reveals the Father to men and to the world. "This is the true life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent".3 The most important thing is "that they know You", that they love You, because this You is the meaning of life.
"Yes, I love You", Peter said. The reason for this "yes" consisted in the fact that he had glimpsed in those eyes that fixed on him that first time, and then had fixed on him so many times during the following days and years, that he was God, that he was Yahweh, the true Yahweh: mercy.4 In Jesus is revealed the relationship with God as love and therefore as mercy. Mercy is the attitude of the Mystery towards any kind of weakness, mistake or forgetfulness on man's part: before any crime committed by man, God loves him.
This was what Simon felt, and this is where his "Yes, I love You" is born.
The meaning of the world and of history is the mercy of Christ, Son of the Father, sent by the Father to die for us. In the play by Milosz, the Abbot, to whom Miguel Manara would go every day to lament of his past sins, seems one day to lose his patience and says, "Enough of all this womanish lamentation! All this never existed". What's this "never existed"? Miguel had murdered, raped, and committed all kinds of injustice"All this never existed. Only He is"5 he, Jesus, turns to us, he makes himself an "encounter" for us, asking us only one thing, not "What have you done?" but , "Do you love me?".
Loving him above all things does not mean therefore that I have not sinned, or that I will not sin tomorrow. How strange! It takes an infinite patience to be this mercy, an infinite power from which ­ in this earth, in the time and space we are given to live in, whether the years be few or many ­ we receive, we draw happiness. Because a man with the awareness of how small he is, is happy at the announcement of this mercy: Jesus is mercy. He is sent by the Father to make us know that the essence of God has mercy as its supreme characteristic for man. "You have bent down over our wounds and have healed us", says one of the prefaces of the Ambrosian Rite, "Giving us a medicine stronger that our wounds, a mercy greater than our fault. So even sin, in virtue of your invincible love, serves to raise us up to divine life".6
Peace, the possibility of peace arises from this happiness. In all our misfortunes, in all our evils, in all our inconsistencies, in all our weakness, in that mortal weakness that is man, we can really breathe and long for peace, generate peace and respect for the other.
Respecting the other means looking at him with our eyes on another Presence "The Christians", says the Letter to Diognetus of the 2nd century, "treat each other with a respect that is inconceivable to others".7 The word "respect" (Latin respectus, from re-spicio) has the same root as aspicio (to look at), and the re- means keeping your eyes turned towards something, like someone who while his is walking keeps his eyes fixed on an object. "Respect" means "looking at a person while keeping another person in view". It is like looking at a child when his mother is nearby. A teacher doesn't treat a child as she normally does if the mother is present. She is more attentive, at least if she has a minimum of sensitivity (maybe it's no longer the case today). Without respect for what you are using, for what is there for me to use, for what I take hold of because I want to use it, there is no adequate relationship with anything. Respect, though, cannot come from the fact that what I have before me is useful: if this is my viewpoint I dominate it. No, respect looks beyond what I use. In this way work acquires nobility, becomes light-hearted, in the midst of all the worries with which we get out of bed. The renewal of this awareness is morning prayer. A man who looks at his wife while perceiving and acknowledging an Other, Jesus, within and beyond the figure of his wife can have respect and veneration for her, can value her freedom, which is relationship with the infinite, relationship with Jesus.

The beginning
of morality
is an act of love

Simon's "yes" to Jesus cannot be considered as the expression of a feeling, but is the beginning of a moral road that either opens with this "yes" or doesn't open at all. The beginning of a human morality is not the analysis of phenomena that fill the existence of the "I", nor the analysis of human behaviour in view of a common good; this could produce an abstract secular morality, but not a human morality.
St Thomas notes, "man's life consists in the affection that is its main support and in which it finds its greatest satisfaction".8 The beginning of a new human morality is an act of love. This is why a presence is required, the presence of someone that strikes our person, who gathers all our powers and draws them towards a good that we don't know and yet long for and are waiting for: that good is the Mystery.
The dialogue between Jesus and Peter ends in an odd way. Peter, who is on the point of following Jesus, is concerned about the youngest among them, John, who was like a son to him. "Seeing him, he said to Jesus, 'What about him, Lord?' Jesus replied, "Don't worry about him, just follow me'".9 That "yes" is addressed to a Presence that says, "Follow me, give up your life". "Jesu, tibi vivo, Jesu tibi morior, Jesu sive vivo sive morior, tuus sum".10 Whether you live or die you are mine. You belong to me. I have made you. I am your destiny. I am your meaning and the meaning of the world.
It is the "I" that is the protagonist of morality, the whole "I"; and the person has as its law a word that we all think we know and of which, after a long time, if we have a small shred of fidelity to what is original in us, we begin to glimpse the meaning: love. The person has love as its law. "God, Being, is love", St John writes.11
Love is a judgment moved by a Presence linked with destiny. It is a judgement, like when you say, "That's Mont Blanc", or "this is a great friend of mine". Love is a judgement moved by a Presence linked with my destiny, which I discover, I glimpse, I sense to be linked with my destiny. When John and Andrew saw him for the first time and heard him say "Come home with me. Come and see", and they stayed all those hours listening to him talking, they didn't understand, but they sensed that that person was linked with their destiny. They had heard all those who spoke in public, heard their opinions and those of all the parties, but only that Man was linked with their destiny.
Christian morality is the revolution on earth, because it is not a list of laws, but a love for being. One can go wrong a thousand times and will always be forgiven, he will always be taken back again and will set off once more on his journey, if his heart takes up again this "yes". What is important in that "Yes, Lord, I love You" is a tension of the whole of one's person, determined by the awareness that Christ is God and by the love for this Man who has come for me. This determines my whole awareness, and I can go wrong a thousand times a day, to the point of being ashamed to lift up my head, but no-one can take away this certainty from me. I only pray the Lord, I pray the Spirit to change me, to make me an imitator of Christ, that my presence become more like that of Christ.
Morality is love, love for Being who has become man, an event in history, that reaches me through that mysterious company that historically is called Church or Mystical Body of Christ or People of God. I love him within this company. They can accuse me of a hundred thousand wrongs, they can put me on trial, the judge can send me to prison without even questioning me, with patent injustice, without considering whether or not I am guilty, but they cannot take away from me this attachment that keeps on making me vibrate with the desire for the good, that is to say to adhere to him. Because the good is not "the good", but to adhere to Him, to follow that face, his Presence, to carry that presence everywhere, to say it to everyone, so that this Presence may dominate the world ­ the end of the world will be the moment when this Presence becomes evident for everyone.
This is the new morality: it is a love, not rules to be followed. And evil is offending the object of this love or forgetting it. You can quite well say, analysing humbly all the highways and byways of a man's life, "This is right and this is wrong", listing in order all the errors into which a man may fall. This would be to write a book of morals. But morality is in me, who love Him who made me and is here. If it were not so then I could use morality exclusively for asserting my advantage; in any case it would destroy all hope. You need to read Pasolini or Pavese to understand this; but no, it enough to remember Judas.

The permanence of the new morality
If the beginning of the new morality is an act of love, of adhering, and this requires a Presence of someone who strikes us and gathers all our powers ­ as Jesus did with Simon ­, it becomes fundamental to answer the question: how does this event go on being present in our existence? The answer to this question establishes the possibility of the new morality in the present, here and now, otherwise for us it would begin in an intellectualistic, abstract, theoretical way. This answer lies in that Christian term that belongs to the experience of what is present, without which we would not be able to know whether our experience is concrete or fantasy: the term is "memory". In the memory the event that we experience in all its richness becomes immersed in the flow of time and space, becomes part of a history.
The first condition for the new morality is making memory of that Presence that surpasses the terms of human knowing, that is to say acknowledging here and now the Presence that cannot be reduced to any human hypothesis.
This Presence is a reality that is before us and through the power of His Spirit, is in us. This Presence is permanent in our life and is so powerful that it makes possible, through our adhering to it, the coming about of a new creation in us. So a person can rise again after imperfection and error, at the end of every action that is always disproportional and always imperfect, with a step that is more just, because His gift continues, like a cool spring, and no limitation of ours can put a stop to it.
The permanence of this Presence is grace, pure event, and we do not persevere in adhering to it in the here and now. We acknowledge it and adhere to it. Just like the encounter, the wonder, its continuity, the impetus of adherence is grace: and this grace becomes ours because we accept it. Accepting this absolute novelty, that happens over and over again, a thousand times a day, is the supreme aspect of freedom.
Just as for John and Andrew, for Simon, for Zacchaeus, the beginning of the change in us is a grace, a gift. We have had an encounter whose aim was to change us and perfect us. We adhered to this Presence that corresponds to our expectations in an exceptional way, with a persistence, as in the case of Zacchaeus who was no longer defined by the imperfections he was prey to, because that Presence was there to pierce like a cool stream all the filth of the forest of his humanity12.
The wonder of the encounter, the wonder that continues, the adherence to that Presence that goes on imply the embrace of and the unity with all those whom that Presence puts near us. The Presence has made itself the object of our gaze so that through us, with our defects, and the sorrow for those defects, and the strange energy that comes from it, it may be more known and loved.

1 Cf Jn 1:42.
2 1 Jn 3:3.
3 Jn 17:3.
4 A passage of St Ambrose can shed light on this. In his comment on the Creation, speaking of the seventh day, when God rested, he says, "I thank the Lord our God that created a work so marvellous in which to find rest. He created the heavens, and I don't read that he rested; he created the earth, and I don't read that he rested; he created the sun, the moon, the stars, and I don't read that he rested even then; but I read that he created man and at this point he rested, having a being whose sins he could forgive" (Sant'Ambrose, Hexameron, IX, 76, in Opera omnia di Sant'Ambrogio, vol. 1, Biblioteca Ambrosiana-Città Nuova Editrice, Milano-Roma 1979, p. 419).
5 Cf. O. Milosz, Miguel Mañara, Jaca Book, Milano 1998, pp. 48-63.
6 Preface of XVI Sunday &laqno;per annum», in Messale Ambrosiano Festivo, Marietti-Jaca Book, Torino-Milano 1976, p. 653.
7 Letter to Diognetus, PG 2, 1167-1186.
8 Cf. St Thomas, Summa Theologiae, II, IIae, q. 179, art. 1.
9 Cf. Jn 21:20-22.
10 &laqno;Jesu tibi vivo», mediaeval Hymn, in Canti, Coop. Edit. Nuovo Mondo, Milano 1995, p. 34.
11 1 Jn 4:8.
12 Cf. Lk 19:1-10.

-- Monsignor Luigi Giussani, in Traces, November 1998.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Response to Marie

While trying to comment on one of Marie's posts, Perceiving the Imperceptible, I found myself on the fourth paragraph in that tiny comment window and realized that this is just too big for a fast couple of sentences. So, here's what I was trying to write on her blog:

You remind me of something that Father Giussani talks about in The Risk of Education. Without the companionship of others, who also walk this path, it is almost impossible to take the risk of "verifying" Christ's claim, worded variously, that he is the meaning of everything, that he makes all things new, that nothing is impossible with him.

What I want to push myself to do is to get to the bottom of HOW these changes are wrought in us. For me, this is the most terrifying question to examine because when I do start to examine it, I begin to recognize that yes, it is through the grace of God, but specifically, it is through the grace of God working in human particulars. For me, it is the companionship of our School of Community that has given me new wings in these past couple of years. Why is it so terrifying to say this? Because our School of Community, being a human reality, feels ephemeral, something made out of flesh and blood and human quirks, something that seems subject to all the vicissitudes of other human interactions and exchanges. What if you were to suddenly become so annoyed with the group that you decided to stop coming? What if all these wonderful pregnancies our members are experiencing make life too difficult or complicated to continue with School of Community? What if people take jobs or move away or, or, or...I don't want to feel dependent on School of Community, or any particular human reality that might dry up or change or leave me by the side of the road. Father Giussani says, "This is man's choice: either he conceives of himself as free from the whole universe and dependent only on God, or free from God and therefore the slave of every circumstance."

But I can't be dependent on God as an abstraction -- dependent on God only in my heart, in my head, in the heavens...I want to see his face, I want to touch his hands, put my nose in the folds of his garment. How can I do that if I do not entrust myself to the human reality where he manifests himself? Even if that human reality sometimes scandalizes me or disappoints me or even hurts me?

My commitment to School of Community, and to the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, feels like a huge gamble, a giant risk, for these reasons. My commitment to relationships outside of CL also feels like a huge risk, too, something that will certainly lead to hurt. What gives me the strength to face these risks? Why can I face people and situations that feel foreign and unpredictable and outside my frame of reference?

Because it is only in the Church, and only where I am with others who are passionately committed to making the Church present, making Christ present in human reality, that I can best be reminded that I am dependent only on God, on Emmanuel, God-with-us, Christ. What is it that happens in School of Community that doesn't happen anywhere else? What makes it that without School of Community, I would find my life as a Christian more arduous, a slower trek? It seems to me that when I am with others, who are actively looking for examples from their own experience, suddenly my attempts to "lift my gaze" are helped. It is not that I "make myself" part of the Body of Christ and thus gain something -- it's that suddenly I am no longer a finger trying to do without eyes and ears -- suddenly I am not a finger searching in the silent dark for the right key to press. Suddenly I know not only where to put my finger, but there are nine others that are also playing on the "instrument" that is life -- and what music!!

This is from the Spiritual Exercises: "This is why we have to stop saying, 'I can't.' What kind of circumstance can prevent a person from lifting his gaze, as Father Giussani said in one of the latest Traces inserts, and saying 'You' to the Mystery? No power of this world can prevent it, but none can force it. This is the greatness; this is the unique value of our person" (Carron, pp 18-19).

It's the music that gives me the courage to remain -- and the fact that when I am with my friends I can actually hear it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Monsignor Albacete

Another favorite priest. This is a long video (45 minutes) of a talk by Monsignor Albacete, speaking about his experience of meeting Communion and Liberation. This talk took place in Seattle, in October 2004:

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"An Encounter is Needed in Order to Enter into Reality"

01-10-2007 - Traces, n. 9

page one

Notes from the talks by Giancarlo Cesana and Julián Carrón at the Beginning Day for CL adults in the Lombardy Region of Italy, September 29, 2007

A man who recognizes his own need, who acknowledges that he is needy, finds nothing more consonant to his nature than asking, entreating. Similarly, we who have met Christ share this need, but we know that the only way we can avoid reducing it to our measure is to entreat the Only One who can make Christ truly ours, reveal Him to our eyes, to our experience: the Holy Spirit.
For this reason, we begin this gesture of the Beginning Day with all the awareness of women and men asking for this Spirit, because only He can open our intelligence, our heart, to the measure of Christ.

Come Holy Spirit

I’ll begin with a brief summary of the work of the Regional Diaconia to prepare this gathering.
The Pope’s talk in Regensberg, which was the focus of last year’s Beginning Day, showed that throwing reason wide open happens with the recognition of the Mystery that is present in reality. Remember Carrón’s words: “Listening to the Pope, we are moved by him, but our adherence to his position, if it does not correspond to a recognition of the Mystery present in reality, is like adherence to a political party. In life, this serves neither us nor others.”
Therefore, reason broadens when it recognizes the Mystery present in reality, and this opening of reason is a necessity: reason is a fundamental endowment for living, and the recognition of the Mystery, therefore, is a necessity. Why? Because, in the face of reality, we need a position, a positive option; we need to recognize the positive that there is in reality; otherwise, death and contradiction conquer, and life submerges us. Life submerges us when the sense, the meaning, is lacking, when there’s no chance to detect, to perceive He who positively makes life. As Berdjaev said, “Truth must be realized in life.”1
We all recognize friendship, our friendship, as a reality that more fully carries the Mystery, the Mystery that makes all things, Christ (Christ is the name of the Mystery; He Himself is Mystery). In fact, as was said in the Regional Diaconia, if our friendship does not call our attention to the Mystery, if it doesn’t remind us of this positive factor upon which all things depend (the Mystery is the evidence of a Presence that we do not possess, but is evident, is not hidden), if there is not a call to this, then friendship, our companionship, the Christian gesture itself becomes a complication, sometimes even an unbearable one.
Therefore, the tension of life is to live the ordinary in an extraordinary way, to live banality in an exceptional way. As John Paul II said in 1980, speaking of St. Benedict: “It was necessary that the heroic become daily, and the daily become heroic.”2 These are also the first words at the foundation of the birth of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation–the words refer to the times of Saint Benedict, but also to our times, which are just as dark.
Last Saturday, I went to see “Cheese,” a trade fair in Bra (excuse the banality of the episode), and I met Carlin Petrini, the founder of Slow Food. As we were eating, we got to talking about Genetically Modified Organisms, and to demonstrate his thesis (he, who calls himself an agnostic, a left-winger, is against GMOs, and I’m for them), he spoke enthusiastically about the love for the land cultivated naturally by the peasant farmers of Latin America or Africa. I observed, “Yes, but what you’re talking about is an exception. How can this change the world?” He stopped me and said, “But, you and I both know that we’re living exceptions.”
What’s needed is an exception; what’s needed is heroism of life, not because this is against banality, but because it illuminates it. It’s like when a guy loves a girl and she says, “Yes.” The world is the same, but it’s different. The light is different, the flavors are different, relationships are different, what he does is different, his toil is different. Thus, the difference that makes it possible to live the ordinary lies in affection, which means being attached, in the passive sense and in the active, attached by and to what’s true, living reality intensely. The presence of the Mystery is awesome; our life is mystery; reality is mystery; the world is mystery. It’s our freedom that comes and goes. At times, we have the opposite impression, but it’s not this way: in order to see the presence of the Mystery, you have to ask–always!
As Fr. Giussani wrote in From Utopia to Presence, “The judgment of value is the first question of life.”3
“The word ‘affection’ is the greatest and most all-encompassing of all our expressivity.”4
“When a young man looks at his girlfriend and thinks, ‘Not even a hair of your head will be lost,’ this is like a volcano of tenderness, of sweetness, and of security. It’s an experience of unbounded gratitude! But if someone is a boor, incapable of loving, or if he is an abstract fellow who speaks of ‘Jesus Christ, the meaning of life’ without relating it to his love for his girlfriend….”5
“Seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God,”6 said Saint Paul, because this is what fills life with the intensity that makes it, to whit, heroic.
In the extraordinary, in the exceptional events–be they positive or negative–it seems easier to seek and ask for Christ. Instead, in ordinary things it seems arduous and difficult; that you ask for Christ is not a foregone conclusion. In fact, it’s almost more essential, because life is spent in the ordinary hours of our days. So then, we ask: “In this search, what is our personal responsibility? What help can our friendship give us?”

As Giancarlo mentioned, last year’s Beginning Day revolved around Pope Benedict’s challenge about the question of reason, about the necessity to broaden reason. We closed the year with the Spiritual Exercises, calling us again to religiosity, to Jesus’ ferocious insistence on religiosity. The two things illuminate each other reciprocally. What does it mean to broaden reason? It means nothing other than living religiosity, that is, recognizing the Mystery. What is religiosity? It is the apex of reason. Therefore, reason does not fulfill its true nature as reason if it does not open itself to religiosity; and religiosity remains a mere sentiment unless it coincides with our rational nature. John Paul II said so in an interview quoted in Fides et Ratio: “When the why of things is investigated with integrity, seeking the totality, in the search for the ultimate and most complete answer, then human reason touches its apex and opens to religiosity. In effect, religiosity represents the most elevated expression of the human person, because it is the culmination of his rational nature.”7 This is what prevents us from reducing reason and religiosity to any of the number of reductions in use among us, in our culture, that influence us as well.
If religiosity is the most elevated expression of man’s rational nature, then religiosity is the knowledge of reality, not something alongside reality–it’s the true knowledge, deep down, of reality (if it were something alongside, it wouldn’t interest me). This is fundamental because we discover religiosity, above all, not through the religious gestures we do, but by how we place ourselves in reality, and how we live reality to the point of recognizing the Mystery present. This makes us understand the motivation for Jesus’ insistence on religiosity.
Sometimes among us it’s as though the fact of the Christian encounter blocks this tension toward knowing reality in its totality. It’s as if we already knew: “We’ve already encountered the Mystery present in an encounter–isn’t this enough?” So much so that frequently we find among ourselves (as I’ll explain later) not a desire to enter more fully into reality, but to make a life–in a certain way–alongside it.
In order to understand how the Christian encounter doesn’t block, but opens, because it makes possible the ultimate broadening of reason, it’s enough just to look at the life of Jesus Himself. It’s not that Jesus–being God–was spared anything. Jesus lived all the difficulties, to the point of suffering and death, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, “In the days when He was in the flesh, He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save Him from death… [but,] Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered [He learned; being Son, He learned]; and when He was made perfect [He acquired His perfection through life, through the things He suffered], He became [in this way] the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” 8 This is said of Jesus–you understand? A fellow who had an inkling about religiosity! But even though He was the Son of God, He was not spared. Rather, it was precisely through everything, to the point of suffering and death, that He became the Lord of all. He entered into possession of everything precisely “through,” not “alongside” everything He had to bear and undergo. That is, He didn’t get there by eluding reality, but through reality.
Therefore, the insistence on religiosity serves to introduce us to reality according to its totality, so that we can possess reality, its meaning, in a true way. As Fr. Giussani always used to remind us, in His Ascension, Jesus became the Lord of reality; through His life–this is the value of His life–He reached the root of all things, of time, of history. Therefore, after the encounter with Him, life does not stop for us, we know well, and we can’t apply certain concepts to life as if to spare ourselves the road to travel; in fact, it is precisely the encounter that allows us to do it. It doesn’t spare us the road, but it allows us to walk it in His company, with His power. This is what we have to try to understand: which road are we to travel?
This is why Fr. Giussani (we’re reading this in the School of Community we’ve taken up again) said, “Jesus Christ was the concrete, physical type of this new humanity. He was so much like others that people would ask one another what it was He wanted. When He spoke, He used the words and ideas of His people. And yet it was another world that He revealed, one certainly not foreign to the human person. The hearts and the eyes of the people, previously unaware of this world, sensed their birth before them and within. Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘Verily, verily, I tell you, unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven’ [he cannot enter into reality].” Fr. Giussani continued, “Christianity is a new way to live in this world. It is a new type of life. Above all, it does not represent a few particular experiences, ways of doing things, additional gestures, or expressions or words to add to our usual vocabulary. The Christian uses the same vocabulary as others but the meaning of the words is different. The Christian looks at all of reality in the same way as a non-Christian, but that which reality tells him or her is different and he or she reacts in a different way.”9
For this reason, the alternative is all here: either do some gestures alongside others, some of “our” gestures alongside others, or enter into reality. If you decide for the first option, then it’s time for me to go; I’m not interested. It’s not that this doesn’t happen among us. One of you wrote to me, “One does the Movement perfectly with all its heft only in the religious moments like School of Community, the Exercises, etc., but outside this nothing is shared (no gestures, no judgments, no being together). It’s as if, having done our homework, our life goes on its merry way elsewhere. This division even happens during the religious gesture. In School of Community, we do the work and then we eat together, but the problem is that this dinner has nothing to do with what happened earlier–we chow down and talk about vain things.” This is seen in the way one places oneself before reality, before people. There are those who place themselves in reality with a project or scheme. The letter continues: “‘Be careful of those people,’” they say of those around them, ‘Be careful of them: they’re all false.’ Instead, for us, it’s meant to be a place of fascinating human encounters, full of prospects for companionship,” the letter concludes. You can be in CL and live in a certain place holding your nose, creating a life apart for yourself, above all completely devoid of the attraction to reality, which in this case means a lack of wonder at your friends and a lack of passion for their destiny (I’m not talking about others–I’m talking about us) and so it’s impossible to run any human risk–you already know it, as we already know Christ; you just have to apply it according to the project or scheme. Not only is this boring, but it holds no interest for living!
The Christianity that has been proposed to us is a new way of living everything, of entering into all of reality. It’s not doing some gestures alongside others or a discourse alongside others, so much so that, as Fr. Giussani continues in the School of Community, “What characterizes a Christian is a profound loyalty to his or her surroundings, because the place that God has entrusted to him or her is within this world, with its joys and toil; that is, in what surrounds him or her.” However, the Christian faces this small part of the world, clings to it, with a new heart and spirit born “not out of human stock, or urge of the flesh, or will of man, but of God Himself.”10 Jesus did not come to spare us the drama of our relationship with reality, but to make it possible: He became our companion to help us enter into reality, to reveal to us the meaning of everything.
This is why Fr. Giussani always used to remind us of Guardini’s line (he quoted it thousands of times): “In the experience of a great love… everything that happens becomes an event in its sphere,”11 as we know happens when someone falls in love: everything is illuminated (as Giancarlo said earlier)–work, free time, struggles… Everything speaks to us of him or her, that is, introduces us more to the meaning of reality, and doesn’t let us draw further back to make us suffocate and in the end tire and search elsewhere.
Guardini’s affirmation corresponds to one of St. Paul’s. Fr. Giussani wrote, “The same dynamic is expressed in an exciting sentence of Saint Paul’s: ‘Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me’ (Gal 2:20). (This ‘for me’ opens out to the whole world and seeks to embrace the world so that all may understand it.) ‘Although I live in the flesh’: to live Christianity we are not asked to renounce anything, but to change the way we relate with everything (‘…even the hairs of your head are numbered’…). ‘Although I live in the flesh’, means in the situation just as it is (not the way I expect it to be, not how I imagine it should be, but just as it is)–before the girl who interests me, in the family where Mom and Dad fight all the time, taken up with work twelve hours a day, sick, incapable of doing what needs to be done, distracted, forgetful …. All this ‘I live by faith in the Son of God,’ that is, I belong to an Event [pay attention!], to an origin that changes the modality of the gaze [this is the broadening of reason]: the modality of the gaze becomes faith. Living in the flesh, I participate in an Event that makes me capable of a new intelligence, deeper and truer, of my circumstances. What does it mean to look at the face of a girl, according to the flesh? It means that everything is reduced to ‘I like her’ or ‘I don’t like her;’ ‘She’s nice’ or ‘She’s not nice;’ ‘It’s hard for me’ or ‘It’s not hard for me.’ ‘Although I live in the flesh, I live by faith’ instead means facing the relationship with her in the faith in the Son of God, in adherence to Christ,”12 not with my measure, but with that throwing wide open that made possible Christ, the encounter with Christ. Without this love for Christ, without this passion for Christ, I reduce my reason to my measure, that is, to “I like this, I don’t like that.”
Christ doesn’t impede this opening wide; in fact, He is the only One who makes it possible, because without this–we see it, right in front of our own eyes–everything gets reduced to “I like this, I don’t like that,” to my measure. “And so [when I live with that throwing open that makes Christ possible] that girl is, in the measure of the attraction, the sign through which I am invited to adhere in the flesh to the being of things, to descend into the reality of things, to the point where things are made.”13
It’s not alongside reality that I meet up with Mystery: the face of my girlfriend is the sign through which I am invited to adhere to Being, to go down into the reality of things, because “there is no greater evidence, nothing is more evident for a human person who uses her or his reason, than the fact that in this instant… I do not make myself: I am You who make me. I am an Other who is making me [now!]. The mystery of God who generates me has descended so close to me as to reveal His identity with my creation, with my being, with my consistence. Saint Paul says, “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). There is a relationship with the Mystery that makes all things; there is a relationship with the Mystery become flesh, man, Jesus, who is immensely more human, more mine, more immediate, more tenacious, more tender, more inevitable than the relationship with anyone else–with your mother, your father, your fiancé, your wife, your children–with everyone and with everything. Everything, in fact, is born from there; it doesn’t make itself. For this reason, the person here in front of me, whoever she or he may be, is and marks the road I follow to reach Christ, to reach the You of whom everything is made, and therefore I esteem that person, respect him, adore her; I can adore that person’s face. But I adore this face if it is the journey toward the source of every thing, the source of Being. Otherwise, it’s like drawing a figure without perspective: it’s an infantile, primitive perception–“Although I live in the flesh, I live in the faith in the Son of God”: this is the definition of the profound change of the intelligence and of the expression of the human person. I go beyond to the root of the face of things and I reach the point in which the thing is an Other who makes it; it is the You who makes it, Christ. The Divine thus coincides with the ultimate consistence of reality, of the human person.”14
I want to know reality all the way to that point. So then, how does the Mystery come to help me? Through reality: people, events, and circumstances. Every piece of reality is the modality with which He calls me, because everything is a sign. A sign of whom? Of He who is the root, who took possession of all of reality in the Ascension–in Him is the consistence of everything. “Amor, amore, omne cosa clama,”15 “everything becomes an event in its sphere,” everything, not just some pieces of reality. It takes a hell of a lot of courage, my friends, for this not to remain mere words, for us to decide in every circumstance to travel this road all the way to the origin, to face everything, every circumstance, every tribulation all the way to the Mystery. All our toil is due to the fact that we stop before that point.
This is why I like “Il mio volto”(“My Face”),16 so much–and I thank Adriana Mascagni for this song–because it tells us the method, what it means to travel the road of reason: “My God, I look, and behold, I discover that I have no face; I look into my depths and see endless darkness.” We see darkness and talk about darkness so many times. We mustn’t pretend that the darkness doesn’t exist; we shouldn’t just think some spiritual thoughts about darkness; we can’t do something “alongside” the darkness–we have to look it in the face! “I look into my depths and see endless darkness.” What is it that the darkness can’t quash? It can’t stop my acknowledging this darkness, and it can’t stop the moment “when I realize that You are there,” when I realize that this circumstance, no matter how ugly it may be, is not made by itself; when I live through a dark period, even in that moment I am living, and even in the darkness, I do not make myself; in the darkness I have a radiant clarity: I do not make myself. We’ve sung, “Only when I realize that You are there, like an echo, I hear my voice again.” That is, when I discover that I have arrived, not at darkness, but at what is deeper still than the darkness; when I realize that You are there, I realize a fact: that I “am reborn like time from memory,” and all our chatter about the darkness doesn’t eliminate it. It’s eliminated by this recognition, this going deep to the bottom of this You. If any of us want to be spared this, they’ll remain in the darkness. We can’t avoid this road, nobody can spare us this road, and this is why Christ went deep to the bottom of the darkness: so that we can look at everything. This is anything but an intellectual exercise! It’s simply the recognition of reality according to all its factors.
Why is it so hard for us? Why does it seem that recognizing the Mystery is reduced to an effort of our thought? If by effort of thought you mean using reason, yes, it’s necessary to do something; but if by effort of thought you mean that it is a creation of my mind, no, because even in the dark, I don’t make myself.
Why does it seem to us that this You is a creation of our thought? Why are we used to thinking that He is a creation of our thought? Because we think everything is obvious. But all you have to do is slip and go sprawling, and you see right away that we don’t make ourselves. We think everything is obvious. But any kind of accident makes us realize this isn’t so. Recognizing that someone is giving us life now seems like a fact of our thought, but those whose life has been in serious danger, or who have been saved miraculously (as is the case for some among us), for these people, recognizing the Mystery isn’t a fact of our thought; it’s not a creation, they know very well, and how! (Our friends here who are ill know that this is true.) But since we take everything for granted, we’re not used to employing reason according to its true nature.
Paradoxically, the simple, the simple of heart, are those who are more open to this, and understand much more; for them, things are more evident. Fr. Giussani told the anecdote of the carrot in Living in the Flesh: “Once when we were on an outing to Brianza, we stopped to drink with the kids of the oratory (I was a seminarian) at a group of farmhouses, and while we were there drinking at the well, a woman arrived from the fields. I was wearing a cassock…. As soon as she saw me, a priest, she ran up to me and said, ‘Look, Reverend, at how great God is. The seed of a carrot is so small you can’t even touch it with your fingers, and look what’s come out!’ It was a huge carrot, this big!”17 Fr. Giussani commented, “Aren’t they evident?” [Aren’t these things evident?] They’re not evident for the kind of culture that surrounds us, but they are for a farmer [at least back then]: when a farmer hears these things, they’re crystal clear!”18 For this reason, he says in Certain of a Few Great Things, “The thing for which life is worth living, the Mystery, is an acquisition not just of the intellectuals or rich people; it’s the discovery of poor people,”19 which is what Jesus said: “I give praise to You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike.”20
I’ll never forget meeting our friend Cleuza Zerbini when I was in Brazil at the beginning of the month, at dinner. I didn’t even have time to sit down before she “shot” out what I had been repeating all summer, and what she had heard at the International Assembly: “Even all the hairs of your head are counted,”21 and she told me–with the joy, the exaltation I saw in her–that she said this to everybody who came to her to lay out their problems (and the problems put before this woman are no laughing matter); she made them feel this, this gaze with which she lived. I’ll bet that among all those who heard this sentence this summer, nobody has used it so often as she has. Nobody has entered into reality, challenged reality, any circumstance, like she has. Her understanding and embrace of the newness in “even the hairs of your heads are numbered” is so full that I was struck by how she repeated this sentence with a whole vibration that not even I had. These are the simple–not the idiots; the simple. Cleuza has understood more than all of us at La Thuile the magnitude of that line, perceived its value, not out of a woman’s sentimentalism (she’s not a sentimental woman in the least), but because of the judgment she had. With this gaze in her eyes, she was able to enter entirely.
For many of us, this familiarity with the Mystery in the way of living everything is still very extraneous, and it tells us about the long journey we still have to make before we are able to live this way. We saw this in La Thuile during the assembly on the content of the Fraternity Exercises. Do you want to try a test? Just place yourself before this sentence that we talked about at the Exercises: religiosity is nothing other than dependence on God. The alternative, Fr. Giussani told us, is this: “Either you conceive of yourself as free from the entire universe, and dependent only on God, or you conceive of yourself as free from God, and then you become the slave of every circumstance.”22 Do you want to understand your degree of religiosity? Don’t think about how many times you formally recite Lauds, but whether you’re free, because at times just someone’s judgment throws us into a crisis (not to mention the problem of the person’s role or the circumstances).
Because, friends, nobody can serve two masters. “He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”23 The nature of man is so organic, the nature of reason is so “one” that it accepts no other alternative: either we depend on God, we have the experience of this dependence on God where one finds his greatest satisfaction, or, whether we want to or not, with all the gestures we do, deep down, we depend on everything, we’re slaves of everything–in the way we relate with work, how we manage our money, how we use our free time, everything. This is why I say that it’s difficult to find free men, which is the same as saying finding truly religious men, for whom God is not just a sentiment, an ornament, but an experience in which dependence is the most profound expression of the “I,” that there it attains its greatest satisfaction, because of what we noted earlier about affection, as Giancarlo said. Saint Thomas emphasized this: “The life of man consists in the affection that principally sustains him and in which he finds his greatest satisfaction.”24 If there isn’t a relationship that gives us this satisfaction, we can’t base our whole life on this affection and then depend on everything else. This is why so often our criterion is not dependence, but success, which is the criterion of the diva, the non-religious person.
Therefore, Fr. Giussani told us, religiosity is not an ornament for pious people, but the one condition of the human, and this is discovered not alongside life, but living life. This is why Berdjaev was right: freedom must be attained in life; otherwise, it’s not truth, and you see that it’s not truth because we live like everyone else. This was the origin of the crisis in the Christian announcement, and we’re not any different. Cardinal Ratzinger said the same years ago: “The crisis in Christian preaching, which we have been experiencing to a growing extent for the last century, depends not to a small degree on the fact that Christian responses ignore man’s questions; they were right and continue to be so; however, they did not exert influence because they did not start from the problem and were not developed within its context.”25 The crisis in the Christian announcement is not due to lack of clarity in repeating Christian doctrine, but to the fact that Christian responses left aside human questions, life. Only those who engage their questions, in fact, can be surprised by who God is. Only those who look at bottomless darkness can discover that at the bottom there is a You who gives you a new birth. Those who never do this, those who don’t do this work completely, deep down, those who don’t use reason in this way, will always remain in the darkness, complaining about the darkness. But the darkness is not everything. At the bottom of this darkness is a You!
This makes us understand the second question Giancarlo alluded to at the beginning. From all this, you see that a beautiful proposal like the one we heard, following Fr. Giussani at the Fraternity Exercises, isn’t enough. That we can’t manage on our own is all too evident–from our difficulty in recognizing, in living reality, all the way to the source of this You in which our greatest satisfaction is found. This is why I quoted a sentence of Fr. Giussani’s at the beginning of the La Thuile booklet, “God, from whom everything derives, would remain vague [like us] and would not determine life if He Himself had not entered into life [into history] as the Factor of it [and if He had not remained as a Factor in it].”26 There has to be a place that undertakes this battle together with each of us, that helps us, that facilitates this recognition of the You who is at the bottom of the darkness. Asked what instrument is of the greatest help, Fr. Giussani said, in Certain of a Few Great Things, “Our companionship.” He quickly added, “But, mind you, you have to get down to the bottom of these words: it is companionship as rule of life…, as source of memory…, as remembrance of Christ…. Our Movement will not be able to have an impact on the Church and the world, …if it doesn’t create… a movement of adults, a unity of mature people, adult people.”27
So what is the purpose of this companionship? “The friendship and the companionship we mean to live are a means for not suspending or leaving suspended our initiative.” “Paradoxically, this is a responsibility [our initiative] that we cannot unload onto the companionship. The heart is the only thing in which we are not partners.” As we read in Traces, “This is why ours is a strange companionship,”28 because we can’t unload anything on the companionship. I bring this up, not to play the archaeologist, but because there is still a lot about the companionship that smacks of utopia: “For a social reality like ours, the word ‘companionship’ can become synonymous with utopia if we think of the companionship as something to which we entrust our own hopes,” as if it were enough to participate in certain gestures, and not as something that moves me to take initiative toward reality, all of reality, all the circumstances in which we are called to live. “Don’t you realize… that, humanly speaking, it is absolutely horrible to identify the companionship as the sphere that mechanically assures you the gusto in living? First of all, it’s naive! You’re not taking into consideration the precariousness and brevity of the companionship. But then, human relationships only give you true security and gusto when they are the outcome of a dramatic tension implicating the intelligence and freedom of the human person.” Therefore, a companionship cannot evade responsibility. This he calls “fundamental immorality,”29 and quotes Eliot, “They constantly try to escape/ From the darkness outside and within/ By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good,”30 that is, to move the “I,” to use our freedom.
But this is so evident. A young woman told me that the day she went to the Meeting in Rimini, she was sad because with all the work she had to do, she felt that this tension toward the Mystery was not present as an awareness. I told her, “Look, my dear, in that moment there was no other place on earth with more CL members per square foot, but not even this is useful for you, because the ‘I’ is the relationship with the Mystery;” the “I” is the direct relationship with the Mystery, and there’s no place, no den, that can spare us from our responsibility to take initiative. It wouldn’t be human. I’m enthusiastic about this “I,” so much so that this summer, speaking with a friend of ours who now is alone in a job in the United States, I said, “But now the Mystery will come to you through that circumstance there.” Responding to him, I observed, “What’s the difference between me, here in Milan, surrounded by the Movement, and you? Nothing, because if every morning I don’t put myself in relationship with the Mystery, it’s not that my friends, since they’re close by, will spare me it.” Nobody can spare us this, and I don’t want anybody to spare me this! I am delighted that every morning I can freely throw myself in with the Mystery, and recognize this You who makes me, now.
For this reason, since man isn’t a piece of an organization, we can’t be a piece of a companionship conceived mechanically, and, therefore, Fr. Giussani said in Certain of a Few Great Things (just think, it was in 1981), “What’s the visibly most urgent need of our communities and thus of our behavior, of the formulation of our life in community? The most urgent thing is the struggle against formalism. Formalism is every attitude that doesn’t derive from the question and from its development as cultural inquiry; formalism is every activity that doesn’t express your original desire, your own beginning.… Life [in this way] remains divided; formalism leaves everything divided…, leaves life in deceit, in ambiguity…. You do things, but without considering your own personal change or that of the person alongside you; you no longer think change is possible. What is the opposite of formalism [he asks]? The opposite of formalism is freedom, and this word, I believe, must become the password in our communities; living the community in freedom. In what sense is freedom the opposite of formalism [he continues]? Freedom is originally the impetus with which man lives, that is, strives toward his destiny. Freedom is the nature of man: the nature of man is an impetus toward the infinite [and he says, parenthetically, ‘religious sense’]. This freedom–this energy, this impetus–is set in motion because of an attraction that solicits it. Therefore, the beginning of freedom is a judgment, because the attraction that solicits me says, ‘This thing is true!’”31
So then, how can we provide companionship for each other? Only if we have this tension. That’s why I entitled the La Thuile booklet, Friends, that is, Witnesses; not “good buddies” but “witnesses,” witnesses to living this way, this tension, not because we’re good, but out of this overabundance of fullness that one lives. Like a friend told me, talking about what he’d seen in another, “Seeing him, looking at him, I asked myself, ‘Why does he strike me so much? It can’t be just his words, because I’ve heard similar words from others and they didn’t strike me in this way. So, what is it that strikes me so much? I discovered that the point is that he was living those words–they were flesh, they were His embrace, it was His precise face, it was Him through them, it was His presence.” This is what enables us to look at everything.
I’ll close by reading this letter from a friend of ours in Kampala, Uganda. When I go travel around the world I always have it present in my mind. I told you about Cleuza Zerbini, and now it’s Vicky’s turn.
She wrote:

“My name is Vicky. I am 42 and I come from the eastern region of Uganda. I want to thank you and God for the precious life that He has given me. In 1992, when I found out I was pregnant with Brian, my last child, my husband gave me the choice of giving up the pregnancy and remaining his wife, or separating from him if I wanted to keep the child. At the time, I only had two children, and I decided to carry on with the pregnancy, a choice that marked the end of my relationship with him. I truly couldn’t understand why he was so cruel and unyielding. Then, in 1997, when I lost my job because of sickness and, at the same time, my son Brian manifested the initial symptoms of tuberculosis, I began to have my first suspicions. The next year, I got worse. In the Nsambiya hospital, I was examined and tested for AIDS, and showed up HIV-positive. That was when I understood why my husband hadn’t wanted the pregnancy with Brian, because back then he had known that he was HIV-positive.
“Life at home with my three children became even more difficult. The two older boys were healthy, but we didn’t have enough money for school. We didn’t have food or money for medicine and, worst of all, we didn’t have love from anyone anywhere in the world. I really didn’t know whether God existed. In 2001, someone directed me to the International Meeting Point, where I encountered women with such joy on their faces, even though they too were sick with AIDS, that I found it hard to believe. They danced and were glad, and I wondered how anyone with this disease could sing and dance. At the Meeting Point, they welcome all with music and songs from different peoples–African, European, and Indian; I even heard some from my own tribe. After a long time, I began to see a glimmer of light shining on my ruined life, so I continued spending time with them.
“An important thing I’ll never forget is the day someone looked at me with a gaze shining with hope and love. In all the time I was bedridden, all my friends, relatives, and even neighbors looked at me and my children with rejection and contempt. This gaze of love and hope showed me something that brought life to my spirit and my ruined body. It told me, ‘Vicky! You have a value, and your value is greater than the weight of your sickness, greater than death.’
“In 2002, I began buying medicine for my child, who was on the verge of death, after taking him out of school because of the seal of discrimination they’d set on him: they’d nicknamed him ‘skeleton.’ In 2003, I began buying medicine for myself as well. I weighed 99 pounds, and now I weigh 165. Now Brian is truly healthy, and has begun going back to high school. My oldest son is attending the university, and the second is in the fourth year of high school. Where is the power of death? It is in the loss of hope and the lack of love. Now I am a volunteer at the Meeting Point, and every time I receive people I tell them that the value of life is greater than that of the virus they carry within their bodies. This affirmation nurtures the hope of people who are suffering and about to die, and brings them back to life. All these results have been possible because I have taken on the garment of something beyond death–in particular, love. I want to thank all the people who have educated us, even if we’ve never met them in person. Today, in the name of Fr. Giussani, Fr. Carrón has come among us, who were poor and forgotten. Who is richer than us now? We are the richest people in the world, because someone has brought a smile to the face of at least one person.”32

I keep this present in my mind; these are the friends who give me companionship, even though I probably will never see them again. After having found people like this, there’s no circumstance that I can’t look at face on; everything can change if you look with this wide openness that Christ has made possible. This is for each of us, in any circumstance. Maybe we would be smart to embrace it.

1 N. Berdjaev, Pensieri controcorrente, La casa di Matriona, [Countercurrent Thoughts, The House of Matriona] Milan (2007), p. 59.
2 Cf. John Paul II, Homily,.Pastoral Visit to Cascia and Norcia, March 23, 1980, 5.
3 L. Giussani, Dall’utopia alla presenza (1975-1978) [From Utopia to Presence (1975-1978)], Bur, Milan (2006), p. 23.
4 Ibid., p. 55.
5 Ibid., p. 362.
6 Col. 3:1.
7 John Paul II, General Audience, October 19, 1983, 1-2.
8 Heb. 5:7-10.
9 L. Giussani, The Journey to Truth is an Experience, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal (2006), p. 93.
10 Ivi.
11 R. Guardini, L’essenza del cristianesimo, [The Essence of Christianity] Morcelliana, Brescia (1980), p. 12.
12 L. Giussani, S. Alberto, J. Prades, Generare tracce nella storia del mondo [Generating Traces in the History of the World], Rizzoli, Milan (1998), pp. 76-77.
13 Ibid., p. 77.
14 Ibid., pp. 77-78.
15 Jacopone da Todi, Como l’anima se lamenta con Dio de la carità superardente in lei infusa, Lauda XC, in Le Laude, Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, Florence (1989), p. 318.
16 A. Mascagni, Il mio volto [My Face], in Canti [Songs], Cooperativa Editoriale Nuovo Mondo, Milan (2002), p. 203.
17 L. Giussani, Vivendo nella carne, [Living in the Flesh] Bur, Milan (1998), p. 250.
18 Ibid., p. 249.
19 Cf. L. Giussani, Certi di alcune grandi cose (1979-1981) [Certain of a Few Great Things (1979-1981)], Bur, Milan (2007), p. 107.
20 Mt. 11:25-26.
21 Mt. 10:30.
22 L. Giussani, All’origine della pretesa cristiana [At the Origin of the Christian Claim], Rizzoli, Milan (2001), p. 108.
23 Mt 6:24.
24 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II, IIae, q. 179, art. 1.
25 J. Ratzinger, Dogma e predicazione [Dogma and Preaching], Queriniana, Brescia (2005), p. 75.
26 L. Giussani, Alla ricerca del volto umano [The Search for the Human Face], Rizzoli, Milan (1995), p. 25.
27 L. Giussani, Certi di alcune grandi cose (1979-1981) [Certain of a Few Great Things (1979-1981)], op. cit., pp. 330-331.
28 L. Giussani, “Familiarity with Christ,” in Traces, Vol. 9, No. 2, (February 2007), pp. 3–5.
29 L. Giussani, Un caffè in compagnia [Over Coffee], Rizzoli, Milan (2004), pp. 129–130.
30 T.S. Eliot, Cori da «La Rocca »[Choruses from the Rock], Bur, Milan (1994), p. 89.
31 L. Giussani, Certi di alcune grandi cose (1979-1981), op. cit., pp. 332-333.
32 “The Greatest Hope,” in Traces, Vol. 9, No. 8, (September 2007), p. 33.

-- All from the article, published in Traces.

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."