Thursday, February 3, 2011

Don Luigi Giussani 1922-2005


Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12:24)

Five years ago, when I had heard that Monsignor Luigi Giussani had died, my first thought was, "Oh, good; now I can meet him."

I hope that this confession doesn't cause pain to those who knew him and loved him. I felt guilty about thinking it. Why should the death of any other person be "good"? But this thought was insistent, and I immediately began to address my thoughts to Don Gius, and to welcome him into my daily life. This fact may surprise many people, particularly those who know that in 2005, I had very mixed feelings about Communion and Liberation, the lay ecclesial movement that he founded. How could I claim him as a friend when I steadfastly refused to join the local community that sincerely followed his charism?

On the day of Fr. Giussani's funeral, I was in my office at work. The funeral was to be live broadcast over the internet, but I wasn't internet savvy enough to know how to pull it up. I went into the office next door, and asked my friend and colleague, Paul Zalonski, to help me. Then I invited him to watch it with me, saying, "It's not every day that you get to see the funeral of a saint." We watched the funeral together, and Paul was able to explain some of the Italian, as well as interesting liturgical details to me. It's so funny for me to think about my own ambivalence at the time and also Paul's lack of familiarity with CL because now we are both in the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation.

Even then, I recognized that there were many things about Communion and Liberation that I could not account for. Though the local community did not look like my preconception of a Christian community (at all!), there were troubling details that I couldn't account for: a radical change that took place in the lives of a couple of the members, the faithfulness and simplicity with which many accepted invitations, a striking passion for culture, an unusually familiar (I mean, they seemed very familiar with Christ when they addressed him) approach to prayer, a certain something that happened when we sang together...

I am also a reader, and I had met Giussani, first of all, in his writings and second, in the stories that were told about him. Everything about the man was tremendously attractive to me. His intensity for life, the love with which he embraced all of reality, his passionate attention to whomever was in front of him, but most of all I was deeply attracted to the way in which he entered into the Gospels when he read them. His was no intellectual engagement with themes and theologies. His genius lay in the natural way he saw, in front of his eyes, the events of Christ's life. He lived "inside the skin" of Peter, John, and Andrew -- Scripture was, for him, the history of his own dialogue with Christ. When he spoke about Peter, on the shore eating the breakfast that Christ had cooked for him, Fr. Giussani's listeners could taste the roasted fish. He invited us all into his own participation, so that we, too, could feel Christ's eyes on us as he asks each one of us, "Do you love me?"

The effect he has had on those who follow his charism is too profound and various to characterize well; however one exceptional fact seems necessary to mention: Fr. Giussani's unique passion led others to a fascination with Christ. In a Church where it is commonplace for our teachers and leaders to exhort us to adore Christ, to learn from Christ, to worship Christ, to imitate Christ, or to embrace Christ, it is rare, perhaps even completely new, to find Christian teachers who inspire fascination for Christ.

Yet, fascination and wonder characterized those first persons in the Gospels who were introduced to Christ. Everyone who met Christ wanted to know, "Who is this man?" They kept coming back to be near him because they didn't know what he would do next, but they were along for the ride.

Don Gius challenged us to take this same ride, and I am forever grateful to him.

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

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