01-01-2006 - Traces, n.1
page one

To Live Reason
Notes from an address by Luigi Giussani to a group of university students, Milan, June 21, 1996

Intervention: This year, we set out to do School of Community within the environment. It turned out to be a phenomenon that drew a lot of people and got them involved, and it enabled us to have an immediate relationship with them. The difficulty that emerges is to understand how School of Community is connected with life and, in particular, with the content of our studies, because, when we try to make a connection, the comparison turns out to be a pretext or sentimental. As a consequence, each one faces his problems on his own or, at best, we organize initiatives together. On the other hand, in a university that requires more and more studying, so that there is no room left for anything else, it is fundamental to establish this connection, otherwise, most of our time is lived uncritically. We have tried to hold cultural meetings in the university (with very many people taking part, especially young people), but we find it difficult to use this critical capacity in daily life. So we wanted to ask you: What do you mean when you say that one does not understand School of Community unless he understands its usefulness for life? And, what does it mean, then, to hold an assembly in this way?
Fr. Giussani: To hold an assembly in this way–I’ll answer starting from the last part of the question–means to refract the scheme with which we were born. School of Community was called “raggio.” When the community came together, the meeting was called raggio [meaning, “ray”]. The raggio is sharing your experience. Each one had to recount his own experience. At the end, the eldest, the most mature or the most authoritative person, tried to give an answer containing all the truths implicit in the interventions that had been heard. I mean that the answer to the question cannot be given except to one who really tries to live it out, to put it into practice. When faced with a theme chosen for a meeting, a Gospel passage or an exemplary question, unless you make the effort to understand how your getting together can clarify the answer to the question, unless you make an effort, you will learn only formulas. I’m a bit perplexed in answering this question because–I hinted as much to the one who drove me here before the car stopped–it implies the answer to another question: “Philosophically–that is, from the point of view of reason–what is the position the Movement takes up that is different from all the other groups? What difference of position do we have from the point of view of the eye, of reason, of observation?” For us, the heart of the matter lies in the fact that reality becomes evident in experience. Write this phrase down, because it is capital: in experience, as for John and Andrew, when they saw Jesus. After that evening, no one could tear away the impression that Man had made on them. The definition I have given is important to me, as is important the wonder that John and Andrew had before the reality of Jesus. In any case, my question wanted to say, above all, “My friends, what interests us is reality.” If something is not real, who gives a damn about it? What does it matter to us? It cannot be of any use to us. Everything fades away, everything is fleeting. It is reality that matters. Reality! Not: “Reality is the truth,” for this is meaningless, but “reality is the ambit where the truth subsists,” it is the figure with which the truth coincides. In short, what is real is true, what is true is real. We can make use of the words reality and truth without philosophizing too much. What do you think? This is the first thing I stress. As far as we are concerned, therefore, “truth” coincides with “reality.” What would happen to someone for whom they didn’t coincide? What would happen is that there could be a truth that is not real. But what does that mean? Where is it? Where does he find it? Among the underground fumes or up in the air? The truth is real. The word real points to something true, so much so that the words real and true are interchangeable. If it is true, then it is there; if it is not true, it is not there. If it is there it is true. If it is there, it is true only if it is perceived as something that is, not as something I think, or as something to which I introduce another factor, to add something or to exhibit a force which otherwise the word does not have. True and real have a link whereby one is the other, implies the other, or, more simply, is the other. When children ask each other, “But is it true? Is it really, really true?” (this is the formula of skepticism among children), they are asserting and justifying what I’ve hinted at: reality is what matters, for the truth lies in reality. Do you want a recent example? A couple of months ago, a discussion among scientists on truth and infinity appeared in the newspapers. A scientist can use the word “infinite” as a well-known physicist did: “Infinite? Infinite means a finite that extends indefinitely. Reality can be conceived as infinite in the sense that infinity is something that spreads, that keeps on dilating.” And I said, “No! Infinity is something else!” Infinite is something non-finite. So infinity is something else: it is a reality, and it indicates a nature, a structure, something that is never, in any sense, conceivable as finite. Were it to spread over millions of centuries, spread infinitely, in the mathematical sense of the term, the finite would always be finite. Is it clear? You cannot identify the infinite as a finite enlarging itself. You cannot. Infinity is something else! It is not finite. It is a “thing” that is not finite. If it is a “thing,” I can imagine taking it in my hands, looking at it with my eyes, speaking to it, calling it “you wretch,” “you criminal,” “you”, “good,” “…merciful.” If it is something, I must be able to say to it, just as I say to a friend or an enemy or to a stranger, “Would you...” in a way so kind and spontaneous, that the other wonders and says to himself, “What a kind man he is.” I confess I made a mistake, for how can I answer a question without answering all the factors that it brings into play? Because, after saying this of reality–reality is truth–we have to go on: how can we know the truth, how can we know reality? How can a scientist know a distant star that the ancients were not able to record? Only modern telescopes can bring it so near that a scientist can read it; he has to bring it nearer. What does it mean to bring nearer this distant star which to the ancient, more serious observers would have been a non-existence? How can they make it existent? How can they speak of it as if it were present? How can they make something far away present to themselves? If this faraway thing enters into experience. What does “enter into experience” mean? It means that I see it as if it were this glass, as if it were a friend, as one of the things I take hold of in the mass of a collectivity of persons and things that comes from who-knows-where and goes who-knows-where, but at a certain point becomes evident. It is like Quincke’s resonator, which I studied in secondary school. It is a tool to identify which note dominates in a given chord: when a given column of sound passes in front of Quincke’s resonator, if the dominant note is a D, the resonator will echo that D, overwhelming the other notes. Reality comes into our sights as a content of our game, of our activity, and is grasped by us in as much as it enters experience. Thus, truth and reality become recognizable in experience. But what is experience? Let us think of the verb we have used before. “Reality becomes evident in experience;” what is becomes evident in experience. So, what is experience? One could say, “Experience is the becoming evident of reality.” You cannot say, “Lord, God of heaven and earth,” without starting from an experience, from defining factors that fill up your experience. Remember that page of School of Community, in The Religious Sense, where we imagine that a man or, rather, you yourselves, are born at the age of 20; that in the first instant of life you already have the consciousness of the age of 20. What would be the first thing that imposes itself? The very first thing that you would notice? Imagine. I am inside my mother’s womb. A push. I come out and open my eyes. The first aspect of reality that strikes the eye, which in this hypothesis has already the mature consciousness of a 20-year-old, the first thing to strike me if I were to open my eyes with the awareness I have now, is not “you, him, her,” but everything together, this reality made up of 1,000 young people, reality, the entire world, everything that is. Now, in order to address God saying, “God of heaven and earth,” you must have experienced it already; you can only start from the experience of this God, of this strange, unimaginable “reality” that you cannot define. If you have never asked yourself, “How did reality, all of this, come to be? Who made it?”, if you have never asked yourself this, you are like an innocent child, or like an illiterate before a text to be read. So, this is our method for clarifying the problem of man as religiosity, which is the most profound and totalizing problem of man; we must first of all make the relationship between man and reality–in as much as it is originated–a personal experience. It is reality if it enters experience. But how does God enter your experience? He enters your experience if you let Him in. To put the question, “In the end, what is the world made of? In the end, why is this thing that is called heaven and earth, or my small-time action, there?” means to make it clear that reality is not self-made, but that something that we do not define imposes itself in it. In our experience, reality is making itself evident, it does not form or make itself; it does not “build itself,” but it makes itself evident. Something that was there already makes itself evident. Thus, reality makes itself evident in experience–in other words, when it is grasped as something that is there already. This leads us to the two sentences in which the whole of our culture can be summarized.
a) The first question therefore is: “What is reality made of?” This reality imposes itself on our eyes as something that is there already. Were I to be born with the awareness of a 20-year-old, I’d realize, I’d be forced to admit something that is already there. Reality appears as something already there. It comes from something other, because what comes out is something other than what I am looking at.
b) The second question would be: “How can we form a relationship, how can we get to know something about this “something other”–let’s call Him this at once to save time–this God? Only if He reveals Himself, if He becomes Jesus. God reveals Himself if He becomes man, in as much as He becomes man, in as much as He identifies with something that is evident in experience. And He was made man! If God was made man, He can be known only in this way, with adequacy and respect. So, God can be known in the man Jesus Christ.
c) Third question: “But where is this Jesus Christ?” Answer: This Jesus is in the companionship of men and women who acknowledge Him that is called the Church; the Church, the companionship of the men and women who acknowledge Him. These are the three great formulas that answer the three great questions; there are no more serious questions than these, and they make man’s heart or mind angry. How can you say, “I love you, God,” without being fully aware of what loving means? It is only in as much as you have experienced love that you can say, “I love you, God;” “Jesus, burning with love.” What does “Jesus, burning with love” mean? God made man, a man who said, “Philip, you ask Me where I come from, but how many times have I said it, and you did not understand?”–Jesus said before going to his death–“Philip, whoever sees Me sees the Mystery.” It is certainly something impressive if you imagine those twelve around that man, a man like them; they knew the kitchen where He had eaten, the workshop where He had labored, and He said this. Unless Jesus, as God, enters our own experience, we cannot recognize Him properly, with that solidity, though with difficulty, with that suggestiveness, though enigmatic, with which reality presents itself to our eyes. So, you who at 15 claim you already have a girlfriend and “pair off,” as they say (boyfriend and girlfriend “pair off”), you cannot realize a love that is human, and that is truly love, without at least somehow referring to the experience of love you have already had, that of your parents–however repugnant this comparison may appear to you–unless you make reference to an experience of love you have already had; so that what you do now is validated by what you have done before. The way your mother treated you, the way your father spoke to you, so you speak, you tend to speak with her (or with him). There is a different spring, a different source from what you had learned before, but it is different because it is not yet mature. Little by little, as it matures, you will understand that the love of a father and mother has, ultimately, the very same face, the same freshness, the same force as the love between man and woman. I realize I am indicating abyssal distances, like from one bank to the other of the great Amazon Delta–where for hundreds of miles one bank is out of sight of the other. It will take time and deepening. Therefore, I conclude, the problem our friend posed [in the initial question] is the problem of making the reality we are interested in discussing or discovering or serving part of our experience, in order to make it useful to the affirmation of that “I” that seems as small as a blade of grass in the world, a bud not yet blossomed on a branch in March, while it is made for the Infinite. As Dante said, “Each one confusedly learns a Good in which his soul can find rest.” The soul “finds rest” when everything has an answer, just as hunger finds rest when it has had the food that satisfies it. Love, in the end, is like this.

Before these observations, which express what we have encountered, one feels that study and day-to-day life is divided. What does this indicate? What must we do? Each one of us starts off with the perception of a division. For, if something is new, it is not something I have already; therefore, I start with the perception that it is still divided from me. I must win the unity with it, precisely as a boy wins a girlfriend: they are two things divided, but affection puts the individual on the attack towards what he has before him, in that understanding, in that affirmation, in that seizing of what is in front of him, so that they become one. And it is in as much as one is helped in this experience of unity that he understands that what seemed to unite most is what most separates, like instinct at a lower level, and what seemed unattainable and abstract becomes more powerfully the source of affection, of suggestiveness, of liking and of dedication.

My question starts from a word we have come across in the work on School of Community, and in the work on texts expressing judgments about the elections and at other times. This word is “people.” I’d like to ask you to help us to understand this word better. We sense, for instance, that it throws a new light on the word “companionship,” too, for the School of Community says that God’s intervention becomes concrete in the history of a people, and a people has its own laws, its own songs, and its own generals. This makes me understand better (this is how it happened in my life, too) that I have encountered a particular history, made up of precise persons, in other words, a people. “Companionship” means to be together for something. To be together without the “for something” is boring, and even stifling. The dignity of a companionship is defined by the dignity of that “something.” To be together to eat anchovies is one thing, it has a certain value, but being together to study Dante or to understand the mysteries into which man has begun to introduce himself, of the evolution of the universe, is something different. Companionship is to be together for something that is called an “aim.” A companionship without an aim does not exist. “People” is a companionship that has the aim of making its own contribution to the image of history. Companionship is to be together with the aim of making our contribution to the development of mankind which is called “history”–a development both in the quantitative sense (as in the case of the companionship of man and woman), and in the social sense, as an understanding sustained, motivated, and sought after together (this is culture), or as being together in order to face up to history with a greater strength, from the point of view of a greater strength, a greater security, a greater hegemony (this can be called the State, an alliance between States, or it can be called an Empire). (The entire text of this talk was published in the Italian edition of Traces, September 1996)