01-02-2006 - Traces, n.2

A time to educate / Giussani

The Density
of the Person
A change needed
in the schools

Here are some summary notes taken by a person present at a conversation Fr. Giussani had with a group of teachers in Arabba, Italy, August 20-24, 1987.
The capacity to educate is in crisis when it doesn’t create an “environment,” a network of relationships with a minimum of cultural dignity

As we have been saying for the last ten years, for building a Christian movement in the schools, the problem is really the teacher as a person, his personality. This may seem an abstract way to begin, but it is not; the whole problem lies here, because it was something in me that made me leave teaching theology to go and teach at Berchet High School. Suppose one of you gets the idea in this instant, for the first time, to start a movement; that he understands in this moment that a movement is needed in the Italian schools–for the scholastic environment, for the whole scholastic question–from the Catholic point of view. Suppose he tells his friends, that he writes letters to friends who are far away, so that there are twenty teachers who feel this problem, and each one of them collects twenty students together. The unity between him and those twenty teachers, the communion amongst them is the origin of the movement, because this will lead to the involvement of twenty times twenty, making four hundred students, and this would be the beginning of a Christian movement in the schools. I cannot imagine any other origin; you tell me if there could be any other way to start. What will these twenty, or these four hundred, do? They will meet now and again, some will manage it, some won’t; they will see how to organize it. One of them will say, “I would like us to go to the waterfall at Rieti together.” Very well, then, twelve of those twenty teachers will go to the waterfall at Rieti (twelve out of twenty). Then someone will say, “Let’s go to the Pope’s audience on Wednesday,” and that Wednesday they will go to the Pope’s audience; here we have a movement in its infancy. Then there will be someone who says, “The way politicians treat the right to education is really unjust! Let’s do something about it.” Then they produce a leaflet and distribute it in their twenty schools. Perhaps there is a member of Parliament interested and takes the lead, then puts a question in Parliament. Then, since Negri has just published a book on the Pope’s culture, another will say, “Why don’t we read this book for three months with our students?” And they go ahead and read the book. Is this not a movement? But where is the pivot of the question? You are the pivot. So the real problem is the density of the person.

A reasonable decision
If this is the point of departure, we have to rediscover what is meant by density of the person: in other words, the awareness of that event in which we have been caught up. I want to tell you what I have grasped and what I told the Pope: “You see, your Holiness, communion is the mystery of Christ that spreads in history; communion is a mysterious fact (even the communion amongst us is a mysterious fact, otherwise it would be merely a natural friendship, whereas it is a mysterious fact), but how can youngsters decide to belong and believe in this mysterious fact? It is through the liberation that this fact of communion produces in the world, more or less what happened with Jesus when He worked miracles. He did not come in order to work miracles, but He worked miracles to make people understand why He had come and who He was. So our task is to bring about communion, so that communion take hold of all men.”
How can one make a reasonable decision to belong? Rationabile obsequium fidei vestrae. By showing people, that is, by bringing them together, getting them involved, by producing together an attitude of life, gestures of life, structures that answer life’s needs, in which life is more human, in which people say, “I never experienced anything like this life; it good to live like this, as that boy told me on the terrace of the Hotel Panorama in Madonna di Campiglio, the first time he came to the GS vacation. I was there, leaning on the wooden rail, and he said to me, “If it were possible to live like this always, it would be heaven!” It is the experience of something you carry inside you that invests life with proposals that–regarding words, regarding the organization of time, initiatives, and most of all the relationships created–a person has never come across before, in which humanity is more human. In other words, in an analogical sense, one experiences a miracle there. The environment is that network of relationships that a particular presence creates; it is an environment when a particular presence creates a network of relationships in amongst the factors and in the context of the problems of the reality in which you are living, but not abstractly. By far the majority of people who fall in love end up badly instead of being educated, because they cut themselves off from the community, or at most go on living it in some way, but the relationship does not bring a change in all that happens in the community and therefore in all that happens in the environments where the community lives.

Change of self
A preface of the Ambrosian liturgy, on Monday of the fifth week of Lent, says, “Granting us the good things that pass away…” As St. Paul says, “Every creature is good”–everything is good but, in fact, everything passes away. So the definition is given by that toward which we are going in the end, and this would be emptiness and cynicism, but “granting us the good things that pass away, you lead us toward the possession of lasting happiness.” This is the concept of reality as a passage, that is good, that remains good; that is to say, it is not spoiled, as Ofelia Mazzoni said in those lines I have often quoted, “What I had grasped in my longing, held tight in my hand, fell apart, like a rose under the vault of eternity.” This image of the vault of eternity is beautiful, like the hand that squeezes the rose, and crushes it so it falls apart. The good that passes away is a passage towards lasting happiness, to something greater of which it is an anticipation, or better, the beginning. The beginning, like the dawn is the start of the day, and someone who had never seen the sun could understand that there is the sun even in the passage from night to dawn. The good things that pass away are like the dawn or, as the Liturgy says, the pledge. The pledge is part of the final sum; if the pledge is part of the final sum, then it is the beginning, so the good things no longer pass away. It is the hundredfold here below, not something you invent; it is the mode of life lived in the awareness of the great Presence, through which everything becomes the beginning, the dawn in which things cannot yet be seen properly; you don’t see the blond hair, but you see the outline. “While you grant us the consolation of this present life, you already promise future joys, so that we are already given to taste an eternal existence.” This is what we must see pass away, and it passes when it passes. It does not pass in January because you joined that school in October. Here is the great word, “That the beauty of transitory things may not imprison us,” and this is everyone’s attitude, even ours, because there is nothing that brings us out of ourselves, makes us grow and walk along, homo viator, like this responsibility that we have in our relationship with others. Now this is Communion and Liberation, communion with Christ, with the mystery of Christ’s presence that becomes liberation, that is, a greater humanity. What I want to say is that the first condition to which Communion and Liberation commits us, the first question that this awareness of the event must produce is a change in us; your wife or your husband must notice it, and your children, your friends, and your colleagues. If we don’t start from here, the rest rolls over in nothingness. There can be some effective moments if there is a person who is humanly fascinating and constructive, but once that moment is over, the deception collapses. It is a change, not a change for passing on something to others, but a change in which we ourselves have been struck; it is moving toward the maturity of what has called us from the beginning. Even if it doesn’t happen to twenty students and if after three years there are only two of them instead of twenty, it would be the same.

Belonging to Christ
The problem is the change in you. But it can never stop short at a change in you alone, your attitude, initiatives of yours; no, that would leave you alone. It is belonging that generates companionship, and actually it is belonging to Christ that is lacking, and this lack generates loneliness. It is the lack of this belonging that makes you feel alone, not because others don’t follow you, not because there is no clear result, not because you don’t achieve anything, not because you are not acknowledged, no, but because your behavior does not tend to live the heart of this relationship that constitutes you. So the companionship is being together as the expression of a common belonging inside reality, and reality is the environment determined by your own presence or the presence to which you belong. Reality is there where there is meaning; in so far as there is no meaning, there is no reality. So you change, you move your desk, you find out how to teach your lesson, you try to teach the lesson in a different way, you invite a student home, even if he has annoyed you during the lesson, you go back, you try to be patient, you forgive…

Four corollaries
If I am to finish with practical suggestions, I can offer you these four corollaries, and in this way I hope your attitude, which I saw yesterday to be sincere and true, might avoid the danger of being mere intention.
1. We need to create a movement of young people who, from the experience of liberation, that is, from the experience of a truer humanity, which is not a discourse–the fecundity of a discourse depends on the fecundity of a life–understand the Mystery that is in us, amongst us and with them.
2. The capacity to educate is in crisis when it doesn’t create an environment and does not take the step of measuring itself with reality. Educative capacity is not being able to give talks and organize things, but measuring oneself against the environment, that is, the web of human problems that life together implies, that the society reflects. Think of when we were fighting for freedom of association, freedom to associate. There was no sign of it, we had no help; or when, thirty years ago, the students fought over the Piccolo Teatro1; if the students don’t do it, you have to do it yourselves, and that is quite a burden. Maybe the Lord will have you pass through agony–that is, three of you are sleeping, or thirty of you are sleeping and you have to fight alone. Then fight alone, but not alone, because it’s clear that you can no longer be alone. Then, we were alone, in the literal sense of the word, in the fight against the Piccolo Teatro, which, since it was being funded by the taxpayer, allowed only productions of one kind. The capacity to educate is in crisis when it does not measure itself against the environment–this is the tremendous point–where the students are shaken back and forth like leaves, like pebbles driven along in a torrent. How can you fail to have compassion, even humanly speaking?
3. If the capacity to educate starts from the first point and happens in the environment, it must achieve a level of a minimal cultural dignity. This is where the cookie crumbles, where the sincerity of your intentions, which you have shown, betrays its weakness. There is an endogenous laziness in applying the judgments of the Movement. You can do School of Community and the Fraternity, and then at school not care less for the judgments that pass through The Religious Sense; it is as if the School of Community on The Religious Sense is not applied at school. If there was some value in my going to the Convention of the Christian Democrat Party in Assago, it was precisely this: I gave the example–without being aware of it; I am so used to doing it–of how to face an assembly of two thousand Christian Democrats starting from The Religious Sense, so much so that many of them showed that they don’t live the religious sense. If you don’t reach the cultural level, then we really bury our talent. This lack of the cultural level is due to laziness in applying the judgments of the Movement to the scholastic field, to the facts affecting schools that happen in society; for example, the indifference towards the textbooks used at school is an ignoble crime. The lack of attention and awareness with which you choose them is soul-destroying; and then the situation of your colleagues with no permanent post, and the recruitment process. There is a need for charity there, too… the problem of the hour of religion, the elective studies and so on. If you live this, then you understand the need for groups like GS and the Family Syndicate; you realize how all these are instruments for supporting cultural activity, the cultural level and cultural incidence.
4. Lastly, we have to ask ourselves a question. How have we faced up to the socio-political question, in which, thank God, we have had such an imposing leadership as regards intelligence, tenacity and effectiveness? We are living and walking together towards reality and this “toward” means trying to draw everything along using precarious structures, because human structures are always precarious, but more human, that is, nearer to the dawn, nearer to midday in the dawn that has certainly with us begun to happen, a little more copiously on Italian soil.

1 A theater in Milan where the secularist authorities promoted only antichristian or anticlerical works