01-03-2006 - Traces, n.3

Fr. Giussani

A Challenge for Nihilism
Nothing less than God is enough for man. An interview with Fr. Julián Carrón, published in the Italian daily Avvenire, February 21, 2006

edited by Marina Corradi

It is one year since Fr. Giussani’s death. “He was father of many,” Cardinal Ratzinger said during the homily at his funeral, which he celebrated in Milan Cathedral along with Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi. But “we don’t feel we are orphans,” writes Fr. Julián Carrón, Fr. Giussani’s successor as leader of the Movement, in a letter to the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. So many people filled the Cathedral a year ago, and how moved they were! Yet here is an almost haughty affirmation: we are not orphans, “a heritage here present goes on challenging us.”

Fr. Carrón, death so often leaves behind only sad memories; where is Fr. Giussani’s presence for you now, after his death?
Ratzinger himself, in that homily, said that Fr. Giussani had not led people to himself, but to Christ, and in this way he won hearts. It is this presence of Christ that we see at work amongst us this year, in a way that astonishes us: in the unity and the intensity of life amongst us, in what goes on happening. Fr. Giussani’s heritage is alive and his presence goes on.

You have said you are grateful to Fr. Giussani for making you aware of all the depth of man’s desire. Is the breadth of this desire what, in Giussani’s teaching, continues to attract young people?
Yes, because for young people all their desire is still alive in their hearts. This requires us to be up to the level of this desire. Nowadays, it’s difficult to meet an adult of forty years of age who is not a skeptic. Young people stand and look, and when they see that one after another their expectations for happiness are unfulfilled, they think that there is no answer and resign themselves to that. Someone who has his own happiness at heart cannot be indifferent when he finds a person who wants to live intensely for the whole of his life. Giussani was this.

Taking up a theme dear to him, you wrote recently that we are living in a culture that has forgotten the Mystery, and has reduced reality to appearances, in a nihilism without restlessness. What can be done to react to this?
Only something real and present is able to draw hearts and challenge nihilism. People are more and more apathetic, because there are no proposals fascinating for the “I.” It is only when the Mystery reveals its face that man finds the energy to adhere to it. We need the Mystery to be present, we need a living presence we can fall in love with. We need a carnal attraction like that of a child for its mother. Nothing less than this is enough for man.

How is it possible to fall in love with Christ in this way?
It needs the presence of another man. It needs the Mystery to have become flesh. This is Christianity, as Benedict XVI said in Deus Caritas Est. In Christ, concepts that were abstract became flesh and blood. This unheard-of realism, this involvement with the Mystery, is the only way possible of being saved. No reduction of Christianity to something merely spiritual or to ethics is enough to arouse people. Giussani repeated this phrase of John Paul II a thousand times: “We believe in Christ, died and risen, present here and now.” The “here and now” means he is contemporary to every person. And as Veritatis Splendor affirms, Christ is contemporary to man by means of the Church. His Body is the tangible and historical sign, which carries the Mystery in its womb.

Yet, even amongst us Christians there is often sadness and almost a sense of defeat, as if the promised fullness were always beyond our grasp.
That is exactly why we need men who witness to this fullness for the whole of life. We need witnesses. John Paul II was one and, up to the end, Giussani showed us that a fullness of life is possible. Christianity is able to embrace the whole of what is human and bring it to fulfillment, without any reduction.

Is this not the meaning of Deus Caritas Est?
Indeed it is. In the encyclical letter, the Pope shows how a living Christian experience dialogues with Nietzsche, and takes up eros without taking away anything from human desire. It happened in the past that Christianity was reduced to morality or little more than a correct discourse. As John Paul II said, we have exchanged the astonishment of the Gospel for a set of rules. So as we read this encyclical we are led back to the novelty of the beginning and we are astonished. When we see Christ’s capacity to respond to men, to forgive, and His tenderness, it is impossible not to say, “We have never met a man like this.”

You wrote that the Movement’s contribution is to show the reasonableness of our faith. How are we to face this challenge today?
We have to take action against this spiritual atrophy that has made many forget their ultimate desire for happiness. It is the apathy that teachers often come across in their students, as if they no longer understand the reason for studying. It is the difficulties in marriage and in the family. It is time to offer a Christianity that is not reduced in its nature. But the problem is the method. We have to present the Christian proposal, while giving people the chance to try it out to see if it is true, and showing that it is reasonable to belong.

So it’s question of education?
For us, education is certainly what is most dramatic and urgent. We are re-proposing Giussani ’s book The Risk of Education everywhere. We need to go back and educate, so as to oppose what Augusto del Noce called “gay nihilism,” which is the absence of that “cor inquietum” St. Augustine spoke of. Only something present and real can re-awaken us. This is the battle.

The Pope recently pointed out nihilism and fundamentalism as both being threats for man. How do you see the wave of anti-Christian violence in some Islamic countries?
The first thing is not to undervalue the danger of this threat. In any case, what is happening is an occasion for deepening our awareness of our identity, in the knowledge that this is the only way to live the Christian witness, as the Pope recalled after the murder of Fr. Santoro in Turkey: “May the Lord grant that the sacrifice of his life contribute to the cause of dialogue between religions and of peace amongst peoples.” This does not mean not making all efforts to avoid violence; we must also be concerned for the safeguarding of religious freedom by the authorities of the individual countries and international institutions.

How do you see Italy as we move towards the forthcoming parliamentary elections?
Regarding the profound crisis I spoke of before, we don’t expect the answer from politics, but we hope for policies that will leave space for those social subjects that can offer a contribution in tackling this unease; policies that do not amount to state control and that do not subvert initiatives by human society.

Are you not afraid that Italy may be facing a secularist offensive, like that in Spain, where you come from?
In Spain, Zapatero met with little resistance. In Italy, the intermediate levels of society seem to be more solid. But, certainly, unless the urgent question of education is tackled, the risk is there. There is a strong push on the part of the dominant culture in Italy, and it is the claim for man’s absolute autonomy, as we saw during the referendum on the revision of the law regulating abortion and fertility treatment. In this sense, the challenge facing the Movement is to follow the heritage Giussani left us–to educate ourselves and feel ourselves children, and therefore to be continually converted. And this is the only way not to grow old.