|01-03-2006 - Traces, n.3
Encyclical Deus Caritas Est
Gratuitousness in action
Presented here, a collection of comments inspired by the encyclical
Looking at a Presence
As I begin to study the encyclical, I am struck by how evident the Church’s enormous authoritativeness is, a beacon that enlightens the destiny of peoples and guides each one’s path, believer and non-believer alike. How is it so authoritative? Because it tells us that life is positive. It tells us, “Don’t be afraid.” And for two thousand years, from the shepherds to Our Lady, and down the centuries to our own day, people get moving for this, because someone shows us that a life that looks at the New Presence is something beautiful, simple and glad. The sign that it is a question of this new reality is that we feel ourselves looked at in such a way that, though it is an infinite distance from God’s love for us, it is what is most like it on earth. This is why the Church and the Pope are so authoritative. It is as if they were crying out to the world, “How can you find other things important if you do not start off from the desire that your affection be fulfilled?” For a mother and for a person consecrated to God, for humble people just as for great businessmen, the Church is a teacher because it explains the link between the tiniest circumstances of your life and the needs of your heart: Deus caritas est, in other words, at the beginning lies affection. Life becomes simple and glad because our nature is revealed to us. This is the most concrete thing we can give, because it is what we go on receiving. Without referring to the most dramatic events, I remember small things we hear from people during our work in their homes. They seem banal, but they contain the wisdom of a healthy experience that makes a world of difference. “This sickness has become more bearable. With you I am no longer alone.” “I never knew there was a place like this.” “You are like my family.” In taking care of the sick, the poor, and the marginalized, the decisive point in approaching personal needs is the thirst for meaning that is hidden in each person and that the Christian presence provokes to come out.
Sr. Gelsomina Angrisano,
Superior General of the Sister of Charity of the Assumption
I was able to follow from the start Monsignor Cordes’ intuition to ask Pope John Paul II to make a pronouncement, by means of an encyclical, clarifying the theme of charity. John Paul II left this task to Pope Benedict XVI, who gave us the gift of the encyclical Deus Caritas Est.
For those who work in the field of international cooperation, it is a precious gift addressed to the person at a practical level. The situation of blackmail in which almost 4 billion needy people find themselves can gravely compromise the coessential originality of charity and the announcement of Christ present. In a synthetic passage of his address during an audience with the Pontifical Council Cor Unum on December 23, 2005, Benedict XVI pointed out this risk: “The Church’s charitable organization is not a form of social assistance that is casually added to the reality of the Church, an initiative that could be left to others; it is part of the Church’s nature.” This indication developed in the encyclical focuses on what I believe to be a point of great ambiguity that is often to be found in conventions and activities, even Catholic ones. It is felt that the Christian event is not enough in itself for improving the world, and so there is a need to draw from some kind of Marxist theory and technique; as if the change could come about from a change in the external environmental conditions rather than from the change in the person and of the person. There are courses of formation on leadership, on community participation, and analyses on social justice, but nothing is said about that level of mystery which is the person before his destiny. In other words, there is no capacity for education, the real factor in development. The Pope reminds us, then, of the need for professional preparation, but that this alone is not enough if it is not accompanied by “the formation of the heart” that enables people to be witnesses to Christ.
There is, finally, the invitation to living contact with Christ so as to avoid the two great temptations arising in situations of extreme need: cynicism, into which we can fall in the face of so many difficulties that seem to make all efforts useless, or the delirium of omnipotence, which makes us think we are the only ones who can bring about change.
Alberto Piatti, General Director, AVSI
(Association for Volunteers in International Service)
The Pope’s encyclical describes the nature of God: God is love and He created us so as to have someone to love to the point of taking on Himself a face and a heart like ours.
It was in the relationship with Fr. Giussani that the strength and the absolute gratuitousness of this love became an experience that marked my life forever. I can never forget my first meeting with him. He didn’t know me; what could he see in me? It was evident that I was nothing.
However, I felt embraced and wanted; it was as if his look was saying, “I want to be with you, you have an infinite value.” Everything was born from that look of his. From that look I discovered that I am not determined by my limitations, but by the love with which God makes me and constitutes me as infinite desire for Him. That look opened me up to the world and to the fascinating discovery that every man is loved and possessed personally by an Other, the same One who loves and possesses me. Only because of this common belonging can I say “mine” to those I meet and embrace them without being afraid of my nothingness, in the emotion for the greatness to which we are all called. My work is to look everywhere for this relationship that constitutes me and to show everyone what I see and what gives me enthusiasm. This builds despite all my incapacities, because it is an experience of charity as the presence of God who is with us and keeps us company so as to make us happy. Today, the women of Kampala’s poor Acholi Quarter amazed me once again by the normality with which they offered hospitality to a person in difficulty. They seemed not to realize the sacrifice they were preparing to make. They had the same look as Marcelino[from the movie, Miracle of Marcelino], happy because directed toward a Presence that fulfills every desire.
International Meeting Point, Kampala, Uganda
A Persuasive Reading in the University
“A Christian reaches the divine truths proposed by the Church in an ordinary way, which is the life of the community itself.” Taking a hint from a passage of Why the Church? in which Fr. Giussani affirms that “amongst the instruments for recognizing a community that is on the move there are Popes’ encyclicals, and speeches,” we gathered to read the encyclical Deus Caritas Est.
We were struck right from the introduction: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event.” The first thing that struck us is the language, similar to that of Fr. Giussani, so dear and familiar to us. This affirmation describes perfectly what for us was the encounter with the Movement and Christianity.
It is impressive to note a constant search for unity in the life of every man, a life that cannot prescind from the love of God and that only in Him finds fulfillment. The letter gets more and more convincing as you go on reading because it speaks of the most interesting and indispensable experience of our lives: love. It is a way of looking at the person loved that cannot but be desired: “It becomes concern and care for the other… it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation, it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.” In the conclusive pages, we come across this phrase: “In the saints one thing becomes clear: those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them.” Our thoughts, full of gratitude, go once again to Fr. Giussani. Thanks to him, what the Pope shows us has become everyday experience; as Fr. Carrón wrote, “Through him, Christ goes on working amongst us.” God comes continually to meet us, and becomes a companionship to man, so that we can “experience the love of God, we perceive His presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives.” Life acquires this fascination and taste. We have realized that we have in our hands a work that truly throws light on all aspects of life, in which it is possible to have a new way of looking at the university, our families, our fiancées, and our friends.
Some students from the Faculty
of Political Science Milan State University
A New Horizon
During the Second Vatican Council and the immediate years to follow, we sang the opening phrase from Scripture that Pope Benedict uses to introduce his encyclical letter: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). This was a revolution for us in the United States, as we sang in the vernacular. To sing in English during the Eucharist with these words appeared to be the depth of the meaning of life. At the same time, we were singing, “We Shall Overcome”! But, I must acknowledge, I did not have a clue about the real meaning of this text. We sang it for everything and there was an explosion of “love songs” in the Liturgy and signs of ecclesial expressions in education, catechesis, banners, war protests, and marches for the blacks (Afro-Americans). We used love talk for everything during the ’60s and ’70s. I was a seminarian and then a young priest during this time and I had no idea how poor we were in our invitation to people to follow our love feast. It was a shallow time for many of us in America and a time of searching for truth even though we were more reactive and less steeped in our tradition. Now, it is clear to me that the real revolution for my heart did not occur until I encountered the charism of Fr. Giussani. I recognized the depth of my need through an encounter that changed my life forever. The introduction of the encyclical holds such promise for my heart and opens all the possibilities for faith and reason to coincide with the genius of Pope Benedict. When he states, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction,” I recognize that my home in the Church has been verified in an official way through this teaching. This letter challenges me to go deeper in my way of living the “love of Christ.” And I quote from the letter: “I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings.” Our language of “encounter” in the ’60s and ’70s was rooted in naval gazing even in the face of our good intentions. We just didn’t experience what Fr. Giussani offered to the world and which the Pope affirms.
A recent visit with Justin, a 33-year-old man from New York who is serving 30 years in the Federal prison here in Rochester, gives testimony as my humanity is reawakened by staying with him.
Before I met the charism, I would have missed this existential experience of the Infinite. I went to the prison tired and frustrated about my life, but listened to this man search for and articulate his desire in the midst of the prison system (which is another story), and I left as a human being aware of Another in an absolutely surprising way. This is not a superficial charity from a good pastor, but one man to another man, and our longing for the God of Love is the same. Again, Pope Benedict: “Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much He loves me.” The scholarship of the Pope reveals our rich tradition and way of following Christ with such clear simplicity. “Love is free.” My experience of staying at this parish, which is neighbor to the Mayo Medical Community, is always a surprise of love being free and there is more in front of me all the time. Carlos, a man from Ecuador, has been here for a few weeks with his wife, children, and parents. He has pancreatic cancer at 33 years old. After weeks of treatment, he discovered that his condition remains the same and he wondered what it means to allow God to love you through begging and asking. The Pope states: “Prayer, as a means of drawing ever new strength from Christ, is concretely and urgently needed. People who pray are not wasting their time...” It appeared to Carlos that he was wasting his time. But this assurance of love and charity recalls for me the challenge that “hope does not disappoint.” I remember Giancarlo Cesana reminding me that “hope means you ask for what you need and accept what you get.” I gave this message to Carlos. This young man, Carlos, came to life in our conversation because I have been educated to trust that his desire for Love (Infinite) is not only possible, but that it is possible today in a personal and existential experience. Pope Benedict calls me to follow this path and I want to continue a serious study of this encyclical letter which verifies all of my history in following Fr. Giussani.
Fr. Jerry Mahon,
Pastor, St. John the Evangelist - Rochester, Minnesota