|01-03-2006 - Traces, n.3
Making Christ Present in Our Flesh, in Every Environment, and
in Every Human Reality
Notes from a talk of Luigi Giussani to a group of adults of Communion and Liberation. Cesena, Italy, October 6, 1986
Whatever we are doing, implicitly or explicitly, being men, saving (to use a term that is not only religious) our humanity is always the ultimate criterion. Even when we do wrong, we do wrong in order to save our humanity, to enjoy our humanity more, in the illusion of affirming our humanity more. This is the criterion with which we feel and judge everything. Our humanity! We could use another term–being happier! Saving our humanity means realizing it, and this perfection (because in Latin “to realize” is perficere which is the root of the English word “perfection”) from the psychological point of view is called “happiness” or “satisfaction,” which is synonymous with perfection and therefore with happiness. The desire for happiness, for complete affirmation of our humanity, is the criterion with which you choose to see one movie rather than another, choose a particular job and sacrifice time and energy doing it, choose the girl with whom you will make a family, chose to have children or not. The criterion is only one, and it is this humanity we carry, which is like something unfulfilled, that is longing for fulfillment.
The epoch we are living in takes to extreme consequences the ambiguity that can be formed on the conception and the feeling of humanity. This ambiguity is over whether we can build humanity–our humanity, bring it to fulfillment ourselves–or whether something else is needed to save it, something greater. This alternative, which holds good for all times, can be expressed in the word that was dealt with in the School of Community last year, the word “belonging.” Does man belong to himself or to something else? Now, a man who thinks he belongs to himself tries to build a vision of man and the world in which his humanity is realized as the work of his own hands. It’s inevitable that he sets off from a particular point of view; it’s inevitable that this approach is partial; this is why it is also called ideology.
We live in a moment in which this ambiguity is taken to its extreme consequences. This first factor of the alternative, taken to its extreme consequences, led to the checkmate of all ideologies. We are living in a moment in which all ideologies have collapsed, precisely where–as in 1968–the exasperated affirmation of these ideologies was attempted, there, the abyss opened into which everything fell. The great rebellions have so easily become once again tranquil acceptance of the “establishment,” of the parties in power. But this choice has another consequence. Now that the ideologies have collapsed, with their claim to solve the injustices oppressing man, we still need to live, and we cannot live without order! So those who are in power are concerned most of all with avoiding a level of disorder that will threaten their own position. To put it briefly, man today, the man in power in all fields and in all senses (I’ll spare you the details), wants to bring about a new creation, to create a new type of man–through education, an education that can be given even to forty-year-olds and fifty-year-olds, through the insistence of the mass media, by establishing prohibitions and taboos and making them popular conviction. Those in power want to create a type of man who will be like a cog or a mechanism in the hand of a worker who uses it. In this way, certain values are defined to the exclusion of others. “If there are too many of us, how can there be order?!” So we have to have much fewer people, and those who have many children are ridiculed and those who don’t want them feel complacent, with a clear conscience, since they correspond to the type of man the dominant mentality wants to impose. Thus, someone who doesn’t think about the values of life like the mentality in power is a dangerous dreamer or, better, a psychopath. In Russia, this is applied literally–a sincerely religious man must or can be confined to a mental hospital; he is abnormal and must be brought back within the norm.
We can summarize all the values of the modern age, of our age, in one word, as they are affirmed by the power that shapes us, without our realizing it (and it is clear, if there is no heaven, if what exists is only what we touch and see): well-being here on earth. It is well-being; everything must be in function of well-being, everything calculated for well-being. It is better to have twenty-five men living a life of enjoyment than to have two hundred and fifty men who live without enjoyment! It’s more logical, more rational! Thus, we try to touch that point in which man is generated, with biogenetics, and we try, using suitable methods, to create a man with a fixed range of desires, neatly restricted, then we will be able to govern him well! What the writer Huxley had imagined many years ago in his book Brave New World is what the power wants to bring about now.
The last alternative to that human dignity that every mother feels, that every normal person feels, and that all religions of the world have always exalted, the last step of the alternative to this dignity of man lies just here: the ideal that can be pursued is that of a world of restricted numbers, a human world of limited aspirations, but in such a way that all can live “content” and “satisfied.” And everything that does not fit into this process must be prevented from being born, or eliminated. What is to be done with old people? What is to be done with cripples? We have to stop them from coming into the world, or eliminate them if they are in the world. And it’s clear that every presence that objects and brings “disorder” has to be shut away; otherwise, without calm, how can we control precisely all these sophisticated mechanisms needed to treat men like you treat a diamond or a precious stone, or how you treat an atom or a neutron? So we need a balance, we need–this is the word that sums up everything–“peace.” We need peace!
On the other hand, there is a strange “price of retaliation,” to be paid, as Dante describes it, since before this supreme repugnant autonomy that man claims to have regarding his own and other’s humanity–the power to murder, eliminate, all that impedes his march towards order–something else emerges.
Many years ago, when the campaign against Hitler and Nazism was in full swing, people understandably spoke of the inhumanity of that “theory” that led to the murder of so many Jews, simply because it applied these ideas, because Nazism anticipated all these ideas. For if the world’s well-being is in the blood of the German people, then all that cannot be assimilated in the blood of the German people must be eliminated. At that time, Corriere della Sera published an article by the brother of that novelist we quoted above, Huxley, in which, after accusing Hitler, he went on to say, “In order to avoid the Hitlers and all the Auschwitzes of this world, we need to find a genetic system that will produce men in which all defects are eliminated before birth. As a science, genetics can achieve this, and so we will have a perfect race.” In other words, in fighting Hitler, Mr. Huxley was applying the very same system, except that in the case of Hitler the decisive point was the blood of the German race, while for Huxley it was the perfect race produced through science–science, meaning an instrument applied by certain men, by certain currents of thought, because science, too, like politics, is all divided into currents.
So, in this moment of supreme aberration, where the human ideal seems to be to destroy man in order to create another kind of being, precisely in this time, the religious sentiment raises its head more than ever as the “price of retaliation.” Never before has the religious sense been so audaciously present, disturbing the calm of men of all races and all age-groups; never has it been as alive as it is today–imprecise, confused, terribly disconcerted–but never so powerfully present in man’s hearts as it is today.
But what do we mean by religious sentiment, or religious sense? Repetita iuvant. The religious sense is that irreducible characteristic of the human heart, of man’s ultimate nature, which makes him unable to be satisfied, perfected, fulfilled, by anything that can be given and offered to him–except in the illusion of an instant. Man has something for which he cannot “sort himself out,” finds himself incomplete, because man is relationship with something infinite–call it what you like; the history of religions has called it God. Man is by his very nature relationship with something that is out of proportion with himself. Whatever man grasps, as he holds on to it, it tells him “Goodbye,” as the poet Clemente Rebora says, and the more tightly he grips it the more it escapes him. This man has, as it were, a strange destiny. This is why these days there is a fashion for “escape” in all the currents of Indian or Eastern mysticism, and thousands and thousands of new sects are springing up; it is because of this sentiment characteristic of the human heart, this endless restlessness, sign of a destiny greater than all his imaginings; it is because of this religious sense, which is aroused precisely when man is about to be strangled by the power (not out of cynicism, or by cynical means, but to make mankind “feel well,” to make it “feel better”). Just in this moment, since he feels his heart boiling over, man does not know where to go to shield himself; he is unable to decipher this restlessness and identify in it the content of the aim, the goal toward which he is being pushed, what use it all is.
So, in this moment, let’s recall what John said in his Gospel: “No one has seen God,” the destiny for whom man is made (however vague this word may be, there is no other more crucial than this, more evident than this in lived experience); no one has ever seen the destiny for whom man was made. “The only begotten Son of the Father has made Him known”: this destiny has become a Man among us, the destiny for whom man, man’s heart, was made, because of which a women is not enough for a man and a man is not enough for a woman; a mother is not enough for her son and the son for his mother; money is not enough for those who already have plenty of it; and power is not enough for those who have reached the top of the pyramid. This destiny has become a Man among us. This is the huge, unparalleled impression that those of you who have been to the Holy Land have experienced, before the ruins of that house or grotto where Mary, at the age of twelve, was greeted by the Angel (the more they dig, and the scientific research continues, the more the tradition is confirmed, right down to the details), when you read, trembling, on a piece of that wall, “Verbum caro hic factum est,” “the Word was made flesh here”–the Word, that is to say, that for which the heart is made, that for which a mother gives birth to a child, that for which it is worthwhile living, that for which there is no life, however wretched, that is useless. Every life is worth living, because every human being who comes into this world is relationship with infinity, is relationship with that Man who became a seed in the womb of that young woman. Who notices a seed just planted in the earth? No one. It is mixed in with the earth. Who knows how, with time, the huge plant comes out? And when you are there, before that wall where Our Lady received the Annunciation–a few yards away from Joseph’s house, with seven ritual steps leading to the entrance, to the workshop–before those remaining walls, or that piece of rock, you are overcome by an even greater trembling and say, “Look at that, everything was born from this seed, like a seed in the earth that isn’t even noticeable. Who would have imagined it?” Remember Alessandro Manzoni’s Hymn to Mary? Who could have imagined it? Who could have imagined that girl, who walked sixty miles over a hilly, rocky wilderness to go to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who in that mysterious moment had known of her own pregnancy, in her old age? She greets her, repeating some phrases from the Bible: “All generations will call me blessed.” This evening, we are still fulfilling that prophecy! The greatest thing that struck me during my trip to the Holy Land was that from nothing, really from nothing, like a seed planted in the ground is nothing, from nothing came something great that has covered the world, according to the Gospel parable, that has spread throughout the world, and challenges the whole of time. “The gates of hell shall never prevail against it.” What power of this world would dare to challenge the time of history, saying, “If history were to last two billion years, and I were to fail, then I am no longer true; I challenge these two billion years”? This is the consciousness of the Church, the mysterious Body of Christ. It is in this body that the Word made flesh is present. He is here, like on the first day.
How is He here? Here we touch what gives us the deepest enthusiasm; however old we are, we touch that which unites us more than any blood tie; we touch that which gives us hope (how many people have we seen die with this hope, giving us a sign that no word can express!). He is here as on the first day, in us and amongst us. For this is the method with which that Man, God made flesh, spreads in time and space, becoming present in every moment of time and space: through the men the Father gives into His hands, or He chooses–the baptized, the person called, us. It is in our companionship, in our unity, that His presence is here as on the first day and is at work as on the first day, at work as at the summit of His manifestation amongst us. He is at work amongst us, changing, altering, working the true miracle–the miracle of a man who becomes more man; He works the greatest marvel–that of a true human brotherhood; He produces the splendor of a purity of life, the splendor of a capacity for poverty, which is not having no money, but being able to use it for what is greater than us, for the albeit provisional good of this piece of humanity on its journey.
It is a piece of humanity on its journey. This is what all ideologies and the power that dominates our age cannot even imagine. We are a piece of humanity on its journey toward its destiny. Each one on his own? No! Each one together with others, each one in step with the others, and at the same speed as the others. And no one loses anything of what he touches and embraces–“even the hairs on your head are counted, and even a word said in jest will not be lost.”
So we must renew ourselves in the responsibility that is ours and from which no one can relieve us, because the dignity of my life and your life are identical, and that dignity does not depend on what you do, or on your profession or on the role you have in society. It lies in this great “representation” of the mystery of Christ to which you have been called. Others will answer to God in another way. We cannot answer to God if not in the choice He has made of us, of the Christian vocation He has given us and that must permeate everything. Then everything becomes important–your job, your being a father or a mother, your companionship, your friendship, your studies, your work, your free time, your breathing; everything becomes useful and important if it is permeated by this profound, clear awareness of the Christian vocation we have been given.
Taking up once again and living this year’s School of Community, we realize more and more the great task that we have before all men, that our companionship has before the whole human race, the whole of society.
The first task is to make Christ present in every ambit, in every environment, in every human reality, to make Christ present through the self-awareness determined by His memory, by means of the supreme example, the miracle impossible to man, the miracle of unity amongst people who otherwise would be strangers, since a true unity, even between man and woman, is impossible to man left to himself. The first responsibility is to make Christ present everywhere. And if you are alone in an environment, it is as if your whole personality were to cry out with nostalgia for the consoling and pacifying spectacle of Christian communion, and your way of behaving cannot but communicate to others something of what is in you.
Secondly, the task our companionship has towards mankind today is that of saving man from the despotism of power, of whatever kind, and at whatever level it expresses itself, because man is relationship with God, with the Infinite. Our companionship has this “freedom,” which is not doing what we please, but the affirmation of the bonds that constitute us (in this way, the value of a father and mother for a child can be understood, and, first of all, the value of God for a father and a mother).
So the first point is the awareness of the responsibility we have to make Christ present in our flesh, through our witness–witnessing being the way of behaving, of a self-awareness permeated by that memory, in which that memory is present. The second point is to free man from all despotism, from power, so that power goes back to being what Christ’s power was–service.
In a few days’ time, on October 27th, there will be that great gesture in Assisi that the Pope launched, in which exponents of all religions will gather. The greatest meaning of that gesture is clear–only a man perceived in the perspective of his religious sense, only a man grasped in his essence, that is, in the essence of his heart, which is the religious sense, only this man can be a maker of peaceful relationships, a peacemaker. A deep valuing of the substance of man’s heart can be made in a marvelous, lucid way only in the awareness aroused by Christ, only in Christian awareness. This, too, is paradoxical. So we can add that, in order to safeguard peace, the condition for a more human journey, our companionship must fight against the atheism of life. There can be a theoretical atheism, which is more and more on the defensive, but there is also a practical atheism, life lived in hedonism, life as “satisfaction,” we said before, that is becoming stronger and stronger, and, as John Paul II said in his speech on “Evangelization and Atheism,” is permeating the Church. The fight against this fake satisfaction makes us brothers for all those we meet. Instead, the search for this fake satisfaction, which is the ideal that those holding the reins of power can propose to their peoples, this idea of fake satisfaction brings terrible loneliness and selfishness. Practical atheism, everyday atheism, is a selfishness that closes us up more and more in a terrifying loneliness.
Now that I have sketched out what I believe to be the essential accents of the time we are living in, and what is the terrible, tremendous, great, powerful, but tender task that awaits us, that of being the “pretext” for Christ’s presence, now that I have sketched out the tasks facing us, the threefold task that awaits us (making Christ present; freeing man from slavery to power, in the freedom of his relationship with destiny; and abolishing practical, militant atheism from our lives), I beg to conclude with this phrase of John Paul II, from a talk to Polish emigrants in Germany: “Only holy men [for Christianity, as for the Bible, a saint is one who recognizes God present, God who has become present in his life, the God of the Covenant] are able to build solid bridges between nations, because only the saints found their work on love. If the place of saints and believers is taken by men without God, then selfishness and hatred become the law, as the history of relationships between the German and the Polish nations testifies.”