01-03-2006 - Traces, n.3


The “I” and the
revolution of the Faith

To conclude the annual National Diaconia of CL this January, Fr. Stefano Alberto (Fr. Pino) presented a synthesis of the awareness that had emerged during the meeting, as responsibles from the US and Canada judged the experience of the past year. Markers for the path ahead: an “I” that belongs to a people, the grace of unity, and the importance of authority for an experience of freedom

by Fr. Stefano Alberto

“I thank You for the wonder of my being.” What did you think, what was moved within you this morning when you heard, “I thank You for the wonder of my being?” The human drama, the Christian drama, is the surprise at now being able to say “I.” I want to talk about three concise points.

The difficulty saying “I”
1. The first one is to recognize that we have difficulty living the most evident thing: the miracle of my “I.” This is the first Diaconia since Fr. Giussani has been in heaven, and you can tell that he is at work. The Movement is alive. But for the very reason that we are alive, we have to take stock of the circumstances in which we are living. If we do not take stock of these circumstances, we will be less alive. We risk falling into formalism. Chris Bacich yesterday made a remark that helps us appreciate the problem. In a paradoxical way, in this country it is easier to say “Christ” than it is to say “I.” It is a paradox, but it is so. We must not overlook the difficulty that has surfaced during this time here (always within the context of great positivity). What does saying “I” mean for you? Where are you? What do you desire? There is an awkward embarrassment. And we should not be scandalized at this. We are not different from the others, as Fr. Carrón always reminds us. Division is within us: dualism, as the main feature of modern culture, as the main feature of this country’s culture. In Faneuil Hall we read, “Liberty and Unity, now and forever.” Liberty and unity–is it true, though? Is it possible? Where is it possible?
Yesterday, Giorgio Vittadini summed up the question in these terms: the cultural climate, which is the climate within us, is a climate of division. There is an exaltation of freedom which abolishes the unity of the person, which abolishes unity among persons, which abolishes the possibility of a unity in social life. Call it liberalism, if you wish. It is the exaltation of freedom, the exaltation of desires: all desires are fine, desires as an end unto themselves, to the point that we can call them “the dictatorship of desires.” But there is also the opposite position, a unity which does not take freedom into account: you have to hold reality together by means of rules–even the Ten Commandments can become “rules”–by means of law. Law and rules, law and order. What is abolished? Desire becomes the enemy. The enemy becomes the irreducible desire for happiness. I have to rule over your freedom. I have to cut off your desire. You can call this conservatism if you wish. In any case, there is this idea that in order to move forward we must be divided. This division lies within society. This division lies within Christians. An adjective must be added to the noun: conservative Christian or liberal Christian. Indeed, the adjective becomes more important than the noun. We have difficulty because this division lies within us, in our desires, which reduce Desire itself to life on one side and Christ on the other. We must not be afraid of this. We must look it straight in the eye. We have to recognize that we have difficulty using our hearts. I ask you again: How many of you noticed this morning–this is the authority of the Liturgy–this judgment that illuminates my life: “I thank You for the wonder of my being?” What does this judgment set in motion, what does it bring to light, what does it cause to echo, to vibrate in my flesh? This is the human drama, this difficulty in saying “I.”

Certainty is someone
who happens

2. Second question. How can we find a way out of this? Where does certainty lie? Should we accept division? Do we resign ourselves to taking sides? Can certainty lie in what I do, in the success I manage to achieve, in the expressiveness I manage to produce, in the moral coherence I manage to live? If that is true, then, inevitably, as Msgr. Albacete made so clear to us, when faced with the question, “Where are you?” we hide. We hide because we are ashamed.
Certainty is not what I do. Certainty is Someone who has happened to us, as Fr. Giussani described so well in his talk on Christmas (“Christmas: The Mystery of God’s Tenderness,” 1974; published in Traces, December 2005); Someone who happened to us. There is nothing that you have to do prior to that. It happens. It is the event of Someone in my life, the event of an encounter. It is recognizing, becoming aware of Someone who intrudes in my life. This event, this encounter, is the event of the “I.” Look at what John says to us in the Prayer of the Hours this morning: “We have seen with our own eyes, we have touched with our own hands the Word of life.” We have seen, we have touched. The “I” finds itself again, not thanks to reasoning, not thanks to reflecting on itself, but only through an encounter with a living human reality. But not just any human reality. The school bus driver yesterday, that was not an encounter. He is a living human reality, he was driving, but it was not an encounter. What does “encounter” mean? What does “encounter” mean in this instant? It is a “being different” that draws us. It is a being different that attracts, because it corresponds to my heart. And this is not a feeling, an emotion. It is a judgment. So then, what happens in the encounter? Not what happened, but what happens now? What happened in these days here? The encounter with Christ, the encounter with this difference that attracts, makes me aware of what I am, what I want. It makes me realize that I am a demand for meaning. It makes me realize that I am desire for happiness. And it makes me realize that what this encounter brings, what this man brings, is what I want. It clarifies my question. It clarifies my need. The exceptionality of the encounter, the exceptionality of the answer, clarifies my question.

Awareness of our incapacity
What is necessary in order to encounter Christ? What do you bring? What do I bring, if there is no “I” prior to the encounter? What do I bring if my “I” happens in the encounter? This is the great thing that everybody has forgotten. Fr. Giussani reminds us of it in his article on the Eucharist. “In order to approach the mystery of Christ, one thing is required: the awareness of our incapacity, of our limit. You go to meet that Man because you are not capable of anything! You are not capable, first of all, of deciding for what is good. You go to that encounter recognizing that you are a wretch. At its depth, Christianity is simple; it is a simple drama.”
Think about that page in Chapter 10 of the Gospel of Mark. A man was blind and hears somebody passing on the street, and he cries out, “Have pity on me!” There is a man who is a crook: Zaccheus, up in the sycamore tree. And he sees that Man stopping right there, below him: “Come down, Zaccheus, I am coming to your house to eat.” This is simplicity. It is called conversion, literally, turning with all of
oneself toward Him; from focusing on yourself to focusing on that Presence, on You, Christ. This is also the root of a new knowledge and a new affection, the root of a new morality. What is justice? It is Someone who happens. What is justice for Peter? It is Someone who asks, “Do you love Me?” What is justice for the world? It is this cry of Peter: “Yes! You know that I love You.” It is this new beginning that this question makes possible, this question that carries on the first question that Msgr. Albacete recalled so often in these days: “What do you desire? What are you seeking?” The question becomes more explicit. In the encounter, this question becomes explicit in the words, “Do you love Me?” Saying “yes” is extremely easy. “Yes” is the new beginning. To say “yes” is the beginning of a new protagonism in the history of the world.

The victory of Christ
is this people

3. So we will look at this as the third point: how does it happen now? How does He come to meet us now? What is this new beginning of my “I” now? Christ’s victory, Christ’s Resurrection, is seen in space and in time. The victory of Christ is this people. What is this people made up of? It is made up of encounters, of people who have been encountered. What characterizes this people? The characteristic is that in each of our encounters, you have the experience of being chosen. In other words, this Presence identifies with you, affirms you. The tenderness of God, Fr. Giussani told us, is that Christ, in becoming man, becomes one with each of us. “I have chosen you. You are mine.” We must not be distracted from this, because this exceptional difference becomes preference, choice. It becomes belonging: He is part of me, and I am part of Him. St. Paul reminds us, “I live, not I, but You live in me.” Life is this bond, life is this relationship. Carrón read a beautiful quote to us from Fr. Giussani, taken from the spiritual exercises of the university students, and I want to read it to you: “The whole strength of the announcement of our Movement is this point here: it is the affirmation of your happiness, of your fulfillment. This is the motive by which I live the faith, through which I recognize Christ. And this fulfillment of myself is this relationship with Christ. But I fulfill myself in the relationship with a woman, in relationship with this book, in relationship with eating, in the relationship with the mountains. So the relationship with Christ is the truth of all of these things, the truth of these things, in the awareness of that presence, in the awareness of that belonging. In short, this is faith that lives. It is not some other thing.” This is the challenge to the Bible Belt. It is not something other than eating, it is not something other than drinking, it is not something other than women, it is not something other than men, it is not something other than this book, it is not something other than studying, it is not something other than work, a professor at NASA or a maid who sweeps for eight hours a day. This faith that lives is not something other than life.

Faith is a revolution
So what is faith? It is a subversive and surprising way of living ordinary things; a revolution. This preference, this relationship with Christ is the true life of all these things. Christ is the life of life. And faith is this revolution, this surprise at ordinary things. Do you realize that looking at things this way, loving this way, makes us free, makes us united, makes us ourselves? What do we need to forget? What do we need to erase from our lives? Ordinary things are ordinary things: work and rest, health and illness, joy and suffering, struggle and sin. But faith is a new and surprising way of living ordinary things. This new awareness we bear is what characterizes this people.
At the outset, being chosen seems to be something that separates. It makes us different. We carry a difference with us that makes us strange. But this separateness, this being different takes us further into things. It makes us capable of giving things a name. It makes us seek the meaning of things, the relationship of one particular to another, the relationship of one particular to the whole. It causes us to experience freedom and unity. I am speaking about a people. We do not need to be a large group. St. Paul was writing to communities, in particular those communities in Asia Minor, made up of ten people. The greatness of a people is not given by its number, but by the awareness it has of its origin, by He whom it loves. There may be just two of you. You may be physically alone in a place; in that place you are that people. The community is the new definition of you.

Authority, unity, and freedom
Thus, there are two basic things. This people does not exist without an authority, without the factor which makes it grow. This is the authority, as Msgr. Albacete reminded us, of your heart, the authority that is objective, the authority, the voice of the Church, that is always able to surprise you, just like this Monday morning. It is the authority of this companionship, because this companionship is one that is guided to its destiny. The great grace that God is giving us, with the death of Fr. Giussani, therefore with this terrible trial, is the evidence of the grace of unity. Unity with Fr. Carrón who guides us, unity with the visitor, Vittadini, unity of the American Diaconia, of those who are ultimately responsible for guiding the Movement; this unity is the evidence of a life which is growing. Without authority, unity does not exist. And without unity, my freedom does not exist. So the basic thing, whether there are one hundred of us, like in Washington, or whether you are all alone or have just arrived, the most beautiful thing, the thing in which freedom and unity become one, is in following this companionship. This people lives if you live. And you live if you follow. And if you follow you become yourself more and more.
A very long path lies ahead. But on this path, the first step, every instant, is the most important. The first step, the first expression of this following, is asking, begging. It is saying “yes,” your “yes” to Christ. It is the most useful thing for my life. Each one of us needs the other’s “yes.” The world and this country need the “yes” of each one of us. For this reason, Our Lady’s presence, as the mother who before all else makes us say “yes” each day, is so important. So in all of the work that lies before us, in all of the risk of our freedom, in all of the struggle to build something great, Our Lady is the certainty of our hope.