|01-04-2006 - Traces, n.4
The Risen Christ:
the Defeat of Nothingness
Notes from a talk by Luigi Giussani at the Memores Domini Ascension Retreat, Riva del Garda, Italy, May 16, 1992
As I was rightly reminded yesterday evening, it is both true and not true that the “Mystery” is a visible reality, because this is the characteristic of the Christian concept of Mystery. How many times we have said it, even in the School of Community.
The Mystery is not unknown; it is the unknown that makes itself the content of a sense experience. This is a very important concept. This is why we speak of the mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of the Ascension and the mystery of the Resurrection.
God as Mystery would be an intellectual image if we were to stop at the phrase as it is, “God is Mystery.” The living God is the God who revealed Himself in the Incarnation, in the death and Resurrection of Christ. The true God is He who came among us, became a sense experience, tangible, visible, audible.
It is quite true, however, that the Mystery cannot be possessed–it is the object of experience, but it cannot be possessed, that is, measured, comprehended, embraced in its totality. But, at the same time, it is true that it is possessed. The Word of God, having become a seed in Our Lady’s womb, was possessed by Our Lady; He became a child, a youngster, a man, and, as a mother, Our Lady possessed Him; as the woman who was His mother, she possessed Him. It is an inexorable possession and, therefore, cannot but be lived in humility, that humility which was to reverberate–and it is the only source from which it can reverberate–between the human “I” and “You”–between one person and another, because the other arises from God.
But I don’t want to go back now to the main word of yesterday evening, that which is most lacking in us, that is to say, the elementary word, the “religious sense,” the content of the religious sense, the religious sense as self-awareness, the awareness of the presence of the Mystery. We are, as it were, surrounded and penetrated, surrounded by something that penetrates us (otherwise, it is like being surrounded and imprisoned, if you are surrounded without being penetrated; when someone embraces you, he enfolds you if the embrace penetrates you). We are before the mystery of Being like this–we must be before the mystery of Being like this in the morning, or in any moment of the day.
As we recited the Benedictus, I was thinking–I often do when I recite the Benedictus, because it is the most intense prayer, the prayer that most expresses our certain expectation, our possession that is not yet possession, of the still incomplete possession–first, during the Psalms, I was thinking of the idea, of the prayer, that the Lord enlighten His people: “The Lord has enlightened His people, enlightens His people,” or better, “He has enlightened His chosen ones, He enlightens His chosen ones.” I always think that we are amongst these chosen ones! May the Lord enlighten these people without whom I am not myself! It is an impatience that life must fathom during the day, in the humble expectation that the prayer expresses.
But let’s tackle this morning’s theme, which is the detailed examination of the word “Mystery” we used yesterday evening. The Mystery, as we just said, is the Mystery in as much as it becomes experienceable, by becoming a presence in man’s history. Let’s try to think of what we said at Lauds: “God is telling everyone everywhere that they must repent, because He has fixed a day when the whole world will be judged in uprightness by a man He has appointed. And God has publicly proved this by raising Him from the dead.”1 The Resurrection is the summit of the Christian mystery. Everything was made for this, because this is the beginning of the eternal glory of Christ: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son.”2 Everything and all of us have a meaning in this event: the risen Christ. The glory of the Risen Christ is the light, the coloring, the energy, the form of our existence, of the existence of all things.
The centrality of Christ’s Resurrection is directly proportional to our fleeing, as if from something unknown, to our forgetfulness of it, to the timidity with which we think of the word, and we are, as it were, driven away; to this is directly proportional the decisiveness of the Resurrection, as the proposition of the fact of Christ, as the supreme content of the Christian message, in the content of this message that salvation, that purification from evil, that rebirth of man for which He came will take place.
In the Mystery of the Resurrection lies the summit and the highest intensity of our Christian self-awareness, and therefore that of my new awareness of myself, of the way in which I look at all people and all things. The key to the novelty in the relationship between me and myself, between me and others, between me and things is in the Resurrection. But this is what we most run away from, what is most left to one side, albeit most respectfully, respectfully left in the aridity of a word perceived intellectually, perceived as an idea, precisely because it is the summit of the Mystery’s challenge to our measure.
This, after all, is the content of the first Christian message. All the early discourses in the Acts of Apostles, the first contact the Apostles had with the Hebrews and the pagans, with people, was exclusively this, supremely this. When Peter healed the cripple in Jerusalem and was sent to prison for it, they asked him, “On what authority and in whose name have you done this?” So Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, told them, “Heads of the people and elders, since today we are being questioned on the benefit granted to a sick man and on how he received his health, let it be known to all of you and the whole people of Israel: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you have crucified and whom God has raised from the dead, this man stands before you healthy and saved. This Jesus, the stone rejected by you, the builders, has become the cornerstone [the starting point for rebuilding the world]. There is salvation in no other, for there is no other name given to men under heaven in which it is established that we can be saved [because God has raised Him from the dead].”3
It is the very first catechesis, the very first content of the Christian discourses, the very first; and it is reflected in the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “I want to make quite clear to you, brothers, what the message of the gospel that I preached to you is [the good news that I preached to you]; you accepted it and took your stand on it, and you are saved by it, if you keep to the message I preached to you; otherwise your coming to believe was in vain [if you had believed according to your own mind–how true it is, from now on, that this is the secret, crucial alternative!]. The tradition I handed on to you in the first place, a tradition which I had myself received [I received it first, he says, and I accept it], was that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried; and that on the third day, he was raised to life, in accordance with the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; and later to the Twelve; and next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still with us, though some have fallen asleep; then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles. Last of all he appeared to me too, as though I was a child born abnormally. For I am the least of the apostles and am not really fit to be called an apostle, because I had been persecuting the Church of God; but what I am now, I am through the grace of God, and the grace which was given to me has not been wasted. Indeed, I have worked harder than all the others–not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Anyway, whether it was they or I, this is what we preach and what you believed. Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you be saying that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ cannot have been raised either, and if Christ has not been raised [this is the last point, the supreme point of the whole argument of Christianity, of the whole proof of Christianity], then our preaching is without substance, and so is your faith. What is more, we have proved to be false witnesses to God [to the Mystery], for testifying against God that he raised Christ to life when he did not raise him–if it is true that the dead are not raised. For, if the dead are not raised, neither is Christ; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is pointless and you have not, after all, been released from your sins.... If our hope in Christ has been for this life only [if Christ is a party of ours, an ultimate content of ours, whether ideological or practical], we are of all people the most pitiable. In fact, however, Christ has been raised from the dead, as the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. As it was by one man that death came, so through one man has come the resurrection of the dead. Just as all die in Adam, so in Christ all will be brought to life.”4
This is why Il Sabato [a now defunct weekly newspaper edited by friends of the Movement], that irreplaceable instrument, has taken up this first announcement, this heart of the initial Christian announcement in many of its articles: “Christ is risen” (before the Russian Revolution, the Orthodox, especially in Russia, used to greet each other in this way: “Christ is risen”).
Cardinal Ruini, in one of his articles, begins, “It is worthwhile, therefore, to try to focus on the terms of that question. It is firstly a question of fact: Is Jesus risen or not? The witnesses are many, and many have come down to us in direct, personal form from those directly involved, like, for example, indisputably from the Apostle Paul in his letters. On this level of facts, nothing so trustworthy, or even comparable, can be used for denying the Resurrection of Jesus.”5 No other fact of history is so well certified.
“In a homily a long time ago, Cardinal Albino Luciani takes the same ‘realistic’ approach [realistic, just as The Religious Sense says in the first premise]. He recalls how St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, uses the word ‘appear’ four times, insisting on visual perception. ‘Now the eye does not see something internal but something external to us, a reality distinct from us that imposes itself from outside.’ Recalling that the Apostles were people not inclined to refined mysticism, but people who were ‘sound, robust, realistic and allergic to any form of hallucination.’ Luciani adds, ‘With such human material, it would be highly improbable [highly impossible] to pass from an idea of a Christ deserving to live on spiritually in people’s hearts to the idea of a bodily resurrection [a passage, a deformation of this kind is impossible] in virtue of reflections and enthusiasm [for this to be possible one would need to resort to juvenile dreaming or to certain philosophers]. No; they yielded only before the evidence of the facts.’”6
They yielded only before the evidence of the facts and, I repeat, there is nothing more reliable than what has been handed on for two thousand years, from the very start. The first beginnings carried this word as a victory trophy: Christ is risen. Cardinal Ratzinger answers to a particular interpretation by the press; in the Apostles’ Creed we have to translate “flesh” or “body” and not “resurrection of the dead.” We must stress that Christ is the resurrection of the body.7
This introduces us to what I want to reach as the theme of our meditation.
Christianity is the exaltation of concrete reality, the affirmation of the flesh, so much so that Romano Guardini says that there is no religion more materialistic than Christianity.8 It is the affirmation of the concrete and tangible circumstances and, for this reason, one has no nostalgia for greatness when he sees himself limited in what he has to do; for what he has to do, even though it be small, is great, because inside it vibrates the Resurrection of Christ. “Immersed in the great Mystery…”9 If we do not feel immersed in this Mystery, in the great Mystery, the Resurrection of Christ, then we waste something of Being, we strip Being of its greatness, of its power and its lordship; we slowly empty Being, God, the Mystery, Origin and Destiny of content and make it wither. We must be immersed like the “I” is immersed in the “You” pronounced with all one’s heart, like a child when he looks at his mother, like a child hears his mother. We need to acquire once more a childlike intelligence. Human intelligence, when it remains in the poverty of its natural origin, and is all filled with something else, is called faith–since in itself it is empty, like arms opened that have still to grasp the person they are waiting for. I cannot conceive myself if not immersed in Your great Mystery. The stone rejected by the builders of this world, or by everyone who imagines and plans his own life, He has become the cornerstone on whom alone we can build.10 This Mystery–the Risen Christ–is the judge of our life. He, who will judge everything at the end, judges it day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, without interruption. I want to stress that this “seeing Him” as the Risen One, this acknowledging what has happened to Him, when already dead, is a judgment: you are dead and risen, O Christ. “Christ is risen” is a judgment and therefore an act, an act of the intellect that breaks through the normal horizon of rationality and grasps and witnesses a Presence that surpasses on all sides the horizon of human action, of human existence and of history. This judgment is given by our poor intelligence, the original intelligence, that which by its nature is the affirmation of the positivity of the reality that appears before it, that offers itself to it; it is the loving affirmation of reality according to the original nature of man’s awareness, for which the “I” is driven by nature to accept in an affective–and therefore positive–way the reality that presents itself. This breakthrough that happens by grace at the margins of natural reason and that represents a strange and exceptional continuity of the intelligence is called faith. It is this “obediential” power,11 as the theologians call it, it is this readiness to obey the power of the Creator that realizes human intelligence, making it surpass itself.
Faith is human intelligence that surpasses itself. And all this is only grace, this believing in the affirmation of an intelligence supported by love for reality, by an affectivity open to what is worthwhile, to what truly “is.” For a child, this is, in fragility, inevitable; therefore, “If you do not become like little children…”12 But for adults, too, it is necessary to be like children!
Immersing myself in Your great Mystery as the Risen One is a judgment; it begins as a judgment of my intelligence of reality that works in its original poverty, where it is structurally open to the positive–because loving–affirmation of reality as it presents itself and, therefore, affectively open to what is worthwhile, that is, to what truly is. Faith in the risen Christ is the supreme act of human intelligence in grasping reality with honesty and affection, lovingly affirming it. This loving affirmation of reality is the condition for which man’s intelligence becomes faith before the proposal of Christ risen. The proposal of Christ risen and the acknowledgment of faith are not the work of man, not a product of a working hypothesis of the mind, not an effort of the intellect, but rather a capacity of our intelligence in as much as–as a creature–it is a power of obedience to the Creator; it is through grace.
It is by grace that we can acknowledge Christ risen and that we can immerse ourselves in His great Mystery; it is by grace that we can acknowledge that, if Christ were not risen, everything is vanity, our faith is vain, as St. Paul said; our positive, sure, joyful affirmation is vain, vain is our message of happiness and salvation, and “you are still in your sins,”13 that is, in falsehood, in non-being, in being unable to be.
Without Christ’s Resurrection there is only one alternative: nothingness. We never think of this, and so we pass our days in that spinelessness, that pettiness, in that thoughtlessness, in that dull instinctivity, that repugnant distraction in which the “I” is dissolved. And so when we say “I,” we say it in order to affirm a thought of our own, a measure that is our own (also called “conscience”), or an instinct of our own, a desire to possess, an arrogant, illusory possession. Were it not for Christ’s Resurrection, all would be illusion, a game. Illusion is a Latin word that has the word “game” (ludum) as its root. We are being played with, tricked. We can easily look at that endless flock of people in our society; the great endless presence of people who live in our cities, the people who live near us, in our parish, in the Church, people living nearest to our homes. And we cannot deny that we ourselves experience this pettiness, this meanness, this thoughtlessness, this distraction, this total loss of the “I,” this reduction of the “I” to the relentless and arrogant affirmation of the thought that comes to us (calling it the “voice of my conscience”), or of the instinct that claims to grasp and possess a thing that it decides is pleasant, satisfying, or useful; and that everything is all illusion. Step back six feet from your house and take a look at it, look at all the people and the way they live most of the time; normally, we live like that, too. Take a look, go outside your house and take a look from six feet away, and tell me if the environment is not like this, if mankind is not like this!
That is why the Liturgy has us say, “Safeguard Your family, Lord, [Your family is all those You have called, elected and chosen] with Your constant loving care [at least You are faithful to Yourself, You who have loved us because You have chosen us; we can no longer divest ourselves of having been chosen, having been loved; we can betray You millions of times more than St. Peter, but the faithfulness of Your love is there to safeguard Your family], and support always the frailty of our existence [the Church, who continually recomposes for us Christ’s gaze, His guiding word and His loving heart, knows very well that we are fragile] with Your grace, the only foundation of our hope.”14 Your grace is the only foundation of our hope. This is the premise of faithfulness to our vocation in the concrete, banal, obtuse or repugnant circumstances in which God has placed us.
“Support always the frailty of our existence with Your grace, the only foundation of our hope.” This means that without the Mystery of Christ risen, the supreme Mystery for Christians, our faith would be vain and we would still be in our sin, that is, in a reality that is destined to dissolve and fade into that final ash, into nothingness–and all that vibrates in life and seems to excite our nerves, our desires and our thoughts, would be illusion, playing with us. There is no alternative except that between Christ risen and this illusion of life, “that hideous/ strength that, hidden, decides our common doom/ and the infinite vanity of all things,” as Leopardi says at the end of his short poem To Himself.15 There is no alternative to Christ risen, except this phrase of Leopardi.
But we are frail, and this loving affirmation of reality, with which we are created, that open affectivity to what is valuable, to true reality, as it is for a child, corrodes because of our frailty, putrefies, is filled with worms, gets blurred, and vanishes. So the Church, which brings us Christ’s message, that makes the risen Christ present for us, in which the risen Christ is present, prays in these words, “Safeguard Your family, Lord, with Your constant loving care [because we do not have a constant love], and support always the frailty of our existence.” In other words, we need to ask! Nowhere else as before the Risen Christ must we intensify our insistence on asking, on praying, on entreating (we use the word that is the essence of prayer, “entreaty”). We have never asked, and begged faithfulness to Your Resurrection, O Christ! Thus, in a recent cultural debate, we were unable to answer a producer; she found no one among us who would say, “Christ, You are risen,” or, “Christ is risen,” or, “A man has risen from the dead.” She has more human intelligence than we do, like Camus, for that matter.16 But the word to ask, to pray, to entreat, is never more decisive than it is before the Mystery of Christ risen. In order to immerse ourselves in the great Mystery, we must beg, we must entreat; our greatest wealth is entreaty. Just as the greatest intelligence is to affirm it, the richest affection is to entreat it, the most intense and most dramatic realism is to entreat it.
In any case, the instant before has gone, the following instant does not yet exist; our freedom lies in the decision of the present instant. If our freedom lies in the decision of the instant, what does our freedom possess, what is it able to create? It can only reveal itself as entreaty, for it is need for fullness, for happiness and for being. Our freedom is need; if we wish to use the biblical term, the heart is need, desire; the instant is desire. So the truth of desire is only that it become entreaty. Freedom is the original desire that becomes entreaty. In entreaty is the acknowledgment that God’s plan is positive; in entreaty lies the acknowledgment–imperfect and timidly begun–of the Mystery that is among us. “Let us walk, therefore, and sing to arouse our desire. He who desires, even if his lips are silent, sings with his heart; but he who does not desire, even though he wound men’s ears with his cries, is dumb before God, before the Mystery,” says St. Augustine.17 How can we speak this afternoon of our homes,18 if they are not the places where this desire makes the heart so sing that someone coming in hears it like an echo and (if he is a newcomer) does not understand why?
Let me read you this other comment on the Psalms by St. Augustine, even if it is rather long: “The prophet says, ‘I cried aloud with the groaning of my heart.’ There is a hidden groaning which human ears cannot catch. However, if a man’s heart is so obsessed with the thought of some longed-for object that his inward suffering is expressed very audibly, somebody will want to know the reason, and will say to himself: ‘Perhaps such and such a thing has caused his grief; perhaps this or that is the matter with him[desire expresses itself as entreaty and the entreaty, by its nature, tends to make itself heard, makes itself heard].’ Who can know, except he in whose sight and hearing the suppliant groans? The reason why the psalmist says, ‘I cried aloud with the groaning of my heart’ is that when men hear another man groaning, what they hear is often the groaning of the flesh, they do not hear the groaning of the heart. Now who has understood why he cries aloud? He goes on: ‘And all my desire is before you [immerse me in Your Mystery].’ Not indeed before men, who cannot see into the heart: but ‘before you is all my desire’ [men hear its echo, without understanding the reason for it].’ Set your desire on him [the Mystery], and the Father who sees in secret will repay you [You cannot ask, O Risen Christ, that I immerse myself in Your Mystery; give me the grace to believe in You! The Father, who sees in secret will grant my desire]. This very desire of yours is your prayer [your entreaty]. If your desire is continual, your prayer is continual, too [we understand that this is an inquiry that ends to define our life, whether it is in tension or has come to a stop, whether it is moral or immoral]. It was not for nothing that the Apostle said: ‘Pray without ceasing.’ (1Thess 5:17). Was it so that we should be continually on our knees, or prostrating our bodies or raising our hands that he says: ‘Pray without ceasing’? If that is how we say our prayers, then my opinion is that we cannot do that without ceasing. But there is another and interior way of praying without ceasing [another entreaty, an attitude of the heart], and that is the way of desire. Whatever else you are doing, if you long for that sabbath [which is the great day of Christ], you are not ceasing to pray. If you do not want to cease praying, do not cease longing. Your unceasing desire is your unceasing voice. You will lapse into silence if you lose your longing [your desire]. Who did lapse into silence? Those of whom it was said: ‘Because wickedness is multiplied, the charity of many will grow cold.’ (Mt 29:12) The coldness of charity is the heart’s silence; its growing ardor, the heart’s outcry [entreaty]. If charity is always present, you are ever crying out [always entreating]; if always crying out, you are ever longing; if longing you have not forgotten repose [“guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79)]. ‘And all my desire is before you.’ What if the desire is before him and the actual groaning is not? Would it be possible, since the groaning is merely the expression of the desire? [how can the entreaty not stand bf Him, since it is the expression of desire?] Therefore the psalmist continues: ‘And my groaning is not hidden from you.’ From you it is not hidden; from many a human being it is. Sometimes one hears a lowly servant of God crying: ‘And my groaning is not hidden from you.’ And sometimes one sees the same servant of God with a cheerful face: has that desire perished from his heart? No; if the desire is always within, so too is the groaning; it does not always come to the ears of men, but it is never absent from the ears of God [and this desire is also in a laugh].”19
What happens before the grace that makes our intelligence and our affection capable of experiencing immersion in the Mystery of Christ risen? What happens when one immerses himself in the great Mystery of Christ risen? What happens fundamentally when grace is given to us as intelligence and affection, when grace makes us believers (loving affirmation of reality, affection open to what is valuable, passing through all our frailty with unceasing desire, with an entreaty)? What “fundamentally” happens–because everything is built on the cornerstone, which is given to us by this grace–is well expressed by a word, and that word is “light.” (“Illumine the night that is advancing.”20) So let us imagine a dark, moonless night, with the stars hidden by the clouds, pitch darkness. Imagine the sun suddenly rising. Compare the two things: the world has appeared; it was not there and it has appeared, defined in its details, in the tufts of grass, in the flowers of the field, in the bird that falls–as in the Canticle at Lauds.21 The world is born in this light shed on our experience of reality, in this light that shines out, that lights up all our living, that is, our whole relationship with reality; reality is regenerated, reality is born, is regenerated. Not for nothing was Baptism given at Easter, and Baptism is “being born again,” a new birth, a “new creature,” the true protagonist of history, though He is alone and killed: Christ.
How interesting it is to read all the liturgical literature of Easter time, where the word “generate,” or “regenerate,” is continually quoted and recited. I wanted to choose a phrase that is more expressive than others: “Grant us to be renewed in Your Spirit, so as to be reborn in the light of the risen Lord.”22 “To be reborn in the light”: a human being who is born is an awareness of reality, an intelligence of reality, and a precise affection for reality, an acceptance of reality, an embrace of reality, an immersion in reality; you are immersed in reality exactly like you are immersed in the Mystery of Christ risen. So what characterizes this rebirth or this regeneration? Is there something to which we can reduce the event of this regeneration, the event of this rebirth (I am an other; I am no longer myself, but something else living in me;23 I am a new “I”) as its essential characteristic? What characterizes the new “I” is the truth of things, the truth of reality, a new intelligence of reality in its truth, a love for reality in its truth, an immersion in reality as truth, an immersion in the truth of reality.
The Easter Liturgy firstly reminds us of how we have normally been immersed or normally been too ready to be immersed in a falsehood in our intelligence and love for reality. “O God, who by the humiliation of Your Son have raised up mankind from its fall [our position before reality is a fall, my position before you is a fall, if I am not recuperated, lifted up by something other than what is in me; if I am not immersed in the Mystery of Christ risen, my position before you is a fall, so much so that you annoy me, or you are foreign to me. If I feel for you as I do, then it is thanks to something else, something that is not a pretext for understanding you and for loving you; it is because of something else that is in you and in me: your truth, I see you and love you in your truth, and I immerse myself, I collaborate and walk with you as truth, in your truth], grant us, Your faithful, a renewed Easter joy, so that, free from the oppression of our fault [This thoughtlessness is a fault; there is connivance–it is the thoughtlessness and the distraction we spoke of earlier, and this oppresses. There is not a single person who–apart from long pauses in total distraction, when one is not a man–is not oppressed, like an old man who can no longer breathe freely (I know from experience). But the problem is that a young person, that you, are like this! It can be that an old man is oppressed as far as breathing goes, but is not oppressed in his spirit and vice-versa, a young person who is oppressed in his spirit], we might share in eternal happiness.”24
And again, “O God, who have redeemed man, raising him above the ancient splendor [because man was made in splendor: the ancient splendor did not know, did not understand, the ancient splendor was able to equivocate to the point of clear, destructive fault], by the ineffable mystery of Your mercy, look on us, Your children, born to new life through Baptism, and keep safe for us always the gifts of Your grace.”25 “Bring us from the decay of sin [“decay” has an aesthetic meaning–it can be seen, something that rots; that oppression becomes decay] to the fullness of new life.”26
Allow me to look for some other passages from the Liturgy. “O God, our Father, may this sharing in the Easter Mystery of Your Son free us from the yeast of the ancient sin [a life that ferments, the fermentation of moldy bread] and transform us into creatures.”27 “All your children, thus born to new life…”28–this is the generation we spoke of before–we, your children, “freed from every fault, may we inherit the good things You have promised.”29 Free from every fault, may we inherit reality as it was promised us, that is, as it was originally made, in its original purity, in its truth. “Grant that we may receive fully the gift of salvation, so that, free from the darkness of sin [from the dark, moldy, decadent life], we may adhere always to Your word of truth.”30 “And since You have filled him with the grace of these holy mysteries, grant him to pass from his native human frailty to the new life.”31 “From his native human frailty”–the ancient splendor has been meteoric, like an ideal plan vaguely outlined, because natively man has tackled it with an interior frailty. The Lord makes us pass from this native human frailty to the new life.
There is a word that we have already used and that we now have to set at the center of the question of created reality, of the question of our creatureliness, of my creation, our creation, the creation of the whole world, as it can be born only from the rebirth that faith in the risen Christ can bring about. I’ll read a piece from Dante’s Divine Comedy:
“I well discern, How in thine intellect already shines/ The light eternal [in your heart the light eternal shines: it is need for the infinite, and dissatisfaction has this term of comparison], which to view alone/ Ne’er fails to kindle love [it makes us lovingly affirm what is of value, authentic reality]; and if aught else Your love seduces [if some other thing seduces your love: our judgment and our affection], ’tis but that it shows/ Some ill-mark’d vestige [if “aught else your love seduces,” this other thing is nothing but “some vestige,” a sign not understood in its nature, because it does not refer you to something else; there is a vanishing point in everything, through which it is in relationship with the infinite; you take it, you possess it, you think you possess it, except there where it becomes truly itself, so you tell a woman, ”I love you” and it’s a lie, or you say, “I am working,” and it’s a lie, a lie told to things, a lie told to the time you dedicate to things, a lie to the companionship and the people you serve, or should serve, with your work],/ of that primal beam [that beam inside the thing which attracts you].”32 “Whether you eat or drink, you are Christ’s; whether you wake or sleep, you are the Lord’s; whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.”33
Do we want to tear things away from what constitutes them? “All things consist in Him.”34 This man who is risen, is risen to cry to everyone, it is the cry with which the Mystery of the Trinity cries to the whole universe, to the whole world, to the whole of history that that man, the Word made flesh, is what everything consists of. If all consists of Him, do we want to tear people and things, time, space, plans, from what they consist of? Fault, decadence, falsehood, nothingness… For this reason, the Liturgy in this time says, “O great and mysterious God, who in the risen Lord brings mankind the eternal hope…”35 Everything has a vanishing point towards the infinite, the eternal, and that is what attracts you, because it is according to the measure of your heart. Do we want to establish relationships with people and things without eternal hope? If there is no eternal hope, we lose them; though we have them, we lose them; as we grasp them, we spoil them. “You who have freed us from darkness with the gift of faith,”36 illumine the night that is advancing. He has freed us from darkness with the gift of faith: it is light, not darkness; the truth, not what appears to us–the truth as it appears to the angels of God, to the heart of a child, for his sounds and his measure, but, more precisely, to the poor in spirit, to poor intelligence, as I said before.
“O God… may our hearts be fixed where true joy is.”37 It is not a matter of denying even a hair of our head; it is a matter of making true what we are living, it is a matter of affirming the intelligence of the truth, of loving the truth of affection. All this is possible only if we acknowledge the Mystery of Christ and immerse ourselves in it.
“Without doubt, the Resurrection is for Jesus Himself a new and original fact,” says Inos Biffi [identifying ourselves with that man who rises: it is a new and original fact for Him, just as it is for us], a certainly historical fact [that happened, therefore historical] and that, on the other hand, subtracted Him from the natural form of experience.” When He rose, Jesus had a new experience of humanity, in His being before people, of being in time and space, of walking and eating; it is an experience subtracted from the natural form of experience. His eating, His standing before Mary and the Apostles was not like it is for us; it was like standing before all those things while possessing the ultimate perspective, within the truth, in their truth. This being “subtracted from the natural form of experience” is what makes true our experience of relationships amongst us, of relationship with the house, relationship with things, relationship with everything. If it is not the natural form of experience, then what is it? It is the true form, it is the form of true eternal experience–because what is true is eternal: “Even a word spoken in jest has an eternal value,”38 “even the hairs on your head are numbered”39 by the eternal. The Resurrection is a “new and original fact that subtracted Him from the natural form of experience.” This “being subtracted from the natural form of experience” is called virginity. It is a relationship with a detachment inside it, which is truth of the present, a relationship where the vanishing point is not avoided, not occluded, not eliminated from consideration, not blocked by the pretension of taking everything, so that it loses everything. In the experience of the risen Christ, being subtracted from the natural form of experience goes on in history as virginity; it goes on, in the history of the man He calls, as virginity: a possession with a detachment inside it, the vanishing point still vibrant, still wounded, still open, in expectation, in supplication, and in entreaty for the Eternal.
“The Resurrection subtracted Christ from the natural form of experience–pay attention!–though leaving Him still more deeply in our history [I already said that nothing is avoided], with us until the end of the world [with the whole of reality to the last drop of blood, to the last hair]. The Risen one belongs to the heavenly world [here is the tragedy: for us, the heavenly world is an abstract world, up there, who knows where, another world, whereas we have always said that it is the truth of this world, which is the truth of you to my eyes; to my intelligence and to my heart, it is the truth of you; we can go wrong a thousand times a day against this, but it is impossible now to avoid it, it is impossible not to be faithful to the Risen Christ’s covenant with us, to our unity with Him: “I am the way”]. Christ’s Resurrection and lordship… It is a new and original fact even for the disciples. Because of the Resurrection, they begin to see Jesus and His history in a new light; they discover Him definitively in His identity [what He really is] and they accept Him without any more wavering [perhaps with betrayal, but without wavering–how paradoxical!]. Betrayal is a question of frailty, but wavering is to abandon the road], after the upset and the disquieting test of the Cross.”
I drew a comparison in the last Spiritual Exercises–and I conclude with this observation–a comparison I use often: the new experience, this being subtracted from the natural form of experience, this new form of the same experience, implies something fascinating that can be understood in terms of time and space. Time and space are the factors that allow the spirit and the consciousness to express itself and to become a visible, tangible and audible experience. Time and space are the factors that permit the consciousness to express itself, to realize itself in history, and so they are instruments of expression; if I have time, I express myself, if I have space, I express myself, where I have time and space, I express myself, I affirm myself and I become fulfilled, I fulfill myself in that moment, I fulfill my moment. But, at the very same time, in the very same situation, time and space are not only factors that permit me to express myself and fulfill myself; they are also limits that do not allow me to realize myself outside that time and that space–I am a slave, a prisoner. They are expressive factors, but in the end they imprison me, because if I am here in this moment speaking to you, I cannot be in a meeting with friends in Milan talking to them, because time and space imprison me here. The new form of experience that the risen Christ, as a man, went through, lived, lives, lives till the end of time, is that time and space are no longer a limitation, but only expressive factors. This is why He could be, at the same time, in the space of Jerusalem and in the space of Judea; in the same moment Christ can be in the Eucharist in Tokyo and in the Eucharist in Milan Cathedral. For Him, time and space are only expressive factors–this is what we will experience completely at the end of time, where everything will be expression, an expressive instrument, complete realization.
Already now, we share in the new experience that the man Christ, risen from the dead, lives till the end of time; we already begin to share in this lordship of His over time and space. This is what exalts the vocation to virginity: only in the vocation to virginity do time and space begin to be more transparent, more ductile, no more the walls or the bars of a prison. While one is studying and offers, in Christ died and risen, his moment of study for the whole world, for the poor people living in Africa or South America, his action reaches there and–he doesn’t know how–is inscribed in the time and space of the people who are imprisoned there; he lives as a prisoner there. You don’t know it, but the more you do this, the more you grow in this, the more you experience, live your human experience in this moment as experience of lordship over the world, as someone intelligent of the world’s destiny, as a lover of the world. You live more and more your moment as loving affirmation of everything, in the same way you live the relationship with those you love, and with those who annoy you, even the relationship with the burden of the day, and the relationship with the joy of something entertaining, and even the relationship with what is foreign to you and that rubs shoulders with you during the day. Even with what you do not know, but whose effects you feel, even before the wild forest, the barbarity of politics, even before Chernobyl or before AIDS, before everything you live an experience that makes you lord of everything, you share in Christ’s lordship, as consciousness of your experience, as self-awareness, as awareness of yourself in action, of yourself in experience, of yourself as you exist.
There is no alternative between Christ risen and total decay into nothingness, towards the moldering that kills, that alters and kills. There is nothing that can take away the difference between that truth and the falsehood of our relationships, the acceptance of that truth or of falsehood in our relationships. Even the most intimate and the most loved, to the last man, would leave us totally uninterested, whereas the most loved relationship becomes eternal, a possession already eternal, as Dante said, since in it shines something that you recognize, and so you embrace that which you love with a detachment inside that makes you say, “In you shines the great Other, Christ. I love you as Christ, I love Christ in you, I love you in Christ,” and it’s the same thing, with no pretending and no abstraction. Cardinal Ratzinger said, “One must not translate the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed as “resurrection from the dead” or “risen from evil,” or from sin, but “resurrection of the body,” or “risen in the flesh,” in things just as they are. And there is no longer any foreigner, even if he lives as far away as in Kamchatka or in Australia; there is no longer any foreigner, and everything belongs to me with that relief and that rest that I get from the perception of the vanishing point that is in everything and that links everything with ultimate Destiny, to the ultimate Mystery that has revealed Itself in all its power and mercy and justice in the risen Christ.
“Ex uno verbo omnia”: from one single thing comes everything, from one reality comes everything. And this single thing that everything cries out is what speaks in you, too, that coincides with the ultimate attraction that constitutes your heart. “Ex uno Verbo omnia et unum loquuntur omnia, et hoc est Principium quod et loquitur nobis.”40 Or, as Jacopone da Todi says, “Amore, amore omne cosa conclama.”41 The whole world cries out, “Love, love.”
Now, this is what we get up for every morning. It is a horizon and a destiny, an intensity of vibration; it is living and possessing, because we are possessed. This possession, this vibration and intensity, this Catholicity, this totality of relationships, which includes the Cross (possession with a detachment inside), starts off from a being possessed. What everything starts off from is being possessed by the risen Christ, “immersed in the great Mystery.” The morning is given to us for recovering this elementary, original truth of our being creatures who are called and chosen. We belong to the generation “that seeks Him, seeks Your face, O God of Jacob.”42 We are part of the history of Israel, we are part of the history of the Benedictus and before the world we are like John the Baptist: “As for you, little child, you shall be called the prophet of the Most High.”43 Prophets: our existence must speak before the world. But this is another question, a further question.
1 Acts 17:30-31.
2 Jn 17:1.
3 Acts 4:7-12.
4 1Cor 15:1-17,19-22.
5 An article written for Il Messaggero, Easter Sunday 1992, reported in Il Sabato, May 2, 1992, p. 3.
6 Editorial, Il Sabato, op. cit.
7 Cf., Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, translation of the article “Carnis Resurrectionem” of the Apostles’ Creed, December 14, 1983: Notitiae 20 (1984) 212, pp. 180-181.
8 Cf., R. Guardini, Studi su Dante, Morcelliana, Brescia, 1967, p. 231.
9 Hymn for Lauds.
10 Cf., Ps 118(117):22.
11 St. Thomas Aquinas, I Sent., d. 42. q. 2, a 2, ad 4; I-II, q. 114, a. 2.
12 Mt 18:3.
13 1 Cor 15:17.
14 5th Sunday of the Year, Ambrosian Rite, Opening Prayer.
15 Verses 14-16.
16 At a meeting on November 7, 1991, in the Milan Cultural Center, the film producer Liliana Cavani affirmed that the center of the figure of St. Paul is the cry, “Christ is risen.” She went on to say that she would be shaken if she should happen to meet a Christian who would say “Christ is risen” seriously.
17 St. Augustine, Discourses on the Psalms, Ps 86:1.
18 Here he means the “houses” of the Memores Domini.
19 St. Augustine, Discourses on the Psalms, Ps 37:13-14.
20 Vesper hymn for Easter time, “Ransomed by the Blood of the Lamb.”
21 “Canticle of the Three Children.” Cf., Dan 3: 57-88.
22 Liturgy of the Hours, Concluding Prayer for Midday Prayer, Easter Sunday.
23 Cf., Gal 2:20.
24 Liturgy of the Hours, Concluding Prayer on 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
25 Liturgy of the Hours, Concluding Prayer for Morning Prayer, 4th Thursday of Easter Time.
26 5th Sunday of Easter, Prayer after Communion.
27 Wednesday of the Easter Octave, Prayer after Communion.
28 Liturgy of the Hours, Concluding Prayer for Wednesday, 3rd Week of Easter.
30 Liturgy of the Hours, Concluding Prayer for Thursday, 3rd Week of Easter.
31 Thursday, 5th Week of Easter, Prayer after Communion.
32 Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia, Paradiso V, 7-12.
33 Cf., 1 Cor 10:31; 1 Thes 5:10; Rom 14:8.
34 Cf., Col 1:17.
35 Thursday, 6th Week of Easter , Prayer after Communion.
36 Wednesday, 5th Week of Easter, Opening Prayer.
37 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Opening Prayer.
38 Cf., Mt 12:36.
39 Cf., Mat 10:30
40 Imitation of Christ, Book One, 3, 8.
41 Jacopone da Todi, Como l’anima se lamenta con Dio de la carità superardente in lei infusa, Lauda XC, in Le Laude, Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, Firenze 1989, p. 318.
42 Ps 24 (23):6.
43 Lk 1:76.