|01-06-2006 - Traces, n.6
In the Depths
Notes from a talk by Luigi Giussani at the Memores Domini Ascension Retreat in Riva del Garda, Italy, the afternoon of May 16, 1992
The mystery of Christ risen, the fact of the Resurrection of Christ, is completed, that is, it is defined, defines itself, in two other moments, in two other events, that are the direct consequence of the original and principal event, the shaking off of death by that man who, as we have said this morning,1 began from then on a different experience from the natural one he was living before. Not because He eliminated something of what belonged to His life as man, but because another point of view, another point of departure, another gaze, another way of possessing, another goal determined His relationship with things in general; more precisely, with time and space and the destiny inherent in every thing. With the destiny inherent in every thing, with time and space–in other words, another way of conceiving and living the experience of His relationships with being, according to its full expressivity.
The first moment that something is added to the Resurrection of Christ as a clarification of it, as a completion–a step of completion, in fact, as completion in the total sense of the term–is the mystery of the Ascension into heaven.
Let us ask the Lord to enable us to get to the heart of what we have said this morning, because otherwise any further process would be more confusing and would obscure more, rather than illuminating more.
This morning, we said that heaven, the “heavenly” experience–as the text we read this morning said–is the profundity of the earth. Heaven is the profound meaning, the truth of this life here on earth, the origin of this life, the origin of existing, of being, of existence, of the substance of the journey and the destiny of the present life. What we see is the surface of things, the appearance. What we see is the appearance; the truth of the appearance goes beyond, overflows the boundaries of appearances, and makes us–but these are all comparisons–descend, go down into its profundity, to the point of touching the place where there is the mysterious origin of all things that appear to us, of things as they appear to us, and where the destiny of all things draws up, both as movement that can be experienced, and as the end defining their meaning, their eternal meaning, that for which they were created, and in which they consist and subsist.
As we have meditated several times (and perhaps it would be wise to review your notes from these other times), the mystery of the Ascension affirms that Christ, risen from the dead, has received from the Father the final completion of the great promise, the beginning of the eternal inheritance, the inheritance, the inheritance for which He was made to die: “the King of the universe” 2 He shall be called. King of the universe, Master of all; Master, Lord, King of the universe–“All peoples, clap your hands, cry to God with shouts of joy!” 3–the Lord of history.
King of the universe, Lord of history. What do these expressions mean, these words, if not that Christ has already entered into that definitive position by which He regains the original possession of things, the possession of things according to His original destiny–because all things consist in Him? And this possession of His, this possession that He regains of all the universe, of all reality, as of all history, is destined to disclose itself, manifest itself, according to the rhythms of a design, that is the design of the mystery of the Father.
This entering into possession of things, in its eternal definitiveness, is announced precisely on the day of the Ascension to heaven, and becomes the content of the message that, from that instant on, is given to the whole world, penetrating its entire history. Christ is there, in His situation of Lord of all things; He possesses them from the root, awaiting, according to the design of the will of the Father, for this to be manifested, according to a line, a journey, a flow, a main riverbed, to which the men of history who are given the eye of faith, who are called to Him, give their attention, in the sudden surprise of realizing how much time is made up of grace by now, even where the crucifixion seems still to dominate and the exclusion that places Him in the tomb still seems to be invincible.
By now, He is victorious over death, and thus, over all the forces leading to death, over all the forces of reality that do not acknowledge Him as Lord.
“You who have given them [the Apostles] the multiform riches of eternal wisdom.”4
The multiform riches of eternal wisdom: eternal wisdom, that He communicates to those He has chosen, who the Father has given into His hands, to the called, this eternal wisdom is a multiform richness, because it concerns every creature: stones, blades of grass, wildflowers, the bird that falls, and the child you hug to your breast, as exemplified in the Gospel. Here, He, Christ, dead and risen, is the Lord and Master of this eternal wisdom of multiform riches; riches that are as multiform as the face of all that is. He possesses everything, because the Father has given everything into His hands: [glorify your Son…] and, through the power over all mankind that you have given Him, let Him give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to Him5 –all men! He communicates this lordship over all things to those whom He has called, whom He has chosen, who say yes to Him, who follow Him; He communicates this eternal wisdom, according to a multiform richness that develops identifying itself with the circumstances that follow one another, with the presences that multiply. Thus, those who follow Him feel themselves plunged into the mystery of His lordship, of His kingship over all things, of His power over all things, feel themselves truly plunged into His mystery. And with the years that pass, as time goes by, following Him, the multiform riches of this wisdom become the richer, more attentive, more discrete, and more fruitful gusto of living.
Therefore, the mystery of the Ascension completes the mystery of the Resurrection, amplifies and enlarges it to all of reality, all times, all history, eternity. King of the universe, Lord of history. The multiform riches that this possession implies is communicated to those who follow Him, to those who are called, in the circumstances they live in faithfulness: “You who have given to those You have called the multiform riches of the eternal wisdom,” You, who are King of the universe, says the Liturgy. Or again, it speaks of the “eternal homeland,” the one in which Christ resides.6 The eternal homeland: reality has become His home, His dwelling place, where He is in that hiddenness that is revealed slowly, in the time decided by the Father, awaiting the day of final glory, when all will say, “Yes, we are His,” and He will judge, that is, will indicate in each being the measure of His possession; and, if the being is conscious and free, this judgment will measure the response, the acknowledgment, that this consciousness will have given him.
Our humanity, says the Liturgy, is “raised up.” “May our spirit be raised up to [Your] joy in heaven.7 Raise up: high and deep, we have always said, are equal; it is the place for which we were made, the mysterious place we were made for. But it is not a different place from the one we are in; it is the profundity; it is the heaven of this. It is the profundity. The ancients had the easier and more pleasant metaphor of heaven, while we moderns perhaps have more intensely appreciated the metaphor of the profundity, the depths, the root: destiny and root, where the rest within the truth lies, where is found the fervid and fruitful peace that generates the eternal from instant to instant. But, speaking of fervid and fruitful peace, only analogously, only imaginatively, one thinks of the eternal as something that is generated instant by instant. This life is what is generated in fervid and fruitful peace; the rest in the truth begins from our following in this life! Eternal homeland, upraised humanity, spirit that is raised up to joy: this is the participation in the mystery of Christ risen, ascended into heaven, who already is seated at the right hand of the Father, who is already at His place, and now has nothing else to conquer. He is what was destined to be from eternity: Word made flesh, heir of the entire inheritance of the Father, of all being, of all reality.
Who can make us understand these things? Who will keep these words from floating on the borders of our consciousness? Who can help us not just repeat these words, but make us say them as the expression of an initial, inchoative, but already real eternity experience? Who can make us co-participants in this possession that Christ has of the entire universe? Who can make us participate in His kingship over time and space, in His lordship over history? Who can make us understand these words, begin to make us penetrate these words? Who can “immerse us in the Mystery?” Who can immerse us in the definitive mystery of the Ascension (the definitive mystery is the Ascension of Christ: humanity has begun to gain possession of His eternal lordship over the world in the humanity of Christ; nothing can be imagined, but one can begin to comprehend; one can, if not see, then begin to glimpse)?
It is the Spirit of Christ. It is the Spirit of the Word made flesh, risen from the dead and raised up to heaven.
“It is better for you that I go, because if I go I will send you the Spirit, my Spirit, who will take everything from Me and will make you understand it.”8 It is the Spirit that introduces us to the Mystery. This is why Pentecost is the day that completes Easter, the Easter Season.
Christ’s Resurrection; Christ’s Ascension into heaven; Christ’s establishment in His eternal possession, in which He calls us to participate, thus the beginning of ours. It is His Spirit that, beginning to dominate our life–if our freedom opens its arms and says: “Come!”–molds our life according to the form it will have forever. Thus, we begin to judge, perceive, feel, look, embrace, love, use, and create according to His truth, the truth that without Him would not exist in any of our relationships, and we would let everything fall apart.
Generating Spirit, “Veni creator Spiritus,” creating Spirit, that is, generating Spirit. The new form of our life, of we who acknowledge Christ risen, thus a different experience, begins to take root in us: a different intelligence, a different affection, a different ability to use, a different way of working. Precisely the Spirit of Christ is what molds this different form in us. The Spirit of Christ: the energy with which Christ “seizes” according to a slowness to our eyes, a patience to our hearts, according to the measure with which the Father–for whom “a thousand years are as a day”9–marks the pace of the evolution of things. The Holy Spirit is the generator of the new form in us, that emerges, affirms itself, documents itself, becomes a perceivable content of our experience, becomes testimony to others, according to the will and design of the Father, but it is produced by this energy with which Christ dominates space and time, and that is His Spirit of the Risen One.
“If I don’t go, I can’t send you this Spirit.” Everything must be fulfilled, so this overwhelming actor of reality, this determiner of the destiny of all history and all the cosmos, enters into action, beginning with those who the Father has given into the hands of the Son: the called, the vocati, the elect, the chosen, that is, us.
We must read the eighth chapter of the Letter to the Romans, and also the first and second chapters of the First Letter to the Corinthians. We have to re-read these things, re-read them an infinite number of times. They are the two greatest hymns to the Spirit of Christ, Creator Spirit, who changes our life, as He changes the life of the world: through the change of our life, He changes the life of the world. He guides our life and leads the life of the world. He guides our life without letting anyone realize it; He guides the history of the world without letting anyone realize it. But in us, something is pulsing and He becomes principle of perceivable experience, principle of a new sentiment of being. “May our whole life become [through Your influence] testimony to the risen Lord.”10 In order to be testimony to the risen Lord, it must be molded according to the point of view of the Risen One, according to the truth of relationship that we spoke of this morning.
The Spirit is the one who can move our relationships, purifying them in sacrifice, the cross, to make them truer. May we, “born to new life in the waters of Baptism and animated by the one faith, express the one love in our works”11 “so that from the joys and travails of earth we may be raised up to the desire for You.”12 It is the Spirit who makes this possible.
“Grant that we may be renewed in Your Spirit, in order to be born again in the light of the risen Lord.”13 “Enable us, according to the promise, to feel Your presence among us, to the end of times.” 14 “Give us the serene trust that the entire body of the Church will unite with Christ her head in glory.” 15 It is the ever more acute perception of Christ risen and of His Mystery and the ever more majestic coming together of our unity, of the unity of all those who are called to witness to Him in the world, to testify to the risen Christ in the world.
“Immersed in the great Mystery,”16 Christ risen, the light of the world: the truth of reality appears to those who place themselves before the provocation and the message with a positive intelligence, a poor intelligence, open to the affectionate affirmation of the real, that is the terrain in which faith is exalted. The Ascension completes this Mystery: “Immersed in the great Mystery.” You cannot speak of Christ risen without speaking of Christ risen and ascended into heaven–He is risen, and has taken His definitive place. His task has been accomplished; in other words, His Lordship has begun, the splendor of His inheritance. He is at the root of all things, ready to demonstrate His possession of all things, as will happen at the end of the world, but as already appears along the journey of those who, in faithfulness, chosen, believe in Him. This fertility of the soul, this fecundity of the heart that the new vision achieves is the Spirit of Christ, the gift of Pentecost, the greatest gift of all. God’s gift to man is the Word made flesh, but it is through His Spirit, the Spirit of this man made flesh and risen from the dead, through the Spirit of this man risen from the dead, that this man risen from the dead is recognized, understood, embraced, followed, and imitated. So the Father is glorified.
Resurrection (Easter), Ascension, Pentecost: one great Mystery. “Immersed in the great Mystery.”
With a bit of patience, we want now to reflect on the modality by which the risen Christ acts, by which Christ ascended into heaven–and thus already in possession of our life and of our being as of the entire world–develops, through the energy of His Spirit, this possession of us, and changes us, provokes and changes us, molds us in a different way, urges us to become similar to Him, that is, to see things in His truth, in the truth in which He sees them, so we may build together His body, His total body, which over time is built through the contribution of each of us.
I think that this excerpt from Kierkegaard’s diary that I read at the Fraternity Spiritual Exercises17 would be good to recall again now. “The only ethical [that is, moral] relationship one can have with greatness [that is, with Christ] is contemporaneousness. A relationship with a dead person is an aesthetic [emotive] one: his past life has lost its sting, and doesn’t judge my life [of today]; it permits me to admire it or even lets me however in entirely other categories: it does not force me to change in a decisive sense.”18 The past does not act on the present: only the present acts on the present.
Now, this contemporaneousness of Christ risen, Christ ascended into heaven, the Spirit who descended from heaven–how will this contemporaneousness come about? How are we contemporaneous with Christ who rises, Christ who ascends into heaven, the Spirit who descends from there to invest the called?
This morning, I was given a passage from Seneca–Seneca!–“You have to live for another, if you want to live for yourself.”19 (How close are genius, son of the mystery of the Father, and prophecy!) “You have to live for another, if you want to live for yourself.” For another: and how can you identify this other? You can choose him; you can be the one who chooses him. But then, you choose yourself, yourself! Either you choose him–and so you choose yourself, so it is only an appearance–or he imposes himself on you. He imposes himself on you: so then, it is slavery, and you lose yourself! You live for another in such a way that you truly live for yourself, if this other is the way to your destiny. If this other is a way, a bond with your destiny, if this other is in function of your destiny, then, living for this other, you live for yourself. But our destiny is One, we know–at least, we know the word very well, and cannot substitute it: we can say it only with our voice and breath; we can not love it, but we can no longer substitute it: it is Christ. The Mystery has communicated Itself to man through a human reality that is called Christ. Thus, you have to live for Christ, if you want to live for yourself!
But the law of Mystery, we have seen, goes beyond this first and decisive formulation. The law of Mystery is formulated through a human reality that is called Christ (Christ risen, ascended into heaven, who sends His Spirit). The law of Mystery goes beyond this first and decisive formulation. Christ, in fact, to complete His work, the one set by the Father, according to the design of the Father, utilizes the same method that the mystery of the Father has chosen to communicate Himself to man and the world. The mystery the Father has chosen to communicate Himself to man and the world, to make Himself present through an integrally human reality is Christ. Christ chooses the same method: He makes Himself present, contemporaneous, through a human reality, integrally human, made however of men and of all that interests men, that is, made up of everything–it is called Church. A small company of men two thousand years ago, a great companionship of men now, but precise in its boundaries.
Precise in its boundaries: “All baptized in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus [one person only, called Christ].20
Small or big companionship of men, precise in its boundaries. Mystery, destiny, communicates itself to man through a flesh, through a reality of time and space, according to a physical modality of things, according to precise circumstances that maintain all the fragility and apparent futility of natural circumstances, just as the eyes of the Pharisees saw Christ, His family, what He did, what He said. Faith is the name for the recognition of this method, because it is man’s intelligence that recognizes, in the particular appearance, a great presence. In the natural particular appearance, it’s a matter of recognizing the great presence of the origin, of the ultimate substance (“Everything consists in Him”21), of destiny.
But the observation is not complete. “May the memorial of Easter–says the Liturgy–always build us up in the bond of Your charity.” 22 Build us up: make one a stone next to another for a construction, for a temple, so that our lives become the great temple where the glory of Christ, and through Him, the glory of the Father, where the Spirit makes His voice resound and His light radiate. “May the memorial of Easter always build us up in the bond of your charity.” This indicates, in an interesting way, the movement that happens.
There is an analogy, however, and without it everything we have said so far remains abstract; even what we have said about the Church remains abstract. We have underlined that the Mystery communicates Itself to man through a flesh, through a reality of time and space, according to a physical modality of things, according to precise circumstances, that seize the person tightly. If it doesn’t become a precise circumstance close to me, the great mystery of Christ remains vain and at the mercy of my interpretation, my sentiment, my caprice, my self-affirmation. Then you don’t live for another in such a way that you live for yourself: you live for yourself and so you don’t live truly. If in the appearance naturally determined by these physical circumstances–by these precise circumstances that maintain the fragility and apparent futility and apparent ambiguity of natural circumstances–if we do not live this appearance in the spirit of faith, if the spirit of faith does not make us live this naturally determined appearance next to us, if the Church does not become the companionship next to us (how many times have we had to repeat this, we’re together because we’ve repeated it; it isn’t true that many, many among us take it seriously; rather, I’m amazed, you can even meet intelligent people who don’t understand it), if the mystery of the Church is not identified with precise circumstances, according to an analogy that continues the analogy that Christ used to prolong the method of the Father…Christ “copied” the analogy, prolonged, analogously, the Father’s method, the method with which He chose Him; and then He chose a humanity to continue in the world, to testify in the world to his possession of the world, His ascension to heaven; He chose a humanity: it is the Church in her true, ultimate boundaries. But if she doesn’t live, doesn’t subsist, doesn’t determine; if she doesn’t become the motive for which you act, the criterion by which you judge, the reason for your affection, the source of your affection, the destiny of your sacrifice, in a companionship, in the companionship in which this Church becomes close to you, through the vocational passage, through the passage of a destination set by Christ through so many things that happened in your life; if the Church does not become this companionship that seizes your hours and days tightly, a companionship for which you must die, like Christ died for His Church, a companionship in which you learn the truth, whose criteria enable you to learn the truth; a companionship you follow, and in doing so, journey the road of your life; if you do not learn this, then you deceive yourself, you scandalize others, and, above all, you scandalize yourself terribly, and you will pay for it.
In other words, the vocational companionship is the dynamic and energetic terminus of the provocation that the risen Christ gives your life so that it may be true, that Christ ascended into heaven gives your life, through the invasion of His Spirit, so that your life may be holy, faithful to destiny, holy. The vocational companionship, we know well, is that which subsists, that emerges perceptibly as the precise circumstance in that vocational companionship that fell to your lot, that is, by God’s will, Christ’s will; and it subsists, to be precise, in the companionship of the house. If this isn’t the terminus of Christ’s provocation, if this isn’t the point where it ends up, then the change that saves you will never begin. The truth that illuminates you and the love that makes you fruitful will never begin.
The house. “In this place,” says a sign Fr. Manuel put up at the base of the stairs in his house, “nothing is against us, not even ourselves.” The house is the place where everything is for your destiny; it is “the other,” living for whom you go, you walk, toward your destiny, notwithstanding yourself–not even you against yourself, because even your evil, your sin (the most painful word) becomes pain, is bumped up against, is provoked, so much so as to become pain and no longer define you; you are no longer defined by your evil, by your sin. “In this place, nothing is against us, not even ourselves.” Everything is for us, people and things. “Not even ourselves,” because not even our own sin is against us. But then it is a place [of coexistence] that is eminently “in connivance” with your destiny. “Connivance”: consciousness of your destiny “with” you, on your side, and a will for your destiny “with” you, and help toward your destiny, given to you.
“Here is the place where one becomes a novice,” said Péguy, “and this old head and its flickers and arms hardened by governments [by imposed ways of doing things, through our instinct and our choices, by the common mentality], the only place where everything is an accomplice [conniving, where everything becomes charity; even inanimate things are made to become charity by the use that your conscience makes of them with your hands, with the only place where everything is an accomplice],”23 conniving with your destiny.
Let’s recall the things that are most necessary so that this life in the house may be an accomplice to our destiny, so that in it everything becomes an accomplice for our destiny.
A seventeen-year-old young man wrote me, “I want to live this life heart and soul; I want to go to the heart of the matter in every thing I do. I want to know the reasons. This week, we didn’t even have School of Community, which for me is the only point of comparison, because it’s not enough for me to do [the rule in the organizational meaning of the term is not enough for me: at home I am impeccable, but my heart is light years away, even though this doing is nice, because it leaves an order, creates an order, serves for an order]; this doing is not enough for me.” The consciousness of the motives, the consciousness of the values, the consciousness of the truth involved: this is the first condition for living a house, so the house can be the place where nothing is against us, not even ourselves. The consciousness of motives, reasons, the realization of the truth of my life there… “Otherwise, if I don’t realize this, it’s better if I go. Maybe another situation…” No. I tell you, another situation would not enable you to understand; another situation would make you flee.
We have to be careful–as I also warned the older ones of the Fraternity–of three great obstacles to developing this consciousness of the truth in the house, and to edifying each other in charity. Charity among us, this complicity that becomes help for walking toward destiny, can be impeded above all by three things, three attitudes.
The first I call neglect of the “I.” The neglect of the “I,” the “I” by which when you say “you,” you say “my,” because you don’t say anything seriously if not saying “this is in relationship to my destiny, and thus it is “mine.” “Man cannot expel from his consciousness the word ‘mine’”–because his destiny is linked to it–when you say “you” to a person or a thing, analogously you say “my”: it is a relationship with destiny. Neglect of the “I” is the same as neglect for the thought of your destiny, then the other, the “you” given to the other or given to the thing, either makes you a slave of it, superficial with it, or it pushes you to be the master of it. “Man cannot expel from his consciousness the word ‘mine.’ This is the word that erases solitude [while neglect of the “I” lets solitude invade our lives].” These are the words of John Paul II, in his Rays of Paternity.24
The second obstacle is the affirmation of the “I,” the ruthless affirmation of your own individuality, the self-centered affirmation of yourself. A psychologist wrote, “Those who are centered on their own consciousness, on themselves, on their own goodness or intelligence, on their anxiety or persuasion of being right, end up no longer perceiving reality in its complexity [that is, in its truth: all the factors in play], in its inexhaustible alterity [in its inexhaustible alterity, because there is a vanishing point in the reality in which God has placed you, the vanishing point that is the relationship with Himself: at least this escapes you]. Thus, the only enthusiasm they can experience in life is that of being right or doing what they want; certainly not surprise at what happens, at reality that speaks to the person [because of the emergence of a newness that provokes you]. Saint Thomas Aquinas explained it lucidly in his Summa Theologica where he said that ‘the proud, while they delight in their own excellence [that is, being right or feeling right] are annoyed by the excellence of the truth.’ The greatest sign is unease, rage, and at least extraneousness, before authority”.
The third obstacle to everything in the house being an accomplice for our destiny is described by Péguy in these pages: “Honest people [those who indeed do not act like others; but ‘I don’t act like the others’ is the way the Pharisee spoke] do not present that opening produced by a hideous wound [they are closed], by an unforgettable misery, by an invincible regret, by suture point eternally ill bound, by a mortal restlessness, by an invisible and hidden anxiousness, by a secret bitterness, by a perpetually disguised fall, by a scar that is eternally unhealed. They do not present [that is] that openness to grace that is essentially sin… Morality [our justice] makes us owners of our poor virtues. Grace gives us a family and a race [a family is a companionship]. Grace makes us children of God and brothers of Jesus Christ [in the vocation that is given us].”25
A section of the Liturgy says this: “O God, make us bear fruit of eternal life for the salvation of the world, since You grant us the joy of being only one thing in Christ the Lord.” 26 The fecundity of the Spirit, the miracle of Pentecost, is the unity among believers in Christ, is the consciousness of their unity, is the acknowledgment of an inseparable unity. It is through the witness of this unity that the world will convert (as it says in Traces of a Christian Experience, first appendix).27
“Make us bear fruit of eternal life for the salvation of the world, since You grant us the joy of being only one thing in Christ the Lord.” We bear witness for one thing alone: being one thing only, that we are only one thing. Now, all that has been given us–the immersion in the Mystery, the grace of knowing the mystery of Christ risen and ascended into heaven, the grace of the Spirit–is so that we, through the unity among us, may become salvation for the world. In fact, Pentecost is the feast of mission. For the world, propter nos homines, for us men, He suffered and died on the cross. For all men we suffer, we go up on the cross of our unity, of our fraternal charity; of the fraternal charity where the “you” is as precious as the word “Christ” and is as precious as the word “God.” It is through the unity among us that we can be witnesses to the world. Any breach among us scandalizes the world.
The salvation of the world: our task is to challenge present humanity with the image of another humanity. This challenge happens as we already begin this new humanity in the terms of the vocation given. A new humanity in the terms of the vocation given lies in, consists of the unity among us, seeing which, the world converts. It is false that they convert outside the experience of this vision of unity among us. It is false. You deceive yourself if you say, “They follow me.” Ah, yes, they follow you, separated from everything: they don’t go to Christ! They go to Christ when they bump into your capacity for unity, formulated according to the circumstances into which God has put you. If they catch you speaking ill of those you live with, they don’t believe you any more, even if they had always been at your side.
“O God, make us bear fruit of eternal life for the salvation of the world, since You grant us the joy of being only one thing in Christ the Lord.” I am very grateful to the person who gave me this line, which I don’t remember ever having read. We have to create a new humanity. The new humanity begins, is already beginning, is already flowering in our small companionship, in our house. Let’s remove every obstacle, so that the symptoms of this unity may be very clear, as the Liturgy of this period, the Easter Liturgy, invites us to meditate.
Two principal characteristics mark this unity among Christians. As Seneca said, there are two characteristics of the life of the individual, “You have to live for another, if you want to live for yourself”; two characteristics qualify your life as you live unity with those GodGod, not you, chose themchose for you.
First of all, joy. This is the word that underpins the entire discourse of this liturgical time. Scores and scores and scores of times–if you read the Liturgy after Easter, of Ascension and Pentecost–a hundred times, there is the word “joy,” the word “gladness,” “perennial gladness.” It’s the thing that is best seen, or better, it’s the thing that is best glimpsed. Even in a rage, even in a moment of mournfulness, of melancholy, even in a moment of error, even in sin, knocking on the door, pressing at the door is the Christ of joy, the Christ of perennial gladness, the gladness hovering over our heart. Joy. There cannot be fecundity, creativity, edification, and thus there cannot even be a dilation of our unity, of our friendship, except in joy. It is only in joy that one creates. The Holy Spirit, in fact, is the Spirit of joy, and from this comes the perennial gladness called peace.
The second characteristic of the personality that does for another, and thus does for itself, for its destiny, that says “my” by saying “you” to anyone and anything, is freedom. Remember that freedom is not “from” but “for.” Freedom makes you bond; it is a tie. The more a person is rich in freedom, the more he has bonds that enrich him. It is adherence; it is affection.
Perhaps an indicative point of this freedom (not always kept in mind, in fact, almost never thought of) could be called “discretion.” When you really love with freedom, you bond freely to another; saying “you;” you say it with a veneration, with a yard–or half a yard, or a few inches–of detachment, which is truly inherent to virginity: possession with detachment within. The word “discretion” expresses this distance, which enables one to see and embrace the totality of the other to the point of his destiny, which is mine, and thus makes me affirm the unity with the other exhaustively; the more you love the other, the more you venerate him, the more you are discreet. Discretion is the attitude you must assume toward a freedom; but it is the work of my freedom that makes me discreet toward the freedom of the other.
Part of this discretion is the order of the common times and things. The order of the common times and things is part of discretion; it is generated by discretion. The ability to be tacit, that is subdued, that is, the climate of silence–climate, not silence–the climate of silence marks a space where your “you” is a felt presence, so I don’t yell for myself, I don’t do anything on my own behalf. What I do, I do with gentleness and with attention, discretion, order. Ability to be subdued, readiness in intervening, promptness in serving: this is like the cement that binds together two bricks, two stones, and more stones.
What would you say if you were in a house where a person, arriving late for lunch, heard another say, “You surely don’t expect we’re here in this house to serve each other!”? What would you say? These things are not said if they don’t represent a habitual heart, if they don’t represent something continual, an ultimately continual extraneousness. But I won’t give in to the temptation, that I would have had, to give you a detailed list of the symptoms of a disorder, because what we have spoken about, instead, is an order, a new order–the kind of order that a friend of ours who invited a university student from (such and such) a community and then gave her a ride home, was told, as they said goodbye, “How beautiful it is to think that in Milan there is a house like yours, made up of people like you. Now I understand that I have to return to the day of my wedding, and I have to return to my community with more peacefulness; to my community, where nobody seems to desire anything, where it seems like they all desire nothing, where nobody seems to desire anything.” And when you enter in a Memores Domini house and nobody seems to desire anything? There is no order, there is not an order, because order is life; it is motion; it is discretion; it is cleanliness; it is silence; it is service; it is readiness; it is a “you” that is “mine,” because his destiny is mine, and all together we are one thing alone, so that the world may see. “May they be one … so that the world may believe it was You who sent Me.” 28
The same person was invited again to that house, I think, and leaving, confirmed the previous impression: “What most struck me this time is the totalizing attitude you have: that this life of yours engages you totally.” The friend, driving her home, probably, went out that evening as usual, but the impression her friend had was precious: “Totalizing, the relationship among you at home is totalizing.” Not something that stops, that halts, but something that totalizes; this is the opposite of stopping or closure. Something totalizing opens wide to everything. You can’t throw wide open your entire “I” to a you, if you don’t throw wide open the whole “I” to the totality of the world, that is, to Christ; to the totality of the meaning of the world, that is, to Christ. You are not open to the you, if you are not open to Christ. Thus we said this morning that your relationship of friendship and of love isn’t true if it does not represent a new experience that participates in the new experience that Christ had as a man when He rose.
May our houses be “in tension toward;” may they have an atmosphere that is fully intense, full of mutual understanding, because they are full of intention. Only when each person is full of intentionality is there a mutual understanding among all those present–and it represents the great Presence; it represents a unity that moves whoever sees it and, most of all, those who are there. His whole existence, the totality of his own “I” and his existing, is in communion with the totality of the other, with the totality of all.
Totalizing: it is another life. Otherwise, it is a thing inside the life of all, a different thing within the life of all. Christ risen is another thing. Perhaps nothing expresses this better than prayer together. But if prayer together is not the sigh for one’s own sin, humiliation for one’s own pride, for one’s own haughtiness, renunciation of one’s own haughtiness and loving attention for one’s own “I,” that is the subject of every relationship, because the other in every relationship has the same destiny as one’s own “I”… It is a new life, whole. And, in fact, it cannot be broken; it can fall a thousand times, and so then it is an inconsistency, but a thousand inconsistencies do not make a step of betrayal, of forgetfulness, and of rejection.
To conclude, before reading together Saint Augustine’s great prayer, I want to read (and I’d like to thank very much the person who sent this to me) this letter by Rose Akumu, our Ugandan friend who died a few days ago. She wrote it on May 3rd. Suffering from AIDS, she wrote to our Rose (she too is named Rose): “Hello from me and all the friends. How did your Easter go? Here everybody’s well, except for me. I’m still very sick, but I’m living this with joy and happiness, and I continue to offer myself in every instant [totalizing]. How is Fr. Giussani? I am still praying for him and for all the friends of the house and for the Movement all over the world. Palma is doing well too; we still live together. I haven’t been doing great in the last few days. They had to put me on intravenous feeding. This morning I had a lot of diarrhea and I vomited a lot, and they took out the i.v. Things are getting difficult, but there is still a great beauty in facing this, because He knows what is best for me and He only wants the circumstances of this sickness to be a real transformation for me and for the people who are close to me. I am happy about this, because something is coming out that is so great that even through the pain and weakness there is an inevitable promise made by Him to me and everyone: ‘I am with you always.’ I’m not ashamed of my situation, not even the times I can’t manage to go to the bathroom. In this, too, there is the constant reminder of the fact that the Word became flesh; it is my destiny; He is leading me, and who am I to complain? By myself, I can’t give myself happiness. Not even the toil of enduring this worries me, because He calls me to live it completely with Him and in Him. Sometimes when Fr. Tiboni comes, he jokes and tells me to go digging or to a disco. These jokes make me feel completely immersed in the Mystery I have encountered, because I see that I am accepted for what I am. And I am happy that when the friends come to visit me they don’t speak of my sickness but chatter freely and laugh a lot. I am accepted for who I am: weak, always in bed. Nobody is worried because they know the most important thing is not my sickness, but sharing the encounter we have had. Give my greetings to all the friends. I remember each of you in my prayers.” On May 13th, ten days later, she died.
“Nobody is worried because they know the most important thing is not my sickness, but sharing the encounter we have had.” The most important thing is not your judgment, but sharing the encounter you have had; the most important thing is not doing what you very well think or feel, or your way of feeling or what you judge or what your conscience tells you or dictates to you or demands, but sharing the encounter you have had. This is a different world; this is the beginning of a different humanity. It is a usual humanity that makes you affirm what you think, that makes you affirm what you feel, that makes you affirm the instinct you feel, that makes you affirm what you very well think or feel, that makes you affirm according to your conscience. That is a usual humanity. This is a different humanity: there is another presence here inside, the presence of Christ risen and ascended into heaven, who from the root already possesses all things and is awaiting the final glory, living the joy of the glory present that we–we!–give Him, we, the called, give Him, if we live the unity in which we acknowledge Him.
Let’s rise and listen to what Saint Augustine says: “O God, Founder of the universe, help me, that, first of all, I may pray aright; and next, that I may act as one worthy to be heard by Thee; and finally, set me free [that is, make me adhere to the truth]… God, whom to abandon is to perish, whom to long for is to love; whom to see is to possess [that is, as if already possessing Him]… God, through whom we discern that certain things we had deemed essential to ourselves are truly foreign to us, while those we had deemed foreign to us are essential;… God, through whom our better part is not subject to our worst [God, through whom our better part is not subject to our worst: it is called Christ risen and ascended into heaven]; … God, who hast made man after Thine own image and likeness, which he who knows himself discovers…God, who is loved by all that which can love [whether it knows it or doesn’t know it] … Hear, hear, hear me, in that way of Thine, best known to few!”29 [Few understand, have experienced how You always answer, as You said in the Gospel; few understand that question as prayer is the one adequate expression of poor humanity that is in man, of the poor intelligence, of the poor affection, of the poor heart that is in man.]
“Hear me, in that way of Thine, best known to few!” This line expresses almost a sad pessimism, sad with the pain for Christ unknown: “Hear me, in that way of Thine, best known to few!”
1 The reference is to the morning lesson. Cf. L. Giussani, “The Risen Christ, the Defeat of Nothingness,” in Traces n. 4 - 2006, pp. 1-12.
2 Solemnity of the Ascension, Preface in the Ambrosian Rite.
3 Cf. Psalm 47 (46): 2.
4 Saturday of the VI Week of Easter, Opening Prayer.
5 Cf. Jn 17:2.
6 “Omnipotent and merciful God, you who let your Church pilgrim on the earth taste the divine mysteries, arouse in us the desire for the eternal homeland, where you raised up the man next to you in glory” (Solemnity of the Ascension, Prayer after Communion).
7 “Accept, Lord, the sacrifice we offer you in the wonderful ascension of Your Son, and by this holy exchange of gifts, raise our spirit to the joy of heaven” (Solemnity of the Ascension, Prayer over the Gifts).
8 Cf. Jn 16: 7-14.
9 Cf. 2 Pt 3:8.
10 Saturday of the VII Week of Easter, Opening Prayer.
11 Thursday, in the Octave of Easter, Opening Prayer.
12 Friday, in the Octave of Easter, Prayer over the Gifts.
13 Easter Sunday, Opening Prayer.
14 VII Sunday of Easter, Opening Prayer.
15 Ibid., Prayer after Communion.
16 Lauds Hymn in Ordinary Time (Vitorchiano Trappist nuns).
17 Cf. Fraternity Exercises, Notes from the Meditations, suppl. to Cl-Litterae Communionis, no. 6, 1992, p. 40.
18 Cf. S. Kierkegaard, Diary, Bur, Milan, 1988, p. 348.
19 Cf. Lucio Anneo Seneca, Letter to Lucilio, Bur, Milan, 1989, p. 296.
20 Gal 3:27-28.
21 Cf. Jn 1:3.
22 Saturday of the IV Week of Easter, Prayer after Communion.
23 Cf. C. Péguy, Preghiera di residenza, in Lui è qui, Bur, Milan, 1997, p. 390.
24 K. Wojtyla, Raggi di paternità, in Tutte le opere poetiche, Bompiani, Milan, 2001, p. 959.
25 C. Péguy, Nota congiunta su Cartesio e la filosofia cartesiana, Bur, Milan, 1997, pp. 474-475.
26 “O God, who have made us participants in the one bread and the one cup, may we, united with Christ in one body, bear with joy the fruits of eternal life for the salvation of the world” (V Sunday of Ordinary Time, Prayer after Communion).
27 Prayer in L. Giussani, Il cammino al vero è un’esperienza, Sei, Torino, 1995, p. 80.
28 Cf. Jn 17:21.
29 Cf. Saint Augustine, Soliloquies, I:1-4 (translation by Rose Elizabeth Cleveland, 1910).