01-07-2006 - Traces, n.7

The Heart

The Response
to a Human

Being Christians means living more, with no aspect or desire of man censured. Presented here, Giancarlo Cesana’s talk at the Second World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, at Rocca di Papa, Italy, on May 31, 2006

by Giancarlo Cesana

In order to approach the theme of beauty–especially the educative problem about the way in which, encountering beauty, one encounters Christ–I’ll start from an aspect that characterized our Movement at its beginning. Student Youth [GS] was born in the high schools, and originally it was the only group as far as I know that was mixed, that is, the only group where young men and young women were together. At the time, there was a certain fear of sex, and so there was a tendency to keep the males and females separate. Someone complained to Fr. Giussani about the danger of this particular characteristic of his educative approach, and he responded more or less in this way: “If you keep men and women separate in church, as they once did–men on the right-side pews, women on the left–after a while you’ll note that many, especially young people, will constantly look at the opposite side, unless in the pulpit there is a stronger, more fascinating, more convincing proposal. Then, everyone will look ahead.” The problem of Christianity addressed by Giussani is thus described, in the sense that being Christians is not being like all the others, acting like all the others, but a step behind.
Instead, being Christian is being more. It is living more. In the beauty of Christ, in beauty as the evidence of truth and goodness, Fr. Giussani invested everything, forcing us too to look ahead, not to look aside. It is the challenge of the Christian proposal, because emphasizing the importance of beauty means facing up to and engaging in a personal comparison with desire, inasmuch as beauty arouses desire, which is the most “dangerous” aspect of the human experience, in that it is the least controllable.

How great is God
In man’s desire, in all of man’s desires, there is an ultimate tension toward the Infinite, toward God. You look at Christ because you are following this ultimate tension toward God. Fr. Giussani always stressed, especially as a critique of a certain spiritual direction that was too preoccupied with behavior, that the problem of God is not a moral one, but is the response to a human need that is as strong as hunger, thirst, or the sex drive; the problem of God is a fundamental need. So man cannot live without beauty. I’ll explain better with an episode Fr. Giussani liked to recount. When he was a boy, he used to go to Mass early in the morning with his mother and, one morning, looking at the only star in the clear sky, his mother said, “How beautiful is the world, and how great is God.” How beautiful is the world: beauty, the aesthetic principle. How great is God: the world has been given to me. It means that you can’t live the realization of desire except through sacrifice.
When desire is not fulfilled, it’s not a sacrifice, it’s a misfortune. The challenge is when desire is fulfilled: when the woman you love loves you too. This is where there must be sacrifice, that is, virginity: the acknowledgment of the presence of another who has been given to you, who is not yours, with whom you can’t do whatever you want. Fr. Giussani put our desires to the test, having us face up to and compare ourselves against such a profoundly human and modern problem because, in general, aesthetizing, you never take into consideration the relationship between beauty and desire. Beauty is the thing that enables consciousness to become affective, to become attached; in order to take this educative approach, Fr. Giussani had to accept a very strong affective involvement, that is, he had to rebuild and build the experience of friendship. Man encounters God when he understands that God loves him.

“The only theologians
who interest me are the saints”

The Pope’s encyclical says, “God loves man,” and He loves him with an elective love, not a generic one. God does not love man in general: He loves me, and the way I can realize this is through a friendship that testifies it to me. The Pope says it again, “There need to be men who make God credible, but not credible to others, credible to me.” I was truly impressed by a von Balthasar quote cited by Cardinal Schönborn: “The only theologians who interest me are the saints.” The saints are the real people, the fulfilled people, the people who demonstrate this correspondence, this friendship with God and with me; between God and me. This is precisely a characteristic of our Movement from the educative point of view, best described with the words of Professor Nikolaus Lobkowicz, Director of the Central Institute of Studies on Eastern Europe, at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, in his preface to The Risk of Education by Fr. Giussani: “It is not by chance that friendship is one of the virtues that the Movement founded by Fr. Giussani exercises most joyously, a friendship that touches whoever is encountered on the road and that is not lessened even if the friend takes roads that cannot be approved.” Or when your friend is no longer what you want; when your wife is no longer the way you want her, because when you get married, too, the first challenge with your wife is to be friends, that is, to share your destiny–not just convenience, not just liking, not just attraction, but destiny, the goal of life. In such a relationship, you become interested in everything and you begin to understand–I’m coming to understand it ever more–what St. Paul said (Fr. Giussani said that this was the most beautiful definition of culture he had ever heard): “Test everything, retain what is good” (1 Thes 5:21).

Gold in the mud
If you visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York, gradually as you go up from floor to floor, what strikes you is not that God is no longer there, because in modern art you can take this for granted, but that man is no longer present. So what does St. Paul encourage us to do? To be constructive, to know how to appreciate beauty, which is the true value of critique, which allows the gold to emerge from the mud. If you live friendship in this way, you become interested in everything. I often use this example: A young man falls in love with a girl, and she says ‘yes.’ Even though he has an awful, difficult job, working on an assembly line, the day after the girl tells him that she loves him, the world becomes something different, his world becomes something different. It’s not a subjective fact; it’s objective, because he is loved, and it’s not just an opinion of his. When something like this happens, you also are interested in everything. I would like to say it again in the words of Fr. Divo Barsotti, who recently died: “I need the whole world. The whole world has to be integrated in me; I need to get close to everything, to nourish myself from everything, so that in me everything can become Christian.”
You understand that you need everything, that the dimension of man is this need for everything, and everything is precisely the Infinite. Not a lot of things together, but everything. It is the opposite of an intellectual aesthetic, in which that which pleases is only that which you think.