01-09-2006 - Traces, n.8

From Utopia to Presence

and Authority

The key words of the turning point of the Movement in 1976 rang again at the presentation of Fr. Giussani’s latest book, which was the closing presentation of the Meeting in Rimini.
Present at the table were Professor Weiler: “Reading Fr. Giussani, I understood what Event means for us Jews;” Italian Minister Bersani: “I found incredible the concentration and the force with which the theme of presence is shown to be essential;” and Cesana: “An instant before everything, there is Christ”

by Roberto Fontolan

The appointment was in a conference room where we arrived in little groups, breezily and light-heartedly, for an after-dinner discussion–“Yeah, but it’s an after-dinner gathering so, come on, it won’t be so long, and afterwards we can go out for a drink.” He was waiting for us restlessly and immediately attacked us, breaking up the empty chatter of those who have just settled down in the cinema seats and are waiting for the show to start. “There’s a veil of extraneousness among us.” His words were sharp, baleful thunders. A hailstorm. Someone attempted a timid resistance, “But… really… maybe it isn’t…” but was steamrolled, and us with him. The dikes caved in; the transparency of his gaze and his judgment proved irresistible. It was a muggy evening during a vacation in Campitello di Fassa, in the summer of 1975. Just Fr. Giussani and the Milanese university students, a prologue to the season of the famous “CLU Equipes.” A veil of extraneousness…
With this thought, I entered the big conference room of the Meeting to listen to the presentation of the book collecting the texts of those encounters, the annals of a generation that today is in its fifties, and that remains indissolubly, eternally bound to that season of life. The little or the much that we have learned about Jesus and the faith, about ourselves, those existential truths that in the roaring and marvelous years of high school had enraptured our adolescence–the years of the “community”–we owe to evenings and days like those.
There was a strength, a power that conquered the two authoritative “external” readers of the book Dall’utopia alla Presenza [From Utopia to Presence] (1975-1978), BUR invited to speak in Rimini. It was the closing encounter of the week; the people of the Meeting had already packed its bags, and the volunteers were trembling to begin the fearful work of taking down everything. But when Emilia Smurro introduced the guests, everything, “everything,” was concentrated on the big table. We prepared ourselves to listen, full of friendship and interest.
The two were a curious match. Joseph Weiler is a practicing Jew, a highly regarded scholar of International Law, a professor at New York University, and an American. The fact that he is a practicing Jew was not without impact because, to honor the Sabbath, he was present but did not speak live, using instead a video recorded the day before. A curious situation, which he genially joked about ironically, and genially explained very, very seriously. Then there was Pierluigi Bersani, “a Communist!” Berlusconi would say, an important minister of the Prodi government, who had already been present at other editions of the Meeting, and who as a young man had been a student of philosophy and theology. The fact that he is a former Communist (and, in any case, reformed, reforming, and reformist) is just as noteworthy, since the thunderous applause that welcomed him annihilated the mid-August little tizzy of controversy about his presence, as well as the jeremiads of the week on the insulting whistles against the center-left politicians.

Joseph Weiler
Full Professor, International Law
New York University

As Dr. Weiler sat mute before the microphone, his message recorded the day before began with a Fr. Giussani who was “essential, acidic, aggressive, enthusiastic, combative, and serene.” This was how Weiler saw him in the book. He also saw him this way for himself, grasping Giussani’s innovative importance for his own thought as a practicing Jew, in, for example, the idea of Event. For Weiler, the Event is Mount Sinai, and the set of precepts to observe (he had some tongue-in-cheek references to himself on this point) is the memory of Mount Sinai every day, of the Mount Sinai of every day. He understood all this by reading Fr. Giussani. Why respect the Sabbath and eat kosher? Because they are the permanent memory of the Sinai-Event. Then, Heart, Verification, Change... The powerful words at the center of those dialogues with students struck the intellectual Weiler, who was deeply affected by one of the legendary slogans of the era (we could define it as an “ever-current classic”): “The first politics is living.” Life is everywhere, Weiler added, moved. What about the passage from utopia to presence, the path of the Giussanian revolution? The professor grasped it as follows: “Being pro-life does not mean promoting a policy for the family, or developing programs for the family–this too, of course, but as a consequence. It means, in reality, loving life, creating life.” And to confirm the concept, on the screen appear the photos of the beautiful Weiler family, “dynamic, chaotic, quarrelsome, and loving, like all families.”

Pierluigi Bersani

Italian Minister for Economic

“I come to you just as I am, as someone who, unfortunately, did not meet Fr. Giussani personally. I read these pages as a journey toward Christianity, led by the hand by a great reformer.” The Minister noted in the text-journey three characteristics: the will to go to the heart of things (“it is the real report of an urgent and scathing debate, the moderator of which is never content”), the absolute concentration on fact, and the idea that presence comes before initiative. As if he had attended the most recent CL Fraternity Exercises, in which Fr. Carrón, quoting Péguy and Graham Greene, spoke of the “elimination of the present,” Bersani said that the Movement pitted itself against the fundamental “cultural” passage of the era begun in 1968, “dumping” the present into the future, a dumping that takes form in political research and in ideology. Having been present at Fr. Giussani’s funeral, Bersani recalled Fr. Carrón’s words: “Faith flowers at the apex of reason.” Bersani offered a great many suggestions and points of departure for discussion, from the meaning of the university years to the limits of politics, from the critique of utopia to the formation of authority (“a book that sociologists should study in depth”). In his very passionate conclusion, he said, “Let those of you who have found, continue to look; and those of you who are certain of their identity, continue to walk with curiosity and wonder;” and, “We are called to make ourselves a little more a people, to love each other a little more.”

Giancarlo Cesana
Professor of Occupational Medicine
University of Milan (Bicocca)

The man who for so long accompanied, followed, and loved Fr. Giussani, right from the beginning of those years, gives a little start at the memory of a man who never let you be comfortable. “An instant before everything, there’s Christ, but you don’t give a fig.” “With this sentence,” recounted Cesana, Fr. Giussani changed my perception of the proposal of the Movement, and of myself.”
Giussani based this reform on three words. The first: presence. “In 1976, he said, ‘A presence, a life, what we are, cannot be reactive, cannot justify itself because it is the response to someone else; it has to be original; that is, it has to have value in and of itself.’ We were totally absorbed in the need to demonstrate to others that we, too, were capable of doing liberation. This was killing us. And he said, ‘What is faith? Faith is recognizing the presence of the liberation of life, of the salvation of everything. Christ before everything.’ This presence two thousand years ago had the face of that man, Jesus Christ. Today, it has the face of our unity, which is our Sinai, the surprise of the revelation of God.”
The second word: judgment. “When are we protagonists? When we judge, when we say, ‘This is good, this is bad, this is right, this is wrong, this is for me, this is for you…’ The judgment of value is not an intellectual operation; it’s an attachment. It’s an affection for things. It’s recognizing the value of things, to bind ourselves to them.”
The third word: authority. “Fr. Giussani used to say, ‘I am the head of the community not because the best ideas come to me, but because I can better prize the best ideas that come to the best.’ And he added, ‘You follow those who follow.’ I follow you because you pursue something that is greater than you and me, that judges me, but also judges you; otherwise, you plagiarize me. Authority means causing growth. The originating factor of our Movement was the impact with a different human reality, the humanity of Fr. Giussani, those he indicated and those with whom he identified himself.”
The Meeting closed thus, immersed for two hours in a living book, as Fr. Carrón defined it in his introduction. The story continues...