|01-01-2008 - Traces, n. 1
A Jolt with Reality
An authentic experience emerges from the depths of our awareness of the infinite scope of our need. “Self-compassion” is the determination to pursue the implications of this need for the Infinite; it is a recognition of the true nature of our drama
By Lorenzo Albacete
When people first hear Fr. Giussani’s insistence that the path to redemption is to follow the desires, engraved in our hearts, that make us human, they are surprised. Have we not often heard the very opposite, namely, that the path to sanctity is the denial of our earthly desires? Instead, Fr. Giussani tells us that we must be “compassionate” with ourselves, because of our heart’s need for satisfaction that it cannot find anywhere. But how is this different from “self-affirmation,” which is often nothing but an excuse for selfishness?
The key to understanding the difference between a selfish self-affirmation and the “self-compassion” that can guide us on the quest for satisfaction depends on how we understand the word “experience.”
Our current School of Community text is called, The Journey to Truth is an Experience. If we understand experience as the feelings or sentiments provoked by things that we do or that happen to us, then experience and truth are not necessarily linked. Indeed, some such experiences can be obstacles to our knowledge of the truth. The limitation of experience to the level of feelings can only lead to a relativism that prevents us from knowing the truth, and therefore enslaves us to subjective appearances and interpretations. Only the truth can make us free. Without truth, there is no real liberty.
For this reason, it is important to insist that the experience that leads to truth and freedom be a judgment. It is the ability to make the affirmation: this is so, this is it. But upon what is such a judgment based?
The judgment emerges from a “jolt” produced in us by our contact with reality. Note that this jolt is a response to something that strikes us during our quest for happiness. This jolt makes us aware of the infinite scope of what we need to make life worthwhile and meaningful. The infinite scope of this need means that there is nothing in this world that is able to satisfy the need, nor even to suppress it forever. An authentic experience emerges from the depths of our awareness of the infinite scope of our need. “Self-compassion” is the determination to pursue the implications of this need for the Infinite; it is a recognition of the true nature of our drama. It is not selfishness; it is the affirmation of our total and radical dependence on Something that we cannot find or achieve by ourselves. This is why Fr. Giussani says that the beggar is the true protagonist of history.
We live in a civilization with an unprecedented richness of possibilities for our material well-being. We enjoy a historically incomparable freedom to pursue our desires. Indeed, we understand freedom itself as the multiplication of the possibilities for choosing different paths in the pursuit of what we desire. And yet, today as ever, the acquisition of what we desire proves unable to satisfy the deepest needs of the heart.
It is not that what we desire is bad for us. At this level, whether the desire is good or bad makes no difference. Even if we manage to overcome or suppress desires that hurt us materially or spiritually, the lack of satisfaction will be there. At this point, we must conclude that either our existence is inseparable from the truth of an infinite Mystery wherein lies what can satisfy us, or our consciousness of desire is some kind of evolutionary freakish accident to be overcome by re-designing the way we are made or distracting ourselves into oblivion in the pursuit of particular desires… unless the link that unites us to the Infinite touches the heart with an attraction unlike all others. This will allow us to make the judgment of experience: this is what I was made for. This is the experience that leads us to truth and sets us free.