|01-10-2008 - Traces, n. 9
It Is Reality That Cries Out, “He Exists!”
Notes from the talks of Davide Prosperi and Julián Carrón at the Beginning Day for CL adults in Lombardy, Italy, held at the Fiera Rho-Pero Expo Center, September 27, 2008
As an introduction, I’d like to highlight two points that emerged from the Lombardy Region Diaconia, gathered to prepare for this gesture.
First of all, we have fresh in our minds the facts that happened this summer and the extraordinary encounters we’ve experienced, extraordinary because undoubtedly they refer to exceptional personages, able to communicate a newness of life in a true way, that is, convincing, that convinced us, that convinces us–these are “protagonists,” as was said at the Meeting of Rimini, within the stories told by Marcos and Cleuza Zerbini, by Vicky, by Rose, by Fr. Aldo Trento, by Msgr. Pezzi, and by so many others whom we remember well.
Where can an exceptionality like this come from? For many people, what dominated in the midst of the cultural breadth of this year’s Meeting was, above all, the testimonies (that is, the realization that these people are witnesses) and in this sense it was noted that in this year’s Meeting, more than in others, we didn’t get distracted by factors divergent from our principal interest: the verification of Christian experience as persuasiveness and as esteem for humanity. This was recognized by Giampaolo Pansa, who wrote in an article in Espresso two weeks ago, “These people didn’t ask where you were from, but only wanted to understand where you were going. …Each time I spoke with someone, I felt listened to and never judged. This had never happened to me before.” From whence this newness? It certainly doesn’t derive from a premeditated strategy of expression but, rather, I would say that it’s the fruit of a journey of education to faith, that for many of us is beginning to become, more and more, experience.
For this reason, in order to realize what we have before us and how it relates to the journey made this year in School of Community and the Fraternity Exercises, the first question we would like to ask you is this: what do all these facts that have struck us have to do with faith?
We too, now, can testify to a fact that isn’t at all taken for granted, precisely because it is so decisive for our life, the fact that three and a half years after Fr. Giussani’s death, this persuasive experience of Christian life that we have encountered in the Movement he fathered hasn’t been interrupted; this companionship is united and guided, and we have to thank the Holy Spirit for this because it wasn’t our right–it was truly a grace. I’ve seen personally, in these three years of friendship with Fr. Carrón, and I think many others would say the same, that his authority is such as it is because he knows how to recognize what an Other makes happen, an Other who is the Mystery who makes all things and who is a real, incarnate, visible presence, and thus he points all of us to Him, facilitating our acknowledgment of Him.
Here, then, this is what has helped us see the exceptionality I spoke of before. But if it’s like this, it means that this method is valid not only for the ultimate authority, but for each of us; it’s a tension that lives within us, in the apparent repetition of the normality that we live most of the time. The presence of Christ is an exceptional fact precisely because it is manifested in normality, in everyday life; in fact, the more the exceptional is manifested in daily life, the more we perceive it as an event that changes us, day by day.
Benedict XVI, speaking about the early monks at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris, said, “Their goal was: quaerere Deum. Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent [and our time is no less confused!], they wanted to do the essential–to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God.”1 Our human search is precisely a quaerere Deum, and as we heard repeated at the Exercises, we’ll never be satisfied with less.
But, I was saying, there is a second question that emerged from the reflection on the experience of this period. No matter how exceptional are these facts, they aren’t enough, or at least they don’t seem enough, to make us certain of the journey. One of us told how at the end of a community vacation, a friend who was there for the first time confided, “I’m very struck by what I’ve seen and what I’ve felt, unexpected and corresponding, but what will spare me from the doubt that in two months I’ll think this moment was just the fruit of a state of mind?”
At times, we discover in ourselves and among ourselves a weakness in the nexus between the event and certainty, that is, between the event that happens, between the encounter we’ve experienced, and the certainty that is born of it. But if this is so, then we absolutely have to help each other with this, because otherwise this weakness makes our journey wearisome and limping, because we need this certainty to live; we need it like the air we breathe.
Thus, summarizing, I’ll repeat the two questions we ask you to help us with:
First: what do all these facts that have struck us have to do with faith?
Second: how do these facts, these exceptionalities, help us to reach certainty?
FR. JULIÁN CARRÓN
“Lord, what is man that You care for him, mortal man, that You keep him in mind?”2 This often comes to mind these days in response to what I see happening among us (so many people have been changed, set into motion), I am moved, like many of you, and I can’t help but ask who we are, that the Mystery should have pity on us in such a shocking way? I almost feel ashamed, because I’d like to feel as deeply moved as our friend Vicky, who, as we heard in her testimony at the Meeting, continues to ask, “Who am I, that such a thing should happen to me?” Or Franco, the prisoner in Padua, who asks himself, “Why did it happen to me, of all people?” Or like a twenty-year-old, amazed that Being should have become friend to nothingness. These people are friends to me precisely for this, not because they’re more or less good, but because they let themselves be struck by the Mystery present; I discover in them the same vibration to which Our Lady witnesses: “The Lord has looked upon the nothingness of His servant.”3
And a boundless gratitude wells up in me for this tenderness of the Mystery for us, so great that I can’t comprehend it, because truly the Lord has pity on our nothingness. With this, I think I express the feeling of many of you in the face of what is happening.
As Fr. Giussani teaches us, this is the point of departure. The beginning is this experience of being deeply moved by what happens; from this experience springs the question about its origin. And we can’t take this question seriously if we don’t look at certain facts and certain people who we’ve run up against. We have to look at these facts to help us understand what is happening. But we don’t truly understand what’s happening if we don’t, at the same time, embrace the method through which the Mystery makes it happen. It’s of the utmost importance, because what we’re seeing is the response to the perception from which we started at the Fraternity Exercises, according to which the Mystery seems abstract to us.
In response to this difficulty of ours, out of pity for our difficulty and our nothingness, the Lord doesn’t send us someone who explains a bit better; He makes facts happen before our eyes, reveals Himself before all of us, and this helps us get past the difficulty. If we make this journey we proposed at the Exercises, then we can battle the origin of this difficulty, which Fr. Giussani identified as the separation we often experience between what happens in experience and our reason (the way we “reason” about the Mystery, without even realizing it). So we have to help each other look at the facts together, trying to establish well the relationship between reason and experience.
The point of departure–I’ll never tire of repeating it–is always the facts, always reality, as Fr. Giussani taught us in the tenth chapter of The Religious Sense. What we read there is analogous to what Jesus says in the Gospel: “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”4 Where does Jesus start from? From looking at the birds. But He doesn’t take for granted the existence of the birds. For this, He, who is aware of their presence in reality, can’t help but arrive at a reference to the Father. In doing so, He wants to make us learn a gaze that doesn’t start at appearances, but goes all the way to the origin, to the Father from whom reality constantly springs. This is decisive for every moment of living, because if this gaze on reality doesn’t become familiar in us, then, as soon as we’re faced with the ugly aspects of reality, we doubt the Father. But ugly or beautiful as it may be, reality exists, and the fact that it’s ugly doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist: it exists, and we endure it. But if it exists, if this reality exists, if this circumstance exists, if this illness of mine exists, if this sadness invading me now exists, if this exists, it means that I exist, and if I exist, there’s an Other who is making me, now.
I’ve always been struck by the way Fr. Giussani, trying to convey this elementary notion, goes to the heart of the matter. Saying, “I am,” with total awareness, is the same as saying, “I am made.” In the fact that I exist there’s already His companionship (“being possessed”5): no intimism, no projection of the Mystery through my imagination–reality cries out that He exists!
I’ll always remember that when I was a high school teacher, a student once approached me, saying, “Are you sure of what you’re saying about God? Are you as sure as you sound?” I answered, “Yes, because I don’t start out from God; I start out from reality.” Reality is what cries out God, because it doesn’t make itself, just as none of us makes ourselves (if we’re minimally aware, we can’t help but say this!). Andrej Sinjavskij says it well: “You needn’t believe out of tradition, fear of death, or for safety’s sake. Or because there’s someone who commands you to and induces fear, or yet again for humanistic reasons, to save yourself, to act in a special way. You need to believe for the simple reason that God exists.”6 We must have the courage to use reason this way, because this is what the Pope constantly invites us to do, to use and to brandish reason–Fr. Giussani said–otherwise, we’ll always be at the mercy of nothingness, of sentiments, states of mind, difficulties. But no difficulty can cast doubt on the fact that I exist, and if I exist, then it is an Other who is making me now.
This dynamic of reality is the same dynamic of faith. The dynamic of faith is the same dynamic of reality elevated to the highest degree, because I find before my eyes not only just any reality, but a reality that is so exceptional (like what we’ve seen this summer) that the journey of knowledge is set into motion more easily, since the dynamic is the same. Thus, faith doesn’t start from a suggestion or a sentiment or a figment of your imagination; everything begins beholding an event that happens, that is so exceptional that it cannot fail to reawaken all the energy of reason to seek to understand it.
I repeat: at the beginning, there isn’t a figment of your imagination about the unseen, a flight to the other world, a leap of the emotions into the invisible, but the imposition of a given that demands an explanation, that mobilizes all my reason precisely because it grips all my humanity. And what is this extraordinary thing, this exceptional thing we’ve seen? Davide reminded us about it earlier: the gaze of Rose, which Vicky, notwithstanding her initial resistance, accepted and gave in to; the sight of Vicky, sick with AIDS, transmitted by the husband who then abandoned her, cries out hope to everyone; the way Cleuza and Marcos Zerbini were so deeply moved by an unexpected newness; the prisoner’s choice to return to prison to testify to what had happened to him; the richness of character of a depressed man, like Fr. Aldo (even those who aren’t depressed would like to have this human richness of character!). How many other examples are known by everyone! I mention these only because we have them before us: people who are different, changed, not invented at all. These things can’t be invented, because the protagonists themselves are so surprised by them!
The journey of faith we spoke of at the Exercises begins there, and–to see to what point we do what was indicated at the Exercises, beyond picking up the Exercises booklet again–the question that often comes to mind is: how many of those who have seen these facts have launched into that journey of knowledge we’ve been studying in the School of Community? I know you all know the journey; I take for granted that you all know it, but you can’t take for granted in the least that we have truly been challenged by these facts and that we’ve all made this journey, as described there. Therefore, we continue speaking so often of the abstractness of the Mystery. And why? Why, before such irresistible, imposing facts, is it so difficult for this journey of knowledge to be set into motion?
Fr. Giussani explains that these facts should be read with the heart and that the heart–in order to avoid sentimental reductions of this word–is reason engaged with affection; the heart, as reason and affectivity, is the condition for the healthy actuation of reason. What does it mean to say that reason is affectively engaged? It means that our reason has been seized. This is why there’s no reason without affection. We’ve been struck and seized, in the face of something that sets this journey into motion. The core of the human problem of knowledge doesn’t lie in a particular capacity of intelligence; it truly lies in a right position of the heart. Poverty of spirit is the right position of the heart. Precedence doesn’t go to those who are more intelligent, but to those who are simple. These people (who I may see only once in a lifetime) become friends, not because they’re intelligent, but because they let themselves be struck, and I discover that they accompany me as companions. I discover this by remembering them, and in this they demonstrate that they’re more intelligent.
The Pope reminded us of this in his trip to France: “If He does not reveal Himself, we cannot gain access to Him. The novelty of the Christian proclamation is that it can now say to all peoples: He has revealed Himself. He personally. And now the way to Him is open. The novelty of Christian proclamation does not consist in a thought, but in a deed: God has revealed Himself. Yet this is no blind deed, but one which is itself Logos–the presence of eternal Reason in our flesh. Verbum caro factum est (Jn 1:14): just so, amid what is made (factum) there is now Logos; Logos is among us. The fact (factum) is reasonable. Naturally, the humility of reason is always needed, in order to accept it: man’s humility, which responds to God’s humility.”7
This is what the exceptional witnesses teach us. Our participation is to embrace the given; it’s the humility to give precedence to the reality that happens. If we don’t make this journey of knowledge that yields, we don’t understand what happens, and therefore continue living a separation between reason and experience, and continue saying that the Mystery is abstract. Instead, when in front of these facts a person has this simplicity, this humility that the Pope describes, then what he sees absolutely has to implicate another factor. Why am I this way? What is this factor implicated in the facts I see, in the change that I see in these people? Is just any explanation enough for this change?
“Dear Julián: I wanted to tell you something that has happened to us in these recent weeks. Our friend, a young mother, has been battling an illness for years, and had a sudden relapse. This is a serious situation that continually solicits us to ask for a miracle, and, given that when you ask, the Lord answers, a miracle is already happening: our love for Christ is growing. Before a situation of this kind you can’t pussyfoot around and waste time with ‘buts’ or ‘howevers.’ In order to stay before her and her husband and children, you need to ask and question yourself: Who is giving us the gift of His presence? Who is giving us these years of friendship with her? Above all, who is making possible now, in this situation, a relationship of unimaginable profundity and intensity? One evening, her husband told us, literally, ‘These are the most beautiful days of our marriage.’ How is a fact of this kind possible!? It’s unexplainable without Christ. The fact exists, has happened, you have it before your eyes, but you can’t explain it without coming to this conclusion, acknowledging those unmistakable features. In the same way, you can’t explain the unity, the communion that is flowering among we who know her, bound by a friendship that budded before, but certainly is in full bloom now. A friend of hers who had just met the Movement went to see her one day, and told us about the visit with these words: ‘Before going in, I was tense and agitated, and I didn’t know what to say. At the end, leaving that house, I was happy. It’s not just that I changed certain ideas of mine about death and the meaning of suffering; I was surprised to find myself happy. I don’t know what happened, but certainly there’s Something exceptional within.’ When she came to School of Community, she added, ‘You say Christ. How can I know that it’s Him? I can’t manage to say this name. I trust you, but it’s not enough.’ We told her, ‘Okay, trust us, but above all trust your heart, the correspondence you experienced there. You went in almost desperate, and you left happy. You glimpsed Something extraordinary. Help us to discover Him, because all of us, like you, need to know His face, to say His name, to bind ourselves to Him. On this point we’re together.’”
Who is this man?
Many times, as we’ve just read, we hear people say, “I can’t manage to say His name” (as this woman asks, “You say Christ, but how do I know that it’s Him?”). Last week, a girl said to me, “I see a different humanity, but why should I say it’s Christ?”
How do you respond to this question in a reasonable way? Here, my friends, we find ourselves before the same question as the Apostles, exactly the same. The Apostles had also seen exceptional things, miracles; they saw that He was unique and had to ask, “Who is this man?” They acknowledged a factor that was different, that made it inevitable for the question to arise. But in their attempt to answer they remained bewildered. “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.”8 They couldn’t get past these interpretations. They were incapable. As we said at the Exercises, the witness isn’t just someone who points us to something beyond, but who gives us the answer to the question. He is the one who answers the question; He was the one who answered that question: “The Father has sent Me.”9 So we all realize, dramatically, how it’s the only answer corresponding to the exceptionality we see before us, more than any other explanation of ours.
And us, now? We too–as we’ve experienced–find ourselves before these examples of a different humanity (there’s no question that we see them!); we see them with our own eyes, but so often we remain bewildered: “Why should I say His name? Who can prove that it’s Him?” What offers us an answer is the tradition of the Church, telling us, “Look, of all these unmistakable features you see, of all this newness you see in these facts and that passes through the face of different people, what is the origin? To understand and acknowledge these unmistakable features you have to go to the Gospel; you have to become familiar with the Gospel.”
To explain better, I’ll tell you about an episode that happened to me years ago in Spain. A person in a town near Madrid had encountered our friends. He hadn’t been a Church-goer at all before that; he began by becoming a friend of our people and saw what was happening, the newness that began entering into life, and then, staying with them, he also went to Mass, and hearing the Gospel, at one point commented, “These people in the Gospel experienced the same thing that happens to us!” The newness he saw happening before his eyes in the relationship with the friends of the Christian community that he had encountered, he recognized as the same things that happened to those around Jesus! He didn’t realize that it was the opposite, that his friends were experiencing the same things that happened to the disciples, but this is secondary. The Gospels are and always will be the canon, the rule that helps us discover when an experience is Christian, when we truly find ourselves before a Christian experience. In the present and in every moment of history the same thing happens (with other faces) that happened in the beginning; it passes through different faces, but He makes Himself contemporary to us within faces with unmistakable features, which are His. It’s not that the disciples encountered Jesus and we have to settle for a substitute. We experience the unmistakable features of He who makes Himself present today out of pity for our nothingness.
How do I discover that these features are His? We have to look well, because for us there’s the risk that everything seems the same. Look well, for example, at what Vicky says: “Before I encountered Rose, nobody smiled; everybody in the family hated us, as if it were our fault we had this disease. And, all of a sudden, in that situation a new presence appeared: Rose came to sit by my side. I moved away because I certainly didn’t give off a good smell, and she moved closer, and I continued to move away, but Rose continued to move closer.” And to this person, in this situation in which everyone avoided her, who smelled so badly, Rose said something strange: “You are worth much more than your illness.” You need a certain familiarity with One who said these strange things. Just as it was strange to say to a mother burying her son, “Do not weep!”10 Or to a man who’d betrayed Him, “Do you love Me?”11 Or to the most hated man in town, to say, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”12
If, at the same time, when we see these facts, we don’t have this familiarity with the Gospel, it seems to us that these features belong to “anybody,” that is, we can say as much of Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha or you-name-it, because everything’s equal. But where does it happen that someone befriends a person whom everybody’s rejected as a leper? Where has it happened that someone befriends a fellow whom everyone in the city considers an abominable sinner? Where does it happen that someone continues to affirm the value of man in the most desperate situations? It hasn’t happened everywhere, except in the moment of history in which He manifested Himself!
It’s difficult, because we lack the identification with Jesus, with the Gospel, that Fr. Giussani testified to throughout his entire life; we wouldn’t have known how to identify with these episodes if we hadn’t heard Fr. Giussani repeat them to us many, many times. But we think we have better things to do than to read the Gospel, which seems spiritualistic to us, and thus when we see the same facts before our eyes, it’s hard for us to say His name. So then, why should we believe? You understand well that in this way of questioning, faith isn’t reasonable. Instead, if you continue to identify yourself with it, it’s impossible not to gain an affection for the other world that makes Christ ever more dear to us.
Satisfaction as the test of faith
Christian faith is precisely this: not the recognition of just any presence, but of this Presence with unmistakable features, present in history now as it was two thousand years ago. Not a devout recollection, not spirituality on the cheap: it is His presence now, which we can touch with our hands and by which we can feel looked at and embraced! It is someone who continues to have pity on our nothingness, so present that the test of faith is precisely this newness, this satisfaction that He introduces. It can happen, as we’ve seen, in illness. Or, as this boy in the following letter testifies to us–now he’s looking on us from heaven, because he died–that you can live this way up to the last instant of life.
Writing to a university friend, he said, “Taking an exam is something we’ve all done in life, and it’s certainly nothing extraordinary. This is what I thought before meeting people who forced me, through a real interior revolution, to ask myself how seriously I was living my life. As you know, in a few days I’ll be admitted to the hospital for a bone marrow transplant; you might wonder what this has to do with my exam. If I weren’t in the Movement, if I hadn’t learned from the Movement to consider my studies as a fantastic opportunity to seek truth, to give meaning to my life, and to express a total judgment on it, then by now I’d already have started easing off, and I’d have gone home to wait for the day of the hospital admission. Maybe I’d have spent the time reading a few books or the newspaper, but fundamentally I’d have dissipated my days in the passive and desperate search for some way to endure the time waiting for the war to start (because it’s like going to war). By studying for the exam, the emptiness of time didn’t fill my days, but I myself filled time. The emptiness didn’t dictate the rhythm of my life; I did. I was lord and master of my days. I studied Civil Procedure, day by day grappling with the topics, happy about the power I still had over my day and, in short, over my life [this is protagonism: up to the last moment!]. If I had been inert, and waited out the passing of time, I would’ve remained its slave and been consumed without even realizing it. This makes me happy today that I passed Civil Procedure, but I was already proud of myself yesterday; I felt fulfilled as a man because I knew that I was hoping against all hope.” He died during the operation. Even in the most desperate situation, one can feel this satisfaction he describes. Why? How can you live this way, even up to your last breath? Identifying yourself with Jesus, being one with Him. The attraction Jesus exerted on the others was due to the fact that the final reference wasn’t Himself, but the Father. Christian faith gives a satisfaction of the other world because it introduces us to the mystery of the Father. It isn’t that we find this unique correspondence of faith because we encounter something real and present that can satisfy, but because within this encounter there’s something that throws us wide open to the infinite. Encountering Jesus, like encountering these witnesses, is something that throws us wide open to the infinite and for this reason satisfies us, because it opens us more to the Mystery. Satisfaction always contains the entreaty to enter more deeply into this Mystery.
How can we enter more deeply into this Mystery? (This last point serves as an introduction to the School of Community.) Through obedience. We can introduce ourselves more deeply into this Mystery and thus overcome the doubt that it’s just a state of mind, if we obey what the Lord makes happen among us. We are witnesses to what happens when we follow what an Other makes happen among us. We’ve seen, we’ve felt the beneficial effect it has on us, but the section of School of Community that we’re beginning now13 is decisive for understanding it fully, because the verification of faith, of this acknowledgment, of the satisfaction it gives, is called obedience.
We’ll see what really happened this summer through our capacity to obey what He does, because if faith was that event whose outcome was satisfaction, we all can understand the challenge that such a thing implicates for the reason and freedom–reason and freedom, not sentimentalism–of someone who truly cares about life, about happiness. We have seen something that throws our hearts wide open, that brings hope to our life, a possibility for living. We have seen it: it’s as if the Lord gave us these witnesses to take away all our alibis. A person can be resurrected even having AIDS in the middle of Africa, or being in prison, or being close to death. No circumstance is hostile. This is the hope that these witnesses make present, and now anyone who wants to live this way can’t help but feel this challenge.
This experience is vertiginous, and we see it in the way Fr. Giussani introduces the School of Community, because in order to speak of obedience he doesn’t give us a lecture on obedience; he makes us identify with the experience of the Apostles who lived what we too have experienced: the unique correspondence that makes it reasonable to follow Him. Herein lies the true challenge. As he tells us, you can follow, but reserving for yourself a measure–“I’ll follow You as long as I agree with You, as long as You don’t go past a certain measure” (as the majority did)–or one can follow without any measure except that of correspondence to the heart, as the disciples did. They followed Jesus because of the way He had pity on their nothingness. Jesus was moved by their hunger, and multiplied the loaves to fill their bellies, but then, still feeling this pity on their nothingness, said, “Look, this alone isn’t enough for living, because many have no problem with hunger, but have no meaning for living; you can live only if you eat My body and drink My blood.” “This is too much!” they thought, taking Him for a madman, and they left. Why did Jesus tell them this? Because He didn’t love them? If Jesus hadn’t said this, He’d have been taking them for a ride! But Jesus, who knows our human need, tells us, “If you don’t eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, you can’t live.” And when everyone had left, He didn’t spare even the disciples. “Do you too want to go?”14 This is a friend, understand? Do you understand why Jesus didn’t spare them this? It’s as if He wanted to draw out of their innards the experience they’d had. “Is it reasonable to leave, after what you’ve seen, after what’s happened staying with Me?” Is it reasonable? And they told Him, “No, it’s not reasonable.” They followed and obeyed because of that correspondence.
This is the challenge we have before us. The capacity of obedience is the precedence to what we see happening before our eyes, to that “Something that comes before,” that Fr. Giussani always reminded us of, responding to a risk that always lies in ambush, the risk of changing your method a moment later, saying, “This method of correspondence to the heart is okay for the encounter, but then our reason for following is a different thing.” Fr. Giussani said, “No,” and added, “Running up against the presence of a different humanity comes before, not only at the beginning, but in every moment that follows the beginning–a year or twenty years later. The initial phenomenon is destined to be the original phenomenon of every moment of development. Because there is no development if that initial impact is not created, that is, if the event does not remain contemporaneous.”15 If the event doesn’t happen now and we don’t follow what He does, it’s impossible for what we’ve seen to continue.
This is why School of Community gives us the instrument now for not losing what we’ve seen. Thus, we understand what obedience is, because we could reduce it to something that obedience is not. Fr. Giussani says, “Following isn’t something I can put on like an overcoat...; no, it’s not an overcoat like the concept of obedience that you find around, where to obey means to say yes, to do what they tell you. No sir!”16 But be careful: we all run this risk, those who command and those who obey, because those who command can risk proposing themselves as a substitute for the Mystery, instead of following what the Mystery does, and those who obey can follow those who command because they spare them the risk of following the Mystery. That is, we can reduce obedience to something clerical, and this, Fr. Giussani says, isn’t obedience; it’s a child’s way of trying to avoid all the drama of staying before what He does, all of us, because it’s a lot easier to say yes to what the leader says and then do your own will. This will never be Christian obedience because obedience–as it says in School of Community–is following the experienced correspondence (this is what makes life dramatic). In the end–School of Community says–the extreme form of obedience is following the discovery of yourself operating in the light of the word and presence of an Other.
As we see, going ahead in the School of Community, everything depends on the first chapter we did: it is called “faith.” Without faith there’s no freedom, no satisfaction, no obedience, except for something clerical, because a moment later it becomes just a moralistic reminder. This is why it’s vital that we do School of Community, keeping to the method, because we could do it just as a comment on comments, generating still more nihilism than what we already carry. What floors me is that we could do School of Community against the content itself, that is, with another method. This is why Fr. Giussani’s emphasis on “Something that comes before” is decisive for doing School of Community well, otherwise you can do the work (because you can do it) and nothing will happen to you, when we do it according to a modality different from the one through which the Mystery makes it happen among us.
Obedience is following the discovery of yourself operating in the light of the words and example of an Other. This is the only reasonable obedience. Those who have had this experience of exceptional correspondence, and don’t want to lose it, obey that experience, obey that experienced correspondence. Obedience is the most reasonable thing, because without obeying I lose the greatest thing I’ve experienced. Without obeying, I lose it, lose the most intense, the fullest, the highest moment of my human experience. Each of us has to respond. This is the challenge we have this year, a dizzying one, because we want the Movement to become “an adventure for oneself.”
HOMILY OF THE HOLY MASS
FR. JULIÁN CARRÓN
“What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.”17
Jesus isn’t engaged in an abstract reflection here: He’s talking about the people He has in front of Him, directing His words to the priests and elders of the people, and asking them to say who truly believes, who truly does what the Father wants. Here we see the two great alternative positions we can take before Jesus. On the one side are the priests or scribes or Pharisees, who had said yes for so long, that is, who had taken the Law seriously, but then when the Only One to whom they truly had to respond came, Jesus, they said no. On the other side are the publicans or the prostitutes (who are the symbol of all sinners) who had absolutely ignored the Law, but when they found Jesus they clung to Him. And Jesus says a terrible thing: that these will enter the Kingdom of Heaven and the leaders and priests will be excluded.
We, like those who belonged to the people of Israel, might carry out certain prescriptions and, at the same time, before certain facts the Lord makes happen among us, not follow, that is, not obey the modality with which the Mystery calls me today. In our presumption, we already know the journey, the road, the law to perform, and therefore in the end we lose what He can continue to make happen before our eyes. We don’t recognize He whom the Lord sends us now to have pity on our nothingness. Instead, the others, the publicans, believed in Him. “Yet even when you saw that [it’s not that they didn’t see it: they saw it, and how], you did not later change your minds and believe Him.”18
Conversion means acknowledging He who is calling us now. We can remain there looking because we already know the road, we already have our law, we know how to handle our life. Or, we can convert, that is, believe, acknowledge a Presence present in our midst, who calls us.
This is the permanent challenge of the event of Christ present, of Christ contemporaneous with us (contemporary, with us!), who continues to operate, not to inconvenience us, but out of pity on our nothingness, so our life may not go to ruin.
Let’s ask Fr. Giussani to have this simplicity to which he (and so many others who the Spirit gives us now) has testified.
1 Benedict XVI, “Meeting with the World of Culture at the Collège des Bernardins,” Paris, September 12, 2008.
2 Ps 144:3.
3 Cf. Lk1:48.
4 Mt 6:26.
5 Cf. L. Giussani, The Religous Sense, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 1997.
6 A. Sinjavskij, Pensieri improvvisi [Sudden Thoughts], Jaca Book, Milan, 1978, p. 75.
7 Benedict XVI, “Meeting with Representatives of the World of Culture at the Collège des Bernardins,” Paris, September 12, 2008.
8 Mk 8:27-28.
9 Jn 5:36.
10 Lk 7:13.
11 Jn 21:16.
12 Lk 19:5.
13 L. Giussani, Is It Possible to Live This Way? Vol. 1, Faith, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008, p. 116.
14 Jn 6:67.
15 L. Giussani, “Qualcosa che viene prima” [“Something that Comes Before”], in Dalla fede il metodo, Tracce-Quaderni [From Faith the Method, Traces-Notebooks], p. 40, supplement to Tracce-Litterae Communionis, April 1994.
16 L. Giussani, Is It Possible to Live This Way? Vol. 1, Faith, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008, p. 135.
17 Mt 21:28-31.
18 Mt 21:32.