|01-02-2011 - Traces, n. 2
A PASSION FOR OUR LIVES
Six years after his death, FR. LUIGI GIUSSANI goes on generating a people, reaching even those who never knew him personally: a Muslim teacher, a Jewish jurist, an Orthodox theologian, an Anglican pastor, and a journalist. Here is the story of a friendship that, touching the world, "has changed me."
EDITED BY FABRIZIO ROSSI
I MET HIM IN GOD
Wael Farouq, American University, Cairo
I meet Fr. Giussani continually in all those who knew him and loved him, rather like the Body of Christ that those who pray eat with the Bread during the Mass, finding in it unity and sharing. This is why I feel he is always present among us, with his jokes that make us laugh and reflect at the same time.
This presence in the world, in reality as it is lived, is the secret of the influence that Luigi Giussani has on whoever met him, whatever kind of encounter he had with him. In my case–using the Islamic terminology for expressing friendship–I have met him in God and I have loved him in God. For every true love that you feel for another is also the love of God, and the manifestation of His grace in the world.
The most important things that Fr. Giussani offered me and the world are you, you who have lived with him the experience of love, transforming a sublime abstraction into a tangible reality, a life that is lived.
Values, noble thoughts, and beauty are usually described as "food for the spirit, the mind, and the heart," expressing in rhetorical form their importance for human beings. I would like to broaden the sense of this metaphor. For knowledge, tradition, and beauty, exactly like food, end up deteriorating and becoming poison, if they don't find someone to eat them, assimilate them, and put them back into circulation, in the arteries of human society. If they go outside reality, they poison life. They are transformed into other things, like fanaticism, ideology, and despotism. The Bible expressed this idea eloquently with these words: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar. For whoever does not love his brother whom he sees, cannot love God whom he doesn't see" (1 Jn 4:20).
Perhaps this is one of the most important lessons of The Religious Sense, because the human being is the shortest way to God, and reality is the space where we meet God in every moment.
My friends, before I got to know Fr. Giussani in you, and you in Fr. Giussani, all the beautiful things I believed in were a heavy burden that drove me to run away from reality, because they found no realization in reality. I would snub whomever did not see the world the way I did, because I considered him an obstacle on the way to realizing those noble values in which I believed. On the intellectual, religious, and political levels, I doubted good, beauty, and love, whenever it came from someone different from me. I was a romantic who dreamed of changing the world, but precisely for this reason I lived in isolation from the world. It is only your friendship that brought me out of this isolation, as well as your sincere desire to know me, and your lack of preconceived ideas about me. I, an Arab and a Muslim, never felt, not even for one day, not to be one of you. So how could I not free myself from preconceived ideas about you and about myself? My friendship with you has not changed the world, but it has changed me. I have come to understand that evil is transitory, whereas love is eternal, and that all we need for making the world better we are already living every day, without noticing it.
Joseph Weiler, New York University
My friendship with Communion and Liberation began by accident. I was invited to come to their annual meeting in Rimini in 2003. I had no idea what it was. I thought it was just some kind of academic conference, but it was a jaw-dropping experience. I was told these are awful people, these are intolerant people, and so on, but I've never seen a more open atmosphere. Every meeting I've been to, I have been impressed by the range of voices: Jews, Muslims, Communists, Atheists, kings and paupers, prime ministers, writers, scientists. I joke that my best friends in Italy said two things to me about going to Rimini: How can you agree to be a part of "that thing," and "how can I get an invitation?"
What did fascinate me about Fr. Giussani? He rejected the position of many young people in high school and college in his day, which is that if I'm a believing Catholic it's a matter of faith, but reason is something else. Already in the 1950s, Giussani was saying no, folks, if you cannot justify it by your best faculties of reason, you should forget about it. That's totally admirable.
I also admire his insistence that religious life is not just about morality, but about presence, which for Catholics is particularly expressed in the Eucharist. His book, The Religious Sense, is a major theological treatise.
(Excerpted from an interview by John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter, January, 21, 2011.)
THE HEART'S COMMUNITY Aleksandr Filonenko, University of Kharkiv
Imagine that you have visitors who have come from far away. You would expect them to ask you what you are living here, and to tell you about their life where they come from. But you would never dream that they should begin to speak of what strikes them about your life, so much so that not even you noticed–or gave credit to–the extraordinary things they noted. This produces wonder, when something impossible happens and you discover your life with your own heart, which reacts to what the visitors have to say. Thus, the visitors become witnesses of the Life shared with you. They become friends.
It does not happen often. Something similar, for example, happened to the Russian poet Iosif Brodski, who made known Russian poetry to the English, the Germans, the Italians, and the Americans (and perhaps it was predictable that he should do this). Above all, though, he struck them by speaking of their own poets, giving them back Auden, Rilke, Montale, and Frost. No, they did not expect this.
It is just this wonder, at the Rimini Meeting 2002, that gave birth to my friendship with the Movement. I was impressed by the fact that Italians should have discovered the history of the Russian martyrs of the 20th century during the pilgrimages to the former concentration camp in the Solovetsky Islands proposed by Russia Cristiana [a support organization for ecumenical dialogue and Christianity in Russia]. But what I found totally astonishing was that, thanks to their attention, I could get to know these tragic pages of our country's history. The history of our friendship is made up of these witnesses that are, at least in part, I hope, mutual.
This attention, capable of revealing in another culture, in the destiny of someone else, striking witnesses of what Christ works, was for me the first sign of what the Movement is. It begged a question: How can this attention be educated? Where does it come from? Upon meeting Fr. Giussani, I found the answer.
What is this experience for me? It is the experience of Christian life as the witness of the presence of Christ in everyday life, the experience that Christian tradition and what I live meet thanks to reason, which compares reality with the heart, a heart struck by reality itself, which answers its call. In this time of windbags and empty interpreters, who, on the ruins of ideologies, have tired of multiplying analyses and interpretations, Fr. Giussani was able to witness with untiring freshness the striking presence of Christ in every vital motion of our heart. We are moved "not by a discourse, but by a presence."
He set out a course that leads to the discovery of this Presence, a course that invites me to take seriously the openness and the infinite needs of my heart, while any action on my part would peter out in its inability to achieve what is essential. This course draws me to other men, in joy and in hope, in pain and in sadness, so that I can share love and suffering with them, and so that I can witness that Christ achieves what is impossible to man, answering to the heart's infiniteness. After all, the trips of Italian friends to Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine are also a striking metaphor of my being able–with just as much difficulty and joy–to go to meet my neighbor day after day. I never met Fr. Giussani personally, but without him the community of my heart, the community of friends before whom I live every day, would be unthinkable.
Fr. Andrew Davison, Westcott House, Cambridge
My first encounter with Fr. Giussani was a quotation from The Risk of Education in an essay by the great American theologian, Methodist Stanley Hauerwas. He was being critical of the Protestant tendency towards favoring ideas over practices, or separating ideas from practice. He had quoted where Giussani says we will only have resources to resist the onslaught of the world if we have ideas–but ideas that are rooted in practices that form habits. I was writing about these very ideas for a conference I was organizing on Ecclesiology and a paper I was writing about "new forms of church." The heterogeneity of the parish seemed to me a "form of life" that embodied a theological conviction about reconciliation: an idea made potent in practices, as Giussani suggests.
Not long after, the Anglican theologian John Milbank started to talk to me about Giussani and Communion and Liberation. Milbank suggested meeting some CL people in Oxford, thinking that it might be very significant for the life of the Church on the Continent, and for the Church of England. My knowledge of Fr. Giussani and of the movement comes through writings and through these people.
The challenge for people today is to ask whether their faith is actually true, and to live by it if it is. There is in the Church a kind of strange malaise (whereby people assent to the Christian faith and go to church, and yet it is one conviction amongst many, and one activity among many). Yet, surely, the Christian faith is either determinative of everything or it is nothing. It cannot be one activity among many but the activity around which everything else turns, just as the faith is not one idea among many, but the idea around which everything else turns. In a way, we could say the Christian faith is either a matter for which one could be a martyr, or it's not anything at all. That is Fr Giussani's charism for the 20th century: to say to people, "You can't sleep walk through life as a weakly attached, weakly committed Christian." He has such a confidence in the faith that he can say, "Work out if it is true!" At the English College in Rome, above the high altar there is a painting of Christ upon the Cross; His blood is dripping onto the ground. Beneath is written "I came to cast fire upon the earth"(Lk 12:49). The Church often seems, especially maybe my Church, to be a moderate, helpful part of people's life. I don't want to play that down because I think it is extraordinary. I think Giussani's task was to turn up the temperature of our commitment. He was on fire, and he passed that fire to others. There is a hymn by St. Ambrose: "By will and deed, by heart and tongue, With all our powers, Thy praise be sung; And love light up our mortal frame, Till others catch the living flame."
This makes me think of the CL Movement because of its language of love, and of fire, and of fire being passed from one person to another. Taking one's faith seriously can sometimes take a rather grim or dour form. In contrast, your Movement is marked by a sort of joyfulness, a sort of skip in your step. It is what the Psalm says: "How good and how pleasant it is, brothers dwelling in unity" (Ps 132:1).