01-07-2011 - Traces, n. 7


Be Realists
(thus Certain)

As we draw close to the Rimini Meeting and its challenge–is it possible for life to be "an immense certainty"?–we asked some guests to reflect on the title of the 32nd annual Meeting (August 21–27, 2011), starting with Fr. Aldo Trento and what he "holds dearest": only one certainty, in a continual battle.


He has been rereading the book these days, slowly, searching each of its dialogues in order to go to the depths of his experience while he enters into what Fr. Giussani writes. "It's a challenge for us, and for our human need." Fr. Aldo Trento, 64 years old, has been working for the past 22 years as a missionary in Paraguay, where his parish in Asunción has become a heart pulsing with faith and works (a clinic for the terminally ill, a hospitality house for abandoned children, one for the homeless, and many other works). Fr. Aldo will close the Rimini Meeting 2011 week of events with a session on What We Hold Dearest, a book dedicated to the dialogues of Fr. Giussani with university students in the mid-1980s. "In order to say that what you hold dearest is Christ, as Giussani does, you need a powerful, strong reason." You need a certainty, which, not by chance, is the theme of the week beginning on August 21st, entitled, "And Existence Becomes an Immense Certainty."

What did you think when you read the Meeting 2011 title?
My first reaction was thanksgiving to the Lord, and those who felt the need to propose this theme, because it is the true problem today, and everything depends on it. The Pope, too, continually emphasizes that in a reality dominated by relativism, challenging people on certainty means returning to pure and deep ontology. How could we move without someone who reminds us that our roots are in the thought of God?

What does it mean to be certain?
Having clear what the prophet Jeremiah says, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you." God gives me this certainty; I didn't invent it myself. It's not the fruit of a line of reasoning. It's a grace. For me, it began when I was 7 years old, when a missionary was talking about his life and I was moved because, for the first time, I realized that I had been thought of by God for all of eternity–like the cosmos. It was something that corresponded fully to my heart; it was reasonable. Realizing this, experiencing it in every instant, gives me a rock-solid certainty that enables me to go forward. How can I live in doubt, be worried that circumstances will rip me off, if I am the fruit of the love of a God who has thought of me for all of eternity? It is a question of realism.

"Realism" in what sense?
If you are realistic you have to acknowledge that there is a clear point that makes you look beyond yourself to the "all," that entrusts you to infinity. This infinity is what sustains everything, the cosmos, and the self-awareness of the cosmos, which I am. Reality is an immense certainty. You'd have to be dull-witted to deny it. As Althusser said, you can say that the sun doesn't exist, but you're nuts.

Well, then, why is it so difficult to be certain? Why do we doubt everything?
First of all, because of original sin. We are tempted to substitute ourselves for the infinite, instead of perceiving the structural disproportion that Catherine of Siena wrote of: "I am nothing; You are everything." This is the difficulty of today's world, thinking that we are the navel of the world. But it derives from an out-of-sync use of reason. If you understand it as a closed room, you don't see. If you open your eyes and look, as happened this morning when I saw the beauty of the tropical sky, I can't help but acknowledge that there is Someone who is behind it, who is the content and foundation of all this. The first difficulty is this ontological limit. Then there's the air we breathe in this environment we live in, which is totally dominated by insecurity.

You mean that original sin is not first of all a moral problem, but one of knowledge: it weakens the relationship with reality.
True. It's not an ethical problem, but an ontological one: humans who claim to be the creator. We all have the desire for perfection; we are made by God to strive for absolute beauty, absolute joy. But Lucifer claimed to be able to reach with his own hands what he couldn't reach, because he is a creature. Adam and Eve were burned by that–a weak use of reason, which yielded. Without acknowledging this, we can't even realize how Christ is a supreme answer to a right use of reason.

And consider the first question of the serpent, "But is it true that God said…?" The temptation is about certainty.
He sows doubt, and the greatest disgrace of history happens–but it is, however, also a "happy fault" as the Church sings in the Easter Vigil, because thanks to this we have been able to experience the presence of the Mystery who brought us back into the right channel of reason, and the beauty of what it means to be regenerated as new creatures, where the disproportion makes me cry out with joy. The more I perceive I am made, the more I realize the greatness that lies in my littleness. This sends chills down your spine.

Because it restores a certainty.
Exactly. The deeper we go into reality intensely, the more aware we become of a unique certainty, that we are structurally a relation with the Mystery. Everything in us cries out this fact. This is the battle with ourselves we have to engage in. In the instant I neglect myself, or do without personal work, the diabolical doubt of "if, but, however" gets the best of me. Constant vigilance is needed.

What enables or helps this vigilance?
First of all, loyalty to ourselves. I see it for myself. I have a thousand reasons to doubt: the suffering of innocents, the child who dies. But all this is part of an immense design, and if you are loyal, you see that, over time, this humanly incomprehensible suffering generates something. I cannot doubt that God loves me. I would have to be blind, not only because of what has happened in me, what I am and live, but also because of what this certainty gives life to around me: a people, works…

What about time–how has it affected your certainty? What value has it had in deepening it, in giving it solidity?
Certainty is an event. It happens like a beautiful day that you didn't expect. But it has to take on a historical dimension, as it did for the Apostles: staying with Christ, they saw many things happen that deepened their certainty. It made them even more reasonable, and made their life more aware. Then, however, there are two decisive factors of personal work.

What are they?
The first is companionship. Without a companionship that tells you, "Look," that reminds you of your nature as creature, you look for another companionship, that of the devil. Adam and Eve had the companionship of God, who went down every evening to the earthly paradise, but another entered, that of the devil. Companionship is essential, but it needs to be one in which the center is the awareness of being made, an awareness that is sustained only by having your gaze fixed on the horizon, toward the Mystery. I can't conceive of any type of relationship that isn't born of a gaze like this. I see it with my sick people and with the children. Without a companionship of this kind, I wouldn't be able to keep alive what happened to me when I was 7.

And it is something different than seeking certainty in the other, as if in order to acknowledge the truth we needed a supplement…
Certainly. The certainty has already happened. The problem is finding people who help you not forget what happened and happens to you in that moment. I am made now. You are my friend because you live the same perception that I live and you help me and support me in this. If not, the friendship is something macabre, because it doesn't withstand the wear and tear of time, and is transformed into a pile of dry bones.

And the other factor?
Pain. Which means patience. The certainty that marked me when I was little has passed through all the problems of life: I escaped there, and I encountered it there; I escaped again, and I saw it again. All this set off a terrible drama between my imagination, the measure I wanted to give to reality, and reality itself. What did the pain consist of? A furious battle in my flesh between my measure, my conception of affection, of relationship, and what my heart instead desired. All this is a continual battle, a continual suffering, but full of gladness because it enables me to enjoy what I hold dearest.

How can I understand that Christ is what I hold dearest if reason does not experience in a daily battle that it's worth my while to live in this position, that life is more beautiful this way? This is the pain. It is battling against my continual risk of reducing the Event that changed my life.

Aren't there moments in your life that undermine this certainty?
Like temptation, often. You see the suffering of an innocent person, a friend who dies. But temptation is one thing, and it's entirely another thing to let myself be defined by it. The drama is always between my limit and the Mystery who calls. I live this temptation continually, but it is necessary because, if not, where's my freedom? If I didn't have the possibility of saying, "No," to Being, I wouldn't have the joy of saying, "You, O my Christ."

Instead, what moment was the fullest of certainty for you?
Excluding the embrace of Fr. Giussani, many years ago, the encounter with Julián Carrón, and the friends here in Latin America. The greatest thing is seeing people for whom the certainty of the Event of Christ is the reason for their life.

What most struck you in Fr. Giussani's book?
He does not speak of Christ; he speaks with Christ. For example, he has a vivid, dramatic, suffering perception of the power that surrounds us, but you see that he suffers it because he is all one thing with Christ. It's like seeing what Saint Paul said, "For me, living is Christ. I know nothing if not Christ crucified." In Fr. Giussani, it is evident. Reading him, you see an immense desire that the whole world may vibrate with that consciousness he has of Christ. He suffered, but as a consequence of seeing us deaf and blind to this Event, which we take for granted.

One Certainty is sufficient for living, just one.
Yes. This enables you to be a clear point of presence in the world. Someone the world has to deal with. The world can contest you, but it can't help but deal with this difference that you represent. And thus you can encounter the other, as happens every time at the Meeting.

What do you expect from the Meeting this year?
To leave more aware that reality truly is the Body of Christ. Nothing exists that is not relation with the Mystery. Reality is His Body. And it is positive. Always.