01-06-2012 - Traces, n. 6


Fr. Carrón's intervention in the Italian daily is increasingly opening up sincere dialogue on the relationship between faith and power. As seen in the political reactions, the open questions, and, above all, the beginning of a work that is bringing to the surface what we really hold dearest.


However you read it, it was a watershed. Not between "us" and "them," between those who belong to Communion and Liberation and onlookers from the outside. No, Fr. Carrón's letter to la Repubblica, published on May 1st, in the same Italian daily that has been attacking Roberto Formigoni, Governor of the Lombardy Region, and other members of CL over investigations into the public health administration of the Region (wrongly bringing the Movement itself into the question), elicited surprise in many quarters. "Outside" the Movement, there was a series of reactions that ranged from "We must reflect, too" (Luciano Violante, former President of the Chamber of Deputies), to "a benchmark for his friends" (Eugenio Mazzarella), and a "disconcerting sincerity" admitted by Gad Lerner, one of la Repubblica's most violent writers against Formigoni. Other reactions included surprise at this "great gesture"–from a Vatican prelate– and the amazement of a foreign diplomat who commented, "Unlike others, you don't have the problem of defending yourselves." Above all, though, in the Movement, there were reactions to the "unspeakable pain in seeing what we have done with the grace we have received," the request for "forgiveness if we have damaged the memory of Fr. Giussani," and the powerful reminder of the "passion for Christ that the encounter with the charism of Fr. Giussani awakened in us that marked us so powerfully that it enables us to always begin again, after any error, more humble and more aware of our weakness." We have seen the beginning of a struggle and a work, bringing to the surface convictions and doubts, resistance and acceptance, revealing the thoughts of many hearts, as the Gospel says.

SATISFACTION. Here lies the watershed, between those who tried to soften the blow by hiding behind "political" readings or objections ("Does it mean that CL is abandoning its politicians? Does it no longer defend them? And then why ask forgiveness from those who attack us, even in bad faith?") and those who felt it as something for themselves, considering what Carrón himself had told a group of Responsibles of the Movement right after the Fraternity Spiritual Exercises in Rimini (the text is attached with this issue of Traces): "We can verify the true nature of what happened at the Exercises by the way we look at what is happening. The 'I' is seen in action." The letter to la Repubblica was exactly that: the beginning of a verification–right at the heart of the Exercises, in its crucial content: what our self-awareness is based on. Is it based on faith, or on something else? On wonder at the presence of Christ who draws all to Himself, or on the power of our own measure, our plans? "Only now am I beginning to understand how this concerns me," writes Claudio, a journalist, in one of the many e-mails we received on this subject. "If it is not Christ, here and now, who fills me with satisfaction, I will go to look for satisfaction where everyone else does. As we heard at the Fraternity Retreat, power, not wonder."
It is up to this fork in the road that the letter to la Repubblica pushed, and provoked us to become aware, and not about politics, works, or our "public" and social presence–all this is simply a consequence. The real work to be done is on the "I." It is so incisive that one of the most interesting facts that emerged in these weeks of personal dialogue and public assemblies was precisely that many changed their position. From an attitude of doubt and objections–their own or those of their friends–they accepted the challenge, the invitation to look at their own experience. After all, it is God's old, well-tested method: not something automatic, but people who move and "contaminate" others, as many of the letters and witnesses on the subject show.

OPEN QUESTION. Take Simone, a manager of a large business: "I read the title and the first phrase dumbfounded me–'I am filled with an unspeakable pain in seeing what we have done with the grace we have received.' He must have made a mistake, I told myself, he did not mean 'what we have done,' but 'what they have done.' It's the others, the newspapers, the politicians, our enemies, who are attacking us, who confuse and falsify things. What have we, people of the Movement, got to do with it?" In brief, "my first impact with the letter was very negative." Then there was an encounter, a School of Community, a dialogue. Something clicked: "I found it more interesting to understand if the aim of that letter of yours was, in the end, to go beyond whatever good or bad had been done or to affirm what we hold most dear. The game was open."
The same went for Gianni, a teacher: "I thought I had understood, but I got to school and a colleague said to me, 'Just as well you've got Carrón, but you have to understand what he's telling you.' It hurt me. How could he dare say that? I defended myself, trying to justify us... and ended up admitting he was right. I agreed with the letter, but I was not living the experience to which he had challenged us. What a sad dialogue. The following day, I asked my colleague what had struck him, and I was taken aback by the realization that he had been struck by the humanity and truth in that page, which I had thought I had understood..." Andrea, who works in the university, tells in a dialogue how "we read the letter amongst friends and set it aside at once; let's get on with other things. I was not able to. I began to sort through the way we judge things, between my wife and me: where to go on vacation; whether or not to hire someone to help around the house, how we use our money... This gave me the shivers because that colleague who had come close to us, curious about our experience, drew back because of what she read in the newspapers–so much for my 'witness' to her!" Another manager, Luca, writes, "Everything in the letter cries out love for Christ and hope for everyone, a clear criterion and a possible course to follow. We find ourselves reducing everything, stifling it before it reaches us in all its evidence or fascination. Everything is reduced to our own image, based on a conception of worldly success or acknowledgment. It's quite true; it's not a problem for others or outside me, but a question of our immorality."

SLIPPING AWAY. These are only examples, and there will be time to develop that work, to understand better some key passages in the letter; to grasp better, for example, that "we" designation that struck many of us. It didn't overturn what has always been said (that the responsibility is personal, and that there are no "CL" politicians or works and that the Movement as such will always keep an "irrevocable critical distance" from the tentative attempts and endeavours of its members) but without hiding under the carpet the connivance, the almost imperceptible slipping away, that led to many, with time, almost without realizing it, condescending to some mistakes and even justifying them; as if to go wrong with the best intentions, so as to defend, or even spread the Movement, the works, the faith, was not wrong; and as if the core of the question was our plan, and not the wonder at Christ who "happens." That thread of desire, which, Fr. Giussani recalled years ago, is "a unity at the base, that is, a human position, which, if I am incoherent a thousand times a day, then I judge myself a thousand times. But if I do not have this unity as the base, acknowledged and possessed, I do not judge myself any more in my thousand incoherencies, and I end up saying, 'They are inevitable.' Then, 'After all, what is so strange?' and eventually, 'It's right to do this.'"
This is why, for example, Luca, a university researcher, writes: "For a long time, my friends and I had felt the need for these words, because in and around us many things came to be justified, letting them pass without judging them seriously, both on a small scale (the life of the community) and on a larger scale (politics, works, etc.). Now we are forced to take up our experience seriously again."
And it's that thread of desire that enables you to get to the heart of the letter: the witness. It is a "new presence," "born of Christ's power to respond to the inexhaustible needs of the human heart," not of a hegemonic plan. Davide Prosperi, Vice-President of the CL Fraternity, recalled in a conference that testimony is not in coherence, in not making mistakes, "but in the fact that, even if I go wrong, I don't stop acknowledging Something greater that has taken hold of my life" and that allows me to call error by its true name, not to cover things up and at the same time "not to pull back from the fight." Not to be afraid to go on risking in the public arena...

BEFORE THE WORLD."Public" is another word that has rung out over the past week, almost always in the context of an objection: it's okay to correct, even brusquely; it's okay to behave like a father toward his children. But why in front of everyone? And why in a paper like la Repubblica that goes on showing its hostility? Many people made this observation to Carrón. And they got a disarming answer: "I am not bothered about standing before the world, but before God and myself. I said the same things to la Repubblica as I said at the Exercises." It is simply a question of self-awareness.
It is not by chance that another letter to la Repubblica was recalled, published March 15, 2000. Fr. Giussani was the writer, and the argument was John Paul II's mea culpa, the request for forgiveness the Pope made during the Jubilee for certain historic sins committed by the Church. Those acts of "purification of the memory" on themes like the Inquisition, discrimination against the Jews, the Crusades, the divisions amongst Christians, etc., all culminating in a ceremony on March 12th that year, had provoked reactions of irritation among many Catholics. The Pope was accused of having exaggerated, of having prostrated himself before the world, of having assumed in the name of the Body of Christ ("us") faults that, if and when they were committed, were the responsibility of those who had committed them. All in all, an excess of self-criticism." Fr. Giussani contested this three days later, speaking of that "great power of the Pope on his knees." It is striking to read it again (see p. 36). It has a force in its arguments and images that transforms the presumed weakness of a Pope who asks forgiveness into "the most resplendent and the greatest witness of the novelty of Christianity." And it has a very powerful passage that anchors everything, when it becomes a real experience: "The Christian is attached to no one but Jesus. All the ideologies have an aspect for which man is sure of at least one thing that he himself does, and it is that which he will never want to give up nor allow to be challenged. But the Christian knows that his efforts and all he possesses or does must always yield before the truth." There is a total–and potent–correspondence with today of the facts of that time and with Fr. Carrón's warning: "We can be stripped of everything, even go into exile, but Christ, who has fascinated us, remains for ever. He is not defeated by our defeats."
Paola, a clerical worker, describes why she is not defeated. In a letter, she tells of many of her friends who left the Movement "just because of the political scandals. Even before all their arguments, which appeared logical and acceptable, I could never leave this experience. Now I understand why, I understand what happened to me. I encountered Christ and this encounter left an indelible mark on me, so much so that no one and nothing, no error of mine or of others has scratched or can cancel this bond. The problem is no longer not to make mistakes, but not to lose Christ."A Christian is attached to nothing but Christ. This is the touchstone–this fever for life, not mistakes. And it is this that enables one in time to understand the nature of certain mistakes, because it's not first of all a question of moral weakness (that always exists; that we are frail is nothing new), but of knowledge, of what we recognize and trust as crucial; of what attracts us in such a way as to love truth more than oneself. In a word, once again: self-awareness. But, there is still a long road to travel. "We still have a long road ahead of us, and we are happy to be able to walk it," the last line of the letter reminded us. A road, not a miracle. This is the challenge now.