01-02-2013 - Traces, n. 2



Eight years after Fr. Giussani’s death, Fr. MAURO G. LEPORI, Abbot General of the Order of Cistercians, talks about their rare but decisive encounters–the continuity between the CL charism and that of the monastery, the relationship between obedience and freedom, and that offer on the day of his election... “I needed time to understand.”

by Ubaldo Casotto

We have an appointment on January 23rd at 5:30 pm at the Milan Cultural Center, which has invited the Abbot General of the Cistercians for an encounter entitled, “Does every beginning grow or wear out? A dialogue about our times in the footsteps of St. Benedict.” Fr. Mauro Giuseppe Lepori arrives punctually, sits down, and issues a disclaimer: “I’m not an orator, so you will have to polish my words.” And, instead, you could listen to him for hours–there’s nothing to polish.

Fr. Mauro, how did you meet Fr. Giussani?
As a student, at the end of the 1970s. He used to come to preach the retreats of the CL university students in Switzerland. I remember one in which he and von Balthasar alternated, and it was impressive to see the reciprocal devotion between them, how one listened to the other when he talked.
When was your first personal encounter with him?
In 1992, through a mutual friend. I was already a monk and novice master. Returning from a retreat in Hungary, I stopped in Milan. A relationship was born that was, for me, totally gratuitous; a disproportionate gift. I lived the subsequent encounters like this, too; I didn’t dare presume to meet with him, and I always felt these meetings to be a gift of his gracious generosity.

In 1994, you were elected Abbot of Hauterive. Did you continue to see him?
That day I lived one of the most intense moments of my relationship with him. They handed me the phone, saying that they couldn’t understand who it was (at that time, he was starting to have difficulty expressing himself). “It’s me, Fr. Giussani...” He spoke to me about the charity for which an abbot is chosen, and then he said, “Please, offer me.” He made his life available for what I was beginning. I lived all of that day hearing this voice that said, “Please, offer me.”

Did you see him again after that?
I had only a few meetings with him, five in all. They were rare, and for me they were very important. I tried to treasure every word, because Fr. Giussani brought his relationship with people to an almost extreme degree of truth, intensity, and charity. I felt incapable of grasping what he communicated to me; I felt all of my vanity with respect to this grace. Now I realize that I needed time to understand, and those seeds that were planted in me are now bearing fruit.

You cite Monsignor Corecco as your spiritual father. What kind of relationship did he have withGiussani?
Another encounter with Fr. Giussani that was fundamental for me was at the deathbed of Mons. Corecco, who had accompanied me during my college years and afterward. I witnessed the last gaze between those two men, meeting at the edge of the mystery of life. Corecco was almost in agony, and Giussani, with a charity, an affection, and an incredible recognition, embraced him and cried. In those moments, I lived all of his extremely intense humanity.

Your relationship with Fr. Giussani was therefore subsequent to your vocation...
My vocation matured in the Movement, and so Fr. Giussani’s charism accompanied me from the start, especially in learning to embrace my Cistercian vocation as a charism, as well. Now I live the charism of the monastery wholeheartedly because in CL I lived and learned the meaning of the charism and the Christian experience. Fr. Giussani made clear the profound harmony between the Benedictine charism and the method of the Movement, and that helped me. In the monastery, I rediscovered gestures and dimensions to which I had been educated in the Movement: community, prayer, education, authority, obedience...

So you don’t live the so-called problem of “double belonging”?
As Abbot General, I have to deal with monks and nuns who, coming from a certain charism, often from movements, live this fact poorly–in a dualistic way, as if one charism prevented you from living the other. This was not my experience; in CL, I learned respect for the charism to which God calls you and I lived a continuity, not a double belonging. If one is following Christ, there can be no duplicity.

When he presented Fr. Julián Carrón, Fr. Giussani, referring to himself, said, “When we lose the attachment to the mode with which the truth communicates itself (...), it is then that the truth of the thing begins to emerge clearly.” Then, taking Jesus’ words as his own, he shocked his incredulous listeners by saying, “It is better for you that I go.” Doesn’t this seem excessive?
I hear that phrase–“Please, offer me”–again, and I think that this “It is better for you that I go” is the extreme expression of paternity. A father not only transmits life, but he gives it for his children. In order that the father not remain a memory, but continue to be my life, there is this mystery for which one has to accept the gift of the father’s offering. Jesus says, “It is better for you that I go,” because He was going to offer Himself completely in order to stay with us. I still haven’t fully understood that “Please, offer me.” I understand that offering him means accepting that he die for you. It is a judgment on you. A person can continue to not give his life, to not offer himself, to not want to leave so that the other can grow... And yet, he understands that the truth is something else. Peter denied Jesus, but he could no longer not let himself be wounded by the fact that Christ went to die.

Fr. Giussani spoke of the continuous necessity of a “new beginning.” Today, how is your relationship with him and with the reality that originated with him?
The heart of his charism is understanding that the encounter with Christ is vain if it does not become an educated following, an education of humanity. But a following that doesn’t continually start again from the encounter is empty. Fr. Giussani reminds me of the meaning of Christ being present, without which nothing makes sense–St. Benedict would say, “Do not prefer anything to Christ”–and of the fact that this recognition entails a journey for which the Church offers you an ambit. Otherwise, everything is reduced to moralism and formalism.

Can you say with one word what “the” gift of Fr. Giussani is to the Church?
Education. If the Christian fact is not educated by a community, a fraternity, a companionship, and continually recalled to the faith, to recognize Christ present, then everything becomes not just fragile–to the point that it is unable to withstand the attacks or trends of the era–but vain. Fr. Giussani’s charism reminds the Church to be herself, the mother and teacher who not only gives us Christ, but who also educates us to follow Him in a journey toward the fullness of our humanity.

Giussani once said, “Would that one could say of me what is written on the tomb of Fr. Kentenich, the founder of the Schoenstatt Movement: ‘Dilexit ecclesiam’ (‘He loved the Church’)”...
Now that I find myself in a position that is more exposed and closer to the Church as a hierarchy, I realize that Fr. Giussani’s love for the Church is a great virtue. Because it’s not automatic when one is faced with the human poverty, the pettiness, and the betrayal of the Church’s love for man, respect for the freedom and growth of the person, and mercy. Loving the Church in spite of everything is a gift; it’s holiness.

In spite of everything?
In spite of the deviations of men of the Church toward power. Loving the Church means reminding her to be not coherent, but humbly abandoned to Christ’s design.

During the turbulent 1960s and ’70s, Fr. Giussani had the courage to say that obedience is still a virtue and, at the same time, to entrust himself completely to the freedom of those who followed him. Is this a contradiction?
No, because he was referring to obedience as education, as a journey toward your fullness and therefore that which exalts your freedom, which is given to you for this. An authority is not someone who tells you what you have to do, but someone who helps you on a journey. Anyone who conceives of obedience as adaptation to a form does not respect freedom, but treats people like children on the beach who make shapes with the sand–when you take away the mold, a small gust of wind is enough to destroy them. Without education, it’s impossible to give (substantial) form.