01-02-2013 - Traces, n. 2

politics and us

It is election time in Italy–an important occasion not only for the country, but for all of Europe, in this situation of international crisis and very fragile economic equilibriums. But it is an occasion to which we are arriving in a confusion whose echo is heard even by those who are not familiar with the Italian political situation (the end of the technical government, Silvio Berlusconi’s return to the political scene, the fragmentation of political parties…). It is a chaotic context, which makes it even more difficult to judge and to choose. And it is a context in which, several weeks ago, Communion and Liberation disseminated a press release that is worth reading. It is, of course, tied to the upcoming vote and to certain national questions. But it contains some fundamental points that transcend the Italian elections: three passages that Fr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of CL, emphasized in an interview some years ago (in 1976, to be precise), but that offer today, as the document itself reminds us, “a contribution for living as Christians in the various ambits of society.”

The initial, decisive reminder: “The first level of political effect of a lively Christian community is its very existence, as this entails a space and expressive possibilities;” this community, “by its very nature, does not ask for freedom of life and expression as an isolated privilege, but rather the recognition of the right to this freedom for all. Therefore, by the sole fact of existing, if they are authentic, then Christian communities are guarantors and promoters of substantial democracy.” In this sense, “the multiplication and expansion of active and authentic Christian communities cannot help but determine the birth and development of a movement whose influence on civil society inevitably tends to be ever more prominent; the Christian experience thus becomes one of the protagonists of civic life, in constant dialogue and comparison with all of the other forces.”
From this comes the second point: “An authentic Christian community lives in a constant relationship with the rest of humanity, sharing completely in its needs and feeling its problems. Because of the profound fraternal experience that develops in it, the Christian community cannot but tend to have its own idea and its own method of approaching common problems, both practical and theoretical, to offer as its specific collaboration with the rest of the society in which it is situated.”
Only in virtue of these two points can one arrive at the third level, that of direct political involvement on the part of some: “When passing from the phase of political–cultural urging and encouragement to that of outright political activism, it is no longer the community as such that involves itself, but individual people who, by their own responsibility, though they were formed by the concrete life of the community itself, get involved in the search for additional instruments of political effect.”

One may come to choose direct involvement or not, and in many different ways–depending on historical conditions, circumstances… a thousand factors. But, in reading Giussani’s first two points carefully, we find fundamental questions that go above and beyond election day. What does it mean that a “lively Christian community” is, in and of itself, a subject that influences society? And what does it really mean to be present, to influence? Is it a question of parties and power, or is it, first of all, something else? And what does faith have to do with all of this; how does it help? That is, in what way can “knowledge of faith” become “knowledge of reality”–as Benedict XVI continually reminds us–in every circumstance of life: family, economy, work… even politics?
On the following pages, you will find an analysis and several witnesses that bring these questions into focus. They are just the starting point for our work, but they can help us to understand more–and therefore to live.

Communion and Liberation’s flyer in view of the upcoming Italian elections contains some criteria for judgment that go far deeper than the temporary electoral circumstances. It is an opportunity, also for those who are far from Italy, to explore the relation between politics and the nature of our charism. In this sense, some testimonies from throughout the world help us see how “the knowledge of faith” becomes “knowledge of reality.”

by Ignacio Carbajosa Pérez

In other countries, as in Italy, the Note released by the CL press office regarding the political situation gave rise to a rich and intense dialogue both within and outside the Movement, demonstrating once more that historical circumstances are an occasion to understand the charism that fascinated us and to grow in the intelligence of faith.
However, a glance at the history of CL would be sufficient to understand that the affirmation–sometimes heard outside the borders of Italy–“this is an Italian issue; it doesn’t concern me” represents a serious misinterpretation. In reality, the decisive steps in our history–those moments when Fr. Giussani, becoming aware of a difficulty or a misunderstanding, proposed a new step or a corrected course–came from circumstances that were, for the most part, “Italian” (and couldn’t have been otherwise). Being acquainted with those circumstances allows us to understand and, above all, to better absorb the historical step that is proposed to us now. Today, we find ourselves facing one of these circumstances, and so it is an exciting situation. This article intends to contribute to the dialogue that emerged around the issue of political involvement and the nature of the charism, by responding to five questions that were raised as people read the Note.
The Note affirms that “the unity of the Movement is not a political uniformity, let alone a party alliance, but is tied to the original experience of CL.” If unity is not expressed by a uniform vote, then what is unity? In order to respond to this question, it is useful to turn it around: if unity is expressed by a uniform vote, then who decides how to vote? And we realize that we discovered ourselves united in a common experience of correspondence: unity lies at the origin, it precedes us; we discover it and adhere to it. This experience saw us united around Fr. Giussani, in obedience to the Holy Spirit and the Church, and in its mature articulation there is unity around Fr. Julián Carrón, President of the Fraternity of CL.

A true method. It would be pathetic, and fail to respond to the truest content of our experience, if we were to reduce unity to the convergence of action around a decree, even if it came from the highest leadership of the Movement. Not by chance did Fr. Giussani, upon entering the Berchet High School in Milan, immediately challenge the freedom of his students: “I’m not here so that you can take my ideas as your own; I’m here to teach you a true method that you can use to judge the things I will tell you.” Fascinated by that man who loved the freedom of his students, those first pupils who followed him discovered that they were united to him. Fr. Giussani himself was amazed by the gift of that unity: “I belonged to the unity with those three.” And those young people started moving in their unity, surprised by a common experience (which was a judgment) that preceded them.

Engaging ourselves. A second question arises, related to the first: from the original experience of unity has always come the desire to engage ourselves in everything that we do. What does it mean to engage with the experience of the Movement? Shouldn’t engagement decide the (common) vote? Here it becomes necessary to clear up a misunderstanding: we often reduce “engagement” to asking what I should do in this or that circumstance. In this way, I unload my personal responsibility on someone else who decides for me, forgetting that I already have a criterion for judging everything, as Fr. Giussani said, and failing to take advantage of circumstances in order to put this criterion in play, to learn how to use it. It seems that by “asking everything,” I am following another person. Instead, I continue to remain in a childish stage and I don’t become an adult. Another reduction is to think that engaging with the Movement is identified with agreeing at all costs on a common position (and if we cannot all agree, there will always be some mechanism that will decide for everyone). And it seems like we “save unity” while we are, in fact, reducing it to an “agreement” that will inevitably be the subject of conflicts and power strategies–without the unmistakable mark of a surprising unity.
Another glance at our history reveals this reduction of the term “following” or “engagement.” Recently, Fr. Carrón reminded us of how Fr. Giussani conceived of following: to follow coincides with “the desire to relive the experience of the person who has provoked you, and who still provokes you, with his presence in the life of the community.” The first way to engage is the daily exercise, composed of reason and affection, of reliving the experience of the charism as it expressed itself in the life and teaching of Fr. Giussani, and that can be described as a change in mentality. School of Community and the pedagogical instruments that Fr. Giussani proposed to us are the first place where a new mindset enters into us.

United at the origin. From this new mentality springs an intelligence of reality that is recognized as attractive, original, and around which, again, we are surprised to find ourselves united. It would be a sad reduction of the charism if some superior structure had to undertake the task of bringing back to unity that which is not united at its origin, thus taking the place of people’s freedom. Not even the Pope claims this function when dealing with the free initiative of the person in matters regarding public administration that do not conform to Catholic doctrine and morals.
The third question emerges almost from the depths of our charism. We have always identified in dualism one of the greatest dangers of our era, as it drastically separates faith (as personal devotion) and life (as action founded on its own criteria), preventing the first from affecting the second. Both the CL Note and the one released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2002, about the involvement of Catholics in politics, emphasize the distinction between the arena of education to the faith and that of temporal choices.
What is the difference between the just distinction of these domains (which the Church has always proclaimed) and dualism (which we have always fought)? It is an interesting question, especially because it warns us of an oscillation that would lead us to interpret both notes as relativistic on the subject of “political” options, which is something that both explicitly try to avoid.
If dualism attacks the foundations of the Incarnation (not by accident is Christ the Alpha and Omega of everything; all things consist in Him), then negating, implicitly or explicitly, the just distinction of these domains puts us on the track of fundamentalism, which the Catholic Church has always rejected. This distinction favored the development of the Western democracies and, in turn, reinforced the freedom of the Church. But what is more, this distinction lies at the base of Christ’s pedagogy as demonstrated in the Gospels. It is a pedagogy that does not try to stay away from temporal questions (in order to deal with “spiritual” ones), but claims all of the freedom for the person, because only in this freedom does adherence to Christ take place. Here is an example: While Jesus was teaching in the temple, some priests and elders approached Him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things?” Jesus’ response is disconcerting: “I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. Where was John’s Baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?” The Teacher turns the question around: He will manifest Himself only if His interlocutors put themselves in play. And they discussed among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘Of heavenly origin,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we fear the crowd, for they all regard John as a prophet.” So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” Jesus’ response expresses the Christian pedagogy that Giussani had at heart: “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things” (cfr. Mt 21:23-27). The vote or the realm of political activism are spaces in which the person must risk making a judgment, putting himself in play.
In this same polemical context with the Jewish establishment, the Gospels show us the episode of the tribute to Caesar, which the Church has always used to illustrate the distinction between ecclesial and temporal authority. Jesus frees Himself from the specious question that starts from the old alternative regarding whether or not it was licit to pay taxes to the Romans by affirming, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
A fourth question is naturally tied to the preceding one: from the just distinction of domains comes that which Fr. Giussani defined an “irrevocable critical distance” of the Movement with respect to our friends who are involved in politics. What is this critical distance and how is it different from a “disinterest” in concrete action? In reality, in this case, we don’t have to go very far to find examples of this position of the Movement with respect to political action in the strict sense. Fr. Julián Carrón’s letter, published in La Repubblica on May 1, 2012, is an exercise of this critical distance, which is, in turn, interest and charity toward the people who are involved in politics. If one is loyal in his concrete involvement, then he will feel this critical distance as good for his life, for the capacity for correction and for newness when he finds himself continually ransoming the ideal in front of our inevitable tendency to reduce its horizon.
Lastly, a question arises regarding one of the points on which the CL Note primarily insists–What does this mean: “The first level of political effect of a lively Christian community is its very existence”? Doesn’t this underestimate political activism in the strict sense of the word? This is another one of those questions that should be turned around in order to better understand the response. In reality, wouldn’t it be a reduction of our experience, and ingenuous from the historical point of view, to maintain that our historical impact derives principally from political activism?
In the first place, it would represent a reduction of our experience. Traces magazine continually presents examples of works and initiatives that are born of a “lively Christian community” and are real cases of impact on social life, and thus on the life of the nations. They are small, widespread experiences that change the face of society. To underestimate this dimension of our public expression is a sign of serious shortsightedness.

Points of civilization. What is more, from the historical point of view, a reduction like the one I have described would have to be accused of naivety. The Pope has attentively reminded us more than once of the card that the Benedictines played in an era of savagery, creating points of civilization around their monasteries that went on to define the face of Europe. We don’t have to go very far to find modern examples. The battles against abortion and divorce, which we have fresh in our minds, have taught us a lesson: if a society is not aware of the good that welcoming a life represents, or if it does not live the experience of a love that is the sign of a greater Love, then legislative instruments will have a difficult time fighting against the current. Only the multiplication of lively Christian communities will be able to generate anew experiences of true humanity that touch reason and affection, and thus change the dominant mentality.
The fact that these communities generate vocations to political life in the strict sense and collaborate in the defense of the freedom of any social initiative directed toward building is a sign of vitality and intelligence. We cannot but view them with sympathy.