The Greatest Sacrifice Is to Give Your Life for an Other’s Work
by Luigi Giussani
From L’avvenimento cristiano [The Event of Christianity], Bur, Milan, 2003, pp. 65-70
1. In one of the hymns at Morning Prayer we sing, “When into one body we gather, a new Guest appears in our midst.”1 One body: only a people in unity is a true protagonist of history. The term “one body” has a metaphysical, ontological value and an ethical, moral value. We need to keep in mind and deepen these two aspects in the daily renewal of our commitment, of our memory. Remember that the word memory points to a presence, the awareness of a presence that began in the past. Memory is an investment of history; and the Benedictus2 marks out the trajectory of this history.
“A new Guest appears in our midst”–the metaphysical and ontological value of our unity lies in the depth that this unity draws from the great presence of Christ, which is the only thing we know. We have received such a grace that, ingenuous as we are, we are able to overcome all the contradiction of our distraction and our sins and perceive, day after day, the great presence of Christ. We have received such a grace that, whoever and however we are, we can sincerely and naively repeat that we know nothing but Christ. For our unity knows nothing but Christ.
From this ontological value of the company springs its moral value: it is the fruit of freedom. Its root is Christ's presence, but in its acknowledgment and consent it is the fruit of our freedom.
This hint gives rise to the moral formula that most intensely summarizes and best points out the praxis of our life. “The greatest sacrifice is to give your life for an Other's work.” This phrase is analogous to what Christ said: “No one loves his friends as much as someone who gives his life for his friends.”3 But, even more deeply–as the whole of St. John's Gospel affirms–this phrase recalls Christ's own experience: He gives His life for the work of the Father.
To give your life for an Other's work, if we are not to be abstract, means that everything we do, the whole of our life, is for the Movement. To say that what we do is done to give growth to the charism we have been given to share in is to say something that has a precise, historical reference point, its own chronology, its own physiognomy, something that can be described and even photographed; something that has names and surnames and, at the origin, one name and surname. If to give your life for an Other’s work doesn't indicate a name and surname then its historicity vanishes, its concreteness crumbles, and you no longer give your life for an Other's work, but you give your life for an interpretation of your own, for what you like, for your own profit, or for your own point of view.
To give your life for an Other’s work; this “other,” historically, phenomenally, as it appears, is a particular person; in the case of our Movement, for example, I am the one. As I say this, it is as if all that I am were to disappear (because the “Other” is Christ in His Church). A historic point of reference remains–the whole flow of words, the whole torrent of work that was born from that first moment in the Berchet High School.4
To lose sight of this point is to lose the temporal foundation of our unity, of the usefulness of our actions; it is like making cracks in a foundation.
2. No sooner is the word “I” pronounced then it becomes blurred, and is lost in the distance, because the historical, describable, photographable factor, which can be indicated by name and surname, is destined to disappear from the scene where a history begins. Each one has the responsibility of the charism; each one is the cause of the decline or the increase of the charism’s effectiveness; everyone is either a stretch of land in which the charism wastes away or a stretch of land in which it bears fruit.
So we have reached a very serious moment, which urgently requires everyone, as a matter of loyalty and fidelity, to become aware of his own responsibility. It is the moment for each of us to take up his own responsibility for the charism.
To obscure or underrate these observations is to obscure or underrate the intensity of the impact that the history of our charism has on the Church of God and on present-day society.
The essence of our charism can be summed up in two things:
First of all, the announcement that God has become man (the astonishment and enthusiasm for this).
Secondly, that this man is present in a “sign” of concord, of communion, of unity of a community, of a people in unity.
We could add a third fundamental factor in order to describe our charism definitively: only in God-made-man, and therefore only in His presence and, so, only–in some way–through the form of His presence, can man be man and humanity be human. So it is His presence that gives rise to morality and passion for man’s salvation (“mission”).
3. There is a personal identification, a personal version that each one gives of the charism in which he has been called and to which he belongs. Inevitably, the more you become responsible for this charism, the more it passes through your temperament, through that vocation that is irreducible to any other and that is your own person. Each one’s person has its own concreteness, the concreteness of his mentality, of his temperament, of the circumstances in which he lives, and, above all, of his freedom in action.
Therefore, each one can do what he wants with the charism and with his own history; he can reduce it, live it partially, stress some aspects at the expense of others (making it monstrous), bend it to his own taste or for his own profit, abandon it out of negligence or stubbornness or superficiality, abandon it to a particular stress in which he feels more at ease, finds more to his taste, and costs him less effort.
In identifying with each one’s responsibility, the charism takes up varied, approximate form depending on each one’s generosity. This approximation is measured by generosity, where capacity, temperament, and taste are grounded. The charism takes shape according to each one’s generosity. This is the law of generosity: to give your whole life for an Other’s work.
This third point begs the great question: each one, in his every action, every day of his life, in all his imaginings, in all his resolutions, and in all his doings, must be concerned about comparing the criteria of his actions with the image of the charism as it emerged at the beginning of the common history. The comparison with the charism as it was given us tends to correct the singularity of the versions, of the translation, and is a continuous correction and provocation.
So our greatest concern must be for this comparison with the charism, methodologically, practically, morally, and pedagogically. Otherwise, the charism becomes a pretext and an inspiration for what we want; it covers up and endorses what we ourselves want. In this way, we become fundamentally impostors, because we claim to be building Communion and Liberation while we are really making what we want out of Communion and Liberation. Falsehood, according to St. John, is synonymous with sin,5 and so it is a betrayal.
In order to limit this temptation that we are all inclined to, we must make a normal practice of comparison with the charism, as correction and as an ideal to be continually re-awakened. We have to make of this comparison a habit, habitus, and a virtue. This is our virtue: comparison with the charism in its originality.
4. At this point, we are back again at the ephemeral, because God makes use of the ephemeral. Here again is the importance of the ephemeral: for the moment, the final comparison is with the person with whom it all started.
I may dissolve, but the texts I leave behind, and the uninterrupted following–God willing–of the people indicated as the point of reference, as the true interpretation of what happened in me, become the instrument for correction and re-awakening; they become the tool of morality. The line of the references indicated is what is most alive in the present, because a text can be interpreted, too; it is difficult to interpret it wrongly, but it is possible.
To give your life for an Other’s work always implies a link between the word “Other” and something historical, something concrete that can be touched, felt, described, photographed, and has a name and surname. Without this, our pride imposes itself–this is ephemeral, yes; ephemeral in the worst sense of the word. To speak of charism without a historical reference is not to speak of a Catholic charism.
1 The reference is to the hymn from Morning Prayer, Book of Hours, Coop. Edit. Nuovo Mondo, Milan, 1993, pp. 24-25.
2 The Canticle of Zechariah, the song to God following the birth of his son, John the Baptist, announced by the Angel (cf. Lk 1:68-79). It is recited at Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.
3 cf. Jn 15:13.
4 In 1954, in the Berchet High School, Milan, the first group of Gioventù Studentesca was born (later to develop into CL).
5 Cf. Jn 8:44.