word among us
Faith is acknowledging a Presence
Notes from a talk by Luigi Giussani to a group of adults. Milan, 1977
It is said: Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. So be very careful about the sort of life you lead, like intelligent and not like senseless people. Make the best of the present time, for it is a wicked age. This is why you must not be thoughtless but must recognize what is the will of the Lord (Eph 5:14-17).
There is a premise to which we must continually return.
I am glad to talk with you, a gladness that has to strugglethrough all the thickness of my limits, of my consciousness of my sinnot to make a speech to you, but to say and say again these words which are life.
Not life in an abstract and generic sense, as a definition, but you: these words are you, your person; they are the destiny toward which all the energy to which God gave origin in your mothers womb and that bears your name is flowing. But the meaning of this energy is not your name, because your true name is another one: it is the faith that has been given to you.
The question is whether or not we live faith, whether faith is really something for usnot theoretically, not as a title that calls for a certain content in particular moments of our daybut whether faith is our life, when we open our eyes and when we get out of bed and face the day and when we eat and when we go out of the house and when we relate to each other or relate to others or relate to things. Whether faith is life. This is premise.
Ours is not a commemoration. It is the presence of Christ, our life, to be acknowledged. It is not a commemoration that we engage in, but it is a Presence that we must acknowledge.
Faith is this: acknowledging a Presence, and thats all; acknowledging a Presence that is the meaning of the blood that circulates, of the child to whom one gives birth, of the husband or wife that one has.
Faith is acknowledging an event that recurs anew every time we think about it. When Isaiah prophesied, It was no messenger or angel, but his presence that saved them (Is 63:9), he was describing this event which is God made a companion to man; the same as when Moses, in chapter 33 of Exodus, pleads, If you do not come yourself, do not make us move on from here (Ex 33:15).
But when we recite the Angelus (it could be the first resolution of this year that in every house each of you every day not forget this synthesis of all the faith, because saying, And the Word was made flesh and dwells among us, is realizing again what is happening), what are we thinking about? A Presence, from whom in our distraction we have looked away.
And when in the Lauds we say the Benedictus, the canticle which invokes an event that was happening then, why do we recite it, if not because it is happening continually? His companionship, His presence: in all of history there exists no other alternative to all the possible and imaginable ideologies that have been, are, and will be (because in the last analysis the fundamental factors are the same for every one of them; they are like the wooden or metal pieces of a childs construction set: many shapes can be made with them, but the pieces are always the same). The only alternative, the measure that is no longer that of our things, is the announcement of this Presence.
Therefore, there is only one novelty in our life; one, not two: becoming aware of this Presence.
It is so much the only novelty that it makes everything new, even the instant, the banality of your place every day. The supreme clue that Christ is God is precisely the fact that the human factor which is closest to nothingness, that is, ones daily routine, bit-by-bit is redeemed and all the breadth of mans personality is summed up and saved in the instant, in this instant, whatever he does.
For this reason, the Church uses as a synonym of this Presence the word Grace, which is for man the experience of being given: I am the way, the truth, and the life. Believe in God and believe also in me. What does it mean to believe in God and believe in Him? It means acknowledging the operative or operating presence of the Mystery, of the Father in our life.
But the way in which the Father works is called Christ, and therefore the Church, and therefore communion among us. What eternal weight, what infinite value, what density lie in these words that we use like the waste paper with which our children play!
The prophet Jeremiah, too, said, All is nothingness except believing in Him. If these words re-echoed in us, then what a feeling, what an image, what a different conception we would have of ourselves!
If we do not continually recall this thing, what would happen to us, what happens to us, what happens to our community, what happens to our Movement, what happens to what we do? Everything would fall back into routine, that is to say, into this flight toward non-meaning, into this slide toward insignificance to which our hours and days are tending.
What a different feeling we would have if we harbored within ourselves the awareness of having been chosen: I chose you not because you are worth more, but because I love you (cf. Deut 7). I have been chosen to become aware of Your presence, o God. Then we would be more conscious of the sacredness of our person. I use this word sacredness precisely to underline the meaning it has in the history of religions, where the term sacred was a synonym, as it were, for the idea of separation: the sacred jar was kept separate from the other jars so it would not be used for ordinary purposes.
We are like this, we are in the tremendous paradox of being immersed in the world like all men, yet with a duty for sensitivity, with a necessity for heartfelt sharing that is greater than others, if anything, and yet we are alone, as the Psalmist cried during his exile in Babylon: I am estranged from my brothers.
But the most profound and most definitive word pronounced by God on our life is the word belonging. We belong to Him because his Presence is a taking possession of us, as He did with the people of Israel: You are mine; All the peoples of the earth are mine, all men are mine, and you belong to me (cf. Ex 19:3-8), up to John 13:1, where we read, Jesus having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end, and finally in chapter 17 of the Gospel of John, He speaks to the Father of us as those you have given me, mine.
How evocative were the comparisons used by the prophets: the vineyard in chapter 5 of Isaiah (think of how in that farming world of small landowners, for each person his piece of land, his vineyard was everythinghe lived off it. This is it, we are His vineyard) or the bride, the woman loved in youth whom we never forget and inevitably take back again (cf. Is 54:4-10).
For this reason, if we had even just a crumb of feeling about ourselves as belonging (I say feeling about ourselves because that is what goes with us everywhere, on the bus or at work it is the soil in which our words and gestures are born), a belonging that defines me more and is truer than the photograph of my face, then we would not sense St. Pauls words as strange: Can anything cut us off from the love of Christ? (Rom 8:35)
It is this perception, it is this consciousness that saves me, that does not judge me, not in the sense that it eradicates my evil, but in the sense that it enables me not ever to be tied to my evil; it works so that my evil not be my program and my idol: alive or dead, we belong to the Lord (Rom 14:8).
This feeling about oneself should run through all the other feelings that things, circumstances, and the time of life and death suggest to us, because everything is as ephemeral as the clothes that one puts on or takes off, but belonging to Christ is what defines us.
2. The new face
I referred to faith, because this new feeling about oneself that faith generates (and it is not necessary to be perfectremember the passage from Philippians 3. I too say these things and I am profoundly convinced that if I should say them because of perfection on my part I would certainly have to run away, and faster than any of you!) changes ones aspect. To be sure, it is not at all necessary that the traits of my temperament change, at least not immediately, but undoubtedly, if I did not have this faith and this feeling, I would have a different aspect.
Having a different aspect means having another way of conceiving what is valuable, having a new way of identifying the meaning of me.
Now, when someone acts having in mind a certain judgment about what is valuable, then he is happy or unhappy or uncertain or doubtful according to whether what matters to him in what he is doing is successful or not. Our aspect is always determined by the consciousness of what is worth doing, that is, of a value judgment.
The new aspect that faith generates is what we perceive so many times emerging from certain pages of St. Paulfor example, the passage from the Letter to the Philippians in which he says that since he has known Christ he has understood that all the rest is filth.
But, aside from the word filth, which vigorously expresses the judgment of disproportion between all things and this presence, what leaps to the awareness is a great freedom in the face of what life brings.
It would be good to read again Ephesians 4, where Paul describes the new relationships between Christians, or I Corinthians 1-2, when he judges with contempt the presumptuousness of worldly wisdom; or again I Corinthians 7: The time has become limited, and from now on, those who have spouses should live as though they had none; and those who mourn as though they were not mourning; those who enjoy life as though they did not enjoy it; those who have been buying property as though they had no possessions; and those who are involved with the world as though they were people not engrossed in it. Because this world as we know it is passing away.
It is another world, it is the type of person and the type of face that is born of faith.
And finally, in II Corinthians 4-6, precisely this type of new man is described.
This new aspect is determined not only by a different conception of what matters (so that if I dont have this or dont have that I dont denigrate myself, and I use what I have in a different way, and hence I am no longer its slave) and by behaving accordingly, but also by the unity among those who have been called. It is difficult to understand this, as a matter of fact it is difficult also for us, for too many of us: a unity with the others who have been called, chosen, preferred; with the others that Christ has seized. It is a unity that is born from within, because we come together so as to express this unity that is already there, was there before. This unity from within is like the beginning of a new humanity, said St. James: We are the start of a new creation.
3. The Movement
My brothers and sisters: this faith must happen.
The Movement is nothing more than the locus of a mature and suggestive beginning, the locus of education and development of this different aspect of individuals, in a unity that each one acknowledges as the most fitting definition of himself. The Movement is only this; if it is not this, it is nothing, it is a burden for scribes and Pharisees.
One often has an image of the Movement as an organization; thus we feel a part of the Movement, because the accent of announcement that it makes, thanks be to God, was not totally wasted, and we have to admit this. But we do not understand the Movement.
The Movement is what I have said: it is this new aspect brought forth by that faith, that is, by that acknowledgment of a Presence which changes our perception of ourselves. In fact, changing your self-perception does not come about by an effort on your part, but it comes about through the consciousness of this Presence that finds in our unity the locus for calling us, persuading us, and educating us.
Being in the Movement means participating in the change in the way of conceiving of oneself, in the way of conceiving of others, in the way of conceiving and living relationships. Participating in the change, and thats all.
By this criterion, you can judge your communities, your diakonias, initiatives, everything, using this criterion. Not only does it enable you to judge others, it also and above all destroys any alibi of yours. In fact, and we have been saying this for years now, the Movement has an enormous need for its members to become adults.
But who is an adult? The adult is defined by the manner of his relationships; a child, an adolescent, a youth all show their degree of immaturity in the way they live their relationships with themselves, other persons, and things. The Christian adult, the adult in the experience of our Movement, is one who lives, or at least tends to live, his relationships in the light of faith, that is to say, with the awareness of this Presence. This takes place between husband and wife, between parents and children, in the community and outside the community.
Adult does not necessarily mean someone who defines the Movements teaching, proclaims its method, or even is responsible for initiatives or decides the things that are to be done, because these are not the things that define an adult. An adult is the person who tends to live relationships, in the words of St. Paul, in Christ and thus lives that great physiognomy of the Christian who has crossed the threshold of maturity of faith (and this is the moment when one feels smallest of all!). It is a physiognomy full of victory and boldness, because Christ is risen. Not over there, but here, in me, in the school or work environment where I go, at home, in town, and therefore even if I began now (and the farther along one goes in life the more he understands that we are beginning all the time), it is with a strength and a light of victory inside me, not because I am something but because He who possesses me is victorious. This is the victory that has overcome the worldthat is, our flesh, our insignificanceour faith.
This same physiognomy, on the other hand, is completely charged with the expectation that this certainty may run through all my blood, all my veins, all my expression, all my time: Your perseverance will win you your lives.
Is the Movement like this? Are you in the Movement like this? Do you live the community wherever you are like this?
There is one last thing before going on, because the issue is always this question, this premise, not anything else.
This change of which I was speaking, this new aspect which because of the unity that it implies among us is like the beginning of a different society, a different humanity, a different people, is the sign of the living God, it is the proof and demonstration of His Presence.
You understand that the question is a serious one; as a matter of fact, the Gospel says, But the one who disowns me in the presence of human beings, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven. This is the formula of the Last Judgment.
Others will understand His presence by this personal change, hence by our unity: May they all be one so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. Or again, so that they may see your good works and glorify the Father in heaven. In fact, before dying, Jesus said in chapter 15 of the Gospel of John, It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruitthe fruit is the visible, tangible, documentable change and is the work that falls to us in life, whether we are thirty or seventy years old, it is the same. So then, here is the word: I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last.
To go out. Where, o Lord? Some of our friends are in Zaire or Uganda or Brazil. These, our friends, have gone to live somewhere else precisely to bear the fruit that faith generated in them. Is it really necessary to do this? Where do we go? We go where the Father sends us, that is to say, in the circumstances of lifeyour house, your factory and your office, your school or on the bus, whether you are able or not to call your meeting.
To bear fruit, fruit that will last . That is, to construct, to build the meaning of the world, which is He, which is the Church, His bodyand from our point of view, to spread this experience of life that we call the Movement.
There is a word that indicates the mechanism by which this fruit is borne and the dynamics by which the other, the stranger is struck and provoked as by an announcement: the word presence.
You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.
The fruit that must last is that we become a presence. But for how many of us is this word true?
This is what makes up the Movement: that each and every one of us become a presence. Presence is exactly what the prophet Isaiah said of Christ: Here I am, send me.
Two factors explain presence.
1) The word everywhere, that is, within all the concrete ways in which one lives society, within the conditioning of his life in society; in the narrowest sense, the family, and in the widest sense, politics.
Everywhere means within the concrete ways in which you live your whole life, within all the things that condition you. We know that after a while your wife begins to condition you, and your husband the same, the child you wanted conditions you, and the thing you hope for conditions you. This turn toward the worse is inevitable, it is the force of the inertia of things. Everywhere means particularly taking into the heart of this world, into the temple of human power, that is, into ones work, the Christian challenge which is as hard as the sword and at the same time so sweet: Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
I myself observed for the first time this year that, if it is true that one has to look at the signs of the times, the sign of our times is the glorification of work: todays religion is work. But this sign of the times strangely seems to me to recall another moment in history, 1500 years ago, the time of St. Benedict. Then too the sign of the times was work, because at that time no one was working any more. Disorders and barbarian invasions prevented any stability or constructiveness, and Benedict lived his faith by setting to work. He worked praying and he prayed working. Ora et labora is a Latin phrase which indicates just one concept: that prayer which is life and that life which is prayer.
Then the sign of the times was a negative one, the work that had been destroyed; now the sign of the times is positive: work is an idol; in work lies all of mans hope. The result then was that the earth was reborn, whereas now it is being destroyed. Precisely for this reason, today, as then, this presence is necessary everywhere, particularly in todays temple of human power, work.
2) The second factor for defining presence is self-awareness, wherever I may be and conscious of what I amI am His presence, I belong to His presence.
The reward for whoever lives in search of these things is that his humanity becomes more real and more full, to the point that even if there was no Paradise, one would still never resign himself to going back to living like others, because it is too petty and illusory. And one feels the burden of all this load of misery, pettiness, and pretense, but he also knows that he is overcoming it. It is not a cry in the night, it is the certainty of His Presence: Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen (Heb 11:1).
If we are self-aware, the question we must ask ourselves is not, What must we do? but, What am I, what are we?
Asking ourselves what to do is a precarious and deceptive question, because when one has done the things he was told to do, he feels self-satisfied, exactly like the Pharisee, the lawyer who asked Christ, What must I do to inherit eternal life? and Christs answer was wide open, being the example of the Good Samaritan: You must love your neighbor as yourself, a love that can never be defined by a measure, can never be stopped; it is an ideal without end (cf. Lk 10).
But above all, asking ourselves what to do wears us down. Not only that, this question favors absence rather than presence. Thus we hide with each other, we huddle together, emerging every once in a while to throw out some words that we call a proposal, to cry out some judgments and to pass out leaflets, and then we pull back immediately among ourselves. Now does this seem dignified to you? This is not Movement, it is not life.
We must not think that in order to be a presence we need anything other than our faith and our communion. That is, we do not need anything other than the aspect of change which faith and the communionthat I find in my environment (whether this is the family, the parish, university, school, or work)works in me. This faith and this communion will make us operate, with greater attention, seriousness, and energy.
Therefore, communion among us is a fully adequate presence, a communion of life, not an organizational unity, so that to be a presence it is not necessary to know how to do, to know how to talk. Not that we are lazy: a soul, a human life tends to have an organization, a structure, but as an expression of that life, not as a chain or a prison in which life languishes because it is neither nourished nor even understood.
We must remember that the world is the enemy of this presence, because it is the reign of the idol.
The world is the human sphere in that it is set up according to a value judgment that is not the presence of Christ. Or maybe it is Christ, but a Christ who gives the pretext for intensive intellectual study, who becomes the object of mere interpretations or a starting point and the enigmatic content of rituals.
On the contrary, the meaning of me, of the world, and of societywhat should set the tone of my life and that of the world and of societyis the presence of Christ, whose physical tangible face is the unity of Christians, our communion.
The world, instead, assigns value to anything else [other than Christ], and what it builds on this, whether in theory or in practice, is called ideology. Precisely because it does not acknowledge this presence, the world (even without wanting to) spins us out to the margins, tries to rip us away from the certainty we have, from being aware of the Presence that is in us and among us, and it has an easy time of it, because appearance does not favor faith, except after it has been accepted and is being lived.
In the face of this darkness of the world, there is the risk that our attachment to the Movement remains wishful.
Certainly, we must be willful in our bond with one another, but will springs from a clarity of judgment, from faith, whereas a wishful attachment to the Movement is obtuse, even though we work hard from morning to night, because it is not illuminated by an awareness. That is, we do not seek the reasons for the new life, we do not know how to give the reasons for our hope.
This attachment makes our adherence to the Movement fall into a furiously activistic militancy which does not last very long, and then gives way to being wrapped up in ourselves.
Presence thus constitutes a resistance to the world, to the prevailing mentality. But how does this resistance come about? Not necessarily by running around doing all sorts of things, but by carrying into the world, that is, into ones environment, a new way of looking at things and a new attitude, a judgment and an affection to things and persons, so as to manifest the reason for the joy that is in us, the awareness of our faith, the announcement, which is nothing but the content of what interests us, expressed in words.
Presence therefore is precisely a new human dimension inside our environment, inside the world in its concrete sense. I insist on the word environment, which many in the Movement do not understand and do not take into consideration. Impact on the environment is the objective condition for maturity, otherwise we can have people who are adult in age but seriously obtuse or as though mutilated, as has been the way of living Christianity for many people in recent times. This new dimension contains a bit of boldness, like a leaven: Justice is faith, This is the victory that vanquishes the world, faith, or, as St. Paul said, Let us exult, too, in our hardships. The most beautiful and greatest sign is the lighting up of the person in front of the ordinary details, the banality of the instant.
At that point, there is no longer anything that is futile.
How completely different this stance is from saying, If I had, if I didnt have these things or these persons.... You would be exactly the same, because the problem is something else. It is living your faith in a Presence.
We must remember that the Movement is the reality, the whole of these presences, it is not a long list of names of those who belong to the various communities or of initiatives they do (in this way life becomes arid); the Movement is the whole of these capacities for presence, and unity is its result. But too often we contact people in our environments but there is no contagion, we do not transmit a life to them.
How great is our desire to become this presence?
There are discussions on differences among communities (CLE, CLU, CLL, habitats) or even within the same community, which are association kinds of talk.
The community, and the unity of the Movement, is a given human condition attacked and changed by the experience of faith.
5. Sequela Christi
There is only one way for us to be educated to this presence, to be sustained in our faith to the point that it finally makes us become a presence and a witness, not agitated or agitators in an association, but a presence through which Christ demonstrates his Presence and changes ours, in a way which man is incapable of doing (because the structure of this presence is the acknowledged unity among us). This way by which we can learn presence is sequela. You dont learn it by yourself, but by following and imitating the community in its journey.
This is the way it was with Christ, because the apostles learned by following Him; this is how the faith has come all the way to us, through the tradition, which is the sequela of some who followed the first, and so on through the centuries.
The authority is the one who expresses the goal toward which the people are striving and to which they must be educated. The authority is authoritative only by means of his own tension, the striving of his life toward that goal. Only if one lives the striving toward the goal to which he is leading, to which he wants to guide others, is there integrity in following him. Otherwise, we can go with this one or that one, but it is a choice based purely on personal considerations. The person has nothing to do with it; what matters is the experience of God that I have by following his experience. Sequela is not submitting questions or asking permission, but is learning to live by assimilating a more mature experiencethat is, learning the reasons for and manner of a given sensibility in ones life.
So obedience concerns the change in oneself, whereas often we obey much more an organization. But obedience to the organization, if it is not born of this imitation that changes my heart, destroys creativity.
Therefore, sequela is a listening intense with life (and we do not know how to listen, we hear words as repetitions), a merging of oneself with the experience that the word is trying to express.
The consequence of true sequela is that the person learns more and more to do things by himself, to judge, to have affection, to share, to announce by himselfnot individualistically, because if one lives the consciousness of his belonging to Christ, he becomes capable of carrying communion within himself. Moreover, true sequela makes us capable of intervening in community life not as contestation, but to make suggestions, to offer critical observation, inventiveness. Therefore, a person who guides a community or a diakonia must be particularly concerned with and prize this reminder.
This sequela makes it clear that I do not follow certain persons or a community because they are those persons or that community, but because of an experience of faith in which I desire increasingly to participate and to identify, and which in its historical way of acting and being, through encounters that have called us and stimulated us, we call the Movement.
The Movement is this experience of faith, therefore the Movement is the fully adequate locus for sequela. To be sure, it is through this or these persons that education occurs, but they are not the locus of educationthis lies in the objectivity of the Movement. And so there is a very simple test for understanding whether a person deserves sequela: if he truly follows, if he first of all lives this sequela to the Movement.
In the same way, the Movement does not become a locus of education unless it lives in turn a sequela to the Church.
What we all want to aim at is our own personal growth, and the Lord has given us the touchstone for this in chapter 15 of the Gospel of John: I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete, since joy is the mark of what is truly human.
Growing in the faith means growing in the possibility of joy, freely, within any form of conditioning, and growing in the possibility of joy means fulfilling the truth of who we are as persons. Lets remember that the Lord identified His plan, the purpose for which He moved and did everything, with the word blessed, that is, joyful.
Rejoice in the Lord, I repeat, rejoice! This can be a criterion for our examination of conscience every evening.