The Religious Sense in Warsaw

More than 250 people, including many teachers and students, took part in the presentation of the book in the library of the State University. Some excerpts from one of the talks

by agnieszka nowak

Talking about a book on the threshold of the twenty-first century is increasingly difficult, and talking about a religious book is sometimes impossible. The reality of the world around us and the rhythm of today’s life do not leave us much time for tranquil, pondered reflection, which is the foundation of wise action and the religious approach to reality. Luigi Giussani’s book, The Religious Sense (published by Pallottinum, one of the most respected Polish publishers), which was presented in the lecture hall of the library of Warsaw University last May 30th, is an attempt to encourage this profound reflection on life and the value of the time that has been given to us. This is the third book by Luigi Giussani to be published in Polish, and the first of the “PerCorso” series. The volume has an introduction by Monsignor Stanisl´aw Dziwisz.
According to the intentions of Father Andrzej Perzyn´ski, who moderated the event, the remarks presenting this publication had to be personal reflections inspired by the reading of the book on the part of the guests invited to the meeting. Even the word “presentation” used for the invitation let people know that they would be present at something more than mere publicity for the volume. The first to take the floor was the Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow, Most Reverend Tadeusz Pieronek, who called attention to the necessity to look at people in their totality. Speaking after him were Tomasz Wol´ek, editor of the journal
Z.ycie; Parliamentary Deputy, Wiesl´aw Walendziak; and, finally, Senator Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who is art director for the famous film and theater director, Kiesl´
owski. The event was taped by the state television and a private network, who gave ample air time to the event. Various newspapers interviewed the speakers.
Following are some notes from one of the talks.

Krzysztof Piesiewicz
My adventure with Father Giussani is unique. I do not know him (and I am very sorry for this), nor have I ever had anything to do with the community he founded. Thus my encounters with Father Giussani’s texts are direct ones. That is to say, I go deeply into the reading of every word, each sentence, and these sentences are placed in the framework of a certain thought; I have with this a completely individual, natural relationship.
It is surprising to think about how I first met Father Giussani, some years ago, when an Italian theater director, Franco Palmieri, came to ask me to stage a work of mine in a theater near Milan. Coming to see me in Poland, he brought me a little book entitled Il tempo e il tempio [Time and the Temple]. I don’t know how this happened; I don’t know if he had seen something particular in my work, or if maybe our telephone conversation before he came suggested to him to bring me this book. I put it absent-mindedly on the shelf and then, by chance, took it up again, and fell under the spell of those beautiful pages that spoke of faith, human experience, and desire! And then came the phone call a week ago. I don’t know why I was included in this invitation to speak because, as I said, I don’t have anything to do with Father Giussani or his community and I do not usually review this sort of book. And yet, I took The Religious Sense
in hand and I had the distinct impression–I am not exaggerating–that I had met a brother in this religious figure, one with whom a complete understanding was established, a man who, in today’s society, looks at the world with eyes free of prejudice. I encountered someone who somehow described to me completely what I feel, my outlook on reality. I feel a profound affinity with him for his way of grasping reality, of understanding and describing it, and for the description of man’s sensibility, his nostalgia and yearning.
When I was about nine or ten years old, I literally fled from a little church near Warsaw, because the catechizer had terrified me. The image of the faith which he was presenting to me was too harsh for my childish sensibility. And then I met Father Giussani, some forty years later!
I have been asked what in him I feel closest to. It is his conception of human experience and faith, which recalls the works of Thomas Merton. Albert Camus, too, a professed atheist, sometimes comes very close to this conception of human experience. And these are the stages along the path that brought me to this point, to present Giussani, to penetrate and touch the Mystery through human experience.
And experience is precisely the first thing that Father Giussani proposes: experience life, humanity, and you will experience Mystery.
Giussani states that the crisis of our culture is the crisis of what philosophy defines as metaphysics; not the evocation of spirits, but what concerns the peculiarity of our existence, the special nature of the world, the nostalgia for good, beauty, harmony, and love. Giussani says that this can be experienced empirically, touched with one’s own hand: all you have to do is want it.
Giussani speaks of something that can be experienced in life and that one must experience without taking it lightly; he speaks of encounters, of the importance of the encounter of one person with another, of the miracle of encounter. His approach to the problem of freedom is fascinating as well: it is a call, obviously to responsibility, but at the same time he says that responsibility is a response. To what is this response given? It is a response to beauty, to Mystery, and he says this once again in an experience of reality.
When Father Giussani’s book came into my hands and I read it, I felt a great closeness and communion with him, and I felt this to be a great event for my life. The twentieth century is over, but Giussani, at the end of the 1950s, already knew something of which today we are sure.
Giussani examines the problem of reason and proposes: Remain steady in your realism, root yourselves firmly in reality, do not be afraid of the experience of reason, because it is a given. Reason is a given for discovering Mystery.
Today, at the end of the twentieth century, if we look at our planet with detachment, we can become more aware of its infiniteness and its mystery than in any other epoch. That reason and that experience which Giussani spoke of already some decades ago is today evident to us. From the way of looking at things that he proposes in his book–he speaks of human energy, I would speak of nostalgia–springs forth the energy that pushes us always toward an even greater Mystery.
This is a proposal that is valid for the moment, the place, the situation in which we live and act. And it is a fantastic proposal. We speak of humanity, of Mystery, of being in the communion of faith. But we also say that this faith must not be transformed into ideology, something with which we have to deal every minute, day, week, month.
What can I say... that this type of book has arrived too late for me? I can hope, however, that my grandchildren may encounter this type of catechizer.
Giussani says: We experience the Mystery through the experience of life. And I propose: Let’s try to experience life through the experience of Father Giussani, and we shall touch the Mystery.