MEETING - August 26th


An Inexhaustible Humanity


In the concluding session of the Meeting, the presentation
of the last book by Fr. Giussani, The Self. Awareness of the Cosmos.
With Massimo Caprara, journalist and former secretary
of Palmiro Togliatti, and Bishop Angelo Scola, Rector
of the Pontificia Università Lateranense


Giancarlo Cesana

We have chosen to conclude this Meeting with the presentation of the fourth volume in the series of “Quasi Tischreden” [“Almost Tischreden,” a series of books based on Fr. Giussani’s conversations with one of the houses of Memores Domini] by Monsignor Luigi Giussani. In them, Father Giussani gives a restless and untiring reflection on the event that has struck his life, in a continuing attempt to fathom the reasons for what he is, for this belonging that has taken hold of him. I believe that Father Giussani’s effectiveness, the force of his proposal, lies right here in the inexhaustibility with which he examines himself and what he has encountered and has grasped him. I think it is no coincidence that these conversations are part of moments in the life of the Memores Domini, as though he were inviting them, and through them each one of us, to the same tirelessness, to the inexhaustibility of his gaze.


Massimo Caprara

As a layman, an intellectual, and a politician, I approach Father Luigi Giussani–a founder and guide, tireless animator, theologian and intellectual–with a subdued heart and a soft step, as when one enters a cathedral in the middle of a musical concert that arouses emotion and respect for everyone who is listening to it. But I come into this cathedral with a sense of continuity because it already seems to me that I have gained something by reading him–as I have done–so that I can say, “Blessed is he who has found a true friend.” I believe I have found a true friend. I enter with a subdued heart when I feel that the faithful friend is a powerful protection. I believe I deserve it, I hope I deserve it, when I hear, “Amico nulla est comparatio,” a true, great friendship is something beyond compare.
I say these things about Father Giussani not only because of the work on which we are commenting today, but because I have read works of his that are in some respects supplementary (but not secondary), like Le mie letture [My Readings] of 1996 and Lettere di fede e di amicizia [Letters of Faith and Friendship] of 1997. Now that I come to this fourth volume of the “Quasi Tischreden,” I see the Jubilee that coincides with two million young people, coincides with a great work, a great event also from the civic, moral, and cultural point of view for a people like the Italian people, and I see that Father Giussani is present in this work, in this culture, in this event.
When I happen to read in the De Profundis psalm: “What should I do, O Lord, if I fix my gaze on my shortcomings, on the shortcomings that I might and do have?,” I think that I have grave shortcomings to confess to you, to Father Giussani. I was a voluntary prisoner of an authoritarian ideology for more than twenty-five years, and in this prison I fought, even fervently, in the mythology of lies. I state this from painful experience, from having ardently spent a quarter of a century (Father Giussani would say of the most dangerous century because it was the century of ideology) militating in a party, the Communist Party (which indelibly marks its nomenclature, and I was part of it), and I leave there a store of memories that cannot be wiped out and that does not deserve being consigned to oblivion. I do not absolve myself for my past as a member of the nomenclature, I bear all the burden and all the responsibility for it. But watch out! Even if I don’t absolve myself from this past, nor do I consider sterilely flagellating myself, shutting myself up in an ivory tower, nor do I intend to withdraw and remain silent. I intend instead to speak out, to write and to discuss so that others may not fall into error, into the danger that still looms over the whole world and over our country. I do not flagellate myself because communism has failed, to be sure, but communism has certainly not yet disappeared as a religion in this our century of fire and iron. I talk about it and write about it so that others can measure themselves and perceive the error; it would have been a mistake for me to close myself up and not talk about what I have seen, what I have testified, what I have done, what I have suffered, what I am responsible for, responsible in full awareness. I want to devote the next half of my life to a commitment to reflecting on the errors, on individual and collective guilt, to going more deeply into the source of these in order to judge and to understand.
I did not come to Rimini as a “spectacular convert” or a “mediagenic convert” to be put on show, but as a man who is, along with others, along with young people, seeking the Truth; as a man who is seeking the Truth together with those who want it as he does, who desire it as he does, who hope to obtain it as he does, who seek it in an eagerness for dialogue united with a sense of spontaneity and plurality. I seek it as a layman who finds the supernatural that lies in the ordinary, who seeks as the faithful seek the faithfulness that lies in the Truth, a synonym of freedom of conscience, who comes together with people like him in a consoling companionship of ideas, of responsible behavior.
I see in the media articles by irritable people–and the Italian press these days is particularly irritable, too irritable–and it seems to me that this irritable press would be less irritable if it could tell about the great affection that is found here, the great proof of loyalty, of solidarity that is found here. In Rimini I have found youthful, human, voluntary, collegial cordiality–not fanaticism. I don’t find fanaticism, but realism. This desire to be strong and wise at the same time; it is severity toward today’s society to want to offer a concrete contribution. I would advise them absolutely to calm down; other things will happen that will make you even more angry. Many personalities, politicians, political sages came to the Meeting the other day. One in particular came, a political sage and a sincere illustrator of his particular platform. Note, however, that there is no need for the Rimini Meeting to name a king for the day, no king for the day can be king of this Meeting. You are only its masters.
I want to talk to you about Father Giussani’s book with natural modesty, taking from his book, as he says, some “sparks” from the field of stubble, choosing them in all simplicity. I have chosen only three elements from his last book, which I have read and meditated on profoundly.
I read first of all something that is strongly intellectual, musical. There is in Father Giussani’s work an appeal to music, to the arts, to culture that is enormous, that is a great experience (I have never seen it anywhere else). In one passage he talks of the “drop,” like Chopin’s motif in his Piano Etude. The thought came to me that this motif by Chopin truly was the Meeting, in which there is the great harmony of a melody that grows, that seems to dominate everything else, but what really counts is the drop, which becomes stronger every year. You are this, you are the drop that every year has grown stronger and has built something strong, yet delicate: Chopin’s drop, of which Father Giussani speaks.
The second topic I have found in Father Giussani’s work is the eternal mystery of being. Here too is a literary observation: Father Giussani is concerned about a communist literary historian, Natalino Sapegno, and says, “Natalino Sapegno refuses Leopardi’s question (Leopardi is a great name for Father Giussani), Leopardi who asks what lies at the goal of our mystery, what is the end of our beauty, the mystery of beauty; the question, ‘What is there of the Lord in the mystery of beauty?’” And the communist Natalino Sapegno’s reply was, “There is no need to ask these questions.” He said it to Leopardi–can you imagine!–with that communist air of knowing it all, as enormous as human error. And instead Father Giussani says, “Leopardi is right to ask what is this mystery of being in the face of female beauty, what lies behind the mystery which makes this being beautiful, makes this being great, makes this being spiritual?” There is a wonderful passage entitled, “The Negation of Natalino Sapegno,” on page 160 of this volume, which should truly be reread and meditated on: the negation of beauty, of the spirit of eternity, the spirit of beauty is unfair.
I want you to understand that when I say something of what I have read in Giussani, I dedicate it to myself as well. In Father Giussani’s closing pages I read of a person who is in great anguish, in great difficulty. This person overcomes this trouble and finds the path to go ahead, because a voice continually says to her, “There, have no fear. Why are you afraid? Don’t you see that I am with you?” This is the voice of Christ. May this voice also be the voice that accompanies me and that gives so much to this earthly, suffering, painful progress that I have made from the Communist Party onwards. It is suffering, I assure you, not only because of my error, but also because I led others into error.
I often say that I am not touched by faith, but when I read that one can be accompanied by someone who is great and can live alongside someone who says to you, “Don’t be afraid when you are next to me; have no fear. Why are you afraid? Don’t you see that I am with you,” then I ask myself: “What is faith, if not this certainty that an Other is walking with me, that an Other is close to me?” Thank you.


Angelo Scola

 I would like to discuss Luigi Giussani’s book, L’autocoscienza del cosmo [The Self-Awareness of the Cosmos], whose genesis–it’s there for all to see–is man’s elementary experience in its integral value and meaning, which is the Christian one, and whose aim is to educate us to an understanding of this experience.
This dual nature, which can be found in all Giussani’s works, qualifies his thought in a special way. In him, the same dynamic governs “the rise and development of experience and thought, confirming the fact that experience, when it is authentic, contains its own logos (not receiving it from something external to it) and, in turn, thought, when it is integral, cannot but render reality as it is. Personally, I like to define this quality of Giussani’s thought using a concept borrowed from nature: it is like a wellspring. Giussani’s thought, in its profound scope, is not the result of contributions from other authors, whom he has nonetheless studied and met, surprisingly ahead of his time, traversing the broadest and most diverse fields of knowledge. For this reason it cannot be examined at its mouth, like a river whose waters have been swelled by numerous tributaries, but as it is like a spring, it must be evaluated at its origin, at its source, in and for itself. Original thought is like a prime number: it cannot be broken down. The debts and contributions that flow into it cannot explain its profound form. It is not a mere synthesis of reflections and studies taken from others, but by a singular charism is born of direct and original penetration into experience itself.
For the unique and unparalleled character of its form, Giussani’s thought can be defined, borrowing a wonderful expression from Balthasar, as a “style of thought.” An author creates a new style of thought only when, in a completely unprecedented form, he opens a new way of approaching elementary integral human experience….
a. Man and being belong to each other

To demonstrate the original (and originative) nature of Giussani’s thought… I would like to explicate a crucial theme in his treatise. I am referring to the theme of the existent. Giussani uses as his starting point a quotation from the biblical scholar Heinrich Schlier (Fundamental Outlines of a Pauline Theology). “At a certain point Schlier says: If the existence of God could be demonstrated by reason as we usually understand it, it would mean that reason possesses Being; it possesses it, it dominates it. Instead, this is not the case. In fact, it is not Being that presents itself to you, except as it is existent; it is not Being as a principle, but it is Being as an existent, as something that exists (as when you say: ‘God,’ ‘Lord, help me!’). For this reason praise and gratitude deepen knowledge of faith (certainty of faith) much more than all the possible, imaginable proofs that can be read in philosophy texts…. Because the proof of existence of something existent demands that all the apparatus man uses to relate to the existent be brought into play. And the apparatus by which man relates to the existent is intelligence and affection.
[Question: I intuit this in the opposite direction: if affection is not open, I do not understand.]
No, here it is not a question of the fact that the condition for understanding is loving (if you do not love, you do not understand). Here it is more acute, more profound: it is the wave of acquaintance that is already affection. In fact, if this wave of acquaintance were not already affection, you would not be interested in this person any more, you wouldn’t care at all. Knowledge is going more deeply into the matter, but the most important word is the word ‘existent.’ ‘Existent,’ and thus it is a ‘you.’ A ‘you’ cannot be uttered sincerely, knowingly, if not by an inner glorification.” (L’autocoscienza del cosmo.)
Giussani thus proposes to move from the affirmation of being as pure principle to that of being as existent. Parenthetically, for those who are familiar with the course of Western thought, it is impressive to note how this formula expresses the attempt, which is always a timely one, to “make true” classical realism in the light of modern contemporary philosophical debate–recently, John Paul II’s Fides et ratio invited Christian thinkers to take up this task once again. Giussani has chosen to contemplate everything as a reality that exists.
Through a knowledge based on the original affection of reason (“wave of acquaintance that is already affection”), all things that are (not only God and man, but also objects) are discovered as existent. “God is an existent, Cristina is an existent.… A leaf is not an existent in this way; you do not say ‘you’ to the leaf unless, while you are looking at it, you suddenly become aware of something subtle and tender that is shaping it. But in that case you find yourself looking at a miracle: in this leaf, behind this leaf, within this leaf, there is something else. It is the difference….” (L’autocoscienza del cosmo)
If we consider them as existents, that is, as vital phenomena, all beings show that they are marked by difference. The word difference should not scare us; we only need to understand it starting from its etymology. Difference comes from di-ferre, which means “to carry this same thing somewhere else.” Both Cristina and the leaf are existents that take me to a “you.” “You are looking at a miracle: in this leaf, behind this leaf, within this leaf, there is something else. It is the difference….” (Ibid.)
To render the theme of difference, Giussani usually uses the image of the “vanishing point” or the “farther beyond.” (Ibid.) Considering all beings, from God to the leaf, as existents, that is, as expressions of a “you”, they reveal themselves to us as a sign (symbol, sacrament) of being as such. Existent things therefore–insists Giussani–“are a promise.” (Ibid.) If they are a sign–rather, a promise–then they refer, or take us back, to what they promise, to what they mean (dif-ference).
But why are they a promise? “If there is a promise, there is a Presence” (Ibid.): the presence of being. Being is not only the shapeless womb from which every being comes forth, but it has a face that we can address as You because God–the Existent par excellence, the pure gift–entered the womb of a woman and became man. This original dynamic of being glorifies the structure of questioning that characterizes man. Being exercises an attraction on the I, inviting it to adhere in order to be fulfilled. It is revealed in this way as a call to man’s freedom which makes its dramatic nature emerge….
b. An inseparable pair

The concept of existent… entrusting the recognition of the You of Christ to the drama of freedom, justifies the inseparable binomial of religious sense and faith, as Father Giussani presents it in the introductory “Tischreden,” where the objective place of primacy is reserved to the grace of the coming of Jesus Christ which makes man’s religious sense become real. “The most important thing on which to build, on which we are built, is not the religious sense, but the encounter with Christ.… As I discover this fact of Christ, the religious sense too reveals itself to me and stands out in a magnificent way.” (Ibid.)
The possibility opens here of a further verification of the original nature of Giussani’s thought. In the inseparable pair (dual unity) of the religious sense and faith is documented a way of Christian life that makes one able to propose the Christian experience persuasively to contemporary society (culture).
A faith that is drained of the religious sense becomes formal (moralist) and sterile, and a religious sense that does not encounter faith fades away when, as we have seen, it does not become corrupt. The religious sense and faith are the two focal points of the ellipse that constitutes integral human experience. This method, on one hand, allows Christians to live, every day that passes, the exciting experience of being Christians–“time does not ‘wear away,’ does not consume what is true” (Ibid.)–and on the other hand constitutes a salutary provocation for non-believers. Christians and non-believers are in fact asked to measure themselves against the entire horizon of their question, thus preventing melancholy from degenerating into nihilism and desire from taking the path of a Promethean will for power, whether social (reducing anthropology and ethics to politics) or scientific (scientific-technological universalism).
Two invaluable confirmations of the astounding cultural strength of this method can be found in two high notes of the volume we are presenting here. I shall just mention them. The first is that the culmination of human experience is the decision for entreaty: “When it is a matter of human conscience, human reason, the human heart, the more one desires, the more he or she becomes caught up in desiring. And it is only when one is less human that desire lessens, only if a person has less humanity does he not desire…. Desire decides. When one decides, his decision takes the form of entreaty…. Desire (which is always a desire for happiness, in the last analysis) has only one way to become existential, to decide–taking one’s place in existence, within history, within time and space, it is setting one’s foot on the path, a step on the path: the decision, for desire, is entreaty.” (Ibid.)
The second: The fullness of heaven can be described as desire that is permanently satisfied–“If heaven is the satisfaction of one’s thirst, a man can imagine his happiness, his satisfaction, like the satisfaction that one feels if, hot and thirsty, he puts his mouth in a spring, in a fount of clear water. As he drinks, he is satisfied because he satisfies himself: thus he always goes forward. For this reason, eternity is the opposite of the lack of newness, it is made up of newness, it is newness that gains space over everything else.” (Ibid.)
This fourth volume of the “Tischreden” is, after all, a rigorously laid foundation of the ideal as the truth of the real.
Submitting to the humble ascesis of listening opens one’s freedom to a recognition of the gift of a uniquely persuasive proposal, because it is an intelligent reading of human experience. Thus the text we have before us becomes itself a promise that bears and brings the Presence.


Closing statement

All of Life Asks for Eternity

A fact that entered history

None of the people who put together and have lived this twenty-first edition of the Meeting want to exalt the reflections that have grown out of it in triumphant tones, even if the effort to hold them back is anything but a slight one. The great, by now very great, appointment every year in Rimini this year closely followed, by a sheer coincidence of dates, the Jubilee of Youth celebrated in Rome by His Holiness. Some have tried to set these two events up one against the other in order to create the usual division, but we have good reason to believe that their efforts were unsuccessful.
Even in its intensity and the complex disparity of its manifestations, the Meeting has always affirmed and affirms still its deeply felt Catholic inspiration, and while the audience each year grows more and more varied, it unanimously recognizes the liveliness, the spirit of involvement, and cordial openness; this is an established fact that can also be measured in the pluralism of the voices that have offered their contributions in the course of this very busy week. Many of them cannot be identified with the voice of those who, with increasing awareness, open the Meeting to all, and this is the proof of how a culture founded on the positive, and not on corrosive criticism, can appear attractive in the desert and void of an epoch which would instead like to idolize negativity and which has very few ideals to defend.
The ideal that sustains the Meeting is 2000 years old and is without end. The consciousness of a fact that, having entered history, has given hope and strength to humankind, is a gift so astounding that it can only be affirmed and shared. For this reason, the Meeting will continue along its path, with the impetus, awareness, and fervor that has given it life from the beginning.
The title of next year’s Meeting, which will be held August 19-25, 2001, is: “All of Life Asks for Eternity.”