America US National Diaconia

The Strength of the New Beginning
The talk at the National Diaconia of North America, Ft Lauderdale, Florida,
Jan. 14-17, 2005

by Stefano Alberto

I have never had the occasion to be at an assembly where all the interventions express the awareness of a positivity. There is a beauty and a greatness that is taking place among us. We need to help each other become aware of what is happening.
What is happening in the States is the grace of the strength of the new beginning. We have just heard this judgment, but the greatest temptation is to say, “I have already heard it; I already know it.” Rather, the new beginning is happening now. It is happening now, to use Fr Giussani’s beautiful expression from the interview for the 50th anniversary of the Movement (Traces, vol 6, n 10, 2004, pp 1-3), as God’s “generous challenge” to our freedom. And remember the other beautiful expression, that we “acknowledge this magnanimity on God’s part, that alone fixes the measure of man’s participation in reality and thus really frees him.” So, the first issue is to recognize the evidence of this beauty, the strength of this beginning, which is the beginning of something else, the strength of Another in our lives. To recognize this is my freedom.

Going to the root

We cannot produce the event of Christ, because the event of Christ happens. What moved and continues to move our life is an obedience to this. We are on the horizon of the judgment, of obedience to the judgment, that Fr Giussani gave some years ago now, when, after the extraordinary presentation of The Religious Sense at the United Nations in 1997, in front of the understandable enthusiasm from which was born the whole “project-ness” of how to continue, he said, “No. We do not move ahead because of a project, but by going to the root of recognizing what is happening.”
And this is the strength of the beginning of the charism in our life: not what we produce, but the event, the victory of Christ that takes place within our lives. The fantastic thing of which I am a grateful witness is the testimony of this victory in the life of each of us, of the change of every “I” who is here, one after the other, and it is on this point that first and foremost I want to dwell.
Watch out if there is a preoccupation with organizing. How terrible it would be to worry about the outcome, because the change is this beginning. There is not conversion and “then” consequences; rather, conversion is to recognize the event of the beginning of every day and to remain within the horizon of this beginning. This is the point: to become aware of our experience. This is what urges our life on.
What is the problem, from the cultural standpoint, in the life of the Church? It is the fact, as Fr Gerry repeatedly and dramatically reminded us, that we can be ashamed of Christ. This shame is the habit of already knowing, of wanting to define. Instead, it is the strength of this beginning in our live that frees us from shame. The generous challenge that the freedom of the Mystery brings to our freedom liberates us from fear and shame.

Impossible correspondence

Second point: what does it mean to recognize this exceptionality? What does it mean to say “I” with truth? The strength with which each of you wanted to say “I” struck me.
What prevails, and what prevailed–this is something we have to be aware of–is the desire so many of you have to express this word, “I.” What is the content of an experience that expresses the victory of Christ in the life of each of us? We gave it a name: impossible correspondence.
It is a judgment to say “impossible correspondence,” and it happens through an encounter, through a fact, like a book in an Evansville bookstore, as in the case of Mike Eppler. It may have been the Internet. It may have been a conference with Albacete. It may have been a meeting in a high school or in a university. Each of us in a precise instant lived the experience of a newness, of a positivity, of a freedom like never before. This correspondence is not destined to end. This correspondence is not a feeling that passes. It is something that has totally impacted our “I,” something that has marked our hearts forever.
This happened in an instant, because conversion happens in an instant, even if conviction takes time. Have you seen The Call of St Matthew by Caravaggio? “Are you talking to me?” “Yes, you.” This happened to each one of us, something impossible to imagine, impossible to foresee. When it takes place, it is simple, desirable. It is as if we lived our whole life for that moment. When we speak of impossible correspondence, we speak of the strength of the event of Christ that took hold of my life. There is nothing sentimental about it, nothing miraculous about it, not like the result of magic or like a sideshow.

Using the heart

How do you become aware that it is real? How do you become aware that this encounter saves your humanity? Many of you said it is because it draws out the original structure of your humanity, it brings out the heart as need and evidence. I throw myself into reality by using my heart, which means that it makes me use all of my humanity–both as reason and the need to know, the need to give a name to things, and as affection, the discovery of a capacity to embrace and love everything. The continual rediscovery of how I am made, of how I am made as a need for reason and a need for love, is fundamental. You have the fortune of living in a country where there is a huge attention to religiosity. There is a great attention to man’s freedom, unlike Europe that is sick with nihilism, imprisoned in a doubtfulness that suffocates and strangles man’s freedom and creativity.
Nevertheless, we have to be careful, because this passion for man’s religiosity is not the exaltation of feelings or moods, of moral values or passions, because otherwise everything would revert to man’s measure. You can become violent in the name of religiosity, translating it all into an ethical claim that winds up suffocating man after having given him hope. When we speak of religiosity, we mean the experience of the encounter, of this impossible correspondence. What does it awaken, what does religiosity mean now in my life? The need for reason, hunger and thirst for meaning. The need to name things, from the relationship with your wife and children to the meaning of your work, the meaning of your studies, the meaning of the responsibility you feel for your country and for the world. Religiosity is the apex of reason. It is where my humanity as the need to know and love is opened to recognize Another. This is the content of the word experience. It is neither a simple feeling nor the enthusiasm for a moment, but the entire impact with reality judged by the heart, by the original tension toward happiness, by this tension to which the encounter with Christ begins to respond. The encounter with Christ saves one’s life not because it resolves the contradictions, but because it is companionship to life as meaning. My life remains full of contradictions, trials, and insecurities, but in the encounter, it becomes full of certainty.

The encounter is a fact

Certainty, what is certainty? It is the recognition of the real, physical bond with Christ, companionship within life’s circumstances, even to the point of extreme drama. So, what is Christian experience? Why do we insist so much on the term experience? Why are we not afraid to use this term? Why do we make it the fundamental point of knowledge and action? Because experience describes precisely the objective dynamic of the event. What happens in the encounter? The encounter is a fact.
You can leave tomorrow morning and say, “I’ve had it with all of you.” In the entire history of the Movement, nobody who has ever gone away has gotten better (this is an aside). You can go away tomorrow morning, but you can no longer deny the fact of the encounter. Experience means to live with this encounter, with this presence in your eyes. It means becoming aware of what makes my life grow. Experience is what makes me face reality. In other words, the relationship with reality is no longer what I can do, no longer a measure, but is a new awareness, a new love, the awareness and love of Him for whom we live. The challenge of experience as the criteria to face everything can be expressed as, “For whom do you live?” This is why experience also becomes the criterion for verifying, making true, realizing what is true in my life. What is true, what makes everything true, is He for whom one lives.
This knowledge frees us from the outcome, from the anxiety over results, and, at the same time, makes us full of passion, full of longing. As St Paul witnesses in the 5th chapter of 2 Corinthians, “I long for the love of Christ, He who died and rose for us.” This longing is a judgment and a love that leaves us full of passion and a desire to risk, without being afraid of making mistakes or being prisoners of our own sins, ready to start over, ready to receive pardon, ready to give reasons to everyone for what we have seen and heard.
The great sacrifices of our life are not the penances we choose; the greatest sacrifice in our life is to stay with this experience and to go to the very depths of the reason why I live. What do we have to sacrifice? Appearance, that which is immediate, which is instinctive, in order to arrive at the root of things. This gaze that looks at man and things, that looks at the person I love and at the stranger is called virginity, which is a new possession, with a detachment because it is a physical detachment that allows me to look at you full in the face and recognize that the root of your face, the ultimate meaning of your destiny, is Christ. This is a possession and tenderness, a possession that is new, that never ends–with a detachment within. This goes not only for those Christ calls to live this form of life, virginity, but for whomever is married, for whomever is seeking his vocation. It is a gratuitousness.

A new culture

Becoming aware of this gratuitousness, by which we are made, becomes gratitude. It is making clear, in our gestures of judgment, He for whom it is worth giving one’s life. This is why the question, “For whom do you live?” is not only the beginning of a new knowledge and affection. It becomes the beginning of a new culture–a critical and systematic awareness of everything. This is why we insist on judging among us the reason why we do things. This is why we insist on comparing ourselves with the reasons for everything. We insist on this out of love, a loving knowledge, helping each other in the discovery of the connection Christ has with everything. It is not something you add on, not an objection. It is a loving passion that is repeated, that re-happens every day. Asking yourself–just like Fr Giussani did with Msgr Manfredini when they were in the seminary–what Christ has to do with mathematics can seem naïve, but it is the naiveté of a loving passion that becomes a passion for the whole world, that becomes an education to a passion for one’s own life. I want to see today where Christ wins, but not because I understand everything. I do not understand why the tsunami happened, nor do I know what the evolution of the relation between the U.S. and Europe will be. What interests me is discovering, today, the link between me and everything. Cultural work is not for intellectuals, but is the work each one of us has to have as an attachment to experience within the challenge of reality.

Education and authority

Third passage: this all requires work to allow ourselves continually to be brought into reality. To be brought into reality has a name: education. To be responsible means above all to allow ourselves to be educated. It struck me a lot to read that phrase yesterday from the CLU student: “The Movement is my life.” Like Mike Eppler said yesterday, “It is the possibility to say that the Church is my life.” The place of this education is this people in whom all the richness and the beauty of tradition reaches us. A torrent of reasons enters into our life, above all through the School of Community. It does not matter how many of us there are. The strength of what we bear is destined, in the time that only God knows, to change the world–but, first of all, to change me.
I would like to stress two factors of the life of this people–of this people that is the victory of Christ, the face of the living Christ for me.
First factor: there is no people without the mystery of authority, without someone to follow. How does a baby grow up? Following. How do we grow up toward our destiny of happiness? Following. Authority is a mystery, not a role. Authority is literally the one who makes my life grow. I am struck by how Fr Giussani reads the adventure of recent months. I was with him and Giorgio Vittadini when he said to us that the fact that he managed to get Julián Carrón to come from Madrid to Milan is a new beginning for Fr Giussani himself. Together with him, it is a new beginning for the charism. He never said he was passing on the charism–you cannot; it is a gift from God to Fr Giussani–but Julián’s presence is a new beginning even for him. This moves me, touches and changes my life, because it makes me live the mystery of authority as fundamental for the event of Christ’s victory.
There is always someone we can follow in order to know Christ. It is the very human factor that can seem the most fleeting, ephemeral thing, that becomes instead the splendor of the truth that one can touch, hear, see, follow. Each of us is embraced by this dynamic, which is why, in following, we become great. What is more, I learn from each one of you, as is happening this weekend. This is obedience that becomes friendship. Obedience among us is the virtue of friendship, is how our friendship as companionship to destiny grows. Think of how simple this chain is through Fr Giussani, through Giorgio, through the national responsibles, all the way down to each one of you. This is the possibility to say “You” to Christ; it is something simple, beautiful, and great. It is with this method that Western civilization matured through the centuries. Obedience is the most powerful weapon. The victory in history belongs to the man who obeys.

Our Lady as a method

The second factor of the life of this people is asking, precisely an asking as begging. We are not able to see the new beginning in our life if we do not ask for the new beginning. It is so important to recall Our Lady, and I am grateful to Lorenzo Albacete, who is for you the sign of Fr Giussani’s paternity, who reminds us of Our Lady, Our Lady as a method. She reminds us that the beginning is given, the event happens. She introduces us to familiarity with Christ, giving us Christ’s humanity every day as a gift. The event is given, and it is up to us to recognize it and say “Yes” to it, looking at her, the one who defends the beauty of this new beginning in our lives, for each of us. It is in discovering the need I have for this new beginning that I respond to everyone else’s need, because the need of the world, the world’s greatest need, is this gladness, this hope, which is why Our Lady is the living wellspring of hope.