Is There a Man Who Desires Life... I Do
In the verse from Psalm 33 that provides the title for the 2003 Meeting, it is the Lord speaking. What He says is an appeal, an exhortation. And man answers when he leaves room for the Infinite
by Marco Bona Castellotti
The Meeting’s title is one of the simpler ones, because it does not require any kind of allegorical reading. “Is there a man who desires life and longs for happy days?” is almost verbatim the verse from Psalm 33, a Davidic psalm in which God Himself comes in as the main voice. It is intriguing that it is God who interrogates us with an appeal more than a question, an exhortation to man to be capable of answering “Yes” to an invitation to want to live happily.
The mystery of freedom
To avoid running into the difficulty of bringing the word “happiness” into focus, the accent should be placed on the fact of the call, of this God who calls whomever He wishes in a mysterious and very free way. Thus, the problem of freedom is inextricably connected with that of the mystery of Christ, of God made man.
In the great mystery of the freedom of God who calls, is the little mystery of the freedom of man who may respond or not; it is the mystery of our response, because what has been brought into focus in the rule of St Benedict is that He calls me, He questions me, He questions us. Too often we forget that for us, something has already happened in such a strong and decisive way that what happened is like a brand that has already burned its way into our lives, from the particular to the essential.
There is no freedom, we cannot speak of freedom, without uniqueness. I could never conceive of my freedom without the exceptions that my person, just as it is made up, raises in the face of the possibilities of response. It is impossible to conceive of personal freedom by giving up even an infinitesimal part of your personality; this would be anti-Christian. Unfortunately, very often definitions are imposed on us that eradicate how we are made up.
The experience of happiness can be lived only by the man who leaves room in his life for the Infinite. Leaving room for the Infinite is simpler than you can imagine. When someone heaves a great sigh of relief thinking about God, that is to say, something beyond, within existence, it is because he has left room for the Infinite. The breadth of this opening to the Infinite is proportionate to the dimension of the personality of the one who feels this need for infiniteness. But everyone is granted a glimmer of this opening, the need for which makes up his heart.
The courage to answer “I”
I am thinking of the exhibition on St Benedict, which the Benedictine monks of the Cascinazza have prepared for this Meeting. There is a panel entitled, “The courage to answer ‘I.’” Its subtitle is “…makes life fruitful.” Benedict is the protector of Europe, of that very Europe which is now disowning its Christian roots. He truly deserves to be called the patron saint of Europe for what he built because of his sense of the Infinite in those centuries of absolute poverty and desolation. Here is what is written on the panel I just mentioned: “In the patience of time and days lived in the cavern (in Subiaco), in a constant offering of himself, St Benedict readied his life for the work that the Lord was preparing: to give a rebirth of the “I” and a new humanity to vast numbers of people. It was not a question of doing extraordinary things, but only of being themselves, testifying with their own lives that salvation is present.” And then comes this very beautiful ending: “For Benedict, the monk is one who, feeling this responsibility, responds to Christ on everyone’s behalf, aware that the possibility for fulfillment of everyone and everything depends on his answer.”
The accent on the call
“ Is there a man who desires life and longs for happy days?” Why do I want the accent to be placed on the fact that there is a call? Because if God calls us, we are so poor in the face of this call that all the freedom of our response is brought into play. This freedom is closely connected with the task and the responsibility that follow from it. The fact that God chose us requires us to devote ourselves totally to the answer. Otherwise, it is too easy, imagining only the mystery of God’s gesture without the mystery of our freedom being brought into play in some way.
What stuns me more and more about Christianity is how human it is, how much it gives value to the person as a whole. You were called; this involves your entire life with a force of dedication, response, and offering that is in accord with what you have already been given. The Christian equation is tremendous precisely in its human strength: you have been given so much; just as much is asked of you. Who is able to say, “I ask so much of you because I have given you so much”? Nobody except God, in such a terrible and fatherly way.