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The Singularity of a Presence

Notes from the intervention at the meeting of the Visitors/House Heads of Memores Domini.
Milan, February 8, 2004

by Luigi Giussani

Pardon me if I intervene to thank first of all those who have sacrificed time and energy for accompanying you today. On my part, I would like to stress for you the meaning of some words used by Fr Pino while I was listening, in what he said, which was quite right.
In the relationship between those who have responsibility and those who are part of the reality for whom they are responsible; in the relationship between you and each one in your group, in your house; between you and everyone who takes part in the day of recollection for the first year or for the final year; in the fact of the relationship between you and one belonging to the group as indicative of the precaution the Lord has for each one of your friends–and therefore for you who have to take care of them–the problem is not primarily the things that are understood, the talk that is understood or the witness that is offered. What comes first (as Fr Pino so well suggested) is friendship: if it’s not part of a friendship, then it’s presumption, dictatorship; it not only changes nothing, but it wastes time, and can give rise to disturbances instead of making everything simpler and more attractive.
In other words, it’s important that the relationship between the leader of a group and a person belonging to that group be a relationship of friendship; and to the extent to, in proportion to how pertinent it must be, it is truly a friendship. This morning, I was thinking how to exemplify or with what to compare this type of relationship, but when Fr Pino used the word “friendship,” he indicated perfectly what this relationship implies.
It’s truly connected with what was said on the day of your “profession.”1 It’s difficult that the profession day find us inclined to escape from a demand and an insistence of relevance on which we will base our life from that moment on. When I came this year to give a “talk” on the day of the “professions,”2 my thoughts went to the poetry of the Italian poet Ada Negri,3 because nothing makes us reflect more on the incidence and invasion, on the tenacious and clear invasion through which our days must seek to be blocked and overwhelmed by the Lord, by the Lord’s presence. The Lord is the presence that defines in all things. And today the recommendation was to intervene on the form of prayer, when Fr Pino spoke of entreaty, and said that the entreaty invests like a cry, as the truth of one’s own heart, the meaning of the entreaty itself. Entreaty and offering are the same thing, the same form, Fr Pino said. How on earth can entreaty and offering be the same thing? Do you remember? Go back and look at the space of the few but wise words that Fr Pino found this morning to stir us up clearly to a commitment.
The identity between friendship–like that we are called to acknowledge–and presence is analogous. This friendship would be worthless, it would have no value, would mean nothing in the end, were it not awareness of the Presence.
Thus, the friend who is in the group, in the house or wherever you participate in a reality of communion among us, is the occasion for living this identity between friendship and attention: if you like a person, when you look at him it is not simply a moment’s emotion that you experience, but something that tends to be permanent, which determines the tones and the color of your way of looking, of referring, otherwise you spoil the person; it would be wrong to stay close to him.
What is important is that the relationship with the person who is in your group be friendship. Friendship is partaking in the love that everyone has, that every individual has, in the love for his destiny: it is the awareness and the love for the destiny for each of you, and so for you who have this job, and it is your participation in the aim for which that companion is there, for which God attached this companion to you and put him near you, when you have go to sleep and when you have to get up, when you are studying and when you are walking, when you are creating and when you are listening in obedience.
In the vocation, what is important is that the communion that is sustained by this is conditioned by the eyes with which you look and the heart with which you listen: it is the person, as an individual dedicated to that work, dedicated to the work of God in that modality, who has to be treated well for this reason. Know that you are before and near your friends, even when there is silence, and even when you would no longer think of who is there.
So, if you live a day, if one lives a day without falling in love with the piety for Christ, with the love for Christ, with charity, it is like a day wasted, because days not wasted have a value, even if one doesn’t think of it, if one doesn’t think of a crisis in this belonging. Analogously, the company of a community is not a company, being of the same group is not company, if each one present in the group does not press on the “value” of being company. As Dante says in Vita Nova “’ntender no la può chi non la prova” (“you can’t understand unless you try it.”)4 It’s the individual’s person, it’s the soul that counts, which is at the origin of the value; but it’s the individual in whom this must count, it is the individual who cannot be forgotten in anything, and the fact that his person is truly relevant, truly counts.
May the Lord help you and help us not to forget, in our relationships, anyone, ever; not to treat each other without that person there or this person here “being there,” without the “being there” being repeated as a reminder “in auriculis,” that we have in our ears. The more this comes to lack, the more our position will be like that we have condemned many times: that is to say that “pluralism” we have called precisely “personalism.” Personalism eliminates the individual, tends to eliminate the individual, the singularity of a presence, and makes a “bastard” of the patience that sustains or, anyway, the company that accompanies.