A religious reflection on a tragedy of modernity

Moses and the Shuttle

We offer here an article by Fr Giussani, published on the front page of the Italian daily Corriere della sera, February 9, 2003

by Luigi Giussani

Dear Editor,
Watching the pictures of the Shuttle as it fell, a question came to my mind: with everything that is happening, is life fair? If we did not answer this question, everything would remain open to despair, as though the tragedy of the Shuttle happened a hundred thousand times a day, leaving hundreds of millions desperate.

Yet, in his search for an answer that affirms freedom or goodness or justice, man comes up against a limit. He discovers that he is limited by nature, so that everything appears breathless, and it seems impossible for anybody to make a single action in life without committing injustice or contradictions.

We are all like Moses, who had led his people for hundreds of miles; when he reached the edge of what would later become the State of Israel, from the top of the mountain he looks at the Holy Land from afar, without being able to touch it, since God had said to him, “As a punishment for your fear, for not having paid me justice, you will die before entering the Promised Land.” Indeed, it would be Joshua who led the conquering army in. You see, we are all the time on the border of a land as longed-for as it is unreachable, and this is why the question about the success of life dominates the days of every person breathing.

Now, there is only one explanation which can account for everything that happened: the cross of Christ. His death is God’s answer to our limitations and our injustices. There is, as it were, a horizon of a lack of reason in all things. Any event that happens would never find an adequate answer if Christ were not there. He marks God’s ultimate victory over human reality. Whatever happens, it is “mercy” that gives the reading of everything that is human. Mercy: God accomplishes the victory over evil within history as positivity: it is this that gives a reason to what happens.

But man is not able to understand this explanation, the only possible explanation for damage and evil not to be the ultimate sign of history. So then something impossible happens, the most impossible of all: man sets himself up as God’s judge. It makes me dizzy to think about the future, about what man can do if he judges God to be unfair because something happens that he cannot comprehend. Man cannot. God can do and permit whatever He wills (this is the mystery of God, which man cannot penetrate unless God opens the door for him), and the man who judged God–out of pure presumptuousness–would wreak real havoc. Jesus’ tragedy is this! On the contrary, Christ’s death and destiny are the resurrection of life: the victory over evil. Those who accept this fact take part in the resurrection of life. Those who, not understanding it, do not accept it, destroy the world.

Yet to say that Christ “has won” is a strange expression for man, and thus we come to it as though to a mysterious exit, which remains a mystery as long as the Father wishes, as long as the mystery of God does not reveal itself. And when it is revealed, it will be the end, the end of the world. In order to say, “He won,” man has to make a choice: the choice that good triumph over evil. The choice of good and not the insistent stressing of evil. And it is undeniable that this is just. A priori, it is just; it is not an explanation that we ourselves can give, but something that we recognize.

Precisely this is why the history of America teaches us a positivity of life that is an example to the rest of the world. It also teaches us that if the meaning of the whole is missing, it multiplies infinitely the possibility of rebellion and massacre.

God, the Lord, makes me attain the certainty of faith: that God’s friendship with me, with man, cannot be placed in doubt by anything (from the beginning, God came to earth by choosing a people to be His, a beloved nation, in order to bring the world to a fulfillment that it would never have otherwise). Just to think that shortly before He died, Jesus said, “Friend!” to Judas who was betraying Him, is something out of this world. Psalm 117 says, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His love endures forever.” It is something out of this world. My thoughts have gone in these days to Maximilian Kolbe, saying to the German captain: “You have to kill ten, I will take the place of someone who has children...” And the German accepts the offer. If Hitler had been there at that moment, he would certainly not have rewarded the captain... The German captain applied an idea of justice that was not Hitler’s idea. By accepting the exchange, he expressed the natural feeling of a man who might have children, like the condemned man. The Church proclaimed Fr Kolbe a saint because he rendered justice to himself before God. Just as it was with Mary, who for me is the summit of the evolution of the “I” which we call holiness. For this reason, in the face of any disaster or limit, a man can affirm in all assurance that life is fair, because it goes mysteriously but surely toward its destiny of positivity.