Our Lady The Method We Need for Familiarity with Christ
Traces presents new contributions on Fr Giussani’s “Letter to the Fraternity” written last June, for a deeper understanding

Sr Chiara Piccinini
Trappist Nun in Venezuela
We are trying to study together Fr Giussani’s “Letter to the Fraternity.” Immediately we sensed its prophetic depth: we are able to sense but not understand. This letter is not a teaching, but an event! So we got together to understand Fr Giussani thought, but we got bogged down in a point we would like Fr Giussani to explain.
Here is the synthesis of our reflections, following the text (we’d like to be corrected, completed and enlightened further).
1. The hymn to the Virgin… man’s capacity to contemplate the real, and if you contemplate the real you inevitably meet the “focus” of the real: God, the Mystery.
2. The figure of Our Lady is the constitution of the Christian personality: God is Being: I exist because I am constantly breathed by Being as creative fact and salvific fact. Being creates continually, in a dynamic of creation and re-creation. Therefore, “re-birth of the real” as adhesion to the fact that man is constantly exalted because God creates and redeems incessantly, and this in Our Lady is an infinite commotion. She is a continuous tension toward the Infinite; she is wide-open to Being, to the Infinite; she is Destiny fulfilled.
3. The fundamental principle of Christianity is freedom: the point of infinity that God has placed in man is freedom. And the beauty of this is that man discovers this point of infinity in limitation. Even when he sins, man can always overcome the sin, the fall. There is no limit that can define him. Fundamentally, he is always free because freedom is the point of infinity that God has placed in His creature.
4. Man’s freedom is man’s salvation: This is a theological definition of the highest level. Freedom is not autonomy. “Freedom is salvation.” This means that man fully realizes his freedom only in faith.
5. Our Lady respected God’s freedom: We do not respect God’s freedom when we sin–sin understood as what prevents God’s freedom from communicating itself to man, what obstructs Being in His generative coextension. God does not communicate something, He communicates Himself. Sin is therefore the non-acceptance of Being. That phrase “saved God’s freedom” is wonderful. Our Lady came into the world of God’s Being, into His method, because she is pure transparency, pure availability; for this she is pure obedience to His will and therefore infinite respect and space for God’s freedom.
6. Coextends himself…: The “coextends” implies, supposes, the Trinitarian movement that comes to touch everything. The Trinitarian love communicates itself. Creation is His coextension; therefore, I am inside this movement of Trinitarian coextension that constitutes me–I belong to the Trinity!
7. For this reason virginity…: The Trinity is essential virginity. There is no other virginity except the very Essence of God. Eternal Virginity is the Trinity infinitely, eternally fecund. Virginity, therefore, is the truth of Being, of His coextension, of His total communication. Virgin is one who opens up to radical obedience, to the invasion of Being, without opposing other subjective plans. Mary is inserted fully into God’s Being, into His nature: she is Its image, Its splendor. Mary belongs wholly to the eternal virginity of Being. And she is Mother: from eternal Virginity… virginity of motherhood. Virginity is always fecund, since it is the coextension of the very nature of the Trinity, the generative force that gives life. “Virginity is motherhood.” Being is absolute virginity–in other words, Reality wholly free, pure, expropriated, and motherhood is its communication. So motherhood takes nothing from this nature (!) but communicates it (the words “the warmth of virginity” are marvelous).
8. Our Lady is the method we need:  It’s not a question of a method, but the method, the road par excellence. But the question in our heart refers to the phrase a little further on. “The Mystery from which creation proceeds is sustained and brought to completion, is Our Lady.” We are unable to understand what is meant by: “The Mystery from which creation proceeds is Our Lady.” We sense that there are profound, prophetic dimensions, but at the same time there are inexplicable theological implications. How are we to interpret this affirmation of Fr Giussani? What is it he wants to tell us?
Warmest greetings from all the Trappist Community at Humocaro.

“The Mystery from which creation proceeds, is sustained, and is brought to completion, is Our Lady,” because it is in Our Lady that the Mystery becomes human experience in history.
Thank you all.
Fr Giussani
Fr Thierry de Roucy
Founder of Points Coeur*
For decades, Fr Giussani has been someone whose heart and spirit never cease to move in the space of the Mystery. And the more he contemplates it, the more he is “profoundly moved by the Infinite,” and fascinated by the Mercy manifested in the economy of salvation through “the personality of Christ’s mother.” Little by little appear also the bonds that exist between what can seem contradictory, diametrically opposed, paradoxical (like virginity and motherhood, or like the absurd and the Mystery). In this re-composition in unity probably lies the incredible and fascinating logic of the Glory of God. Fr Giussani has us share in this wonder, as in a secret, in incredibly synthetic texts, so dense that it would take pages and pages to comment on even half of his affirmations. These texts should not discourage or frighten us, however. They are an invitation to embark on the same journey, to beg the Lord to allow us to have the same experience that He has given him to live. In this sense, the letter of June 22nd is characteristic of Fr Giussani’s current method: it is a series of disclosures and syntheses of the Mystery. One could speak of a fan suddenly opening up and closing, as if for fear that what is revealed might be too great, too dazzling. On this fan is painted a huge fresco, of which, little by little, we perceive some detail that inevitably ties in with the whole. This huge fresco surely represents the mystery of God’s mercy, the mystery of God’s freedom and man’s freedom, which are, as it were, condensed and wonderfully expressed in the destiny of the Virgin Mary. And since the Holy Spirit was able to arouse in Her “the Word, the plan that [perfectly] defined her,” Fr Giussani proposes the Virgin to each of us as “the method we need for a familiarity with Christ.” He acknowledges her as the source of all fecundity. Her role is “decisive…. [It] clarifies the charism that the Church has recognized as the origin of our journey.”

Christ’s mother, totally free and as such fully inhabited, penetrated by salvation, is as it were embraced by the divine charity in which the whole of the moral law is fulfilled. For the Church, and so for the whole of mankind, she is therefore the fount of an “unquenchable hope,” which she passes on as “light in the eyes,” “a flame in the heart,” arousing in all those who contemplate her “the ecstasy of hope.” On her face, on which shines “the intensity of creative goodness,” appears the meaning of our destiny: we are made eternal because the freedom we have been given at once brings infiniteness into our “finiteness.” This gives birth in us to a joy–His joy–that He gives us to get up every morning “for an explosion inside you of the fact of Christ.”
Christ’s mother is truly the Mother of all the living.

* An association born in France in 1990 and spread in many countries, including the United States. It is present in New York, under the name of “Heart’s Home”. Points Coeur are places of welcome and counseling for children and their families.

Gregory Wolfe
Editor-in-Chief, Image magazine Seattle (Washington, Canada)
What I find so moving and evocative in Fr Giussani’s letter is its willing embrace of paradox. The dictionary defines paradox as “a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.” This is hardly a method that many people today think appropriate for the communication of spiritual truth. So often we look to religious leaders and theologians for statements that will instantly take away our anxieties and uncertainties.
We’re eager to get at the spiritual bottom line, but when we get there we often find ourselves unsatisfied. That’s because simplistic pronouncements fail to do justice to the reality of experience, of the mysteriousness and complexity of the world. Many people turn away from the faith when they sense a gap between religious rhetoric and reality.
Fr Giussani’s letter is full of passion and conviction–it is not ambiguous about the content of the faith. But it presents itself in a series of paradoxes, beginning with Dante’s hymn to the “Virgin Mother,” who is described as “daughter of your Son.” Paradox is the language appropriate to the borderland between human comprehension and divine mystery. The seeming contradiction at the heart of paradox stands as challenge to the limits of human reason. At the same time, it also pays tribute to reason, to our very human need to puzzle things out.
This tension between reason and what leaps beyond it helps to account for Fr Giussani’s method–a method that combines philosophy and poetry, reason and imagination, into a single vision. (Yet another paradox!) What initially appears as contradiction is ultimately revealed as mystery, radiant and attractive.
Rather than attempting to boil mystery down into flat, propositional statements, Fr Giussani uses one divine mystery to elucidate another. And so his letter to the Fraternity needs to be read and re-read. But how richly it repays those re-readings! When I read the letter for the first time, I encountered his discussion of virginity with the standard ideas about the subject foremost in my mind–for example, that virginity mysteriously leads to a maternal love. But on re-reading the letter, I now see that he also evokes the paradox in the opposite direction, so to speak: at the root of all maternity is a form of virginity–a singular, total commitment to the goodness of Being.
Then there are his luminous, refreshing words on the nature of freedom. This, too, is a perspective all too rare among Christians these days. There is a persistent tendency, especially in the United States, to turn religion into moralism–to reduce the drama of encounter and response to an accounting ledger based on the making and breaking of rules. Fr Giussani’s stress on the dignity and grandeur of human freedom is a bold and welcome reminder of what faith is all about. He reminds us that holiness is not so much a matter of following rules as it is of responding to the event of God’s presence. This is why he sheds such a powerful light on Mary’s “yes” to God.
There are many more dimensions to Fr Giussani’s letter, but I will point out only one other that especially struck me. Near the end he writes, “Human ‘music’ is the stage on which everything happens.” For most of us, the experience of mystery takes place not on mountaintops but in the ordinary world of our day-to-day lives, just as God became man in a stable, rather than a palace. What makes Fr Giussani’s spiritual vision so compelling to me is that it is, does not inhabit an ethereal realm, but is always earthy, grounded, tangible. And in the end, that’s the truest form of simplicity.
Jörg Splett
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Philosophy and Theology of Frankfurt (Germany)
I must say sincerely that as a German philosopher, I had difficultly in understanding the Italian rhetoric of the letter. However, I feel its fire. I ask myself how one can say that a human being (not his behavior) is the method (instead of being a journey or a door). Or, what is meant by saying that Being asks to be recognized? (The verse Apocalypse 3: 20 comes to mind.) And what is meant by “virginal, because eternal”? Does it mean that all that is eternal is virginal (if not that every virginity is eternal)?
I find much more understandable and beautiful the description of virginity as the prime value of what is created: the creation intact, like fresh snow. Rilke calls the angels “Auroral crests of the whole of creation.” Here is reflected not only Augustine’s idea of their “auroral knowledge” (in contrast with our tired and crepuscular way of knowing), but also Dante’s words as regards the creation of the angels–that is valid for our own creation:

Not to have for Himself increased its being,
that cannot be, but so that His own splendor
might, as it shines, say “I subsist,”
in His eternity outside time,
beyond any other knowledge, as it pleased Him,
the eternal love opened up in new loves.

And since the white splendor here is love, then motherhood is hers– how right Giussani is! Because love means affirmation, the will of being and of reality. Thus St Thomas describes created being as “simplex et completum, sed non subsistens.” In other words, not a mere existing, but existing because wanted: being affirmed wholly (unconditionally) and simply for what it is. A being that reveals itself as an “it is,” and even more profoundly as a “HE gives.” What corresponds to that self-giving as an answer are gladness, gratitude and hope: gratitude as acceptance of the gift and acceptance of the donor in his gift; hope as the anticipated form of gratitude. Then I understand that the form in which this gratitude is realized is “the explosion” of getting up in the morning, because we exist in order to live and we live in order to love. We need more to be able to put it into practice than to understand it. This is the prayer, full of hope of someone who is in need of mercy.

Nicolaus Lobkowicz
Director of the Study Center for East and Central Europe, and former Rector of the University of Eichstätt (Germany)
Although Chiara gave me also the original text in Italian, I am not at all sure of having fully understood this moving text of Fr Giussani. On the other hand, this is not what I have been asked. I have been asked rather to give a contribution for a deeper understanding out of my experience of faith. Since I want to try to express something about a letter that–and to realize this is already a long step toward understanding it–is really a hymn, as we know the hymns of the ancients, for example in Plotinus, and is familiar to us from the “babbling” of Christian mystics. The grandiosity of this text is that it gives back to Being that dimension that is proper to It, or more correctly to Him. In our day-to-day experience we can see many different beings, almost all bodily, some of whom are also persons. Plato and Aristotle discovered that this cannot be all and they explained that more originary beings must exist, that are not bodies and do not have a body, and yet must, all the same, be more real than all that is “here on earth.” They had the intuition, though they were still unable to reach a knowledge about it in the true sense, that Being as such is personal or, more precisely, is a person. Aristotle never says that God is not only a being, but Being itself; and his God is so perfect that He cannot concern Himself with anything other than Himself. St Thomas Aquinas, who in a sense is Aristotle’s greatest disciple, does know God as the “esse ipsum”–but even in St Thomas, the idea that Being, for this very reason [because of the identity between God and the esse ipsum], is essentially personal and that therefore not being a person is a limitation, plays only a marginal role.
Now, Fr Giussani’s letter expresses this dimension of Being completely. “Being” in the full sense means “being a person,” an “I” that thinks and wills, that listens and answers, that communicates itself and loves, an “I” open to a “you” and therefore to every “you.” And this is true not only of persons; all beings participate in this, too, in different ways. Animals, plants and stones are all like “impeded yous.” We ourselves are limited yous in this world; only by yielding ourselves completely to God do we break out a little from this limitedness. Only a little, since as creatures we could never think or will, listen and answer, communicate and love in a perfect way. And even if by chance we were once to succeed in doing so, it would be in all senses the case of an unmerited gift of the Trinity. From this point of view, Mary, though herself a human being, is nearer to God than the greatest angels. Not only was she conceived without the stain of original sin but, in the time of this world, she can and must make a decision that an angel is faced with only once–in the moment of its creation–and never again: the decision to yield completely to God’s freedom or to offer Him resistance; in other words, as the tradition regarding the “fallen angels” supposes, to contest the fact that the Son of God has become a man and not an angel. Her free decision has made Her “fixed term of the eternal counsel”–certainly not a fourth divine person but, as the Polish theologian and philosopher Józef Tischner expressed it, “the feminine principle, both virginal and maternal, at God’s side.” This is why we address her full of trust: even though she is a creature like us and lived on this earth like every other man, the ipsum esse, that mysteriously is not one but three persons, cannot reject her invocations. And He does not want to reject them because, precisely in her humility and total availability to God, she is “high above all creatures.”
Manuel Clemente
Auxiliary Bishop of Lisbon (Portugal)
This text, too, as well as others, confirms my conviction of Fr Giussani’s relevance today, of his instantaneous eternal relevance. We live as reaction to much history, and various versions of it, and this is not only negative. But we survive an excessive extrapolation of this history, of life lived for ideology, that ends up excluding all of us, as can always happen in life as it is lived, despite everything. Let me explain more: any reduction of history to a theory about it, always motivated by personal interests, and pragmatic, ends up being unfaithful to it, in whole or in part, because it weakens its creativity and takes away its surprise. This reduction easily becomes totalitarian, a counterfeit of the whole–of the whole before which only the Creator can present Himself–as He presents Himself also to hearts that are free. In Giussani, I appreciate the fact that he recalled the divine transcendence, which is moreover tangible–on God’s part and at the risk of His own self–in the immanence of Christ and of the Church, where time is not foreseen, but conceded. Even when charity has to overcome precise and decisive obstacles, precisely because charity is another name for God’s faithfulness. As far as I am concerned, I confirm this.
Peter Stockland
Editor-in-chief, The Gazette, Montreal (Canada)
Father Giussani illuminates his meditation on Mary as the establishment of Christian personality with a citation from Dante’s Hymn to the Virgin. “Either you feel Dante’s first three lines growing in your heart,” he writes, “or else these become a rock that crushes you.” The sentence has a wondrous resonance for me precisely because it is incongruously at odds with my experience. As a journalist, a lifelong wordsmith, it is the evocative power of language that I would normally expect to use in grasping Fr Giussani’s insight that “Our Lady is the method we need for familiarity with Christ.” Yet my heartfelt acceptance of the truth he describes comes not from the artistic shaping of words but from the sculptor’s art. In the exquisitely carved stone of Michelangelo’s Pieta at St Peter’s, I have experienced what Fr Giussani refers to as “the explosion inside you of the fact of Christ.” Oddities compound because in the Pieta, for me, “the fact of Christ” is not realized in the body of Our Lord hewn from rock by the genius of Michelangelo’s hands. Rather, it is the way my eyes are drawn to what Giussani calls an “ineffable focus” on the very being of the Mother of God animating the marble in which her figure has been created. It is she, in her eternal posture of submission to total freedom, who re-directs my gaze to the love of the Son she embraces. “Dante’s Hymn to the Virgin coincides with the exaltation of being, with the  ultimate tension on the part of the awareness of man in the presence of ‘reality’ that is not born of itself but is made by an ineffable focus: for reality is, in fact, ‘created,’” Giussani writes. My discovery of that exaltation in the master creation of Michelangelo rather than the creative power of Dante is in no way meant to contradict Fr Giussani. Yet it represents something more, I think, than a simple substitution of art forms or metaphors. It represents the full submissive liberty of contradiction that is Mary, daughter of her Son, Mother of us all. Mary’s lips sound the Magnificat, the joyful, glorious hymn that has inspired the greatest music of mankind. Her heart keeps the pondering silence that can uplift the broken and crushed. Her womb gives life not just to the Christian personality, but to the Person of Christ Himself. In the sound, in the silence, is the Being we encounter, as Fr Giussani says, through “the instrument God has used to enter into man’s heart.”