Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God, writes Saint Paul to the Colossians. Set your mind on the things above, not on those of the earth.
These phrases could be understood superficially as an invitation to look down upon the value of material things that we are in contact with everyday.
Do we have to set our minds on the things that are above and detach our attention from all the rest? Do we have to separate ourselves from engagement with the things of the world, from the enjoyment of the many possibilities of life, from economy and from politics, from art and from culture? There are those who interpret Saint Paul in this way, pointing towards a form of spiritualism which refuses contact with the material nature of our existence. The only thing that really counts is eternal life, and for this reaso
n, we distance ourselves from all the rest because it distracts us from what is most authentic.
This is not what Saint Paul and the Church teach. On the contrary, it is precisely because the only thing that really counts is eternal life, that everything in this life is significant.
To better understand this, Don Luigi Giussani translated the word above with the word within. Eternal life is the truth of this life, he would say. That Christ is sitting on the right hand of God means that “he has placed himself intimately at the root of all things”. “Christianity,” he would add, “is the beginning of eternity within the experience of common man in the world; it is the experience of a man who tends to the eternal, who perceives the dawn of the eternal within himself. He understands that, from within his existence, eternal truth or full and eternal happiness are tangible and are the real content of present experience”.
Everything acquires value precisely because all will be preserved. Without the prospective of eternity, things become empty and lose their significance. It is not enough to say as the poet Terenzio, “I am man”, in order to affirm that nothing of that which is human is alien to us. If man finishes in nothingness, everything that exists in reality would be foreign to him.
In light of eternity, instead, everything has life and significance: from all of our public relationships to our most intimate experiences. If life is eternal, it is worth already living friendships to the full: the love for your wife and for your children. The pride of belonging to one’s own land and one’s own people are beautiful for they strengthen man’s identity and open him up to the world and to others. Man’s work to better his personal conditions and those of the world is noble. The work of politics to conserve peace and to contribute to the path that guarantees everyman his full dignity is just. Man’s love for the Church, with its wounds and its glory, is true. Man’s necessary sacrifices in order to educate new generations to that which is beautiful and pure are meaningful. Man’s passion to cultivate a taste for music, for literature and for all forms of art, is good.
If life is eternal, the many requests we make to God, the promises, the forgiveness asked and obtained, the gratitude expressed in prayer, the wonder experienced for the closeness of God, have all great significance. If life is eternal, the habit of praying with the saints can be a real experience, full of trust, a shared experience of common sensibilities, a constant help implored and received.
All of this will not be destroyed by death: it will be our inheritance forever.
(photo: Bruno Brunelli)
Have you ever plunged into the sea? It is frightening to leave the certainty of the open air where everything is illuminated by the sun, and enter into the cloudy darkness under the water, a space inhabited by mysterious creatures, perhaps even dangerous ones. To stay under for any length of time you must hold your breath and your lungs seem to burst and cry out: “Let me come up for air!” And to go more than a few feet under the surface you have to tie weights to your body, otherwise the air in your lungs and the life in your breast pulls you inevitably back to the surface.
All of this is necessary to obtain a pearl. They can be found, these perfect spheres, luminous and opalescent, within ugly molluscs in the mud at the bottom of the sea.
An ancient legend recounts that pearls are born when lightning strikes the sea. Where else could these perfect spheres come from, if not from an act of the heavens? And how, otherwise, could one explain the discovery of such beauty amidst the mud? Saint Ephrem recalls this legend to speak about the Incarnation of the son of God.
Jesus is also the diver, He who left the infinitely light-filled spaces of God’s heavens to plunge into the murky sea of death. He had weights tied to his body, in order to remain under for such a long time. Who knows how his lungs were bursting, how he desired to come up for air, yet he chose to swim continuously downward, all the way to the bottom so that he could grasp the shell which contained your soul and my soul. All of our souls. He brought this treasure to the surface by diving down from on high, first in the Incarnation, all the way through the human drama; and still beyond, passing through death and hell, in order to bring everything back to the Father.
God is the precious pearl, for whose sake it is right to sell all we have. And we are as well, created in his image and likeness.
Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Pontifical recognition of our Fraternity. On the 20th of March 1999 there was a lot of movement in this house: red carpets lining the hallways, a piano in the dining room, various buffets and refreshments prepared in different rooms according to the guests, a lot of nervous altar servers, and well prepared ushers.
Cardinal Sodano came to celebrate the mass, bringing with him the decree of recognition signed by Cardinal Martinez Somalo, at that time the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life. The decree reflected the express desire of John Paul II. In the beautiful mosaic by Rupnik that decorates the chapel of the house of formation, the image of the polish pope was willed to reflect the fundamental role that he had in our history. The foundation of the Fraternity of St. Charles has its origins during his pontificate: from the audience with the priests of Communion and Liberation in 1985 at Castle Gandolfo, to the signing of the decree on the 19th of March 1999.
It was a day of great celebration. The solemn Mass was presided by the Secretary of State. Refreshments followed in the rooms of the house of via Boccea where we had been living for barely two years. The chapel had been repainted for the occasion. Don Giussani wrote: “Dear friends, our certainty, and thus joy, is great on this day on which his Holiness recognizes once again the ecclesial authenticity of the charism of Communion and Liberation, the methodological foundation of your Priestly Fraternity”.
I would like to add a memory linked to those years.
In 1997, on a winter evening, don Massimo invited Fr. Gianluca Attanasio and myself to a supper with Msgr. Errazuriz, who was at the time the secretary of the Pontifical Congregation on which we depend. He would then be sent to Chile as bishop of Valparaiso, created a cardinal, and named archbishop of Santiago. It was he who permitted us to begin our Chilean mission in 2006.
We were at the Columbus Hotel on via della Conciliazione in Rome. The topic of the evening was the pontifical recognition of the Fraternity. Don Massimo in those years was already very grateful for the fact that we had reached diocesan recognition. He remembered well the difficulties associated with that moment and he did not think they were yet overcome. The numbers also indicated that we were a small reality, maybe too small to aspire for recognition by the Holy See.
From his standpoint, Msgr. Errazuriz came from the experience of the Pontifical recognition of the Schoenstatt movement, which had been long and complicated. His reasoning was very simple: “It is precisely because it could be difficult that you must start immediately. This is the pontificate of the movements, this is the pope with the sensibility and the capacity to risk what’s necessary. Don’t wait, this is the favorable time !”
The argument convinced don Massimo and we began the process.
Our work was to be developed on two levels. The foundational level consisted in the rewriting of the Constitutions of the Fraternity. We had approved the prior version only a few years earlier, in 1995, but the Congregation insisted on certain updates. The revision was, for all those who participated in it, a fundamental occasion to reflect on the nature of the Fraternity and to express once again the form of life which we wanted to live. I remember the long discussions, sometimes even heated, always led by don Massimo, that left us as a gift, clarity regarding the fundamental decisions which give shape to the life of the Fraternity. It was, in a certain sense, at the same time a step towards a new generation, and a school of responsibility. We were helped by the advice and guidance of Fr. Velasio De Paolis, who was later created a cardinal by Benedict XVI.
The second level of our work involved asking the greatest possible number of personalities in the Church to support our pursuit of recognition. For this reason we wrote to the bishops of many dioceses who had already welcomed one of our missions, and then to cardinals and bishops of the Roman Curia, of the Church in Italy and abroad. The fifteen years which don Massimo had dedicated to the work of public relations for the movement in the first part of his life proved to be providential. The number of responses turned out to be very surprising. The bishops and the various personalities of the Church who were contacted needed to write a letter of recommendation to the Congregation, in which they witnessed to the full ecclesial nature of our experience. Many of those who wrote sent a second copy to the Fraternity. The great esteem they had for the work and mission of don Massimo was evident.
All of these events made it much easier to carry out a process that, contrary to all expectations, was finished in the brief period of two years, and that led to our general assembly of 1999: the first assembly as a recognized Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right.
These facts were also a concrete response to the question of the relationship between the movement of Communion and Liberation and the Fraternity of St. Charles, an answer that bore fruit well beyond the relations within Communion and Liberation.
Seeing that the movement did not have the right to incardinate its own priests, the problem was raised concerning the relationship between obedience towards a bishop and that towards the responsible of charismatic communities from which priests come. Each reality has found a different response.
The solution found with the recognition of our Fraternity is the only one of its kind in the Church, indeed it is a beautiful solution, convincing and very ecclesial. It is based on communion, it is the choice to bet on a free relationship of belonging. Our Constitutions express, in fact, that we want to act “in communion of spirit and intention” with the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. There does not exist a formula that will guarantee communion. At the heart of the response that we give, there is thus the freedom in which we recognize the roots of our experience.
Today I would like entrust the Fraternity again to St. Joseph, whom we have chosen as the protector of our community.
Joseph lived a beginning, in fact, he was called to be the guardian of the origin. We are living a beginning as well and this enables us to feel even closer to this great saint. I would like to ask him to implore from God for us that freshness which comes from a living sense of the greatness that is given at the beginning. It is this sensibility which permits one the capacity to take risks like don Massimo and don Giussani, which all the great saints in the Church have had. In this sensibility lays the secret which will enable us to remain young and which will permit the Fraternity to be reborn continuously.
Homily in the House of Formation - 19th of March 2014
The essence of our mission at Fuenlabrada (Spain), a suburb of Madrid could be defined as being an education of the experience of redemption. If, in general, discourses help very little, maybe, here, it is even more evident, seeing the great variety of people who come into contact with us in order to ask for help or entrust their difficulties to us. Many of the people who come to us find themselves in serious situations of difficulty at home and at work .
In these past years we have started a project called St. Anthony’s home: three apartments which welcome people who are living difficult life situations.
A few days ago we were at a supper at the mens’ apartments together with a few friends who desired to learn more about this experience. During the middle of the meal the guests living in the apartment began to recount the weekly food collection that happens every Thursday at the exit of many of the supermarkets in Fuenlabrada. The evening was very moving: we saw people of fifty years of age who have left their families, and now they find themselves as foreigners, without a job, living as guests in a welcoming house, and not despite all of this dedicate many hours of their days asking for food for the assistance of the Charitable food banks.
The conclusion, which they unanimously came to: “we have to help those who have nothing”. We were all left jaw dropped seeing their simplicity and their joy. We thought to ourselves: have these men forgotten that they are the first people who do not have anything? How is it that they, who do not have anything, live this gratuity with respect to others who are unknown to them? Their answer reminded us of the experience of the first Christians: “We have been treated in this way and now we do not know of another way to treat people”. The personal experience of being loved and saved by Jesus Christ expands in a natural manner, flowing out of the presence of the Fraternity of St. Charles in this periphery neighborhood so filled with gratuity.
“How do I educate my child?” How many times has it occurred to us, as priests, to have this question directed to us. How to respond? The simplest way to respond is not to speak of technical forms of pedagogy or to give suggestions in regards to the psychology of teachers. The most secure path is to point towards the model of the most luminous teacher that we have encountered, that of Jesus.
To educate is above all a divine faculty. God the Father is the first and greatest educator. It is He who from the very beginning of creation, took the hand of man, Adam, after he created him and led him to understand the created realities, and he invited him to give a name to everything, to the animals and to understand the relationship between the particular and the whole. God invited him to participate in his work of creation and gave him the responsibility of being a guardian of the world He created. God did not stop educating man even despite his sin and fall: He attracted man to himself again, first through Abraham and the people of Israel, and then He sent his only Son to reach him, through the Church the whole of humanity. In this way He led man to understand the truth of himself and He showed him the path to realize himself.
Every single educational work is thus the imitation of the work of God, the archetype of every father and educator. With the coming of Jesus the educational method was made clear: he called the disciples to follow him, he proposed to them a new and fascinating way of living, he explained to them the meaning of life, showing them an intelligence of reality that was incomparable and thus inviting whoever met him to enter the same reality with a unique profoundness, which is proper only to those who possess the meaning of everything. Jesus gave to the disciples high ideals to follow, he corrected them, he reprimanded them, consoled them, and forgave them.
And what was the fruit of this educational work? That a handful of fishermen forever changed the course of the history of the world. That group of men, so apparently fragile and transient, became a people. Today we ask ourselves if it is possible to change our society, to influence the history of the world. Gazing at that Teacher and his disciples the answer is: yes, it is possible, through education. This is, at the same time, the most concrete and fruitful form of love. This is, in fact, what Jesus did: he taught, communicating himself, he entrusted himself to the twelve and he entrusted them to the relationship with the heavenly Father. He gave himself over to them completely to the point of giving his life for them. In a word, he loved them.
“Father, how do I educate my child?” And what do we do with the children, the students, the people that we are entrusted with? We must imitate what Jesus did, he loved them. In this way it is ever true the similar question: “How do I truly love my child?”. Not coming up short in your responsibility to educate your child.
(photo: “Le Choristes”, Christophe Barratier 2004))
Some time ago I had the opportunity to visit the cooperative Nazareno di Carpi, an organization that takes care of disabled children. One day they showed me around and had me visit the various parts of the cooperative. It was a sunny day, a little muggy, a typical day in Italy’s Po Valley.
I met a handful of kids who, helped by their teachers, were busy rehearsing for a theatre production. I remember one of them whom I’ll call “Luca”. He was wearing a cowboy hat that was a bit too small for his large head, and he was carrying a plastic pistol. The children performed a few scenes from their play just for me, full of moments of shyness and moments of exaggerated euphoria. They were well behaved, kind, and above all, happy. They were happy that I was there and they were in silence, because I listened to them and watched them. They were happy to give something of themselves to me. At the end I gave a round of applause and they were even more content, especially Luca with his pistol.
Our visit carried us to the jobs department where I met “Luigi”, a boy who was injured in an accident, who is now in a wheelchair and almost blind. I spent a bit of time with him and he talked to me about what he does. He showed me some of his work and invited me to have a cup of coffee with him. While we were in front of the coffee machine he realized that my name was Francesco and he asked me, “So are you the pope?” When I told him no, he became sad, noticeably downcast. But he forgave me all the same and offered me his friendship and a cup of coffee.
Next we went to the art department. There I met “Paolo”, a boy with Down syndrome. He was painting, completely bent up over the table, intensely focused on his work, tracing out lines and filling in spaces. The teachers explained his paintings to me and told me about his exceptional gifts, which have been recognized even by art critics. At one point in our conversation Paolo realized we were talking about him. He slowly backed away from the table, leaving his drawing in sight. With his look and his hand gestures he motioned for me to come closer. Without using a word, he made clear to me that this painting was his. He was proud of his work. Viewing the painting attentively and without haste, I made an effort to gather in its meaning. Then, addressing Paolo, I complimented him for his work. He silently shook my hand and bent back down over the table and carried on with utter dignity.
I left in the afternoon. It was a simple day and at the end I felt very grateful. They were true encounters, pure encounters. Those children shared something precious with me: their drawings, their work, their time. They shared themselves, their strange and kind personalities. There’s hidden warmth in the act of sharing, in the gift of oneself. I saw a place where, in some way, loneliness seemed more difficult and companionship more stable. Sharing life allows us to enter mysteriously into the secret of God’s life, a secret that he began to reveal to us when He became man.
(photo Emma Huang – Portrait Painting)
So far away, Emilia. She comes from Taiwan and graduated with a degree in Italian language from the Catholic University of Fu Jen in June of 2013. So close, Emilia: since 2010 she has been going to the School of Community that meets at Catholic University. About Fr. Giussani, whom she has met through his writings, she has this to say: “We are together because of him.” In 2013, during the Easter vigil, she was baptized.
When did you meet Communion and Liberation?
Three years ago. I saw a few pictures on Facebook of some of my classmates from my Italian courses with you in Italy at the Meeting of Rimini. I looked for more information online and I found a calendar of CL activities. Among the various events, there was a weekly School of Community. I came. I was nervous and didn’t know anyone, but everyone treated me kindly. From then on I haven’t missed a single meeting.
What was it that attracted you?
The friendship. I’ve always had a lot of friends, but they were superficial relationships: we would talk about the latest film, about a new purse, about such and such who was now going out with such and such. A fun night out, a few laughs, but it would always end there. But in the friendships within the movement I discovered that I could be myself, I could speak about true experiences and learn from others.
When did you consider being baptized?
Nobody ever directly brought it up, but we talked a lot about God, about Jesus. I still didn’t know Him, but I knew that in some way He was waiting for me. I clearly remember the day that you asked me if I wanted to come to catechism lessons. I said yes. The next Saturday afternoon, after charitable work at the parish in Tai Shan, where I was teaching English to the children, I began Catechism, with Lele and with you. Three events that quickly became one: charitable work, the place where I learned to give something of myself; catechism, where I received; School of Community, where I shared life with others.
When did you first hear about Fr. Giussani?
In Fu Jen, with that group of students, we would read his book, The Religious Sense. It was an interesting read: Giussani uses examples taken from his experience and he makes you understand things that, on your own, you wouldn’t otherwise understand. Then there was the time we read Traces of a Christian Experience or The Meaning of Charitable Work. There were the Christmas and Easter posters. Recently they asked me to translate parts of a video on Giussani and two texts about the Fraternity of CL. I was struck by a sentence Giussani said May 30th 1998: “The true protagonist of History is the beggar, or rather, the heart of man begging for Christ and Christ begging for the heart of man.” I had thought of Jesus as a king, an omnipotent God, not as a beggar. Then I understood. Jesus is the one who was waiting for me. While I was searching for Him, He was waiting for me.
What surprises you today in the experience of CL?
I’ve always been struck by beauty, the beauty of the songs, of the images, the beauty of our friendship. Ever since I’ve been living this experience, the world for me is a large home where every person I meet is a brother, a sister.
Whenever someone from CL comes to Taiwan, it’s like meeting an old friend. In 2011 I was in Italy, in Rome. You told me I should go visit the sisters in a suburb called La Magliana. When I got to their house I rang the doorbell, but nobody answered. I was about to leave when I saw two young women. I thought they must be students, but instead they were novices. I told them I was a friend of Don Paolo and Don Lele, so we stopped and chatted for quite a while. Then we started singing, because in CL we always sing. In the end, I taught them a song in Chinese: when they wrote out the transliteration I was brought to tears of joy.
What do you think about Fr. Giussani today?
He was someone who sought beauty; we are together because of him. Because of him you became priests and came Taiwan. Whenever I would come across words that were difficult to translate, Lele would say to me, “Pray that Fr. Giussani would help you from heaven.” I think of him as a person who is alive. If I were to meet him today I would kiss his hands and thank him. If it weren’t for him, there would be no CL, and without CL, I wouldn’t have been baptized, and without baptism, I wouldn’t be happy like I am now.
The mystery of birth fills our existence with joy, hope and wonder. But even more, it moves us to reflect on the mystery of the positivity of being and on the nature of gift.
Four levels of a mystery
The act of giving birth is a very profound mystery which reflects, in a certain way, the mystery of God.
There is, in the first place, the biological level, probably the most obvious, but in no way banal. Life, being the fruit of a loving union between a father and a mother, is enabled and comes about through bodily existence. Our very own bodies continuously remind us of our origin, of the fact that we are “given”, “entrusted to ourselves”. Our bodies remind us that our lives are given from the moment of conception and throughout the arc of our historical existence.
The body directs us to the ontological level of the mystery of birth, it further leads us to the question in regards to the mystery of our being. We come into being through the union of two persons, a man and a woman, but we are distinct from them. Upon further reflection on its origin, our coming into existence reveals that our being is uniquely ours and at the same time that it is not: it is what we share in common with everything that exists. Being with the other carries with it a task: to discover who we are while remaining in wonder at the fact that we exist.
Our bodies and our being enclose a spiritual meaning. Ours is the birth of a spirit, that is, of someone who becomes conscious of himself only through the free and loving dialogue with another. The human spirit grows from the moment that it listens, dialogues, and dwells with the fountain that generates it. This growing takes the form of the beautiful moments of life, as well as in the moments of failure and drama. All of the so called moments of new birth that we experience, like falling in love, the becoming a father or a mother, the experience of being forgiven, and so on, are the expressions of the first and original birth, its new flourishing.
The spiritual meaning opens us to the ultimate level of the mystery of birth: the theological level. Let us look at the surprise generated in us upon the announcement of a new baby being born: this surprise is essentially a sign of the relationship with the ultimate source of being, who gave life to the baby. Irreducible to its parents or to the laws of biology, the baby is born within a solitude which no human company can ever eliminate. This solitude is not a form of marginalization but the sign of a very profound communion. From the very beginning of life and in every successive instant following its origin, the baby is placed in a dialogue with the ultimate origin of existence, that which theology calls “God”. Our very existence is the movement from and towards eternal being, which accompanies us daily, even if we often do not recognize its presence.
The mystery of birth offers us the possibility to better understand the unity of our being in terms of gift. The widespread and positivistic idea of our culture – that birth and human existence itself are merely the fruit of chance or of necessity – does not take into account the surprise that is proper to the existence of life, of the existence of our spirit and of its irreducible wholeness. However the meaning of gift is clearly not obvious.
Our culture, which is convinced that fragmentation is more primordial than unity, does not see how the relationship between being and existing, between God and the world, and between men themselves, is the actualizing of a gift. It reduces birth and the gift to obvious things which any man can do. The fact that biotechnology, to reduce our suffering, permits us to manipulate ever more life from its origin, seems to be a proof, the perfect justification, that that which counts most we make by ourselves. In this perspective we reduce the gift to a simple prize to offer someone or to something to purchase (a power, forgiveness, an esteem).
Instead of consisting in a series of fragmented and unconnected pieces, our life is born from and is called towards unity. The mystery of birth places us in front of this beauty without boundaries: the unity of being – and thus of God and of man in the concreteness of existence – has the form of a gift and the gift reveals the permanence of unity.
The concrete universal
Becoming flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the eternal Logos of the Father comes to us in the form of a concrete person. His Incarnation, which is fulfilled only when Christ returns to the Father and sends us his Spirit, is the archetype of gift. In this way, He, the concrete universal, reveals the true meaning of gift and reveals to us the nature of God as gift.
His eternity is gift, always identical and always new. God is life who gives without limits: the Son is born eternally from the Father, who confirms his response of love giving with him, again, the exuberant fruit of the Holy Spirit. But God does not stop here. God calls us into being, to participate of this mysterious birth in which he wants nothing else than our reception of him, his love, with the gratuity that is only proper to him.
The gift of Christ to man does not eliminate all of human suffering and does not solve all of man’s problems. He, however, permits the encounter between the divine and human freedom: this encounter is what we call drama, which always takes flesh anew in history. He who lives this drama without making calculations, remaining rooted in the joy that is proper to the experience of being continuously born anew, grows and becomes ever more a beloved son who walks held up by the hands of the Father. Through suffering, in a freedom without end, he discovers with certainty and courage a humility that, from the heart of the world, cares for, affirms and invokes the truth of being.
These reflections are developed in Antonio López, Gift and the Unity of Being
Stefano Zecchi, the well known journalist and professor of aesthetics at the State University of Milano, wrote that: “for Don Giussani, loving beauty meant loving a truth that is constructive. Beauty is always a force that proposes, builds and never regresses, is never nihilistic, it has always been an idea of invention and construction of possible worlds”.
To build. During a period of time when everything seems to unravel, what is more necessary than to construct? Don Giussani was a great builder because he loved beauty and sought it out in every aspect of reality and in the depths of every expression of human creativity: from art, to music to literature. This search for beauty was the ideal that moved all of his actions, so that he would capture the attention of whomever he met and so invite them to participate in the movement directed towards the building of the kingdom of God. He was a great educator because he invited us to participate in this inexhaustible search. In order to educate, to construct, to bear fruit in life, it is necessary to live in light of that virtue, which Charles Peguy described as being the “faith that God prefers”: in order to educate, in order to build it is necessary to have hope. Our goal in life is to collaborate in the construction of the kingdom of God, and it is only an ideal so great which gives dignity to our being priests, to our being missionaries, to our being Christians -with the awareness that, ultimately, it is not our efforts that construct reality and that recreate it continuously.
As Pope Francis said recently, the greatest of Jesus’ miracles is that of “making all things new: this is what he does for my life, for your life and for our lives. Making all things new. That which He makes new in our lives is the motive of our hope. Christ who makes new all of the marvelous realities of creation is the motive of our hope. And this hope does not delude because He is faithful and cannot deny Himself. This is the virtue of hope”.
Cardinal Ratzinger once said: “The promise of hope is a gift that has been already given in a certain way, and that we wait to receive from Him alone who can truly give it”. The pages that follow hope to bear witness to how our life is knitted with the awaiting of this gift and how hope can flourish within even the most adverse and diverse of life’s circumstances. Finally, how it educates us to the search for beauty, that towards which we are all destined.
I met don Giussani during my first year at the Catholic University of Milan. Every Tuesday and Wednesday he would teach Introduction to Theology in a large hall full of students. While participating in these lectures, I often had the sensation of being in front of one of the great saints that my parents had told me about. I would think of don Bosco for example. Giussani incarnated the Christian teachings that I learned while I was little and gave them new life. His teaching linked what he taught with the origin of Christianity, in this way making Christ present. I began consciously intuiting the living character of the Tradition of the Church: a message passed down from the first encounter between Jesus and the first disciples that had arrived all the way to our generation and made a claim on our young lives.
The encounter with don Giussani was the most important fact in my life. The education that I received from him brought together everything that I had previously received up to that point, and allowed it to develop in a new way. He made it possible for the seeds that my parents and other teachers had sown, those who had accompanied me up until that point, to remain as active leaven for my path. He corrected that which was ambiguous or limited in me and he encouraged me towards new depths. Altogether he united my life by proposing that the faith be its true center.
When the Easter poster for Communion and Liberation was published in 1988, I was in the second year of a bachelor’s in philosophy. Below the image of Jesus from the Sistine Chapel, there was printed a passage from The dialogue with the Antichrist by Vladmir Solov’ev. In this scene, the Emperor, who had reunited the world under his power, asks the few remaining Christians what kept them linked to their creed: “Tell me then yourselves, O Christians, abandoned by the majority of your brothers and leaders, what is it that you hold most dear in Christianity?” The text continues with the response of the Starez John: “What we hold most dear in Christianity is Christ himself. He himself and everything else that comes from him, since we know that the total fullness of the divinity dwells corporally in Him.”
In that moment I became aware that I could repeat with all of myself the same response as the Starez. His words embodied the reality and the concreteness of my daily experience. Thanks to the encounter with don Giussani, saying that what I hold most dear was Christ, for me meant that I loved more than anything else is the company of friends with whom I shared the experience of the movement Communion and Liberation. In this company the great reality of the Church was made present. Don Giussani invited us in those years to affirm the identification between the material fragility of those faces, which made up our friendship, and Christ himself. This discovery communicated to me light and certainty, opening up wide my faith to the world and to history.
Don Giussani touched and directed towards what is good the lives of thousands of people in a similar way, announcing the living Christ, showing us the unifying force of the Spirit, making us fall in love with the beauty of the Church, teaching us to pray, opening our ears to the cry that rises from the heart of every man, and thrusting us to bear witness to the faith to whomever we meet.
photo: Copyright Fraternità di CL