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
The encounter with Fr. Giussani was the most decisive event that opened my mind and my heart to the horizons of the world and the Church. If I had to summarize in short the reason for the great gratitude for him, I would say: he made me fall in love with Christ and the Church. He did not present me a God closed off in an unapproachable past. He showed me Christ present in the communion of those who allow themselves to be reached by Him. He opened with force my reserved and quiet boyhood to the knowledge of man, art, music and poetry. He taught me what it means to accompany people, to help them to grow and flourish, without ever spearing them the path. In him I saw the possibility to value everything and everyone in their diversity. He filled me with curiosity for everything, because he filled me with the curiosity for Christ. He, who was such a great communicator, transmitted to me the passion for personal relationships and the urgency for everyone to know Jesus: the only true response to the infinite thirst that dwells in the heart of every man. Fr. Giussani never stopped quenching that thirst in those close to him.
If someone wants to know who Fr. Giussani was, they should read his writings, study his life, but together with these, they should above all look at what he has left behind, and continues living among us today, that which he gave birth to: the life of the movement in its many expressions. Giussani still moves many people today, a countless number of whom have never had the opportunity to meet him directly. How is this possible? What permits Fr. Giussani to continue living?
He entrusted himself to the Spirit of God: that which from him was born, has blossomed and grown from his obedience to Christ. Only by obeying God and entering into his will, can we ourselves enter into the secret of a life which does not die. Only in this way can our works and our life bear fruit that will remain and generate life in others. Fr. Giussani is a luminous testimony of all of this.
I saw that his solid faith was the only true light to comprehend all of reality, to learn to be obedient to God and to enter the life of Christ. This is the most profound reason for which we can affirm that Fr. Giussani still lives: because he let himself be taken by Christ who is the living one (Rev 1,18).
Photo: Msgr. Camisasca with Fr. Giussani, on “Maggiore” Lake (Italy), in 1990.
“Christ the King Boston High School.” “Hello, may I speak with Salve Fr. Medina?” “I’m sorry, but he’s in class now.” “OK, I’ll call back tomorrow.” The next day: “Christ the King Boston High School.” “Hello, is Fr. Medina available?” “I’m sorry, he’s celebrating Mass…”
Science and faith, yes. But it is only a problem of method: you need to call him directly on his extension. After several attempts, he respondes: “Hello friend, how are you? An interview on faith and science? Good, I have something to say.”
José Medina received his degree in Civil Engineering at Madrid, was later ordained a priest at Rome, and today is principle of a high school in Boston. For many years he taught physics. Sì, potrebbe avere qualcosa da raccontare sul tema di questo mese.
“When I became a priest, fr. Massimo Camisasca sent me to America and said to me: I think you should be a professor, but see what you think. At the time I had no great desire to continue studying, but I trusted Don Massimo’s words and sought to build some relationships in the world of education. Decisive at that time was my meeting with David Schindler. His lectures, besides rekindling in me the desire to study, put me in touch with various authors, in particular von Balthasar, who conveyed to me a striking intuition.”
What is the intuition that you are speaking of?
That the truth can never be exhausted, comprehended, grasped entirely. This struck me very deeply. This, moreover, is an intuition that is very common among scientists, although not in popular science, nella divulgazione. An example would be the force of gravity. It is said: objects fall because there is gravity. This is not true! The theory is not the reason why things fall. The reason why things fall is a mystery. We don’t know why they fall. The cause of motion is, in its deepest sense, unknown. Gravity is a great mystery: we know that it exists, but we don’t know why it exists. Another example would be entropy. Thermodynamics shows us that nature tends to disorder, not towards order. That it has a destructive capability, and never constructive. And so, where does the order come from? How does one explain this opposition?
So, in teaching science, the most important thing to bear in mind is that every theory describes, but does not explain. Every science, therefore, has an aspect that is mysterious.
Isn’t this just a question of semantics?
Every scientist must be very precise in the choice of the words which he uses. Using incorrect words, one risks impoverishing reality. A reduction is necessary in order to formulate a theory; but it must always be accompanied by the awareness that reality itself is greater. When a Newton depicts a world without air, it is useful, because it helps to understand; but it can give the illusion that we understand everything, and this is not the case. There is, however, a person through whom we can understand all this better.
Who is this person?
Albert Einstein. His greatness was that of questioning what had been considered unquestionable, such as time and space. He broke the schema according to which time and space are absolute. He, too, then ran the risk of becoming a slave to his reduction: to explain the expansion of the universe, which could not be deduced from his theory, he introduced a constant which made his numbers work. But at the end of his life he realized that he was mistaken. Einstein is the greatest example of openness in a scientist to the mystery. He is the most religious scientist who ever existed.
What do yo umean by openness of science to the mystery?
Science today is reduced to technology, and thus to power. To ways of creating things, or for using them better. But the original position of the scientist is not this: it is that of a person moved by reality. It is a position of contemplation, a virginal attitude. No one more than Einstein expressed this being moved, this love for reality just as it is. It is a matter of knowing reality ever more deeply, without the pretense of possessing it. The problems arise when science (but also philosophy, theology…) is treated as power, and not as being moved by the real.
Since science is this movement, then faith and reason, theology and science are not opposed to one another. The big bang and creation speak to us of the same thing, though in different language. The very dogmas are an understanding of what is man before the mystery. The problem is that science understood as power does not accept the accompaniment of theology. It could in fact accept theology as a friend with who seeks to understand together the reality with which both are faced. In their genuine essence, they are in dialogue: they each seek greater understanding and should help one another, not wanting to be more powerful than each other or proving the errors of the other. Faith and science walk together in a progressive understanding of the knowledge of things.
A beautiful image…
It is a beautiful challenge. But in it science must recognize its inability to explain the why, the ultimate reason for things. It is like an ultimate limit, which some scientists reject. And in doing so they reduce reality to their explanations.
Please sum up three basic principles to remember.
One: the way words are used is fundamental. One must learn to use words correctly.
Two: study is contemplation before the mystery of reality.
photo: The material around SN 1987A
Is the world the result of chance? As a scientist, I can easily view it as the extraordinary development of a blind principle, a winner-take-all contest among the various beings for light and resources. This is a reading of things which, on the basis of purely immanent and material principles, I cannot deny.
Not satisfied with this “explanation,” some speak of an anthropic principle, which focuses on the earth’s unity and the extraordinary coincidence of factors which make possible human life. Among these factors are the material constants, which, had they differed by even the slightest degree, would not have been able to generate the stability of temperature and the abundance of atomic connections which produce carbon, necessary for all forms of life that we know. Certainly one can pile up evidence that the earth is a special place. But here too, this evidence does not require the conclusion that the earth is the work of a good creator.
There are experiences, too, which suggest that everything is not just matter and energy: complex experiences, such as love, or conscience, or freedom. If everything were matter, where would freedom reside? In the brain or in the heart? In the liver? No one has been able to say. Even the question itself seems a contradiction, since to speak of freedom is to speak of something immaterial which nonetheless acts on matter, such as my fingers which are now typing. Some say that freedom or conscience are “emergent” phenomena: if you put together enough neurons, at a certain point they become capable of watching themselves in action. This seems a bit like sweeping the dust under the rug: you no longer see the problem, but it’s still there all the same.
Once a scientist said to me that freedom is an illusion. I responded by dousing him with my glass of water – to which he replied that this too was an action determined by my culture and my genes, and that I had not done it freely…
This example brings me to my point. In the final analysis there are only a few basic paths for interpreting reality. My act of faith is to believe in the unity of the real. One could also believe in the ultimate irrationality of everything, or that all is a projection of one’s own mind. These seem inelegant paths, however, which lack seriousness, especially when we observe the extraordinary rationality of the world. Nonetheless, all of these are acts of faith.
It is curious that reality can be interpreted in various ways and that, if one confines himself to particulars, many things can be explained in a purely materialistic manner. Indeed it is characteristic of God not to interfere with our interpretation. The creator does not force himself on our understanding, nor does he oblige us to acknowledge him – a style we also notice in the parables. Jesus offered himself to each person’s freedom, without compelling them with ironclad reasons. And even to the explicit question, “Are you the Christ?,” he responded mysteriously. He wants us to cling to him with our whole selves, neither as slaves obligated by His will, nor as intellectual slaves, constrained by a syllogism which leaves out the heart.
foto Juan Fco. Marrero
The Holy Father has named .
Below is the letter sent by Msgr. Camisasca to the members of the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo.
To all of the members of the Fraternity of St. Charles
This morning the Holy See announced that the Holy Father Benedict XVI wished to appoint me bishop of Reggio Emilia – Guastalla, thereby joining me to the College of the successors of the Apostles.
It is a decision that honors me, but especially one that honors our Fraternity.
The close bonds of affection and vocation which exist between me and all of you require that I say something more to you. I would have desired to remain with you always, occupied wholly and only with all of you. Not only have I done nothing to pursue other tasks, but I have done everything I could to avoid them – to the point of expressing to my highest Superiors my wish to continue to serve the Church by serving your lives. In the end, I have placed myself under the will of the Holy Father.
Certainly, the practical forms of our relationship will now change, but nothing can remove my fatherhood towards you. And this will remain so, while taking nothing away from the new people that is now entrusted to me. We know from our experience that love can, by the Spirit’s gift, spread itself without diminishing.
Speaking with the confidence which I can allow myself with you, I do not hide from you that, as the day of my episcopal consecration draws near, I have experienced moments of dismay. To leave those who have lived with me for many years in an intense bond of shared responsibility, to leave each of you, to leave the daily rapport with the seminarians, to live in a new city, to face new responsibilities… all of this has been a source of great pain for me. In the end I have abandoned myself to the will of God and have regained peace, placing myself in the arms of the mother of God, Mary most holy.
I thank each of you for the witness of obedience that you have given me during these twenty-seven years. Above all for the intense communion that we have lived, both in the many happy hours, and in the times of trial. I would like to mention many names, indeed the names of all of you.
Allow me here to simply mention Gianluca Attanasio and Paolo Sottopietra, who have been my two closest friends and invaluable collaborators during these last twenty years. With them I also remember Msgr. Paolo Pezzi, now archbishop of Moscow, the first bishop from the ranks of our Fraternity.
I am certain that your prayers for me will not be wanting, nor the help from heaven of our holy patrons and that of Fr. Giussani. I will have much need of them.
I hope to see you soon, both at my episcopal consecration and at my entrance into the Diocese – and then to receive you personally when, passing through what will by then be my new city, you wish to visit me.
I know already that I have your promise, indeed your desire, to love and obey my successor and his collaborators, just as you have done with me.
God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (Phil 1,8).
One by one, I embrace you in the Lord, who is our peace.
don Massimo Camisasca
Rome, 29 September 2012
Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels
Nature, if I look at it with an open mind, a patient heart and a passionate spirit, kindles a question inside of me. The contemplation of this great and terrible force puts us on the edge of a hidden mystery and fills us with a question: “Who are you?”.
Already when I was three or four years old, and my family lived in the city, I looked out the window at the trees in the courtyard and watched the shadows swaying, shaken by the night wind. They filled me with a sense of wonder and terror. A few months after, we moved into a small village, situated in the heart of a forest of tall trees. Once, on a cold and windy day, while my sister and I were walking in the woods, she stopped me and said: “Listen”. Then I heard the deep creaking, almost moaning, of the gigantic trunks that leaned almost imperceptibly in the wind. “They are talking to us,” she continued. I never thought that the trees were strange monsters speaking in code. I understood that they were the active signs of a mystery that was making itself known to us through them.
Certainly nature does not show us only a benevolent face. I will always remember a dialogue I had with a family that had lived on the slopes of Mount St. Helens, a volcano that became active again in 1980. They did not want to talk about that catastrophe, and they told me that they could not stand hearing platitudes about beautiful and kind nature. That destructive power inspired awe, but certainly not good feelings.
Still, that same power of creating and renewing life also speaks to us from an unstoppable positive and imaginative force. For five summers I worked as a teacher in a Catholic summer camp. How easy it was to speak of God, as we watched the clouds of stars in the sky after a long day of exploring the river, or admiring the great blue heron that glided over us, or after having had a close encounter with a bear, surprised to bump into our sleeping bags.
Once, during a walk with a girl, I was taken aback. “Why must you always bring God into it when you talk about nature? Why can’t you just see the trees as trees?” she asked harshly. I did not know what to say.
Today I would say that the mystery is the essence of the appeal of nature. It makes us want to know it and understand it, giving us a kind of nostalgia for its face, that it reveal itself and reassure us. Today like yesterday, when I close myself in my house to escape the icy wind that howls outside, there I can still hear a voice, and the question still arises: “Who are you?”.