I was christened in the chapel of the Holy Innocents at the Mangiagalli clinic in Milan: my brother and I were born prematurely, and we could not be taken to a church outside the hospital. From its very beginning, my life has been marked by the Holy Innocents: those innocent children who were slaughtered by King Herod in the hope that Jesus would also be killed.
When, as a young man, I became interested in the liturgy, I was moved and almost shocked by the feast of the Holy Innocents. The Church places it after Christmas and the feast of St. Stephen and before the feast of St. John the Baptist. So, in the liturgy, the newborn Jesus is surrounded by Mary, representing virginity, and by the martyrs—the two fundamental ways to follow Him.
Who, then, is a martyr? The word “martyr” comes from the Greek and means “witness”; i.e., people who through their lives and choices and words point to Someone else, Someone who is the light and the foundation of their lives. They indicate the One who is discovered through them because He has been the greatest discovery of their lives. When talking about Him, telling stories about Him, and living for Him, the witnesses are necessarily confronted with some difficulties, and they have to overcome some obstacles. The most common ones are represented by those people who do not want to be disturbed in carrying out their every-day routine and who don’t want to meet new people who are a stimulus for change.
On the other hand, there are also people who perceive the presence of Jesus and understand that His primacy discloses an entire world, an entirely new world. It undermines the power of those who want to replace God with money, power, or the endless illusions created by their void promises. Jesus dwells on earth among His enemies. Bernanos wrote that He would be in agony until the end of the world. For this reason, Christians have been and always will be persecuted, until the end of time and in every part of the world. In places where the witness of the martyrs points to the new Lord who offers peace, forgiveness, and joy in their lives, the people begin to hate the lords who, like Herod did, feel threatened on their thrones.
The current and coming issues of Fraternity and Mission are going to be devoted to those parts of the world where Christians are at present harshly persecuted. If we forget about the present-day martyrs, it would mean that we have forgotten Christ and ourselves. We want to talk about them because they are an integral part of us, because they help us understand the dignity of our vocation, the great gift that we have received, and the reality that we have been bought at a high cost. They are aware of this. They know that they have been bought through the blood of Christ, and they are not afraid to shed theirs in the name Christ because they have actually experienced in their lives Jesus’ victory over pain and death. To become aware of the reality of martyrdom, beyond the pain and tragedy that it involves, creates the opportunity to develop a more honest and peaceful approach to our whole life—including our daily trials and tribulations. In this way we participate in His saving Passion.
I have been peripherally involved in the Holy Father’s Holy Land visit since November, when it was first openly discussed in a meeting between Patriarch Fouad Twal and some priests. The meeting became a bit angry, with opposition being hotly expressed. This opposition was based on the inevitable comparison that one makes between the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 that of John Paul II in 2000. That visit of John Paul II’s came at a time of hopeful celebration, especially for the Christian community. The peace process based on the Oslo Accords was a path to Palestinian Statehood that had made real progress. Though it was already stalled, yet it was still functioning and Palestinians in general felt that they were on the right road at last. Plus, it being the 2000th birthday of the Lord, there was a general feeling that this should usher in a period of peace and prosperity, with huge investments in tourism being made by the local Christians. So, although the Palestinians felt that the image of the Pope had been monopolized by the Israeli media for its own propaganda, yet the sense was that it was a time to confirm a positive path and celebrate a present hope. The visit was the pinnacle of that positivity.
Very little, if any, positivity is to be found in the Christian community today. This is partly due to the steadily worsening conditions for the Palestinians in general, with the virtual disappearance of any realistic prospect of a Palestinian state due to vast settlement movement in the West Bank and the building of the Separation Wall seeming to carve in stone the loss of Jerusalem and much other territory as well, as well as definitely separate a great number of families. Even more than that however, is the literal flood of Christian emigration following the outbreak of the second intifadah. Today the Christians are a very much reduced minority with disappearing prospects for peace or normality. The feeling then, at the meeting, was, “What is there to celebrate?” and “Won’t the Israeli’s just use the visit, like last time, to make propaganda, justifying themselves in front of the world, making the Pope’s presence into a valediction of their policies?” The general sentiment in regards to the proposed visit was decidedly negative. And then came the war on Gaza.
As you can imagine, from any human point of view, there was no reason to welcome this visit. But my friends, and the Patriarch quickly reminded me that we start from something, from someone else that comes first. I quickly acquired an excitement and joy as it became clear that what I needed to live was to know and recognize this other who is my hope. The trip of the Pope, no matter what else it might or might not be, is for this: to confirm us in our faith. I could sure use that! “Come Holy Father! I am waiting!”
But how was I to communicate this to my parishioners in the besieged city of Nablus? The Christian community has in the past fifteen years declined from around five thousand to around six hundred people. The city has been closed since 2003. Many of its young people have died on its streets, in the sight of all, and many more have disappeared into Israeli prisons with no set sentence, just indefinite incarceration. They are always anxious to see any sign that they are making some progress towards freedom. The papers and television tell them that the Pope is only coming to make nice with the Jews.
More than a month ago at the Easter mass, I asked the visiting priest who had come to sing the mass (I am pretty good at celebrating the mass in Arabic, but have not yet arrived to singing the mass) to say an encouraging word about the Pope’s visit at the end of the service. He said, “I am against the Pope’s visit, and I know that you are, too. But he is coming and we are Arabs and Christians, so it our duty to welcome him.” I did not think that that was helpful.
From that time on I preached every sermon only on the coming of the Pope. For example, when Jesus repeats his blessing, “Peace be upon you,” is he or is he not the one able to give us peace? Is peace simply the product of a political/military process, or is it a gift from God? If it is from God, then we need to know this gift, that is we need to know Christ in order to share the gift of peace with everyone. Thus we need to be helped in our faith. We need the Pope to come. Most of my regulars warmed up a lot to the idea. But I could see that some, especially the parish council, who are more politically active, were not. Indeed I had not a few hot words with them. Their final word was, “You are not a Palestinian so you cannot understand.” The tension made my stomach hurt.
I was afraid that almost no one from the parish would be coming to the mass in Bethlehem, but we filled two busses with over one hundred people. There are only 250 in the whole parish. And when I saw my people at the mass, they were joyful, really joyful. They had truly seen that something else does indeed come first. We do not have to wait for this political outcome, or that mass media victory, or a military success. When he comes, he makes us glad. And our changed hearts give us the opportunity to walk forward in a different way, bringing the gift we have received.
Because once he was here, once his words of compassion and wisdom, his witness to faith could be seen and heard, then it was not about what the papers were saying, but about what my our hearts are waiting for. As I attended the different events with the Pope, and watched the events I was not present at on television, it was obvious that he was cutting to the heart of the matter. The question was above all God and man meeting in Christ, and man changed by this encounter to build a world that is human.
When he first spoke to the Christian community in Jerusalem he began with, “Christ is risen, Alleluiah.” He had to stop because of the long applause that greeted this declaration. He went on to say, “the Christian community in this City … must hold fast all the more to the hope bestowed by the Gospel, cherishing the pledge of Christ’s definitive victory over sin and death, bearing witness to the power of forgiveness.” In Bethlehem he said to the Christians, “Christ brought a Kingdom which is not of this world, yet a Kingdom which is capable of changing this world, for it has the power to change hearts, to enlighten minds and to strengthen wills.” To President Abbas he said, “no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness.” To President Perez he said, “security is a matter of trust, nurtured in justice and integrity, and sealed through the conversion of hearts which stirs us to look the other in the eye, and to recognize the ‘Thou’, as my equal, my brother, my sister.”
Perhaps people did not know that they had been waiting for the Pope to come, but when he came, they knew it was for them. That became clear to me especially at the mass at Nazareth, which had a record attendance for a Christian gathering in the Holy Land. People, order to get their places before security closed everything, had been up all night and now the sun beat down with force. Yet when, after communion – which frustratingly most people did not receive – there was an announcement asking for a minute of silence in order to offer God thanksgiving for communion through His Son, a wonderful thing happened. There in the midst of this enormous crowd, silence descended. I could hear birds, even far away birds sing. Nothing else. It was a sign that after all the noise, all the tension, all the skepticism, criticism and argument we were in the end simply grateful for this communion. And when one finds a true gratitude in his heart, his life starts anew.
“Jesus did not eliminate human suffering: He came to suffer together with us.” With these words Fr. Vincent Nagle introduces his readers to his work in the hospital where he has served for years as chaplain. Trite phrases just don’t cut it when families are confronted by the mystery of suffering. “When I go into a hospital room, I go in with a broken heart, willing to share this adventure with these patients whose very selves are broken apart by illness. I don’t want to give them false comfort, but real hope.” Brief and intense fragments of hospital life are alternated with the fascinating story of Fr. Vincent’s own journey to faith and the priesthood. “When I understood that in order to be truly alive I needed to return to the faith, my condition was that God not let me be separated from the difficulties of life.” And God took him seriously.
Four years ago, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope and took the name Benedict XVI. Four years is too short to allow a view, even just a summary of the dawn of a pontificate. One’s thoughts run immediately to the twenty-seven years of the reign of John Paul II. Yet we must not forget that Joseph Ratzinger is already eighty-two years old; he is aware of this; and that he has therefore wanted to impress a clear path upon his pontificate, knowing to do only the essential and very incisive.
He probably does not believe that it is effective to move people from one task to another. This was done at the beginning of his pontificate, but then it was stopped. He prefers the interior change of individual persons, as was clearly requested in his surprising Letter to the Catholic Episcopate. He is convinced that God can do anything, even change the heart of the ecclesiastics and open them to a truer account of the good of the Church and their own lives.
What are the lines of this concentration? First, its focus is directed at the liturgy. One of the last books published before his accession to the papacy, Introduction to the Spirit of the Liturgy, if reviewed today, may be a useful key to understanding the totality of this pontificate in its development so far. I do not want here to refer to the motu proprio concerning the rehabilitation of the Mass of St. Pius V, but something much deeper, the same concept that Ratzinger has of the liturgy as the moment of the manifestation of God’s absolute prior initiative in human life, his grace, his mercy, and at the same time his ability to intervene in history, to give shape to existence, to accompany, visibly and invisibly, the paths of the cosmos toward their recapitulation.
Whoever wants to understand something of this pontificate must read and reread carefully the homilies of Benedict XVI, especially those given during important liturgical moments, Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, Pentecost. This was noted several times by Sandro Magister in his articles. In those texts, Joseph Ratzinger clearly appears as a new Leo the Great, a new Ambrose, a new Augustine, one who is able to draw an existential pedagogy from the liturgical itinerary, revealing all the way of man towards God and of God towards man.
There is no lack, of course, in these homilies, of the depth of the history of the Church, the ancient liturgical prayers, especially Latin, from which Ratzinger draws freely to show the continuity of tradition and its efficacy. But also the liturgical gestures, timing, space. For him, everything is revealing a pedagogy of the renewed world. It is as if Benedict XVI had renounced discerning what to do depending on its immediate efficacy. He knows that the crisis of the Church and in the Church is profound. He wants to sow deeply.
In light of these considerations, we understand two other initiatives that I put at the same level as attention to the liturgy. I’m talking about the Pauline year and the announcement of the year dedicated to the priesthood. Through the current Pauline year, Benedict XVI wants to return to the roots of the Church and at the same time promote an exposition focused entirely on the faith in Christ and on Christian doctrine. For Paul, there is only Christ, and Christ crucified and risen. He never addressed in his letters the childhood of Jesus (everything is concentrated in four words: born of a woman), he did not speak of life in Nazareth, or even three years in the apostolic community. For Paul, the Jesus that interests him is specifically the Jesus of the passion, death and resurrection, who has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, the Son of God made flesh. The Pauline year permits sensitive and attentive pastors to repropose the heart of Christian experience in such a vital way.
Similarly, and with the same radicality, Benedict XVI knows that the most serious crisis of the Church today is the priestly life: teachers are scarce, uncertain lessons are taught in many schools of theology. There remains an emotional crisis for many priests, marked by loneliness and withdrawal. But most of all in many countries, there is a progressive reduction of the People of God, whose education and growth is the primary purpose of the life of the priest. It is therefore no accident that Pope Ratzinger wanted this year of the priesthood, linking it to the 150th anniversary of the death of the holy Cure D’ars.
One last remark: the heart of the Pope looks to the east, Russia, China. In his book on Benedict XVI, written after the appointment of the pope, and that remains the only book on this interesting pontificate (Benedict XVI: The Choice of God, Rubbettino editor), George Weigel, providing precisely this attention of Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “Asia is the continent that has seen the biggest failure of Christian mission in two millennia.” He adds: “China may be the largest field of Christian mission of the twenty first century.” But even India, where we witness today a horrific persecution of the small Catholic minority, is an important reference point. Its profound Hindu and Buddhist culture engages Christian wisdom and the belief in salvation that only comes through Christ.
Today, the relationship with authority, or, in a wider sense, the experience of obedience to someone else, is considered by many impossible, even evil, something to be avoided. This is true not only in the field of education, in the professional environment, and in families, but also within the Church.
Why is authority necessary?
Wouldn’t it be easier to live without obeying any authority? Wouldn’t it be much nicer to follow only our instincts and spontaneously do what it seems useful and appropriate on the spot? These are far from being rhetorical questions. First and foremost, educating people about authority means helping them to discover the need for authority, not only in order to bring to light the good in their lives, but simply for life in itself. Why can’t man live without authority, and what authority do we recognize as crucial in our life? The life of man, of every man, consists in the tension between two opposite poles: on the one side, the origins from which we come, and on the other, the destination towards which we are walking. The secret of education is to help man face this tension in the present, in his relationships with things and people.
The first step is to help man disentangle himself from the self-reliance that makes him unhappy and deeply melancholic. In the magazine Traces, Father Giussani describes loneliness as an “original” experience; i.e., one that has existed since man came into being. In the catechesis on the creation of man and woman, Pope John Paul II expressed the same concept. The discovery of our loneliness, of our inability to face life on our own, leads to the revelation of our dependence. We depend, mainly but not exclusively, on other people. In each person there is a “fundamental dependence,” and through the experience of life, man comes up with the following question: “Is this dependence just the result of chance, or does it come from a benign Presence, from Somebody who wanted us to exist and who loves us?” The discovery of love as the origin of life is crucial to man’s progress towards the recognition of authority and the achievement of obedience as a fully aware and desired experience.
We constantly seem to be attracted by something outside of us, which at the same time is also found in the depths of our being. Man’s desires reveal interests that both set him in motion and are signs of his expectations. This is where authority falls. It coincides with those people God has put in our lives who accompany us in the discovery of our genuine desires, on the path towards the purification of those desires that leads to the answer. Obviously, many people could be included in this sphere of our life, although not all of them are important in the same way. The challenge is to discover among the number of potential authorities that we encounter in everyday life, the most crucial one or ones; i.e., those that allow us to take in the meaning of everything.
(Obedience to God or to men?
This authority can only be embodied by God, in the strictest sense. He is our only Saviour and Creator; He is the One we come from and the One who is waiting for us, who knows us in the deepest way possible, and who consequently coincides with our true happiness. Nonetheless, men run a big risk. How is it possible to obey a mysterious and invisible God without falling into the temptation of obeying ourselves, of obeying the idea that we have of Him, confusing our desires and His will? Original sin—original and at the same time so contemporary—makes this danger even more present. God became man and is present among us today, through the people He has chosen, in order to save us from this mistake. His decision to come among us, which He chose freely, indicates the way towards obedience. In the course of the history of Israel, and also during Jesus’ life, it was very clear that obedience to God coincided with obedience to a man. “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16).
Shall we then obey God or men? Looking at the life of the Church, we can find the answer to this apparent dilemma: strictly speaking, God is the only one to be obeyed. As a matter of fact, there is no man on earth that can claim to cover the same role as God in men’s lives. Jesus said that nobody can be called “master” but Him (Matthew 23:10). Nonetheless, if we want to obey God rather than our idea of him, we are obliged to obey men. We could summarize the concept as follows: the only one to be obeyed is God, but in order to obey to Him, we have to obey the people He has chosen.
Authority is always embodied by people who are chosen by God and who have a relationship with Him. They have to “answer” to Him, and they must lead the people in their care to Him. No authority is justified in itself; it is always justified in relation to the Saviour and Creator. This is the true meaning of the expression “authority is meant to serve.” This should not be interpreted in the sociological meaning of primus inter pares (first among peers), which is doomed to slowly disappear; but in the theological meaning: authority must first serve God in order to serve men.
Is obedience appealing, or is it only a challenge?
Man is constantly torn between the need to belong somewhere or to somebody and the temptation to be self-reliant, between the good that he experiences and the evil he ends up causing. Is obedience natural, or does it require a spiritual rebirth? How can man understand what the authorities leading to truth and the good are? How can man reconcile what his conscience perceives as good with the tempting invitations he receives from the outside world or the authorities surrounding him? I have tried to outline some of the antitheses arising from obedience and authority that man experiences, antitheses that have always been dominant and always will be. Is it possible to solve such antitheses, and how?
The only one that can help man start on the path towards obedience is the One who knows us in the deepest way possible, who created us, who constantly saves us, and who walked along the same path when He was a man. “He learned obedience by the things He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). God attracts us because He coincides with our happiness. He has created us with an innate desire for Him, with a fundamental need for goodness, truth, happiness, and justice; and to fulfil such needs, He sent His son. The path towards obedience coincides with the revelation of new and unknown dimensions, with the discovery of God as the source of happiness. He is indeed always new, always incommensurable, endless. His life coincides with ours. Thus in man arises the need for a detachment, a challenge, for a deep conversion to this new being that slowly claims more and more space in man’s life and that implies sacrifice and mortification. This is actually the most difficult side of obedience and authority; but it can indeed be faced with joy if the promises we have been made, and the fruits brought into our life so far by the realization of that promise, are clear.
The Holy Spirit leads us to face obedience with happiness, even when we do not fully understand it. St. Paul comes to mind: “In all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (2 Corinthians 7:4 and 12:10); as well as the perfect happiness of St. Francis.
Authority and friendship
If it is true, as we assumed earlier, that authority is established by God so that man can advance towards Him, how can man actually follow this path? The duty of authority is to show the way towards God and to involve man in it. This is also the reality of friendship. Those in authority create bonds with other people, first and foremost showing their relationship with the Mystery; they share their lives with other people and listen to the experiences that other people are going through. Always keeping in mind the place that God has chosen for them in the world, they live a friendship that is a sign of God, of His infinity and of His unpredictability. The relationship that blossoms between those in authority and those under it is a constant dialogue, desired and full of initiative. But at the same time, the reverse is true; one must relinquish one’s independence, offering one’s availability in constant cooperation. This has been the most meaningful experience of my life over the past twenty-five years. It is not the only kind of relationship possible between master and disciple, but it seems to me that it is the best way to tackle the apparent antitheses without any kind of compromise to integrity. In such a friendship, authority remains intact; it does not give up its responsibilities; it is not reduced to mere memories of youth or to empty company, but it risks itself in front of the other person, exactly as the Son of God did, when He was made man. He showed His face to the people, offering a dialogue to them. Christ shows people the reason for His actions and the paths behind His decisions; in this way He makes man part of His life. Paul IV wrote: “In our time we need masters, but they will only be credible if they are truthful witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi IV. 41) This clearly expresses what I am trying to describe: Having authority essentially means offering my life, providing answers that are true, and the criteria necessary for decisions. In other words, discretely entering other people’s lives, with the highest respect, with the ability to understand their own humanity, offering to their needs and desires the answers that I am able to find, in the light of my own experience and the centuries-long wisdom of the Church.
From this point of view, the authority that I have exercised so far has always been, in different measures, a matter of shared responsibilities. Jesus sent His apostles ahead of Himself. In order to let them understand who He was, He sent them to speak about Him. The most effective way to help the people entrusted to us by God live their relationship with authority in the right way, is to give them responsibilities both great and small. This is not simply a matter of receiving or giving, but everyone gives or receives as God determines.
Authority, paternity, and maternity
When God established the Church as a guided company, He was aware of the fundamental necessity of man to have a father and a mother. We all know how the absence, the lack, or the unreasonable invasion of parental figures can cause insecurity, fear, and resistance towards love and guidance. An authority that guides the person according to the qualities I have been outlining can truly become father and mother to the person and can help him discover the paternity of God and the maternity of the Church. At the same time, the person must not be allowed to deny his biological parents. They must not be forgotten, nor put aside; they must be welcomed, loved, and in some cases rediscovered. They must be seen through renewed eyes in a new relationship that includes the choice of chastity that has been embraced. In this way, each person has the chance to rediscover the value of all paternity as understood through the paternity of God, who is the only one that can truly be called “Father.”
Friend, father, mother: these are the words that I have picked to describe my experience of authority since, in a way, they also convey the fragility of this path. A paternity or a friendship cannot be imposed but only proposed. Even in a community that originates from a charisma, it is always imperative to combine the objective value of authority with the subjective relationships of friendship or paternity. We have to be constant signs of the other-ness of God that reaches people through the merciful patience of Christ. In order to be so, the one in authority must be extremely mature both as a person and as a Christian; it is necessary to exercise great discretion and patience and to be very humble in admitting one’s own mistakes. It is also necessary to be open to receiving advice from many assistants and brothers in faith. The person in authority must always be the objective sign of Christ, the one who can stand up in defence of everyone’s differences, the one who has a personal relationship with each person and is able to value every contribution.
The steps of a method
a) Education requires communication. People in authority must know that the words they use influence on the lives of the people entrusted to them. For this reason, it is always necessary to prepare carefully so that nothing is left to chance, and to be aware that each can have multiple meanings. In the past few years, I have noticed that despite growing in experience, I take longer to prepare my talks and interviews. I think it is a common experience that when we are young – about twenty or thirty years old – we tend to speak quite quickly, without thinking too much about what we are saying, while as time goes by, talking becomes more and more difficult since the things that we say come from deep inside us and acquire so profound a meaning that it seems better to remain quiet. Each time I have to break the armour around myself anew. Talking becomes an event, the repetition of certain words allows us to shed new light on their meaning.
b) In the seminary I have always tried to teach about tradition, always presented to my students the method of teaching that I received myself: music and songs, literature and poetry, beginning with the masters. Father Giussani has been a guide for me. His words have always opened my mind to higher intellects, have introduced me to Leopardi, Pascoli, Pavese, Dante, Manzoni. He understood that man cannot teach on his own; on the contrary, the best master is the one that is able to point to other masters.
c) In order to educate, it is not necessary to say everything right from the beginning. Most of time, hasty conclusions lead to rather negative consequences. True teaching is, as a matter of fact, the evidence of an accepted event, the becoming clear of something that has been previously experienced. If things are made prematurely explicit, the value of the teaching is killed. What is necessary is rather to accompany people towards the personal discovery of the truth, without replacing their freedom, without skipping steps. Jesus did not start His mission saying things like: “God exists, and He is the Father.” Rather he said, “Look at the birds of the air, look at the flowers in the countryside: they neither weave nor sew; nonetheless their beauty is greater than anything woven or sewed by man” (Matthew 6:26-29). Each word He chose vibrated – even if not explicitly – with the presence of the Father who creates and rules all things. He spoke about God while speaking about ordinary things, things everyone could see, experiences common to the people who were listening to Him. Each one of the words He pronounced went straight to the heart as a clear and fascinating proposal that required an answer. Heraclitus wrote: “The fascination of the implicit is more powerful than the fascination of the explicit.”
To resist revealing everything immediately also means looking at the other person with true respect; it implies remembering that we are in front of a person who was made according to God’s design and who remains therefore an unfathomable mystery that cannot be reduced to any scheme or plan.
In conclusion, I would like to add that possessing authority over another person means helping that person to acknowledge and to face the problems that arise along this path. Since man’s freedom is fragile, it is sometimes necessary to give proper instructions so that the other person can see what is not immediately clear to them.
Authority and guidance
A person in authority is a person who can both accompany and decide. They must know the stages through which they are guiding the person who has been entrusted to them, and they must sensibly understand the other person’s nature in relation to the path they are following. The possible friendship that might grow must never put at risk a firm guidance. The good for the other person and his happiness are at stake, as well as the fulfilment of the duties that God has given us.
Obedience or freedom
So, according to the steps outlined in this article, we have come to understood that, contrary to what many of our contemporaries think, freedom does not mean merely responding to ourselves—non-obedience is not the ideal lifestyle. On the contrary, obeying only ourselves soon becomes a trap: we become dependent on the will of the world, enslaved by a consumer mentality. Let us only think for a moment about the pervasive power of advertisement. Those who believe they do not depend on anything or anyone end up falling into the trap of the predominant mentality. St. Ambrose wrote: “How many masters do they end up obeying—those who refuse to serve the only Master?”
La luce e il silenzio (Light and Silence), a collection of mediations on the Eucharist by Fr. Massimo Camisasca, is now available from Rubbettino publishing house. Below are excerpts from an article appearing in Osservatore Romano which explore the main themes of the book.
Adoration is first and foremost a dialogue. A dialogue that God wants to establish with each one of us through the humanity of Christ. Jesus yearns for a relationship with us and our love for Him arises as a free response to His strong desire. He is thirsting for our response, waiting, desiring it. For this reason, He has decided to remain present in the history of mankind through a means as unique as the Eucharist. Corresponding to our humanity is not a matter of indifference to Him. Even in His glory He continues to thirst for a relationship with each one of us.
Before all else, adoration is the fundamental path by which our humanity, so distracted and superficial, begins to enter into Christ’s passion for us, for each one of us, for me.
The Mystery has assumed a face. In this way He becomes familiar to us, yet none of His profundity is lost, none of His extraordinary mysteriousness. It is a gaze which comes from the depths of life and directs itself towards our existence, like a wave coming from the bottom of the ocean to leave a gift on the beach. In the Eucharist the profound abyss of the Mystery surfaces.
The Eucharist is God’s infinitely great mercy embodied in the infinitely small and ordinary bread and wine. A few years ago, on Holy Thursday, Fr. Giussani said: “God has come. He has come to stay with us forever, to stay with us every day until the end of the world.” (Excerpt from L. Giussani, Rito Perenne, 31st March 1988, typed conversation, Archives of Communion and Liberation).
“He is here,” Fr. Guissani said as well, “And so our life is different. Sense and sensibility have entered a new territory, they have stepped beyond the threshold of the Mystery.”
The Eucharist is not only a movement of the Mystery towards us. Through the change it brings about, the Eucharist sets the whole world in motion. It is the source of positive movement that carries people and things toward eternity. It is a wave of light that can pierce, warm, and burn even the most resistant. It is the greatest sign of the foolishness of Love: that folly which is shown forever, scandalously, on the Cross.
God needs man. He—who is the origin of communication, dialogue, reciprocity, and mutual, free dependence—has decided to be three Persons in one God. His need for us comes from the same source as His gratuitous gift: from the absolute freedom that is His love. He needs us because He could not keep His essential communion constrained. He could not resist making us part of Him.
The 20th Century should have been the century of work. And in a certain sense, this has been the case. Work has been the object of studies, the reason for social battles, the cause of war, and has given rise to parties and associations. A number of movements active throughout the century were motivated by the promotion of workers: the communist, the socialist, and catholic movements. The past century has also witnessed the killing of millions of workers who did not fit into the revolutionary plan. Only consider that the Nazis sarcastically wrote “Work brings freedom” over the entrance gates of Auschwitz. The Church has also addressed the issue of work with workers themselves. In particular, after Pope Leo XIII, this topic was given a central part in the Church’s social doctrine which was developed and spread thanks to the contribution of the great encyclical letters of Popes Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI.
But in general, the 20th Century had seen—especially in its second half—a general confusion regarding the meaning and joy of work. I personally think that this is one of the most serious illnesses that affect our society. No matter what people are called to do, work is crucial to our lives. Without work man is unable to express himself, he loses touch with reality, he does not feel loved, and he is unable to love. Surely, one of the many merits of the teaching of John Paul II—who was himself a worker when he was young—has been to bring work’s reality and it’s falsification back to the center of attention.
Without a doubt there is also a profound resemblance between the position of John Paul and the teaching of Father Giussani on the theme of work, the latter collected in the book L’io, il potere, le opere (The I, the Power, and the Works). We have decided to dedicate this issue of Fraternità e Missione to work, so that this month of July—a summer month and time for holidays—will be an opportunity to start thinking about the meaning of the time we spend working.
I. A creative relationship
Man’s work, no matter what kind, involves a primary aspect of his personality. Man can grow through his work. Through it he apprehends both himself and reality, that he is dependent, but also that he can change and transform. It is therefore self-evident that work coincides with vocation.
When someone has not been educated to work, or if they cannot work, they are unable to understand life and the promise of the Infinite, the hope that it contains. On the other hand, through work, man comes in contact with people and things. It has always been like this; man always needs a creative relationship with reality; his awareness of himself and of the world go hand in hand.
When Adam and Eve were banned from the earthly paradise, God—who put man in the Garden of Eden to work and cultivate it (Gen 2:15)—spoke significant but terrible words to them. God said that since they had disobeyed His commandment, the ground would be cursed—that it would bear fruit, but only through hard work and that bread would be made by the sweat of man’s brow (Gen 3:17 -19). These words show the close relationship that exists among man, work, and God. Not only do we have the chance, through work, to know ourselves and take part in God’s creation; but, from a deeper perspective, we are also purified and therefore closer to God. Through work, God calls us to fulfil His design.
Work is therefore not only a punishment. It is not only an effort or a burden. All these are integral aspects but not its essence. Unfortunately, today, many people only see work in one way. They can only conceive of it as effort and they try to avoid it. In this way, they avoid personal growth. For man does not have a one-way relationship with reality—either intellectual or recreational. He does not exclusively meditate about it or play with it; he also wants to create and change it. For this reason God made the world incomplete and has entrusted to man his completion.
III. To enter into the work of God
For those who believe and have been baptized, work is the primary way to contribute in building the Body of Christ. When work is carried out in memory of Christ, things slowly start to fit into place, people re-discover the meaning of their lives, and creation recovers the unity which was lost through the original sin. It is not an accident that St. Benedict linked prayer and work, since he did not conceive them as two discrete parts of the day, but as two expressions of our life, balancing and intertwining with each other. It is actually impossible to live only for work or to sacrifice everything for work. Work is not the absolute good; it is an instrument which allows man to collaborate in God’s design, to enter into His work, and to take part in the building of His Kingdom. For this reason starting the day with a few moments of silence is crucial and is even more important than the evening silence. The desire for work, together with the desire for well-earned rest, is the expression of a healthy Christian life. There is no Christian life without the desire for work. For me it is terrible to see people whose ideal in life is to work less or not to work at all; people who are terrified by the effort, that do not feel a burning passion for the incompleteness of the world.
IV. To serve Christ
Work is the fundamental way in which we build the Body of Christ. This is actually the exhaustive meaning of our existence: to serve Christ. The way to learn how to love is by beginning to serve. It is precisely daily service that gets us into the rhythm of love. The rhythm of true love, of mature love, is faithfulness. And the only way to get into this rhythm is to serve. Slowly, slowly you will forget that you are serving; the only thing you will notice is that you are loving.
Following this path of daily work the greatest thing on earth can be realized: learning how to love Christ.
We are going to publish the witness given by Francesco Ferrari, a seminarian of the Fraternity of the Missionaries of Saint Charles Borromeo, during the pilgrimage from Macerata to Loreto, which recently took place.
My name is Francesco, and I am preparing for the priesthood with the Fraternity of Saint Charles. I come from Reggio Emilia, where my father and mother restore antique furniture. In the summertime, when I was younger, my three brothers and I used to help them. We would sand and polish, paint and repair, in order to restore those old pieces of wood to their original beauty. It was so satisfying to build something for my dad—to do it for him and to discover that I could be really useful to him.
At home, I learned the Christian faith not through words but through the beauty of the Christian life my parents lived. We often received visits from a group of priests, friends of the family, who were missionaries to Mexico, to Africa, to Russia. When I looked at them I was deeply fascinated, though mainly by the heroic aspect of the mission. I later found out, however, that my feeling was genuine and deeply rooted in my soul.
At 17, I made my first real attempt to confront this fascination—I fell in love with a girl. I started our relationship with great conviction, and wanted it to be permanent. Sometimes I shared with her my desire to have a large family, and to love her always. More precisely, I desired that both she and what I could build with her would last forever, that our relationship would embody that ideal, which was always present. As time passed, however, a certain dissatisfaction crept in silently. I looked at this girl, and despite my love for her, was paradoxically pervaded by a deep and unknown sense of sadness: “This is not it; this is not it. What you are looking for is Something Else.”
In March of my first year at university, I finally decided that I could not wait any longer—I understood what my life had been made for. I wanted to live exactly like those missionaries; I could not conceive anything more noble and desirable than virginity; I had no thought but Christ. Why would I search elsewhere for something only He could give? We had been together for more than two years, when I went to see her and told her I wanted to devote my life to Christ, in virginity. She cried for a long time and then, looking at me she said, “If this is what God wants, I will accept His will.” Nobody had ever loved me more. When I went home I cried, a little bit for what I was losing but mostly for joy because of all I was gaining. On this occasion I made my second crucial discovery: it is possible to love truly—this is what she showed me that evening. It is possible to look through Christ’s eyes, to love with His heart. On the path that has led me to the seminary, I have continued to hope that Christ will fill me and those I love, so that we may love with a new and eternal love. Today this is the certainty that nourishes my desire to bring into the world, through my poor eyes, the loving gaze of Christ.