Posted by Massimo Camisasca on 8 February 2010 ·
Our life is defined by what attracts us, not by our limitations. When someone travels, he always has the destination in mind, and this awareness also determines his itinerary. If someone undertakes a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, or Czestochowa, or Chartres, what dominates his heart? His desire to arrive. If we were to hear again the testimonies of the seminarians who traveled the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela this year, we would surely be struck by the fact that the moment of greatest emotion for them was their arrival in the plaza in front of the Cathedral, where they knelt down and sang Non nobis Domine.
Our goal dominates our life, determining and illuminating the steps we take every day. This fact shows the profound difference between every kind of human messianism and Christianity. Human messianism, indeed every revolutionary ideal, must necessarily deny the present so as to affirm the future. “The lives lost now, the sacrifices of today, don’t matter – they are necessary for a better tomorrow.” In Christianity, on the other hand, the goal illuminates and energizes the present, giving us light and good judgment concerning it, and the strength to live it.
Sure, the pilgrim’s feet are sore during the journey, but the pain is not everything: desire for the goal and being with others makes the challenge bearable. The same is true in a life enlightened by Christ: the evils we suffer do not define us. This is not to minimize what we suffer, but we can get through it, and even turn it to our advantage: because of the humiliation it costs us, our suffering can become a springboard for our lives.
I want to use the image of a pilgrimage to describe our path toward affective maturity, which is, in the first place, made possible by the presence of an authority. Without an authority, there is no guide on the pilgrimage of life, no direction, no certainty about the road to take. It is this certainty, in fact, that sets boundaries for our limitations and sins. This certainty of the road makes it so our limitations and sins don’t have the last word, but are confined and, little by little, if God wills it, sometimes even overcome. Echoing a saying of Fr. Giussani, we are mendicant pilgrims. We are pilgrims on the road, but we are not stragglers, people without a goal, going this way today and that way tomorrow – this is not a pilgrim. A pilgrim is a person in whom the goal is alive, which is precisely why he can reach it. The goal is alive in him because others are with him, travelling toward the same goal. There is nothing static about our company, nothing pre-defined, nothing that stifles the personality, the originality of the I. On the contrary, everything is for us and for our growth, because each person’s uniqueness can contribute to generating glory, which is multi-colored.
Love of God, self and neighbor
Jesus’ saying, which is also found in the Old Testament, comes to mind: “Love God with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Mt 22, 37-39). I want to say at least a few words about each of these three loves: of God, of neighbor and of self.
Reading the gospel we note the insistence with which Jesus invites us to love God with our whole self. At the same time, he speaks of love of neighbor as being a love that is similar to our love for God (cf. Mt 22, 39). Why is this so? We can also think of John who says: “How can you love the God you do not see, if you do not first love your neighbor whom you do see?” (cf. 1 Jn 4, 20). Which comes first?
The contradiction here is only apparent. To love God with our whole self means that the transformation of our life is never-ending. The one who attracts us is infinite, and can never be reduced to the idea that we have of Him. Within the carnality of our earthly lives, there is an infinite who attracts us.
Affective fulfillment is not in the first place something that I do to love others, to tolerate others, to make myself better. Affective maturity is to adhere to the One who attracts me. He attracts me above all through his active Spirit, through his Son who speaks to me. He attracts me through the body of his Son. This is affective maturity, to let ourselves be attracted: Amor meus, pondus meum. We are familiar with this saying of Augustine, because we read it every year in the breviary: “Weight doesn’t only go down, but to its proper place. Fire goes up, a rock down, both moved by their weight to seek their place. My weight is my love; it takes me wherever I go. Your Gift ignites us, and carries us upwards” (Confessions, 13, 9). This is that delectatio victrix that Fr. Giussani cited in one of his earliest texts: the infinite that attracts me. This infinite, however, is not an infinite sentiment, or an infinite experience – it is a Person. The infinite is a You, made flesh.
This is affective maturity: to not resist the One who attracts me. But the infinite attracts me through his Spirit, and I can never separate his Spirit from his Body – which is how we begin to discover love of neighbor. Why did Jesus say that this commandment is like the first? Because I cannot love the God that I do not see, if I do not love the neighbor that I see. The place where God attracts me is in the human reality in which he has set my life. This human reality is made up of an infinite series of relationships, ranging from the people who have most affected my life to those whom I met only for a moment, but who, without my being aware of it, have left something within me. The “neighbor” is a neologism invented by Jesus. It is the infinite that reaches you through the people who are closer to you than others. He has put them precisely where they are so that the infinite would not be an idea, a mere sentiment, a party, a faction, an ideology. The greatest grace that God can impart to a man or a woman’s life are the people that he has them encounter, and the companionship that these people provide for them. The infinite bonds spoken of in the Song of Songs are above all in our everyday encounters.
Purification of love
Christ attracts me primarily through things and people. My wounded, tired soul could stop at that. Idolatry is nothing other than to confuse the creature with the Creator, which is why there is a continual need for the purification of love.
My comments here come directly from a saying of Fr. Giussani that I have referred to many, many times and that, in the book I wrote about him, I cited as one of the loftiest, most impressive and truly innovative points in the Church’s recent history: the definition of virginity as distance in possession, or possession that includes distance in it. We must take this expression in its entirety. In it is the exaltation of the human in Christ, which so characterized Fr. Giussani’s entire life, and the inevitability of sacrifice, which he always cited as the condition of the road. No one wants to do away with or repress friendship and sentiments, or to put them “in parentheses”, but we must be very clear and ask ourselves: what does God want of me? And what does that mean for the other, in light of the road that God has assigned to him?
Christ is not paradoxical. Christ gives us an abundance of human affections to help us to understand what it means to love him. It doesn’t scandalize me when someone says: “It seems that I love that person more than I love Jesus”, because our path towards the Infinite is without end, and, before you love the God that you don’t see, you love the neighbor that you see. But love the neighbor that you see so as to walk toward God, to walk toward the fullness of yourself.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Mt 19, 20): this saying brings us to the deepest heart of the revolution brought about by Jesus, the same revolution that He expressed when he said: “The one who loses his life will find it” (cf. Lk 9, 25), the same revolution that he brought in saying: “I have come that you would have life, and fullness of joy” (cf. Jn 10, 10; Jn 15, 11). Jesus came for our fulfillment. Someone who does not love himself cannot love God and others. “They believe that they love God because they don’t love anyone”, wrote Simone Weil.
You cannot love yourself if you do not acknowledge that you have received your being from the One who made you – that you are a creature. In this way you discover the positiveness of creation. Then you discover that you have been saved, you discover the preciousness of Christ’s death and resurrection; and finally you discover that you have been called, you discover the privilege of every vocation.
These loves – love of God, love of neighbor and love of self – are a single love. They are a description of the movement of love. Since God is infinite, I must learn to be patient with my limits, and indeed that there are some limitations that I will have until the end of my life. Perhaps God will save me precisely because, humiliating me through those limitations, he will compel me to pray, to acknowledge him, to love him. “So that I would not become too elated, he gave me a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me” (cf. 2 Cor 12,7). These are the words of St. Paul! Certainly, many of the affections that arise in our lives speak to us of a new richness that awaits us. But when they become disordered, they also point to a gap in our existence.
Love of work
Every responsibility that is entrusted to a person is a fundamental path of love. For every person, in fact, work is the channel for his expression. It brings him into relation with others and with the whole world, and in it he responds to the one who has called him. This is why we must change the way we look at work, acquiring, in our prayer, a passion for the responsibility that has been entrusted to us, and at the same time a detachment from it. It is true that in the Christian life we experience the unity of what, in the world, is divided. How can you be passionate and detached at the same time? Is it possible? Definitely. Not only is it possible, but it is desireable. Only in this way can a person find the truth of himself. Life calls us to let those we have given birth to and raised walk by themselves. It is very difficult to detach ourselves from those we are tempted to possess.
We would never leave our children and our friends, or abandon them, even if they are called to travel a road that we had not foreseen. We should not be offended by the fact that one day we are here, and the next day we are called to be somewhere else. Certainly there will be a period of adjustment, perhaps even some regret or nostalgia, but that’s it. We should attend to what we are being asked at the present moment, knowing that what we have done up until now is never lost – not a moment will be lost. This certainty makes us experience a fullness in the moment, in the present. Why does the Church suffer? Because everybody feels they have the right to do what they want, disregarding even the Pope. No one obeys any more, no one is prepared to recognize the glory that is within obedience.
Is to give oneself to “empty oneself” (cf. Phil 2, 7)? Yes, but with a special emphasis: that charity, when it is shared, is never diminished. When I give myself wholly to Christ, I am filled a hundred times over.
The seed must die to give way to the plant. To die is to learn a language. To learn Hungarian, for example, means to die, because we must forget something first, otherwise we will not be able to learn the language. The same with Chinese. To enter into a place to the point of being immersed in that place, to the point of becoming of that place, without losing oneself: isn’t this the second chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Philipians? “He did not consider his equality with God a treasure to be grasped, but emptied himself, to the point of taking on human form, of becoming man” (cf. Phil 2, 6-7). And he did so that we might become God, divine, partakers of the divine nature, as St. Peter says (cf. 2 Pt 1, 4). This is the description of what mission is. (Notes from an address to the priests of the Fraternity of St. Charles, July 2009)