Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God, writes Saint Paul to the Colossians. Set your mind on the things above, not on those of the earth.
These phrases could be understood superficially as an invitation to look down upon the value of material things that we are in contact with everyday.
Do we have to set our minds on the things that are above and detach our attention from all the rest? Do we have to separate ourselves from engagement with the things of the world, from the enjoyment of the many possibilities of life, from economy and from politics, from art and from culture? There are those who interpret Saint Paul in this way, pointing towards a form of spiritualism which refuses contact with the material nature of our existence. The only thing that really counts is eternal life, and for this reaso
n, we distance ourselves from all the rest because it distracts us from what is most authentic.
This is not what Saint Paul and the Church teach. On the contrary, it is precisely because the only thing that really counts is eternal life, that everything in this life is significant.
To better understand this, Don Luigi Giussani translated the word above with the word within. Eternal life is the truth of this life, he would say. That Christ is sitting on the right hand of God means that “he has placed himself intimately at the root of all things”. “Christianity,” he would add, “is the beginning of eternity within the experience of common man in the world; it is the experience of a man who tends to the eternal, who perceives the dawn of the eternal within himself. He understands that, from within his existence, eternal truth or full and eternal happiness are tangible and are the real content of present experience”.
Everything acquires value precisely because all will be preserved. Without the prospective of eternity, things become empty and lose their significance. It is not enough to say as the poet Terenzio, “I am man”, in order to affirm that nothing of that which is human is alien to us. If man finishes in nothingness, everything that exists in reality would be foreign to him.
In light of eternity, instead, everything has life and significance: from all of our public relationships to our most intimate experiences. If life is eternal, it is worth already living friendships to the full: the love for your wife and for your children. The pride of belonging to one’s own land and one’s own people are beautiful for they strengthen man’s identity and open him up to the world and to others. Man’s work to better his personal conditions and those of the world is noble. The work of politics to conserve peace and to contribute to the path that guarantees everyman his full dignity is just. Man’s love for the Church, with its wounds and its glory, is true. Man’s necessary sacrifices in order to educate new generations to that which is beautiful and pure are meaningful. Man’s passion to cultivate a taste for music, for literature and for all forms of art, is good.
If life is eternal, the many requests we make to God, the promises, the forgiveness asked and obtained, the gratitude expressed in prayer, the wonder experienced for the closeness of God, have all great significance. If life is eternal, the habit of praying with the saints can be a real experience, full of trust, a shared experience of common sensibilities, a constant help implored and received.
All of this will not be destroyed by death: it will be our inheritance forever.
(photo: Bruno Brunelli)
Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Pontifical recognition of our Fraternity. On the 20th of March 1999 there was a lot of movement in this house: red carpets lining the hallways, a piano in the dining room, various buffets and refreshments prepared in different rooms according to the guests, a lot of nervous altar servers, and well prepared ushers.
Cardinal Sodano came to celebrate the mass, bringing with him the decree of recognition signed by Cardinal Martinez Somalo, at that time the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life. The decree reflected the express desire of John Paul II. In the beautiful mosaic by Rupnik that decorates the chapel of the house of formation, the image of the polish pope was willed to reflect the fundamental role that he had in our history. The foundation of the Fraternity of St. Charles has its origins during his pontificate: from the audience with the priests of Communion and Liberation in 1985 at Castle Gandolfo, to the signing of the decree on the 19th of March 1999.
It was a day of great celebration. The solemn Mass was presided by the Secretary of State. Refreshments followed in the rooms of the house of via Boccea where we had been living for barely two years. The chapel had been repainted for the occasion. Don Giussani wrote: “Dear friends, our certainty, and thus joy, is great on this day on which his Holiness recognizes once again the ecclesial authenticity of the charism of Communion and Liberation, the methodological foundation of your Priestly Fraternity”.
I would like to add a memory linked to those years.
In 1997, on a winter evening, don Massimo invited Fr. Gianluca Attanasio and myself to a supper with Msgr. Errazuriz, who was at the time the secretary of the Pontifical Congregation on which we depend. He would then be sent to Chile as bishop of Valparaiso, created a cardinal, and named archbishop of Santiago. It was he who permitted us to begin our Chilean mission in 2006.
We were at the Columbus Hotel on via della Conciliazione in Rome. The topic of the evening was the pontifical recognition of the Fraternity. Don Massimo in those years was already very grateful for the fact that we had reached diocesan recognition. He remembered well the difficulties associated with that moment and he did not think they were yet overcome. The numbers also indicated that we were a small reality, maybe too small to aspire for recognition by the Holy See.
From his standpoint, Msgr. Errazuriz came from the experience of the Pontifical recognition of the Schoenstatt movement, which had been long and complicated. His reasoning was very simple: “It is precisely because it could be difficult that you must start immediately. This is the pontificate of the movements, this is the pope with the sensibility and the capacity to risk what’s necessary. Don’t wait, this is the favorable time !”
The argument convinced don Massimo and we began the process.
Our work was to be developed on two levels. The foundational level consisted in the rewriting of the Constitutions of the Fraternity. We had approved the prior version only a few years earlier, in 1995, but the Congregation insisted on certain updates. The revision was, for all those who participated in it, a fundamental occasion to reflect on the nature of the Fraternity and to express once again the form of life which we wanted to live. I remember the long discussions, sometimes even heated, always led by don Massimo, that left us as a gift, clarity regarding the fundamental decisions which give shape to the life of the Fraternity. It was, in a certain sense, at the same time a step towards a new generation, and a school of responsibility. We were helped by the advice and guidance of Fr. Velasio De Paolis, who was later created a cardinal by Benedict XVI.
The second level of our work involved asking the greatest possible number of personalities in the Church to support our pursuit of recognition. For this reason we wrote to the bishops of many dioceses who had already welcomed one of our missions, and then to cardinals and bishops of the Roman Curia, of the Church in Italy and abroad. The fifteen years which don Massimo had dedicated to the work of public relations for the movement in the first part of his life proved to be providential. The number of responses turned out to be very surprising. The bishops and the various personalities of the Church who were contacted needed to write a letter of recommendation to the Congregation, in which they witnessed to the full ecclesial nature of our experience. Many of those who wrote sent a second copy to the Fraternity. The great esteem they had for the work and mission of don Massimo was evident.
All of these events made it much easier to carry out a process that, contrary to all expectations, was finished in the brief period of two years, and that led to our general assembly of 1999: the first assembly as a recognized Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right.
These facts were also a concrete response to the question of the relationship between the movement of Communion and Liberation and the Fraternity of St. Charles, an answer that bore fruit well beyond the relations within Communion and Liberation.
Seeing that the movement did not have the right to incardinate its own priests, the problem was raised concerning the relationship between obedience towards a bishop and that towards the responsible of charismatic communities from which priests come. Each reality has found a different response.
The solution found with the recognition of our Fraternity is the only one of its kind in the Church, indeed it is a beautiful solution, convincing and very ecclesial. It is based on communion, it is the choice to bet on a free relationship of belonging. Our Constitutions express, in fact, that we want to act “in communion of spirit and intention” with the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. There does not exist a formula that will guarantee communion. At the heart of the response that we give, there is thus the freedom in which we recognize the roots of our experience.
Today I would like entrust the Fraternity again to St. Joseph, whom we have chosen as the protector of our community.
Joseph lived a beginning, in fact, he was called to be the guardian of the origin. We are living a beginning as well and this enables us to feel even closer to this great saint. I would like to ask him to implore from God for us that freshness which comes from a living sense of the greatness that is given at the beginning. It is this sensibility which permits one the capacity to take risks like don Massimo and don Giussani, which all the great saints in the Church have had. In this sensibility lays the secret which will enable us to remain young and which will permit the Fraternity to be reborn continuously.
Homily in the House of Formation - 19th of March 2014
The 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.
The Way of the Cross is an experience to be lived and for this reason it is a road to be discovered. Step-by-step, without haste, without giving in to endless distraction, and asking for the grace to be able truly to identify in first person with the cross of Christ, we begin to know God and, therefore, we begin to know man.
God appears to me in the awesome wonder of His love and I cannot avoid anything that God is calling me to accomplish along the way of the cross. God is love and for this reason He is absolute correspondence, immeasureable fullness, and endless mercy (cfr. Psalm 16:11). However, God is only so according to the criteria He determines, and by way of the path He forges. The “road” is God’s freedom united with our own in order to be made like Him. His love is overwhelming for this reason: He loves our freedom so much that he does not interfere in order to keep us from sin. Though He wishes to move us towards ultimate good, He allows us to choose roads that lead us far away from Him, while constantly providing the way for us to start over and be rescued from our nothingness.
This is how God appears to us on the way of the cross: as a lover seeking the beloved, willing to enter the dark pit of our existence. Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death you are with me (cfr. Psalm 23:4).