WORD AMONG US
ON THE WAY
Notes from a talk of Luigi Giussani with some university students
La Thuile, August 1992
In view of the new nature of the road we must travel, I would like to look back at the discoveries, or at the most suggestive insistences, and at the more significant words of our whole intellectual and emotional life in the past year. For casting our minds back over the year that has gone already implies the suggestion that our consciousness has taken a new leap forward (because our consciousness must be alive or the very sense of our "I" fades away).
1. The hindered awareness of the "I"
The supreme obstacle to our journey as men is the "neglect" of the "I." The first point, then, of any human journey is the opposite of this neglect; concern for our own "I," for our own person. It is an interest that might seem obvious but it is not obvious at all: a glance at our daily behavior is enough to show us that it is qualified by immense, wide gaps in our consciousness and loss of memory.
Our first interest, then, is our subject. Our first interest is that the human subject be constituted and, therefore, that my human subject be constituted-and that I may understand what it is and be aware of it. For it is this that lies at the root of the totality of my actions. A subject's moving (every time we "tend toward" something) is called action; action is the dynamics of relationship with all people and things. If I know what my subject is, then all relationships are consciously governable, dominable, determinable by me: they are "mine." Not neglecting our "I" means being able to say "my" in all seriousness-this is my preference, this is my man, this is my woman, this is my child borne by my wife, the stars are mine.
To be able to say "my" in all seriousness, then, we need to have a clear perception of our own "I." So the first concern we have always had, as the fundamental characteristic of all our inquiry and reflection, is to become conscious of the decisive, determining influence that what the Gospel calls "the world" has on us and which presents itself as the enemy of all that is dignified for an "I"-the enemy of the stable, consistent formation of a human personality. If someone carelessly treads on our toe we feel it immediately and we rear up, casting a threatening look his way; but if it is our personality that is crushed in such a way that it comes to be literally suppressed, or so intimidated that it remains incapable of action, numbed, we "calmly" endure this every day. It is because of the awareness of this that, every time we start reasoning something out, our desire is to discover how we are influenced and encumbered by a notion we take for granted or by a preconception deriving from the pressure that "the world"-that which surrounds us-exerts upon us through the mass media and other means (such as school, politics, and so on).
Behind the increasingly fragile mask of the word "I" there is great confusion today. Only the shell of the word has a certain consistency. But as soon as it is pronounced, the whole course of that sound, "I," is entirely and only packed with forgetfulness-the forgetting, that is, of all that is most alive and worthy in us. The conception of the "I" and our sense of it are tragically confused in our civilization. The more a society allows the value of the individual "I" of the person to emerge and the more it clarifies it, the more its evolution can be called "civil" because the only humanity in it is in the concrete "I," in the individual person.
In our barbaric age, a great confusion about the content of the word "I" is fostered. The "I" is reduced to a purely indicative term: just as we might say "glass" or "bottle" we use the word "I" (we have to use words of some description to let ourselves be understood!). The inevitable and forcefully tragic consequence of this confusion that has been introduced, and in which the reality of the "I" is dissolved, is the dissolution of the word "you." Today's man is incapable of consciously addressing anyone with the word "you" and this is the inexorable backlash of the absence of a subject, of an "I." The "I" is some kind of floating, wavering thing in the "lost air" of which Dante speaks, in a somber, sinister, obscure atmosphere where confusion and contradiction reign. There is no greater inhumanity than working to erase the "I." The inhumanity of our age is precisely this.
In one of his books, McIntyre describes this situation in terms that encourage us to express anew such grave judgments. He observes, "The social obstacles today derive from modernity's subdivision of each human life into a myriad of segments." The culture of society today generates an image and a sense of the "I" as some kind of aggregate of segments or fragments. Each segment, each fragment-affective relationships, work, religion, rest, recreation, and so on-has its own law, its own stably fixed, inescapable dynamics (there are rules for playing football, for example, and others that govern the relationship between man and woman, and still others for affirming our position at work). All the segments are governed by a law of their own; therefore, it is as if reality were totally rocked by an earthquake. "The outcome of such cultural and psychological behavior is that every construction is reduced to fragments," scattered over the ground, each one in conflict with the other. Like after an earthquake, not one house is left standing and the town is no more. What is left are piles of rubble, pieces of walls, the "great ruin" as Dante puts it.
2. An event
The positive answer to this dramatic dispersion in which society makes us live is an event. Only an event-and let us stop at that for the moment without qualifying the term further-can render the "I" in all its constituent factors clear and consistent. This is a paradox that no philosophy and no theory-whether sociological or political-can tolerate: the fact that an event, not an analysis, not documented sentiments, is the catalyst that allows the factors of our "I" to emerge clearly and compose themselves for our eyes, before our conscience, with firm, lasting, and stable clarity.
An event is what makes the "I" the fitting subject of an action that "carries" the world. Not for nothing are the actions of man called "gestures." The word "gesture" indicates the relationship with reality which affirms, carries (gerit) a meaning (this is why an animal cannot be said to use gestures). Freedom, non-enslavement and, therefore, dignity in weaving a relationship with reality come to us from clarity over the factors of our "I" (the "I" is the secret subject of every action, of every tendency to take hold of things, every tendency toward self-affirmation, toward self-realization). And this clarity cannot come from any reflection of ours but only from an event: it is an event that brings this clarity.
In Notre jeunesse [Our Youth], Péguy said, "What is most unexpected is always an event." An event, then, is "something" that suddenly introduces itself: something unpredictable, unforeseen, not a consequence of previous factors. In fact, the word closest in meaning to "event" is "chance." The word "chance" defines something for whose presence our eyes, as they watch it happen, can find no explanation. So we can say that as far as our reason and our faculties are concerned, an event is purely and ultimately a thing of chance. Moreover, in terms of our capacity for inquiry and understanding, an event is an event precisely to the degree that it is beyond our grasp-there is something about it that escapes us.
It is typical of an event to be unforeseeable and unforeseen (it is unforeseen in that, by its nature, it is unforeseeable). So, that which has the power to clarify me to myself is something that penetrates the horizon and the atmosphere of my existence like a strange, alien meteorite without my being able to foresee or therefore ultimately to understand it since the unforeseen is not even comprehensible.
So it is the incomprehensible, the unpredictable that sheds light, like a struck match, on our true selves. It is by the intrusion of this irrational "thing"-which our reason cannot grasp and our measure cannot master, that exceeds and shatters all our measures and cannot be ascribed to our thoughts, however clever we might be-that in the darkness of our existence, a light begins to shine on the truth of our selves, and an order begins to reign amid the confusion. And at this point an attraction and an affection for ourselves are born, a capacity for tenderness and compassion toward others, a serious attitude in planning for today and above all for tomorrow.
Let us stress this point. Commenting on the phrase quoted above, in his book on Péguy the French critic Alain Finkielkraut says, "An event is something which breaks in from the outside. It is something unexpected. And this is the supreme method of learning [learning is finding yourself before something new, something foreign to yourself, something that you have not constructed]. We must restore to the event its ontological dimension of a new beginning. It is a breaking in of something new that breaks the cog wheels (things already established, the definitions already provided), that sets a process in motion."
The word "event," then, is capital for every type of knowledge. Many years ago I was walking along a path that climbed from a town in Val Gardena up Pana Mountain near the Sasso Lungo. There was a young man in front of me who was keeping his eyes to the ground and here and there he would pick up a stone. After a while I understood what he was doing: he was collecting fossils, for that area, like the whole Dolomite region, is rich in them. The point is that every time that young man spotted a stone with the outline of a fossil embossed on it, he was making a "discovery"-an event was entering his life and he was learning something more.
The same is true for knowledge of our own "I." It is an event, "a breaking in of the new,"-which sets in motion the process through which the "I" begins to become aware of itself, to feel tenderness toward itself, to take note of the destiny toward which it is heading, of the road it is travelling, of the rights it has, of the obligations it must respect, of its whole physiognomy. It is an event that gives rise to the process by which a man starts saying "I" with dignity. And if another were to deal with him without respecting this dignity, if another were to crush him in some way, keep him enslaved, use him as an object, then he would rebel because he would feel all that to be the worst kind of violence.
We must move on a step. But let us look back briefly to what led us to this point. I have reflected on the confusion that, fostered by power, dominates our society regarding awareness of the "I" (take a trip on a tram packed with people: no one, statistically speaking, has an awareness of his or her own "I." If you ask them about it, they are so shocked or scandalized that they laugh at you). It is the last thing a man ever imagines having to think about or being able to think about. But it is an event, as we have said, that enables this confused and contradictory "I," this "I" wavering about in the air, to be clarified and become aware of itself. For only an event can activate the process by which the "I" reaches awareness or knowledge of self. Thus, the category of "event" is capital for knowledge of the "I" just as it is for any kind of knowledge.
But what interests us now above all is the word "event." This is the only category capable of defining what Christianity is (Christianity boils down totally to this category): Christianity is an event.
For it is the Christian event that is the adequate catalyst of knowledge of the "I," which makes perception of the "I" both clear and stable, which allows the "I" to become operational as "I." There is no understanding of what the "I" is outside of the Christian event. And the Christian event-according to what has emerged so far in regard to an event as such-is something new, extraneous, which comes from outside and therefore is something unthinkable, that cannot be supposed, that cannot be traced back to any reconstruction of our own, but that breaks in on life.
Péguy says in Clio: "He had no need of us. Furthermore, before the Incarnation, before the Redemption, all Jesus had to do was content Himself in heaven. He came. He came because man came. How great must this human 'I' be, my friend, for so much world to have been moved, for so much world to have been disturbed, such vastness of world, the world of the infinite.
A God, my friend, God went to that trouble. God sacrificed Himself for me." God became event in our daily existence; this is Christianity.
"In the face of the de-Christianization of the modern world, Péguy did not pose for himself the problem of updating the language, much less the contents of the Catholic faith. The only possible response man can give to de-Christianization is the desire that Christianity may happen again as an event. An event within reality as it challenges us every day." (Il Sabato, Editorial, June 20, 1992). We have never spoken of Christianity except as an event: it cannot be spoken of except as an event.
3. Wonder and the rules
"The real drama of the Church that likes to call itself modern [the real drama of Christians who want to be modern] is the attempt to correct the wonder of the event of Christ by means of rules." This was an admirable comment of John Paul I (his month-long pontificate would have been providential because of this observation alone; nothing like it can be found elsewhere). Christ is a happening, an event, a fact that before all else fills us with wonder.
The breaking in of something unpredictable and unforeseen-an event, a "happening"-gives rise first to wonder. And wonder is the beginning of a reverentia, of a respect, of humble attention. Like a child before a new situation: he feels instinctively a sense of wonder and humble, slightly timorous respect. He who withdraws himself from the wonder of the event and from the attention, the veneration, the respectful, humble curiosity the event instinctively arouses, becomes a slave to rules. Those who try to withdraw themselves from the event inevitably become slaves to rules.
This explains well the characteristic of the human subject that modern attitudes have created: clotted as we have said with segments, particles, and pieces. Each one of these pieces subsists and lives on, because it follows particular rules: office rules, family rules, even the rules of going to Church or to the parish. When we withdraw ourselves from the wonder-from the light and warmth the event of Christ sparks, and in which alone the face or the unity of the "I" in all its various aspects emerges (so that they enrich unity instead of depressing it into a temporarily reconciled division)-we will inevitably subject our lives, segmented as they are, to slavery to rules.
This observation calls us to Christ who gave His life to save man from the rules of the Pharisees, from pharisaism. Since Christ came, no epoch in the two Christian millennia has been more pharisaical than ours; there has never been a pharisaism that determined all of society as much as this one. It is into this pharisaism that puritanism, puritan Calvinism always decays; and since today it is "in government" in the most economically powerful State, it also has cultural influence on the whole world.
Either we give serious consideration to the event we've been talking about and it frees us, or we choose to be slaves to rules. We might say "social conventions" instead of rules, and in some circles certain conventions might prevail while others might reign in a different social class (for instance, if the people engage in orgies they are to be reproved but if those who dominate the people and the wealthy engage in them then they are perfectly acceptable).
We would need to reflect long on the comment of John Paul I we cited because such a sharp judgment, so penetrating to the root of the destruction of today's man, a slave to rules, is not to be found elsewhere. Today's man is a slave because he no longer has a personality (the "I" no longer exists). It was like this at the time of the ancient but highly civilized Romans (highly civilized insofar as the law they created was concerned, which can be considered, it seems to me, to be the most evolved, at least in the history of the West). Their legal texts ratified the difference between free men and slaves. Gaius, who was one of the most prominent authors among them, said that only the civis romanus was a true man; one, that is, who lived the fullness of his rights. The others did not have equal rights but were slaves (freedom belonged to the civis romanus, not to others). Even those who found themselves in an intermediate position, the liberti, freed men, were unable to attain the total liberty the civis romanus enjoyed. Only the civis romanus had the right to possession: he could own "things" that neither moved nor spoke (objects); "things" that moved but did not speak (animals); and he also had the right to possess "things" that both moved and spoke (slaves).
It is the word "thing"-this is the point-that is the common denominator of all three categories. If the event in question does not intervene and catalyze the force and the truth of our "I," if the event is not taken into consideration, we-we now-are living according to, we are regarded and treated by those in power (whatever type of power it is) according to the same criterion Gaius used in describing the triple category of the provisions under the civis romanus' right to possession, and that means as "things." A man may only have power in a dance hall but he will treat whoever is "below" him, as we say, according to the criterion Gaius described. And ultimately the results of this reduction to the level of animal or "thing" can also be seen in a mother's relationship with her own child; if that event leaves no mark on her or means nothing to her, a mother tends to possess her child. If that event does not penetrate our lives, every one of us makes slaves of other people in the sphere in which we exercise power. Or else, to the extent that we have no power, we are made slaves ourselves.
By penetrating our horizon, the Christian event brings to the surface the whole dramatic nature of our existence and highlights it. For we cannot say "I" except at a price, without a strange need destining us for some kind of difficulty being indicated, without some kind of suffering being introduced, and without a desire for happiness and joy (normally stifled in distraction) taking form. This event brings once and for all into our lives a drama that otherwise would not be there. Even those who are aware of this event usually choose to forget about it because it vexes and disturbs and they prefer to abandon themselves to the confusion or to waver about in the "lost air," or like a leaf detached from a tree (according to the poetic imagery of Arnauld).
4. A human encounter
What is the characteristic form of the Christian event? The Christian event has the form of an encounter: a human encounter in the banal reality of every day. It is a human encounter by which He who is called Jesus, that man born in Bethlehem at a precise moment in time, reveals His significance for the core of our lives. Besides the face of Jesus, the Christian event typically assumes human faces, the faces of companions, of people like you and me. In the same way, in the villages of Palestine He could not get to, Jesus took on the faces of the two disciples He sent, He was present in the very faces of the two He had chosen. And it was exactly the same thing: "Master, that which You made happen we also made happen." Identical. "The Kingdom of God is at hand. The Kingdom of God is among you."
The Christian event is a human encounter by which Jesus Christ reveals His significance for the core of lives and unveils the "I." Only in this encounter is a "stable core" given to our lives: knowledge of the "I," clarity in perceiving the "I," the possibility that the "I" become the true principle of action. We can trace all this back to the word "heart." On the rostrum of St. Ambrose, Gaius Marius Victorinus, the last great Roman rhetorician, announced his conversion to Christianity and he began this, his most famous oration, with these words: "When I encountered Christ I discovered that I was a man." And Gaius Marius Victorinus belonged to a society and culture in which slavery and freedom were openly lived categories (today in contrast they are lived covertly, darkly, and we must detect them or be subject to them without realizing it).
The Christian event is an encounter with a human reality that channels the evidence of a correspondence between the divine that has stooped to enter our lives and what we are. This encounter opens my eyes to myself, spurs on an unveiling of me, shows that it corresponds to what I am: it makes me aware of what I am, of what I want, because it makes me understand that what it brings is just what I want, that it corresponds to what I am. It is as if it were saying, "Look at what you are and then tell me if it is not true that I correspond. It is only because you do not know yourself that you are able to think that I do not correspond to you and can prefer something else as the meaning of your 'I.'"
In a sequence of his film Andrei Rubliev, Tarkovski has one of his characters say, "You know very well: you fail at something, you are tired and you can take no more. And suddenly in the crowd you meet a person's gaze-a human gaze-and it is as if a hidden divine presence had approached you. And suddenly everything becomes simpler." The Christian event shows itself, reveals itself in the encounter with the superficiality, the shallowness and the apparent inconsistency of a face in the crowd, a face like all the others yet so different from the others that, when you meet it, it is as if everything becomes simple. You see it for an instant and as you walk away you carry the impact of that gaze within you, as if to say, "I would like to see that face again!" This is the best way to describe the "why" of our drawing near to this companionship and finding ourselves a part of it. We are here because of an encounter that happened (Christian message and proclamation could become synonyms, therefore, of the word "encounter," of the Christian event as an encounter). From the instant the encounter happens, Christianity takes on a different meaning: Something Other has revealed itself to be important for the core of life. That instant made us sense that this Other concerned life; at last it was a persuasive, reasonable, pursuable, perhaps lovable form of what we had been told before, but had been arid, stony, impossible to comprehend, foreign to us.
"You must live for another if you want to live for yourself," the Roman philosopher Seneca said. If you want to live for yourself, if you want to discover the substance and dignity of yourself, you must perceive yourself through the presence of another, you must live for another. But who is this other for whom you might live? Either you make the choice-and so you still choose yourself, your own criterion and not another-or the other imposes itself on you and then you are a slave, you are a captivus. In only one case is Seneca's phrase true and worthy of human freedom: if this other is the means, ontologically, to your destiny. You can live for yourself in living for another only if this "other" links you with your destiny. So if you live for this particular other you will reach your destiny and if you do not live for this other, you are undone by your own hand, you destroy yourself.
We are normally obliged to live for an other who imposes itself upon us, and that means for power (the mother-father power, the husband-wife power, the boy-girl power, the power of the teacher, the power of the police, the power of the great economic potentates, the Power). Power-this is the enemy of the eyes and of the heart and of the lips that express the heart in words. There is no alternative: either we ourselves choose the other which means still choosing ourselves-and we will be submerged in the abyss of our inconsistency-or the other imposes itself on us, and that means we are slaves of power; or, and this is the right way, we live for an other who is ontologically-by the nature of His being-the means, the road to our destiny. And only One has said, "I am the way." He did not say, "I will show you the way."
5. A precise moment in time
The Christian event as an encounter-from which springs dynamics of awareness and affectivity giving body and unity to the "I"-happens at a precise instant in life. The encounter can always be traced to a precise moment in time.
No other moment in our existence has the same value, to the extent that losing that moment can mean losing ourselves. Since we can lose ourselves immediately afterwards, we can only rediscover a sure way by getting hold of it again. If one were then to enter a monastery and become a monk, it is by virtue of the memory of that precise moment that he can continue along the way. Von Balthasar said this with great intensity in one of his writings. When in 1961 he was invited to speak about his vocation, he related the precise instant in which he perceived his call (vocation is a life that becomes self-aware because it becomes conscious of its destiny and the task it must fulfill to arrive at its destiny). Von Balthasar's moment came in the summer of 1927 during an Ignatian retreat. He says of it, "Even now, 30 years later, I could return to that path in the Black Forest not far from Basel and find that same tree again in whose shade I was struck as if by lightning. And what came into my mind then all of a sudden was neither theology nor the priesthood. It was simply this: 'You do not have to make any choice; you have been called. You will not have to serve. You will be taken into service. It will be given to you [the vocation, as a task to fulfill, is given by God; we do not choose it], you do not have to make plans for the future, you are just a tiny stone in a mosaic which has been prepared for a long time.' All I had to do was leave everything and follow, without making plans, without desiring particular intuitions. I just had to be there to see of what use I could be."
This passage is literally valid for each one of us to the degree that each one of us has become part of the Christian event in a moment's encounter: the moment of encounter is when Christ, or the Christian fact, is revealed to us, like that face in the crowd of which Tarkovski spoke. And if our perception of it was also momentary, subtle, then it is unmistakable-it is a correspondence to what we are. The encounter brings with it the meaning that the core of life demands, as the source of tenderness toward ourselves and of love for others, as the reasonableness of the time and space we must travel, as a support for life and for death.
All this was given to each of us. I do not say it was given to all men in the same way because it is God who makes His plans but it was given to those of us who are here that way. What Von Balthasar says of himself is true for each one of us and not just for those called to follow a particular vocational path. Baptism has marked the vocational road common to us. And at a precise moment in our existence, in a given circumstance, in a certain encounter, the content of Baptism appeared as it were as the great claim it is, so grounded in reason and so demonstrably persuasive that-rightly-we perceive its correspondence to our hearts.
6. "This dear joy on which every virtue is founded"
"From where did it come to you, this dear joy on which every virtue is founded?" There can be no morality ("virtue"), dignity, intensity, or perfection in living if they do not spring from joy. "From where did this joy come to you?" This joy comes from the moment when the Christian event entered the confines of our existence; in other words, we had an encounter with a human reality in which Christ revealed Himself to be significant for our lives, that is to say for our reason and for our heart's need for affection.
The supreme morality-which is a way of living that is adequate to the "I," to the dignity of the created person indicated by the word "I"-is fidelity to the attitude of mind with which the Creator makes us.
How does the Creator make us? We are made children. The child has its eyes wide open, open in a positive way to reality (curiosity is the phenomenon that primarily bears witness, albeit in an arid way, to this original positivity in looking.) Created man stands before the world and he is not only positively open but is awaiting fulfillment. For the child, marveling at reality, is full of desire, and he awaits fulfillment with gladness, "as if preparing for a feast." So, positive openness to reality can be identified with the expectation of fulfillment.
How can we be faithful to the attitude of mind with which we were made? How can we hold on to that original purity of the face, that gaze open to reality in a positive way as we await the fulfillment with gladness, "as if preparing for a feast" (for gladness is the original sentiment of the man who keeps faith with the act that created him)? Only by basing ourselves on the event of Christ in the historical form in which it touched us.
It is because of the Christian event's self-introduction into our lives that the rediscovery of the "I," in all its factors, its whole destiny, and correspondence to the most profound needs of mind and heart are sparked off and grow in various ways and may become so well affirmed as to render our person the subject of morality-of action, that is, worthy of Being, of behavior worthy of the relationship with the Mystery that made us. And even evil and incoherence no longer disqualify this "thread" once it has been woven. Just as God does not deny the Covenant He establishes with man even though man may go wrong and deny Him, there is a bond with God which once discovered can no longer be denied, although we might betray Him a thousand times a day. When we have seen something, we can no longer deny that we have seen it, unless we consciously tell a lie that buries us in a kind of coffin and suffocates us.
All this begins with the Christian event that breaks in on our lives: an encounter with a human reality that brings with it the evidence that the divine, which has entered our history, corresponds to what we are.
The event of Christ that is revealed in the encounter unites us with others, it is the beginning of a new people; it creates a new environment, a companionship: like a home, a new dwelling place where things are yours, where everything is yours, where everything is for you, where you are totally free. And this companionship opens up to all of reality, it tends to make everything interest us, makes the world and the men who populate it less foreign to us. This companionship discovers and loves history as the dwelling place of the active unity of a people, and it introduces the perception that a new history is possible.
7. The beginning of a new subject
The Christian event-like every event-is the beginning of something there had never been before: it is a breaking in of the new which sets a new process in motion. The breaking in of the mystery of God-made-man in our human, personal history gives birth to a new subject. Thus, however little sincere, marveling, surprised attention we paid and do pay to the encounter in which this great presence touched us, something new has moved within us. It might well remain a fragile thing, "consumptive" and without excessive vitality for a very long time but something has moved within us and it doesn't stop-if it is called upon, if we are in companionship, that is to say, living within the way by which that something Other enters our lives. For companionship-made up of those whom He chooses and who acknowledge Him, the community of believers-is the way by which Christ makes Himself present to our lives as men, the sphere where the encounter with the mystery of God-made-man happens. And at the moment of the initial encounter, we do not know what will happen, we do not know of this great presence, we do not know that this is the encounter of life. But with the passage of time and if we remain-in some way-faithful to the exterior reality, to the exterior face that has put us in contact with Christ and in which the presence of Christ touched us, moved us, provoked us, then everything becomes clear.
"From where does it come to you, this dear joy on which every virtue is founded?" That strange security full of gladness, basis of the energy man uses for his self-realization ("every virtue") and the starting point for him to develop a commitment with life, comes from the moment an event had us encounter something Other that revealed itself as corresponding to our destiny.
The Christian event is the beginning of a new way of living in this world; it sets in motion a conception and a new manipulation of reality that gives reality a more human-more true-form so that reality and man increasingly become one. It was just this that inspired Jacopone da Todi to say, in one of the most moving verses of Italian literature, "Amore, amore omne cosa conclama," everything cries "love" together and this is the impetus characterizing the essence of living man, it is the motion of the human heart.
This "work"-the application of human energy to reality is called work-is created and launched all over again in all its exactitude and precision by the breaking of the event of Christ into our existence.
We are called to this "work" every day. "And we who keep vigil at night, attentive to the faith of the world, outstretched to Christ's return we now look toward the light," a hymn from Morning Prayer says. It is like a paradigm. In the night enshrouding all things, the night of the world's unconsciousness-"darkness on the face of the deep," Eliot said of a world where man, as consciousness, is torn, broken, blocked, dispersed by his incapacity-we keep vigil: a light has been given us that from the intangible depth of the heart to the eye's last horizon, illumines the content of an experience that we can have, that we are called to have and whose echo is the final resurrection.
Every day we are called to experience this subtle, discreet jolt of resurrection: we have a point of light, a desire to know, an impetus of gratuitous good, a passion for the destiny of men and of things-it is like a projection of love for our own destiny-and within this, slowly, as time passes all things are embraced and involved until the culmination, the example of which Christ gives us: "Consider the lilies of the field, the bird that falls. Your Father knows them. Even the hairs on your head are numbered." "Even one word said in jest has an eternal value-an eternal weight." How right it would be if the boldness or keenness of this awareness of self and of things that the eternal implies were as vibrant and intense as they could be.
On this point I would like to relate an episode that has always been one of the most significant memories of my life. At the end of a school year I went to dinner with about 20 of my pupils. They were friends, but there was a certain holding back, a certain distance I might say. When the dinner was over they got up to dance. I watched them from where I was sitting at the table still covered in plates. I watched them in that pretty dance, in that still unspoiled evocative spontaneity of first youth. From where I sat I could see this living expression full of hope, unconscious of humanity. At a certain point I stopped the dance. "Do you know what the difference is between you and me?" I asked. "The difference is that while I enjoy your dancing as if I were part of it, and while I appreciate your ability to dance and the precision of your steps and the respect you have for one another, too, a thought springs to my mind from the depths of my heart as I am watching you. I embrace you with this thought in mind: it is a sadness, a sadness that is good and ultimately full of hope but one you do not harbor and do not know. It is a sadness dictated by limitation, I mean by the limitation also of what you are doing. For in a few hours you will be home and, distracted, confused, and sleepy, you will lose the feelings you have had; it is normal after evenings like these-I remember my own young days-to go home sad. But it will not be the same sadness with which I am speaking to you now. My sadness is a judgment, it is a love: it is a judgment on the limitation of things and on destiny's limitless openness toward which this dance is, must be, a step; even this dance must be a step to awareness and love of your destiny, toward beauty that fascinates and draws you, toward the happiness you hope will fill you, toward the perfection for which you are destined. But the sadness that comes when you are alone is like a hand-the hand of limitation-that grips your throat and from which you are unable to free yourselves."
"Only if the Christian event enters your existence can you have a stable, whole, and true perception of yourselves and of all that surrounds you, and live such a positive life that it need overlook nothing in order to affirm itself." I told them all this only after some time, however; for that occasion was the start of a friendship that would not only last but which bore great fruit. And yet Christ, the Christian event, had already entered their lives, because it had taken hold of them in Baptism. Baptism takes hold of the depth of the "I"- in philosophical terms this is called ontology, the ultimate nature of our being-the part the "I" does not "feel," the part it cannot hold with the hand, the part it cannot see with the eyes. This initial mystery-Baptism-is revealed in all its value, it comes to be a mobilizing event when the encounter with a certain human reality enters and strikes our intelligence and affection to activate and move something that had never moved or been moved before and it makes us find ourselves, by means of this new "movement," almost automatically together with others. And in our relationship with these others, that beginning, that "emotive" beginning let's say (etymologically speaking), is sustained and regenerates itself. No one who has experienced it can escape it because the truth is something that when it does appear, even for just a fleeting instant, it leaves its impression on us forever.
During my high school teaching years, during the lessons, all my pupils without exception were very attentive. And I would say to them, "You, see? As I speak, you are struck by the truth of what I am saying and without realizing it you are sitting there open-mouthed, listening. If you have some objection to raise, if you have a reason to dispute me (and they were all inveterate adversaries), then tell me. And if you have no objection, then why not adhere to what I'm telling you?" The truth, even as it emerges, leaves an everlasting impression. It is only when man's memory, that great faculty by which all things are embraced and explored, becomes its own undertaker, that it seems able to hide the truth we have sensed in the event of an encounter under shovel-fulls of earth (the shovel-fulls of distraction).
8. The gift of the Spirit
How is it that this event can happen? How is it that we can be provoked by the jolt of that encounter thanks to which life begins to light up, a glow, however dim, creeps onto our horizon and the desire grows to understand more what it is we have encountered, to be more profoundly invested by it and to follow it? How is it that the event happens? For there is no precedent by which we can predict it; yet it happens. If it happens, then there is a cause. But it does not let itself be included in the list that any analysis of ours of previous happenings might be able to formulate; it is something entirely different. So what is the cause of the event, the reason why this event becomes an encounter with an exceptional presence that later we will consciously recognize as divine and to which later we will say, "You, Christ"(not then but later)? For at the moment of encounter it is a reality that simply strikes us and moves us because it is different. Those who have already felt this event and who are therefore participants in communicating it in the world, have faces with different features: they have different criteria, a different form of emotion and affection, an unknown impetus of gratuitousness, a strange capacity for commitment ("Why do you bother?" it might be said, watching them).
The cause of this event, of this encounter and of the movement it arouses in us is called the Holy Spirit in Christian language. It is called Spirit, this energy with which the mystery of God works in the world, shaping the world, bending it like a great river flowing to its mouth-it is the mystery of God Himself. This energy comes into the world and penetrates it more infinitely since that Man to whom the Spirit itself gave life ("... conceived by the Holy Spirit"), died, and rose again.
Ever since that Man, who is God, died and rose again, this Spirit is His Spirit. It is the energy with which He is destined to take definitive possession of all things, as Chapter 17 of the Gospel of St. John says: "Father, you have given me power over all flesh-all men-so that they may have eternal life.... And eternal life is this-[for eternal life means "life"]-to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."
The Spirit of God, then, is the energy Christ uses to penetrate history, time, and space, taking hold of what the Father places in His hands, according to a plan that to us seems slow; but for Him, before whom a thousand years are like a day, everything has the brevity of an instant (take the center of a circumference, for example, that incorporates all points simultaneously; it is on the circumference that the fatigue of the journeying arises; at the central point everything is there simultaneously).
Because of its life-giving, life-communicating, faith-giving nature, since it gives certainty and, therefore, stimulus to act, hope, and infinite breadth of devotion or charity, we always speak of "the gift of the Holy Spirit." But more briefly and instead of the "gift of the Holy Spirit" we can use-as most do who speak the language of those who have experienced this event and this encounter-the word "grace" which is spectacularly meaningful. There is no lovelier word than this "grace," which implies richness without end together with a mobility and imagination impossible to stem and wherein all is for love: for love of the destiny of the other, just as for Christ all was for love of the destiny of men and of things according to the plan of the Father, of the Mystery. The Mystery dominates the word "grace" to the degree that it invests the life of man. Péguy says, "Grace is even more mysterious and more profound than beauty. Grace is even more arbitrary, more free, more sovereign, more perfectly illogical [beyond our logic, without reasons, irreducible to any calculation]. It is also disturbing, as everything that is given gratuitously is [that which is given gratuitously is disturbing because it calls our attention to something we had not thought of, that we would never think of, that above all we would never want to think of]. The powerfulness of grace. The eternal powerfulness of the eternal Blood, of an eternal Blood, the blood of Jesus Christ."
Let us now see briefly how the work of the Spirit takes its form, the features of this energy that enters us, an energy so real that the experience of it becomes tangible. And it is from the moment we experience it that it reveals itself and manifests itself in all its certainty. For, the event of something Other in our life becomes human experience with all the characteristics proper to a human experience dominated by that mysterious opening up to the extreme frontier, by that vanishing point that goes immeasurably beyond. The experience is the event on the human level; and man's starting point is always an experience.
9. Valuing the beginning
The impact of the Spirit begins with the encounter, in the core of that event that has started to move us in spite of all our fragility and incoherence, and in such a way that we forgot about it immediately but then we returned to it (because God never enters a life except to bring His work to fulfillment). Let us now examine what precise steps this impact takes.
It is the gift of the Spirit, it is grace, it is the valuing of the encounter. So let us be reassured if we still do not understand: valuing the encounter, that first moment, is a form of grace, not any capacity of our own. We cannot say after the first impact and the first subtle, confused emotion, "I have understood, I'm on my way." How? To where? It is that something Other that makes us understand and sets us on our way. We look back and we do not know what it is: it is the gift of the Mystery, it is grace. And where are we going? We don't know. We don't know where we are being led. We must just follow the impetus, the emotion, the initial impact.
It is the gift of the Spirit if we understand that the encounter that has moved us is like a seed, the beginning of a new reality that must develop; a tangible reality, belonging to this world that, as St. Paul says, coincides with a new way of understanding and loving, of eating and drinking, of waking and sleeping, of living and dying.
More precisely, it is a gift of the Spirit that leads us to sense that the encounter we have had is a promise. This is the great word that this same gift of the Spirit has been using for thousands of years in presaging what would happen. And the content of a promise is something that still cannot be seen, that still cannot be known, like a seed that has not yet been seen to develop (a man who has never seen a cypress would never be able to imagine the tree just by seeing its seed).
It is grace if we understand that the encounter-the initial event-is a seed, a promise destined to invade our existence. The Benedictus we recite at Morning Prayer is the first description of the history of this promise and the Magnificat of Evening Prayer is like the same vision but realized in a fullness now attained.
The beginning is a promise, a seed that slowly develops and invades our existence, not by our own logic, not by our own coherence but by virtue of that same initial gift, by virtue of that same strange love that had us experience the encounter in which Christ made Himself present and provoked us. The moment when we sense the mystery of God, or better, the mystery of Christ, as something pertinent to our own lives, as-in some way-for we cannot imagine the "how" of it-something useful and connected to life, is the gift of the Holy Spirit, it is grace.
The gift of the Spirit makes us feel responsible toward this beginning. It may be that we do not adhere to it and seek to cancel or erase what has happened; but it has sparked a beginning of responsibility in us, according to which our whole lives will be judged, will be fortunate or not, successful or not. (The meaning of the word "success" here is a far cry from the humanist meaning. Here, it is success as far as the Eternal is concerned, true success that comes about even when a man is killed, as Christ was.)
It is in the responsibility that in some way we assume toward the encounter we have had that the history of our personality begins, in other words that we acquire an unmistakable, irreducible face, becoming new protagonists of time and space, active and indomitable "re-builders of ruined cities," as Isaiah says (58:12).
It is through the grace of the Spirit that this sense of responsibility is born in which alone the beginnings of a new protagonist emerge. For the personality does not assume substance and form because we obtain a diploma or university degree, or practice a profession, or embark upon a relationship with a woman, etc. but only in our sense of responsibility toward destiny. This responsibility, and therefore the personality, is born through the grace of an encounter and through the grace that allows us to remain struck by it, that makes us sense its value, that in some way makes us strive to follow it. With this responsibility toward the impact of the gift of the Spirit-toward the encounter-man's protagonism in the world begins. A protagonist in the world is one who changes it; one, that is, who contributes-in a greater or lesser degree to changing the world according to his destiny, according to a truer, greater, and more beautiful humanity, a humanity more charged with the expectation of Him who is to come (otherwise every move would only introduce another lie).
10. Knowledge of Christ
Let us now look at the second aspect of the gift of the Spirit. A deeper experience of the divine which has generated the encounter is grace. Deepening the encounter is not the fruit of any study of ours, or of any force of our will that would elevate us to the level of masters of morality; it is the fruit of the gift of the Spirit (which sparked the beginning). It is the gift of the Spirit that enables us to carry out a deepening of the experience of the encounter, in which our knowledge of Christ becomes increasingly consistent and fascinating. The grace of the encounter-the encounter comes from something Other, so it is grace, it is purely the gift of a Spirit, of an energy that possesses the world and manipulates history-leads to knowledge of Christ as the consistence of everything and as the beginning of a new people.
a) Christ as the consistence of everything
"All things consist in Him," the Letter to the Colossians tells us. Therefore Christ is my consistence. Christ is the stuff of which, ultimately, I am made.
If I am attentive, that is, adult, there is no greater evidence than this: in this instant I do not make myself, I do not provide myself with the reality that I am (cf. L. Giussani, The Religious Sense, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal, 1997). Ultimately, I am made of an Other. I address this Other directly, saying "You" with fear, reverence, and adoration. This "You" is the Mystery that became man. So the man-Christ is that of which I, ultimately, am made. It is a state of being totally possessed that, once discovered and accepted, makes peace possible within all the confines of life, so that pain and evil are conquered in loving, gratuitous abandonment.
To those just embarking on an affective relationship (normally these bonds elude or obscure the bond that has been discovered, perhaps timidly at first, with Christ) I always say, "You are very much in love with your girlfriend. But, tell me, what is she made of in the final analysis? Of something Other, like you. Nothing is more evident than this, at this moment, whoever you may be. And who had you meet her? The Lord of history, He who holds all the threads of time and space in His hand, the very same One of whom she is made: Christ. And who will make sure she is yours tomorrow? Who will have her not disappear? He will. He is the one who has you meet her, makes her your eternal companion, forever. So, a wave of tenderness for Christ cannot but come over you, even greater than the tenderness you feel for this girl." Reality, in its truth, is a sign of something Other, it is a sign of Christ, "the consistence of all things." We have all been called to invest and live everything according to its truth-as a sign of Christ.
Each one of us who has been touched by the grace of the encounter is called to share in this "new measure" of being, to regard and approach all things according to an infinite perspective which is what man was made for. (Reason is made for something greater than itself, for the relationship with the infinite; and the heart is made for something greater than what we can imagine. For, is it not true that even the most burning love story wanes?) Let us try and imagine Christ in that moment's silence when He was at the top of the hill watching the people arrive: His gaze was boundless. And when He turned to a woman like the Samaritan, imagine the impression that must have pervaded this poor woman when those eyes were turned on her, gazing upon her in a limitless perspective.
b) Christ as the beginning of a new people
A people is born of one person, just as the Hebrew people was born of Abraham. Christ is the beginning of a new people, of the new definitive people.
As St. Paul says in Galatians 3, "Every one of you that has been baptized has put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female-for you are all one-'eis '-in Christ Jesus." So we belong to each other because we belong to Him. All those who recognize Him-whom He touches and who acknowledge Him-form a new people. We, then, are the beginning of a new people. And it is always a beginning, right to the very end. But this people, whether great or small according to the mystery of God's will, will journey through history. It is called Church: men gathered together for an aim, called to acknowledge the truth and to do good. The Church, says St. Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians, is the Body of Christ, of Him who is hidden within the encounter we had, of Him who communicated Himself to us in the event that touched us. "The Church is His Body, the fullness of Him who is wholly realized in all things."
N.B. It is in memory that the gift of the Spirit has us penetrate the depths of God. The depths of God are the depths of every creature: every creature is like the beginning of an infinite perspective. It is through memory that the gift of the Spirit has us penetrate the true nature of our relationship with all things, that is, it renders us pure.
11. Totalizing and Catholic
The third aspect consists of two important implications of the gift of the Spirit.
a. That which the Spirit has us deepen is totalizing. The encounter is a totalizing event-it is the form of all relationships. The encounter that happened is like a light, an energy that illumines all relationships, bends them and shapes them, as a sculptor would, into the form they must assume. This is the origin of purity or-and it is the same thing-of truth in relationships. The truth of a relationship is the adequacy of its bond with the infinite-because not even putting pen to paper is without a relationship with the infinite. "Over every instant looms the weight of the eternal," said the poetess Ada Negri who converted because of this discovery. The affirmation of the boundless, eternal, infinite value of even the tiniest instant a man might imagine is, in fact, proof of the divine, the gift of the Spirit. There can be no such affirmation except in a divine conception.
I remember a radio interview many years ago just after the war. The journalist was the first to be admitted to a cloistered convent and he was interviewing the youngest nun there. As all shrewd journalists do, he asked questions that were difficult to answer. They called for a great experience of life and all the shrewdness that goes with it in order to gloss over and side-step the malice inherent in them. The answers that young girl, not yet 18, gave came as a surprise: they vibrated with an amazing wisdom. Where did she get it? From the way she habitually perceived the eternal within the ephemeral instant, embracing all things together, because we cannot judge a single hair if not from the totality of the organism to which that hair belongs. It can be understood, therefore, why a woman who lives a cloistered life can be intense and glad, precise and complete, like a great artist, the artist of her own time and her own ways.
We say in the Liturgy, "O God, you who have prepared good things invisible to those who love You, pour into us the sweetness of Your love so that by loving You in all things and above all things..." All, omnis, means every single thing one by one, nothing excluded. God's claim is totalizing. A God who did not have this totalizing claim would simply no longer be God. It is He who communicates Himself to us in the event of the encounter, it is God-made-man. So the encounter that happened makes a demand and a totalizing claim on our lives, on all its expressive aspects: private, public, inner, outer, when the outcome is failure and when it is favorable. To love Him we must exclude nothing: "Loving You in all things and above all things," this "above" is not alternative to things but means that every relationship, with whatever reality or person, is defined by the presence of Christ, by the memory of our relationship with Christ. In this way every relationship is transformed from a poor one to a rich one; from an uncertain one to a sure one; from a troubled one to one that is full peace.
b. The second implication of the gift of the Spirit is catholicity. The encounter is "catholic," which means it pushes us toward all things and all people with a boundlessly open attitude. In the experience of the relationship with Christ-acknowledgement and affection-that the Spirit allows us to explore, there is no stopping and there are no more limits. "Everything is yours, just as you are Christ's," St. Paul said. This is the elimination of every fear and it is the reasonableness of every risk. In providing us with a clear criterion of intelligence and affection, the Spirit opens us wide, boundlessly, to all things and all people.
The event of the encounter makes the man it has invested open to everything according to a "preconception," to a positive, loving point of view so that, in everything he comes across, he stresses, values, and utilizes for his new construction of the world whatever good there is, even the thinnest thread in however vast a tangle. This "catholicity" describes an inconceivably positive opening to all reality.
From this a new concept is born, a true, critical one and St. Paul offers us a definition of it: "Panta dokimazete to kalon katekete;" that is, evaluate all things, retain and value whatever is valid, beautiful; which means whatever is functional to the Eternal, to Christ and, therefore, to salvation and the reconstruction of the world. There is nothing negative in Christian terms, then, about a "critical" attitude. The exact opposite is true-it tends toward the soulful and loving discovery of any echo of the truth that might nest even within the smallest things. In this regard, I often relate the episode attributed to Christ by an agraphon: As he crossed the fields, Jesus saw the rotten carcass of a dog. St. Peter, who was in front of Him, said, "Master, step aside," but Jesus went on. He stopped for a moment and cried, "What beautiful white teeth!" They were the only good thing about that rotten body. This is criticism! Not hostility toward things but an embrace that exalts the value inherent in all things.
The development of this critical capacity in the relationship with all things and all people generates a new vision of man, of the world, and of history-a new culture. A new culture can generate itself only if it founds itself on that "criticism" that is realized by the catholicity of the impetus which the gift of the Spirit produces. All that is good in the world, even though it lie under a pile of rubble or malice, is valued for a new construction of the world. This is the Christian culture, whose definition can be found in the Letter to the Romans (12:1-2).
Each one of us has been chosen by means of a gratuitous encounter so that he may make of himself an encounter for others. So it is for a mission that we have been chosen, just as Christ was sent by the eternal Mystery for a mission-sent, missus: "Just as my Father sent me, I am sending you." What has been given to us and is continually given to us is "for" the world; it is given to us so that it echo in us and be communicated to others, not according to our calculations, but according to God's will.
We cannot talk of human life in this way, so full of peace and exaltation, of certainty, hope, and gratuitousness, unless we have been invested by the event that did invest us, and except by the grace of the encounter with the presence of Christ. So, friends, let us help each another.