What Is Christianity? How we are born in that question
Notes from a conversation Fr Luigi Giussani had with a group of university students. Chiesa Valmalenco, Italy, August 31, 1978
This assembly’s theme: the situation of the Movement , the life of the Movement
Fr Giussani The theme is a very generic one, so that we can deal with any point at all, but wherever we start from, there is a “certain” point we have to reach.
Intervention In these recent months, I have realized something important. All of a sudden, I realized that I didn’t yet know what the Movement is, but it didn’t put me off, it was very attractive. I saw opening up before me room for new knowledge of myself and of a depth of life, a taste that I had not known before. In other words, to say that I didn’t–or don’t yet–know the Movement means that I discover that a deeper life that I don’t yet know is possible for me. I am made aware of this because I see it alive in others.
The most important aspect of what I am living is the inclination to learn from others, and it becomes clearer to me that Christianity is the opportunity that I am given to be human. I’ve understood that this is the core of Christianity. The core of Christianity and the core of the Movement coincide, and Christianity and the Movement are my opportunity for being human.
Fr Giussani He has pointed out two connections, and we need to keep them in mind. We must not leave this lane, or we will be wasting time. Everyone should still be free to intervene as a reaction to the experience he has had up to now, especially this year. I don’t want to block this spontaneity, but I want to anticipate that the point we have to reach is included and channeled between the two “banks,” the two connections noted. He noted the connection between the Movement and Christianity and the connection between Christianity and humanity, real humanity. If we move outside these two points of reference, or these “synonyms,” we will begin to wander off track and speak of facts or reactions that are a waste of time.
We could even change the topic. Couldn’t we change the topic? What do you think, why don’t we change the topic?! Because it’s clear to everyone that the Movement is a very debatable mode that each of us follows because he experiences or hopes for an enrichment; it is a contingent mode that can lead us in a more mature and pleasant way into the Christian fact. Otherwise, what would the Movement be? The value of the Movement is its educative function regarding the Christian fact. This is what interests us.
So I propose that we set aside the topic I gave this morning and ask ourselves point-blank what Christianity is for us. Couldn’t we do this? In other words, let’s make it a doctrinal session, a sort of catechism lesson.
What is Christianity for us? If one of us were to be even slightly involved in the Movement, but not in search of an answer to this question, an intelligent and existentially provoking answer, a practical answer to this question, if one of us were involved without trying to find an answer to this question, he would really be an idiot, wouldn’t he?
Let’s try to ask ourselves if we ever asked ourselves this question, not simply throwing out a few ideas, but trying to be systematic, not in the scholastic sense of systematic, but in the vital sense of the word, because life is an organism, a system.
If you feel I am forcing you into something too demanding, we can go back to the first topic. But I suggest we change the topic because I don’t really see it as a change. In any case, it will help us to eliminate some useless steps in the argument, because what interests us is not the Movement itself, but an answer to life. And, for us, Christianity is this answer to life.…
Come on then, let’s get to the point. What is Christianity for us?
Intervention I have been reminded to think of this place as the place of the Lord’s presence, and therefore of my truth, and not as the place where people get together because they all think in the same way about a given point. I’ve understood that here, with these faces, with these people, my salvation is at stake.
Fr Giussani And so? How does your intervention immediately connect with the question we have posed? It seems I am a bit slow to catch on.
Intervention The immediate connection is that here…
Fr Giussani But what is Christianity?
Intervention It’s the truth of my life.
Fr Giussani You used another word, too, the word “salvation.”
Now, guys, we need to come to grips with these words! You haven’t understood a word unless you perceive the “thickness,”–as you call it–the existential depth. A word is an indication, a sign, the sign of a reality. A word is the sign of a reality, a sign, like an arrow… So you haven’t understood a word unless you perceive the reality that the word indicates.
This is why the question, “What is Christianity?” is the most urgent question for us who are committed to it. But it’s the most urgent question for the whole world if–even only as a hypothesis–Christianity is understood as history’s proposal for a more authentic human journey and as a means of security regarding destiny.
So, we have to break open the formal packaging of the words “salvation” and “truth,” because everything man uses tends towards formalism. All revolutions and all reforms, of any kind, degrade into formalism, into standardization, and become schematic. There is an inertia in human impetus which leads the wealth of that impetus toward death, right from the start! It’s called original sin.
Original sin seems to be the term in our language most easily emptied of meaning (in fact, much post-conciliar theology has emptied it completely of meaning), because it doesn’t seem to connect with anything, it seems not to correspond with anything in our experience, with any fact of life. So the whole of modern thought considers it abstract and seeks to identify it, at most, with a gap between what man is and what he should be. So the term “original sin” would indicate the lower stage of an evolution; original sin would be evolution that has not developed as it should. Is it clear?
But it’s not true! Original sin is an idea essential to Christian anthropology, and it means this: any effort, any initiative on man’s part–whether intellectual or practical, doctrinal or affective–slips existentially, tends to slide toward death, toward formalism, toward complete sclerosis.
Perhaps some of you will remember the example I used to use at school, the one about the tightrope. If I try to walk along a tightrope that is lying on the ground, I can manage it very well, but if I take the same tightrope and raise it up 300 feet, I can’t do it any more. I have the theoretical, structural ability to do it, but if the existential conditions change, I can’t do it. If you raise it up 300 feet, you need an expert to walk it.
This is an illustration. Christian doctrine has this to say about original sin: structurally, man should be able to do certain things, but existentially he is in a condition–his existential condition–in which he is incapable of pursuing the ideals that are born in his heart, and the ideal impetus decays and slides toward death, right from the start!
If you apply this Christian idea to your own life, it’s striking how well it describes human existence. If you haven’t yet discovered this corruption of your noblest ideals as original impetus (affection for a woman, attention for others, compassion for others, passion for the truth, and the fascination that draws man toward reality, whose immediate form is curiosity, the overwhelming fascination of curiosity), if you haven’t yet discovered in yourself the immediate corruption that these noble feelings undergo (it’s as if they can’t manage to keep afloat, as if they were unable to keep up the standard suggested by the impetus), then you are not yet a man; you are still a child.
Do you remember how many times, during the spiritual exercises, we looked at human experience and asked ourselves: What are the most striking, the most human experiences? The answer was love between man and woman, between parents and children, and passion for politics (in the broader, platonic sense of the term)–the passion of an effective service to society, that it be more expressively human, of more help to man’s journey, to every man’s journey. Then we asked: Are there more impetuous and uncontrollable sources of selfishness and exploitation than these three? Humanly speaking, we would be led to despair, and the more one tries to create a system for correcting this bitter destiny of the noblest things he feels being born inside him, the more he generates a sense of disappointment that in the end makes things worse.
Man’s presumption of saving himself is at the origin of all the despotism, all the terrorism, all the intolerance in society and in family life, in social life and in friendships.
A Christian, who has received the announcement of salvation, has been freed from despair; what he retains is this enlightened sadness filled with hope.
Intervention In Lagerkvist’s Barabbas, when Peter meets him under the portico, he doesn’t recognize him and Barabbas begins to question him. Peter replies, “He is risen from the dead; we are waiting for Him.” Barabbas doesn’t believe him and Peter says, “Some say He is the Son of God. He just might be.”… Barabbas is even more scandalized. Then Peter says, “Some say He is the Son of God. He just might be, but what is important for me is that He come back as He was before.”
I was struck by this. Peter wanted the experience he had had with that man to go on. This is what interested him. For me, the Christian fact is a bit like this. What we are following is an experience of total humanity. And, as you told us once, the sequela is “a critical comparison with the proposal offered.”
Fr Giussani What you have said is true as far as it goes, but only as far as it goes. You have to have reasons, as St Peter said: “Be ready to give reasons for the hope that is in you.” We have to be able to give reasons.
The question, “What is Christianity?” is not just a formal question; it is the question, because one of the gravest dangers is exactly this absence of reasons. It’s not a danger in the sense that it threatens our adherence, because our adherence is to a reality–however little we live it–so rich that, humanly speaking, we realize that we would be worse off leaving it. But it is a danger for our capacity of being a presence, because what challenges society, in time, cannot be anything but a reason, an experience that carries its reasons on its front page.
But the last thing you said leads to what I am saying. The sequela is the critical comparison between the cluster of original needs we have in us and the proposal we are offered. But the critical comparison between the cluster of original needs that are in us and the proposal we are offered implies a work that is not at all easy.
It is not at all easy because, firstly, discovering the original needs that are in us is not something immediate or instinctive. It should be immediate, but it isn’t. Why? Because our brain is completely penetrated by the mindset of society. The dominant culture is our mentality, so our original structure is buried under a sediment of the effects of history and society. We have to break through this sedimentation, we have to crack it open! This takes more than an atom bomb–because poverty of spirit has far more explosive power than an atom bomb!
Secondly, we have to pay honest attention to the proposal offered to us. This is difficult, too, because in the febrile anguish or anxiety of the desire to find an answer to his just feelings, a person creates his own images and formulae, or adheres to what pleases him most immediately (as St Paul has said).
So work is needed. In this sense, it emerges that sequela is the name of the work we have to do. Sequela is the comprehensive term, the all-embracing term for the work, or the term that indicates the whole of the work we have to do.
It is only in the sequela that you discover the new taste of life. Otherwise, you remain complacent; you can be satisfied only by your own opinions. But being bogged down in your own opinions is something bourgeois, which gives a bourgeois satisfaction. A bourgeois satisfaction is short of breath, like asthma; the bourgeois taste of life is like asthma.
Intervention I wanted to say that for me Christianity is the way I have learned to have a passion for everything, even the most everyday things, and to grasp the meaning of everything without being a slave of anything (of the ideas I have, of the opinions I form, or of the partiality that I live). As I listened to what you were saying, I understood that the sequela is the way to do this.
Fr Giussani What you said brings out a consequence. It is a corollary of what Christianity is. It can also be a diagnostic criterion, a heuristic criterion.
Intervention I realized now, when I heard your question, that in fact it is anything but formal, and the answer to it puts me in difficulty.
I would make this comparison: If you ask me what life is, I would immediately have the same difficulty, and I would answer that life is what I am, what is going ahead.
What is Christianity for me? I cannot imagine myself outside the Christian fact. Christianity is the fact that Someone has truly taken hold of me, made Himself present in my life, for whom my life was able to begin to be life, can be life.
Now, this Presence in my existence, thanks to which I no longer live in terms of solitude, and therefore ultimately in terms of death, has a great connotation: this Presence constitutes itself as a judgment in my life. I don’t know if I am able to render the aforementioned word, truth, according to its existential value, but the greatest desire of my humanity is to rediscover, to recognize what the truth is, what direction my existence has taken, that for which it is worth living, moving myself.
Now, this Person, who has become present in my life, is what judges my existence. He is the source…
Fr Giussani Listen, your intervention still points to a possible consequence of what Christianity is. Christianity is something that has provoked this in you and, in provoking this phenomenon in you, has become a judgment on your life. But this is a consequence. We are trying to find out what Christianity “is.”
InterventionThinking over these last months, I would like to say what the Christian experience is. I would say that it is a way of preventing life….
Fr Giussani No, sorry. Perhaps the question is ambiguous. We are asking ourselves what Christianity is! So, we have to find an answer that would be valid for me even if I were an atheist. Do you get it? Even though I wouldn’t accept it, the answer has to be valid for me. Do you see?
What is Christianity? What is it?
Intervention Recognizing His presence in life, in things, in the facts that happen; recognizing the presence of an Other.
Fr Giussani So, Christianity is an eminently subjective phenomenon. Subjective, meaning, you are the one who recognizes a presence. Like that time when Fr Franzoni went to Busto Arsizio to talk about divorce, and a little old lady contested what he said. First he talked about the question, “What is a Christian?” and he said that a Christian is someone who wants justice for the poor, then, “What is a Marxist?” and he said that a Marxist is someone who wants justice for the poor. Then he concluded that today a Marxist is a Christian. An old lady put up her hand and said, “So what is the difference?” And Franzoni, rather taken aback, answered, “Well, a Christian sees Christ in the poor; a Marxist doesn’t.” At that point a friend of ours put his hand up and said, “So a Christian is someone who has visions!”
Look, please, I am not arguing for the sake of arguing. All your answers are quite correct, but I’d like us to understand the question better. According to what our friend just said, Christianity is a subjective fact, the perception of a real presence among us. Do you see?
Intervention I would answer this: Christianity is the objective, living fact of the Church, which has become reasonable, meaningful and full of promise of life for me in the historical encounters that are the Movement. It is the proposal of the Church, just as it has reached us, in its gestures, in its life, in its truth, which has become evident to my humanity in these encounters, because if I had not encountered people, that objective reality would not have been there for me, it would not have had any meaning for me, and would not have been full of hope for me.
Intervention I find it almost impossible to say what Christianity is, if not as someone involved in it. I am unable to distinguish the awareness of what Christianity is from the sequela. This leads me to say that my intelligence is able to lean toward something that doesn’t give evidence of its measure, but is like the first criterion from which to set off. The essence of Christianity is recognizing that God is an historical fact; in other words, that the meaning, the wholeness that I desire, that each one of us desires, is an historical fact.
Intervention But this is faith.
Fr Giussani Certainly, this is faith. I agree with him. But we have to answer the question, “What is Christianity?” I agree totally. Only in the sequela can we understand what Christianity is. But the point is that the question we put is a test on how we follow the Movement. Do you understand me? This was the connection.
Clearly the difficulty we have in answering this question indicates that longa enim tibi restat via: you’ve still got a long way to go on your journey in the Movement, because if the Movement is the instrument for adhering, for entering into Christianity… We have already said that the Movement is the instrument for entering into Christianity, because what interests us is that–not the Movement as such.
So, if the Movement is this instrument for entering into Christianity, then the question, “What is Christianity?”–which seems ridiculous and leaves us a little perplexed at the start, because it seems to be something obvious (and it’s not something obvious, as we are discovering)–is essential. It means that the life of the Movement has to be lived with an even greater intelligence and faithfulness. So, let’s get on with it!
Intervention I’d like to start off from the question asked before. When does someone begin to ask what Christianity is for him? I asked myself this when I met a person who, at a certain point of my life, challenged me in this way and proposed a hypothesis for my life. He told me that Christ could be a total answer to life. This hit me, even though the Church and what it was saying didn’t seem to be exactly what answers to life. As I spent time with him and with others who were living this experience with him, I tried to see if this hypothesis worked. Belonging to this companionship, trying to understand how Christ was in the experience of people who live in the name of Christ, trying to verify the hypothesis that Christ is the answer to the whole of life, I began to understand what Christianity is, because this is Christianity. In other words, if I speak of this kind of thing to a companion or a person we meet at university, if I say, “Listen, I have experienced something because, at a certain point in my life, someone told me, ‘Maybe Christ is the answer you are looking for, the hypothesis that can make you happy in life.’”
Fr Giussani This indicates the way in which someone comes to Christianity!
Sorry, but we can’t pass from one answer to the next without criticism, without a critical awareness. I left the earlier intervention on the Church suspended, and I did it purposely. We’ll take it up again later. What he has just said is a documentation of what was said before, quite rightly, that you understand in the sequela, through an encounter.
If you had been serious about the Community School this year, Traces of Christian Experience (you should keep reading it until you know it by heart), which is a documentation on this, you would understand this point more.
Intervention I think Christianity is given by people who recognize that…
Fr Giussani … So Christianity is the believers. This is still subjective. In any case, the objectivity would be purely sociological and statistical. It would be no more than sociology and statistics, if Christianity were the believers.
Intervention I think that Christianity is the fact of Jesus Christ who came on this earth, and I see this in you; I see it and recognize it for the fact that my life is changing, not only inter nos, humanly, but is changing even in the choices we make.
Fr Giussani Okay, these are the consequences. You say, “Christianity is the person of Jesus Christ come down to earth, whom I see in you, and this changes me.” Is that it? Let’s leave this answer suspended, too.
Intervention The first reflection that comes to mind before such a dramatic question as this is that it is certainly not to be taken for granted.
Fr Giussani It’s dramatic to pose the question. It’s a dramatic question! Because, it would be simple as a question, like asking yourself what this is or what that is. Questions are simple in themselves; it’s asking the questions that is dramatic. Asking this question is dramatic, not the question in itself. Do you see? Because it’s easily taken for granted.
Listen you guys, the problem of the Movement is that almost 100% (apart from 0.1%) of what the Movement is, is taken for granted. So, in all the relationships and connections, in all the objects proper to the activities the Movement provokes or that are done in the Movement, the true object of the Movement escapes; it is taken for granted. So, all the activities are perceived, received and carried out “out of phase”–and the lesser evil that this produces is that it takes ten years instead of one day to get a certain result.
Intervention The first reply that comes to me is that Christianity is a fact that stands before me. In other words, after two thousand years, that Man who died and rose again, who has the power to assimilate me to Himself in Baptism, and therefore saves me and frees me, is a fact other than me, but a fact that concerns me totally. And I would like to say that I feel how dramatic it is to answer this question because I don’t take at all for granted what I have been hearing you say for over a year: that if this fact is not a human presence then it is something abstract and theoretical.
Fr Giussani A consequent development, a consequence of the answer.
Intervention As I see it, Christianity is a new way of living the things of this world.
Fr Giussani An ethic.
Intervention No, this new way…
Fr Giussani A new way of living, meaning a new behavior.
Intervention As a result, yes.
Fr Giussani Just as I said!
Intervention For me, Christianity is a journey toward the reality of things…
Fr Giussani A journey toward the reality of things…
Intervention …toward reality and toward the truth of things, and this is the value of my life.
Fr Giussani A method; it’s a method for approaching reality.
Intervention And to get to know it.
Fr Giussani It’s a method for approaching, getting to know reality and using it.
Intervention And for living.
Fr Giussani A wisdom, like there is Buddhist wisdom, like there is…
Intervention No, not only a wisdom. Something that is adequate to what I am.
Fr Giussani A wisdom adequate to your measure.
Intervention There is an aspect for which the definitions given up to now seem to me to be inadequate, because we still need to see what I am. Christianity, it seems to me, is a presence, and a presence means the presence of something other than just me and my desire and my humanity that is fulfilled. It is the presence of the condition for which my humanity comes into being. My humanity is humanity not abstractly, but in this relationship with this presence.
Fr Giussani The condition, in any case, a condition for being human.
Intervention Or, rather, the condition that enables me to recognize, to recover my humanity. For example, the encounter I had with the Movement was not only the answer to my desire for humanity, it was a challenge to my capacity to grasp my desire; something that forced me to break out of a restriction.
Fr Giussani In any case, the category of the answer is the category of an experience, but of an experience that is adequate, unlike other experiences.
InterventionThere is an aspect for which the word experience seems to be insufficient to explain the reality of the fact, because it is a mystery; it is an experience that is rooted in something that is not only an experience.
Intervention I think that Christianity is the event of God who became a man, and this man said He was God and chose…
Fr Giussani That’s enough. It’s enough, we’ve got there! Only this is Christianity! Christianity is this; it’s a fact! A fact. If I were to punch him in the face and break his glasses, that I have broken his glasses is a fact. In the same way, a man said He was God. God became man, and this is why this man said, “I am God.”
The essential category of an answer to the question, “What is Christianity?” is that of a fact; a fact like the existence of Moscow, or the fact that he is a priest; he has been ordained priest–it’s a fact.
It’s a fact. Look, it’s not a question of taste, of intellectual clarity, or putting things in place. It is a condition, it’s the fundamental condition for every Christian thought and every Christian action. The category of “fact” becomes the fundamental category for the Christian journey.
So what is Christianity? It is a man who said He was God; in other words, a man who said, “I am the salvation of you life. I am the meaning of your life.”
The word “experience” and all the rest are consequences of this, do you see? What is Christianity? It is this.
Since I’ve got the answer that I think is exact, I’ll stop here and I don’t want to go back, unless there is some objection, some outstanding question.
Intervention This is the elementary faith of our fathers; my father and my mother taught me this first of all, whereas we see, we look and develop…
Fr Giussani Yes. In other words, this is the danger for us, it’s a really pathetic attitude we have. We are not able to build on this (like all our answers, do you see?), taking for granted, as if we were already aware of what we are building on. Instead, what happens is that we build while leaving behind the cornerstone we need to build on. This is why our thoughts are a little crooked, and this is why our approach to things is always rather ambiguous.
I left the answer about the Church suspended, because the category of “Church” belongs to the fact. But, now, let’s go back to it, and try to come up with an answer.
The word “Church” points to a fact. What category is the Church? In what category must we include the Church? It is a fact! It is an historical fact of a gathering of people who say, “We are Christ”–that is to say, the body of Christ. So the Church must be added as a Nota Bene to the answer, “Christianity is the fact, the event, so much an event… an event happens in a certain place, in a certain moment of time.” Do you follow? It is made of time and space.
The answer to the question, “What is Christianity?” is a piece of time and space, this piece of time and space and this being, born of a girl in that place in Palestine, conceived in that faraway town of Palestine, born in that other faraway village that was Bethlehem. Christianity is this event! Only that this time and space are prolonged. My name and surname are those of a being born in a particular place and time, only it goes on, and from 1922 it has gone on up to 1978. Do you follow?
Instead of lasting from 1922 until 1978, this event has gone on for 2,000 years up to now, and is destined to last to the end of history. How and when I don’t know. It could grow bigger or it could be reduced to twelve people (as Solov’ev imagined at the end of history, with the last Pope, Peter II). This isn’t important; this is the mystery of God. But that event is an event that goes on, like a bang that begins and grows, like a clap of thunder that grows louder, and instead of getting smaller and disappearing, as thunderclaps do, it began and keeps growing. It goes on. This going on is called Church, whereas the period 1922-1978 is called a human life, my human life. It is called Church, the life of Christ. After all, St Paul used the expression, “realizing the maturity of Christ.” The Church realizes the maturity of Christ, so it is precisely the life of Christ Himself.
So it is an event, the event of a man who said, “I am God and I will go on in history in the visible reality of the people who will adhere to me and be united among themselves,” the Church. It is a fact! You can believe in it or not, but it is a fact!
From humanism onwards, Christianity has tended to be reduced to wisdom (the best way to live, the most excellent human philosophy), up to today, or to a morality (the best way to love our fellow men, the prophecy of humanity). It has been reduced like this, and reason will always try to do this, because otherwise Christianity will dominate wisdom. If, instead, reason can reduce Christianity, then it can prevail; reason will judge Christianity. Instead, Christianity is a fact. You can be angry because it’s there, because it has happened; you can blaspheme, you can skin yourself alive hysterically because you don’t want it to be, but factum infectum fieri nequit: you cannot make a fact not a fact.
It is a fact that holds an element of challenge for the future, because tomorrow is not yet here, and this fact, which has reached us over two thousand years, and in which we, too, are implicated, says, “Look, after 34,000 years, I’ll still be here, and after another 3,400,000 years I’ll still be here.”
But it is a fact! Christianity is a fact! That is why our faith, our being Christians, is first and foremost a fact that you cannot get rid of, try as you might, because it is Baptism that took hold of you; it’s a gesture that took hold of you and drew you into the fact, and you cannot get out of it.
I keep on insisting on this point because nothing like this can give our life the power of certainty, the energy of what is certain. It simplifies everything! It doesn’t depend on your mood, on what you have felt or haven’t felt, on your opinion, on what is clear or unclear for you. Christianity is a fact that has this as its content: the appearance of a fact, the form of a fact is a Man who has spread through history by assimilating to Himself the people He takes hold of, and the content of this is that this is the presence of man’s salvation to man, of the meaning of history, the presence of the meaning of history, of man with all his various connections, because history is made of me with all my connections, with everything connected with me. History is this; without me there would be no history.
Now we can understand the two most important riders to this answer, the two fundamental corollaries. The first is that if you don’t come across a Christian or a Christian reality that tells you this, if you don’t meet up with a prophetic moment (prophetic means a person or a reality that tells you this; prophecy is proclamation), if you don’t come across a person or a reality that tells you this, then it’s as if for you it didn’t exist. This is the phenomenon of encounter. The phenomenon of encounter is, for our being Christians, like Pentecost was for the relationship with Christ that the Apostles had, because if Pentecost had not happened, they would have remained a bunch of fools, with this great but useless tragic memory inside them. So the encounter is the spirit of that man, or of this fact, that communicates itself to you; the encounter is the spirit of that fact that communicates itself to you. And the spirit of that fact communicates itself through something quite ordinary, tongues of fire, a fire, a thunderclap, like the fleeting ordinariness of any man whatever, of any group whatever.
I once went to Brescia to speak about “Communion and Liberation and Our Lady” at the National Marian Convention. As I arrived, Fr Maggioni (who is one of the few who talk seriously) was saying, in a discussion with another priest (he had given the Biblical lecture), that the crime of the Church today, the great shortcoming of the Church today, is that there is an ecclesiastic structure without the event. The encounter is that fact which becomes an event for life. Because, he said, without the event, that fact is as if non-existent (as I just said).
Think of the breathtaking importance that the ordinariness of an encounter takes up! Think of how we need to adore the presence of things so ephemeral as the names and the faces we have encountered, or as our groups, our community! Think of the eternal value these “stupid” things have.
The encounter is the first corollary. If it is a fact, then this fact is noticed, innotescit; you become aware of it through an encounter. This is Pentecost–in other words, the fact becomes an event for you, in your life. The historical event becomes event for you through an encounter.
Second corollary: Since the Christian fact is a man or a reality, a human presence (a human presence!) that claims to be the meaning of your life and the meaning of history–of your life, with all its relationships (remember that my life and the cosmos are the same thing, because the cosmos and history are my life with all its relationships, so they are my real life); since the content of this fact is the presence of a man, a human reality that says, “I am the meaning of history, of the cosmos, and therefore your meaning; I am the meaning of your existence and the existence of all things,” this fact is destiny made present; it is destiny that has become a presence, the presence of destiny, of my destiny and of your destiny, everyone’s destiny, and I recognize it through an encounter… Listen, what is the most important thing in your life? Your destiny. What is the most important thing in my life? My destiny. If my destiny and your destiny are the same thing, then we are living the same thing. This is communion, unity among men. What is impossible, here becomes so real that it becomes the moral law. The only moral law is unity, or charity. Thus, in communion, that fact becomes the new face of humanity, of society and of history.
Now, what I have described is the Movement. The Movement is only these things, and nothing else.
I don’t know if in Rome, in Pescara, in Bologna, and so on, we have lived the Movement with the awareness of these things. All I want to say is that the growing awareness of these things is the attraction, the only attraction of the invitation we’ve received. And it’s our only strength, in the face of anyone and anything, even were we to remain alone.
“This is the victory that conquers the world: our faith.” So, what conquers the world is the meaning of the world.
So the question we have substituted for the one we had this morning was only a switch in terminology, because the answer to “What is Christianity?” is the answer to “What is the Movement?” Actually, the question was, “How is the Movement going?” but, now, I believe we have the criteria for deciding how we are to go on.
I don’t know if you heard that piece of Jeremiah the other day, the reading for the martyrdom of St John the Baptist, when the Lord told Jeremiah, “I will make your face like a wall of bronze before them. They will attack you, but they will not prevail.” The wall of bronze is the “hard face” against any kind of assault, against the assault of what is different–in other words, against the assault of what is not the meaning–because what is different from this is what is not; it is falsehood. “The world is set in falsehood.” Because the world is not the pretty stars, the pretty face of a woman, the children who are growing… The question is the meaning with which a man lives his relationship with his wife, with the stars, and with his children. Because man is the animal who approaches everything (even himself) through the interpretation of a meaning.
So what is not this is falsehood! What gives us a “wall of bronze” against what is different is faith–that is, the acknowledgment of this Presence that has become event in our conscious life (and here is where our maturity began) through an encounter, and lives in my life only in as much as it is joined with yours, in other words in communion. This is true in my life, in as much as it is joined with yours, and not because I get together with you once a day to say morning prayer or see you 44 times a day because I hold 44 meetings, as it would still be the case if I were to be alone in America for 6 months! Your relationship with money, with time, with work, with your girl, with strangers… is with you; it is felt, conceived, approached and lived in the awareness of my belonging.
It has to do with everything I do. Why do people go to work? To earn their living or, in exceptional cases, out of interest in science or technology. Why do people marry? People marry because… they marry. And why do they have children? Because... because... they just do. And why do people eat? In order to live. Okay. All these answers have to be broken apart and replaced, or rather something else has to be born inside. The phenomenon is called transfiguration, in the Christian sense.
We do all this to build up the witness to Christ in the world, in other words, to build up unity, communion. Or, as the psalm said this morning, “Lord, I love the house where You dwell, the place where Your glory abides.” All we want is to build this.
It is through what we do that we build, because nothing is marginalized or censured. This is why we live the concept of transfiguration, because we are overwhelmed by “something else,” so that “whoever has a wife lives as if he did not, whoever has possessions, as if he had nothing, and whoever uses things lives as if he didn’t use them” because what is seen at first glance is not the true face of things. It is like another world.
To conclude, at least for the time being, what you experience is really like a new humanity.
So, the concept of experience and all the rest you have said is correct, because all the interventions had something correct. It is the experience of a new humanity, something just beginning, if you like, but justice, what all mankind hopes for, is this humanity that is beginning to dawn in us; justice is the final outcome.
This is not just one more thing alongside the problem of social justice. It invests the problem of social justice, too, and transforms, or transfigures its terms. It doesn’t marginalize or censure anything.
So then, how have our communities lived the Movement this year?