In Faith, Man and People

We publish here a passage from Fr. Giussani’s book, Dall’utopia alla presenza (1975-1978) [From Utopia to Presence (1975-1978)], the first of a new series entitled “L’Equipe.” In it are collected Fr. Giussani’s lessons and discussions with the responsibles of Communion and Liberation at the universities (CLU). It was presented at the end of the Rimini Meeting, on August 26, 2006.

In October 1975, Fr. Giussani intervened at the CLU Equipe (CL university responsibles meeting) for the first time. The following year, there were two Equipe meetings, one in Florence, in February, and then again in Rimini, in May. The proposal of “basic communion” had certainly struck the university students and was deliberated in both the meetings, but it was hard to understand what it meant, for the person and for the community, even after examining the dimensions of Christian experience and a whole series of words linked with it (education, gratuitousness, responsibility, etc.). They were aware of the urgent need to look again at the “presence” in the university environment and the “shape” of the community, to prevent a kind of “flight from the university” toward outside environments, since this was becoming a widespread phenomenon. All the same, the attention ended up focusing more on the organizational and cultural (and even political) consequences (elections for student representatives on the academic committees had been held in January), and this had shown how difficult it was to change the existing way of conceiving and living life at the university.

Fr. Giussani did not take part in the Equipe in Florence, but he attended the one in Rimini and followed the work the whole afternoon, which was dedicated to cultural and political commitment in the university. He sat discretely at the back of the room. After a pause, before the conclusion, he asked to speak in order to give his reactions to what he had heard

It would be interesting for each of you to answer this question, because I think all problems arise from this: “What is faith?”

I think the answer to this is not clear, and if the answer is not clear then how can the method, that is to say, the journey, life, become creative? For only a mature subject, aware of itself, is creative.

Now, what is CL’s role in the life of the Church and Italian society today if not to recall the faith? There is no longer anyone who recalls the contents of faith; this is why everyone gets excited but no one is able to find his own subject, his own face, his own identity. If clarity is lacking, then what is a function and a tool of self-awareness tends to substitute for what is not there.

So what is faith? You understand what faith is if you put yourselves in the shoes of the first disciples, Andrew and John, who followed Jesus and asked Him, “Master, where do You live?” (Jn 1:38). What was faith for them before that man? It was recognizing the presence of God. They would not dare to even think it; they weren’t clear about it, but they recognized in that man a presence that was liberating, a saving presence.

The faith that defines our identity and makes us active–and therefore creative–subjects, is becoming aware of this presence among us, which is our unity, our being a people. My adequate identity is the unity amongst us as a people; awareness of this would immediately do away completely with the serious difficulties caused by the consideration of our subject understood individualistically, as opposed to the life of the community, difficulties that I believe dissipate an enormous amount of energy. The true relationship with an adult, that is to say, with the authority of CLU, is the relationship with the history as it is guided along. For all other relationships risk degrading into personal relationships that tend to be intimistic (these can be saved only by an exceptional clarity and objectivity of a mature person, and this in any case happens only in exceptional cases).

What saves us is objective; what makes adults of us is objective. Faith is recognizing the presence of life’s liberation, the salvation of everything. This is what sparks off that joyful and fresh certitude that we are lacking. This is what conquers the world, and this is what we don’t have–faith. It is your faith that recognizes this presence that redeems and frees you–and the world, at the same time. Two thousand years ago, this presence had the face of that Man, and now it has the face of our unity, of the people that is his Body. Our true, adequate identity is this Body, it is in the unity with this Body.

It is as if we had not yet crossed the threshold of the Event from which our name comes. It is as if it were not a reality, but only an ideological name, an ideological hint that implies, in alternating phases, a kind of culturality and a kind of morality.

The characteristic of a man who feels himself freed, saved, and therefore new, is that he gets involved in history, creating something in gladness and joy.

The second thing to keep in mind is that a person “up in the air” does not exist. What exists is an incarnate reality; there can be no identity unless it is in a concrete situation. The problem is not the unity with CLE (Communion and Liberation–Educators), with CLU, or with various levels of the Movement; the problem is this self-awareness of the novelty that we are, and that lives in a concrete situation. So we could even be poorly represented in the university (in courses and on faculty councils), but all the same thrilled with the novelty we are carrying.

Once the university is behind us, it is this thrill that we have to take out into the life of the Church, into civil, social and political life.

Then, political commitment is approached as cultural work, because we are aware of what it means to work for a cultural need. It is a question of the awareness of a people that grows deeper and deeper, in contact with the events, the clarity that we carry within us the answer to the crisis.

Our position in cultural commitment is that of a people that deepens its awareness of carrying within itself the principle that can resolve the crisis for everyone. We bring salvation. “The Lord is my salvation, with Him I am no longer afraid, because I have certainty in my heart; my salvation is here with me” (cf. the song by A. Marani, “Cantico dei redenti,” in Canti, Cooperativa Editoriale Nuovo Mondo, Milano, 2002, p. 186). This phrase is not the emblem of the aesthetic and moralistically superficial reduction with which we live. No, this phrase defines the kind of awareness I have of myself. This identity does not exist abstractly, but incarnate in the various concrete situations, like politics and the university. There can be no position that tackles these problems from outside; they constitute me; they are my “I.”

I wanted to recall in these terms what faith is–the answer to that entreaty that is the keystone for everything. It is recognizing the presence that frees us and the world. We often go to bring the Christian announcement to the whole of Italy and we ourselves don’t feel it existentially; existentiality is lacking in our acceptance of this answer. The Christian Fact is the announcement that a new presence has arrived; God has become a presence; a Man who is Liberation has entered into history. When we get involved with Him, we are freed as history.

Without this, nothing is history, but just a lie made of an endless number of bricks, good in themselves, but like this they are lost.

My identity is in belonging to this people. The person who made this statement was one of us. He joined the Movement in 1969 because of a group of friends who all went on to leave in that same year. Then I perceived the objectivity of the fact of the people of God, of the unity that was independent of the group of friends who had brought him to join CL. His identity was in belonging to the people. We have to pray to the Holy Spirit for this self-awareness.

This identity has the awareness of self and of belonging to a people. This is all we have to ask for, because here begins the maturity that enables us to be creative. This awareness is what is urgently needed not only for the Movement in the university but for all of us. Many adults no longer understand this. Many of them are very good, but they haven’t understood the change of awareness implied in the Christian fact. They understand it when they are fifty or sixty years old, confusedly, when the word “unity” is no longer obstructed by opinions, because by that time they have nothing before them in life. Then they fall with poverty of spirit into unity as mystery, but without understanding what it is.

Anyway, in the situation in which we are incarnate, with an authentic maturity we can even have no particular competence, but all the same “we shall overcome.” No one can judge what the other person is now on the basis of what he can achieve now, because what is at stake here is a history and history is the production of meaning for the subject in the temporal reality, that is to say, the living meaning that is communicated. My living meaning is the unity I have with you, the Mystery that is among us. Otherwise, I am a useless twig fallen from a tree. The people of God with its history is really an experience of freedom, of consistence of my own person, irrespective of what we are able to do and say, because our whole consistence is this Presence whose face is the people of God–the unity among believers that tends to become a body present in the situation (in the university, in the Movement, or in the Church as a whole).