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).

Giussani and Testori Conversation

Father Giussani: If abstraction is to blame, then it is only the concrete that can threaten the supremacy of abstraction. The concrete is a presence that is different. A different presence expresses itself in words; in words, however, that show a glimpse of continuity. Not words that “define,” in the way this world “defines everything,” that is to say puts everything in the grave, turns everything to a dead body. They must, therefore, be words that express a lively content, namely a presence.  I am not able to find another indicator of hope than the fact that these persons who are a presence get multiplied. It is an inevitable sympathy or, and now I am about to say a brutal thing, a new “unionism” between these persons, just as it is expressed in the term we often use: recognition. Beyond this, the path is poor and the human is banished. It is as if the beggars of a city would have to fight the power that commands the city. We must have the courage to face the truth of ourselves; the little courage to face the truth of ourselves. That is to say: the awareness that the reason for despair is a lie, a lie that we can defeat inside ourselves; and we cannot pretend that this lie is defeated by society, by an armed force or an army of conscientious objectors. No, this lie must at the very root be defeated in us and it can be defeated inside ourselves. It starts only from this rebirth of us. And if I say: “Look here: if you killed yourself, you would not resolve anything, because you remain; you don’t avoid a tomorrow; you cannot avoid the destiny; destiny goes beyond you. And, in fact, first you didn’t exist and then you were born; you exist within a bigger thing, bigger than what hurts you, haunts you and makes you arid.  What constitutes you, your destiny, has a capacity of resurrection in you, provided that you want it, provided that you accept it.” In this sense I say to all these people that the first thing to do is what seems to be more distant: prayer. I always quote Nameless (Innominato, a figure in Dante’s Divine Comedy): “God, if you are there, show yourself to me.” For this is the point.  And this does not only matter to those in despair, but to anyone. This is what I say to all the kids.

Testori: You could also suggest that a way to say “if you are there, show yourself to me” is hate oneself a little bit less, I mean as creatures of God; to love oneself a little bit more. That man loves himself more, not inasmuch as unrelated being, but as creature of God, that is to say a man who is related, wanted and therefore eternal.

Father Giussani: Sure.

Testori: “Love yourself more, because in loving yourself more you will recognize that you have been wanted out of love.” Maybe the love that wanted us impels us to love one self like being on a volcano crater, like standing on a cliff.

Father Giussani: Sure, the problem is right here; and moreover, how to arrive there. When finally someone has arrived at this fruit, he can start eating again. 

Testori: “Esteem yourself higher than to what they have reduced you. You are greater, more important and un-eliminable.”

Father Giussani: Or as a little manifesto of university students declared: “Life is greater.” That’s what I meant. 

Testori: Every man shares in this greatness. The biggest greatness of life is therefore the biggest greatness of man. You cannot separate both these greatnesses; the one makes the other bigger.

Father Giussani: Yes, but life does not exist, if you yourself are life. For me the important thing is to reawaken the evidence that our own life is not born from itself, it does not have itself as destiny, but it belongs to something bigger, and it is this bigger thing that constitutes us. 

Testori: And this cannot be separated from your life, it is the crucial core of your life. 

Father Giussani: Something bigger constitutes us. That is to say, the discovery of the paradox that I am Another. I cannot say “I” unless I say “you”, unless I say “you who make me.” And I affirm this when I try to explain what is prayer. As regards to the opening of this new aspect of our dialogue I wanted to answer that the lie dominates the world, as Jesus has said: “The whole world is subdued to the lie”, and nowadays the lie has become completely paroxysmal because the concreteness of life has been erased; but the place where the lie operates is the person. In fact, you kill yourself or you live as a dead, accepting to be dead; and this is the real suicide. Therefore, it is once again in the person that the recovery, the rebirth, the revolution takes place. Nevertheless, how does this recovery happen at the present time? This is the thing we have to deal with. Externally, the only answer is that one has an encounter with a presence that is different; that one bumps into a different presence; and this presence, then, can act as a reagent, as a catalyst of energies that up till now were absconding.

Testori: The sense of birth should be reawakened. 

Father Giussani: Exactly. The reawakening of memory happens in company with somebody, who already lives this memory. There are no other solutions. We must multiply these presences. The Bible says: “To every man God has given responsibility for his brother:” someone who has faith, even if only implicitly, will certainly preserve confidence in the human; therefore he must take care of the people that surround him and must become a presence for anyone who is close to him; and, most of all, he must do so for husband, wife, sons, school mates, friends in university and at work. But if this is verified, it is impossible that these persons don’t recognize each other and don’t live a life of solidarity among them; that they don’t feel a “unionist” need, as I mentioned before, arising among them. From the multiplication of these atoms a movement arises. And then a movement challenges the mechanism of power. The kind of growing aridity, the kind of nihilist complex generated by society, in which nowadays society makes people grow up, this nihilist complex makes the recovery of the awareness of responsibility almost impossible, even in the one who preserves the faith, who preserves the natural faith in the value of life; and therefore it makes the birth of the movement almost impossible. Nevertheless, I think that this is the fundamental aspect of a counterattack in today’s society. That the truth, which has as its home my person, my “I”, starts to breathe again and really has the courage of its being, of its existence; starts to be aware of itself again. 

Testori: And starts to be aware of the necessity to communicate … 

Don Giussani: …of the human strength he has, the responsibility to infect creation in relation to others.  Thus the need for the person’s recovering awareness does not to refuse solidarity with others who have the same fortune, the same grace; that is to say, not to refuse the feeling that one is part of the Divine movement in the world. 

Testori:  If he refuses it wouldn’t this mean that he’s no longer a part of it?  So that he’s already losing the sense of memory?  In effect, isn’t the impossibility to refuse to recognize others who live within the same memory of the origin, the same memory of birth, in fact part of what memory is? 

Don Giussani:  I agree—and this is so true that it’s precisely the tragedy of Christians.  Today they’re a little bit like wicks that are treated with that memory.  The evidence lies in how they turn out to be incapable of recognizing the unity that exists among them, that is, the communionality that’s immanent to their lives. 

Testori:  And they’re incapable of even recognizing the signs sent by Grace with extraordinary abundance.  For which I think, going back to the point you were making before, of the man who meets another who has already recognized in himself this memory and creates an alliance with him, I mean, I think man can recover the possibility of this memory even in the encounter with nature; so the sign of creation goes on and lights up even there, in nature.

Don Giussani:  A few weeks ago I met a kid who had written me and then told me he only truly felt like a man when he went into nature, in the fields.

Testori:  The encounter with nature, in fact.  Nature being also the seat of memory, that encounter can also happen in it.  A memory that surges up in itself and that we maybe don’t know how to perceive with the intensity it has; a memory in which, nevertheless, man’s memory can see a reflection of itself and recognize.  I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered why, when you spend or pass through certain moments of the day that can happen in the morning, afternoon or evening at night; here, because in those moments you feel with an even more acute subtlety this memory of being created; this presence of being created; to the point of almost feeling a kind of laceration, a wound; in fact, memory, like we said, is also painful.  Did you ever ask yourself why when you find yourself inside a moment that is really miraculous in the life of nature and trembles within it, you feel yourself reawakened like in the sign from God enlarging itself, the sign of creation; and you feel it enlarge itself in a way that is as if a voice superimposed itself on something? Why this, if not for the fact that in those moments the memory of a total unity in which even nature enters, is verified?  I think that this encounter with memory can equally happen even through the signs of culture, through the works man has left throughout history, I mean books, music, art forms.  Even from here a recovery of the signs of beings sons can come, of being wanted.  The range of possibilities is therefore infinite.  Only we Christians usually constrict this, down to the point of not being able to read any of the signs that in that infinite range of possibilities are sent to us by Grace; signs that can be happy or painful; that can be, for example, these lights that are forming right now in the air, there, outside the window; or can be, instead, a sickness.  This is our no longer being open, this way we have of being settled.  In order to defend what, then?  Aridity, here you go.  When instead the Christian must offer himself to the entire abundance of God.  I believe that the abundance of Grace is infinite, above all today.  But we no longer know how to read it for ourselves and thus we no longer know how to open it for others.  When however we think we’ve read it and have it be read by others, it’s almost always with a name, sense and significance that is substitutive, partial, incomplete.  While we can and should also adopt the terms of science, literature, philosophy, and through these go back to the origin of those signs, that is, to the origin of memory; in other words, to birth; and thus grasp the meaning of them, and together with this, allow ourselves to be grasped by it [grace]. 

Don Giussani:  What you’re saying is all good, but I insist that the catalyzation of a human presence is almost inevitable, otherwise there can emerge a sense of dependence in which the precise discovery of the figure isn’t reconstructed.  Without the catalyzation of a human presence, everything is thrown out of focus; as happens in the sense of the individual who comes undone from a sense of panic about reality.  Instead, contact with the documents of man’s history—art, music, literature—certainly delineate a presence.  Only there comes, however it happens and always, the moment in which another person must be there.  I mean simply that the hope I live and that so many others live along with me, is not a gullibility, nor is it a underestimation of the cynicism everybody’s immersed in; but it’s the example of a life that starts to break the ice, that starts to warm a body, a frozen body.  And this must be multiplied, becoming a socially relevant phenomenon, as a mutual recognition, as a mutual companionship; this is the process instituted by Christ.  There were people who, coming in contact with His person, rediscovered their origin, their destiny; they felt themselves to be brothers of one another, companionship to and guidance for each other; because the concept of the Church’s guidance within history means, before lying within the codifying of its principles, in the companionship toward our destiny.  This is the phenomenon that has to happen, without asking for labels and I.D. cards; and it must happen wherever one goes.  From this point of view the Church is admirable, because in spite of the betrayal of clerics and the great forgetting of its sons, there remains the true presence of people in friendly connection as a companionship to destiny; where the richness of the companionship lies in memory; where the companionship becomes a school of memory.  And the place of memory is precisely when one says “I.” 

Testori:  I in You. 

Don Giussani:  The place is when one says “I,’ discovering that this I is an other, that this I is made up of the presence of something other.  St. Augustine says that prayer is theelevation mentis in Deum [raising one’s mind to God], the becoming aware of self to the point of one’s origin.  I in You; because in history we say You’ve become one of us, to make Yourself heard, to make Yourself seen… 

Testori:  To do this in a way that would make me able to say “I.”  And I pronounce it only because You made Yourself a man. 

Don Giussani:  “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Christians have to become this place of memory again. 

Generating Traces

Pages 86-89 from Chapter Three, Generating Traces in the History of the World, New Traces of the Christian Experience, by Fr. Luigi Giussani.



A New People in History
 for the Human Glory of Christ


The companionship of those whom Christ has assimilated to Himself in the church, His Body, lives and reveals itself as a new people, the People of God. First, let us see what the characteristics of a people are, and then how this particular people, the People of God, are revealed in the history of mankind.

The existence of a people requires a bond between persons created by an event that is perceived as decisive for its historical meaning, for their destiny, and for that of the world. An event gives rise to a people by pointing out a stable bond of belonging between persons who were unrelated up to that moment, just as the event of a child completes the beginning of a family. Let us take an example. Imagine two families living in houses built on piles in the middle of a river that periodically swells. The unity between these two families, then five, then ten as generations pass, is a continuous fight for survival, and ultimately for affirming life. The bond that grew between them makes them seek a greater and greater consistency of their life as it was started. The reality that is born is judged to be positive, a good, and this also implies a defence, with all the ingenuity and the operative energy needed, against whoever attacks it. A yeast among them keeps them united, supports their life -- it is the dawn of a people.  

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Lumen Fidei

From Lumen Fidei, the first encyclical of Pope Francis

39. It is impossible to believe on our own. Faith is not simply an individual decision which takes place in the depths of the believer’s heart, nor a completely private relationship between the "I" of the believer and the divine "Thou", between an autonomous subject and God. By its very nature, faith is open to the "We" of the Church; it always takes place within her communion. We are reminded of this by the dialogical format of the creed used in the baptismal liturgy. Our belief is expressed in response to an invitation, to a word which must be heard and which is not my own; it exists as part of a dialogue and cannot be merely a profession originating in an individual. We can respond in the singular — "I believe" — only because we are part of a greater fellowship, only because we also say "We believe". This openness to the ecclesial "We" reflects the openness of God’s own love, which is not only a relationship between the Father and the Son, between an "I" and a "Thou", but is also, in the Spirit, a "We", a communion of persons. Here we see why those who believe are never alone, and why faith tends to spread, as it invites others to share in its joy. Those who receive faith discover that their horizons expand as new and enriching relationships come to life. Tertullian puts this well when he describes the catechumens who, "after the cleansing which gives new birth" are welcomed into the house of their mother and, as part of a new family, pray the Our Father together with their brothers and sisters.