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.