The countryside, in this quiet little hamlet in the lowlands south of
Milan, is wet and misty with rain in the midday sun. Today Mgr
Giussani has spoken non-stop about Being, about the Mystery. “Being
existing here and now, Being as charity.” And yet, not the Being of
philosophers: that too, no doubt. Rather, the Being which is our faces.
A familiar Mystery. Fr Gius, as his friends call him, gave It a name I
did not expect. He did not mention Christ first of all, but Our Lady.
Then, the prophetic statement, uttered with absolute certainty: “I
think that unless the end of the world comes first, sixty or seventy
years from now Jews and Christians can be one.”
Fr Giussani looks thin, he cannot be distracted from the essential,
his rapid-fire speech is like Chopin’s fingers pounding the piano:
man, God, freedom, love, beauty. And the names of persons. This is
enough. He is sure that each of us has a task, “even you who don’t
believe in anything, my friend!,” he would say. Discreet and to the
point: without our work, the hands of Being would have less of a grip
on things. “Don’t you feel that your ‘I’ falls apart when it does not
beg for Being?” he says to me. “Being wants to enlist us, It takes our
mess into its hands, just as a mother listens to her child’s voice,
and communicates Itself to us.” Without this, said by an old man with
eyes as green as shining waters, living would be much less than living.
He repeats, “Without Christ things would crumble into dust, the ‘I’
would get lost. On the contrary…” Good wine, fragrant bread savored
slowly (“After poetry and music, men exercise their taste for beauty
on food and wine” he says unexpectedly). I’ll try to jot down the
quick notes from a personal encounter that was not meant to be an
interview. My readers will forgive me for writing words with small
letters or capital letters in a disorderly fashion: I do not
understand anything about capitalization, but even with a small b
being is everything, and you who read are everything. The word charity
comes up frequently. If it risks rubbing some the wrong way, like
incense smoke, let him think it is similar to love, this is its
Fr Luigi Giussani, almost eighty, is the most widely known Italian
religious personality in the world, well beyond the boundaries of
Communion and Liberation which he founded in 1954. His books are
bestsellers in the States, where CL is now present everywhere. The
Meeting in Rimini, entitled “The feeling of things, the contemplation
of beauty” is under way.
What are you
studying and thinking about, Father Giussani?
I am perceiving more and more vividly that Being is Mystery, a mystery
that exists. Being exists! The tragic situation of man is that he does
not recognize it.”
We realize we exist. And
this is a lot.
If being is Mystery it cannot be recognized unless it is loved. Loved!
What is love? It is detaching completely from ourselves to enter into
a You. Thus we come out of ourselves and let ourselves be caught up in
a whirlpool, from which we begin to understand Being. One would be
unable to know the Being-Mystery, to capture it and adhere to it, if
it did not reveal itself as charity.
Mystery, just like love,
has become a word for barbershop magazines: tasteless pap by now.
I know this very well. But an instinct still endures undestroyed in
people, which makes words regain their density. In order to
communicate what I have just said, an attitude of the soul is needed
that can surprise everyone, whose responsibility can lead people back
to the real point where everything begins.
In a nutshell, if I read
your books rightly, this is experience: without experience we do not
know and do not communicate.
And experience is either experience of love or it is not. After all,
Being is charity. The Mystery that makes us exist, that surrounds us,
that arouses our questions and desires, and that proposes itself on
every side, is Charity. This is how God is borne …
Yet many cannot bear Him
I did not mean this. What I really meant is, God bears Himself because
He is Charity. This is why Being accepts Itself, because it is
Charity. It does not contain death or confrontation: It is charity
both inside and outside Itself, towards everything and everyone. Since
it is Love, it accepts Itself and proposes Itself.
Allow me: this is
incredible. The whole world is ablaze. You know it, you have the
newspaper in your hand, and you say, Mystery surrounds us and is
charity, which is the biblical term for love, if I am not mistaken.
Precisely. Man must recognize and imitate this mystery. This is the
dramatic point of our time. This is what the Taliban, the Islamic
fundamentalists, will never understand: the identification between the
perception of Being and Love. This is the difference, and it is the
great match that will decide the future one way or the other. I am
moved knowing that in Kazakhstan, a few kilometers away from the
Afghan war, there are Christian presences of friends of mine who
recognize this Mystery-charity. This is sought more among the poor,
whatever their denomination whether by tradition or choice, than among
those who feel they have comprehended and fathomed the Mystery for
good, whether they are Catholic or not.
You are tough on the
leaders of Christendom.
The Pope is moving in his clear-cut perception of today’s tragedy and
in the trembling and indomitable heart with which he points out the
task. I am struck by the absolute purity of his presence in the world.
It suffices to have seen him at Toronto or in Mexico in front of the
Virgin of Guadalupe. I had the joy of telling him, on the very day of
World Youth Day, that 108 young people belonging to 22 nations had
that day dedicated themselves to Christ in virginity with Memores
Domini (an association of Pontifical Right born out of CL and led by
Father Giussani - ed.) But who listens to him? They don’t listen to
him… bishops and priests too. Even heads of communities do not
understand these things: they are not ready to break their conformism
and open breaches towards the future: they are not waiting for
fullness. There is no expectation. This applies to CL and outside it,
inside the Church and outside the Church. The issue is simple: what
exists, the mystery that is, the reality of Being, can be accepted
only by virtue of an experience whereby one has become God’s object.
You are caught up in a whirlpool that is happening now, that has a
history, but history is always starting again hic et nunc, otherwise
it is not history, and there is no history. From this a civilization
is born, otherwise we are swept away.
But this hic et nunc,
the here and now, is not perceived?
A correct, clear-cut discourse is handed down, some rules on how to be
Christian and persons. But without love, without the recognition of
the vivifying mystery, the individual fades away and dies. Our hope,
Christ’s salvation, cannot be something we have read and can repeat
well. A discourse more or less edifying and moralistic: this is what
the announcement is often reduced to. We should be on fire… On the
contrary, we let the world drown without a shepherd. This is not
understood: what is truly useful is what strikes the people and makes
the people feel exalted. That is, unity as the visible sign of the
Mystery-Charity. This mystery has struck and is striking hic et nunc (here,
now!) a people which at times no longer has leaders who realize it…
Otherwise they would come running, driven by the desire to show and
demonstrate Christ’s salvation.
Thus it is not only an
inability to communicate?
There is no longer the faith that becomes the principle for
interpreting things. And even outside the Christian community, the
essence of the human religious journey is no longer perceived. We have
reached the absurd point where one is authorized to speak of Israel
only if he takes for granted that this people, which remains chosen,
can no longer gather together with Christians. But this is the people
of the wait… The sharper-minded Jews know it: a message reached me
from the rabbi of New York calling Communion and Liberation “the
remnant of Israel”. I believe that unless the end of the world comes
first, sixty or seventy years from now Christians and Jews can be one.
This is unheard-of.
This is right where the problem lies: it is as if people did not
expect anything more. Here I glimpse the task of Christians: they have
to perceive this Mystery-charity. I would like them to be consoled and
animated by the participation of the Pope’s presence in today’s
history: we should simply obey and catch on fire, be caught up in a
whirlpool, but instead… The exaltation of the individual, the victory
of the Mystery, the glory of Christ in the face of what happens has
not yet been communicated. But this happens only if there is this
experience. This is why I want to bring everyone back to this
recognition: Being is Mystery. How can we affirm this? Because we
recognize that it is there! It is there! The Mystery is there! How can
we say this? Mystery can be imitated, that’s how. By imitating Love in
its self-dominion, in Its dedication. Finding the way to say it, to
let these things be for us the way our ‘I’ is upset and finds peace.
The point where mystery is recomposed is the voice of a child, his
relationship with his mother, the relationship with the mystery that
communicates itself to us.
You are saying only one
I always go back to it, and you get the impression that I repeat
myself: but it is reality, it is everything. Man’s situation before
Being is dramatic. One accepts only what he has experienced. But if it
is not lived as an experience of love, one ends up anchored to a
tragic vision, to communicating the cross without this being vivifying.
One ends up communicating Christ and what derives from Him as a
discourse that is clear-cut, but not sanctifying, because it is
loveless, and without being caught up in the whirlpool of the
Mystery-charity, in the end one is sterile. Without Christ there is
nothing sure, we would be in absolute uncertainty. With Him, instead,
the individual is exalted. This is why I want to bring everything back
to this: Being is Mystery. The Mystery exists .For our part, we can
only imitate the Mystery. I am talking of Being as an affirmation of
positivity, of the positiveness of life: He is charity.
The Catechism said to do
works of charity.
But a person cannot save himself, through his resolutions, because it
is an Other who saves him and the world through a new thing that He
has caused to be born in history. Being! Everything comes out of
Yet we forget, we
place our hope in morality, and then betray even that.
Without Christ one feels lost in himself, incapable of focusing on
reality, incapable even of spotting clearly any lasting beauty. Man’s
capacity for deceiving himself and being deceived is great. Appearance
is deceptive. Christians often are caught up in it, thinking they are
good because they understood once, and trust in this as if they could
save themselves by discourse and consistency. I prefer many who are
not Christian, because they are aware of evil and of their incapacity
to follow good, in spite of their presentiment of it. This is why I
like some temperaments who fumble about in the world and wait for a
peace that does not come, rather than those Catholics who build for
themselves a system for resting in their supposed faith and supposed
charity. In them Christ is mummified, and what is more, they think
they know Him.
While the world is ablaze.
One of these mornings as I read the papers I thought of Bush facing
those boys he sent to Afghanistan. Who knows how he feels every time
the news reaches him that some of his boys have died? Perhaps he
thinks, “It’s my fault they are dead, I am the commander-in-chief of
the Armed Forces. But I have to act like this against the Taliban in
order to save the nation.” I would like to tell him: it is not you who
save the nation. The One who saves it is He, the Reality, the Being,
that level of Being to which you, Bush, say, “I recognize You, and I
do all I can to save the nation, so that this Mystery-Charity may be
recognized.” This is the difference between Bush, in that he
recognizes his belonging to a Christian history, and the Taliban.
Fr Gius, you are going to
be eighty this October, and your health has not always been good. That
mystery must be something great if it causes an old man to smile in
spite of the dissipation of Christianity.
I say what I see, I am enthusiastic about what I am. God made man,
Christ made man and the Church as a development of this. Then we have
to live like Christ and to live the Paschal joy. We must thank the
Spirit for what He has made us know, namely Christ and His history;
and for having called us to live every aspect of history as part of
But all this is hard…
There is a way to make these things simpler: saying what one sees. God
made man, Christ, and the Church the development of this. There is an
instinct which has not yet been destroyed in people, there is still
reason, and it enables them to think of evil as not inescapable, as
though history were perforce destined to see the Taliban’s or the
fundamentalists’ vision prevail. Their victories are not inexorable,
because through reason it is possible to see that what they affirm is
not the Mystery, and does not correspond to man’s expectation. This
instinct is still there and it has not been destroyed. Being as
caritas! If you have had this experience even for an instant, from
that moment on you cannot overlook this point of view. Provided there
is someone who reminds you of this by keeping you company.
What public method for
picking up again the Christian grip on things? Now there is the
Meeting, for instance…
Our greatest concern must be this: that through simple words the
experience of the Mystery may return among the crowd, among
people-people. To be the one spot of intelligence in the midst of the
human tangle. Being there to say to anyone, whatever he is doing, or
saying, or writing, “What have you got to do with all of this?” We
need a generative élan in which our friends and foes may be caught up,
by calling them to meetings, even assemblies where, however, the
center of attention is not the meeting or the assembly, but man; we
need to be armed with an awareness of how great and unique the Mystery
is. God as Mystery of charity, this is the only letter I’d like to
write, to the people in CL, to everyone.
What is the symptom of the
lack of Christian experience?
Faith no longer effects the cultural leap, it doesn’t have anything to
say to blood that is boiling. We Christians are the only ones who can
invest culturally in the crowd; I am not speaking of élites, but right
in the lost crowd, those who turn on the TV, those who go to school
and find teachers who do not care at all about their pupils. Something
has to happen again, otherwise… During my twelve years in the Seminary
we spoke of nothing else: the faith that invests everything: Carducci,
Leopardi, and Pascoli. If one has had even a little experience of
Christ’s mystery, his personal growth will be a process in charity, so
that he cannot help getting enthusiastic about Leopardi, and Dante,
and Pascoli, about any expression that involves man, for you cannot
worship a presence, God!, without suffering because of an absence that
you want to fill, feverishly.
(He tells me he spends a
good part of his time “reading the Breviary”). What do you find in the
Breviary these days?
There is an exaltation of Mary, it is the fleshliness of Christianity.
This expresses fully Christ’s pedagogy in revealing Himself. Even
today it opposes the negation of everything, the nihilism that
characterizes the post-liberal world, so defenseless in the face of
the advance of Islam. Mary is the Mystery.
Mystery: you use this word
a great deal, and today it is translated into dark and vaguely
Mystery is not darkness, it is what we are given to experience of
Being. Our Lady removes any mistake, in her simplicity and fleshliness.
How does the Mystery reveal itself as mystery? In Our Lady! She is the
apex of religious and philosophical dialectic. If Destiny considers
itself to be Mystery, the human aspect that makes us say it is
mysterious becomes awareness of Our Lady. The characteristic of the
Mystery is that it can be understood by poor, ignorant people. Thus
the work of the Spirit, Creator of the universe, is Our Lady. I am not
saying this out of pious devotion, but because it is objectively true.
The Spirit makes itself experienceable as charity in Mary. I would
like to write an article on Our Lady: anything she touches becomes
human, and at the same time is placed inside the Mystery. The fact
that Mary is the first sign of this presence of God causes scandal.
But only those who understand this can be interested truly in the
divine. Discovering how in the Blessed Virgin God became flesh makes
everything become part of this discovery: the front page of the
newspaper, the number of hairs on the head of the person you love.
Those who are thought to be
more intelligent find an obstacle right here. They say: it is a
leftover from pagan times. In good faith they do not accept.
And yet their mothers understand it! But they themselves refuse to
accept the fullness of what Dante wrote, “Virgin yet a Mother,
daughter of thy Son.” Freedom is there, don’t you see? This makes me
burst with happiness. My own limitation does not scare me, it is the
most fantastic demonstration of God’s existence, which shows itself in
the negative, as a limitation on my side.
What has the
Mystery-charity to do with the cruelty of nature? For many this is a
dramatic objection and it casts a shadow on God…
When your mother took you in her arms, when she uttered your name, the
Mystery is made evident there. How can you be the one to measure it,
to judge it? It was the choice Abraham was forced to make concerning
Isaac. Within mystery even the anchovy eaten by tuna finds its
redemption. One who has experienced Christ’s embrace knows this. One
who has not should not shut the door, he should pray to God that He
It’s time to go. He looks at me and says: “What I ask of you
journalists is the awareness of being at the root of the conversion of
the world. Try to be the miraculous provokers of the life common to
all men.” He holds in his hand an image by Raphael, depicting a
thoughtful St Paul: “If you do not get onto Raphael’s level, if you
don’t see faces the way he did, there is no experience of the Mystery.
Let’s thank the Spirit, that is the Source of being, for what He has
made us know, i.e., Christ and His history, and for living even small
aspects of our history as a part of His history.” He whistles La
donna è mobile. Outside a beautiful sun is shining, the leaves of
the lime trees are taut in the wind: “The feeling of things, the
contemplation of beauty,” isn’t it?