Interview with Father Giussani by Renato Farina


by Renato Farina

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 Christian name.
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 thing…
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 Being’s flow.

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 His history.

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 esoteric images.
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 reveal Himself.
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?

Infinity: Interview with Father Giussani, «JEWS AND CHRISTIANS WILL EVENTUALLY UNITE»,  by Renato Farina, Libero (Italy) 22nd august 2002

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