He Staked Everything on the Other's Freedom - Julián Carrón

He Staked Everything on the Other's Freedom

Julián Carrón Traces n. 3

3/1/2008

His educative genius? “It lay in his capacity to reawaken in the ‘I’ the desire for something beautiful and true.” This capacity is, if possible, even more relevant today

“From my very first day as a teacher, I’ve always offered these words of warning to my class: ‘I’m not here so that you can take my ideas as your own; I’m here to teach you a true method that you can use to judge the things I will tell you. And what I have to tell you is the result of a long experience, of a past that is two thousand years old.’ From the beginning, our educational efforts have always stood by this method, clearly pointing out that it was intended to show how faith could be relevant to life’s needs” (The Risk of Education, Crossroad, 2001, p. 11).
These words of Fr. Giussani express his original attitude toward the students, right from the first hour of school: complete trust. One day he said that he had staked everything on the other’s “pure freedom.” Think what respect you need for the humanity you encounter in order to risk everything on it, and how difficult it is to come across someone like this today.
This trust was based on his acknowledgment of his students’ critical capacity, that is, his acknowledgment of that resource with which nature endows a person, enabling him to become aware of reality to the point of knowing its meaning.

Fr. Giussani’s educative method was far from being the propaganda of ideas, correct as they were. His was a proposal: he was aiming to reawaken something that was already there in the other, to provoke his freedom, and this was a supreme act of friendship. He evoked the original needs and evidences of the heart of each person–the need for beauty, for truth, for justice, and for happiness, inviting them to measure themselves continually with these. To this end, he made use of everything that the human genius has produced, from music to poetry.
In this regard, I would like to read a passage in which Fr. Giussani relates a fact that happened to him here, in the course of a lesson. It seems to me a vivid example of an education that opens up the whole “I,” to the point that it begins to glimpse the depth of things. “When I was teaching in the first year of high school, I would bring along a gramophone... and I would play records of Chopin, Beethoven…. One of the first I played was this Beethoven concerto [for violin and orchestra], where there is a refrain that I called ‘the refrain of the community,’ when the whole orchestra comes in and keeps up the same melody, then the violin, representing singularity, takes up the fugue three times, and flies toward its destiny, until, tired out, it is taken up by the theme of the whole orchestra…. When I played this piece in the section E classroom, where there was utter silence, a girl in the first row, here on the right, called Milene Di Gioia–I still remember her–all of a sudden burst into tears, and there was no stopping her…. This emotional upset that the first theme generates, this emotion that made someone with the sensitivity of someone like Milene burst into tears–this emotion is the emblem of the expectation of God that man has” (Si può vivere così?, Rizzoli, pp. 300-301).

At the time, I was teaching religion in Madrid, and one day, when I came back from the planetarium, I asked my students what had struck them most. They filled the blackboard with questions, and they didn’t ask how many stars or galaxies there were, but who had made all those things they had seen, and if we are the masters of it all, and what was the meaning of the whole universe. I was struck by this fact. In those students, the spectacle of the starry sky had reawakened the question about the meaning of reality, in the same way as Nomadic Shepherd in Asia by Leopardi, that poet whom Giussani called “his friend” and whom he read aloud countless times during his years at Berchet.
“…[as I] watch the stars that shine there in the sky,
Musing, I say within me:
Wherefore those many lights,
That boundless atmosphere,
And infinite calm sky? And what the meaning
Of this vast solitude? And what am I?”

Fr. Giussani’s educative genius lay in this capacity to reawaken in the “I” the desire for something beautiful and true, in the encounter with reality. In order to do this, he in some way “consigned” himself to his students; he stood before them as a man and challenged them to try out the Christian proposal as something for reasonable beings. Many of them accepted his invitation and this set them in the best position for giving a contribution to the civil reality of Milan and of Italy.
How a man uses his reason, how he engages his desire, his hope and his affection, all this is crucial and interesting for everyone, not only for Christians. Fr. Giussani, whom “his” school remembers this evening on the third anniversary of his death with such a meaningful initiative, committed his whole reputation in this challenge: to demonstrate that to be men is to live reality intensely in the search for the meaning of everything, and that to be Christians is not to be somehow less men, with fewer desires and a few more moral rules. For, in Fr. Giussani’s proposal, Christianity represents the fullness of a humanity achieved and communicated. His is a way of presenting the faith in familiarity with reason, as something that therefore belongs to our nature as men. He said so himself on one occasion [in 1994]: “Teaching religion gave me this intuition and this passion: the intuition that faith needs first of all to demonstrate its familiarity with reason with all its consequences, that is, the intuition of the reasonableness of faith, of faith as the most reasonable thing there is and, therefore, as the most human thing there is. Because… reason is the need–the passion and the need–for everything, for totality…. A living reason is a reason that is totalizing as a horizon of tension, as a demand to know.”

From this point of view, Fr. Giussani’s approach can go on giving a positive contribution even today, in an age that has given up the search for truth and in which faith is reduced to something sentimental or to ethics. More than fifty years ago, he had perceived the approach of a crisis that today we all acknowledge, so much so that they speak of an “educational emergency.” For years, it was assumed that it was sufficient to teach kids mathematics or language, instead of showing them the way to enter into reality, and this produced a dramatic indifference, an incapacity to be interested in anything or anyone. The crisis is at this level of human experience.
We are all aware of the context in which an adult must fulfill his educational role, all the more those who work in the world of the school. It is as if someone going into class every morning were dominated by the question: “Today, as I teach, will I be able in some way to arouse an interest in the students, so as to enable them to tackle reality in a true, positive way?” A lesson is not enough to stir up their interest. This is why Fr. Giussani climbed the steps of the Berchet High School: to communicate a method that would enable his students to make a journey and thus grow as human persons, broadening their reason.
It is this broadening–understood as a window opened up on reality–that he witnessed to, valuing everything beautiful, true and good that he met along the road, as we have seen. We find the same concern in Benedict XVI. It is significant for me that there are two Church men defending the use of reason, free from all dogmatism–clerical or lay–and not afraid to expose themselves to criticism and incomprehension.

This, then, is the level of the challenge that lies before us and that Fr. Giussani stood up to with that educative passion for which many today give him credit. He always defined education as an introduction to reality as a whole: communication of a meaning of existence through the experience of a person-to-person relationship. A young person–but even an adult–does not overcome skepticism and indifference because someone explains a theory, but only if he meets a witness who demonstrates a fullness in living that immediately appears desirable. This was Fr. Giussani for thousands of people in the world, beginning from this very school, marking out a road that did not tie people to himself, but on which he became a companion to all, without substituting himself for the freedom of those whom he taught. On the contrary, he continually challenged reason with a proposal before which one had to take up a position, always and everywhere: to accept or reject it.
We all need people who provoke us to the point of making us want that life we see in them as fascinating. The Christianity that Fr. Giussani proposed–and that won me over–started off just like this: in order to help man to know the meaning of everything, God did not use a discourse. The “lesson” that the Mystery gave to men was His becoming flesh and blood, a man with whom you could take a walk on the streets of Jerusalem, with whom you could eat and drink.

So, thanks to the Principal and to the Management Committee who have commemorated this teacher with a sign at the entrance to the school, a teacher thanks to whom the Berchet High School is today known throughout the world as a place where a passion for education found and still finds the space and the freedom to express itself, a school where Fr. Giussani was able to entrust a part of himself to the creativity of others, and where he continues to be a master.

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