Why The Church, Intervention of Alberto Savorana, Editor of Traces Magazine - OTHER DOCUMENTS

Why The Church, Intervention of Alberto Savorana, Editor of Traces Magazine

Alberto Savorana Traces Magazine

5/15/2004

This book is the result of an ongoing reflection that Fr Giussani has been doing for a long time and continues to do on his experience of the Church, which over the past fifty years has become the road to happiness for so many people in the world and has crossed my own path.

This book – like the other two in the Trilogy, The Religious Sense and At the Origin of the Christian Claim – was born out of his religion classes at Berchet High School in Milan, where Fr Giussani started teaching in 1954. Fr Giussani recounts that at the end of each class, in the last 7-8 minutes, he would dictate a few phrases as a synthesis of his dialogue with the students. In this way, phrase after phrase, an itinerary of experience took shape, which, starting from man’s religious sense and passing by way of the Christian claim, reached the Church. After many years, the contents of those lessons became books, now available also in English, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in Montreal, Canada

Why the Church? is not a book of discourses on Christianity or abstract principles to be applied, but is born out of an experience that communicates itself and explains its reasons. In this book Fr Giussani aims at explaining why it is reasonable to follow the Church today. For Fr Giussani thinks that faith is profoundly reasonable.

It all starts with a question: where is Christ today? -pag.8: “How can those who encounter Jesus Christ a day, a month, a hundred, a thousand, or two thousand years after his disappearance from earthly horizons, be enabled to realize that he corresponds to the truth which he claims? In other words, how does one come to see whether Jesus of Nazareth is or is not in a strict sense that event that incarnates the hypothesis of revelation? This problem is the heart of what history has always called Church. The word “Church” indicates an historical phenomenon whose only meaning lies in the fact that it enables man to attein a certainty about Christ. It is, in short, the answer to this question: ‘How can I, who arrived the day after Christ left, know that this really is Something of supreme interest to me, and how can i know this with any reasonable degree of certainty?’”

Nietzsche said, “If we eliminate Christ, we kill God.” The modern age has put into effect this statement by one of its prophets. But what does it mean to eliminate Christ? This is the problem that the word “Church” imposes on man and the world, because Christ is in the Church, and we cannot encounter Him except in the Church, lived authentically. Once, while He was walking along with His disciples, Jesus stopped and asked them: “Who do people say that I am?” “Some say You are a great prophet, others say John the Baptist come back…” “And who do you say that I am?” Ever since then, this question is a decisive one for the existence of each person. He, the fact that He existed, that He exists, is the decision of our whole life, because it is not possible to conceive of a weightier question than this one.

This is the great alternative: whether Christ is a product of human reason or is the invasion into the field of reason, i.e., the field of human experience, of something different, something other: the mystery of God. Christianity is the fact of Christ and is an Event in the concrete, existential, historical sense of the term, like the birth of a son or a brother. Christianity is the event of a human presence that said, “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life… I am the fulfillment of the promise of happiness.” This is the whole content of John Paul II’s teaching, as he himself wrote in a letter to Fr Giussani in 2002: “Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, who reaches the person in his day-to-day existence. The discovery of this road normally comes about through the mediation of other human beings. Marked through the gift of faith by the encounter with the Redeemer, believers are called to become an echo of the event of Christ, to become themselves an ‘event’. Christianity, even before being a sum of doctrines or a rule for salvation, is thus the ‘event’ of an encounter.”

As Fr Giussani writes, the Church is a life that encounters our life. The Church is the face with which this Event travels through history. This is the method that He chose for making Himself known in a way that was faithful to the origin of His Event, because what people saw was a man, whom they could slap, with whom they could disagree, on whom they could inflict death. A new humanity: this is the Christian announcement, God become a human presence. The Church is the face in history of this Event that continues in time, and this announcement is for each of us as current as it was for John and Andrew, for Simon Peter, because Christ made Himself man’s companion for all time. “Whoever follows me will have eternal life and the hundredfold here below.” The blind saw and the dead came back to life. The promise the Church makes is a truer humanity. Conversely, when man moves away from this proposal, he is always immediately forced, in order to be consistent, to forget or deny something human. For a number of centuries, history has been a dramatic and even tragic testimony of this.

The Christian proposal is the only one not open to cheating, because it is totally entrusted to our experience. It is in our experience that we are called to verify if the promise made by Christ and the Church is a true one. “Behold, I make all things new:” getting up in the morning, running into your father and mother, having breakfast, taking the bus, going to work or school or the university… the hundredfold here below. This is the miracle, which is an experience to be had. A dramatic idea of life does not exist except in the Christian conception, because the drama lies in a responsibility from beginning to end. And responsibility is never to oneself. The word responsibility derives from the Latin “respondeo,” I respond, I answer to another. The essential condition for Christ’s presence inside His Church is contained in a line from the Gospel of John: “I ask, Father, that they may be one so that the world will be aware that You sent me.” The world becomes aware of Christ through the unity of Christians, because unity among men is the miracle that man cannot perform on his own. Pope Paul VI said in 1975: “Where is the people of God about which so much has been said and is said? Where is this ethnic entity ‘sui generis’ that converges totally on Christ as its focal point, that derives totally from Christ; how is it made up? What is it like? How is it organized? How does it exercise its mission in the society in which it is placed? We know well that the people of God now has a name historically more familiar to everyone: it is the Church.”

The sense of this community, of this unity must be born in us. The awareness of being not only a population with certain characteristics in common, but a true people of God led by the Pope, must be established in us. In the experience of this people, faith becomes a real service to our fellow men, whatever their situation and whatever ideas they hold. Christ’s love for us coincides with this passion to be useful to the human truth of all those around us. The problem is this: a real love for what has happened in history, which has struck me and continues to strike me, even if I am unfaithful a thousand times a day. But this betrayal does not define me, just as it did not define Peter. I pray to God who is my strength, and I follow. Eliot wrote in the “Choruses from The Rock”: Then came, at a predetermined moment, a moment in time and of time… A moment in time but time was made through that moment: for without the meaning there is no time, and that moment of time gave the meaning. Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of the Word, Through the Passion and Sacrifice saved in spite of their negative being; Bestial as always before, carnal, self-seeking as always before, selfish and purblind as ever before, Yet always struggling, always reaffirming, always resuming their march on the way that was lit by the light; Often halting, loitering, straying, delaying, returning, yet following no other way.” Living Christianity means acting out of gratitude to Christ, i.e., out of true love for ourselves and true love for the flesh-and-blood person we meet. Our fulfillment is the event of Christ in our life that has reached us through a historical companionship.

The same thing happened to Jesus’ early disciples: they met Him and from that day on, their lives were changed: 1) because Christ constitutes the reason why it is reasonable to live, the true destiny of eating and drinking, of waking and sleeping, of living and dying; 2) because Christ performs the miracle of non-extraneousness; He creates a bond which makes strangers become one. Christianity is the coming true of the impossible utopia that all ideologies have tried to put into force: unity among men; 3) because with Christ, evil is forgiven. Evil is no longer victorious, no longer defines man’s plan; what defines me is Christ present here and now in a companionship of human beings. Life, then, is remembering, within the circumstances of every day, what has happened. Christ has already saved the world.

This is the “good news” that changes man and the history of mankind, and that all peoples have the right to know. In a letter sent to Fr Giussani last February for the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the Movement of Communion and Liberation, Pope John Paul II wrote: “It is necessary and urgent to help people to encounter Christ, so that He may become the ultimate reason for living and operating also for present-day man. This experience of faith generates a new way of looking at reality, a responsibility and a creativity that concern every ambit of existence: from work to family relationships, from social commitment to the animation of the cultural and political environment.” In the new Italian edition of Why the Church? published recently, Fr Giussani added a concluding chapter on the figure of Our Lady, to whom he points as the method God chose for entering the world. These are the words Giussani wrote in the preface to the new Italian edition: “The third volume of the Trilogy introduces us to the Event of the Church: we shall capture her nature and her self-awareness. However, at the end of the journey, when all should finally be clear and understood, precisely then we shall be forced to acknowledge that everything is Mystery. Then words and discourses will appear to be lacking a verification, unless we grant that in the end God emerges even more as Mystery before our eyes.

Thus God remains something incomprehensible, that no word or discourse can explain, except by introducing the figure of Our Lady, chosen by God Himself in order to be recognized by us, as the method of His self-communication to man through the ‘warmth’ of her womb. This all converges in one thing. The unity of Christianity is not a thought or an ideology; it is not even teaching a discourse. It is not an idea or a philosophy, but the announcement of a Presence: the Incarnation is a fact that happened. So Mary’s humanity is crucial. Without Our Lady, we would not understand anything about man’s religious sense or the Christian claim, let alone the Church: she offers herself as an answer to the former, and as the permanence of the latter in the time of human history until the last day. This is why we shall conclude this new edition of the volume on the Church with a short chapter on Mary of Nazareth, an apologia, as it were, of her greatness for mankind and the world.”

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