Death of Fr. Giussani, Intervention of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin - OTHER DOCUMENTS

Death of Fr. Giussani, Intervention of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin

2/22/2004

As soon as I learned the news of the death of Don Giussani, I was anxious to celebrate a public Mass here in Dublin for his friends and for those who have drawn inspiration from his work, his writings, and his person. We are here then this evening, a month after the death of Don Giussani, to remember a remarkable man, who touched so many lives and who truly was a Father to so many people, to so many of you.
Personally I only spoke once with Don Giussani. It was last summer, as some of you may remember, when I was at La Thuille and he went out of his way to call me on the telephone with some sincere and warm words of encouragement for my new mission as Archbishop of Dublin. Even though it was a short telephone conversation with a sick man, I came away moved by the warmth, vitality and sense of the Church that came through. I knew that I had been speaking with a good man, a paternal figure in the very best sense of that word.
Don Giussani was a humble man. He was a man who founded a great work but was not anxious to take personal credit. He was a strong man, a man who had to face difficulties and misunderstanding, but who did not dominate. In “Why the Church” (p. 134) Giussani stresses that faith is about freedom. "The Christian ideal" he notes, "will be actuated only to the degree that a Christian, with all his or her freedom, chooses". When you read his dialogues with students you can see how consistent he was in this. Don Giussani's talent was that of a true Father, who enables, encourages, challenges, supports and inspires others and who is happy when he leads them to a deeper sense of their own humanity.
Don Giussani stressed that Christianity is an answer to life, a proposal for an authentic human journey. All his writings and teachings are aimed at ensuring that this bond between being Christian and being authentically human are united. They are to be united, not in an ideological vision, but in the concrete lives of those who wish to call themselves Christians. Giussani did not dominate, but enabled, encouraged, supported and inspired others, so that they would choose Christ in total freedom.
In today's world, in today's Ireland we have to stress more and more that the mission of the Church is about the inward journey of each of us towards finding Christ and placing him at the centre of our lives. It is about bringing people to Christ and helping them to discover through this encounter with Christ their own dignity and worth. It is a mission to lead us towards the depths of what our existence is about, though reaching towards the heights of transcendence. The Church is about encountering Jesus, the human incarnation of God, who leads me to discover my humanity. Jesus leads me to find what I am searching for in my life and he opens meaning and hope for me in my everyday existence. It is when I abandon myself to Jesus that I fully find myself. It is when I know Jesus that I most fully understand humanity.
The encounter with Jesus is always, of course, an encounter with his gratuitous love. Being a member of the Church, means being one who allows that gratuitous love to work through me. It means trying to mirror that love in my life, even though my efforts will always be imperfect and limited by egoism, self-centeredness and sin, distorted by many of the elements of contemporary culture and society. A world in which utility becomes a dominant theme will find it hard to understand and practice the idea of gratuitousness.
If we do not live the essential Christ-centred nature of the Church, then the Church will appear to many as just a mixed bag of providing welfare, of being nice to people, of doing good and having a number of values. If that is all the Church is then it becomes just one benevolent organization along side others. And if your experience with the Church has been negative, then even the word benevolent drops out, and Church becomes a distant, self-seeking organization, useful on one occasion, irrelevant on others.
We have to understand that being a Christian in the midst of the world in which we live, means realising that Jesus has taken hold of my life, that he has made himself present in my life, and that he has changed my life. When we experience that presence of Jesus, then we also experience the desire to discover more and more who Jesus is, to enter into communion with him in prayer, to recognize his truth, to explore his love and to witness to it to those around us.
We must know Jesus. Many think that this is a question of knowing some doctrine, of knowing the catechism. Unfortunately for many years religious education was perceived by many in this way. Doctrine without a personal encounter and relationship with Jesus is not faith. An atheist could pass an exam in Christian doctrine. Christianity is a radical option to allow ourselves to be loved by Jesus and to share that love totally with others, who become our brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is only when we have that encounter with Jesus then that doctrine helps explain and clarify what that relationship is. Faith is not something subjective, but it is always personal.
Christian faith, however, is not just an individual question. Mons. Giussani stresses very much the role of the Christian community. It is in a new space of mutual giving, of welcoming and receiving one another in which God appears present to us. The Church founded by Jesus is founded on the community of believers. This community is not any ordinary community, but one shaped by Jesus himself, with its own special characteristics.
When I presented Giussani's book “Why the Church” I took up a point which seems so obvious but which requires to be repeated time and time again in the current Irish context. The Church is a religious reality. I can only understand the Church when I have a mature understanding of what that religious nature means.
In many ways, Irish people today have a love/hate relationship with the Church. They have deep respect for the person of Jesus Christ and for his message. Many of those who have drifted from religious practice still pray. They recognise the extraordinary work done by priests, sisters, brothers and lay leaders and their contribution to society. They like the priest they know, they are less enthusiastic about the institution. They like the doctrine of love, they pick and chose when it comes to accept what that teaching entails.
There is a sense in which many Irish have become secularised and unchurched but still have not recognised this and drift into a vague cultural Catholicism, without the roots which can really nourish a genuine faith and acceptance of Christ and his teaching. Giussani notes that “if the religious aspect has not been sparked into life or is childishly retarded, it will make it difficult for me to judge the religious fact objectively, with a critical eye” (p.6).
When we recognise that Jesus has taken a grip on our life, this fact must change our life. Faith is difficult in today's world. Giussani uses the word “choice”. He said, as I quoted earlier: “The Christian ideal will be actuated only to the degree that a Christian, with all his or her freedom, chooses”.
But in today's world, the word choice has changed meaning! Faith is not found by choice in the way one chooses from the range of goods on the supermarket shelves. The choice of faith refers to an inner freedom, where faith is gift, something received to which we must abandon ourselves. To the culture of our time, of our time, faith of this kind sounds like passivity and facile acceptance.
Curiously, there are others who believe and practice but who still cannot fully take the leap, the risk that faith requires. Rather than freely choosing to follow Jesus in meaningful human activity, they flee into the security of the externals of religious expression. Their anxiety prevents them from encountering Jesus as the one who frees us.
The meaning with which we live our relationship with Jesus will determine the level of meaning that exists in all our relationships, in the family, at work, in society and within the community of the Church.
As we celebrate Holy Week we should remember how much Jesus loved us. He took on the suffering of the cross so that we could be free. We have to show others that following Jesus is the path to freedom and hope, which are the marks of those saved by Jesus. He is the one who frees us from sin and from all anxiety. He is the one who shares himself with us in the Eucharist, the sacrament in which his saving death and resurrection are re-enacted, so that we too can learn to live and love in a new way.
Don Giussani was a true master of the Christian life. We pray that the Lord will reward him for his goodness, for his love of truth, for his love of what it is to be a human person, whose life was taken over by Jesus and who found his true freedom in Jesus. May the Lord welcome him into his heavenly reward and may we continue to enjoy his protection now that his humanity is realised in its fullness.

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