Here is the testimony of Luigi Giussani, which I referred to in my last post:
“My name is Luigi Giussani. You are probably asking yourselves why.1 It is because it’s the name of the man who, with Fr. Carrón, has won over my darkness; my dark days have come to an end, and everything has been filled with light and gladness. I experienced a day darkened by death. My parents, my dad and my mom, died in a burning bus; they were running away from the rebels that had reached Kampala. I was with my uncle, who later died in an accident too—crushed by a press in a factory in Kampala. My world filled with darkness, and I thought I would be the next who would end up that way. I heard somebody mention the International Meeting Point, and I wondered if there could be the possibility for a new life for me. For me life had vanished, and I was just waiting to die; I thought that life could only be what I had seen and lived through. At the Meeting Point, I saw young people and old people together, and I was curious to see what they were doing. Somebody there looked at me and proposed that I go back to school; but I couldn’t focus, because I kept hearing the screams and seeing the flames where my parents had died. Rose took me to School of Community,2 and the word that struck me the most was “value”—yet, I wondered what kind of value I could have, since both my parents and my uncle had died. What could give my parents back me?
I kept studying in the midst of these difficulties until 2007. That year, a man called Julián Carrón came to Uganda. I don’t remember the day I was born, but I remember the day Julián arrived, because that is the day I was truly born. Carrón came to the Meeting Point and spoke with the patients and the children. I still recall that gaze, which penetrated my darkness. I followed his gaze as he talked: it was as if the darkness of death was getting smaller and smaller, and my heart was leaping in my chest. That night, I was unable to sleep. I went back home and then I went to school. Julián had mentioned that, the next day, he would be at the St. Vincent School, for an assembly with all the people in the Movement. I didn’t know anything about the Movement,3 but I went there because I wanted to see that gaze one more time. I followed that gaze, and it brought light into my life. I wanted to follow that man. I wanted to stay with him for the rest of my life. My heart was leaping in my chest so hard that I thought it would burst.
I went to see Rose again, because the only way for me to stay with that man was to be baptized. I though Rose could baptize people, so I was a little disappointed when she didn’t do it. She told me she would send me somewhere to prepare for Baptism. I went back to school and I realized that even my friends had the same desire; what happened to me had happened to them as well: our hearts burst out in songs. Every time we had catechism, we sang together. With all that cheerfulness going on we didn’t spend much time studying catechism! We were baptized (12 men and 12 women) and I started my journey. Carrón’s gaze took away my fear of death. We wanted our classmates to have the same experience, so we started teaching the catechism to the other students, and 38 of them were baptized, with the help of Mauro and Fr. Archetti. We wanted to communicate the beauty that we had met, the beauty of life that made us sing. We asked for help through our School of Community work—which we understood better when we sang. We formed “Carrón’s Battalion,” and the Ugandan “Kireka’s Alpini.” We sing the Alpini songs from the Italian Alps region. Some among us are the sons and daughters of soldiers, and come from various negative situations; yet those situations have been conquered by Carrón’s gaze: we are now new men and women. We live to announce that it is possible to live this way.”
1. “Luigi Giussani” is the name of the priest who founded the Catholic movement of Communion and Liberation. This young man from Uganda took Giussani’s name.
2. School of Community is the weekly meeting of Communion and Liberation.
3. “The Movement” refers to the movement of Communion and Liberation.
Listening to the homilies at Mass the past couple weeks, a question keeps occurring to me: “where is the evidence?” I’m of the opinion that what people need to hear – what I need to hear – is not more theology nor an exhortation to forgive, or to love, or to serve. What I need is evidence that Christ really did become a man, that Christianity lets me live life in a more human way, that the Resurrection happened and continues to happen.
There’s a certain line of devotion that discourages asking God for evidence, sometimes comparing it to testing God (or “putting a fleece before the Lord”). But this question is eminently reasonable, and totally human, especially in the modern age in which we live. In the past, appeals to authority and the authority of a religious tradition may have blunted the need to answer this question. In our age, however, for the believer as much as the non-believer, this is the essential question.
A priest named Lorenzo Albacete helped me to begin asking this question:
“What does it mean to say that Christ rose from the dead?” I was asked this question once in the middle of a cemetery. “What part don’t you understand?,” I asked the young man who asked me. “Do you know what dead means? If you don’t, I urge you to take a look around.”
I pointed toward a grave marked “James N.” “Take old James over here,” I said. “He used to be interested in many things. He wanted many things. He was also worried about and afraid of many things. But now his body doesn’t show signs of caring about anything. Nothing interests, nothing bothers, nothing scares, nothing moves his body, not even a word from someone he once passionately loved. That condition is called dead.
“The man Jesus suffered the same fate as Jimmy here. He really and truly died. That’s one part of the claim. The other part is that the body of Jesus, so to speak, recovered from that condition. In fact, not only did His body react as it did before His death (He even ate with his friends!), but it behaved in ways that were not possible before. His body was living a new kind of life. It was as if His body obeyed perfectly His will, His mind, His soul, His `heart.’ Still, it was a human body; the same body that had died was now alive with an intensity that it couldn’t reach before. For example, it could not be afflicted by death again. Therefore, His body is still alive today.” I still remember his face when he looked at me, saying, “If this is true, then everything changes…” Indeed.
And then he asked another question, a beautiful question, a question that comes from being created in the image and likeness of God, the question that reveals the dignity of each human being, the question that reveals and protects our evidences, the question whose acceptance distinguishes the Christian claim from any other religious claim: “Where is the evidence? Where is the evidence that this is true?”
This question must be asked. Christianity is not a theory; it is a fact that happened. The event of God becoming man, in history. Because of this, as Fr. Julian Carron says,
“The Christian announcement submits itself to this test, to the tribunal of human experience.”
What constitutes evidence? Facts. Not beautiful theories or sentimental consolations. Facts. Facts that demonstrate the existence of a Mysterious and Irreducible Presence in the world. Not theologies or exhortations. The theologies came after the fact.
Only facts are strong enough to convince us all the way to our core, to the point of changing us, converting us. Facts like the testimony of a young Ugandan man named Luigi Giussani, the testimony of Vicky Arenyo who has AIDS but is full of life and joy, or facts like the upcoming New York Encounter cultural festival that witnesses a new way of looking at things generated by the encounter with Christ. Only facts like these are capable of striking me, leaving me speechless with wonder, moving me and converting me.
“When, in the life of people who accept belonging to Christ through the reality of the Church, concretely and persuasively emerging in their experience (charism), something happens that they could not achieve by their own powers–an unforeseeable reawakening and fulfillment of humanity in all its fundamental dimensions–then Christianity is shown to be credible and its claim is made verifiable.” – Fr. Julian Carron
This is the evidence that the world needs to hear, the proof that makes Christianity credible. It’s the proof I need to see and look for every day, since I am so easily distracted and my will and memory are so fragile. I wish our priests would tell us more of these present things.
Last night I listened to Fr. Ed Fride’s Easter homily, I think from 2009. He is the pastor at Christ the King parish in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a fairly charismatic parish.
He is a great preacher. He does a phenomenal job of announcing God’s love for us. It is moving to hear him speak about God’s love because it’s clear he has a real personal knowledge of that love. But I think he misses a couple things.
1) I wonder why it is that I hardly ever hear a priest preaching about the fact that Jesus died for me, for you. Is it that it’s assumed that everyone knows this? I grew up Catholic with an active faith, but it wasn’t until October 29th, 2010 – when I was 27 years old – that I understood: A man died for me. Because of his preference for me. Given the choice either to lose me or die, he couldn’t stand the thought of losing me, so his preference was to die. And he did it.
Imagine if the person sitting next to you – in the car, at the dinner table, in the pew, wherever – imagine if that person gave his life to save yours. Died, for you. Because that person would prefer to die rather than to lose you. Given a choice, that simple preference would dictate that yes, I would rather die than lose you.
Or switch it around, imagine dying for the person next to you. If that person was a great man, a virtuous woman, your best friend, your son or mother, it would make sense to spend your life for them. On the other hand, if that person is a petty, prone to distraction, a sinner, selfish, self-absorbed, would you be able to die for him? Knowing, in all likelihood, he would use his freedom in terrible ways, would you die for him?
I wonder if the reason I never hear anyone talk about this is that it’s taken for granted, or if the import of the crucifixion isn’t understood. Fr. Ed mentioned the resurrection many times but didn’t mention the crucifixion. To be fair, I didn’t listen to his Good Friday homily and maybe he covered this there.
The unbelievable thing about Easter is that the Man who loved me so much that He gave his life for mine is alive again.
2) While he does a great job of preaching God’s love, Fr. Ed doesn’t spend any time on how a person, or he himself, can come to know that love. There’s not much focus on how it becomes reasonable to believe what he is telling us. Does one just choose to believe, a la Kierkegaard’s leap of faith? How does belief become reasonable?
3) There’s not much focus on experience. This goes back to point 2. Belief becomes reasonable if it’s founded on experience, on evidence. The need to focus on experience also applies from the perspective of one who has faith. What is the result of knowing there is a God who embraces me totally? How does knowledge of God’s love change the way that we face our work? Or suffering? How does faith change the way we face our desire? The facts that can answer these questions show the value of faith; they are the proof of the Resurrection.
What is the significance of John the Baptist?
The thing that’s moving to me is to consider all the promises of the Old Testament, all the promises that God had made to the Hebrew people, promises to bring liberty to captives, to bind up the brokenhearted, to heal the sick and give sight to the blind, a promise to bring justice… all of these promises were made by a God who had taken the form of a pillar of fire, a burning bush, a whisper in the wind.
And every person today would admit that she wants more freedom, to be more free in front of difficult circumstances, in front of the problems of life, and even in front of her own desire. That she wants justice done; that she wants to be more aware of the meaning of things; that she wants her life to be more beautiful, more full. These are the desires common to every heart; we could say they are promises as well.
The significance of John the Baptist is that he was the first one to announce that the promises of the Old Testament – and the promises that every person carries in his heart – are fulfilled in a man. The ideas or forms that Plato discussed with his students – beauty, goodness, justice, etc. – are not abstract ideas; they are a man.
For the first time, the first time in all of history, it was announced that it was a concrete, singular man who fulfilled this desire for freedom, justice, beauty. Meaning Freedom is not just an ideal, it’s not a state of feeling free or not having any restraints put on you. Freedom is actually a Man. And I am most free when I am in a relationship with That Man.
A man that could be pointed to by John the Baptist, with a human face, and a specific name: Jesus of Nazareth.
This is the total scandal and revolution of the Christian announcement. Beauty, Freedom, Truth, Justice, Goodness took on flesh and became a man, a concrete man, who walked among other men. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
So it’s in a relationship with That Man that your desire will be fulfilled, that all the promises you were made will be fulfilled. That’s what John the Baptist announced, for the first time on that day when John and Andrew happened to be in the crowd, listening to him and watching him.
“How do we propose grace to people?”
I think the best way to propose grace is to witness to the change in awareness that it makes in one’s life. Otherwise it’s too theoretical. But if you meet someone who is aware of the working of grace in his life, the freedom and the awareness that person has leaves you speechless.
That is what makes people realize they need grace, because they want their life to be more beautiful too.
On that note, I can’t recommend Fr. Aldo’s talk in New York at the Med Conference enough. It’s a talk that witnesses to the beauty of the life of a man who has come to depend more and more and more on the grace of Christ, beginning with an encounter with four university students while he was a Marxist. Those students told him, “Professor, this is not how the world changes. The world changes when you are changed. And you change when you meet Christ.”
My friend Ken gave a great summary about Fr. Aldo:
What struck my friends in New York about Fr. Aldo is he’s a man who’s a mess! You know, he’s a man who’s made tons of mistakes, who’s weak. But a man whose definition of his life is an embrace.”
You can download it by right-clicking and saving. I recommend adding it to your iPod.
After reading my last post, a friend told me, “I just don’t think people believe it.”
So what is it that makes Christianity credible?
And last night at Mass I sat behind two teenagers who, as far as I could tell, weren’t paying much attention and weren’t very aware of what the Mass actually is.
This got me thinking, what makes someone even take notice, or take it into account?