"Faith Is Given Us So That We Communicate It"
ROME, 23 FEB. 2005 (ZENIT)
Here is one of the last public addresses
given by Monsignor Luigi Giussani, the founder of the ecclesial movement
Communion and Liberation. He died Tuesday at age 82.
He wrote this address for the Nov. 24-28 meeting of the Pontifical
Council for the Laity. The theme of the assembly was "Rediscovering the
True Face of the Parish."
* * *
Faith Is Given Us So That We Communicate It
By Monsignor Luigi Giussani
Can man save himself? To this question Christ answers, "No, man cannot
save himself; it is in the companionship of God, of the mystery who has
set himself beside him, part of his humanity, that Christ is the answer
to man's supreme need, the need for his own salvation." This is the
inconceivable and unforeseeable answer to man's need for salvation.
So the more man is aware of his limitation
his frailty, his wrongdoing, his incapacity
the more he is able to open himself to this answer. I think Reinhold
Niebuhr's phrase is significant: "Nothing is so incredible as the answer
to a question that is not asked." The gravest opposition, the greatest
obstacle to the acknowledgment of Christ is, first and foremost, the
non-acknowledgment of one's own human need, of the question that our
humanity itself is.
How is what happened 2,000 years ago present here and now? The answer,
as each of us knows, more or less, is: In the Church, the body of
Christ, as St. Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians, the Church "in
which is the fullness of Christ" (cf. Ephesians 1:22-23).
It is in the Church that Christ is present. The Holy Father noted this
in a speech that is memorable for me. "The rising up of the ecclesial
body as an institution, its persuasive force and binding energy, have
their roots in the dynamism of sacramental grace" [John Paul II to the
priests participating in a course of spiritual exercises promoted by
Communion and Liberation, Castel Gandolfo, Sept. 12, 1985]. In other
words, the rising up of the ecclesial body, which is the way in which
Christ is present here and now, is the work of the Spirit, "Dominum et
But how does the Church happen in its relationship with me, with the
person? How does this influence, this nexus come about? The Pope's reply
is that the rising up of the ecclesial body as an institution, as a
persuasive force and binding energy, has its roots in the dynamism of
sacramental grace, beginning with baptism. "However, it finds its
expressive form, its operative modality, its concrete historical
incidence, through the various charisms that characterize a temperament
and a personal history" (ibid.).
The Pope calls "charism" the mode with which the Church takes up
expressive form in a concrete, historical detail. The expressive form
implies a determined, concrete, historical detail, and remains abstract
if not considered up to this point. Its concrete historical incidence is
realized by means of the various charisms that characterize a
temperament and a particular history.
Let's keep in mind that the word "charism" has the same root, "charis,"
as the word "grace," and points to the energy with which the Spirit, in
its intervention, re-creates the follower of Christ. If it were not to
become concrete, adequate to my temperament and to my history, the
Church would remain abstract.
In the same address, the Pope went on: "The charisms of the Spirit
always create affinities destined to sustain each person in his
objective task in the Church" (ibid.). A communion is created through
this affinity: "The creation of this sort of communion is a universal
law. Living it out is an aspect of obedience to the great mystery of the
What is obedience to the great mystery of the Spirit? Only one thing:
"To believe in Jesus Christ." Christ becomes present here and now
through a charism that, by valuing temperament, personality, and
personal sensitivity and history, creates an affinity and this
establishes a communion; to obey this communion is to obey the great
mystery of the Spirit. It is to go to Christ!
Let us imagine a parish with 3,000 inhabitants and only one priest. He
tries his best every Sunday from the pulpit, but leaves the faithful
indifferent. In this town, the faith languishes; people go to Church in
virtue of memories that still live on. Those who have a bit of life in
them owe it to a personal piety. That priest is an ineffectual
personality, so he is transferred
he gets a promotion.
Another priest comes; he has more seniority, but he is sent there
because he has fallen out with the Curia. On the first Sunday, he
preaches at Mass, and immediately five people out of the 500 or so
present are struck by what he says, and feel the need to get more
involved with the Church and with the faith.
Imagine that those five people go separately to the new priest and tell
him, "Listen, I was moved by what you said on Sunday and I realize that
the faith has to involve my life and I want my life to be involved in
the faith." So, since there are few structures in the town, the priest
says, "Let's get together and form a small pastoral council." He will
try firstly to nurture this small group, and with their help he will try
to tackle the problems in the parish.
As two of them are man and wife, and rather well-off, since he is a
doctor and she a teacher, they set up some initiative in the town,
perhaps a small health center to help poor people, or a study group for
youngsters. Then some more families join them, and after some months the
parish is changed beyond recognition.
There is an intense participation in the Church's life and a great
familiarity between the priest and his people; there is a kind of
vibration of hope in those people, a desire to get to know the faith and
the Church's teaching that was not there before. This happened because
the priest who went there had a personality, a sensitivity, a
temperament and a personal history that got things moving, that created
movement. What happened is called "movement."
With the previous parish priest it didn't happen. It was not for any
fault of his, but because the times of the Spirit are the times of the
Spirit. So, in the case of the second parish priest, a charism was at
work and a charism is characterized by historical incidence.
Without the movement I have tried to describe, a parish is arid and
remains a mere institution. I have told my friends many times about my
late mother and her priest, Father Amedeo, in Desio. Through his
presence in the confessional, more than through the youth center, he
created a reality of hundreds of women, all from Catholic families and
devoted to the parish, all Children of Mary. They would go to Mass at 5
o'clock every morning, and were always ready to help when the parish
needed something. Everyone in the parish knew them.
That priest in his confessional had created a movement in the parish,
and in the town. If there had been a hundred thousand instead of a
hundred of them, even the Corriere della Sera would have written about
them! Father Amedeo, the curate in my huge parish 60 years ago, guided
so many young people to Christian maturity, who then went on to bring up
so many sound Christian families, and they were always ready to help the
parish priest when he needed it.
With this example, I wanted to stress the absolutely personal nature of
the way in which Christ, present here and now in the reality of the
Church, becomes expressive, persuasive, educationally effective and
constructive; able to build up a people.
So, I believe the Pope introduced the term "movement" as an
ecclesiological category fundamental for describing pastoral dynamics.
Thus the word "movement" is not a problem that touches me particularly
because we constitute a movement recognized by the Church, but is rather
something that indicates a permanent mode in the Church's history
through which the faith becomes persuasive, educationally effective and
constructive, and brings a change in life.
This appears clear when we read St. Paul's letters, which mention Aquila
and Prisca. The Spirit came down into the hearts of people who went to
each others' homes through a personal temperament and history. If we
don't understand this origin of a movement, we are unable to grasp how
the institution we have in our hands
parish, an association, or a group
can become alive, and so we can first become pretentious, and then
disgusted and cynical, without hope.
For example, if I, as a parish priest, have people coming to me saying,
"We want to work with you," and see that they are enthusiastic and
fresh, thanks to something that has moved them (perhaps the encounter
with a movement), the first thing I must desire is that they deepen
faithfully what has aroused them, the experience that has struck them.
Only in this case can the parish community benefit.
The aim of all that happens in the Church is to adhere to Christ so as
to make his victory over the world present, and thus to anticipate the
end of the world.
This phrase stresses the doctrinal content, from an existential point of
view, the living object of faith, adhesion of life: "Whether you eat or
drink, whether you wake or sleep, whether you live or die" (cf. 1
in other words, everything
so that the world may be ever more imbued with the miracle of a witness,
that is to say, that the world may acknowledge him more and more. This
Christ himself has already defined the reason for which he came in
Chapter 17 of John's Gospel, "I came that they may have eternal life:
and this is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God and Jesus
Christ whom you have sent" (cf. John 17:3-4).
The aim of the faith we have been given is the mission, and the mission
is not for the hereafter, but for here and now. This is the category of
our relationship with the world, whose first aspect is in us; it arises
from the astonishment of feeling ourselves created alive.
The more a parish finds priests and faithful for whom the surprise of
the Christ event, encountered and acknowledged, becomes the
all-embracing horizon for thought and action and impassioned love for
the mystery and for the destiny of their fellow men, the more the parish
will be alive.
So the word "movement" describes the existential historical way in which
the Church becomes a living Church. I believe that a priest who has a
parish, or a priest who has a community of a movement, and doesn't pray
the Spirit and doesn't tend to arouse some reality of "movement," will
leave the Church like a tomb. The only thing that will be left of his
parish will be the office, and the only thing that will be left of the
community will be a group with a purely psychological or sociological
If a parish is alive, it is a movement, in the sense spoken of by John
Paul II: "The Church herself is 'a movement'" [to the participants in
the Convention "Movements in the Church," Castel Gandolfo, Sept. 27,
1981]. So, the theme of movement is in no sense an alternative to the
institution, but indicates the way in which the institution becomes
alive and missionary, because the faith is not given us in order that we
preserve it, but in order that we communicate it. If we don't have the
passion to communicate it, we don't preserve it.
[Original distributed by Communion and Liberation]