Recently I found a photo album published in 1984 on the occasion of the festivities of the 30 year anniversary of Communion and Liberation. While flipping through the pages, I was impressed by the richness of the story to which I belong. I asked myself: what is the secret which attracts so many people to Christ by following the road traced by Fr. Giussani? Why did I myself follow that road? My encounter with friends from the movement was first of all a great promise. I wanted to stay with those friends because I intuited that, by following them, I might have been able to have a more full life. I had received a Catholic education so I knew Christian truths, but nonetheless I was still in search of a more personal relationship with Jesus. In this sense, the encounter with Fr. Giussani’s charism constituted a promise, one which didn’t make everything immediately clear (a lot of truths remained and still remain implicit–mysteries to discover), but it allowed me to walk in a new light.
I would say that this is also the purpose of catechesis: to make a promise, to be a first introduction to the full life. Catechesis must present the person of Jesus and the key points of his teaching, but moreover it must invite young people to participate in a life in which they can, precisely through an ever-deepening knowledge of Christianity, discover in time their true identity and the real dimensions of their desire. This means not only offering answers, but also awakening the thirst for them. Or better, it implies offering answers which further enkindle the thirst of their heart.
In the articles of this issue of Fraternity and Mission one clearly perceives that the moment of catechesis is conceived as an introduction, as a tossing of a seed which must grow throughout one’s entire life. But good seeds and bad seeds both exist. A small defect at the beginning could, in time, lead it to significant disasters.
Blessed John Henry Newman, the great 19th century English theologian and philosopher, identified a certain danger for the faith not as much in intellectual errors, which are certainly important, but rather in those erroneous affections which certain literature can stir up in man’s heart. The first remain at an exterior level so to speak, while others instead become rooted in the depth of the soul. He writes, “I am not afraid of reading a book like the one by Comte, even if he’s Atheist, meanwhile anxiety provokes me when examining The Life of Christ by Strauss.” Newman is more fearful of the novelist than of the philosopher. In fact, “usually it’s not with reason, but with the imagination that you reach the heart.” Giussani also insisted very much on the importance of good readings, music and movies which could confer a beautiful shape to our hears. Other times he vehemently opposed works which risked ruining the souls of the simple-hearted.
Certainly, even the best catechist cannot guarantee success. This always depends on freedom. In time, in addressing the individual circumstances life presents us with, the true stature of the heart of each person is revealed. “Man, in fact, in his freedom affirms that which he has already decided starting from a secret departure,” Fr. Giussani says. He who has a good heart in time will deepen his fledgling faith. He who instead has a perverse heart will betray his faith. Therefore the first and great responsibility of every man consists in the forming of his very soul, in holding open our desire for the good and for the infinite. In this process of continual purification we can, however, allow ourselves to be helped by our neighbors. Like those little children who are helped by their catechists.
In the photo, children from St. Joseph Parish in Kahawa Sukari, Nairobi – Kenya are pictured.