When I think about Fr. Giussani, I remember many aspects of his charism that have marked my life in a particular way. I will share three of these aspects.
Fr. Giussani had the gift of a profoundly united vision of reality. This was one of the first characteristics about him that left an impression on me during my college years. Hearing him speak many times during his lectures at the Catholic University of Milan, or at the frequent assemblies and meetings offered by the CL movement, I was left in awe of his ability to make connections. He talked about how reason was “openness to reality according to all of its factors.” He taught us that one discovers the meaning of the specific in the “link that binds that particular to everything” and that precisely this is what it means to “judge.” These definitions were not, however, part of a theory. Rather they manifested something incomparably present in his way of thinking, his way of looking at things, and his way of living. Each one of his reflections emerged from a compelling and fascinating understanding, that was both free and solid at the same time. In any specific, he knew how to see the whole. Listening to him, everything seemed to belong to an order.
At the same time, in sharing his thought, faith, and life, Giussani did not avoid communicating strong tensions. Giussani had a dramatic character. His reflection was both full of restlessness and also profoundly peaceful. Attending his lectures or listening to him respond to our questions was an intense experience. Never satisfied by the formulations we offered, he felt the need to continually describe and redescribe that truth which he contemplated. Thus he taught us to look for what was new not in what was different, but rather in a deeper understanding of what was true.
In addition Fr. Giussani had the gift of reading the gospel in a way that made it come alive. In my encounter with him, this was another personally decisive experience for me. The Christ about whom he spoke was nearby. He was “Christ the man.” Giussani identified Christ as an “exceptional human person” to help us understand what “divine” meant. Jesus’ life and person thus began to take a precise shape, and my love for Him grew.
When the first writings of Fr. Giussani were published, I learned that right when he began working with young people he had felt the need to present “the bare gospel, thus revealing its strength and simplicity.” Through his witness, I too was touched by the unique beauty of the word of God, and by its elemental force which he recognized.
I remember an assembly which took place in a room hosted by the PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) on Mosè Bianchi street in Milan. One of us got up and spoke in front of everyone about a situation involving injustice and pain which he didn’t know how to look at adequately. Speaking succinctly but precisely, Giussani pointed out how every philosophy failed to respond adequately. No human reasoning could explain the mystery of evil. “So what remains?”, he asked us. “Only a historical fact can give sense to pain and suffering. A man crucified!” It was probably the first time in my adult years that I felt close to the cross. Giussani opened us up to understanding Scripture not only because he was skilled at involving us in the narrated scenes, but also and moreover because he helped us understand its concrete relevance to our lives.
Finally I want to share the passion with which Giussani proposed the Christian life to us as an experience of friendship.
One day I heard him cite a strikingly beautiful passage from St. Maximus the Confessor. He spoke of Christ as “the center to which all lines converge, a common place where all things can manifest their friendship and their peace.” Those words are like a portrait of Giussani himself. Starting from his experience of Christ, he really felt connected to everything and to everyone. He showed and communicated to us his natural interest in the situations and in the people with whom he entered into contact. He saw something familiar in all things.
Thus Giussani passed on to us a living experience of belonging to the Church. I remember my sense of wonder when, during my last year of college, I met the small communities of the movement in the United States, where I spent a year accompanying a friend and classmate. I had the impression that around Fr. Giussani the Acts of the Apostles came to life. Communities like those from which we came were being born in a world completely different from ours. Totally different people recognized themselves as deeply united by the encounter with him, and at the same time they felt that thanks to him, they were living this unity inside the unique tradition of the Church. Thus the Church became a friendship among us, one which spanned as wide as oceans and united geographically distant corners of the Earth. The world became our home, and every man became our brother.
During daily mass at the House of Formation in Rome, every day we ask that “Fr. Giussani may intercede before the Father on our behalf.” Thus we wish to express our gratitude for everything that has been given to us through him, and constantly entrust ourselves to his prayers. As we continue the journey of our lives alongside history, Fr. Giussani remains present as our father and teacher. In heaven we will experience the relationships which God establishes between us here on Earth to be profoundly renewed, and more beautiful and strong than before.
In the photo: Fr. Luigi Giussani during a retreat at Subiaco. Photo: Elio e Stefano Ciol