To live is to be reborn. The question that Nicodemus puts before Jesus, how can a person once grown old be born again? (Jn 3:4), is the fundamental question of every moment of our lives. Can one be reborn, can one start over again after every difficulty, after every novelty that crosses our paths, after every separation to which God calls us?
God, in our lives, continuously works through a “déplacement.” Through this “displacement?” God continuously invites us to find ourselves. This offers the possibility of youth for our spirit: to freely follow God who calls us to embark on a journey, as he asked of Abraham.
Though my flesh and my heart fail, God is the rock of my heart, my portion forever, says Psalm 73 (Ps 73:26). “Though my flesh and my heart fail” does not mean “I approach death,” but rather means the opposite: “in front of your greatness my flesh and my heart fill with wonder.”
I think that this teaching is important for each one of us. This universal need to open oneself to what God does and renews in our lives is equally valuable for everyone. Without this continual openness defining our lives, we become old.
I want to speak with you about this continuous availability of our entire being to follow God who guides His people through the desert toward the Promised Land. The entire life of the Church, and the life of each one of us who comprises the Church, is this pilgrimage toward the Promised Land.
A personal calling
Reading and rereading the Gospel, I have begun to notice the weaving of a certain fabric of encounters. It appears as though Jesus, even when he is teaching the crowds, always addresses individuals. This was one of his unique gifts. Each individual felt personally attended to, and felt burn inside of himself the answer Jesus gave, or better the answer that He Himself was to the question that was the life of that individual. The Church is not primarily an organization, a house where everything is already done without you, but it’s a community of people for whom the event of Christ event happens now. It happens to the extent of each person’s “yes” to God, who proposes Himself through the face of the Son.
It seems to me that the great treasure we have received from the pedagogy of Don Giussani is this personal element of availability. If I look back deeply in my memory, not only at my relationship with him, but at the whole history of the movement, I discover this absolute priority: the priority of the person. Jesus really came first and foremost for me. He has loved me, and has given himself up for me (cfr. Gal 2:20). This expression of St. Paul, which recalls in a few words all of what happened to him, excites and illuminates continuously our lives as well.
The life of man is called to action. This is particularly true for the life of each priest and the life of each religious community alive in the world today. But if our action is not continuously looking for its original source, inside a personal dialogue with He who creates us, our every action wears us out.
It would be as if a terrible illness infected the Church is it were to think of itself as already given, take its very existence for granted, independently of the continuous “yes” of each one of us. The Church takes life from a continuous dialogue between the work fo God, that reaches us through His word and His sacraments, and our response, our opening of ourselves to his gesture which forgive and renews us. This “Eucharistic reality of the ecclesial event” represents the most beautiful and consoling discovery of my life.
A great help in your lives is the fact that you live in a house, in which you live and celebrate the Eucharist together. Day after day, being together in prayer, in study, in work; being together with all your different nuanced sensitivities, makes life into a continuous event. The initiative of God toward our person is a “continuum,” an action that continues moment after moment. It is not a program that one takes up, walks away from, and then takes up again. It is not the following of programed initiatives from above to which one participates and adheres. Instead it is the continuous initiative of the “I” that responds to God who calls it. Only through this permanent, effective dialogue between us and God and man can a truly Christian action take root in the world, an action that becomes no longer external to us, but rather lives inside this dialogue between us and God who creates us. It is like an expansion of this dialogue to other people, to our personal intellectual and physical work.
Often I see in the church the sickness of “activism.” Activism is an action that loses the memory of its origin. First I create myself, and then I act. First I believe, and then I love. First I fill myself up with energy from faith, and then turn elsewhere. Activism loses sight of the dialogue with God, and becomes a relationship with men in which the dialogue with God is only a distant memory, a fantasy.
At the origin of our availability there is a permanent dialogue with the Mystery, in which our person is continuously enriched by the voice and grace of God.
The discovery of communion
There is a second step: the discovery that this dialogue between my person and the Mystery has also reached others. The new seedling that takes root in the heart of my person through baptism, and which then matures into vocation, also involves others. It is a dialogue so deep and so close, that one feels these others as part of oneself. In time I discover that God calls us together. At the beginning, with everything deriving from my response to the Being who calls me, I can for a moment live by this alone. But immediately I discover that others have heard the same voice, that the same grace has reached them too. It is the mystery of the Visitation: Mary, “in haste,” as Saint Luke says (Lk 1:39), without hesitation, rushes to meet Elizabeth. This is the discovery of communion.
Our availability, which is born as if to say “Here I am” to God who calls us through His Son, is a seed that allows the reality of the Church to take root in the world. The Church is that reality of those whom he calls together so that they may become the beginning of His face in history. They are the beginning of a new people, on the road to their fulfillment. This discovery of communion is the most beautiful discovery possible in life, a communion that will never abandon us, a communion that fills us from the beginning with a sense of its destiny, and therefore gives us the spirit to carry on.
I thank Father Giussani for having placed in my life this experience: at the precise moment in which God created me and renewed me, he was also thinking about others; he placed me within a body. He placed me within his body, and allowed me to discover others who also made up part of this body.
The discovery of the other who is called alongside myself starts me off on a journey of change. To recognize oneself as belonging to the Church through belonging to others is not a static facet of the vocation. On the contrary, it is an strikingly dynamic event that creates tension within every fiber of my being, making me sense how much I still need to change, and which gives birth to my desire for ascesis and conversion. This is a sort of contest that I live with the others, yet without anxiety, without judgments on myself or on them; a challenge, yet one that places blame neither on myself nor those in my community. A tension to arrive at Christ’s level: He is the measure without measure on whom we must rest our gaze. We are only able to look at others and ourselves in sincerity and truth if we watch Him.
If availability is at first our opening up of ourselves to the infiniteness of God who calls me, it is then converted into a common discipleship. I discover travelling companions among those who are called with me. I discover the Church.
A sign for the world
At the end of the day, I discover the universe. This small or large community that is born is a sign for the world. It is the beginning of a transformation of the whole world, which begins with the transformation of the piece of ground in which He has put me.
Availability becomes the tool God uses to make Himself visible in history. It does not matter if this visible presence in history has the features of a small or large community, creates schools or hospitals, invites someone over for dinner now and then or instead becomes the heart of a visible, great, numerous people. These Eucharistic communities can have different dimensions and forms, but each is animated by the consciousness of being the face of God inside the history of the world.