"Where There Is Faith, There Is Freedom"
Eight years ago today, having previously declined 23 years of requests to serve as papal legate to some or another event in the wider church, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ascended the steep pulpit of the Milan Duomo (above) to deliver the homily that – in the eyes of many – served as the sudden kick-start of his path to the papacy.
The event was an especially significant one for the then-CDF prefect – the funeral for Msgr Luigi Giussani, the legendary founder of the global Comunione e Liberazione (Communion and Liberation) movement, to which Ratzinger had quietly become an adherent, to the extent of recruiting four consecrated lay members of CL's lay branch, the Memores Domini, to comprise his household, and participating in their weekly School of Community: a practice which, under a laywoman's leadership, he's faithfully kept every Saturday afternoon as Pope.
Six weeks before the death of John Paul II, after 23 years of a global reputation as "God's Rottweiler" or the "Panzerkardinal," his message – delivered before tens of thousands who flowed into the piazza outside and before a national audience on Italian state television – began the process with which the church, beginning with the cardinals, would suddenly come to see the German prelate with new eyes.
Much as the rest is history, this Sunday, in a way, the path comes full circle... and as the backstory pertains to the volatile, beyond uncertain journey to come, well, 'nuff said.
All that said, given the confluence of this anniversary and the fresh milestones just ahead, here again is that memorable homily's full text.
These words of the Gospel just read indicate the center of the personality and of the life of our dear Fr Giussani.
Fr Giussani grew up in a home—as he himself said—poor as far as bread was concerned, but rich with music, and thus from the start he was touched, or better, wounded, by the desire for beauty. He was not satisfied with any beauty whatever, a banal beauty, he was looking rather for Beauty itself, infinite Beauty, and thus he found Christ, in Christ true beauty, the path of life, the true joy.
Already as a boy, along with other young men, he created a community called Studium Christi. Their program was to speak of nothing else but Christ, because everything else seemed to be a waste of time. Naturally, he was able to overcome the unilaterality, but he always kept the substance. Only Christ gives meaning to the whole of our life. Fr Giussani always kept the eyes of his life and of his heart fixed on Christ. In this way, he understood that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism, Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event.
This love affair with Christ, this love story which is the whole of his life was however far from every superficial enthusiasm, from every vague romanticism. Really seeing Christ, he knew that to encounter Christ means to follow Christ. This encounter is a road, a journey, a journey that passes also—as we heard in the psalm—through the “valley of darkness.” In the Gospel, we heard of the last darkness of Christ’s suffering, of the apparent absence of God, when the world’s Sun was eclipsed. He knew that to follow is to pass through a “valley of darkness,” to take the way of the cross, and to live all the same in true joy.
Why is it so? The Lord himself translated this mystery of the cross, which is really the mystery of love, with a formula in which the whole reality of our life is explained. The Lord says, “Whoever seeks his life, will lose it and whoever loses his life, will find it.”
Fr Giussani really wanted not to have his life for himself, but he gave life, and exactly in this way found life not only for himself, but for many others. He practised what we heard in the Gospel: he did not want to be served but to served, he was a faithful servant of the Gospel, he gave out all the wealth of his heart, he gave out all the divine wealth of the Gospel, with which he was penetrated and, serving in this way, giving his life, this life of his gave rich fruit—as we see in this moment—he has become really father of many and, having led people not to himself, but to Christ, he really won hearts, he has helped to make the world better and to open the world’s doors for heaven.
This centrality of Christ in his life gave him also the gift of discernment, of deciphering correctly the signs of the times in a difficult time, full of temptations and of errors, as we know. Think of 1968 and the following years. A first group of his followers went to Brazil and found itself face to face with extreme poverty, with extreme misery. What can be done? How can we respond? And there was a great temptation to say, “for the moment we have to set Christ aside, set God aside, because there are more pressing needs, we have first to change the structure, the external things, first we must improve the earth, then we can find heaven again.” It was the great temptation of that moment to transform Christianity into a moralism and moralism into politics, to substitute believing with doing. Because what does faith imply? We can cay, “in this moment we have to do something.” And all the same, in this way, by substituting faith with moralism, believing with doing, we fall into particularisms, we lose most of all the criteria and the orientations, and in the end we don’t build, but divide.
Monsignor Giussani, with his fearless and unfailing faith, knew that, even in this situation, Christ, the encounter with Him, remains central, because whoever does not give God, gives too little, and whoever does not give God, whoever does not make people find God in the Fact of Christ, does not build, but destroys, because he gets human activity lost in ideological and false dogmatisms.
Fr Giussani kept the centrality of Christ and, exactly in this way, with social works, with necessary service, he helped mankind in this difficult world, where the responsibility of Christians for the poor in the world is enormous and urgent.
Whoever believes has also to pass through the “valley of darkness,” the dark valleys of discernment, as well as adversities, opposition and ideological hostilities that even took the form of threats to eliminate his people physically, so as to get rid of this other voice that is not content merely with doing things, but brings a greater message , and thus also a greater light.
In virtue of the faith, Monsignor Giussani passed fearlessly through these dark valleys and naturally, with the novelty he carried with him, found it difficult to find a niche inside the Church. Even though the Holy Spirit, according to the needs of the times, creates something new, which is really the return to the origins, it is difficult to see one’s way and to find peaceful harmony in the great communion of the Universal Church. Fr Giussani’s love for Christ was also love for the Church, and thus he always remained a faithful servant, faithful to the Holy Father and faithful to his Bishops. With his foundations he also gave new interpretation to the mystery of the Church.
Communion and Liberation brings to mind immediately this discovery proper of the modern era, freedom. It also brings to mind St Ambrose’s phrase, “Ubi fides est libertas.” Cardinal Biffi drew our attention to the near coincidence of this phrase of St Ambrose with the foundation of Communion and Liberation. Focussing on freedom as a gift proper of faith, he also told us that freedom, in order to be true, human freedom, freedom in truth, needs communion. An isolated freedom, a freedom only for the “I,” would be a lie, and would destroy human communion. In order to be true, and therefore in order to be efficient, freedom needs communion, and not just any kind of communion, but ultimately communion with truth itself, with love itself, with Christ, with the Trinitarian God. Thus is built community that creates freedom and gives joy.
The other foundation, the Memores Domini, brings to mind again the second Gospel read today: the memory that the Lord gave us in the Holy Eucharist, memory that is not merely a remembrance of the past, but memory that creates present, memory in which He gives Himself into our hands and into our hearts, and thus makes us live.
Through valleys of darkness. In the last period of his life, Fr Giussani had to pass through the dark valley of sickness, of infirmity, of pain, of suffering, but here, too, his eyes were fixed on Jesus, and thus he remained true in all the suffering, seeing Jesus, he was able to rejoice; the joy of the Risen One was present, who even in the passion is the Risen One and gives us the true light and joy, and he knew that—as the psalm says—even passing though this valley, “I fear no evil because I know that You are with me, and I will dwell in the Father’s house.” This was his great strength, knowing that “You are with me.”
My dear faithful, dear young people above all, let us take this message to heart, let us not lose sight of Christ and let us not forget that without God nothing good can be built and that God remains enigmatic if he is not recognized in the face of Christ.
Now your dear friend Fr Giussani has reached the other world, and we are convinced that the door of the Father’s house has opened, we are convinced that now this word is fully realized: they rejoiced to see Jesus. He is rejoicing with a joy that no one can take from him. In this moment we wish to thank the Lord for the great gift of this priest, of this faithful servant of the Gospel, of this father. We entrust his soul to the goodness of his Lord and ours.
In this hour we wish to pray particularly, too, for the health of the Holy Father, taken once more into Hospital. May the Lord accompany him and give him strength and health. And let us pray that the Lord enlighten us, give us the faith that builds the world, the faith that makes us find the path of life, true joy. Amen.