Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fides, Ratio... et Cielini

As previously noted, the head of Comunione e Liberazione Fr Julian Carrón made his first major US appearance at a Sunday conference at NYU.

Quoting de Tocqueville, Giussani and (CL über-disciple) Papa Ratzi, the fulltext of Carrón's remarks have been released by the movement.

With the topic "Can Faith Broaden Reason?" the conference's discussion took its launch-pad from a posthumously-released work of the cielini founder -- a friend and confidant of three Popes -- titled Is It Possible to Live This Way?

First I would like to put Giussani’s book into the context of the present situation. This situation can be characterised by two things.

First of all, the reduction of religion to feeling and ethics. For a majority of people religion has nothing to do with reality. Religion has to do with a nebulous feeling in relationship with the divine. Such a feeling is difficult to identify, because what I feel in front of the Mystery is not easy to grasp and one person might have it and another might not. Therefore for a majority of people religion has nothing to do with the knowledge of reality. For them religion is not related with reason.

This can explain the second characteristic of the present situation, which is confusion. The modern world had surrendered regarding the possibility of knowing. This can seem strange at a time when science prevails. But this negative attitude with regard to knowledge and a high emphasis of science are not contradictory. Recently the Pope spoke about the resignation of western civilisation before reality.
“Our faith opposes decisively the resignation that considers man incapable of truth, as if this would be too much for him. This resignation before the truth is, in my opinion, the nucleus of the Western crisis. If there is no truth, man is incapable of distinguishing between good and evil”.
What this resignation means has been clarified last Thursday by the same Benedict XVI in his talk to the Sapienza University of Rome:
“The danger facing the Western world ... is that man today, precisely because of the immensity of his knowledge and power, surrenders before the question of truth. This means that, in the end, reason gives way before the pressure of other interests and the lure of efficiency, and is forced to recognise this as the ultimate criterion”.
The result is confusion.

In this state of affairs religion is thrown outside of reality. It is considered a phenomenon nearer to a virtual world than to the real one. Consequently for many people faith is like believing in ghosts.

When Giussani wrote this book, the situation was not yet as clear as it is for us now, but his genius could recognise the signs of the times, and now we are living through these times. For this reason this book can give us an amazing insight into an understanding of the context in which we are called to live our Christian faith and how to face it....

Religion, reality and reason are inseparable. These things illuminate each other reciprocally. In his lecture at the University of Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI challenged everyone to a “broadening of our concept of reason and its application. ”What does it mean to broaden reason? It means nothing other than living religion, that is, recognizing the Mystery in reality. What is religion? It is the apex of reason. Therefore, reason does not fulfill its true nature as reason if it does not open itself to religion; and religion remains a mere sentiment unless it coincides with our rational nature. John Paul II said so in an interview quoted in Fides et Ratio:
“When the why of things is investigated with integrity, seeking the totality, in the search for the ultimate and most complete answer, then human reason touches its apex and opens to religion. In effect, religiosity represents the most elevated expression of the human person, because it is the culmination of his rational nature.”
This is what prevents us from reducing reason and religion to any of the number of reductions in use among us, in our culture, that influence us as well.

Christian faith has to do with reality. The claims of Christian faith is that the divine, the Mystery became man. In Jesus of Nazareth “the mystery which was kept secret for long ages – says Saint Paul – … is now disclosed and … is made known to all nations” (Rm 16: 25). Because of this reason has to do with a real person whom we can know. This is the conviction that all Christians recognise in the words of the Apostle John:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1: 4)....
How can we know Christ? Among the two methods used by reason we had hinted at, the only one that applies is faith. We do not know Christ directly, neither by evidence, nor by analysis of our experience. The only method which allows us to know Christ is through a witness that makes him present now. “Christ’s relevance [contemporaneousness] for people of all times is shown forth in his body, which is the Church.” It is Christ’s contemporaneousness, his presence to us today, that allows me to verify the truth of the Christian claim. This is the only hypothesis faithful to the nature of the Christian event as we can recognise it in history.

If we look at the first time in history, in the chronological sense, when was the problem of Christ first posed?
“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” (John 1: 36-38)
For the first two that followed Jesus, John and Andrew, what is the first characteristic of the faith that they had in Jesus? The first characteristic is a fact! It is a fact that had the characteristic of an encounter. “The encounter with an objective event, absolutely independent of the person who has the encounter”. The first characteristic of the Christian faith is that it starts off from a fact, a fact that has the form of an encounter.

What is the second characteristic? The second characteristic is the exceptional nature of the fact. When can we call something exceptional? Something is exceptional when it corresponds to the deepest needs of our heart. To find an exceptional man means to find a man who brings about a correspondence with what you are longing for, with the need for justice, truth, happiness, love. Something truly exceptional is something divine: it has something divine in it. If not, it doesn’t really bring us to God. “Exceptional” is synonymous with the word “divine”.

Andrei Tarkovsky, the famous Russian film-maker, made one of his characters in the movie “Andrei Rublev” say: “You know very well, you can’t manage one thing, you are tired, you are exhausted, and at a moment you meet among the people the gaze of somebody, somebody’s gaze, and it is as if you approach the hidden divine, and everything becomes easier”.

The third characteristic is wonder. His first two followers, John and Andrew, became friends of Jesus and started to see Jesus’ miracles. Let us imagine people who are witnesses of these things for days, weeks, months and years. Little by little they became more and more aware of the uniqueness of this man and they cannot avoid asking the question: “Who is He?”

This is the fourth factor. Christian faith begins precisely with this question: “Who is He?”

Last point: Responsibility before the fact. A fact which challenges reason and freedom.

To summarize: an encounter – strikes me in its exceptionality – solicits wonder – provokes the question “who is He?” – and challenges my reason and freedom.

I said that faith is a form of knowledge that is beyond the limits of reason. Why is it beyond the limits of reason? Because it grasps something that reason cannot grasp: reason cannot perceive “the presence of Jesus among us”, “Christ is here now”, – reason cannot grasp this in the manner in which faith is capable of. Reason cannot not admit that He is here. Why? Because there is a factor here within that decides about this companionship, certain results of this companionship, certain resonances in this companionship, a factor so surprising that if I don’t affirm something other, I don’t give reason to the experience, because reason is to affirm experiential reality according to all the factors that make it up, all the factors. For example, we who fill this room right now come from completely different places and backgrounds; we have quite different temperaments and sensitivities. The fact that we are here now cannot be adequately accounted for if we overlooked the fact that we were all moved by someone who made himself present in our lives and who is present among us now.