ROME, FEB. 23, 2005 (ZENIT.org).-
Here is one of the last public addresses given by Monsignor Luigi
Giussani, the founder of the ecclesial movement Communion and
Liberation. He died Tuesday at age 82.
He wrote this address for the Nov. 24-28 meeting of the Pontifical
Council for the Laity. The theme of the assembly was
"Rediscovering the True Face of the Parish."
* * *
Faith Is Given Us So That We Communicate It
By Monsignor Luigi Giussani
Can man save himself? To this question Christ answers, "No, man
cannot save himself; it is in the companionship of God, of the mystery
who has set himself beside him, part of his humanity, that Christ is
the answer to man's supreme need, the need for his own
salvation." This is the inconceivable and unforeseeable answer to
man's need for salvation.
So the more man is aware of his limitation -- his frailty, his
wrongdoing, his incapacity -- the more he is able to open himself to
this answer. I think Reinhold Niebuhr's phrase is significant:
"Nothing is so incredible as the answer to a question that is not
asked." The gravest opposition, the greatest obstacle to the
acknowledgment of Christ is, first and foremost, the
non-acknowledgment of one's own human need, of the question that our
humanity itself is.
How is what happened 2,000 years ago present here and now? The answer,
as each of us knows, more or less, is: In the Church, the body of
Christ, as St. Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians, the Church
"in which is the fullness of Christ" (cf. Ephesians
It is in the Church that Christ is present. The Holy Father noted this
in a speech that is memorable for me. "The rising up of the
ecclesial body as an institution, its persuasive force and binding
energy, have their roots in the dynamism of sacramental grace"
[John Paul II to the priests participating in a course of spiritual
exercises promoted by Communion and Liberation, Castel Gandolfo, Sept.
12, 1985]. In other words, the rising up of the ecclesial body, which
is the way in which Christ is present here and now, is the work of the
Spirit, "Dominum et vivificantem."
But how does the Church happen in its relationship with me, with the
person? How does this influence, this nexus come about? The Pope's
reply is that the rising up of the ecclesial body as an institution,
as a persuasive force and binding energy, has its roots in the
dynamism of sacramental grace, beginning with baptism. "However,
it finds its expressive form, its operative modality, its concrete
historical incidence, through the various charisms that characterize a
temperament and a personal history" (ibid.).
The Pope calls "charism" the mode with which the Church
takes up expressive form in a concrete, historical detail. The
expressive form implies a determined, concrete, historical detail, and
remains abstract if not considered up to this point. Its concrete
historical incidence is realized by means of the various charisms that
characterize a temperament and a particular history.
Let's keep in mind that the word "charism" has the same
root, "charis," as the word "grace," and points to
the energy with which the Spirit, in its intervention, re-creates the
follower of Christ. If it were not to become concrete, adequate to my
temperament and to my history, the Church would remain abstract.
In the same address, the Pope went on: "The charisms of the
Spirit always create affinities destined to sustain each person in his
objective task in the Church" (ibid.). A communion is created
through this affinity: "The creation of this sort of communion is
a universal law. Living it out is an aspect of obedience to the great
mystery of the Spirit" (ibid.).
What is obedience to the great mystery of the Spirit? Only one thing:
"To believe in Jesus Christ." Christ becomes present here
and now through a charism that, by valuing temperament, personality,
and personal sensitivity and history, creates an affinity and this
establishes a communion; to obey this communion is to obey the great
mystery of the Spirit. It is to go to Christ!
Let us imagine a parish with 3,000 inhabitants and only one priest. He
tries his best every Sunday from the pulpit, but leaves the faithful
indifferent. In this town, the faith languishes; people go to Church
in virtue of memories that still live on. Those who have a bit of life
in them owe it to a personal piety. That priest is an ineffectual
personality, so he is transferred -- he gets a promotion.
Another priest comes; he has more seniority, but he is sent there
because he has fallen out with the Curia. On the first Sunday, he
preaches at Mass, and immediately five people out of the 500 or so
present are struck by what he says, and feel the need to get more
involved with the Church and with the faith.
Imagine that those five people go separately to the new priest and
tell him, "Listen, I was moved by what you said on Sunday and I
realize that the faith has to involve my life and I want my life to be
involved in the faith." So, since there are few structures in the
town, the priest says, "Let's get together and form a small
pastoral council." He will try firstly to nurture this small
group, and with their help he will try to tackle the problems in the
As two of them are man and wife, and rather well-off, since he is a
doctor and she a teacher, they set up some initiative in the town,
perhaps a small health center to help poor people, or a study group
for youngsters. Then some more families join them, and after some
months the parish is changed beyond recognition.
There is an intense participation in the Church's life and a great
familiarity between the priest and his people; there is a kind of
vibration of hope in those people, a desire to get to know the faith
and the Church's teaching that was not there before. This happened
because the priest who went there had a personality, a sensitivity, a
temperament and a personal history that got things moving, that
created movement. What happened is called "movement."
With the previous parish priest it didn't happen. It was not for any
fault of his, but because the times of the Spirit are the times of the
Spirit. So, in the case of the second parish priest, a charism was at
work and a charism is characterized by historical incidence.
Without the movement I have tried to describe, a parish is arid and
remains a mere institution. I have told my friends many times about my
late mother and her priest, Father Amedeo, in Desio. Through his
presence in the confessional, more than through the youth center, he
created a reality of hundreds of women, all from Catholic families and
devoted to the parish, all Children of Mary. They would go to Mass at
5 o'clock every morning, and were always ready to help when the parish
needed something. Everyone in the parish knew them.
That priest in his confessional had created a movement in the parish,
and in the town. If there had been a hundred thousand instead of a
hundred of them, even the Corriere della Sera would have written about
them! Father Amedeo, the curate in my huge parish 60 years ago, guided
so many young people to Christian maturity, who then went on to bring
up so many sound Christian families, and they were always ready to
help the parish priest when he needed it.
With this example, I wanted to stress the absolutely personal nature
of the way in which Christ, present here and now in the reality of the
Church, becomes expressive, persuasive, educationally effective and
constructive; able to build up a people.
So, I believe the Pope introduced the term "movement" as an
ecclesiological category fundamental for describing pastoral dynamics.
Thus the word "movement" is not a problem that touches me
particularly because we constitute a movement recognized by the
Church, but is rather something that indicates a permanent mode in the
Church's history through which the faith becomes persuasive,
educationally effective and constructive, and brings a change in life.
This appears clear when we read St. Paul's letters, which mention
Aquila and Prisca. The Spirit came down into the hearts of people who
went to each others' homes through a personal temperament and history.
If we don't understand this origin of a movement, we are unable to
grasp how the institution we have in our hands -- a parish, an
association, or a group -- can become alive, and so we can first
become pretentious, and then disgusted and cynical, without hope.
For example, if I, as a parish priest, have people coming to me
saying, "We want to work with you," and see that they are
enthusiastic and fresh, thanks to something that has moved them
(perhaps the encounter with a movement), the first thing I must desire
is that they deepen faithfully what has aroused them, the experience
that has struck them. Only in this case can the parish community
The aim of all that happens in the Church is to adhere to Christ so as
to make his victory over the world present, and thus to anticipate the
end of the world.
This phrase stresses the doctrinal content, from an existential point
of view, the living object of faith, adhesion of life: "Whether
you eat or drink, whether you wake or sleep, whether you live or
die" (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:10) -- in other words, everything --
so that the world may be ever more imbued with the miracle of a
witness, that is to say, that the world may acknowledge him more and
more. This is mission.
Christ himself has already defined the reason for which he came in
Chapter 17 of John's Gospel, "I came that they may have eternal
life: and this is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (cf. John 17:3-4).
The aim of the faith we have been given is the mission, and the
mission is not for the hereafter, but for here and now. This is the
category of our relationship with the world, whose first aspect is in
us; it arises from the astonishment of feeling ourselves created
The more a parish finds priests and faithful for whom the surprise of
the Christ event, encountered and acknowledged, becomes the
all-embracing horizon for thought and action and impassioned love for
the mystery and for the destiny of their fellow men, the more the
parish will be alive.
So the word "movement" describes the existential historical
way in which the Church becomes a living Church. I believe that a
priest who has a parish, or a priest who has a community of a
movement, and doesn't pray the Spirit and doesn't tend to arouse some
reality of "movement," will leave the Church like a tomb.
The only thing that will be left of his parish will be the office, and
the only thing that will be left of the community will be a group with
a purely psychological or sociological value.
If a parish is alive, it is a movement, in the sense spoken of by John
Paul II: "The Church herself is ‘a movement'" [to the
participants in the Convention "Movements in the Church,"
Castel Gandolfo, Sept. 27, 1981]. So, the theme of movement is in no
sense an alternative to the institution, but indicates the way in
which the institution becomes alive and missionary, because the faith
is not given us in order that we preserve it, but in order that we
communicate it. If we don't have the passion to communicate it, we
don't preserve it.
[Original distributed by Communion