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An Exercise in FaithAn Exercise in Faith

An Exercise in Faith

Where, Father Julián Carrón asks, is our first love?

8 minute read

I "But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" It seems to me that this question expresses better than any other the true question before each of us in these very particular times. Since we have eard it many times, there is the sk that we set it aside, considering bit exaggerated—a quotation Jesus that does not really concern if to say, "What does it have to do Maybe it's applicable to others, unagnostics. But for us?" In this way, question before we even start.

II If faith becomes only a self-evident presupposition or is reduced to some ethical consequences, what remains of the fascination for Christ?

III Our bewilderment in the face of life's problems is strictly related to our difficulty in incarnating faith in life. If faith is not a resource for living the difficulties we are forced to face, what is the use of believing? What does it mean to have faith?

IV "The great problem of today's world is no longer an inquiring theorization but an existential question. Not ‘Who is right?' but ‘How can one live?'" [Quoting Father Giussani from conversation at the International Council of Communion and Liberation, November 1991.]

V Every day [is] the same lack and the same toil—an interminable, annoying toil, like flies in the summer. This daily life is the "life that cripples a man." Great pain or death do not discourage us, in the end, but this daily life that cripples us is what makes life truly dramatic. We need to verify faith in the daily life that cripples us, not in our thoughts, our intentions our sentiments or our arguments, but in the challenges of reality!

VI Saint Paul certainly was not spared enormous difficulties, but they led him to certainty: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake, we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord." Is this a beautiful sentence we agree with, or is it a certainty, the fruit of lived experience? We all know very well the difference between repeating sentences and expressing lived experience, full of flesh, documented by life.

VII What endures when we are stripped of all our certainties? Who are we? To whom do we belong? What lasts after the failure of so many of our projects? What happens when our claims come to nothing? What remains is what has happened to us, because nobody can take that away, not even ourselves with our disappointment, anger or rebellion. What remains is a fact that happened to us.

VIII Do we expect, as Father Giussani challenges us, truly everything from the fact of Christ, or deep down are we not as naive (we say to each other) as in the beginning? Is Christ just one among many things, a starting point for our projects? Do we believe that Christ is the adequate answer for us now, in our present circumstances, at our age? Does faith in Christ concern life or is it just a list of abstract affirmations or initiatives?

IX Where is our first love?

X Christianity reveals itself, in its nature, as response to a present need. Thus it will interest us today if it responds to the need that characterizes the person we are, to that "everlasting, grinding toil" of life that "cripples us." [Quoting from Dialogues with Leucó by Cesare Pavese.]

XI The Gospels continually document it: The needy were the ones who sought out Jesus. The prototypes are the tax collectors. It is amazing to read in the Gospels—but we almost fail to notice; it passes almost unobserved in its simplicity....

XII How is it that those who would seem the farthest, the least interested, in staying with Him are those who most seek Him? What did they see in Him that they did not find elsewhere? Only with Him were they able to look at themselves.

XIII They sought Him out because with Him they were not forced to hide anything: Everything was manifest to His gaze.

XIV "You cannot remain immobile, where you were before Christ called, when Christ gave a vocation, when Christ came close to our life, when He asked our life to be His testimony in the world. You cannot be like before: Either you become sadder, you sadden even more—even if it seems you breathe better, because you return to doing what is convenient for you; you become squalid in a way that is also humanly embarrassing and pitiful—or you are transfigured." [Quoting Father Giussani from notes from a lesson at the Spiritual Exercises of the novices of Memores Domini, August 1982.]

XV That Christianity is an event, an experience, means the predominance of a presence—not just any presence, but that Presence able to respond to life's needs.

XVI Christianity is not what remains after an event, but it is always an event, otherwise it would document its unreliability. In fact, something that is not in some way present does not exist. Either it is happening now or it does not exist.

XVII Without need, without a wound, one immediately closes any possibility from this unforeseen, trying to put things in order. Need is the necessary condition, not for the event but for acknowledging it. An event rushes in, happens, irreducibly, here and now, and is not a consequence of antecedents. Need enables us to see the event, to recognize it.

XVIII This presence is so irreducible that it generates a newness so great it enables us to look at everything under a new, less confused, truer light. This experience of newness in the relationship with everything introduces us to the true knowledge of Christ. It enables us to grasp His value for our life. It enables us to know Jesus, not as an abstract definition but as experience.

XIX The disciples showed us this: The attraction of that Presence was so great that they left everything to follow Him. Why? His presence so bowled over their life, so responded to their hunger and thirst for meaning and affection, that He was enough. The satisfaction was so powerful that following Him was the only possibility for them, one not to be lost. Morality had the same origin as wonder: His presence. In fact, morality arises from the Presence, not from an effort of the will. Moralism has a different origin from following (which is always wonder at a presence).

XX One understands how those who encounter Him, as Dostoevsky wrote, cannot do without Him....

XXI When the disciples do not realize the importance of the Presence they have encountered, they begin to look for personal advantage. "Then Peter said to Him in reply, ‘We have given up everything and followed You. What will there be for us?'" But isn't His presence everything? Not even Peter realizes it.

XXII What are the substitutes we rely on? They differ very little from those of the Apostles....

XXIII Just think how a person in love easily sees in others when [their] relationship... has stopped being something that is happening and has become something different from the enthusiasm for a presence.

XXIV Christ is not, cannot be, something we have read about or a discourse that we know how to parrot back.

XXV Christianity is so much an event that when it becomes a phenomenon of the past, one cannot make it happen again with another method, Father Giussani tells us, that is not that of the event itself. Christianity is so much an event that it must happen again. If we are unhooked from it, if a discontinuity has been produced (so that what happened in the past has become a pious memory), when we try to make it happen again with our initiatives, we do not succeed.

XXVI No effort of ours can bridge the gap, can transform a pious memory into a present event.

XXVII Activism or inwardness: What dominates is no longer the event that imposes itself and changes our perception of ourselves, generating a new way of looking and a new passion for everything.

XXVIII We are truly needy! What a liberation it is to acknowledge it and be able to look at it together. This liberation must lead us to prayer....

XXIX We can regain life again only through the Passion of His Son, says the Liturgy. But often, for us, unaware of our drama, saying this is reduced to "devotion." How do we see this? We see it in the way we face need, in our presumption and superciliousness. Instead, what we need, to use the words of Saint Bernard, is precisely that Christ return and "restore unto me the joy of His salvation," restore unto me Himself.

XXX How does Christianity endure in history as a present event? Through those who have been seized by Him, through those in whom the awareness of His presence has become predominant.

XXXI Our first activity, then, is the passivity of letting ourselves be involved in [the] initiative of Christ present in the Church.

XXXII This alone is the continual source of a real communion among us. Only the Eucharistic Communion can transform us to the point of generating one body, filling all our relationships with His presence. Our communion with Christ, and with our sisters and brothers, needs to be continually rebuilt by mercy....

XXXIII Without mercy, there is no journey, no communion.

XXXIV "Faith can only happen in man and in the world if something that is grace, pure grace, happens first: the Christ event, the encounter with Christ, in which man experiences something exceptional that cannot happen on its own. Essentially, faith is recognizing a Presence that is different, recognizing an exceptional, Divine Presence." [Quoting Father Giussani.]

XXXV Faith is not a sentiment or a set of ethics, because it is not in our hands; it is not in our capacity to generate the Presence that corresponds to us.

XXXVI Christian faith is so determined by the object that without this Presence it simply would not exist. It is like falling in love: Without the presence of the beloved, it simply would not exist.

XXXVII Saint Paul says that nobody can say that Jesus is Lord (that is, truly make a full act of faith) except through the Holy Spirit, which brings reason and freedom to their apex because Christian faith is so human that it exalts all our humanity, reason and freedom. Without this exaltation and without our deciding to participate in this exaltation, there is no faith.

XXXVIII If this Presence does not dominate in our eyes, in our life, as something real and present, if this Presence does not fill our way of relating with reality, we live the relationship with everything just like everyone else does.

XXXIX Today, in our world, in our culture, if reason and freedom are not present in the act of faith, there will no longer be faith—in a world in which everything says the opposite, we cannot believe merely out of habit.

XL What is the sign of faith as experience? Gladness. If this victory is not a lived experience, we are not glad. You cannot hide it. We can fill our gatherings with words, but if the experience of the victory of Christ in us is lacking, then "we are not glad and we can change nothing around us."

XLI Making faith personal does not at all mean centring upon one's own problems or suspending missionary impetus.... But unless faith shows its pertinence to our personal problems, our mission is presumption....

XLII "You learn to live life by following one who lives.... You follow an example not a discourse, because a discourse is at the mercy of one's own interpretation, while following an example challenges our way of doing things." [Quoting Father Giussani, Meeting of CL Priests, January 7, 1980.]

XLIII We cannot mistake experience for something else: Experience is the place of evidence. If we adhere to it, we cannot get confused.

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