Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope Francis moved by Msgr. Giussani

Yesterday, while flying eastward from my beloved Utah (the true Zion, for those who are unaware), I took the opportunity to re-read then-Cardinal Bergoglio's short essay in A Generative Thought: An Introduction to the Works of Luigi Giussani, a book of essays explicating the thought of my dear Don Gius. Before I address the now-Pontiff's essay, I want to make a some observations.

In addition to Pope Francis' contribution, the book also features essays by two of the other leading papabili: Cardinals Angelo Scola and Marc Ouellet. This shows how deeply the charism given to the Church through Luigi Giussani has penetrated. Of course, Don Angelo is a true son of the Movement known as Comunione e Liberazione, so no surprises there. Benedict XVI's ties to the Movement are also well known, his household consisting of members of Memores Domini, with whom he is said to engage in weekly School of Community- the study and discussion of life in the light of the teachings of Msgr. Giussani. It was then-Cardinal Ratzinger, just a few months prior to becoming Pope, who, in February 2005, was sent by Bl. John Paul II as papal legate to celebrate the funeral mass for Msgr. Giussani at the Duomo in Milan, at which he delivered one of his remarkable homilies.

People have me asked if I was disappointed that Cardinal Scola was not elected pope by his brother cardinals. My answer is simply and emphatically, No! I had no preconceptions at all, really and truly. But I knew that both Ouellet and Bergoglio were also close to the Movement. Even then, I had no expectations. As John Allen wrote after Bergoglio's selection as Bishop of Rome: "Over the years, Bergoglio became close to the Comunione e Liberazione movement founded by Italian Fr. Luigi Giussani, sometimes speaking at its massive annual gathering in Rimini, Italy."

Judging by the length of his piece in A Generative Thought, by the length of his inaugural homily, and his prior reputation, I think, building on the great teaching and reforming legacies of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, this will be a pontificate dedicated almost exclusively to praxis, walking the walk in the everyday circumstances of our lives, not that the previous two papacies weren't about that too, lest we get carried away and exaggerate. I look for not so many words from, but a lot of actions by Pope Francis. In terms of the on-going tension concerning the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, I believe that the fact that Pope Francis was ordained a priest after the Council (in 1969- a result of the lengthy process of Jesuit formation) is significant and represents a generational shift. To give credit where it is due, I think my beloved Benedict sensed the need for this while discerning his decision to abdicate.

Now to then-Cardinal Bergoglio's brief, but powerful essay on the influence of the thought of Luigi Giussani on his life and ministry, simply entitled, For Man. I read the article when I was first given the book by a friend some years ago. So I looked to see what, if anything, in his five page piece I had highlighted. It was this from the last page:
The beginning of every philosophy is wonder, and only wonder leads to knowledge. Notice that moral and cultural degradation begin to arise when this capacity for wonder is weakened or cancelled or when it dies. The cultural opiate tends to cancel, weaken, or kill this capacity for wonder. Pope Luciani once said that the drama of contemporary Christianity lies in the fact that it puts categories and norms in the place of wonder"
At the beginning of his essay, which is a revised version of a lecture he gave while personally presenting the Spanish edition of Giussani's book The Religious Sense, , he wrote that he agreed to do this as an expression of gratitude to Don Gius: "For many years now, his writings have inspired me to reflect and have helped me to pray. They have taught me to be a better Christian, and I spoke to bear witness to this."

From the same book, in the opening essay by Cardinal Scola (an essay that is must reading for anyone who really wants to grasp Giussani), something that struck me in light of my trip later today to the the National Shrine of Divine Mercy, located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, something that also shows Giussani's deep and authentic ecumenism, a trait that Pope Francis also possesses. Scola quotes Don Gius:
Theologising and being committed to an immediate activity of apostolate do not seem to me at all separate or incompatible. I would say rather that I cannot understand how it is possible to theologise unless theology is a systematic and critical self-awareness of an experience of faith in action and thus a commitment to the mystery of Christ and of the Church, a passion for the salvation of the world therefore... [ellipsis in Scola's piece] Jonathan Edwards was able to write a colossal work like Freedom of the Will (1754), with pages of extraordinary value on freedom, on religious affections and so on, while he was living with his family amidst grave poverty, committed to the mission amongst the Indians of the village of Stockbridge in the remote woods of Western Massachusetts in the first half of the eighteenth century

I believe this gives us a little insight and background for statements like this from Papa Bergoglio: "We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church. It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former."

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