Sunday, 14 April 2013

Pope Francis and Luigi Guissani

There can be little doubt that Pope Francis’s approach to the spirituality of the heart owes much to the writings of Msgr Luigi (or Don) Giussani , the founder and intellectual driving force behind Communion and Liberation. HERE

Pope Francis made his debt to Don Giussani very clear in his presentation of the Spanish translation of The Religious Sense in November 1998.  Read Here and HERE He observes that  Giussani's writings have inspired and helped him reflect and pray: ‘they have taught me to be a better Christian’. The Religious Sense, he argues prompts us to face the problem of human beings ‘finding in themselves the mark God has made, so as to be able to meet with Him.’  He goes on to say :

'One of the difficulties of our supermarket culture …lies in giving voice to those questions of the heart.  This is the challenge.  Faced with the torpor of life, with this tranquillity offered at a low cost by the supermarket culture..the challenge consists in asking ourselves the real questions about human meaning, of our existence, and in answering those questions.'

The real questions for Francis relate to the ‘restlessness of the heart’.  For:

‘The drama of the world today is the result not only of the absence of God but also and above all the absence of humankind, of the loss of the human physiognomy, of human destiny and identity, and of a certain capacity to explain the fundamental needs that dwell in the human heart.’

Drawing upon Guissani, Francis argues that the exercise of human reason depends upon realising the importance of ways and forms of knowing that involve more than just reasoning of a scientific or mathematical kind.  Faith in God therefore requires us to be open to reason and the reality of human experience.  We need to use our heads and our hearts – ratio et fides. * Francis argues that:

‘This is not reason understood as  a pre-established measure of reality but reason open  to reality in all its factors and whose starting point is this ontological foundation that awakens a restless heart.  It is not possible to raise the question of God calmly, with a tranquil heart, because this would be to give answer without a question. Reason that reflects on experience is a reason that uses as a criterion for judgment the measuring of everything against the heart – but ‘heart’ in the Biblical sense, that is the totality of the innate demands that everyone has, the need for love, for happiness, for truth, and for justice.   The heart is the core of the internal transcendent, where the roots of truth, beauty, goodness, and the unity that gives harmony to all are planted.’

Thus, human reason is not bounded or limited by the kind of rationalism we might find in a laboratory.  The great problem with modern society is that it has been focused on a very narrow understanding of rationality.  Faith cannot be reduced to simply ‘mere reasoning’: it involves ‘the harmony of all the human faculties.’   The problems which human beings confront : why is there pain, death, evil?  Is my life worth living?  Where am I going?  What does life mean , etc., involve a ‘total response’.

‘Human beings cannot be content with reductive or partial answers that force them to censor or neglect some aspect of reality. In fact, however, we do neglect some aspect of reality, and when we do so we are only running away from ourselves.  We need a total response that comprehends and saves the entire horizon of the self and our existence. We possess within us a yearning for the infinite, an infinite sadness, a nostalgia – the nostos algos  (home sickness) of Odysseus- which is satisfied only by an equally infinite response. The human heart proves to be the sign of a Mystery , that is, of something or someone who is an infinite response.  Outside the Mystery, the needs for happiness, love and justice never meet a response that filly satisfies the human heart.  Life would be an absurd desire if this response did not exist. Not only does the human heart present itself as a sign, but so does all reality.  The sign is something concrete, it point in a direction, it indicates something that can be seen, that reveals a meaning, that can be experienced, but that refers to another reality that cannot be seen; otherwise, the sign would be meaningless.’

'On the other hand, to interrogate oneself in the face of these signs one needs an extremely human capacity, the first one we have as men and women: the capacity  to be amazed, as Guissani calls it, in the last analysis, a child’s heart.  The beginning of every philosophy is wonder, and only wonder leads to knowledge.  Notice that  moral and cultural degradation tends to cancel,  weaken, or kill this capacity for wonder. '

The same year ( 1998)  - when the then Jorge Mario Bergoglio  made his plea for a capacity to be amazed, Don Giussani expressed the kind of ideas we find echoed in the homilies and writings of  Pope Francis:   “In the Simplicity of my Heart I have gladly given You everything”

‘Only Christ takes my humanity so completely to heart. …It was a simplicity of heart that made me feel and recognize Christ as exceptional, with that certain promptness that marks the unassailable and indestructible evidence of factors and moments of reality, which, on entering the horizon of our person, pierce us to the heart. So the acknowledgment of who Christ is in our lives invades the whole of our awareness of living: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). “Domine Deus, in simplicitate cordis mei laetus obtuli universa” (“Lord God, in the simplicity of my heart I have gladly given You everything”), ….. That precious text of the Ambrosian Liturgy concludes with these words: “Domine Deus, custodi hanc voluntatem cordis eorum” (“Lord God, keep safe this attitude of their heart”).
Infidelity always arises in our hearts even before the most beautiful and true things; the infidelity in which, before God’s humanity and man’s original simplicity, man can fall short, out of weakness and worldly preconception, like Judas and Peter. Even this personal experience of infidelity that always happens, revealing the imperfection of every human action, makes the memory of Christ more urgent. …. existence expresses itself, as ultimate ideal, in begging. The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man’s heart, and man’s heart that begs for Christ.'  READ Full text, HERE

There is no better summary of what the Sacred Heart expresses : Christ begs for our heart, and we beg for His merciful, gentle and humble Heart.  He asks us to open our hearts like a child and see the wonder of God made man.

Later 2001, when introducing the Spanish translation of Giussani’s  The Attractive of Jesus - El atractivo de Jesucristo, Francis states that he agreed to present the book for two reasons:

‘The first and more personal one is the good that this man has done me, in my life as a priest, through the reading of his books and articles. The second reason is that I am convinced that his thought is profoundly human and reaches man’s innermost longings. I dare say that this is the most profound, and at the same time understandable, phenomenology of nostalgia as a transcendental fact. There is a phenomenology of nostalgia, nóstos algos, feeling called home, the experience of feeling attracted to what is most proper for us, most consonant with our being’

For Francis, as for Giussani, the heart of Christ is an ‘attraction’- calling us forward:

‘Jesus Christ, always primerea, goes ahead of us. When we arrive, He is already there waiting. He who encounters Jesus Christ feels the impulse to witness Him or to give witness of what he has encountered, and this is the Christian calling. To go and give witness. You can’t convince anybody. The encounter occurs. You can prove that God exists, but you will never be able, using the force of persuasion, to make anyone encounter God. This is pure grace. Pure grace. In history, from its very beginning until today, grace always primerea, grace always comes first, then comes all the rest.’
Read  text HERE. 

What we find, therefore, is that for Don Giussani, as for Pope Francis, what matters is our personal encounter with Christ: when heart speaks to heart.   The Heart of Jesus - our home - is always ahead of us! With God's grace and mercy we can find our way home.

*I have to confess that reading Francis on this , I immediately thought of Pascal’s famous observation in his Pensées (1669): ‘Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. On le sent en mille choses. C'est le cœur qui sent Dieu, et non la raison. Voilà ce que c'est que la foi parfaite, Dieu sensible au cœur.’ (The heart has its reasons, which Reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. It is the heart which feels God, and not Reason. This, then, is perfect faith: God felt in the heart.)
And that is it really: 'C'est le cœur qui sent Dieu, et non la raison'. It is the heart which feels God, and not Reason!

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