For several weeks prior to his visit to Washington D.C., where he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of America, Fr. Julian Carron proposed for our consideration a reflection that centered upon this text of Msgr. Giussani:
"When in fact the grip
of a hostile society tightens around us
to the point of threatening
the vivacity of our expression
and when a cultural and social hegemony
tends to penetrate the heart,
stirring up our already natural uncertainties,
the time of the person has come"
This is a stirring text, but if we really understand it, then it becomes clear that it is far from a natural intuition. I know what my own instincts are in the face of "the grip of a hostile society" - I would think that it is the time to run and hide or perhaps (and more nobly) the time to stand and fight.
My inclination is to think fundamentally of what has to be done, whereas Giussani is proposing that the crucial factor is to be a "someone". The first necessity in the face of a society that increasingly aims at the disintegration of the human person, is to be a human person.
But what does it mean, to "be a person"?
It is a sign of the times that in the dominant culture there is no clear answer to this question. There is a kind of broad intuition of the fundamental importance of "the dignity of the human person," but when people try to live this intuition in the midst of our culture, they find that it becomes complex and even contradictory. It becomes a source of violence, as our culture affirms the "rights" of some persons against others, and defines away the personhood of the vulnerable and weak.
In our time, even the term "person" has become an instrument of power, a pretext for individuals, peoples, and nations to make war against one another.
Certainly, we must work to introduce into public discourse and to defend in various ways a true understanding of the dignity of every human person. But what will give effectiveness to this or any other kind of activity? We must be persons. But do we even know what this means?
Msgr. Giussani says that what is essential to living as a person is self-awareness. Here, again, we have what seems to be an ambivalent term in our culture. A genuine self-awareness is crucial here, and that means living the truth of the human heart and its relationship to the transcendent Mystery; it means an awareness that my identity consists in belonging to an Other.
This awareness begins in the heart, and it involves what Msgr. Giussani calls a battle: "the battle between the claimed affirmation of self as the criterion of the dynamic of living and the acknowledgment of this mysterious and penetrating Presence." Do I belong to myself as the absolute and autonomous arbiter of my own existence and meaning, or do I belong to God, who creates and sustains me in being and who is present as the source and goal of my life, the One who gives "meaning" to the search of my heart?
This is the challenge for each one of us. This is the fundamental battle that each of us must fight: to live with an authentic self-awareness, to be present in the world as a person, as someone who is aware that he or she really, concretely, belongs to God. The love of God is the foundation of my identity.
As Fr. Carron summarizes:
"This is the battle needed among us,
in us, in each of us:
whether we place our consistence
in something created by us,
in an ultimate affirmation of ourselves,
of an image of ours,
of a project of ours,
of an attempt of ours,
with all its insubstantiality,
or in the acknowledgment of this Presence"
So why do Msgr. Giussani and Fr. Carron and the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation always use such complicated language? Why not just say, "I belong to God"?
It is too easy, however, to say these words and forget what they mean. It is too easy to say, "O God, I belong to You" in my prayer in the morning, and then go through the day living as if God does not exist--as if the measure of the meaning of my life is my own ideas, my own projects, my own power. I forget who I really am. I cease to live from the energy of being a created person.
Thus, I cannot help being confused and enfeebled, even in my efforts to "do good"!
The language is detailed and intricate, because it is an invitation to work on grasping the meaning of these things, to work on the formation of our reason, and to give direction to the heart. This work is worth the effort. We are invited to find in this work sustenance for this fundamental and daily battle.
And in this environment, which grows ever more hostile, each of us must recognize that the time of the person has come.