Giovanni Testori: The truth is that man today does not say it—maybe he is afraid to say it—but he feels a terrible nostalgia to return home to the house of the Father. And then the Mother is there, with Christ, to form the shelter, the home, the Church. From there, as I said before, I think that man can begin a total rediscovery.
For us “children” that rediscovery can only pass through Mary, through the Mother—a fact that we Christians have forgotten or even become ashamed of. Just think: we are ashamed of her, our Mother. After all, we have forgotten and are also ashamed of Christmas. Instead, this is the moment when desperate man needs to rediscover Christmas, to rediscover his own birth. To give up or forget the liturgy is a tremendous sin.
We do not fully grasp what the liturgy means, consciously and unconsciously, as it is carried out and participated in—the liturgy in which the community lives. It is something beyond what we can see and know historically. I am referring to the diffusion of grace that is in the liturgy of the Church. It is a great fault to have forgotten it and somehow restricted these moments of grace.
To return to Christmas—which in the liturgy is the moment of grace par excellence—the moment of the birth of Christ—man does not desire this. He leaves his house because it is no longer a home, because it has been desecrated, reduced to nothing. He may build a more decent house, but they have taken from him the memory of that other home—I mean, the shelter, the home—the absolute home of our history: the Church.
This, instead, is the moment in which man cries in nostalgia to have his own true home again and to travel and find again in its depths the true and proper Christmas: the birth of Christ. I think that these moments—because they are more humble, more heartbroken, more threatened by rhetoric and risk—are also those that must be recovered whole and entire; they must be recovered and made present again—in front of the groan, the cry, the desperation, the madness of modern man.
And how do we risk the madness, how can we free man, if we do not help him find again the meaning of that first moment, of that first cry, and then the meaning that is within, tightly bound up, the meaning of the first cry of Christ—that is, of God who, to restore this memory, became man? Not even the Passion can be read properly if it does not participate deeply in the reality that is Christmas. From the cross Christ said: Mother, behold your son—that is, he rebuilt the circle of the family, of the shelter, of the home, of the Church: the circle of Christmas.
There you see the heart of everything: the desire to return to the home, which is the reconquest of memory and also of the possibility of reaching the goal. The whole path that we must run, all the pain that there will be along this road—because there is a hard and painful road ahead—then, if you keep present the moment in which Christ was born in history, the moment in history when God brought you to birth, the moment when you were born, if you always have it present, you have in you the total reason, therefore the affective reason, the warmth and the strength to walk this road.
I do not think it can be avoided—the road that will allow man to return to Christ will be incredibly difficult, but it seems to me that the moment of the origin will be fundamental. Because it is the moment of the origin of every day, of every hour, of every minute. It is like when we say a prayer: if when you say it you don’t just repeat it, but you go back to its origin, you bring it back to his birth, everything becomes new for you, everything is reborn. Then, in this sense, Christmas is making every day, every minute, every word you say, every gesture you do, the effort you make, the work you carry out, the children you bring up, the children that aren’t yours, to whom you try to give everything you would give to your children—all of this is renewed, becomes a true Christmas every time, an announcement, but an announcement incarnated in the incarnation of Christ, therefore a real, total announcement.
Luigi Giussani: You are right: it becomes Christmas.
GT: Always, when you live it, when you create Christmas every time, in such a way that every gesture becomes Christmas, every moment becomes his birth—your birth in Him, in the Father.
LG: That everything you do would be done for the meaning that has brought you to birth again through the memory of your birth, of your origin.
GT: It is when we lose this sense that everything becomes repetition and therefore abstraction.
LG: In this way, you are no longer part of a story....
GT: Perhaps this also raises the theme of time, of its passing. If you live every moment as a fact of birth, of growth, but which is always birth, then you feel that it will always be there—that it will pass away, but it will enter and remain within everything in your experience. If you do not live like this, you get a feeling of exhaustion—then it will mean that you have not truly lived that moment.
Let’s take these hours here, which we have spent talking. They will no longer exist. But they will exist forever if we have spent them in Christmas—in the Christmas of their unfolding, minute by minute. Then you already have the perception that, modestly, with all our weakness and miseries, they have no other claim than to be a Christmas for us and for everyone. Then always from the ashes in which they are reduced, you will feel that they are fixed—that we will find them there, forever.
If instead we let them fall, they become a monotony—the usual, a habit. Then you feel that they have not had a Christmas, and that they won’t rise again. They will be ashes that will not rise up again. In this sense, do you think that the end, the conclusion of history, the resurrection of the body, will carry with it and contemplate all these acts, all these “birth” moments? I think there will be the effort that it cost Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, but the Sistine Chapel will no longer be there. It will not make sense for it to be there. Do you agree with this?
LG: Certainly. The human value of the Sistine Chapel will remain forever.
GT: What it cost him and the world around him to make it, as it will be for you, for me....
LG: This is what it says in the Gospel: Every word will be accounted for.
GT: We do not arrive there with the works in themselves and for themselves. We arrive with the strength, with the love, with the faith, with the hope that is in these works. The works are necessary moments. But then I think eternity will be made from the drive, the feelings that have determined these works, for good and for bad. I think that damnation is the awareness of the negativity of those drives and those feelings; the remorse, therefore, of those drives, those feelings, and those moments that did not participate in the total design. Therefore there will be an eternal and definitive nostalgia, of not participating in the total design, of being outside ourselves with all our moments, our hours, our years—outside the meaning of birth. Maybe we have gone too far beyond the subject of our discussion....
LG: By its nature, this type of conversation is free to go wherever.
GT: But, returning now, let me ask: what is the degree— be extremely free—of your hope in young people?
LG: It is great, because the moment seems to have come when the Lord, if he wants to save his work, must renew persons—he must bring into existence those persons, those companionships, he must create these movements of which we have spoken. The moment has come. It is like a sign of the times. Therefore, paradoxically, the moment when the crisis reaches its depth is the greatest moment of hope.
GT: Do you think that today’s youth justify this hope at least as much as the young people of twenty years ago?
LG: They justify it more.
GT: But not only because they are deeper, not only because they have been allowed to go deeper....
LG: They justify it more because they are more true.
GT: Because they suffer more, because they can no longer cheat, because they are in front of an either/or. Now it is truly a question of life or death. And then because there are signs. One part of the youth, that is becoming ever greater, is already on the counterattack. It is a counterattack that is unarmed when it comes to political tactics and practical, dirty techniques, but armed in terms of—
LG: —the force of truth.
GT: The force of truth, of memory, and of charity—armed also by abandonment to Christ. I think this is a reality that already has a shape, that is already taking on a form. Because if we are here and this book (The Meaning of Birth) begins a series of books and does not remain the only one, it is because someone, who is no longer that young, has seen, recognized, felt, been struck, shaken—someone has been moved, discovering these young people, in the hope, in the movement, in the passion, in the love of the Father and therefore of man. An integral love, decisive even in weakness: continually on the way because it is firm in this anchor that never makes you stop, but makes you go forward, always beyond. This anchor is the Cross, it is Christ. This collection of books, what we are trying to do, is thanks also to them. And the credit— which is a responsibility, I think—should be given and communicated to them, because it is right, because it belongs to them.
LG: Because of the hope that it raises up in us and in them.
GT: In us, in them, and also outside, in the desperation of the world. Then, you already know it, but maybe when we are within this hope we may not realize how profound it is, because you have been there with many of these young people, as I said at the beginning, as a brother, a father.
LG: I am a presence....
GT: If I say it to you, I might be adding to the weight you carry. You have been there and you can always be there more. See, Giussani, we should even tell you that you have been one of the greatest hearts of this new pulse of hope. To acknowledge this, I know it well, means to increase the weight of the burden that you have put on your back.
EDITORIAL NOTE: This is an excerpt is from The Mystery of Birth by Luigi Giussani and Giovanni Testori. The book is an edited transcription of a conversation between the two men--one, a priest and founder of the lay movement, Communion and Liberation, and the other a Milanese novelist, playwright, art historian, and essayist. Published in cooperation with and by permission from Slant Books, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.