A True Father
Meeting Fr. Giussani's charism, Fr. Ralph encounters "an embrace of life that excludes nothing"
In a conversation with a group of Memores Domini in 1991, Fr. Giussani said: “…the word ‘authority’ could have as its synonym the word ‘paternity,’ meaning generativity, generation, the communication of a genus, communicating a living family tree. That living family tree is my ‘I’ which is overtaken and made different by this relationship.” Authority as paternity. Such an idea had never crossed my mind until reading these words. But in reflecting on my relationship with those I have encountered in the Movement and on the charism of Fr. Giussani, which we live, I can definitively say that I have been living this relationship with authority as paternity for some time.
I first met the Movement in the throes of my first year in seminary, struggling to understand who I was and what my vocation could mean for me. It was within this context that I found myself completely fascinated by one of my professors, a memor from Holland named Joep, tasked with teaching the first-year seminarians Greek and Roman history. I had never heard anyone speak like him before. It was clear that he had something I wanted: he had a relationship with Christ. This was relevant not only to the history he taught, but with what was happening in the classroom, with his relationship with his students, and with every aspect of his lived experience.
From the first day of class with this professor, I began following what I found to be so interesting in him and came to know Fr. Giussani and his charism through him and those in the community I met. One of the first events I attended was a picnic in honor of the anniversary of Fr. Giussani’s birth. I remember talking with those who came to celebrate the birthday of a man they had never met in person. I recognized the same thing in them that I recognized in Joep: an embrace of life that excluded nothing. One of my fellow seminarians gave a witness that day on how his relationship with Fr. Giussani rendered everything in life more interesting.
I have been following the Movement now for nearly a decade, including my entire time in seminary. In fact, I have often thought that without having encountered Fr. Giussani, I may not have made it through seminary—not because there was anything lacking in the seminary process, but because there was something lacking in me. I lacked a certain self-awareness, which resulted in a lack of awareness of the presence of Christ outside of certain moments, such as Mass, prayer, or retreats. In that way, I saw the world as a threat and would often find myself discouraged.
I recently reread my self-evaluation following my third year of theology studies (my fifth year total in seminary). In the introduction, I reflected on Fr. Giussani’s words to Pope John Paul II at a meeting in St. Peter’s Square of various ecclesial movements. Fr. Giussani told the Holy Father:
"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, that on entering the horizon of our person, pierce us to the heart. So the acknowledgment of who Christ is in our life invades the whole of our awareness of living: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. Lord God, in the simplicity of my heart I have gladly given You everything, says a prayer from the Ambrosian Liturgy; what shows this to be true is the fact that life has an ultimate, tenacious capacity for gladness."
I had been praying these words for some time. “With simplicity of heart, I have joyfully offered everything to you, my God.” In addition to being found in the Ambrosian Liturgy, this prayer is also found in the Office of Readings as the second antiphon on Saturday of Week I. More often than not I would experience some discomfort praying this. But what I wrote in my self-evaluation reflecting on Fr. Giussani’s words was the culmination of an experience which began that first year of seminary and which continues to unfold today. I wrote:
"Upon discovering these words in a new way, I set out to verify Giussani’s claim in my own experience. As a result, I now see that it is precisely this surprising ‘tenacious capacity for gladness’ in the face of all that I have experienced over these past five years of formation that confirms the presence of Christ in my life. This gladness has become ‘the unassailable and indestructible evidence of factors and moments of reality’ which allows me to judge these words and this vocation to be true."
What else could help me to understand myself so clearly if not the presence of a true authority, capable of generating me in such a way that my life has changed? If not for what I have met in the Movement, I would not be myself; I would not be free to embrace all of my life as an opportunity for a more profound relationship with Christ.
Fr. Giussani went on to tell the Memores: “Therefore, authority is true, or truly experienced as such, when it ignites my freedom, when it ignites my personal awareness and personal responsibility, my personal awareness and responsibility.” Is this not what has happened to me? So today I can call Fr. Giussani a true father, an authority who has made me different through my relationship with his charism and the Movement which carries it through history. “No one generates,” Fr. Giussani explained, “unless he has been generated.” I have been ordained a priest for nearly three years now, and I thank God every day for having given me Fr. Giussani to be a father, to make me a son.
Fr. Ralph, Tampa, FL