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Watchful, but Unwary

Bishop Bartosic shares his surprise at his encounter with the charism of Fr. Giussani

Icon of Jesus with Saints Philip and Nathanael (detail)
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”

Like Nathanael, I am a skeptic. So when some old friends finally connected me to Communion and Liberation, I was unprepared. Unprepared for the effect of a thrown-together choir crushing a cross section of world polyphony in the April chill of the City of Big Shoulders on Good Friday, 2019. Unprepared for the sudden warmth of invitations to dinners that go on for hours that never feel like hours or like work. Unprepared for the sheer exuberance of the two-year-old who found himself in the very middle of a group of adults singing John Denver’s Sweet Surrender at full throttle on the 15th anniversary of Don Giussani’s death: a boy who, at the precise instant he was certain of having everyone’s attention, pulled down his pants. Unprepared, during the run-up to election 2020, for all these people’s interest in the Bishops’ document on responsible citizenship. Unprepared for the regularity with which the word “beautiful” plays on their lips. Unprepared for all those bei pellegrini from Communion and Liberation University, praying their way to Our Lady of Good Help in last August’s thick Wisconsin heat.

Bishop Bartosic celebrating mass at a Chicago Community Day

All these encounters have the feel of a premeditated assault upon my skepticism. “How do you know me?” I ask. I go on the offensive, like a dog attacking the invisible squeaker in a new toy. These people give me their books, so I read. Muchísimo. Shyly, I propose “The Religious Sense” and another title to the priests in my book club. Nothing squeaks, and I’m sent to the doghouse. The cool reception perplexes me, for I would read a mountain of Giussani in order to unlock the secret of being watchful, but unwary. That is how I experience Don Giussani, filtered through those of his followers whom I have met. Me - I will be chewing on Camisasca’s “Together on the Road” and Nagle’s “Life Promises Life” for a long time. But my priest friends do not know these people. They don’t know you. You are strangers to them. You who seem always on the lookout, but never on guard. How does that happen today? Don Giussani leads you in this way of being-in-the-world which I recognize as not only your way, but the way of Jesus.

Bishop Bartosic and Mayela

And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Just last fall I was standing at the back of a group gathered for Beginning Day. A fat baby grinned over his mother’s shoulder, flashing his pink, boneless gums at this guy who was trying hard to concentrate on Luigi’s mesmerizing voice and the very compelling translation simultaneously projected on the screen hanging in front of the assembled members. Whatever Giussani was saying was urgent and utterly true, I could tell. What I remember, though, is the baby. The substantial chunk of happy baby in the strong arms of its young mother; both of them arrived in town from a far-off state just for the day’s fellowship; both of them, in no time, looking at me like an old friend.

Bishop Bartosic, Chicago, IL


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