In these painful, provocative, even confused times of push for change, as are moments of this type, a circumstance from the past came to mind that helps to make us understand – it seems to me – the innovative perspective that those distant observations contain. The year is 2008, the month of July, the day 22. A Tuesday exactly. In the center of Buenos Aires, in the seat of an institution linked to the advocacy, Bergoglio at that time archbishop of Buenos Aires and president of the Argentine episcopate, accepted the invitation of the leaders of Communion and Liberation to present a book by Fr Giussani. It was the fourth time (1) that he had done so, and this time it was “Can You Live Like This?”, An anthology of dialogues published in 1994 that bore the subtitle “A strange approach to Christian existence”. Also on that occasion, as in the previous ones, Bergoglio premised that he accepted the invitations of the local movement of CL for the gratitude he felt towards Giussani. When he got to know his writings – he repeated – he felt that they were “for him”, that they “fixed his life”.
But unlike previous times, Giussani was no longer alive. The question of his presence, now that the initiator of CL was no longer a living reference, was more relevant than ever and I believe that Bergoglio had grasped the bewilderment of that moment and wanted in some way to help the identification of the charism in the absence of the founder. For this reason, in the presentation he chose to dwell “on a point that is not in Giussani’s reflections and pose the problem,” he said after having explained some of the main concepts of the text on which he had been asked to speak. With simplicity Bergoglio affirmed: «Giussani is dead. He left us his writings, his intuitions, his teaching, his school, his path ». The question that Bergoglio was asking was “how to take charge of the legacy of a founder, specifically of the written legacy? Starting from which hermeneutics? ». It was clear that what he raised was a question that was anything but rhetorical. He quickly added that “The great temptation in these situations is to codify the legacy, in this case to make a manual of Giussani’s ideas and affirmations”.
He said these things with the leaders of Communion and Liberation in Argentina at his side, in front of just over a hundred people. I think he wanted in some way to encourage those gathered to move forward by presenting a certain inevitable and enduring confusion in the basis of Communion and Liberation.
In private, after the public meeting, he was asked why he was so concerned. “Because it happens to everyone,” he replied. That is, because the disappearance of the founder leaves those who follow him an undoubted problem. In the auditorium, shortly before, he had said. «This is true for all charisms. Let us now ask the question, now that Giussani’s voice is still alive. But 20 years from now, this criterion will have to be taken into account more than ever ».
Which criterion? And how to take this into account?
Two weeks after the presentation in Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio once again warned against the risk of the codification of the Christian experience in front of an audience other than that of CL and his sympathizers. He was presenting the book «Convivere», by the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Andrea Riccardi. There, to explain his concern he resorted to an anecdote drawn from the history of the Society of Jesus founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola to which he himself belonged. He recounted off the cuff a moment of the Jesuit epic that had to do with the ultimate manager of the Company, militarily called General. It is worth reading a passage from the notes of that moment.
“Already the third General after Saint Ignatius had the temptation to codify the Ignatian intuition of the formula of the Institute and of the constitutions and rules began to emerge all over the world: for priests, for students, for the sacristan, for the porter … Everything they had to do was codified ». It is likely that Bergoglio was referring to Everardo Mercuriano, elected in 1573, a Belgian presbyter third in the line of succession, after Diego Laínez (elected in 1558) and Francesco Borgia (elected in 1565). Note the seven-year term of office in the average government of the first three general provost. Bergoglio then continued: «In another era, during the pontificate of Pius XI, a General of the company recoded all the rules, that is to say, the Jesuits went through a second distillation, a second still. This General made what was called the Epitome of the Institute [un compendio] of the Company, where the Constitution and the Rules were mixed, everything well codified by themes, and with a very extensive critical apparatus. This General, a very holy man, went to see the superior of the Benedictines and brought him what he had done as a present. The Benedictine looked at him and said: Father, with this you have just killed the Company. ” The General recalled once again off the cuff by Bergoglio should be the Pole Włodzimierz Ledóchowski, who precisely covered the pontificate of Pius XI as provost from 1915 to 1942.
Bergoglio then answered his own question (“How to take charge of the legacy of a founder”) with the suggestions that St. Vincent of Lerino had given (Ed. Ecclesiastical writer of southern Galia of the fifth century), to preserve the integrity of faith: to be faithful to historical dynamism and to different places, times and people and, at the same time, to preserve the charism in its deepest richness by putting it into play, not boxing it up. “The charism of Fr Giussani, in this case, will be preserved if it consolidates over the years, not if it is preserved, that is, if over the years it takes root in men and women, if it expands and acquires other forms according to the time, if it is sublimated in ever richer expressions according to historical time. It is a risk, of course, but it is even more so to keep the charisma boxed up (enlatado is the Spanish expression used by Bergoglio, ed) ». The archbishop then addressed directly to “those who follow” the charism of Fr Giussani: “Either you have the courage to walk in fidelity to the charism and to the times we are living in or it will become stiff and not fruitful”.
I felt the echo of those friendly confidences of many years ago in the words spoken by the Pope on Saturday 16 September 2021 to the leaders of the movements summoned to Rome to hear what he had to say about the responsibilities of government in lay aggregations. Also on this recent occasion he combined fidelity to the charism with change: “In fact, belonging to an association, a movement or a community, especially if they refer to a charism, should not lock us up in an” iron barrel “, feel safe, as if there is no need for any response to challenges and changes. ” As in 2008 he observed that «It is understandable that after the death of the founder, fidelity is understood as a safeguard. It is a temptation that often happens to new congregations or new movements – and therefore not in need of change, it can become a false security. Even the news quickly gets old! ». And as he then suggested that in order to safeguard an inheritance from which educational and presence forms were born in a natural way, those same forms must be “deepened ever better, reflected and embodied in new situations”. Other forms, which of course do not affect the substance.
1) “Attracting Jesus” (1999), “The religious sense” (2001) and “Why the Church” (2005).
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