Notes from Fr. Luigi Giussani’s words at the XV Pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Snows in Andro, Italy,
on May 7, 1989
I would like to thank Our Lady and also Fr. Gino for giving me the opportunity to participate, at least in part, in this great, beautiful gesture that a pilgrimage is. It is a great and beautiful gesture because it is a symbol of life: without our willing it, without our thinking of it, one step after the other, life, too, is a walk toward the destiny that is God, He who made us, He who gave us our father and mother, and He who awaits us at the end of our labors–yes, because life is toil. If God came among us (you’ve already meditated on this along the course of your pilgrimage), if God came among us to die, to work like everybody else, but above all to die, it means that life is something toilsome. And, in fact, it is the test for going where there awaits us, as Jacopone da Todi says, the “heavenly reign, that fulfills every feast for which the heart has longed,” where happiness awaits us (Lauda LXIV, in the Le Laude, Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, Florence, 1989, p. 218). A woman brings a child into the world because there is happiness; otherwise, it would be an injustice to bring children into the world. Life is something toilsome, and thus a certain temperament is required. Not everyone can be an athlete–for example, I could never be one. To be an athlete you need the right kind of physique, and you need training to make it even more suitable. But, thanks be to God, for the pilgrimage of life toward our destiny, the person needs only one thing, one very elementary thing, so elementary that Jesus compared the one who possesses it to a child: “…unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 18:3). He also compared it to someone who has nothing, a poor person: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3). In a word, what is needed is a great simplicity of heart, which means poverty of the soul, poverty of spirit.
A great simplicity of heart… Our Lady–looking at her–is exactly the “type” of this man journeying toward his destiny, of this protagonist of time. Without man walking toward his destiny, what would time be? It would be something useless, like throwing something into a bottomless pit in which everything is lost.
Now, the reflections I normally meditate on before the figure of Our Lady are these that I offer to you.
1. First of all, Our Lady’s simplicity: it made her open to the design of God. Like any good Jewess, she had an expectation of how the long-awaited Messiah should be, how He would bring peace to men’s hearts, peace in society, would make the journey of life happy, or less unhappy. But that in order to become this, God would have to become a child within her womb, this was impossible; it was impossible for anyone to think it. And in front of the Angel’s proposal, before the proposal of that mysterious moment, which, who knew how it could come about, but that for her was evident, was evident, she said, “Yes, fiat.” Her openness was to the design of God, because, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord” (Is 55:8).
The design of God is absolutely beyond us, always; it cannot be narrowed or imprisoned within the limits of our imagination. But one who is always willing to change everything according to what God wants–and mark these words, what God wants through the circumstances, because, for Our Lady, three minutes, a minute before, it wasn’t even imaginable that the Annunciation could happen–circumstances, especially those that vex us the most, that are inevitable circumstances, these are precisely the ones that mark the road of God; the person who is open to this is not attached to anything of his own, and he’s free. So the first consequence is that he is attentive, extremely attentive to the needs of others. In fact, as soon as the Angel left, Our Lady decided right away, a girl of fourteen or fifteen years, to travel that very long journey–one that when you go to Palestine you usually do by bus or by car–of over 60 miles in the midst of that stony land, to go visit her cousin Elizabeth, because the Angel had told her that she was six months along with the child in her womb. The first thing she did was to share the need and the toil of her cousin Elizabeth, at very great sacrifice. When are you free? You’re free when you’re willing to do what God wants. Before the Infinite, only before the Infinite is man free, detached from himself. When you’re like this, you’re immediately ready to feel and meet the needs of others. What a lesson for us! These are the first characteristics of a man who lives life as a pilgrimage.
2. There’s something else that impresses me, perhaps what impresses me most of all. The Gospel says that the Angel told her, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son…. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,” and Our Lady responded, “Fiat”–“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to Your word.” Period. “Then the Angel departed from her” (Lk 1:35-38). I like to immerse myself in that moment, when there was neither the Angel, nor anything else, and Our Lady was there, as I said, a fifteen-year-old girl, alone, alone with the Event, which she didn’t yet feel within her, couldn’t feel within her, but that she understood; she understood that it had happened and would develop. She could think of her parents, she could think of Joseph, her betrothed, and of the people, of what they would say; alone, alone, there was nothing left to lean on. In that moment, she reached the apex of what is called “faith”–the faith.
The greatest production of man’s freedom before the Infinite is the capacity of faith, which is seeing the Infinite, seeing the Mystery within apparent things. To all appearances, there was no longer anything there, but she believed; she maintained her adherence to the evidence that had happened to her; she understood–and adhered to it–that within, behind that apparent silence of things, the great Mystery for whom humanity was made, who until then everyone, especially His people, awaited in various ways, had happened. She understood and accepted this, notwithstanding appearances. In fact, faith is acknowledging the great presence of the Mystery, the mystery of the Father and the mystery of Christ, the Word made Flesh, the Mystery of God who made Himself present, identifying Himself with the precariousness of matter. In her body, that of a young–a very young–woman, God was there, and in that humble little house, full of darkness, God, the light of God, was there. Seeing God within, as perspective, within things... All things–so much more so those near to us, so much more so those we love–are a sign, the introduction to the truth, to the true life, to the truth and to the life, that is God, God made man, because He became flesh within her.
Faith. And when she saw Him there, little, playing, when she saw Him bigger, trying to help His father, when she saw Him working as a young man, when she saw Him speaking with people who ridiculed Him–only a few went a bit, came a bit–when she saw that usual, normal man, she recognized, without any doubt, that the great Event was happening, that the mystery of God was within that man who had been born of her womb.
Faith is the righteousness of man; the man who walks in life rightly is the man who lives faith, because faith is what conquers the world. In other words, it is only in faith that the appearance of things, the ephemeral nature of things, is conquered; otherwise, everything would fall into nothingness, would crumble and disappear; everything would be meaningless.
3. But not only faith. I want to mention something else that strikes me and derives from faith: faithfulness, the faithfulness of Our Lady, even when things seemed the opposite of what she would have expected, what she had been told. She had been told that her Son would become the head of His people, that He would save His people, that He would be the Son of the Most High, the head of His people but, instead, He was smashed, smashed, condemned by everyone, by all, by those in power as well as by the people–says Péguy–who, normally, are somewhat one against the other. There, everyone agreed. Herod and Pilate, who previously had been in conflict, agreed. Everyone, everyone was against Him. This is why the title you’ve chosen for your pilgrimage, with that impressive figure by the greatest painter in our history, Giotto, this title is precisely the summary of everything: “Stabat Mater,” she stayed there erect, because in Latin “to stay” means “stay there erect.” She stayed there erect, Mary, His mother, close by the Cross upon which her Son was dying. I don’t know–I don’t know how to continue–what she must have felt in her heart, what reverberation must have beaten and run through her in those instants. But hadn’t they perhaps been prepared by the preceding years when, following from a distance, perhaps, she felt her heart pierced by the insults they threw at Him or by the negation with which they received Him and with which they accompanied Him?
Precisely because she participated in this way in the death of her Son, she also participated in the great gift her Son gave to the world, to me and to each of you, and to every man who has come, who is in the world now, and who will come, in the way the Father knows: salvation. She collaborated in giving us salvation. Without her “yes,” without, as is said, her mediation, if she hadn’t existed, we would not be saved. For this reason, we are full of gratitude and rightly call her “Mother,” because, as I said in the beginning, what would be the use of our mother bringing us into the world, if another mother had not assured us a right, good, and happy destiny?
4. But–this is the last thing I’ll allow myself to say–the Lord isn’t waiting for the end. Christ is risen and Christ has already placed Himself at the root of things (it is the Feast of the Ascension); He has already placed Himself in the position He will have for eternity. And the Lord of everything and His mother participate in this lordship over everything, that slowly over time is coming to the surface. Little by little, as people believe, understand, and are illuminated by the Holy Spirit, they then realize; they realize that the Lord of things is “The Lord,” the Son of Mary, Jesus. But I wanted to say that before the end of the world, the Lord doesn’t hold back, the mystery of the Father doesn’t hold back great things–great, so great that they seem the end of the world. How many miracles happen through Our Lady! Miracles! In Lourdes, when the apparitions began, all the newspapers, radical and lay, Masonic, ridiculed it all, and the Holy See instituted a commission to examine all the cases that happened, that seemed to be miraculous, under the condition that the head and the members of the commission should preferably be atheists, so that it would be clear that what was reported was not the result of prejudice, but had really happened–to avoid preconception. At the end of their investigation, all the heads of the scores of medical and scientific commissions that followed the road of Lourdes felt the need to write books–entire books, therefore, of miracles described by atheists who, in the end, came to the conclusion: “It’s not explicable; science can’t explain these things.”
But the greatest miracle Our Lady must perform is in our life: may she give us the simplicity of her heart and the openness to Him who created us and who awaits us at the end. Our flesh and bones are made of Him. May Our Lady give us the faith that sees in our brother, in the things that we touch with our hands, and in the world surrounding us–whether he seems good or bad, whether they seem good or bad–the introduction to the Mystery that lies behind, the mystery of Christ that lies behind, because “all things consist in Him,” as Saint Paul says! May she give us the grace of faithfulness, even when things go badly, seem to us to go badly (they go badly in our eyes at the moment), even when it seems that things aren’t working out for us and for our well-being! May she keep us faithful!
A man who acknowledges God, who acknowledges God made man, who acknowledges Christ dead and risen, who acknowledges that He is the Lord of everything; a man who believes and who says so to his wife and says so to his children, who says so to his colleagues at work and isn’t ashamed to say so to anyone, this is the greatest miracle. May Our Lady repeat it in each of us, in each of you, also through the gesture full of sacrifice that you have made today!