“If anyone is in Christ he is a new creature”
[Catechesis to the Apostolic Movement: Catanzaro: 07/03/14]
Cardinal Carlo Caffarra
I wish to start our meeting listening to the voice of one of the most radical nihilists of our time and at the same time witness of the need that man today has to meet Jesus, L. Pirandello.
He has written a novel of keen beauty, acute for the need of the meeting that this page expresses: Ciaula discovers the moon. The story is known: Ciaula is more of an animal than a man, forced as he is to always work, often even at night, in the mine. But one night, destroyed by fatigue, he had just emerged from the darkness of the mine: “He stood – as soon as he popped to the open air – stunned. The load fell from his shoulders … Large, placid, like in a fresh, bright ocean of silence, the Moon was facing him… Ecstatic he fell down on his load… And Ciaula began to cry, unknowingly, unwittingly, by the great comfort, by the great sweetness he felt … due to it he was no longer afraid, he no longer felt tired, during the night now, full of its stupor “[Novellas for a year, the second volume – book I, Mondadori edition. Milan 1996, pp. 463-464].
And now let us place ourselves in the listening to S. Paul: ” For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ. ” [2 Cor 4.6].
The atheist Pirandello meets with the Apostle Paul: man needs light, otherwise he is forced to live as Ciaula painfully working within a den. And since he needs it, each of us longs to be enlightened; he wishes he could see reality in its beauty, in its goodness, and in its truth.
1. Each of us can be in three different conditions, which now I will try to describe.
– I wish to describe the first condition with a parable. Imagine traveling by train and
because of a malfunction it has stopped. But this happened in a long tunnel, at a point where you no longer see the light of the beginning and you still do not see the light at the end. A traveler tells you, “do not worry; meanwhile we can spend some time together, we can talk about what interests us most; we can also invent some fun game: we do not even realize, after all, of being stuck in a tunnel” -.
Now I will try to explain to you this short parable. At a careful and calm reflection, we realize that the fundamental questions of life are two: where do I come from? where am I going to? If one answered you: “you, like every human person, come by chance; that is, you exist by chance; you are a fortuitous, random accident of the evolution of matter.” If to the second question he answered you, then: “you, like every human person, you do not have a meaningful life, that is oriented to one ultimate goal: you are on the road, but without a final goal: a drifter, not a pilgrim.”
If you convinced yourself that this is the truth about your life, the parable of the train would perfectly express your existential condition: dark behind; darkness before. Someone has experienced tragically this condition; others, be as it may, have tried to live with others the moment of the light between the two nights; making the best of it. Today, unfortunately, one often chooses the worst solution: do not think too much; especially do not ask those two questions; and live as everyone pleases, to the possible extent.
– The second condition is beautifully narrated in the novel of Pirandello. Instead of a train that stops in a tunnel, Ciaula lives in the darkness of a mine because he works hard. And life is largely toil and labor. But Ciaula, the man, can “pop to the open air” and remain “astonished”: it is the “astonishment” at the beauty of being. You prove this for example when you realized for the first time that a boy / a girl loved you; when you found yourself at the beauty of natural sights. The greater is the opportunity to learn, the more extensive and detailed is the knowledge of the life processes, the greater is – or at least should be – the wonder. Ciaula is still in the dark, in the night, but his night is “now full of his stupor.”
You too can be in this situation, or perhaps your know friends of yours who are in it. It may be the beginning of a journey.
– The third condition is the one suggested by S. Paul. The Apostle speaks also of darkness. But the night the Apostle finds himself in is suddenly illuminated by, we might say, an external and an internal light. The external light is the face of Christ, the sun that lights the night, the internal light shines in the heart. It gives itself as a sort of reverberation: the sun which is the face of Jesus illuminates the heart of the person.
What is meant by this “enlightenment” I will try to explain it with two “short stories, an evangelical and a contemporary ones”.
The evangelical narration. Do you all remember the encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus: curiosity? Was it awe and wonder for what he heard people say? However, he “wished”. And he hears an incredible proposal be made to him: having supper with Jesus; being at table with him. It is during that company that Zacchaeus comes out of the “gallery”: his heart is enlightened. He sees the possibility of a new existence: no longer based on possession but on the gift. He saw Christ; he was with him: he was regenerated in his humanity. The roots of his person and his existence were transplanted into a new terrain: he became “son of Abraham.” The promises of bliss made by God to man are now his own: they are also made to him.
The contemporary narrative. On 14 September 1946 a nun teacher of the English language and literature was accompanying some girls by train to the novitiate of her religious congregation located in a small Indian town. At one point the nun saw not physically but spiritually a vast multitude of poor and desperate and felt within her the cry of Jesus on the Cross: “I am thirsty.” She saw in each of those desperate Christ on the Cross asking to be satiated both materially and spiritually: hungry for bread and love: a thirst for water and affection. And she “surrendered.” In that moment Mother Teresa of Calcutta was “born”.
The sun which is the disfigured face of Christ in the poor, illuminates the heart of that woman, in the sense that it makes her see the vocation, the meaning of her life: “I live to quench the thirst of Jesus in the poor.”
I have described you the three conditions in which a person can find himself: inside a train in a tunnel, having darkness behind and before him; emerged from the darkness of a mine in one night, but full of wonder and with the load no longer on the shoulders; illuminated by the light that shines in the face of Christ, which makes us see from where we come and where we go.
Pascal says all this when he writes that there are three classes of men. Those who are looking for and found; those who seek and have yet not found; and those who neither seek nor find.
2. At this point you can understand the existential meaning of the Pauline affirmation: “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature.”
Who is Christ? The passenger of the broken train in the tunnel, Ciaula, Zacchaeus – Mother Teresa? I am sure you have already answered: in any way the traveler [‘it is in Christ’]; Ciaula is on his way to becoming one; Zacchaeus – Mother Teresa “are in Christ”. I am not repeating myself. But immediately I draw your attention to what happens to whoever is “in Christ”: he becomes a new creature.
I wish to stop shortly on this regeneration, and so conclude our catechesis.
This novelty concerns the very roots of our existence. And what are the roots of our life? What, that is, nourishes our daily existence: that which makes us work or study, which makes us take a wife / husband, and which makes us wish to think? How well did Augustine see: it is the wish for beatitude, for fullness of being. Our choices are always in sight of a particular good; but in the end each of them is inscribed, and is rooted in the desire of a good that is such as to give full satisfaction to our hunger and thirst for bliss, to our boundless desire for truth, goodness, and beauty. Only a superficial and inhuman culture like ours could have tried to exhaust in man this desire, teaching him that it is possible to navigate well even if one always navigates one sight, without having any port to which to head; that, it is possible to walk well even without knowing where to go.
The encounter with Christ catches in this depth of the being, Christ is “felt” as the true and total answer to the personal desire of unlimited bliss: “My Lord and my everything” [S. Francis used to pray]. Zacchaeus realized that not in money obtained by all means, was the answer to his desire; but he was the answer, “staying at table” with Him. Mother Theresa understood that life is worth inasmuch as it is given.
I spoke of “roots” of our being, of our person. Of roots catching in the person of Christ, which are implanted in him. I wish to stop for a moment more on this point by calling your attention to the experience of S. Augustine.
He was raised in the Christian faith. He confides us that since he was a child he was signed by his mother Monica with the sign of the cross: “I was sure of all these things.” Nevertheless, he adds: “yet I was completely unable to enjoy you” [Conf VII, 20.26]. One can know everything about a person, but not enjoy him: not enjoying his presence, his company. One can live a dedication to the Christian”cause”, but not be attracted by the beauty of Christ and be fascinated by his face. The dedication is not the attraction.
Here is what I mean to say when I say that we are renewed in the root of our person. I am still using an Augustinian expression: “amata est foeda remaneret foeda” [She was loved when she was ugly, but so that she did not remain ugly] (en. in ps. 44.3). We are attracted to a love that transforms us, to a Beauty that makes us beautiful. Augustine says beautifully: “evertit foeditatem, formavit pulchritudinem.”
Renewed at the root of our living, as a consequence we are also in the two fundamental spiritual dynamisms of our person: intelligence and freedom.
Above all, the Pauline text quoted at the beginning to enlighten us is at intelligence level. It would be necessary to make a long speech to understand what happens in the intelligence of the person that encounters Christ, that is “in Christ.” I limit myself to a single reflection.
The encounter with Christ sets your intelligence in motion because you want to know the truth and value of what it is and of what you do in the light of Christ. You ask yourself: what is human love? What is the value of suffering? And so on. Who “is in Christ” looks with his reason for the answer in the light of Christ, in the light of the very Wisdom of God. Here is why the reason of the believer is urged to exercise to the fullest, without precluding itself anything. A new culture is born.
Above all, it is the Gospel passage that tells the story of Zacchaeus to enlighten us at the level of freedom. Even this would require a long speech, so that we enter the keystone of all human existence: the idea and experience that each has of his own freedom. I am limiting myself to a single reflection.
Zacchaeus has radically changed his way of being free: from the possession to the gift. That is it! His freedom was released, because it was made capable of loving. He acquired the freedom of the gift. Love and friendship start. And Paul will say with John that this is all.
But there is something else in the life of who meets with Christ: he who encounters Christ, cannot remain silent. Paul runs almost through the entire Roman empire to announce Christ; Mother Teresa becomes the pure witness of love. One cannot remain in silence!
I like to conclude with the teaching of a child and still of S. Augustine.
During a recent pastoral visit, I held a catechesis to children on the theme of the faith, of the encounter with Jesus. At one point, a second grade boy said, “but how do I go about to find a dead person?”. A little girl got up: “but Jesus died, but then he rose and is present among us.”
And now St. Augustine: “I wanted to be considered wise, but full of my sadness I did not cry” [VII, 20.26]. We can know the whole Christian doctrine, but this is not enough for the heart to be moved by a presence, by the experience of a person that loves you.
The Church exists to make possible the meeting of Christ with every man, to make it possible to every man to be in him. She exists so that every man can cry with emotion in front of Christ: “habet et laetitia lacrimas suas” [S. Ambrose, De excessu fra tris sui Satyri I.10].