The Cataclysm, Man, and the Need for God
Giancarlo Cesana - "Corriere della Sera," January 7th, 2005
Permit me to intervene, in response to the provoking juxtaposition (see Corriere della Sera, Jan. 3) of Professor Severino’s comment on the Pope’s affirmation (and invocation!) in the face of the "fearful cataclysm" of Southeast Asia, "God never abandons us."
The catastrophes that smash blindly against the life of men, as if they were ants or mice, re-propose in exceptional terms the question, which is daily, about destiny. In fact, currently in the world every year 56 million people die, over 150 thousand a day, and only a small minority does so after a long life and an appropriately assisted illness in the midst of loving faces. Even the latter condition, which we perceive as normal, does not eliminate the laceration of death, which is truly a personal, as well as collective, tsunami. Fr Giussani once told about a philosophy professor at Berchet High School, an atheist, who at the end of the funeral for colleague, a Greek professor, who had died in the classroom in the midst of teaching, said, "Ah, yes, death is the origin of all philosophy!" Fr Giussani commented that this problem is the origin of every true system of thought, and no humanity exists that is not qualified by this dramatic wound. Notwithstanding the apparent indifference of the few who take vacation in the midst of the dead, who would not want—to put it lightly—a clarification on the tsunamis that strike our existence? The first clarification is not realized in understanding, as much as in recognizing someone who can respond. A little child is trustful about life not because he has understood it, but because he knows that his father and mother will introduce him to it. In the face of the infinite mystery that dominates us, we are eternal children who need a hand to guide us. The meaning of things—for us, who have not created them, nor who have made ourselves—cannot be demonstrated in an impossible, cold, logical concatenation of everything, but in the warmth of a relationship that supports us for the time necessary for its unveiling, which—in any case—at least in this life, will never be total.
A destiny that is simply fate does not take away tragedy: it sharpens it, because it makes the pain not only necessary, but also irredeemable. This is what the Gospel verse refers to, "Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did." That is, you will die without meaning. The problem of the meaning of death is the same as that of birth, and of all of life. It is the problem of whether there is a ‘you’ to cling to, to be saved by, in the face of the catastrophes that crash down on us, and those, just as dreadful, that we ourselves produce. There is in fact a kind of criminal association between the violence of nature and the maliciousness of man, who thinks he can manage alone. Christ proposes himself as the ‘you’ to whom man can cling, the response of a God who is more than a philosopher, who does not define the human condition, its contradiction and its suffering, but has pity on it and shares it, defeating death with an incommensurably greater act of love. It is toward this act of love that all the initiatives of solidarity and dedication strive, all these efforts that—precisely in the midst of tragedy that seems to flood everything—emerge as a survival instinct that seeks to become an indomitable hope.
If an affirmation can be drawn from the cataclysm that has struck us, it is that the world of nature and of men—of individuals and of peoples—is not sufficient unto itself. It needs a God who never abandons us, a Presence who is friend, who is strong, who rescues us in life when it seems lost. This for me is the experience of faith, which does not abolish evil, but does, however, attack its aspect of despair.
Giancarlo Cesana, of Communion and Liberation