6. The Religious Sense, Verification of the Faith
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72 C H A P T E R 6 The Religious Sense, Verification of the Faith Is the event of Christ capable of reawakening the self from its numbness , from its invincible boredom? “[When I] see the stars burn up in heaven, / I ask myself: / ‘Why all these lights, / What does the endless air do, and that deep / eternal blue? What is the meaning of / this huge solitude? And what am I?’”1 This poem by Giacomo Leopardi splendidly expresses the experience in which our religious sense reveals itself. The impact of the “I” with reality unleashes the human question. The impact with reality inexorably sets in motion an inborn structure within us, and it mobilizes the whole dynamism of our person. To the extent that we live, none of us, from whatever ethnic or cultural background, can avoid certain questions. “‘What is the ultimate meaning of existence? Why is there pain and death? Deep down, why is life worth living?’ Or, from another point of view: ‘What does reality really consist of and what is it made for?’” The religious sense is the nature of our “I” inasmuch as it expresses itself in these questions; “it coincides with the radical engagement of the self with life, an involvement which exemplifies itself in these questions.”2 But why should we read The Religious Sense again now, in this precise moment of history? Everything sprang from the observation of a fragility of faith as a form of knowledge, a fragility characterized by a break between knowing and believing. And not just in others, but in us, too, even though we have the grace of being immersed in a certain history. “The crisis in Christian preaching, which we have experienced in growing proportions for a century, is based, in no small part, on the fact that the Christian answers have ignored man’s questions : they [the answers] were and remain right, but because they were not developed from and within the question, they remain ineffective .”3 He concluded that “to question along with man who seeks is an indispensable part of preaching itself, because only in this way can the word (in German Wort) become an answer (Ant-wort).” We, too, participate in the reduction of faith to feelings or ethics. This happens not only when Christianity is no longer proposed according to its nature as an event, but also when something of the human is lacking within us. In fact, there is one big inconvenience to Christianity: it requires human beings in order for it to be recognized and lived. We’re accustomed to understanding “religious sense” as a simple premise to faith.Therefore, it seems almost useless to us once we have reached faith, as if it were a staircase for going up to the next floor: once we’ve gone up, we can do without the stairs. No! Not only is a constantly alive religious sense needed for Christianity to be acknowledged and experienced for what it is—as Fr. Giussani always reminded us, quoting Niebuhr: “Nothing is so incredible as an answer to an unasked question,”4 or one that we don’t ask any more—but also, it is precisely in the encounter with the Christian event that the religious sense is revealed in all its original importance, reaches an ultimate clarity, is educated, and is saved. Christ came to educate us to the religious sense. A lively religious sense therefore means a verification of faith. In this sense Fr. Giussani’s answer to a question posed by Angelo Scola during a long interview he gave in 1987 is very meaningful. The Religious Sense, Verification of the Faith 73 “The fulcrum of your pedagogical proposal,” said Scola, “is the religious sense of the person, isn’t that right?” Giussani replied: “The heart of our proposal is rather the announcement of an event that happened, that surprises people in the same way the angel’s announcement in Bethlehem surprised the poor shepherds two thousand years ago. [It is] an event that happens, prior to any consideration whether a person is religious or nonreligious. It is the perception of this event that resurrects or empowers the elementary sense of dependence and the nucleus of original evidences that we call the ‘religious sense.’”5 Therefore, the Christian event resurrects or empowers the religious sense, that is, the sense of our original dependence and original “evidence.” In fact, the pertinence of faith to life’s demands is proven by its capacity...