AND YOU WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?
"GIVE ME A FIRM FOOTING..."
Sabino M. Palumbieri
«And you, who do you say that I am?». Which is to say: for you, who have always had the gift of my familiarity with you, who am I? The director of the Tertium Millennium magazine asked me for as personalized an answer as possible. I will try. As a service. As confessio laudis. The Lord Jesus is for me He in front of whom I saw, when I was a young boy, my father kneeling every day before heading off to school, where he then received him in Eucharist. And in my child's logic I thought: «If Daddy, who is so big, kneels in front of Him, this Jesus must be infinitely wonderful». And then I, too, next to my father, began receiving Holy Communion every day.
The Lord Jesus is for me He whose love acted like a powerful magnet on my adolescent heart. Thanks to the happy union of my parents, plans for a beautiful future family were on my horizon, but at a certain point the stronger magnetism of a radical sequence won out. The Lord Jesus is for me He who gave me the gift to rediscover it at the age of twenty-four, after a profound crisis of existential meaning of every person, because of the prospect of death which seemed to me to make every undertaking insignificant. I could have taken the path of Leopardi. Instead, I took that of Easter. The help of the Servant of God, Father Giuseppe Quadrio, famous teacher and a incomparable friend was a great contribution. And it was the turning point. It was the decisive choice. To what end - I asked myself during the crisis - is the course of life, if it then must end in the abyss? «Nothingness cancels all out» Heidegger reminded me. Is life an interval between two eternal nights?
I was ratifying choices which were against the tide. It was urgently necessary to see again the foundation of my faith in God and of my trust in the value of life. Faith is a reasonable obedience, even indeed hyper-rational. But it cannot be irrational. A continued auto-illusion would be shown to be a procured folly. Nevertheless, no philosophy gave me an adequate answer. No ideology contained my life. I started reading again the Gospels, not as discounted literature, but rather as historical books characterized by an original type of historicity. I went immediately to their DNA: the Pascal experiences. I lingered over the narrators, on the story's style of realism, never indulging in the spectacular. They did not make references unless by direct experience or directly tinged by people habituated to the coarseness of nets, to the counting of fish, to the things of everyday, not accepted unless first ascertained. Peter will say at Caesarea, in the house of the centurion: «Jesus was manifested to those whom God chose, that is to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead» (Acts 10,41). I found this declaration documented in the impressive details of the passage of Luke's Gospel following the story of Emmaus. It records the extremely subtle pedagogy of the resurrected Christ, who visits his followers in cenacolum while they were under the sensation of terror in «seeing a ghost» (Lk 24,37). Jesus carries them little by little to an acceptance of his real presence and even corporal consistency. He uses the verb pselaphao ("to pinch"). It left me feeling stunned. This expression struck me almost like lightning, it swept from me every doubt of a metaphorical interpretation. «Handle me and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have» (Lk 24,39). And then to confirm it, he asked for something to eat. I concluded: the Risen One is not a fantasm. Therefore, the resurrection is not a myth. The «beautiful» of Christianity became here the «true»: the authentic veri-fication of the message.
It was for me like touching the wounds again and exclaiming with Thomas: «You are my Lord. You are my God» (Jn 20,28). If he is my God - I thought - he is the Lord of my mind: I must therefore place my trust in Him. He is the truth. If he is my God, he is the Lord of my heart. He is my life. I must therefore let myself be loved and love him with my whole being. If he is my God, he is the Lord of my journey. He is therefore the meaning of my life. With the Risen One, I know why I live. With Him, I know for whom I am living.
Since that time, the Risen Jesus was no longer the little plaster statue with the flag of triumph, but the living Love. Not a monument to be visited, but an adorable presence. And life became loaded with meaning. The course reacquired a means. And it was such that, regardless of my misery, I took on the task of advancing towards Him who gave me the power to consecrate and absolve, to be a dispenser of the Pascal grace in his Church.
These sentiments exploded in my heart again when, years later, I visited the Holy Sepulcre in Jerusalem with friends to whom I was preaching spiritual exercises. It was like the great sensation of being at home. I wrote a journal on the border of my soul: «In the steps of Jesus of Nazareth». And I would title this moment of grace: «At my home».
I am here, next to the empty tomb. / I am here in the center of history. / I am here with an inflated heart: / Here is the Pascal mystery, always. / I have arrived home after many years. / Home is the place where you breath. / Only here does one hope profoundly / that death is really dead / and life is definitively alive. / This sepulcre of life / is my true home. / The home of my greatest dreams. / The home of my truest meaning. / I think of all those buried without name / who have swallowed countless hopes. / And I know, on the foundation of this stone / unsealed from within, / against every expectation and pretension / that at last every sepulcre is fecund with life / and has become the cradle of every new creature.
The rediscovery of Jesus Risen, as a point of reference and sustenance for the homo viator, gives also the key to reading the history of the globe. It would have been inauspicious, if that tomb had continued to hold the Just One buried. The last word would have been that of nothingness and not of being, of darkness and not of the light. This absurdity, planted in the heart of history, would have made all history absurd. And in this way the absurdities would have been left unredeemed: of the suffering of innocent people and of the oppressed in the underground caverns of history, never allowed to see the light. Vice versa, thanks to the resurrection which Paul calls "dynamis" (Phil 3,10), we feel obligated to fight every form of evil, and to serve especially liberty, justice, peace, for those who are the least in the world's eyes, to whom the Messiah gives a privileged role in proclaiming the good news (cf. Lk 5,18). Thanks to the resurrection, history is no longer under the aegis of a destiny, but rather under the stimulus of a destination.
The centrality of the resurrection is not a triumphalism. It is not the drugged attenuation of the tragedies of the world. It is not a rebuff of the cross, but rather an indication of the landing-place. Christ did not stop at Friday. His station of arrival is the third day. Golgotha is an indispensable step, but it is a step. It is the emphasis that every suffering has an outlet. That suffering is not a cry of agony, but labor pains. Just as Good Friday is the epiphany of a love of a God who does not crucify man, but was crucified for man, the third day is proof of the fecundity of that total love. The passion and death stimulate charity as a response: love is paid with love. The resurrection incites hope and accentuates the presence of a directional sense, because there is a landing-place. Hope is nothing but love which stretches itself out. And which awaits completion. Today the world is asphyxiated, because it is lacking in hope, which is the breath of history.
The Lord Jesus is for me He who continued to support me in all my indefinite insufficiencies, to make me announce Him Living. And alive because risen. No Buddhist believes Buddha to be alive. No Muslim believes it of Mohammed. They are able to enter into contact with the strength of the message, which is very much valid, but they can never presume to be able to enter into contact with the integral, living person.
Personally - thanks to this turning point of faith - I was able to continually proclaim the Risen One and in this way propose, as Paul VI said, Christianity as joy, as continual striving to supersede the stalemate of suffering without an outlet. The Lord Jesus is for me He who has made me meet along my journey hundreds of brothers and sisters, youth and adults, so that together we might better remember this central portent which is the resurrection from the dead in a community in journey. In this community a new form of popular piety, by his grace, was sketched out. It is the Via lucis, which is the physiological second moment of the Via crucis, that by now has spread itself throughout the five continents. Its celebration has been accompanied by moments of special grace at Jerusalem, at Moscow, on the soil of the martyrs in the catacombs of Saint Callistus. So many suffering people write to me saying that every day they do a station of the Via lucis, drawing from it strength, joy and peace. Also the very poor communities of Madagascar, of Brazil, Peru. It does not mean abolishing the Via crucis, which is the mirror of the suffering of Calvary without end in the world. It means only completing it with the Via lucis, which is the mirror of the hopes of the world, especially of those to whom it most rightly belongs, the poor.
The Lord Jesus is for me He who made me meet Alfonso, Fabio and Elenio, brothers in blood and in a common Calvary, not to mention Davide and Patrizia, and so many other youth like them tested by life. And they radiate it as credible witnesses in joy, even among the thorns of daily living. The Pascal spirituality is verified above all in the world of suffering. Its representatives, in the measure in which they assimilate the vitamins of Easter, are those who sing with their whole lives the eucharistic acclamation: «We announce your death in our flesh, we proclaim your resurrection in our peace».
The Lord Jesus is for me He who had me gather this message from Silvia, a twenty-four-year old about to be married, who suddenly found herself facing the wall of death because of a galloping leukemia: «The Lord took me between his arms, he consoled me, he made me understand that it is not important whether I live or die because whatever happens in the grand plans of God will be the right thing. I do not want to know, "why me". I tell him: I place my trust in You, Lord. I entrust myself to You, Lord. I confide in You, Lord».
And Elena, another girl, nineteen-years-old, authentic witness of the Risen One, who left me this message as I sat with her in the last hours: «The life I am leaving is beautiful. But more beautiful is the Super-life that I am waiting for». And Alfredo, a twenty-five-year old gymnast, paralyzed by a fall which then carried him to the tomb, who told me after an itinerary of Pascal rediscovery: «Do not pray any more for me, but pray for those who have not yet understood that Christ is Risen».
The Lord Jesus is for me He who offered me the gift of frequent meetings with Mother Teresa, in whose eyes I saw crackle the flame of a love given to service. And he made me meet the poor of Mother's works spread throughout Italy. And, again, with her lay collaborators, to whom Mother wanted that I monthly teach a formative message on love, but who offer me continually the teaching of a gratuity without reserve.
The Lord Jesus is for me He who makes me meet him in so many youth, my students at school, my teachers in life. How many times, in contact with some of them, enthusiastic volunteers and full of a spirit of sacrifice, above all if following in a path of a radical vocation, I found myself again praying like this: «Congratulations, Lord Jesus, you have once again taken the center. Attract to yourself in a total way also the children of this hedonistic and consumeristic generation. You are really Risen. You are really alive. Death does not captivate. You are really great, Lord Jesus. Strike again. And go straight to the center. Which, according to your creation, is the heart of man. Nothing arrives at the heart - Goethe said - if it does not come from a heart. The call to a radical love has its source in You, heart of the world».
The Lord Jesus is for me the liet motif of my life, which I witnessed in two ex-members of the Red Brigade, already visited by me in prison after they read one of my books on hope. They wanted, then, to pay back my visit in a break given to them by law. Here they asked me: «Now that we have become friends, tell us: why have you made this choice of life?». I would never have thought, in the days of terror, that I would speak of my reason for living, which is Christ, to two representatives of that formation for an entire afternoon.
The Lord Jesus is, then, the savior. He is the meaning. He is salvation. He takes you. He understands you. Above all he surprises you every day. It is enough to talk with Him with immense trust. The Lord Jesus is He who offers us an icon of human life and is the road of Emmaus. Here we proceed today almost crushed under the weight of our own sadness. And we have in hand our one-way ticket to the little land of monotony, where the verb «to hope» is conjugated in the past tense: it is the tense of those who are marked with resignation. Which is like a morbid desperation. The Risen One puts in our hand the return ticket to Jerusalem. Here, the verb «to hope» is opened to the future, whatever our condition might be. He changes us within, even if on the surface all remains intact. He transplants his gaze into our visual apparatus. He gives us new optics. He gives us, above all, new senses.
Emmaus is the crossroad between the resignation of man and the raising of God. Emmaus is there, where the tired steps of men cross with those luminous ones of the Risen One. Emmaus is there, where everything becomes new. But on one condition: that one has the courage to say: «Stay with us, Lord, because night approaches». It is the evening of my mind's doubt. It is the evening of my heart's anxiety. It is the evening of my weight on myself. Saying to him sincerely «stay with us» means deciding to receive him in all the forms in which he arrives: in the spoils of the small and the poor, of the alone and the sorrowing, of the humiliated one and the crushed one. Only on this condition will our eyes open with the breaking of the bread (cf. Lk 24,31). That is, only then will our Eucharists reach their full objective. We will tell him, then: «Stay with us, Lord: we will give you a home. We will give you a plate. We will give you warmth. We will give you love».
Who, then, is Jesus for me? He is the living One. Because he is the Risen One. He is the yeast which makes the world rise: the microcosm of my existence and the macrocosm of the universe's history. As I found myself again in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote from prison shortly before dying, speaking of the resurrection. «Here is the answer to the principle of Archimedes: give me a firm footing and I will lift up the world. If a few people really believe it and let themselves be guided by this in the way they act on earth, many things would change. To live, based on the resurrection: this is the meaning of Easter». Jesus is the sure Immanuel of our uncertain days.
For everyone, he is that which cannot be disregarded in history: the presuppositions of every civilization are the hinges of his message («Why Can We not Fail to Call Ourselves Christians?», by Benedetto Croce). For believers, he is indispensable to life. He is the bread for our hunger. He is the light for our minds. He is the love for our heart. He is the life for our deaths: from those daily ones that come from existence to the definitive one at the end of the line.
The Risen One is the answer to our questions. He is the question to all our answers.