“Without Christ, man’s rebellion to power can become insanity, as in Oslo,” writes Italian Catholic priest Aldo Trento, who is serving as a missionary in Paraguay, South America. He offers this commentary to Beliefnet readers
by Padre Aldo Trento
Special to Beliefnet
While everyone is on vacation, dreaming of beating the stress of a life that seems increasingly less lifelike (such that even desire seems to have shut down), we receive from Norway the terrible news of two terrorist attacks with about a hundred fatalities. What a slap in the face for everyone! Particularly from Norway, one of the most “perfect” countries in the world, where honesty and social organization are exemplified, comes a fact that has shaken everyone.
The shock is as big as the pain for the victims and their families, and yet we can’t stop here, we can’t abandon the search to understand what got in the way of this “perfect” machine.
What got in the way? Man.
The heart of man is increasingly worn out by the continuous deceptions of a dominant world power that, having eliminated God (or having reduced him to an ideology), has managed to anesthetize man by making him believe that his life depends on power itself.
But this undertaking (which Msgr. Luigi Giussani defined as “Chernobyl effect”) cannot and will not last long, because there is no power in the world that can suppress man’s heart to the point of killing it. Even if, in Norway, as in every part of the world, those who hold power make their followers believe that if they live, it is by their grace and they should be thankful for it.
Once anesthetized, this maneuver that practically tries to change human DNA, cannot last long, because inside each of us there’s an Icarus that can’t stand being ensnared in a cage that impedes his flight.
Man, man’s heart, is made to fly.
Thus, either this demand finds its freedom, or it turns into madness. It is impossible to suppress that thirst for happiness, for love, for beauty, for truth, for justice, that make up the very fibers of the human heart. One can curse these heartbeats, but not ignore them.
And if the powers that be forget this truth, no matter how perfect their systems may be, and even if man himself forgets, inevitably the moment of madness arrives whose consequences we saw in Oslo. If one hasn’t encountered the presence of Christ as a fact that answers totally to the needs of reason and of the human heart, and instead has encountered an idea or inspiration that uses Christ, it is inevitable that reason will be censored, unravelling into violence and fanaticism. How many atrocities have been committed in the name of Christ, where Christ had nothing to do with it all!
Christianity is an event that is verifiable in its profound reasonableness only inside a reality that is fully lived. Christ needs man in his entirety, and man needs Christ. In front of this tragedy, so that these brothers may not have died in vain, it is critical to take our heart seriously. It’s desires are well expressed in Psalm 63: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Or as Giuseppe Ungaretti reminds us, “Closed among mortal things (even the sky full of stars will end) why do I yearn for God?”
Man is relationship with eternity, relationship with the infinite, and if my heart doesn’t find this YOU for which it is made, there is no social system, as perfect as it may be, that will hold back the madness and all its consequences. If God doesn’t exist or is reduced to an idol, an ideology, anything is possible. But it’s the heart itself that tells us of God’s existence! It’s the heart that cries: ‘I want the infinite.’
Modern power arises excluding God, it arises claiming to be God, to be that which the heart needs, and thus it is inevitable that these tsunamis arrive, making us tremble. Values aren’t enough to live, less so the pretense of being honest, as we’ve been telling ourselves (even in the Church) for decades.
We need an additional step, we need an encounter with someone for whom the heart is made – to take hold of our life again. What happened to John, Andrew, Zaccheus, and Magdalene needs to happen to each of us now, a real encounter with God, that answers our hearts’ deepest desires. We need it to happen now, in the middle of summer, while everyone is laying down, like featherless chickens on the beach, or climbing mountains like deer. We need an encounter with that gaze of the Mystery made flesh, the Mystery that our heart is made of. We need Christ’s gaze to meet ours. That gaze that renders us conscious of the fact that before madness, there is forgiveness, there’s mercy.
This is precisely what happened to me when the illusion of power, in its ideological expression, was consuming my mind, convincing me that Christ wasn’t enough to liberate man from his folly. And what continues to happen to me fills me with joy every morning. The tragedy in Norway urges the responsibility we have as Christians in the world. Is our experience of Christ the occurrence of what happened to John and Andrew, or is it just a mixture of values and morals, incapable of resisting the challenges of the modern world? Are those who looks at us these days, observing our faces, fascinated by the beauty of a gaze in which Christ’s tenderness is evident in our eyes?
We can respond to religious fanaticism only by showing the reasonableness of our faith in our daily life. There’s nothing more blasphemous than to define Christianity as a left wing idea or a right wing idea. Christianity is simply Christ, that is, a man. Being Christian is not adding an adjective to the word “man” but it’s the very name of man, as Giussani would say, of that level in nature in which man becomes conscious of himself .