Category Archives: Communion & Liberation

Faith broadens reason and the virtue of poverty key to Christian life

NEW YORK (CNS) — Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete told a recent gathering at Columbia University that faith broadens reason, making “it more powerful, wider in scope and, in fact, stronger in courage.” “This ‘broadening of reason’ achieves its highest expression in what (Msgr. Luigi) Giussani called ‘the virtue of poverty.’ And this is the proposal we make to the world, to people concerned about economic justice,” the New York priest said in a talk on “Faith & Money: Do They Add Up?” But “the virtue of poverty doesn’t create a bunch of idealists running around,” he said. “If we know history, (we know) people who had been called to a life of poverty … created the great institutions of Western civilization — hospitals, universities, works for the poor, refuges, schools.” Msgr. Giussani, to whom Msgr. Albacete referred, is the late Italian clergyman who founded the Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation in 1954. A theologian and an author, Msgr. Albacete is the national director of the Communion and Liberation movement in the U.S.

Faith, Always a New Act

This 1995 essay by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) is a marvelous piece to meditate on today. Faith and communion, freedom and personal integration in God are relevant topics in our era where there is a lack of understanding of the basics of Christian faith. Without mentioning his name and his work, the author points to Msgr. Giussani’s Communion and Liberation and other ecclesial movements.


Let me begin with a brief story from the early postconciliar period. The Council documents – particularly the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, but also the decrees on ecumenism, on mission, on non-Christian religions, and on freedom of religion – had opened up broad vistas of dialogue for the Church and theology. New issues were appearing on the horizon, and it was becoming necessary to find new methods. It seemed self-evident that a theologian who wanted to be up to date and who rightly understood his task should temporarily suspend the old discussions and devote all of his energies to the new questions pressing in from every side.


At about this time, I sent a small piece of mine to Hans Urs von Balthasar. Balthasar
HUB.jpgreplied by return mail on a correspondence card, as he always did, and, after expressing his thanks, added a terse sentence that made an indelible impression on me: Do not presuppose the faith but propose it. This was an imperative that hit home. Wide-ranging exploration of new fields was good and necessary, but only so long as it issued from, and was sustained by, the central light of faith.


Faith is not maintained automatically. It is not a “finished business” that we can simply take for granted. The life of faith has to be constantly renewed. And since faith is an act that comprehends all the dimensions of our existence, it also requires constantly renewed reflection and witness. It follows that the chief points of faith – God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, grace and sin, sacraments and Church, death and eternal life -are never outmoded. They are always the issues that affect us most profoundly. They must be the permanent center of preaching and therefore of theological reflection. The bishops present at the 1985 Synod called for a universal catechism of the whole Church because they sensed precisely what Balthasar had put into words in his note to me. Their experience as shepherds had shown them that the various new pastoral activities have no solid basis unless they are irradiations and applications of the message of faith. Faith cannot be presupposed; it must be proposed. This is the purpose of the Catechism. It aims to propose the faith in its fullness and wealth, but also in its unity and simplicity.


What does the Church believe? This question implies another: Who believes, and how does someone believe? The Catechism treats these two main questions, which concern, respectively, the “what” and the “who” of faith, as an intrinsic unity. Expressed in other terms, the Catechism displays the act of faith and the content of faith in their indivisible unity. This may sound somewhat abstract, so let us try to unfold a bit what it means. We find in the creeds two formulas: “I believe” and “We believe.” We speak of the faith of the Church, of the personal character of faith and finally of faith as a gift of God, as a “theological act”, as contemporary theology likes to put it. What does all of this mean?


Faith is an orientation of our existence as a whole. It is a fundamental option that affects every domain of our existence. Nor can it be realized unless all the energies of our existence go into maintaining it. Faith is not a merely intellectual, or merely volitional, or merely emotional activity -it is all of these things together. It is an act of the whole self, of the whole person in his concentrated unity. The Bible describes faith in this sense as an act of the “heart” [Romans 10:9].


Faith is a supremely personal act. But precisely because it is supremely personal, it
St Augustine6.jpgtranscends the self, the limits of the individual. Augustine remarks that nothing is so little ours as our self. Where man as a whole comes into play, he transcends himself; an act of the whole self is at the same time always an opening to others, hence, an act of being together with others (Mitsein). What is more, we cannot perform this act without touching our deepest ground, the living God who is present in the depths of our existence as its sustaining foundation.


Any act that involves the whole man also involves, not just the self, but the we-dimension, indeed, the wholly other “Thou”, God, together with the self. But this also means that such an act transcends the reach of what I can do alone. Since man is a created being, the deepest truth about him is never just action but always passion as well; man is not only a giver but also a receiver. The Catechism expresses this point in the following words: “No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life.” Paul’s description of his experience of conversion and baptism alludes to faith’s radical character: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” [Galatians 2,20]. Faith is a perishing of the mere self and precisely thus a resurrection of the true self. To believe is to become oneself through liberation from the mere self, a liberation that brings us into communion with God mediated by communion with Christ.


So far, we have attempted, with the help of the Catechism, to analyze “who” believes, hence, to identify the structure of the act of faith. But in so doing we have already caught sight of the outlines of the essential content of faith. In its core, Christian faith is an encounter with the living God. God is, in the proper and ultimate sense, the content of our faith. Looked at in this way, the content of faith is absolutely simple: I believe in God. But this absolute simplicity is also absolutely deep and encompassing. We can believe in God because he can touch us, because he is in us, and because he also comes to us from the outside. We can believe in him because of the one whom he has sent “Because he has ‘seen the Father,’ ” says the Catechism, referring to John 6:56, “Jesus Christ is the only one who knows him and can reveal him”. We could say that to believe is to be granted a share in Jesus’ vision. He lets us see with him in faith what he has seen.


This statement implies both the divinity of Jesus Christ and his humanity. Because Jesus is the Son, he has an unceasing vision of the Father. Because he is man, we can share this vision. Because he is both God and man at once, he is neither merely a historical person nor simply removed from all time in eternity. Rather, he is in the midst of time, always alive, always present.


Trinity Rublev.jpgBut in saying this, we also touch upon the mystery of the Trinity. The Lord becomes present to us through the Holy Spirit. Let us listen once more to the Catechism: “One cannot believe in Jesus Christ without sharing in his Spirit . . . Only God knows God completely: we believe in the Holy Spirit because he is God.” It follows from what we have said that, when we see the act of faith correctly, the single articles of faith unfold by themselves. God becomes concrete for us in Christ. This has two consequences. On the one hand, the triune mystery of God becomes discernible; on the other hand, we see that God has involved himself in history to the point that the Son has become man and now sends us the Spirit from the Father. But the Incarnation also includes the mystery of the Church, for Christ came to “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” [John 1:52]. The “we” of the Church is the new communion into which God draws us beyond our narrow selves [cf. John 12:32]. The Church is thus contained in the first movement of the act of faith itself. The Church is not an institution extrinsically added to faith as an organizational frame work for the common activities of believers. No, she is integral to the act of faith itself The “I believe” is always also a “We believe.” As the Catechism says, “‘I believe’ is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both ‘I believe’ a ‘We believe.'” We observed just now that the analysis of the act of faith immediately displays faith’s essential content as well: faith is a response to the triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We can now add that the same act of faith also embraces God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ, his theandric mystery, and thus the entirety of salvation history. It further becomes clear that the People of God, the Church as the human protagonist of salvation history, is present in the very act of faith. It would not be difficult to demonstrate in a similar fashion that the other items of belief are also explications of the one fundamental act of encountering the living God. For by its very nature, relation to God has to do with eternal life. And this relation necessarily transcends the merely human sphere. God is truly God on1y if he is the Lord of all things. And he is the Lord of all things oo1y if he is their Creator. Creation, salvation history and eternal life are thus themes that flow directly from the question of God. In addition, when we speak of God’s history with man, we also imply the issue of sin and grace. We touch upon the question of how we encounter God, hence, the question of the liturgy, of the sacraments, of prayer and morality.


But I do not want to develop all of these points in detail now; my chief concern has been precisely to get a glimpse of the intrinsic unity of faith, which is not a multitude of propositions but a full and simple act whose simplicity contains the whole depth and breadth of being. He who speaks of God, speaks of the whole; he learns to discern the essential from the inessential, and he comes to know, albeit oo1y fragmentarily and “in a glass, darkly” [I Corinthians 13:12] as long as faith is faith and not yet vision, something of the inner logic and unity of all reality.


Finally, I would like to touch briefly on the question we mentioned at the beginning of our reflections. I mean the question of how we believe. Paul furnishes us with a remarkable and extremely helpful statement on this matter when he says that faith is an obedience “from the heart to the form of doctrine into which you were handed over” [Romans 6:17]. These words ultimately express the sacramental character of faith, the intrinsic connection between confession and sacrament. The Apostle says that a “form of doctrine” is an essential component of faith. We do not think up faith on our own. It does not come from us as an idea of ours but to us as a word from outside. It is, as it were, a word about the Word; we are “handed over” into this Word that reveals new paths to our reason and gives form to our life.


We are “handed over” into the Word that precedes us through an immersion in water symbolizing death. This recalls the words of Paul cited earlier: “I live, yet not I”‘; it reminds us that what takes place in the act of faith is the destruction and renewal of the self. Baptism as a symbolic death links this renewal to the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. To be handed over into the doctrine is to be handed over into Christ. We cannot receive his word as a theory in the same way that we learn, say, mathematical formulas or philosophical opinions. We can learn it only in accepting a share in Christ’s destiny. But we can become sharers in Christ’s destiny only where he has permanently committed himself to sharing in man’s destiny: in the Church. In the language of this Church we call this event a “sacrament”. The act of faith is unthinkable. without the sacramental component.


These remarks enable us to understand the concrete literary structure of the Catechism. To believe, as we have heard, is to be handed over into a form of doctrine. In another passage, Paul calls this form of doctrine a confession [cf. Romans 10:9]. A further aspect of the faith-event thus emerges. That is, the faith that comes to us as a word must also become a word in us, a word that is simultaneously the expression of our life. To believe is always also to confess the faith. Faith is not private but something public that concerns the community. The word of faith first enters the mind, but it cannot stay there: thought must always become word and deed again. The Catechism refers to the various kinds of confessions of faith that exist in the Church: baptismal confessions, conciliar confessions, confessions formulated by popes.


Each of these confessions has a significance of its own. But the primordial type that serves as a basis for all further developments is the baptismal creed. When we talk about catechesis, that is, initiation into the faith and adaptation of our existence to the Church’s communion of faith, we must begin with the baptismal creed. This has been true since apostolic times and therefore imposed itself as the method of the Catechism, which, in fact, unfolds the contents of faith from the baptismal creed. It thus becomes apparent how the Catechism intends to teach the faith: catechesis is catechumenate. It is not merely religious instruction but the act whereby we surrender ourselves and are received into the word of faith and communion with Jesus Christ.


Adaptation to God’s ways is an essential part of catechesis. Saint Irenaeus says a propos of this that we must accustom ourselves to God, just as in the Incarnation God accustomed himself to us men. We must accustom ourselves to God’s ways so that we can learn to bear his presence in us. Expressed in theological terms, this means that the image of God – which is what makes us capable of communion of life with him – must be freed from its encasement of dross. The tradition compares this liberation to the activity of the sculptor who chisels away at the stone bit by bit until the form that he beholds emerges into visibility.


Catechesis should always be such a process of assimilation to God. After all, we can only know a reality if there is something in us corresponding to it. Goethe, alluding to Plotinus, says that “the eye could never recognize the sun were it not itself sunlike. The cognitional process is a process of assimilation, a vital process. The “we”, the “what” and the “how” of faith belong together.


This brings to light the moral dimension of the act of faith, which includes a style of humanity we do not produce by ourselves but that we gradually learn by plunging into our baptismal existence. The sacrament of penance is one such immersion into baptism, in which God again and again acts on us and draws us back to himself Morality is an integral component of Christianity, but this morality is always part of the sacramental event of “Christianization” (Christwerdung) an event in which we are not the sole agents but are always, indeed, primarily, receivers. And this reception entails transformation.


The Catechism therefore cannot be accused of any fanciful attachment to the past when it unfolds the contents of faith using the baptismal creed of the Church of Rome, the so-called “Apostles’ Creed”. Rather, this option brings to the fore the authentic core of the act of faith and thus of catechesis as existential training in existence with God.


Equally apparent is that the Catechism is wholly structured according to the principle of the hierarchy of truths as understood by the Second Vatican Council. For, as we have seen, the creed is in the first instance a confession of faith in the triune God developed from, and bound to, the baptismal formula. All of the “truths of faith” are explications of the one truth that we discover in them. And this one truth is the pearl of great price that is worth staking our lives on: God. He alone can be the pearl for which we give everything else. Dio solo basta, he who finds God has found all things. But we can find him only because he has first sought and found us. He is the one who acts first, and for this reason faith in God is inseparable from the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Church and of the sacraments. Everything that is said in the Catechism is an unfolding of the one truth that is God himself – the “love that moves the sun and all the stars”.

JRatzinger arms.png 

[From Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – Benedict XVI, Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism. Sidelights on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1977, pp. 23-34. Original title: Evangelium, Katechese, Katechismus. Streiflichter auf den Katechismus der katholischen Kirche ©Verlag Neue Stadt 1995.

Lorenzo Albacete to present “God at the Ritz: Attraction to Infinity”

GR.jpgGod at the Ritz: Attraction to Infinity: A Priest-Physicist Talks about Science, Sex, Politics and Religion
by Lorenzo Albacete


Trained as a physicist and a Roman Catholic priest, Albacete has written a fine book of short reflections on religion, its place in our world, its at-times troubled relationship to its own truth claims, the meaning of suffering, and the experience of pluralism and liberalism. Albacete cites the thought of John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, to be sure, but he also engages with Germaine Greer, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Paul Ricoeur. Albacete’s profound sense of the religious leads him not to dogma but to a series of sensitively framed, sincere questions that should catch the attention and empathy of many readers.

Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, National Director, Communion and Liberation; Chairman, Board of Advisors, Crossroads Cultural Center; former President, Catholic University of Puerto Rico; former Professor of Theology, St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York.

Wednesday, November 12th, 6:00-7:30pm

Columbia University

Davis Auditorium, Schapiro Center (116th & Broadway)


RSVP here.


Read Christopher West’s review of God at the Ritz

How a Community is Born

Traces November 2008

Traces Oct.jpg

Los Angeles


by Paola Bergamini

Work and life in the parish, barbecues on the beach and weddings. Everyday circumstances which, for an Italian transferred to California, became opportunities for meeting people, and for risk. In the capital of the ephemeral, a curious presence emerged.


Los Angeles. In the offices of the Disney movie department, the air is heavy. It’s official: the company has decided to shed 300 jobs. Guido is at his desk waiting for his turn to be called by the boss. He is sure that he is on the list to go because he is the last to have arrived. He has been working for Disney for four years, but he has been working in this section for only six months, and only those six months count. At the end of the day, his boss calls him; he is the last. “I’m sorry, Piccarolo, I’m really sorry…,” and his eyes are wet. “I’m sorry, too. Not only do I have to find another job. For me, my work is the expression of what I love most, and here this was possible.” “It could be seen. Working with you was different. That is why I have managed to keep you on for another year [instead of the usual two weeks] and I’d like to give you a hand in finding another job.” The personnel manager, present at the interview, is astonished-nothing of this kind ever happens; at most, there are one or two tears, an expletive, and negotiation about the weeks to be paid. The logic of profit, of power, is unhinged. Another factor has come into play: affection for reality, for the other person, the echo of a greater Love that has embraced you and that changes relationships astonishingly. “It has always been this way for me, since 1994, when I graduated in Economics and Commerce and, at the suggestion of Memores Domini leader Carlo Wolfsgruber, left for New York, where Fr. Marino had asked for the opening of a house of the Memores Domini [the association composed of people of CL who follow a vocation of total dedication to God while living in the world]. I knew nothing, not even the English language. I said ‘yes’ to a look of love towards me.” He told me this at La Thuile, during the CL International Assembly, where we met again after 15 years. As he was speaking, I saw that he had a purer, more likeable look about him.


Behind the circumstances

Guido spent two years living with Fr. Marino, and then he got a job in a telecommunications firm “with younger colleagues who bossed you around. But life passed through there, and through the photocopies I had to make, sometimes all day long,” he remembers. After six months, the director called him: “I need a man I can trust in Los Angeles. I’ve seen how you work, I believe in you, but here you have no future. Do you want to go?” There was nothing in Los Angeles: no community, no Memores Domini house. Giudo wrote to Fr. Giussani, asking to go for two reasons: 1) The chance to learn a job; 2) to take along the beauty of the experience he was living. After a few days, the answer came through Giorgio Vittadini: “This is something great. Fr. Giussani thanks you. There will soon be a Memores Domini house.” Every weekend for a month, accompanied by Salvatore, he flew to Los Angeles to look for a house and to find out about the job. Then he set off. The first three months he was alone. “In that period, I always asked for the companionship of Christ for my life, and the simple fact of asking for it means you are not alone. It was not an expectation that blocked life. One day after another proved to be rich with occasions to be beside Him.” It is a new way of approaching reality that can be seen-on the job, in the parish that Guido begins to attend, in everyday relationships. After three months, Carlo came to live with Guido for eight months, to write his thesis, and then Mauro came to stay indefinitely. So Fr. Giussani was right: the Memores house was founded. After one year, Guido changed his job so as to stay in Los Angeles. He worked in a firm that was expanding frenetically. He worked twelve hours a day, including Saturday and Sunday. How did he survive it? He laughs. “It’s not a question of survival, but of living seriously. I never thought, “What interests me is outside; it’s a pity I have so little time to spare.” Being there was total. So, in the evening, when it got late, I would go to get food for everybody, to take my break while talking. And someone would ask about your friends, what you do at home, or what you think of the poor in the Third World, and you answer… that you do charity work Sundays with some kids; you speak of what’s dearest to you. Then you invite him home to eat Italian.” In this way, unexpected relationships sprang up, and this is how the community in Los Angeles was born-without inventing anything, without making speeches.

This was the case with Jennifer. Mauro got to know her at a wedding and he invited her home for lunch. She told him of her difficult situation, being divorced with two children. They offered her company. When he can, Guido crosses the city to help the children with their schoolwork. They invited her to School of Community, but who would stay at home with the kids? She can’t afford a babysitter. They take turns babysitting so that she can go. When the problem of changing schools comes up, and Jennifer cannot afford it, Guido called his friends in the Fraternity in Italy, asking if they could help out. Now there is a bridge linking Milan and Los Angeles. Jennifer writes to Laura, telling her about her children, the School of Community, the difficulties in her job… about her life. Why would you do all this, if not out of recognition of a Presence that touches life’s circumstances? And it changes life. This is also the case with Brenda, whom Mauro got to know at work and invited to School of Community. “She is an astrophysicist who struck our friend Marco Bersanelli in Liege, Belgium, because of the way she approached her work.” [See Traces, Vol. 10, No. 7 (September) 2008.] The parish priest, Fr. Roddy, in contrast, was rather doubtful about these Italians. One day, they threw him an invitation: “Why don’t you come on vacation with us?” He has been with us ever since because, “at the age of 70, the encounter with the Movement helped me rediscover the origin of my vocation.” Then, there is Nancy. “I met her at Disney,” Guido tells us. Another change of job? “In Italy, you are not accustomed to it, but in America this turnover is quite normal. In the case of my firm, they went bankrupt.” Nancy was a Protestant. She and Guido became friends, and after three years she came to a gesture of the Movement, the charitable work. After another year, she attended the School of Community for the first time. Last April, she became a Catholic. “In the past, I thought I was the author of my destiny, but now I live rooted in an Other,” she commented, some days later.


From bonfires to surfing

It was the pastor of San Sebastian Parish who invited Claudia. She is from Salvador, and she escaped from there during the ’80s because of the civil war. “There is a group of Italians who get together every Wednesday; why don’t you go to meet them?” Along with her husband, Edwino, she came one Wednesday. These Italians are different: they use words like Mystery, reason, Fr. Giussani. These new friends from Salvador have never left us since: “It was impossible to stay away. The desire to come back to them was to come back to that Presence that was beginning to reveal itself in our lives,” Claudia wrote.

After a few years, there are now two houses of Memores Domini and the encounters have multiplied-with Beth, Paul, Christine, and many others, people you meet at a party, at work, or in a thousand other circumstances of life. “You invite them to eat, to your home, to a bonfire on the beach, or to go surfing. Los Angeles is the city of the ephemeral, of appearances. You can either stop short at a moralistic contempt or you can embrace these appearances in an encounter. Then, since we have the finest beaches in the world, why shouldn’t we enjoy them?” Right you are, Guido!

How did things turn out at Disney? “I quit.” And now? “That is another adventure.” He laughs and even his eyes are smiling-as if embracing the world.


Faith and Science: Lorenzo Albacete vs Christopher Hitchens

The John Templeton Foundation sponsored a debate between a priest and an atheist at New York’s Pierre Hotel September 23rd. The pair tried to answer the question “Does science make believe in God obsolete?”

The follow up to the debate can be found here.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
coat of arms



Humanities Blog Directory