“To be a Christian who is generated by the Second Vatican Council”: it is with this desire that the gruff voice of Enzo Bianchi opened the first Sophia Lecture for the academic year 2012-2013. A central aspiration during this prior’s entire life: right on the 8th of December 1965, the day the Council ended, the Community of Bose saw its first light.
On November 29, with lungs still filled with that air, Enzo Bianchi concentrated on one of the central points of the ‘paths of humanization’ (“...in which we should find a complicity among Christians, so as not to fall into barbarism”) which have characterized his research for the last dozen years: the gift.
The figure of homo donator, of man capable of giving, is making headway in philosophical research, but there are still open questions. What weight is given to the value of ‘giving’ in the field of education? What role can ‘giving’ have in a society always more centered on profit, which seems to have made the market its dogma?
It isn’t rare, and it is no novelty, that the idea of gift which finds most use in modern civilization ends up trivializing the practice (“we think of the shameful charity via msn: a sort of gift which tranquillizes the conscience while at the same time keeping the other far away and utterly unknown,”) and to deeply betray its essence; to the point of perverting the concept of gift itself, making it an instrument for hidden interests, for control over the other, for compliance.
But to give is an art, and mankind is capable of it. He is capable because he is able to have relationships. Our society is the mirror of how we choose to weave these relationships: it can be a communitas, a community that puts together its gifts, or, by refuting who is beside me, closing myself to him, going away from him, it can be an immunitas.
The other. The one who was ‘hell’ for Sarte, could be rediscovered too as a gift which I recognize and find in the giving of myself: giving myself with my presence, by word, by time offered, in the silence that becomes a listening when words are superfluous. Man can give not only what he possesses, but also what he is; in this act, he gives value to and recovers his greatness: the ability to not calculate the return for his actions, to accept risk for the one standing beside him, to treasure the uncertainty that is inherent in every acceptance and every awaiting, every discovery. It is in this encounter with the other that I develop my identity, discover my usefulness, my being necessary and at the same time debtor, all effects of the one who is beside me.
Gift is gratuity, which is the essence of the Christian message, centered right on that which is not merited: “Grace is not merited; to say that the love of God has to be merited is the greatest of heresies.” Grace precedes us, it forgives and loves while we are sinners. It does not expect anything in return, except that each and every one of us becomes a reflection and an amplifier of the love received.
Gift is hope, it is hope lived in Man.
It is exciting, 50 years from the Council, to discover and rediscover the flowers that keep coming to life from that seed, their ability to surprise and involve us, to give us this hope. These also are a gift, after all.
Text: Gianni Oderda