The presentation in Cambridge

Cambridge: The Religious Sense and a "living experience"

The presentation of Fr. Giussani's book at the University Chaplaincy, a round table between Arabella Milbank, Anglican chaplain, Paschal Uche, Catholic priest, and physicist Maria Ubiali.
Sofia Carozza

On Wednesday 24 May, the Cambridge community hosted a presentation of the new translation of The Religious Sense at the Catholic chaplaincy. The gesture was born from the initiative of one of us, Maria, who is Professor of Theoretical Physics at the university. Maria said she was eager to begin working on the text in School of Community again because she clearly saw that the insights it contains directly correspond not only to her needs but to those of her colleagues and students. Restarting the PerCorso offered her—and all of us—an occasion to invite these people to join us, to share in the journey of rediscovery that we are about to undertake. So a few of us decided to organise a public panel discussion on the text.

Struck by the hunger we have discovered in ourselves and those around us in this time of crises, we chose as our title The Human Person Becomes a Tireless Searcher, drawn from the following excerpt: “Life is hunger, thirst, and passion for an ultimate object, which looms over the horizon, and yet always lies beyond it. When this is recognized, man becomes a tireless searcher.”

The event took shape as an informal panel discussion, as we intuited that a dialogue rooted in experience would best communicate the radicality of Giussani’s approach. We asked Rev. Arabella Millbank, the chaplain of Selwyn and Newnham Colleges, Fr. Paschal Uche, a parish priest from Colchester, and Prof. Maria Ubiali to participate in the panel, as they have each been struck not only by reading The Religious Sense but by living encounters with the life of the movement. We then invited the whole city to attend, both through many personal invitations but also public notices.

In the end, about 50 of us gathered to listen to the panel. The speakers began by recounting the story of how they encountered The Religious Sense and what it left in their hearts. The surprising thing was that, although the dialogue had not been prepared and the speakers did not know each other, there was an immediate harmony, as if they had been friends for years. The dialogue started immediately as a sharing of a living experience, not as an intellectual exchange. They started from an encounter with a place, a face, and a gratitude for having met it again and more deeply in the book. Each of them, in different ways, shared stories of freedom: freedom from fear of the ultimate questions, freedom to embrace the restlessness or sadness of the heart, or freedom to embark on the journey of taking life seriously. They also spoke about the essential dimension of the community, of communion, in the proposal of Giussani and in the path of Christian conversion more generally. Fr. Paschal expressed the desire to increasingly experience a companionship that challenges him in everyday life to verify the faith; Reverend Arabella explained how for her this book is a living companionship in everyday challenges.

Next, the panelists explored the provocative claim that Giussani makes of the unity of reason, focusing particularly on the unity of seeking the truth through science and faith. Maria, a particle physicist, shared that she experiences the unity of all of life in the fact that, in both her work and her faith, she follows a path of collecting signs in order to reach a human certainty. Yet this certainty is not static: it calls her onward on a path of discovery. Fr. Pascal connected this to the sacramentality of reality and his great desire to see the whole by going deeper into the mystery. Reverend Arabella spoke of how the dynamics of the sign is a reminder of the poetic nature of reality, which within all its folds, even painful ones, shows the face of a mystery who became man.

Irene, a friend of ours who coordinated the panel, then referenced Giussani’s claim that all of reality is positive. Confronted with the image of being born again, which Giussani uses in Chapter 10, she wondered how it is possible to live all of life—even the hard aspects—with wonder. Fr. Pascal shared that he begs to maintain his wonder at the consecration of the Eucharist, and to allow this to be a training ground for seeing all of reality with radical amazement. Rev. Arabella connected it to her experience of giving birth to her children, and her astonishment at the objective presence in front of her. This has helped her to approach life with the expectation that there is a “poetic quality” within it. Maria shared that the realization of the positivity of all of reality—starting from her own self—has transformed her life. Acceptance of something as given, she said, allows you to enter into dialogue with the Mystery through it and thereby discover peace and joy.

Finally, the panelists discussed the radical liberation that comes from putting the questions of the human heart at the centre—whether one’s own questions or the questions of another. Only a deep faith in the ultimate victory and attractiveness of Christ that can give one such confidence in the journey of discovery. This is the faith that Giussani had, and which any can discover by following the path he proposes.

The panel then concluded with information about the movement and an invitation to attend the School of Community. Following the panel, those in attendance shared questions and experiences with one another over refreshments. As a sign of the fruitfulness of the gesture, some stayed over two hours after the end of the event, continuing the dialogue about the desires of the human heart.