The Paradox of Faithfulness

The Voices of the Days/12 - The most faded life stops at its projects of youth

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 29/05/2016

Fiore Filippine rid rid“Save me, oh, Lord, from many words”

Saint Augustine, De Trinitate

The most relevant effects of our actions are the unintentional ones that we generate without thinking, or wanting exactly the opposite of what ends up happening. The root of this gap between intentions and results is the inability to control the processes we generate, which are more complex and free of our ability to control them. Our every act is a seed that blooms, grows and dies under laws which escape us. If the results of what we generate were all inscribed in our will and intelligence and if they were captured by these, the world would be such a sad and poor place to live and we would miss the biggest surprises "under the sun".

Real life is freedom, it does not follow the rules that we imprint on it and it refuses to be caged by our will to dominate.

The unintended effects of our actions are always important, but they are decisive in ideal-driven organizations and in communities and movements born of charismas or spiritual values. Here very often the happiest outcomes arise from random events that are neither anticipated nor sought, and the worst things are the result of choices and rules resulting from good intentions to ensure future growth and success. The excess of the effects of actions on their intentions is particularly important in the mutual relationship between the founders and the future generations. Thos who give life to an ideal-driven organization or community, at some point will feel a profound need to write a "rule" for it. This rule serves several functions. It is like an identity card of that new and unique community, with photos and general information. But it is also a constitution which contains the rules of governance so that the management of relations among its members stays consistent with the specific nature of the charisma, so that the "new wine" can find "new wineskins" that are able to contain it and make it mature. The first goal of any good rule is to assure faithfulness to the charisma by those who come after. And it is exactly around this great word, faithfulness, that we tend to play a lot, almost all, of the ideal, human, community and spiritual quality of the life of future generations. In life, in every life, faithfulness is almost everything. It is trust, a covenant, a wedding pact, just as the word for wedding ring in Portuguese says - aliança -, which in Italian we call fede (faith). And like every faith, faithfulness is a free journey behind the voice that one day called us to a promised land and a great liberation. It is an exodus, a pilgrimage to a mountain that's higher than us, unknown and mysterious, a place of regeneration and personal and collective salvation. It's a going which is never followed by a simple returning, because the house waiting for us on our return is always new and different. Every time we do not recognize it, we must relearn to see it again, and feel it again from inside a soul that changes after each journey; because it grows with the journey, until, one day, it coincides with the whole earth and the whole sky. The house that preserves and takes care of a real great alliance changes a thousand times in the course of life, and if it does not become too large it always ends up being too small. No house born from a call coincides with the measure of our heart, although it is always tempting to lower the roof and decrease the rooms to live there comfortably.

Faithfulness is not a simple process, nor is the original faithfulness to ourselves that we all seek and that escapes us, because the day that we were to achieve it would be just the beginning of the "great betrayal." We are faithful to ourselves until, with a moral energy previously unknown to us, we manage to return home after yet another betrayal, and as long as we keep the door open to welcome new and new and guests that come to visit us and honour us, without letting sorrow for having ushered some of the wrong type of people in shut the door of the heart for ever.

Also, the faithfulness to the founder and the charisma is very delicate; it is a journey in a beautiful forest that, however, is full of dangers and pitfalls. The first traps are those that the founder disseminates along the way, even if the construction is driven only by the desire for good, the moral certainty of creating the conditions for saving the future. For the inevitable and necessary fear that the tradition of the charisma turn into betrayal, the founders almost always end up inserting some protection devices in their rules that eventually turn into traps. Something similar is done to those wives or husbands who through fear of being betrayed give rise to a control system to monitor the other's life that kills mutual freedom and soon the couple, too - which lives and grows until the betrayal option remains real and concrete, and is freely discarded every time. The only good management of the natural fear of betrayal is in accepting the absolute vulnerability of any genuine faithfulness. Building an invulnerable faithfulness is the first betrayal of every alliance, even if it is a betrayal that's neither desired nor thought. We do not know that we are faithful true as long as we do not find ourselves on the threshold of the wrong door and realise that we can still go home. Locking down a rule to protect it from possible future abuse is the sure path to the spiritual sterility of the community. Each vulnus (wound, weak point) is also a split and the possibility of fertility. Good community alliance begins with a rule that is not afraid of vulnerability and exposure to the abuse of trust and faith.

But even if the founder wrote good and courageous - and therefore vulnerable - rules, the part to be played by future generations does not become simpler, because the traps that they themselves build on their way are not minor ones. A very common one lies in the interpretation of the verb remember. In the Gospel we find a wonderful passage that should guide the behaviour of every community in the management of faithfulness. In his last speech to the disciples after the resurrection, Jesus said: "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit ... will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14:25-26). In the time period after the founders it is the Spirit to perform the three basic functions: it is the Paraclete, it teaches and helps remember. The Spirit is the Paraclete, that is, the lawyer, the defender, the one who is on our side, protects us and saves us. The Spirit is the one who teaches us "all things": the master of the time that follows the founder is the Spirit, it is the charisma itself. This teaching is accomplished through the exercise of a particular dimension of memory. Remembering here is a crucial operation, because it is not a mnemonic act but an essential spiritual event for understanding the spirit of the ancient words in the present time, going beyond their letter. Remembering the founding words then is a complex and plural process that knows the most distinguished and co-essential protagonists: the first historical words, the Spirit and a community capable of remembering in the Spirit. The most common mistake is to confuse remembering in the Spirit with the exact reconstruction of spoken words. And so the communities are blocked in the name of absolute faithfulness to the words, which makes them lose the Spirit that is defence and creativity. Perfect and total faithfulness becomes total and absolute betrayal. In these instances of faithfulness to the spiritual memory the documents that recorded the ipsissima verba of the founders are of little help, instead they end up preventing good memories operated by the Paraclete. In the book of Job (chapter 19), the Paraclete is invoked by Job to defend him from Elohim who had unjustly condemned him. The spirit defends communities from their founder, because it allows you to remember only those words and events that keep us alive here and now.

Not all words must be remembered in the Spirit. Heresies are often born of words actually spoken by a founder, but not remembered in the spirit. Every good thing to remember is always partial, because life and salvation lie in remembering the few words that only a wise and risky community process can generate. It is creation of live and incarnate words; it is never a nostalgic remembering of past events. It is the re-living of the same miracle from the start with words that are ancient and all new at the same time. The living and fruitful communities are those where each generation has dared to decide which words to remember and which ones to leave to rest waiting for the propitious time of remembering them. However, when this work of partial recollection is lacking - and it always borders with the region of betrayal and sometimes even crosses through it -, the excellent intentions of unconditional faithfulness generate the worst result. The Gospels are not the chronicle of all the words of Jesus, but only a few of those remembered in the Spirit. Every charisma stays alive as long as the community does not pretend to remember all the words of the founders, and they take all the risks of partial spiritual memory, even when the founders recommended their total remembering. The words of life are few.

This is the beautiful paradox of every tradition and every faithfulness. There is no greater betrayal than that of a child who decides to keep to his parents' plans perfectly. There is no more banal encounter than the one that perfectly meets our expectations, nor worse worker than the one who performs the requirements of the employment contract perfectly. The most faded adult life is the one that realises only the projects of youth.

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