"As we celebrate the anniversary of the death of Msgr. Giussani, we are reminded of our union with the communion of saints"

The homily of Fr. Kevin Burgess Vice-Rector in Notre-Dame Basilica in Ottawa, on the occasion of the Mass for Don Giussani's anniversary of death.
Fr. Kevin Burgess

As we begin this evening, I would simply like to say that it is an honour and a joy to celebrate this commemorative Mass with all of you on the occasion of the 42nd anniversary of the pontifical recognition of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, the 70th anniversary of the birth of the movement of CL, as well as on the anniversary of the death of the Servant of God, Mgr Luigi Giussani, 19 years ago. I would also like to bring greetings from our archbishop, Mgr Marcel Damphousse, who is in Quebec for the Episcopal ordination of a new auxiliary bishop tomorrow for the diocese of Quebec. Let us pray for him and for the bishop who will be consecrated tomorrow, Mgr Juan Carlos Londoño, and perhaps ask Mgr Giussani to intercede for him as he begins his Episcopal ministry in Canada and in the Archdiocese of Quebec in these times which are, I am sure, joyous times, but also difficult times for the people of God in this diocese. And it is precisely the question of timing that I would like to address this evening.

Timing, God's timing, is precisely what I would like to address this evening. As I was looking over some of the documents that I was provided, there were three dates that stood out for me as being very significant in the life of Msgr. Giussani. Often, the Lord speaks to me through dates, and when certain things happen on particular dates, especially when they fall on feast days in the Church, it can be a way that God is trying to speak to us in our times, here and now, and perhaps where he wants us to go. The first date in Mgr Guissani’s life, well, it’s not really a date, but an event that happened on the train. There would have been a date stamped on his train ticket, and I would be curious to see the day, but here we are (we might consider asking him one day in heaven). Nonetheless, he was on a train in 1950, at the time as a priest in the diocese of Milan. He had been teaching in the seminary, and he was going on a vacation on the coast of Italy. It is on that train that he had a kind of epiphany moment. He encounters a few young people on the train and has a conversation about faith with them, and he realized through that encounter that faith didn’t seem all that important to them. In fact, for many young people of that time, they began to question the relevance of faith and the Church.

Now, this surprise encounter is a lot like the story of Jonah in the first reading we heard today. What we read today was really the successful part of Jonah’s story: his preaching to Nineveh that converts the whole town and even the animals. But if we go back a little bit, this was not a mission that Jonah wanted to do. In fact, when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, initially Jonah resisted. Jonah and the Jewish people at the time didn’t really care for the Ninevites. They hated them. So Jonah got on a boat on the way to Tarshish – a place located in the Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal). Basically, God told Jonah to go East to Nineveh, and what does Jonah do? He goes West to Tarshish. But God didn’t give up on him. Eventually, Jonah was thrown off the boat he was in and was swallowed up by a large fish. Jonah would spend three days in the belly of that fish before being spit out on the shores of Nineveh, right where God wanted him, and that’s where today’s first reading takes over. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying: “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city…” And I think Jonah got the message.
But I think we can learn a few things about the story of Jonah. Often, God will bring us right where he wants us to be. We just have to be attentive to what is happening around us. We have to be open to encountering those around us in the present moment. In the case of Jonah, God brought him to Nineveh because He wanted the Ninevites to return to him, to be in communion with Him. And he needed Jonah (even though he resisted) to help Him with that. And in the case of Msgr. Giussani, God wanted to reach those young people on that traain, and even more young people in the decades that would follow. Now Fr. Luigi could have said, you know what I am on vacation, or maybe he preferred his academic life as a seminary professor, but God’s calling was there that day in that encounter, in that communion, and he realized that he needed to change something in his ministry. Soon after that encounter on the train, he would begin to teach in high schools, which would lay the foundations of the Communion and Liberation movement. And I think this is God’s timing because later on in that decade, the Church would enter into the Second Vatican Council: a time where the Church would seek how she was to be present to the modern world, a light to the nations, Lumen Gentium, as is the title of one of the documents.

A second date that seemed important to me was the date that the Pontifical Council for the Laity recognised the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation: February 11, 1982. When you look at the liturgical calendar, that day is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Eleven years later, in 1993, the Church recognised February 11 as World Day of the Sick. To mark the occasion, every year the Pope writes a message to the whole Church. This year's message was entitled: "It is not good for man to be alone. Heal the sick by healing relationships". Of course, he quotes one of the first verses of the book of Genesis: "It is not good that man should be alone". I invite you all to read the message of 2024 because I believe it sheds some light on the charism of Communion and Liberation. The Pope tells us: "From the beginning, God, who is love, created the human being for communion, inscribing in his being the dimension of relationships. Thus our life, modelled on the image of the Trinity, is called to fulfil itself fully in the dynamism of relationships, friendship and mutual love.
We are created to be together, not to be alone. And it is precisely because this project of communion is inscribed so deeply in the human heart that the experience of abandonment and solitude frightens us and is painful, even inhuman". The Pope's message shows us that making communion, seeking to be present in the lives of others, especially those who are suffering and sick, can contribute to and even bring about healing. For us Catholics, healing is not simply physical. We believe that true healing also comes at the level of the spirit and the soul. And that's where our relationships come in: our relationship with each other as human beings, but also our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, our divine physician.
Today, as we know, illness can take many forms. Among young teenagers and young adults, many suffer from mental illness; many suffer from isolation and loneliness. We are more connected than ever through our smartphones and social media, yet many still feel alone. And the pandemic has only accelerated this phenomenon. What the Church is proposing, what groups like your fraternity are proposing, is an antidote to this isolation: communion. It is communion with Christ that can heal us and set us free. So never hesitate to propose Christ to everyone you meet along the way, or even on the train.

Finally, there is a third date that stood out to me in the life of Msgr. Giussani, and that is the date of his death, February 22nd. The Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter on that day. It is a day to highlight specifically Peter and his successors as the bishops of Rome. Every cathedral in every diocese has a chair (that’s where the term "cathedral" comes from), and Rome is no exception. This feast day reminds us that Jesus founded his Church on the rock of Peter: “you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.” This reminds us of the unity that we are to have within our Church. It reminds us of our communion with Rome and the Universal Church that we ought to have. And in a special way, as we celebrate the anniversary of the death of Msgr. Giussani, it reminds us of our union with the communion of saints, for which we pray today that he will be a part of. In heaven, we will not be alone. We will be a communion of saints. We profess this in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, and the communion of saints…” And we try to live that out in the Church here on earth. So I want to propose that this is what your fraternity, which spans across many countries, can give to the whole Church, and beyond to all the lonely, the sick, and disadvantaged in our world: an example, an image, of the communion of saints, towards which every human person is called to experience. And so three dates: a train ride, February 11th, and February 22nd. All of these remind us of the importance of encounter and communion in our everyday lives, so that we may become more and more, in God’s timing, a communion of saints.