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Note # 2
Human Person
All Want to Be Heroic
Seeking Beyond1
From July 1970 to December 1975 I was involved with Prof. Giuseppe Zanghì at the
promotion of the World Youth Center of Grottaferrata, near Rome, in Italy. Five other
people were engaged, there, in the endeavor of organizing international congresses
during the summer and meetings for leaders of the movement all through the year.
Most activities were held through a bulletin which was coordinating actions in centers
for youth in more than 80 diverse nations all over the world… and through summer
gatherings of youth from everywhere in the world at the nearby Mariapolis Center.
One of these congresses does remain vivid in my memory. For many unexpected
circumstances, during the summer 1974 the schedule of the congress was particularly
busy, it was going over many expectations. We offered to the youth an incredibly
intense activity program, and to be faithful to such a schedule we were obliged to be
particularly straight and demanding to all participants. Personally, I was in charge of
the timetable execution of the meeting agenda. It was not an easy task to help
everybody to do what and stay where they were asked to according to the program. It
was a demanding business.
Along the process of the conference I was wondering how all those young people
would have overcome the many difficulties and required sacrifices. I even was
wondering of myself how I would have survived such commitments. There were so
many chores to address during the days and only very few hours for slipping at night. To
tell the truth, I was a little amazed for being able to do so much in such poor conditions,
but I had no time to reflect much on that aspect of the job. It was hard time for all of us
at the center, and we were giving hard time to the many who were attending the
meeting. Before the conference ended up, I wanted to do something fair to the
numerous youth I took care of, and had surely many reasons to hate me because of
the much I was asking them to do. Nevertheless, I was doing my best in order that the
congress could be to everybody an excellent experience of the Gospel.
The last day provided the occasion of an amazing experience. While these
hundreds of young people who had come from many nations of all continents were
leaving the campus, I was expecting that a few would have come to me to express
some disappointment or even anger… In order to ease their eventual need to share
their bad feeling I put myself at the gate in order that everyone could see me and
speak freely. It would have been the last occasion for them to see me. But it happened
diversely of my expectations. Actually, it was an incredible surprise for me to witness the
opposite of what I was waiting for.
To say the truth, it was the first time that, at the end of a congress, so many young
people came to me and thanked me for the good time they experienced at
Mariapolis Center. Furthermore, they were many more than usual those who wrote and
phoned us in the following days to tell us how much they wondered to be more
engaged in a Gospel life and decided to put God as the center of gravity of their life,
and make him the consistent Ideal of their earthly journey. For what I knew, it never
happened that way before.
I shared with Prof. Zanghì, alias Peppuccio - a typical Italian nickname for Joseph my surprise at this surprising outcome. I even asked him how giving to those kids such a
© 2019 by Alain M. Sauret. All Rights Reserved.
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hard time could have made them so happy. His answered was unexpected. “Did you
have a hard time, too?” he asked. “Oh sure!” was my reply. “And are you happy, too?”
he asked again. “Extremely. It was truly fantastic,” I said. “That is why,” he concluded.
It took me more than a few days to understand his teaching that suffering is not
an obstacle for happiness, especially when it is just a sign of want and self-denial. For a
long time the experience of 1974 Youth Congress remained a cornerstone experience
in the process to be consistent in my engagement as an educator.
Besides his expertise in theology and philosophy, Peppuccio was an excellent
leader, and he led me to understand that one of the characteristics of every human
being is to go over themselves. I finally understood that ultimately “People like to be
At this point I started considering under a new point of view what we usually call
human nature. I started to check my favorite philosophers on the issue. I found a first
enlightening in Zarathoustra of Nietzsche: “A human being is a wire tied between the
beast and what is over the human.” This is not a Sphinx sentence. With these words,
Nietzsche wants to utter that it is proper to human nature to do things which surpass us.
Nietzsche also said that when we just try to be normal, or act as a common human, we
usually become like a beast and provoke fighting, social trouble, ecological damage,
destruction, or even wars, political disaster or terrorism, as Nietzsche explains in Human
Too Much Human. This statement appears to be a contradiction, but really it is not. Our
nature is to be in a constant improvement. In fact, in order to realize properly our
human nature we are supposed to seek and be somehow better than what we usually
are, because it is human nature to improve and move above what they actually are.
Jacques Maritain performed that reflection. In Integral Humanism, when he says:
“It is proper for any human person to be heroic.” He confirms the statement of
Nietzsche and says that every person is made for something wonderful, far above what
they actually exert. In other words, people are made by G-d and for G-d, and only G-d
can satisfy all human demands [See Augustine’s Confessions]. Referring to this, Jean
Guitton explains that this longing to be better than what we are now is the vocation of
every human being. He says that we hear this call in any moment of our life. It is a call
for improvement, afterwards any improvement means answering the call and returning
to G-d. At this point Guitton offers this lucky definition: “In any present moment of our
life we live our future, because we are returning to God, who is the one who will allow
us to perform the way we really need."”
Maritain, however, gives two interesting complementary explanations on how a
man or a woman is supposed to blossom. First of all, he provides the following
statement: supposing that we could perform to the best of all our human capabilities,
we still would never blossom as human being, unless we enter and pass through the
spiritual metamorphosis of the Cross of Jesus. A seed of corn cannot produce a new
plant without dying underground. In any blossoming process a human being has to
surpass his or her actual conditions of life. That is to say, we are supposed to enter
through the narrow door which has been opened by Jesus' death and resurrection.
Every follower of Christ will recognize here the key of any human and spiritual
improvement. We humanly and spiritually improve by loving Jesus, especially when he
appears forsaken by the Father on the Cross. Bernard de Clairvaux used to say: “All my
philosophy is to look at Jesus, and Jesus on the Cross.” It is the actual key of any human
The other Maritain’s answer is a very helpful complement. He states that what
Nietzsche called the whole “too much human” dimension in a person has to be
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associated with the “subconscious” claimed by Sigmund Freud [See J. Maritain,
Creativity in Art and Poetry, 1953, Introduction and passim]. That subconscious is an
“unconscious” context of feeling, knowing and desiring which restrains any human
action. It coerces willpower and limits freedom. In Freud, subconscious is the
connection of our psyche with our body, through the psyche our body leads our
actions. That does not mean that the body is wrong. That means that our body gives us
special conditions of life. Jean Paul Sartre explains that there is no freedom where there
are not limits to be overcome [See J.-P. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, chapter on
Freedom]. And that is the question now. We are in fact supposed to overcome the
limits of our actual life on earth. How can we do that? It is easy to say. The question
means that it is possible in proportion to how we share the resurrection of Christ.
The words of Maritain include even more insights. It is true that through the
subconscious some seeds of death are present in our conscience. But it is even more
consistent that those seeds of resurrection are already present in our conscience, too.
What we call unconscious is not only composed with a limited and dark underground.
We also are constituted with a hopeful and enlightening one. This can be said better
with an example. Try to imagine a beautiful sunset. What do you feel about it? It
awakens something nice in us, doesn’t it? A beautiful piece of music, painting or poetry
does the same. To make short a long explanation, Maritain says that the mental
structure of people is organized to experience the mystery of death and resurrection of
Jesus, therefore we have to die with him (subconscious) and resurrect with him
(surconscious) for a new consistency of life. According to Maritain the whole
unconscious is made that way. Besides the opaque subconscious that Freud explained,
there is the enlightening surconscious which was first presented by Plato and remains
valid. Surconscious is source of understanding, it stresses spirituality and happiness.
Through the surconscious we hear the call to surpass ourselves, to become, better,
up to rejoicing in the perfection of God. Through the surconscious we understand the
call of love, and through love we grow and blossom. There are too many issues on this
concern, so I will notice only one of them. It is the word given by Chiara Lubich in Paris,
a few years ago2, “I love therefore I am.” That is to say: I blossom in proportion of my
capability to love and to let God love me, because God is Love [1 John 4:14]. The more
I love, the more I properly am, and the more I spread God’s presence around me.
In the Encyclical “Faith and Reason,” Pope John Paul II, properly explains this
characteristic of every human. The Pope says that it is proper for any person to grow in
knowledge and love of God3. The Pope proclaims that love and knowledge are like the
two wings of the human flight towards God. As humans we are made to be and do
something which is over human conditions, even better than what we can imagine
today. In the Gospel Jesus invites his followers: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is
perfect4.” Here is the call that everybody is supposed to perform on earth. A call for
being a unique masterpiece of love.
Moving towards our own improvement is not a mere option. It is our proper
identity of human beings to answer the call of freedom: we are called to blossom in
what we deeply desire to be. People are not machines, they never remain what they
are, "People are alive, when they do not improve, they decay!" says Pasquale Foresi.
"The human being must be overcome" said also Nietzsche in the prolog of Zarathoustra
to stress the same context of the dynamic entity of people: "We always are better than
Chiara Lubich, Unesco Prize 1996. Cf. “Living City”, April 1997.
John Paul II, Encyclical Faith and Reason, 14 Sept. 1998, §§24-37.
Mt 5: 48c
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what we do" said Benoît Montazel. With diverse words Jesus says it even more clearly,
"Seek first the kingdom of God and is righteousness and everything will follow
accordingly" [Mt 6:33], and Saint Paul again, "Seek first what is above, not what is on
earth" [Col 3:2]. We are made for the best.
Saints are the ones who realized properly that call. That explains such a strong
attraction they produce on people. We remember the crowd which surrounded Jesus
in his days. We can see today the crowds going to Rome to surround the Pope,
especially in some beautiful celebrations. All St. Peter’s Square meeting have
something to do with saints. The last example could be the crowd which filled the
whole city of Rome in occasion of Padre Pio’s beatification, on May 2. St. Paul was
accustomed to calling “Saint” every Christian. He was right. That also can explain why
so many people like to come to religious conferences and share spiritual experiences
on the Gospel, because where people are living the Gospel, saints are showing up. All
saints are so attractive. They are a living example of daily heroism, and following their
example, we all want to be heroic, too.
This article was published in Living City, New York, Oct.99