Gratuitousness and unleavened bread

In the framework of the meeting between Movements, Associations and new Christian communities, "Together for Europe 2009", held at the International Center of Loppiano (Incisa Valdarno, Florence, Italy) on September 19-20, 2009

Gratuitousness and unleavened bread

Speech by Luigino Bruni

Loppiano, September 20, 2009

In periods of crisis, there has never been a lack of charisms to respond to the civil and economic challenges of the times. It´s enough to remember, for their notable examples, Saint Benedict after the fall of the Roman Empire, Saint Francis with the first large-scale Medieval urban poverty, and all the social charisms of modernity which lightened the yoke for many of the poor and excluded.

Today, an erroneous interpretation of history tends to consider these charisms as phenomenons which are already on their way to extinction. And so, as this reading would have it, their merely "substitutive" function in times when civil society and the state were still immature and weak no longer has sense today outside of history books. Whoever looks at the civil reality in this way doesn’t see that charisms are actually very present today, both inside and outside the confines of churches and religions. His not seeing them is not just because of ignorance, but also because these charisms are like the yeast and salt in a crowd of people.

Yeast, as we know, is only a small percentage of a ball of dough with respect to the amounts of flour and water, but it’s essential in order to make bread. Charisms are the source of gratuitousness, which we find again only when charisms are at work. Free or "gratuitous" comes from the Greek word "charis", which is also the root of "charism". This is why, if we remove gratuitousness from economy, we´ll always have unleavened bread. This is why a serious mistake of our time is that of relegating gratuitousness, and therefore charisms, into the margins as residual matter, like Genepy (a digestive after-meal drink) is for lunch. In reality, gratuitousness is the way the lunch should be prepared, the quality of the relations that we put into being while we live within and outside of the market.

The crisis that we live is also fruit of this erasure of gratuitousness from markets, from businesses, from finance...therefore, we won´t truly get out of this crisis without bringing gratuitousness back into political and economic arenas. Charisms, both old and new, have a large responsibility in all of this. They cannot self-confine themselves to the religious or spiritual spheres but must feel their civil responsibility once more. All charisms are born lay-charisms. They come about in order to make the world more beautiful.  There will be trouble if we reduce them merely to religious matters.  It would mean not performing an important part in the game of life, because there is no good life, in all of it´s expressions, without the gratuitousness of charisms.

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