Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Art of Conversation
What does conversation consist of?
Saint of the Day, Saturday, May 5, 1979
Above, original audio (in portuguese)
To have a good conversation, you need to be in a kind of conversational mood that consists of having a lot of things to say, like someone who was retaining lots of things in his soul. There, they multiplied and yielded interest, making you feel like communicating them, giving them away.
This first movement in a conversation is a feeling of a surplus of something that would sour if left inside but give someone else joy if we communicated it. It is a curious surplus because you feel a desire to expand or vent about something and the desire to receive something. This surplus is not boredom. You have an overabundance and give from it.
But the more you give, the more you want to receive, and your generosity in giving the surplus also entails a real appetite to listen.
Hence the pleasure of an encounter, and especially when two people feel through their personal imponderables, the first look, tone of voice, or handshake that each has something to say to the other; that what one has to say is no surplus to the one about to receive, both things fit together, and then they feel like talking.
Therefore, the starting point of a willingness to talk is a period of silence in which little conversation has taken place. A period of silence, I say, because, curiously enough, while silence makes you want to talk, a classical class or lecture, even when very well given, rarely makes you want to talk right afterward. You come out of the class or lecture half crushed or steamrolled by it with the idea that you have been force-fed with notions and need to breathe a little to digest them to have something to say.
The defect of a class, especially when very substantial, is that it introduces in one hour, subject matter that the human mind would require five hours to digest. So you leave with a sensation of being overfed. I do not know if you have had this sensation. I did, not because the professor said very nourishing things, but because he forced us to ingest at class those prefab charts with those notions, definitions, concatenation, and rhythmic monotony of someone walking down the street with the same steps, almost like a robot. When the class was over, he forced us to listen until we learned what he wanted us to hear and know.
Is that subject matter alive within the soul?
One has the feeling that it is not. A lecture always gave me the idea of something indigestible, except when they were porous lectures. They were not compact blocks of metal that you had to swallow but were porous lectures in that the professor left a lot of gaps in them. In them, he lectured less but showed more of his own person and communicated his personal feeling as he was lecturing. Then there was an interlocution with the teacher about the topic much more than hammering the topic into the students’ heads until it entered and left that particular feeling of breathlessness.
This is how I felt the professors’ lessons from the remote time when I had professors. Fidelity to RCR’s theses leads me to think that nothing has improved since then. It is not likely that professors have improved extraordinarily in quality. I believe they have not, but that compact classes continued.
I don’t know if this happened to you. I had high school teachers - always the most underprivileged course in Brazil. From the incomplete germination of the high school was born the weak university student. Like everybody else, my teachers gave successive classes. Religion, then French, English or German, Portuguese, history, languages, math, etc. The bell would ring at São Luís High School, a priest would leave and another enter, or a priest would leave and a layman would enter, or a layman would leave and a priest or layman would enter and the class would change from one subject to another. All the students would get up, say a Hail Mary at the beginning of each class, sit down again and the teacher would start giving the subject.
I had the curious feeling that these succeeding teachers were entirely impersonal, and that the history teacher would tell me about the 19th-century industrial revolution in the same terms as the chemistry teacher would tell me about carbohydrates. He was the same man, with the same personality, in other words, he was nobody, the same anonymous person who changed podcast and played another. But I didn’t feel the professor, the man’s vibration. I felt a notion that entered my head like correspondence into a mailbox.
I, a professor, happen to be telling you about the decline of teaching. There was still a little bit of teaching, but I was lamenting already back then the death of conversation, which is our theme.
Conversing is very different from teaching. And if the teaching is hammered into the student’s head, if I saw the death throes of teaching, I caught conversation already dead.
In my time, few people talked. They almost no longer knew what conversation was about. Those older than me still conversed, but on a level that those of my age no longer had the intellectual criteria to keep up. So that the last people who conversed were followed by a generation that no longer knew how to appreciate a conversation. There was a gap, a tumble, a vacuum between my generation not so much with that of my parents but of my grandparents. That generation still conversed; my parents’ generation was in a transition, and mine almost did not know how to talk anymore.
I noticed that with great regret because conversation is precisely what makes one want to think and communicate more. It is the fresh, invigorating and truly human mental exchange that can make you want to consult a book. People have the wrong idea that we read and then talk about what we read. That is nonsense. We talk and then read about what we talked about. Conversation makes you curious to know one thing or another. In conversation, subjects their attractive points and make you want to go to a book to learn about it. That is where the taste for conversation comes from.
As I say, those older than me, my grandparents more specifically—I did not know my grandfather but knew a lot my grandmother and her brothers and sisters, who frequented her house a lot, where I lived. Especially in my maternal family, people die late. So they were old people still robust and lucid, some very old, and they used to hold the conversations of old. When someone from my parents’ generation came in, I could already see that the level would drop somewhat, except for one or another who still had the necessary chords in their voice to play the lyre of the old conversation. But they were few. When people of my generation entered, with rare exceptions, I already knew the level was going to drop and take a further tumble.
That led me to appreciate conversation in comparison with the anonymous classes at St. Louis High School, and to the idea that conversation was the natural attitude of a person’s mind. Man is usually talking when not alone. Being alone or reading are exceptional situations. The usual thing is to talk.
One factor helped me extraordinarily to enjoy conversation. It was a set Université des Annales magazines my mother had hidden out of my reach in the room where I took naps. There was nothing wrong with the magazine, but I was supposed to sleep because the doctor recommended it. But as soon as I would find myself in the dark, I would crawl over to the place so nobody would notice, and I get something about a French conversation or lecture with a title not adequately translatable into Portuguese.
The French word is “causerie.” A “causerie” is a conversational lecture in which the speaker will do poorly if all his listeners do not have a feeling they are conversing with him. There is no close distance between speaker and listener, but the knows sometimes goes to the listener, and sometimes bring the listener to him without anyone changing chairs. The listener, without realizing what is happening, sometimes feels very engaged in what the causeur (speaker) says. Sometimes, on the contrary, has the impression the speaker is in the back of his mind. Yet both feel sometimes in the back of each other’s head, and during the causerie, the heads or mentalities visit each other. They are visits from personality to personality in a conversational tone, in which one only speaks and the others participate through looks, gestures, attitudes in which souls get into close contact.
What is the Portuguese word correlated to causerie?
It is the word palestra. I don’t feel “palestra” has the sparkle of “causerie.” Another French word I will have to employ is “souple” (flexible). I think a “causerie” is much more “souple than the Italian or Brazilian “palestra,” which is a lecture without corsets. A “causerie” is a different thing. It is supremely “degagée,” perfect “souplesse,” something full of class and corsets. I wouldn’t really know how to present it, but this gives you an idea of what it is.
The Université des Annales featured articles by members of the French Academy of Letters. They were very suggestive, very impressive lecturers who took the floor. While they speaking or quoting different passages, Comedie Française actors in costumes from the time would parade behind and around them. If it was a lady, she bowed to the audience; if a man, he would salute with a big “donaire” and go out the other side. For example, when the speaker evoked King Francois I, an Comedie Française actor would come out wearing a feather, taking on airs, and making a great salute. Sometimes the audience would applaud as the actor would enter just as the lecturer was talking about the subject. He would then leave and another one would come in. That cannot at all be compared to television or theater, because it is not theater. It is “causerie.”
At other times, some singer would sing or a musician would play something on a grand piano with a crystal clear sound. Of course, that did not appear in the text, but they would announce, “Such-and-such actor has come in, such-and-such actress is dressed like this.” “The celebrated pianist Madame so and so played such-and-such piece.” Sometimes they were pieces that I did not know because I have very little auditory memory.
That gave me a superb idea of “causerie.” A conversation should be in a tone of two to two, or three to three, something far reminiscent of “causerie.” It never is nor should be a mere spontaneous and unbuttoned telling of what is going on in one’s head, nor should it be total and disrespectful familiarity, which is disgusting.
Frankness without kindness and familiarity without respect are garbage.
Frankness has to be pleasant, affable, respectful; and familiarity has to be courteous and distinct, for otherwise it is unbearable. I think that was already very decadent in my time; in later times, it has probably been replaced by its opposite.
This gave me an enormous fondness of conversation understood as I am telling you here. Such conversation would pressupose an accumulation of acts, flexibility, and mental resources to be able to say some things; and the life we led at that time was very consistent with this. Suffice it to say that in many bedrooms also had a sofa where one could lie down where one could lie down during the day to think alone in one’s room. It was nice. Then, when you went out to converse, you had a lot to say.
I was not at all expecting to give a meeting about conversation today, but you set a trap for me with distinction and charm. It turns out that I had nothing to prepare myself to be a “causeur” today because I have had crazy day to the point that I am not giving a meeting tonight. After this, I am going straight to bed. The reason is that a “causeur” took up a large part of my day and other things like that. Therefore, you catch me tired and with less verve, less effervescence than usual, as you can see. Hence you have this long introduction to explain that this conversation about conversation is a conversation that will have limitations of time, verve and presentation.
On this point - as on so many others - I was favored by my mother’s influence, for the simple reason that she was fundamentally a causeuse. Conversing was her pleasure in life, and she talked well and at length, unhurriedly and with extraordinarily engaging charm which is not easy to define because her charm undoubtedly a bearing on what she said, but much more on what she thought. It was the implicit arrière fond [background] of what she said.
She did not have the habit - which did not exist in her time and is not pleasant in a family lady – to squeeze her brain to get the last juice out through explicitation. No squeezing suits a housewife. Houses where housewives squeeze make everyone want to go out: food is squeezed, time is squeezed, everything is counted, so is time, everything is trotted out...
The long, old style is much more interesting. There were countless things in her soul, about which she conversed much more with her gaze, the timbre of her voice, and her hand gestures than by the actual meaning of what she said.
Let me make a comparison may seem excessive on the lips of a son, but it is the only one I can find precisely because I have had a very tiring day and have to grab what is passing on my mind. When I was small I had a feeling, which I’m sure you had too because it is in the natural order of things. Looking alone at the sky at night, I had a curious feeling--a psychological feeling, because my sight clearly indicated that reality was not like that—that the sky was not entirely fixed but was like a big awning that made a slight movement and all the stars and the celestial vault moved like a circular awning, that sometimes dilated, sometimes disguisedly narrowed, so that we could not catch a [fixed picture].
The feeling that lingered in my mind given my artistic sense and what I seemed to be witnessing—I know that scientifically it is not like that—is that this awning movement communicated a certain bellows-like impulse to the stars that made them twinkle and the whole sky was in a certain pulsation. I had the impression that at that moment the stars would be talking to us, changing their position, or looking at us without saying anything. I knew all this was not so, that it had no basis in reality. I said to myself: that is true, but this cannot be sheer illusion, somehow it does have something real.
Only as an adult an explanation dawned on my mind. God created heaven in such a way as to cause that sensation, at least to some. If heaven is not the author of this movement, it is the author of this sensation. Now, God Our Lord, the Author of heaven, is the remote and supreme Author of this sensation. By creating the sky, He wanted at least some men to have this impression of it. Therefore, this impression says something about God. It is a beautiful impression because, albeit only very tenuously founded in reality, it nevertheless it says something about God, conveying a symbolic and metaphysical aspect.
I notice in many of you a certain surprise and an internal reaction as if saying, “I have learned so much the opposite, that I find it hard to put into my head the idea of heaven that you are giving,” and even, “I thought the sky was much emptier, that it had a bran of stars cast into a rigid and uninhabitable vacuum.”
It is true that there is a multitude of stars and there is a vacuum among them. But they convey a different impression to the human mind, to the human eye, and God wanted to cause this impression, to create this beautiful landscape, something real that gives an aspect of the unreal. You could say that God is an infinitely wise “teacher” who makes our minds go through these sin uosities so that grows in understanding and finesse.
So I had the impression that I was conversing with the stars. Often times, when I talked to Mom, I had the impression I was talking with two stars staring at me, pulsating and telling me things not immediately related to those we were talking about. Such were our conversations for sixty-some years until the year she died. This is my impression and the contribution she gave conversation.
Reading those French magazines and history books, I soon realized even as a boy and a young man, that people who knew how to talk had an enormous advantage in life, and that there is no art of living without the art of conversing.
Why is that? Nobody lives alone. You have to talk, and the impression we make on others, its greater or lesser effect, comes largely from what we say. Naturally! Now, if we say it conversationally, the effect is one; if we repeat a teacher’s cackling about mixing H2O with something else and getting some I-dont-know-what result, it becomes extenuating and unacceptable. However substantial a report can be, I repudiate it as an element of human conviviality.
I do not blame many of you who read geographic magazines. But in my view, those geographical journals are the opposite of conversation. They are narrations in which man wanders alone in nature without perceiving at all the heartbeat or warmth of the individual narrator’s soul. He will talk about the butterflies of Ceylon or the lobsters of Recife with the same neutrality as a travel guide. That is not conversation. What is conversation, then?
If conversation is an irreplaceable means to live; if conversation is an irreplaceable means to think; if conversation is not a mere chronicle; if it is not a mere report; and above all if it is not a class, what is it? Mind you that a conversation – and especially the “causerie — has to have something of a chronicle, something of a report, and something of a class.
I a trying to give this meeting an air of “causerie.” You can see that it has more conversation than in previous meetings. You can see there is something of a class because I am teaching you things all the time. But you do not find these teachings on a straight line, but on every curve along the way. A class is an avenue at the end of which is a monolith called teaching. Not here. This is a promenade during which you unexpectedly find a teaching. Of course, it is more accessible, more acceptable, but it has something of a teaching and something of a report.
I am giving you an inventory of how to converse, which is properly a report but it has something of a conversation.
What is a conversation?
Now I am acting specifically as a teacher who has given the introduction and indicated the topic. And, without you realizing it, you are conversing and attending a class. I will now show you the class. That is “causerie.”
So what exactly is a conversation? I am going to use a very ugly word, because it is polluted by a lot of material meanings, and the more a word participates in the technique of matter, the more it is inadequate to explain the things of the spirit. Conversation is an interchange. Conversation is an exchange between two personalities who are together and talk about a subject of interest to both, and both are interested because of the way each deals with the subject. All of this comes together.
If I am conversing about an interesting subject with a person who tells me things that become uninteresting bc of the way he expresses them, that is a deformed conversation. Real conversation must make what he says interesting to me because he puts a certain note of himself into it that makes me like what he is saying. That is a fundamental element of conversation.
Some very intelligent and well educated people are very boring to converse with, whilc others are neither intelligent nor educated but converse well. Because when they talk, we do not see the subject but the individual.
Coming back to the class, after having defined what conversation is, I am showing what the fullness of conversation is. It is not an exchange of information or even impressions, but it is at the same time an exchange of cognitions of the individual himself; he shows himself and so does his interlocutor. They show themselves in their affinities or disaffinities.
Also in their defiance, because some people are so interesting that it is pleasant to quarrel with them. Even fighting is pleasant. The person says a slight, lively insult that pierces like an arrow; you find it interesting and respond, send him a boomerang, which he catches nicely. And to the extent that you may even become irritated, the conversation takes on the air of fencing. And fencing is pleasant and interesting.
Always mixing “causerie” with a class, I now give an example that you can use at this time when you see so little conversation.
You have a good idea of what a fencing match is. You know well that a fencing match played according to all the rules can become boring if the two fencers apply the rules without a personal contribution. Each has a special contribution, a certain way of stabbing, a certain way of defending, a certain way of positioning his head, looking, jumping back or moving the arm in a certain way, etc.—his personality shows. In this mutual manifestation of personality, in this struggle between personalities, the foil is almost relegated to the background and the personality struggle moves to foreground.
Now, some people may think, “What am I going to take out of myself to put into this pot? I don’t have that, how can I give it? I will never have that!” I want to prevent this talk from causing discouragement, for I can see that it can interest and attract you but can also give a certain discouragement, and I want to encourage you.
So, for us to have the art of conversation - and you see how beautiful these things are – at the bottom of the art of conversation there is a precept of Catholic morality. For an individual to converse well, he must have an attitude of soul attitude (therefore, fully internal) about others that makes his soul interesting to them, otherwise he will never be a good conversationalist.
What is that attitude of soul?
I will describe it on the surface. It is a soul that rejoices when it sees another and feels an affinity, homogeneity or harmonic heterogeneity. On the contrary, when it sees dissonance, it becomes irritated. But it is a soul that vibrates when it sees another soul. This is the starting point of the true causeur. Being indifferent to souls, not feeling them, not perceiving them, not vibrating with them, makes conversation impossible.
As I am talking to you, I see that while you are talking to me, at least many of you are interested in knowing my soul as it shows throughout this talk. But you also notice that I enter into the depths of your eyes with interest, with a desire to know, as something that has something new to tell me at every moment, and that I like to know. I am delighted with affinity or harmonic heterogeneity.
Sometimes you can see something interrogative in my eyes. What have I seen that caused that? It isomething that sounded wrong to me. But there too I am not indifferent, but interrogative. I want to help correct whatever it is and help to push the person a little for that end. Of course.
That makes our conversation.
Conversation then supposes this state of soul whereby, seeing a soul, I do not ask what the soul is thinking of me. I ask what he is thinking about the topic I’m dealing with. That’s the first point.
I believe you have never caught me with a look interested in finding what you think of me. I hope in Our Lady that I never have that look. Absolutely! I am certainly interested in what you think of the topic, but not at all in the way that I am expounding it. What matters is what you think of the thesis and whether the argumentation is convincing and the exposition is attractive. That’s it and nothing but that.
You will notice on my part every desire to interpret and explain you, but it is a benevolent desire, which completes what you are unable to say. It does not try to assume what is not stated but seeks to converse according to what you are thinking. I would almost say that an audience is like a pulsating sky. Either you follow the pulsation of each star, or there is no “causerie,” no lecture. In my opinion, that is how an audience should be seen.
On the other hand, my interlocutor needs to be in the same mood. If he is thinking about what he should draw or filch from my conversation to give a lecture of his own, he disqualifies himself as an interlocutor. If he wants to learn the “magic button” and say, “I’ll see how Dr. Plinio gives a lecture so I can do it too,” he disqualifies himself.
Either both of us are paying attention to the same theme for its own sake and for the other person’s soul, with a selfless love of all existing souls, or we do not have a true “causerie.”
That is why a conversation fulfills a precept of the First Commandment, or, if you like, a synthesis of the two Commandments: To love God above all things and one’s neighbor as oneself for God’s sake. This is properly to be interested in a topic as a topic, to love God, the Author of everything that exists and, therefore, of all subjects. To be interested in the souls of others for what God has put in them and because they are images of God. Looking at the soul of each one of you, I see a little bit of God. Deep down, when looking at each other, we are praying.
Conversation exists if there is that state of soul, for otherwise, it is extraordinarily difficult for a conversation to exist. I do not think it does.
During the Middle Ages, conversation gathered the treasures from which it would be born. To me, however, our venerable medieval people do seem to have known how to converse well. Like certain rosebuds that bloom in the vase after the rose has been plucked, the conversation began to spring up after them. The vase was Europe; the rose was that love of God that remained in a state of tradition. Alas, God was less and less present, and selfishness more and more present. Because of that, conversation gradually decayed and is now dead. And in the age of selfishness, nobody talks anymore.
I once ran into a Brazilian in Europe (I don’t want to say whether or not he belonged to the Group) who was still very young. Both being in Rome, out of courtesy, I had an obligation to invite him for lunch. We both went into a restaurant at a place called gallopatorium, a very interesting circular plaza for galloping horses. The waiter came and offered us the menu. I placed my order; he placed his. I started talking about one topic, but it died; another topic, it died too. I thought, “what a failed lunch! I seem unable to get him interested in anything.” At a certain point, he asked me, “Dr. Plinio, wouldn’t you like to get straight into the subject that should be the topic of our lunch?”
Highly surprised, I quickly realized that some aberration was in the pipeline. I asked: what is the theme of this lunch? He said: “I supposed this lunch had a specific subject to be dealt with.” I said, “no, I came here to converse together and eat.” He said, “no, sorry, that is not how it is in my family. When you invite someone for lunch or dinner, you have a business to discuss. It is either about money, politics, religion, or whatever. We say, “let’s talk about such and such a thing and, by the time lunch is over, we have covered it.”
I said, “my dear friend, our families don’t jibe. In my family, it is exactly the opposite. During meals, we do not deal with issues resembling business, politics, or any such thing. We flit around like a butterfly in the air. Only outside lunch or dinner do we lock ourselves in a room and say: now let us see when the deed is signed! Or how much you pay, or I pay. That is another business. But for this end there is a room called “the office.” You do not talk about these matters just anywhere. We go to the office, which has the proper furniture and ambiance to deal with business. If it is a cultural matter, there is the living room. That is why a house has several rooms.”
I am afraid that some of you have been trained in this school, or in the school of television, where you deal with nothing but watch television. You let the television play on, and nobody comments on anything.
Having thus established the starting point of the conversation—the Catholic spirit—we are now led to a desire to deal with a topic for the sake of the topic and to know our interlocutor for the sake not only of his soul but also as a whole, as an individual, the region he comes from, the city he comes from, the family he comes from, the country he comes from; we get to know these characteristics and recognize and notice them.
A moment ago, Professor Gerardo, whom I have been with so many times, got up and I started to notice his characteristic way of speaking from Ceará in the Northeast, with a verve not similar to Pernambuco’s or to Sao Paulo’s. For example, Pernambucans are rarely optimistic. My father was enormously so. Cearenses are optimistic in a curious way: they do not expect anything to go smoothly and even get disappointed with the idea of things going smoothly, but they think that everything works out in the end, and so they go on living happily.
There are other modalities and ways of being from all regions. You fit that in as you converse, and you find it interesting and enjoyable. It is conversation!
Conversation presupposes that, when dealing with the affairs of the Church, there is always another “Interlocutor.” I could never insist enough on this point. When two or more are conversing about on matters related to the Church or Christian civilization, an infinite Interlocutor comes in and talks through our lips: Our Lord Jesus Christ. That is a formal promise of His: “When two or more are gathered together in My Name, I will be among them.”
He did not say, “I will be with them most of the time,” but “I will be among them.” If one takes that into account, the major attraction of a conversation of Catholics as Catholics about a topic that is not necessarily religious but is seen from the Catholic viewpoint; then the great Interlocutor is Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In what way? Grace is a created participation in the divine life. The grace that He obtained for us by shedding His infinitely precious Blood on Calvary lives in us because He gave it to us when we were baptized, and it literally develops and flourishes as we converse. And it becomes more active in such a way that, besides the grace that is in me, I can know the grace the other person receives. And the other person conversing with me knows the grace that I receive. That happens by a particular attraction that the subject exerts, a particular interest, a consonance, a “flash,” a consolation, a stimulus, an enthusiasm, a communication of soul whereby Our Lord makes His grace be one while in me, and another while in each one of you. It is participation by everyone in the divine life; it is like fire. Imagine two hundred lamps burning; you won’t have those movements at the same time, but it is the same fire burning in two hundred wicks. That is how grace is in us.
We are not very aware of it, nor is it normal for us to be. We realize it very confusedly. We know it is so by faith and Church doctrine but realize it confusedly.
Now, sometimes when a conversation takes flight, we do not remember that it is Our Lord speaking more richly in the depths of one soul or the other. Suddenly, when a conversation ceases - I don’t know if this has happened to you - you have the impression that something has ceased which should not have ceased but continued.
For example, now, if someone came saying, “Dr. Plinio, there is a very urgent international call for you,” and I were to bid you goodbye with a “Salve Maria” to take the call and go home, would you not get a feeling of unfinished business? And an impression that you are returning to everyday business which you had left without realizing but to which you return with strangeness?
That is exactly how grace works. When the time comes for grace to speak to us, it speaks little by little and so delightfully that we do not realize how much we are getting used to it. When it goes mute, we say, “What an emptiness! How can that be?!”
It is at the moment of emptiness that one realizes who was speaking. Here you will see a beautiful subtlety. That is how the disciples of Emmaus recognized Our Lord at the hour of Communion. He broke the bread and distributed it. "In fractione panis cognoverunt eum." The perfect conversation is described there. Our Lord appears in the midst of them, who were talking and walking on the road toward a little place called Emmaus.
The narration is done with all the details. They were talking about His death, talking about Him being gone, and Our Lord asks them what they were talking about. It is the kind of thing that a good conversationalist does. He does not change the conversation according to what is on his mind but joins the conversation of others. The disciples answered, “But how? You are a pilgrim in Jerusalem and do not know about these things?”
Then He got them conversing, and as they did, their ardor kept growing. Our Lord was speaking to them with His mouth but internally preparing their souls with grace to receive what He was saying. And He led one to say one thing to the other and vice-versa, in His presence, forming a perfect trio. It was a conversation.
From the narration, we notice that they were very excited when they arrived in Emmaus. But when Our Lord broke the bread - He celebrated Mass and made the Consecration - the disciples recognized that it was He. “He who had died is here! Ahhh.” That is perfection itself. At the height of the conversation, they knew Him entirely. The conversation is a progressive revelation in the apex of which the Interlocutor appears whole-bodied.
Our Lord speaks of going away and, overwhelmed, they want Him to stay. But they do not dare say, “you are so pleasant, stay with us.” They come up with a pretext: Mane nobiscum, quoniam advesperascit, et inclinata est jam dies. “Lord, stay with us, because it’s getting late, it’s getting dark.” Our Lord is God. What difference does dusk make to Him? It was a way of saying something else: “See, Lord, we do not want to separate ourselves from Thee because Thy presence is equal to none. So we give Thee a pretext because we are rough and do not even know how to formulate the real reason. Take this more as a groan than as an argument. What is this argument before Thy wisdom? But what will this pretext achieve before Thy mercy?”
That is a perfect conversation. What did our Lord do? He disappeared, and it was over. I see some of you are surprised. The reason is that He had given them what they needed in that phase of their spiritual life, so now it was up to them to remember.
You can see the aftermath. They immediately went to tell the Apostles what had happened. And, willy-nilly, they became conversationalists. They began to narrate the conversation they had with Our Lord. You can imagine their "jornal falado." “I met Him in such and such place, and He told me this, and I told another one that.”
You can imagine Our Lord’s teachings as they walked along the road, probably about a little animal that crossed the road, a bird that flew by, a lake that appeared on the way, I don’t know how many things—talking to them about everything. It is the model of conversation because it is the model of God’s love.
It is God loving Himself, loving men infinitely, and loving Himself for the sake of men’s souls. He ignited in men the love He wanted them to have for Him. That is the perfect circuit.
That is what grace does among us Catholics. There are moments when one has the impression that grace acts (but He is the One Who acts, because He is the Author of grace) in such a way that a third party is present, greater than the whole world. It is in the air, but one does not know what it is. But it is something that, for example, if tomorrow the “Bagarre” broke out and you found yourselves isolated, one in Alaska and the other at the North Pole, and there were telephone communications, one could say to the other: “Remember? You and I were side by side at the last TFP meeting before the Bagarre. Remember the conversation of the disciples of Emmaus? I just reread it and remembered you were standing right next to me.”
You will say, “Ah! The St. Michael’s auditorium! Ah, that conviviality! Ah, how wonderful Catholic living is!” You would not miss the world out there.
It is Saturday night, and bad entertainment places are regurgitating with people your age. Beds are regurgitating with people of all ages. However, I am happy here, and I think you are too, much more than they are. Have no illusions. Do not say, “Dr. Plinio gave an entertaining lecture.” Say something else: “Dr. Plinio gave, perhaps, an entertaining lecture, but we were under the eyes of Our Lady, in a sacral environment, moved by the Roman Catholic and apostolic faith, and therefore the grace of God was burning in our midst. It was a single fire burning in many wicks, and we all rejoiced in it.”
This is the theory of conversation. I have very deliberately dealt with two topics: the theory of conversation, but also the theory of conviviality. That is how we live together, encouraged by the love of God and the love of neighbor. Then, all conviviality is pleasant.
Revolutionary coexistence is detestable, which means that when conviviality is not pleasant, there is something revolutionary about it.
To close the meeting, I will give you proof. Imagine a conversation with a man in the habitual state of violating all the Commandments at the same time. Would that conversation not be unbearable? This man kills, steals, etc., and you have nothing to talk about with him. It is a nightmare!
Can you imagine a conversation between two people in the habitual state of perfectly fulfilling the Ten Commandments? It is heaven.
Perhaps it would be worthwhile at the next meeting to mimeograph and bring for us to read the conversation between St. Augustine and St. Monica at the Ostia inn.
Then we will comment on the vital nerve of the conversation, which is to be united with Our Lady.
Good conversation is at the feet of Our Lady, in whose heart Our Lord Jesus Christ lives; it is conversation in the light of the Holy Ghost. The rest, my dear friends, is a fraud, vanity, and affliction.