By Carlos Freire
In a talk delivered in 1998, Chiara Lubich invited Focolare members and friends to become a living prayer.
“As we know, our spirituality is both personal and communitarian,” she said. “It leads us to extend our love vertically toward God, and horizontally toward our neighbors. Keeping the balance between these two loves is what leads us to holiness. “For some of us it’s easier to develop the horizontal dimension of love—and so there is the tendency, at times, to engage in constant activities—rather than developing the vertical dimension.
“It’s true that we usually direct all that we do to God—we love others for him, we work for him, we suffer for him, we pray to him. But can we be certain that we love God not only with our will, but also with our heart?
“At the end of our lives, we won’t be able to present ourselves to God together with others, with the community; we’ll be alone.
“Can we be sure that in that moment all the love stored up in our hearts during our lifetime will spontaneously pour out, as it should, to the one we ought to have always loved, the one we will meet... and who will judge us?
“We can love God as servants do, doing all that the master wants, without speaking to him at all. Or we can love him like children, with all our heart, full of the Holy Spirit, filled with love and trust in our Father.
“This kind of trusting relationship leads us to speak with him often, sharing all our concerns, our resolutions and our plans. We experience the trust and the divine desire that makes us eagerly look forward to the time that is only for him, to be in contact with him in a deep way.
“This is prayer, true prayer! We have to aim at this, to the point that we become living prayers.
“Saying ‘for you’ before every action already transforms it into prayer. But that’s not enough. Let’s start to have an ongoing dialogue with him, whenever possible. Only in this way, at the end of our life, will our love for God fall from our lips in words similar to those of the saints.”
Confiding in God
In the catechesis for the general audience of September 28, 2022, Pope Francis spoke about prayer and what he said echoes Chiara’s words. He also shared an anecdote that we might find useful.
“True prayer is familiarity with and confidence in God. ... To be in prayer does not mean saying words, words, no: being in prayer means opening my heart to Jesus, drawing close to Jesus, allowing Jesus to enter into my heart making his presence felt. Let us ask for this grace: to live a relationship of friendship with the Lord, as a friend speaks to a friend.
“I knew an old religious brother who was the doorman of a boarding school, and every time he could, he would approach the chapel, look at the altar, and say, ‘Hi’, because he was close to Jesus. He didn’t need to say many words, no: ‘Hi, I am close to you and you are close to me.’ This is the relationship we must have in prayer: closeness, a closeness of affection, closeness with Jesus.
“A smile, a simple gesture, and not reciting words that do not reach the heart. As I said, talk to Jesus as a friend who talks to another friend.”
Saying “for you”
The synchronicity between Pope Francis’ words and Chiara’s is evident. In 2002, Chiara had this to say to friends of Focolare near Rome:
“Many people think of prayer as saying the rosary, for example. True prayer, in the sense of most important prayer, is at times simply a glance towards Jesus in the tabernacle, a look of understanding that says: ‘I’m doing this for you.’ Or words of love, saying to him: ‘My God, my all,’ because God calls us to a personal relationship with him.
“We human beings have been created to have a direct relationship with God, able to speak with God. If a person does not speak with God, they don’t fulfil themselves completely as a person, as a human being. The saints say this.
“St. Teresa of Avila, who had the charism of prayer, said that one moment is enough, one thought, remembering, knowing that if we are in the grace of God, God is within us, so we can think of him, and offer him what we’re doing: ‘For you … all this is for you.’
“Then, since we are made of flesh and blood and we need something tangible, it also helps to have something that our senses perceive, our hearing, for example, like the Hail Mary, the Our Father, the Glory be, the Creed. So, set aside times when you can say a few prayers.
“Then, if you want to reach the point of experiencing union with God, choose to love your neighbors, choose to love every neighbor, because the fact is the deeper we go in love of neighbor, the more God makes his presence felt.
“We always give the example of a little plant. We say the more its roots sink into the ground, the higher the stem shoots up. Similarly, the more a person deepens their love of neighbor, the more union with God grows, and you feel it, you feel it.”
Expanding the kingdom of God
In a worldwide conference call with Focolare members in February 1993, Chiara asserted that prayer is truly the way we live the commandment that comes before all others, “Love the Lord your God.”
“Since we love our neighbor, we have all experienced union with God to a greater or lesser degree. This leads us to speak spontaneously with Jesus, with the Father, with the Holy Spirit or with Mary: we entrust our problems to them, we ask their help in all our needs, we keep them updated about our work, we offer them our joys. It is a kind of prayer that can be made up simply of a look, of silences, of mutual understanding.
“Every action we do to increase the kingdom of God will be effective only if our arms are raised up, as Moses reminds us. It is prayer that will render our work truly fruitful. Let’s take as our guiding motto: ‘Pray well in order to invade the world with love.’”