A legacy of love, respect and dialogue
The impact of Lubich’s life on society
By Sr. Marian Maskulak, CPS
A time of peace and encounter
My acquaintance with the life, charism, and work of Chiara Lubich and the Focolare Movement began about ten years ago, when I was researching ecclesial communities in preparation for a theology conference presentation. While I had previously heard of the name, I knew nothing about the movement. As a professor of theology and spirituality, I was curious to learn about Chiara and began to research her life.
Not one to be easily impressed, I was quite taken by Chiara’s story and found that the more I read, the more amazed I became. Here was a 21st-century woman who, by following God’s inspirations, made a profound impact on lives around the world in ever new and often surprising ways. Here was a contemporary woman who conveyed her spirituality, insights and mystical experience not only in writing, but also via multimedia. Here was a modern-day woman who exemplified the fact that any authentic love relationship with the God of love simultaneously moves the person to reach out to others in love.
In short, in Chiara I found a woman of our time who cultivated and embodied such a love relationship with God and by doing so humbly, yet boldly, epitomized the Christian lifestyle and Christian spirituality at its best — including its inherent times of suffering and dark nights. I eagerly incorporated lectures on Chiara and her spirituality into my course, Christian Spirituality and Mysticism.
Verses into action
Chiara’s love and desire for God were apparent from the time of her youth, and her consecration to God at age 23. Also evident was her caring and charismatic personality. To say that Chiara sought to live a Gospel life likewise expresses the obvious. Her decision to carry a book of the Gospels with her during the war for accessibility at times of air raids speaks volumes about where her heart lay.
But it wasn’t only for herself that Chiara carried the Gospels; rather, she reflected on the verses together with her friends during the raids. Time and again it was a Gospel verse that paved the way for Chiara and her companions as they strove to put a verse into action. Those familiar with the Focolare easily recognize the following key verses of Chiara’s spirituality: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34); and the verse that became the Focolare’s Ideal and basis of a spirituality of unity: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21).
Chiara consistently moved from reading and reflecting on the Gospels to endeavoring to enflesh the Gospel message in everyday life and, importantly, inviting others to do the same. Equally significant was her commitment to contemplate and tend to Jesus Forsaken wherever she found any form of human suffering. These foundational principles and core values at the heart of Chiara’s spirituality set the stage for the gradual, ever-expanding growth of the Focolare’s ministerial involvements.
I frequently remind my students that the tell-tale sign of an authentic, healthy spiritual life is the fruit of a person’s life. It is an understatement to say that Chiara’s life bore, and continues to bear, much good fruit. Beginning with Chiara and her companions’ involvement in addressing the immediate needs of the people of Trent during World War II, Chiara began to see that systemic change was needed.
Moreover, she understood that the driving force behind such change needed to be love, respect and open dialogue in all areas of life. One cannot stress enough how Chiara saw the need to implement love, respect and open dialogue in every area of life. But more than “seeing” the need, Chiara was a woman of action who also had a gift for attracting others to join in her undertakings.
Work for change
And so the commitment to work toward the ideal of universal brotherhood/sisterhood through love, respect and dialogue began and expanded: dialogue within the Catholic Church, ecumenical dialogue, interreligious dialogue, dialogue with people of no religious affiliation, dialogue with families and young people, and dialogue with culture, which Chiara referred to as inundations. These include dialogue with politics, the economy, medicine, the arts, education, philosophy and the media.
Much of this work that began before, during and following Vatican II was very much in tune with the spirit and documents of that Council. In retrospect, it seems to me that the growth of Focolare’s initiatives in tandem with the concerns and needs of the church and the world is only explicable when understood as having been Spirit-directed.
Furthermore, the Spirit of God desires to lead all human beings — regardless of race, gender, religious or non-religious affiliation, etc. — to unity and communion. The unity for which Jesus prayed traverses time and space; it is global community that stretches from the past to the future until it reaches the eternal now, beyond time and space.
From a Christian perspective, the mutual, self-giving love of the Trinity (Tri-unity) is the archetype of human community. Chiara rightly recognized that an ethic of reciprocity and mutuality needed for such unity and community is found among most religions and cultures, via some articulation or variation of the Golden Rule. In other words, most people are familiar with, or at least have heard of, such a principle.
As captured on video, Chiara beautifully expressed this reality to a gathering of the Teens for Unity at the Coliseum in Rome in 2002. Noting how the injustice in the world marked by the division between rich and poor often leads to resentment and terrorism, Chiara maintained that greater equality can only be reached by moving hearts. And hearts are moved by love. She encouraged the youth (and encourages us) to love and respect one’s neighbor without discrimination in order to generate a worldwide brotherhood/sisterhood.
In her words, “We need to invade the world with love!” she saw such impartial loving as “one of the greatest secrets of this moment.” Moreover, Chiara exhorted the youth (and exhorts us) to take the initiative in loving without waiting to be loved first, and above all, to love in deeds, not only in words. For Chiara, this is the means for spreading universal brotherhood/sisterhood, which in turn, can lead to a more equitable distribution of goods and contribute to world peace.
Love, respect and dialogue — seemingly so simple, but in reality they are often so challenging to implement in one’s daily life. Yet they are the antidote for a world too often fractured by hate, contempt and a dearth of open, rational discourse. As the bedrock of unity and community, may love, respect and dialogue be a choice and a commitment that each of us can make.
Sr. Marian Maskulak, CPS, teaches theology at St. John’s University in New York.
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