How can we “be love”?

November 1, 2017 - 12:00am -- Living City

How can we “be love”?
Focolare founder Chiara Lubich (1920–2008) comments on “you did it to me,” a key Gospel phrase

By Chiara Lubich

My task in this moment is to address the theme “You did it to me,” the title of this congress. In order to concretely base what I say on something that comes from God — in our case, on a present-day charism in the Church — I will speak on this subject as it has been lived and is being lived even now in the Focolare ...

It’s a well-known fact that the Focolare Movement started during World War II. At that time people had to seek refuge in air raid shelters to avoid the danger of bombings. We did, too, like everyone else, even up to 11 times a day. There was nothing we could take with us except a small book, the Gospel. In the long hours spent there, we would open it and read it.

Which words struck us the most? The words about love: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 19:19). “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Mt 7:12).

Later on, bearing in mind the impressive image of the Final Judgment, other sentences of Jesus came to the fore: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink ...” (Mt 25:35) “When, Lord?” “Every time you did this to the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

What a deep impression those words had on us in the earliest days [of our movement]! What a strong incentive to live them at once and completely! How good it was of Jesus to reveal them to us!

We would tell one another (some of us were still students): if we had to take a test and we knew ahead of time what the questions were, we would consider ourselves very lucky!

Here on earth, as we journey in the direction of the final exam of life, we need to take into great account what Jesus has revealed to us! “I was hungry ... I was thirsty ... I was naked ...”

We immediately lent our help, without hesitation, to those who were hungry, to those who were oppressed by the war, to the wounded, the orphans, the homeless, the imprisoned, the sick ... In a word, it was help to those who were in need. People in need, the poor, became the main object of our attention in this new life.

How did we help them? We found this in the Gospel too: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap” (Lk 6:38). “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mt 7:7–8).

I remember during the war that in the corridor of my house there were sacks of flour and potatoes. There was wood, powdered milk and all kinds of things. They were constantly distributed and more would always come. It was full, then empty, full, then empty ...

The first focolarine got ready, every day, always, to go out to the poorest neighborhoods in the city with suitcases filled with all kinds of things. Very beautiful episodes come to mind showing how the Father always gave us exactly what we asked, for Jesus in the poor: a pair of shoes size 12, a jacket....

I remember the poor sitting around the table with us in the first Focolare house: a focolarina and a poor person, a focolarina and a poor person; and we always used the best tablecloth for them, the best silver, and we offered the best food [we could find in those circumstances].

Whenever we came across a poor person in the streets of our city we took down their addresses in a little notebook so that we could help them. Our greatest treasure was the poor. It was Jesus: “You did it to me...”

The Spirit would consequently fill us with light, because [as Jesus said] “to those who love me (in the poor, too) I will show myself” (Jn 14:21).

We understood then that it’s not enough to do things out of love (one can hand out a package and offend the dignity of the poor). But we need to do it being love.

But how can one be love? Our destiny, we used to say, is like that of the stars. If they revolve they are; if they don’t, they are not. We are when it is not our life but the life of God living in us, if we never stop loving, not even for a second. Love roots us in God, and God is love.

The love that is God, however, is light, and light helps you to see whether our way of approaching and being of service to our neighbor conforms to the heart of God, if it is what our neighbor wishes it to be, if it is how he would imagine it to be if he had next to him not us, but Jesus.

We felt that in this way we would have been able to live in accordance with the words of Paul when he sings about love: “If I give away all my possessions (to the poor) … but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:3).

At a certain point, when there were already about a hundred people trying to live as we were, it seemed that the Lord was asking us to become poor in order to serve the poor and everyone. I am referring to the day when we put together what we later called the “bundle.” Each one of us brought out and placed in the middle of a squalid room of the first Focolare house everything we thought was surplus: a coat, a pair of gloves, a hat ... there was even a fur coat.

We did it because we were fascinated by the stupendous page of Scripture depicting how the early Christians in Jerusalem were one heart and one soul, and no one called what he had his own, instead they held everything in common, there was no one in need among them (see Acts 4:32, 34).

“There was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34). This was the great ideal to be reached, first of all among us, and then among all those who followed us. So the first young women, who were called by God to give everything of themselves, did give everything. The others gave their surplus, and those who had little or nothing shared their needs.

Thus, the communion of goods became a reality and would continue to develop.

Due to this love for the poor, which was always enlightening, the Spirit made us understand the need to love not only them, but everyone else too: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” whoever he or she may be. At this point we had a splendid idea that led to the decision to transform our daily live, in contact with all kinds of people, into a wide range of material and spiritual works of mercy. Because here again we could apply the words “You did it to me.”

In each brother or sister who passed by us, we saw Christ who was asking for help, for comfort, advice, correction, instruction, light, bread, shelter, clothes, prayers …

We lived in each present moment the work of mercy that God was asking of us …

Today, too, there are initiatives of all sizes, and they all vibrate with life because those who work at them have at heart Jesus crucified and forsaken, who repeats to them: “You did it to me.”

In this way, a culture of giving is promoted in order to contribute to a “civilization of love,” and others become involved in this action. All they need is just a little bit of goodness in their heart.

Excerpted from a talk given at a conference
in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, April 19, 1995