In 2010 I was introduced to the life of a soon to be saint that has changed my life in more ways than one. My introduction came from a priest friend who was promoting a pilgrimage to Italy in order to attend the beatification of Chiara Luce Badano, a teenager who, while dying of bone cancer, refused morphine in order to greater identify with the suffering of Jesus. My priest friend’s Facebook posting about Badano propelled me to further investigate the teenager’s story, which left me inspired. Since my introduction to Chiara Luce Badano I have seen her popularity explode among my Catholic friends.
I knew that Badano belonged to an ecclesial movement called Focolare but my inquiry stopped there. In 2013, I explored deeper the spirituality of the Focolare movement for two reasons. The first resulted from a debate between my protestant peers and myself during hospital chaplaincy. I spoke about redemptive suffering during a discussion and cited the example of Chiara Luce. Their disdain for the notion of redemptive suffering led me to write a paper on the spirituality of redemptive suffering using Badano as the example. Secondly, a one-year priest lecturer at the seminary belonged to the movement and given my interest in Mariology, directed me to Chiara Lubich’s book on Mary. Lubich founded the Focolare movement and served as its president for many years.
I find it unfortunate that many who know of and love Chiara Luce Badano do not know the writings of Chiara Lubich. After all Lubich served as a role model for Badano and gave her the nickname “Luce.” For me, the discovery of Chiara Lubich transformed my spirituality as I learned more and more about the tenets of the Focolare Spirituality. As members of the Movement gather around March 14 to remember Lubich, on the anniversary of her death, I’d like to share the ways she has helped develop my relationship with God and neighbor.
Word of Life
One element of the Focolare spirituality is known as the Word of Life. Each month the Movement transmits a specific bible passage with a reflection and encourages members to intentionally live that verse. Members of the Movement then gather in someone’s home where they will together reflect on the monthly Word of Life. They share how they have lived it and the struggles they have encountered. For me, it is wonderful to have a monthly challenge to live. I commit the passage to memory and seek to recall it often. It serves as a good examination each day–how have I lived this word? Where I did I fail to live it?
The notion of living scripture changed my life, and as I encounter the Word of God each day through my daily prayer as a priest, in the breviary and at Mass, I often find a verse that stays with me. One of my favorites comes from Ephesians 4:29- say only the good things men need to hear, things that will build them up. God’s word truly brings life to our souls when we seek to live it.
Love of Neighbor
Another name for the Focolare Movement is the Work of Mary, the official title of the Church. When members gather annually, they do so at the Mariapolis, where members form a city of Mary. There are permanent Mariapolises throughout the world in addition to temporary Cities of Mary. Two years ago I attended one of the Mariapolises and the principal focus was on mutual love. As I listened to several testimonials a common phrase emerged: who does Jesus call me to love in the present moment? Mutual love toward one another is key to the movement and should be expressed to everyone we encounter. The person who stands before me, whether they smell good or not, friendly or annoying, rich or poor, is the person God calls me to love. After all, this is what Jesus commanded us to do: love your neighbor. Who is my neighbor? Everyone. They are Jesus to me, Jesus in my midst, because wherever two or three are gathered, there Jesus is among us.
Focolare has enhanced my Marian devotion. When I read Lubich’s Mariological reflections, Mary the Transparency of God, I came across a quote which revolutionized the way I saw Mary. Writing about Jesus’ entrustment of Mary to John and John to Mary, Lubich reflected, “The task of the Church and every Christian is to take Mary home, live with Mary and go to Christ with and through Mary. She is our spiritual mother, a mother who nourishes Christians with salvation that is born from her womb.” After I read those words, I wanted to live with Mary and have her accompany me along my life journey. Similar to the effect of the Word of LIfe, I would keep the presence of Mary on my mind. From time to time, I would think to myself: “Mary is living with me; would she be happy with what I’m doing right now?” I wanted my mother to smile at me and be pleased with my labors, since I’m her son.
During His agony in the garden, Jesus prayed that they all might be one. Working to fulfil this prayer of Jesus is one of the aims of the Focolare movement. To this end, the Movement is involved in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. The tenets of the Focolare spirituality are derived from the scriptures, yet, they are principles common to people of goodwill, whether believers or not. People of other Christian faiths found the spirituality of unity proposed by Lubich appealing and wanted to live it in their life. Chiara Lubich also spent time sharing the gifts of the movement with groups of different creeds-Muslims and Buddhists to name just a few.
When I first encountered the Focolare movement, I found their ecumenical and interreligious dialogue emphasis to be an obstacle for me. Whenever I shared that I admired the writings of Chiara Lubich and ascribed to the Focolare spirituality, I would often qualify it saying that I was drawn to their Christological and Mariological emphasis. I tried to distance myself from the ecumenical and interreligious aspect. But Focolare changed me. Because of the spirituality of unity I have started attending ecumenical gatherings and went to an interreligious prayer service for peace held at a mosque. If it was not for the Focolare movement, I never would have taken the leap. The Movement has opened my mind and heart to seek unity with all people.
In my spiritual reading I have never found a person who speaks to my heart as does Chiara Lubich. She has a unique ability to challenge me. Sometimes the reflection I read was meant for me in that specific moment because of what I was going through. I have found instant consolation in difficult moments. She reminded me once that it is easy to believe in God’s love when everything is going well, but we must believe in that love when everything is not going well. She encouraged me to find love on the cross rather than pain and sorrow. She taught me that instead of dwelling on the past or looking to the future, I must live in the present moment.
The reflections contained in her spiritual books are often short, and can be quick sources of meditation during my periods of prayer. In her writings she has taught me many spiritual lessons. She has changed my life, and for this I am grateful.
If you are interested in getting to know Chiara Lubich better, I recommend the following books:
Chiara Lubich, Essential Writings: Spirituality, Dialogue, Culture (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2007). This book will provide a thorough overview of Lubich’s thought.
Chiara Lubich, Journey to Heaven: Spiritual Thoughts to Live (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1997). This book contains many meditations from Chiara which I found to be quite profound.
Chiara Lubich, Here and Now: Meditations on Living in the Present (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2005). This is a book I’m currently making my way through. Very short meditations focused on living in the present, God’s will, and Eternity.