Washington, D.C. November 10, 2000
Part of the lecture given by Chiara Lubich on 10th November 2000 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, on the occasion of the conferral of the honorary doctorate in education.
Our Movement can also be viewed from theological, philosophical, cultural, social, economic, educative and artistic standpoints, as well as from ecumenical or interreligious perspectives.
I would like to share with you now some of the ways that the more significant points of this spirituality have had an impact in the area of education.
Actually, our Movement and the stages of its development can be viewed as one continuous, extraordinary educational event. All the necessary factors are present, including a well-defined educational theory and method which underlie our efforts in this field.
But first let us ask ourselves: what is education?
Education can be defined as the itinerary which a subject (either an individual or a community) pursues with the help of one or more educators, moving toward a goal considered worthwhile both for the individual person and for humanity.
What then are the characteristic elements of our educational method which follow from the main points of the spirituality we live?
Let us consider the first point: the “revelation” – if I may use this term – of God as Love. We see that from the beginning of our Movement there has been only one educator, the Educator par excellence: God who is Love, God who is our Father. It was he who took the initiative in our regard, who, with the sense of purpose characteristic of a true educator, has accompanied us, renewed us and given us new life along an intensely rich itinerary of formation, both personal and communal.
He has enabled us and countless others to rediscover the true meaning of the divine Paternity: a discovery of enormous importance, considering the various attempts in western culture to affirm – on theoretical and practical levels – that “God is dead.”
There has been an eclipse of God’s Fatherhood which has also contributed to an eclipse of the father figure, a loss of authority on the level of human and educational relationships. This has led to a moral relativism and an absence of rules in the life of the individual, as well as in interpersonal and social relationships. This often leads to grave consequences such as violence and the like; almost proving Dostoyevsky right when he affirmed that “killing God is the most horrific form of suicide”… and “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.”
We have had the grace to come to know God. God is Love, and certainly not a distant judge, not a jealous enemy who uses his power to destroy us, or who doesn’t care about us. On the contrary, he is an educator who acknowledges each person’s unique and distinctive identity. He values every person. He loves us, and this is why he is also demanding. As an authentic educator he educates to, and demands responsibility and commitment. God is Love. For this reason he freed us from the greatest slavery of all, and re-opened the doors of his Home to us. And we know the price his son paid for our ransom. No educator has ever considered human beings as highly as God, who died for them. God who is Love has raised each and every human person to the highest possible dignity: the dignity of being his child and heir. Each and every person!
The realization that we are all children of the same Father was the inspiration underlying the key idea of Comenius, that great forerunner of modern educational theory: we must “teach everything to everyone”.
Another pillar of our spirituality is the Word of God.
Comenius says “Teach everything to everyone”. But in order to do this, one must use – as he himself said – the educational norm: do things step by step. Thinking about it now, it seems that the Father suggested this method to us focolarini from the very first days of the Movement. He prompted us to live his word by choosing one sentence from the Gospel each month to put into practice in our daily lives. But this immediately gave us “everything”, because Jesus is wholly present in each word of the Gospel (and when we live his word, he lives in us). At the same time, we were like children being nourished by his word, and as it became increasingly a part of us, we grew into adults in faith and in this new life.
Through this very simple educational technique which combines teaching step by step and imparting knowledge fully, the light of this Ideal of life has spread and continues to spread far beyond the Movement. It is a powerful, ongoing spiritual and educational experience.
The word of God is unique because it is the word of Life, a word that becomes experience, in a world that is frequently characterized, even in education, by an abundance of empty words.
We have experienced that the educational power of this Word offers an alternative to this, because the Word of God is always alive and new. As it shaped our lives, it gradually gave us a personal inner unity, which is the enormous task proper to education. And this inner unity helped us overcome the sense of fragmentation people often experience in relation to themselves, to others, to society, and to God. At the same time it highlighted the originality of each individual, drawing out his or her unique characteristics.
It is because of this existential unity between Word and Life, between saying and doing, that so many people have found our experience credible and convincing. This experience causes profound interior changes in people, thereby setting in motion a true educational process.
The will of God is another point of our spirituality.
Faithfulness to the word of God also taught us to put aside our “selfish will”, all those desires that still tie us to the limited behavioral patterns of our self-centered ego, and to follow the will of God, which leads us to continually transcend ourselves, moving beyond self into a direct relationship with God that enriches us and makes us free.
As a rule, in the moral education of a person, one gradually moves from a necessary initial phase of dependency to the autonomous morality that should characterize a mature adult subject. In our experience, too, we observe a movement from an initial adherence to the will of Another and to his Law (manifested in many ways) – which we take hold of like a child trusting completely in the guidance of an adult – to a powerful sense of freedom, the result of having made this Law our own. We then feel that it has become our law, that it has become so much a part of us that we feel adult precisely because we are able to say: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
And then we have Jesus who cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34).
Jesus forsaken is our secret, our central idea, even in educating. He shows us that we should place no limits on our efforts as educators. He exemplifies to what extent and with what dedication we must educate.
But who is this Jesus forsaken whom we have decided to love in a preferential way? He is the figure of those who are ignorant – he asks “why”. His ignorance is the most tragic, his question the most dramatic. He is the figure of all who are needy, or maladjusted, or disabled; of those who are unloved, neglected, or excluded. He personifies all those human and social situations which more than any others – cry out for education in a special way. Jesus forsaken is the paradigm of those who, lacking everything, need someone to give them everything and do everything for them. Therefore, he is the perfect example, the ultimate measure of the learning subject, who manifests the educator’s responsibility. He indicates to us the boundless limits of the need for education; and at the same time, the boundless limits of our responsibility to help and to educate.
However, Jesus forsaken - who went beyond his own infinite suffering and prayed: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk. 23:46) - also teaches us to see difficulties, obstacles, trials, hard work, error, failure and suffering as something that must be faced, loved and overcome. Generally all of us, whatever our field of endeavor, seek to avoid such experiences in every way possible. In the field of education, as well, there is often a tendency to be over-protective with young people, shielding them from all that is difficult, teaching them to view the road of life as smooth and comfortable. In reality, this leaves them extremely unprepared to face the inevitable trials of life. In particular, it fosters passivity and a reluctance to accept the responsibility for oneself, one’s neighbor and society that every human being must assume.
For us, instead, precisely because of our choice of Jesus forsaken, every difficulty is faced up to and loved. And thus educating people to deal with difficulty – which involves commitment on the part of both the educator and the one being educated – is another key idea of our educational method.
There are two other points that I would like to consider: unity and Jesus in our midst.
But first, what is the aim of this educational process?
Its objective is the same as the one we could define as Jesus’ goal in educating: “May they all be one”: unity, therefore - a profound, heartfelt unity of all human beings with God and with one another.
Unity is a very timely aspiration. Despite the countless tensions present in our world today, the human race, almost paradoxically, is striving towards unity. Unity is a sign and a need of our times.
However, this innate drive toward unity – as the etymology of the word “education” (Latin e-ducere: “draw forth”) indicates – must be drawn out in a positive way. This implies, on all levels of human endeavor, an educative process consistent with the demands of unity, so that our world will not become a Babel without a soul, but an experience of Emmaus, of God with us, capable of embracing the whole of humanity.
This might seem a utopia. But every authentic educational approach includes a utopian thrust; that is, a guiding principle which stimulates people to build together a world which is not yet a reality, but ought to be. In this perspective, education can be viewed as a means for drawing nearer to this utopian goal.
In our approach to education, in which the spiritual and the human penetrate one another and become one (through the Incarnation), this Utopia is not a dream, nor an illusion, nor an unattainable goal. It is already present here among us, and we see its fruits when we live out Jesus’ words: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them'' (Mt. 18:20). Education’s goal, its highest aim, becomes a reality.
In this we experience the fullness of God’s life, which Jesus has given us, a trinitarian relationship, the most authentic form of social relationship, in which a wonderful synthesis is achieved between the two goals of education: to teach the individual and to build the community. We believe that our experience of this trinitarian, communitarian spirituality, brings to fulfillment many ideas held by outstanding men and women throughout the history of education, whose initial premises were often different from ours, but who insisted on the importance of education in building a society founded on truly democratic relationships. One example among many would be the great contribution offered by John Dewey to education throughout the world, beginning with the United States. We also find many similarities in the recent concept of “service-learning,” which affirms that the formation of the person should also involve a formation in and for the community.
Of course, our experience of community life is based on Jesus’ invitation: “Love one another as I have loved you…” “Be one.” This motivation is religious in nature, but it has extraordinary effects in the field of education. The goal that has always been assigned to education (to form the human person, so as to render him or her independent) is implemented, almost paradoxically, by forming the person-in-relationship, which for us means the human person in the image of the Trinity, one who is capable of continually transcending self in the context of the presence of Jesus in our midst.
It is through this spiritual and educational practice of mutual love, to the point of becoming completely one – a practice followed by all the members of the Movement, since all are called to live this communitarian experience in small groups – that we work towards the achievement of the goal of all goals, expressed in Jesus’ prayer and testament: “May they all be one”. As instruments under his guidance, we want to spend our lives for the realization of this goal which is at once a Utopia and a reality.
It is through this thorough educational process that we as individuals and as community become capable of meeting, entering into dialogue with, and working together with other persons, other Movements, and so on. And it is also through this in-depth educational process that - with God’s grace - we can aspire to personal and communal sanctity.
Mary is an exceptional example of one who has put all the educational points I have mentioned into practice in her life.
Of course, Jesus is the one who fully lived out this pedagogical itinerary, in the dynamics of an experience that fully included both the life of the Trinity and the abandonment on the cross. In his earthly experience, he lived interpersonal relationships with exceptional intensity, expressing empathy, acceptance and hope; experiencing the struggle involved in educating, as well as a life of unity with the Father and with “his own.” Clearly he is the most authentic and demanding witness of what it means to be an educator.
Religious and academic personalities, dear friends, I hope these points I have outlined have been sufficient to explain the educational experience that has emerged from the life of our Movement, and to help you appreciate how especially honored and delighted I am to receive this degree in education.
Thank you for your attention. May Jesus, the Teacher, form us all as true and effective educators. (Applause)