Castel Gandolfo 3rd February 1997
The Church as Communion in the thought of Chiara Lubich
At the time when the Focolare began, the Church was often seen only as a stone structure, with Jesus in the tabernacle, and with Mary, Saint Anthony or another saint above the altar... the Church was, in a certain sense, for many people taken as being the same things as the catechism, First Communion.... It also meant the other sacraments, as well as patronal festivals; perhaps it meant belonging to Catholic Action groups, and soon. It meant the parish and the parish priest and, if people were aware of their existence, the bishop and the pope.
Through the charism of unity and all that goes with it, we understood that while the Church may be all of this, more than anything else, in the depths of its being, it is the people of God. It is communion: the Church communion. Then, Vatican II defined it this way, and this brought about a revolution. What does it mean to live the Church as communion? It means creating bonds of love among all those who are part of it: among its members, its various subdivisions (parishes, dioceses, movements, structures, councils, commissions, and so on); with other things that are in some way linked to the Church (other Churches, other religions which are connected with the Church through the presence of the “seeds of the Word,” and other cultures with the values they bring). Our spirituality teaches and helps us to practice all of this. It also means that persons in positions of responsibility create bonds of love with the faithful, so that each command may be prepared by love (making those in charge into people who “preside in love”). Moreover, the faithful should build bonds of love with those in positions of responsibility. This is documented by the following letters, which show that the Focolare’s relationship with the Church was also marked by communion.
I wrote in 1969: “This was not only out of a principle of obedience to the Church or simply from fear of heresy! It was actually the Church which was drawing us to itself. Or better still, it was the Holy Spirit in us who urged us to be united with the Holy Spirit who is in the Church, because it is one and the same Holy Spirit.” The following sentence is from our early years: “The Focolarini see the Church as a family in which each member has to retain his or her own position and vocation, but all should feel they are brothers and sisters, through love in Christ Jesus.” And everything is done in obedience to whoever has the charism of authority. In fact, we owe the Church an obedient love, a love that is then reciprocated, as we have always experienced. We have consistently had this attitude toward bishops.
We wrote back in 1947: “‘Who hears you hears me’ (Lk 10:16). Our souls, caught up by the voices of this world, need so much to hear the voice of Christ! But you must not expect Christ to descend on earth to speak to you. When he was here on earth, he appointed his ministers: those who were to carry on in his place. Go to them with faith! You are fighting a battle for the triumph of the spirit over matter, the triumph of the supernatural. . . . Look at the minister — whoever he is — as someone who speaks on behalf of Jesus, without regard to his possible imperfections. His word is the word of God. ‘Who hears you hears me’! Jesus wants to be listened to through his ministers. This is the way he established it; this is the way it is.”
And in 1952: “We must neither argue nor hesitate. We are one only in the divine will, and that is expressed by the bishop.” “...only in this way, in unity among us and with the Church, will our ideal invade the earth and be an invasion of love.”
In 1956: “From experience we can say that bishops are different from other people. One senses it when one tells them about our spirituality, or when they speak. Their words have a weight and fervor that immediately distinguishes them from even the holiest priest or theologian. “Moreover, they have the grace to get to the point of the matter, and to explain it amply. It is their charism.”
In 1960 I said: “I wish that all would feel that they have a mother, and that this mother is always there to nourish them. And I wish that everyone would seek this genuine milk that is given by the Holy Father and the bishops, and that they would drink it and make it their own.”
Thus one day a sort of hymn sprang from our hearts: “The Church, our most pure mother, has received us into her family, opening for us, through her priests and sacraments, the gates of the true paradise. She has forged us as soldiers of Christ. She has forgiven us and canceled our sins seventy times seven. She has nourished us with the Body of Jesus and has given a divine seal to the love of our fathers and mothers. She has raised a number of poor created beings like us to the exalted dignity of the priesthood. Finally, she will give us the last farewell; she will put us on our way to God. She will give us God. Unless our hearts sing her praises, they are withered organs. Unless our minds see and admire her, they are blind and dark. Unless we speak of her, our words might as well dry up on our lips.”
From A New Way pp 62-66