The author of this article is Chiara Lubich’s first companion. In her talk she reminded the participants at the congress of what the discovery of Jesus Crucified and Forsaken represented for the focolarine right from the very beginning of the Movement, not only for their Christian life but also for how to present God to today’s world in an effective manner.
This morning Chiara launched us towards the New Evangelization. She reminded us, following the thought of John Paul II, that all Christians, all the people of God are called to evangelize; and that we, members of ecclesial movements, are called to do so in a very special way.
Chiara opened to us this vast horizon of the New Evangelization and she continuously referred to the thoughts and words of the Pope. In this perspective then, she unfolded to us the life and spirituality of the Focolare Movement because -she said - “although I love and esteem many Movements, I can speak competently only about something whose birth and development I myself have witnessed”.
I will now proceed following Chiara's “trail of light”. Since I Iived this extraordinary adventure with her ever since the early days, I can bear witness to the work of God, to the action of the Holy Spirit who transformed a mustard seed (that is, that small group that we were, first focolarine, with Chiara) into a big tree which today is made up of branches that spread out to all the world.
Through the experience of these years, I would like to make you discover the roots of this tree, the foundation on which this Movement lies, the key, the secret to building and rebuilding unity among us, in the Church and in all humankind. This is the key which we identify as the “source” of the New Evangelization.
It is the secret which made Chiara say one day: “If those who gave life to the Movement did not have him in the trials of life, this way of unity would not exist, unless God had wanted to raise it up in the same form in other places.”
But who is this “him” Chiara speaks of, this One and Only who gave her and all of us the strength and light for our journey in this almost 60 years of life of the Movement? It is Jesus crucified and forsaken.
If we look at the beginnings of our story we will see that, even before the idea came to us on how to achieve unity, which is our ideal, the Magna Charta of the Movement, the Holy Spirit gave us a model, a figure, a life: Jesus crucified and forsaken.
This reality of his, our understanding of him preceded, also in time, every other consideration. In fact, if we rightly consider the 7th of December 1943 (the date of Chiara's consecration to God) as the beginning of our story, on the 24th of January, 1944 Jesus forsaken had already presented himself to our mind and heart.In order to understand this we must tell you of an episode from the early days of the Movement, which I will leave Chiara to tell, at least in part.
We used to go to visit the poor. One day one of my companions -says Chiara -went to clean and put in order the poor, shabby room of an old lady, and she caught an infection on her face, which was now covered with sores. But she didn't mind, indeed she was happy to be a little similar to Jesus crucified.
I had gone to visit her on a very cold day and, because she wanted to receive Holy Communion, we thought of inviting a priest to her home so that he could bring it to her. The priest came, and before leaving he asked us: “Do you know when Jesus suffered the most?” We answered according to the common mentality of Christians at that time: in the Garden of Olives.
But the priest affirmed: “No, Jesus suffered the most when, on the cross, he cried out: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”. He said this and then he left. We were deeply impressed by these words of his, convinced that it was the truth because said by a minister of God. Because we were young, because we wanted to live a lively and authentic Christianity, but especially because of the grace of God, we felt a strong impetus to follow Jesus in that very moment of his abandonment for the rest of our lives.
So, as soon as we were alone—continues Chiara—I said to my companion: “We have only one life. Let's spend it in the best way possible! If Jesus suffered the most when he felt abandoned by the Father, we will follow him forsaken.”
The meeting with that priest was God's reply to our prayer. Fascinated by the beauty of his Testament, we first focolarine asked Jesus, united in his name, to teach us how to achieve unity, that unity which he asked of the Father before dying. And in these 58 years of the Movement's life this has been our constant experience: what gives us the possibility of achieving unity is precisely love for Jesus crucified and forsaken.
From that day onwards the choice of God which had characterized the first step of our new life became precise: to choose God, whom we had discovered as Love, meant for us to choose Jesus forsaken, the living expression of God's love here on earth.
Jesus forsaken “is the apex of love”, wrote Chiara during the early years. In him “there is all the love of a God”
“When Jesus forsaken suffered”, Chiara says, “he deprived himself of Love and gave it to us, making us children of God. (...) Jesus made himself Nothing, he gave everything and this everything was not lost since it entered into our souls”.
Jesus forsaken “emptied himself” of God (See Phil 2:7), if we can say this, he deprived himself of his divinity and he gave it as a gift to man who, “made to partake in his divinity, made similar to him by his Love”, can speak of themselves as children of God, which they truly are.
Jesus forsaken soon became ours. His call was strong and decisive. Our love for him was exclusive, it did not allow compromises. Chiara wrote in a letter of that period:
“Forget everything...even the things which are most sublime; let yourself be dominated by only one Ideal, by only one God, who must penetrate every fiber of your being: by Jesus crucified (...) He must be everything for you”
“Oh! if that divine face contracted by a spasm of torment, those eyes reddened but which look at you with goodness, forgetting my sins and yours that have reduced him to this state, were always before your gaze!...”
We began to see him everywhere: he presented himself in the most varied ways in all the painful aspects of life. Every suffering of ours appeared to be a countenance of his to love and to desire in order to be with him, to be like him; so that in union with him, with suffering loved, we too can give life to ourselves and to many people. We thought: since he was abandoned by everyone, each one of us can say: he is mine. He is mine because no one wants him: he was rejected by the world and by heaven.
And Jesus forsaken truly appeared as the precious pearl for all men and women who, after all, are all sinners.
We discovered him in the effort it takes to live the virtues; in the small or big disunities to recompose; in the non-perfect unity of the Church; in the fracture between religions; in non-belief, in sufferings of every kind, in adverse and unexpected circumstances..., everywhere.
The Movement brings with it a very rich experience which shows how the suffering of each one, especially spiritual sufferings, are summed up in this particular suffering of Jesus.
Isn't the person who is anxious, lonely, indifferent, disappointed, the failure, the weak, similar to him? Isn't every painful division among individuals, among the Churches, among parts of humanity with contrasting ideologies, a countenance of him? Isn't the atheistic, secular world a figure of him?
By loving Jesus forsaken we find the motive and strength for not evading these evils, but accepting them, consuming them and doing something personally to resolve them.
Jesus forsaken is also the model of those who must build unity with their brothers and sisters. In fact, I cannot enter into another if I am rich of myself. In order to love a brother or sister I must constantly make myself poor in spirit so as to have nothing else but love. And love is emptiness of self.
Jesus forsaken is the perfect model of the poor in spirit: he is so poor that he does not have even God, so to speak. He doesn't feel his presence.
Furthermore, he is the perfect model for those who must lose themselves in God; for example, those who must lose their ideas, or even the inspirations of grace, in order to submit themselves to their superiors. He is therefore the model of authentic unity with whoever represents God.
And I can go on and on.…
The more we loved Jesus forsaken, the more we understood something of the mystery of unity which Jesus worked on the cross. We put ourselves together like many pieces of wood to be lit and burned by Jesus present in our midst. The warmth of this fire grew and spread so that many people who came in contact with us were convinced that they had found God. More and more people converted.
That light, that joy, that particular peace, born out of suffering loved, struck and won over even the most difficult persons. We experienced that, nailed to the cross, we became mothers and fathers of souls. Therefore the life of unity with Jesus forsaken led to the most abundant fruits. In this way, from the very first months, a community was formed with Christ in the midst of all.
In the abandonment Jesus is the teacher of unity, of that unity He asked of the Father: “May they all be one” (Jn 17:21).
The Pope, in his apostolic letter Novo millennio ineunte, defines the cry of Jesus on the cross as the prayer of the Son who suffers this tremendous sense of abandonment, of separation from the Father, in order to reunite all people to God, cut off as they were because of sin, and to reunite all people with one another.
In fact the Pope says: “We shall never exhaust the depths of this mystery. All the harshness of the paradox can be heard in Jesus' seemingly desperate cry of pain on the cross: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'. Is it possible to imagine a greater agony, a more impenetrable darkness?”, the Pope asks himself. And further ahead, he gives the answer: “Jesus' cry on the cross is not the cry of anguish of a man without hope, but the prayer of the Son who offers his life to the Father in love, for the salvation of all. At the very moment when he identifies with our sin, 'abandoned' by the Father, he 'abandons' himself into the hands of the Father”.
Chiara writes: “Isn't that divine spiritual wound which opened in his heart when even heaven closed itself on him like a wide open door through which we can finally unite ourselves to God and God to us?”
“Jesus is the Savior, the Redeemer, and he redeems when he pours out the divine on all mankind through the wound of the Abandoned Christ, who is the pupil of the eye of God on the world: an Infinite Emptiness through which God looks at us: the window of God that opens wide on the world and the window through which mankind sees God.”
Therefore, Jesus Forsaken reunited what was separated.
This is why this mysterious suffering of his abandonment has always appeared to us as being linked precisely to unity.
Jesus had done all his part. He redeemed us and reunited us into one family. Now it is up to us to correspond to this grace and to do our part.
To some extent we have all experienced division, disharmony, abandonment in and outside of ourselves.
Is there anyone who does not in some way feel separated from God when a bit of darkness invades his soul? Is there anyone who has not experienced doubt, perplexity, anxiety, confusion? All these trials remind us of Jesus precisely in his abandonment. On the cross he doubted, he was puzzled, he asked “why?”.
So when we experience one of these sufferings, what should we do? We should think: “This suffering reminds me of him; I am a little like him. But I don't want to stop. Like him, I embrace this trial: I want it, I love him, Jesus forsaken, in this trial.”
And often we realize that in doing so and continuing to love, that suffering disappears and peace returns.
We can also experience small or big divisions in the small communities we live in - in our homes, centres, offices, schools, seminaries, parishes... and this causes suffering. There too we can recognize the presence of Jesus forsaken and our love for him makes us capable of personally overcoming suffering within us and doing all we can to recompose unity with the others.
For those who are called to achieve unity, as we are, Jesus forsaken who re-abandons himself to the Father is the One who helps us to rebuild it with our brothers and sisters each time it is shattered. In fact it can happen that we have already experienced that full joy, that peace, that light, that ardour, all those fruits of the Spirit which are produced by the New Commandment when it is put into practice.
It may be that we already know what is meant by the presence of Jesus among two or more who are united in his name. And we may have experienced what tremendous meaning it has given to our existence, even in its details: how it has shed light on circumstances, things and people.
But all of a sudden, an act of pride, arrogance or a speck of selfishness on the part of one person or the other, makes us plunge back into an existence similar to that which we had before knowing Jesus more fully, an existence without warmth and colour, and even worse than that. An uneasiness invades the soul; everything loses meaning: we do not understand why we set out on this way. The most important element is missing: Jesus in our midst is missing, the One who made our life full, who had made us brim over with joy. It is as if a supernatural sun has set.
Chiara said, in answer to the question of a focolarino:
“In that moment in which you feel this torment, what must you do? You learned that this feeling which torments you is a suffering, and suffering is always something sacred, it is something precious, it is pleasing to God; only sin must be rejected.
So what must you do? You shouldn’t say: I will embrace Jesus forsaken quickly so the suffering will pass away and I'll go ahead, I'll continue to work, I won't speak with anyone…. You must go deep within you, put your soul in contact with God who is in the depths of your heart, and make a pact with him saying: Lord, this suffering is you, I'm happy. I want this because this is what I have chosen, this is You. You might not feel like it, but with your will you say “yes”.
“Then you must live the following moment, without necessarily offering your suffering several times; it's enough to offer it once, directly to him. You must work, pray, do an act of charity, something. That is, in the following moment you must do everything with all your heart, like for example, loving your neighbor.
“You will experience what is written in Scriptures: 'We have passed from death to life because we loved our neighbor.' “Jesus comes back into our midst and with him, strength and happiness.” It's the experience of the love of God, who is never outdone in generosity and who transforms, through a divine alchemy, suffering into love.
And “why does this happen?” Chiara asks. “You see,” she says, “in the passion of Jesus, when the Gospel says that on the cross Jesus breathed his last, this word does not only mean that Jesus died, but that he breathed the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Holy Spirit is linked to the death of Jesus, the death of Jesus brought forth the Holy Spirit.”
“So,” Chiara continues, “when we embrace the cross well, up to the very end, and then we plunge ourselves into loving, the Holy Spirit comes, he 'springs forth', so to speak, in our hearts.”
“I have the impression”, says Chiara, “that having discovered Jesus forsaken is like having discovered an oil well. Jesus forsaken is a wellspring of the Holy Spirit. I don't know if I can make myself clear, but from what I know, from what I have experienced, from what I have understood, it seems to me that loving Jesus forsaken and being full of the Holy Spirit are one and the same thing.”
One day someone asked Chiara:
“But Chiara, how are you able to love Jesus forsaken always?” She answered: “I love him because I love him. That is, when he arrives, I love him. And you know what happens?—now I'm revealing a secret to you — what happens is that when we love him, when we truly and seriously love him ..., by dint of loving him, you are in love with him alone. But not because you love something abstract or you love suffering, which is not lovable. But because by dint of loving Jesus forsaken you acquire this habit, which is a virtue, and you pass on immediately to the act of accepting him, which is an act of the will, of love. Having transformed suffering into love, you find God in the depths of your heart, you find him-Love, and so you love Love.”
“So I love him because I love him. I love him because he has loved me, this is why I love him.
“But in order to reach this point, we must first love him with our will, so as to acquire the habit of seeing only him, of loving only him, of listening only to him. First of all we must break our will, accept all sufferings, especially those we might not have expected. They are all countenances of Jesus forsaken, the One we have chosen.
“Then,” Chiara continues, “when you have sacrificed everything, God recomposes every thing and you have the joy of finding him.”
This is what Jesus forsaken was, and continues to be, for us. We can say that the story of our Movement is inseparably linked to him, one with him, almost like the love story of Chiara and of each one of us with him forsaken.
Jesus forsaken, the God of our times, is the essence of our collective, communitarian spirituality; he is the throbbing heart of ecclesial communion which, if put into practice, can bring about, as the Pope desires, the richest evangelization. Because to live in this way is to put into act that spirituality of communion which makes us witnesses of Christ, which shows what Christianity is. Among other things, if this spirituality is lived, it gives immense joy!
In his extraordinary and very precious gift which is the Novo millennio ineunte, after having presented the “cry” of Jesus forsaken as the source of communion between man and God and with one another, the Pope speaks precisely of the need for the Church today to live a “spirituality of communion”, and to live it on all levels.
He wants the “Church to be the home and the school of communion” in order to “be faithful to God's plan and to respond to the world's deepest yearnings.”
“What does this mean in practice?”, the Pope asks. And he answers: “Here too, our thoughts could run immediately to the action to be undertaken, but that would not be the right impulse to follow.… Before making practical plans, we need to promote a spirituality of communion, making it the guiding principle of education wherever individuals and Christians are formed. (...)
“A spirituality of communion means (...) an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, (...) in order to be able to share their joys and sufferings (...). It is the ability to see what is positive in others, (...) to know how to make room for our brothers and sisters (...), resisting the selfish temptations which (...) provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy.
“Let us have no illusions”, continues the Pope, “unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, masks of communion (...).
“Communion,” the Pope says further, “must be cultivated and extended day by day and at every level in the structures of each Church's life. There, relations between bishops, priests and deacons, between pastors and the entire People of God, between clergy and religious, between associations and ecclesial Movements, must all be clearly characterized by communion.”
Dearest priests, this is what I wanted to tell you.
I can witness to the fact that Jesus forsaken works miracles of grace in those who decide to choose him in an exclusive way and he can make us “protagonists” of the Church of the third millenium.
Before leaving, I would like to read a greeting which Chiara gave recently to the members of our Movement in Bratislava, after answering their questions.
“Look, if we were able to reach 182 nations, which practically means all, it is because we loved Jesus forsaken in all obstacles. When we came across an obstacle, when we came across a division, we did not retreat; for us it was a springboard, because we loved Jesus forsaken. Let's follow him, let's follow him! With him, we can hope for everything!”