Jesus in the Eucharist : the gift, the calling and the challenge
The 'novelty' Jesus brings is our 'dwelling place"
Here the writer reflects in depth on the theological and pastoral, as well as spiritual and existential, meaning contained in this 'page' ("paginetta") of Chiara Lubich. Seen as a synthesis of her writing and thought on the Eucharist, and closely in harmony with the long established ecclesial tradition and mystical experience of the Church, it details the vast anthropological, ecclesial, and even cosmic implications of the gift of the Eucharist.
In 1976, Chiara referred to this page as "la paginetta'; a brief writing that she felt urged to include as a premise to her theme on the Eucharist which she gave to the Movement that year, and which has since been published.
What was her intention? To express, in words of fire, filled with the light and strength of the charism, the incredible far-reaching novelty brought to us by Jesus in the Eucharist. His very own novelty: because in Him - as stated by Vatican II - there exists all the good of the Church, "all that she is and all that she believes" (DV 8) "the source and the culmination" (SC 10) of her life and mission.
And if this is who Jesus in the Eucharist is, then how we welcome him becomes significant: a how that can only be compared to the inestimable greatness of the novelty that is Jesus in the Eucharist.
Receiving the Eucharist: a radical act of conversion
Chiara is in no doubt: what is required is an act of radical inner conversion, which means in practice to "lose everything" - like Mary Desolate at the foot of the Cross. Without this "losing - let us not delude ourselves! - we will be unable to receive the novelty that Jesus wishes to give us and to which he calls us. A novelty that is not for us alone, but for the Church, for the people, those who suffer, those who are searching or cast aside, without light, without love, without direction in their life. How much this novelty is needed, this newness that comes from God in Jesus.
Is not this the personal, pastoral and ecclesial conversion to which Pope Francis repeatedly invites us, gently pestering our soul, in order to push us outside the camp towards Him, to take on the burden, the failure, shame and ugliness of all that is Him - Jesus Crucified and Forsaken ? (cf Eb 13,13).
In the bosom of the Father: made "one" through Jesus with all people and all things
With great simplicity, Chiara's "paginetta", urges us to live and re-live with wonder and gratitude that fundamental experience of Christian conversion, which happens each time we meet Jesus and which is always new; this is the 'novelty', welling up within us, that we must make our 'dwelling place'; the dwelling place of our being, thinking and acting as human beings and as Christians. It is a place that we will keep discovering anew, which we will learn to inhabit, where we will always be open to welcoming others, without hesitation or growing tired; a dwelling place that once we have found it, we will make our own forever, so that we in turn might help others to find it, who are searching, knowingly or unknowingly: "Come and see". (cf Jn 1,46)
Like the treasure in the field (cf Matt 13,44), this dwelling place, this treasure, which is the Kingdom of God that Jesus has brought into the story of humanity, is the bosom of the Father into which the Eucharist transports us. The Eucharist, Chiara explains, makes us one with Jesus. Truly one, not simply words. And by making us one with Jesus, who is one with the Father, it makes us one, in Jesus, amongst ourselves and - in essence - with everyone and with everything.
Chiara helped us to experience this in an overwhelming way, during that period of particular light during the summer of 1949, which began with the Pact of Unity made with Jesus in the Eucharist together with Igino Giordani and her first companions on 16th July 1949.
Looking back at that moment, Chiara explained: "The Eucharist had made us one, equal, Jesus and Jesus, one single Jesus (...) Neither I nor we can turn back now, we cannot ever leave the bosom of the Father. This is our Will of God (...) to live the Word, and in receiving the Eucharist, renew the Pact, be the living Pact. "
If we are not in the bosom of the Father, which is where the Eucharist takes us, when we welcome it and live it, then we are no longer that which the Father, through Jesus in the Eucharist, lets us become in the power and light of the Ideal.
With this page, Chiara wishes to communicate to us, not just something but everything, everything that God communicated to her in that experience of light in the summer of 1949, not only for the sake of the Movement itself, but for the whole Church and for all people.
The primacy of grace: unity is Jesus!
We can say that Chiara, in describing the Pact of 1949, in a theological language we can understand, overturned our way of looking at everything, in the light of faith: because she called us back to, indeed she helped us to experience, the primacy of God's grace, over everything else.
What comes first, she tells us, is God's love, which generates, works and forgives, then comes our correspondence, as a consequence, active and free: we are called to freely and creatively give shape to all that God, through Jesus, by virtue of the Holy Spirit has done in us and wishes to do through us in the world.
This is the Church: the One issuing from the Eucharist, which having been manifested, is offered to the world, through our being, in Jesus, the living Pact, the new Covenant, welcomed and lived.
We are Church if we are Jesus: and we are Jesus if we are one, in Him, with our brothers and sisters. Unity, therefore, is not something that can be 'done'; it is something that fills us with awe, when it is truly what it is: Jesus.
In a letter of 1947, Chiara, dazzled by the enchantment of this discovery, sings with her soul: "Oh! Unity, unity! What divine beauty! It is beyond words; it is Jesus".
Distortions of unity
Sometimes it can be helpful to understand what something is, by considering its opposite, (as with health, for example; only when I have experienced illness do I appreciate my health more and learn to take care of it). So let us start by looking briefly at what unity is not, in order to open the way to a new and beautiful discovery of what unity is, in all it fullness and what fascination it holds for us, (extremely demanding, but above all liberating), so that, if Jesus wants, we might radiate this Light, so long awaited by everyone, with greater transparency and beauty around us, starting with those who might seem the furthest away and yet the closest to God's heart.
So I will do my best to list of what could be considered as distortions of unity - which we may often not even be aware of - but which leave unity depleted or even absent altogether from our interpersonal and ecclesial relationships. An examination of conscience, if you like.
a) The first distortion is the 'moralistic illusion' in which we believe and act as though unity was first and foremost a moral duty, to be virtuously pursued at all cost. No! It is just the opposite: unity (which means being Jesus) is a gift, a grace, and it is from this grace and this grace alone, that new life blossoms, and is then called to be supported by beautiful and good works, and strengthened by the practice of virtue.
b) The second distortion is to reduce it to a purely psychological or sociological level, in which we might associate unity with an atmosphere in which we feel good or something that we have built by living a good 'technique' in our relationships. What we fail to realize is that it is both important and necessary to have a correct understanding of the psychological and sociological nature of unity: all that is human and redeemed, is only ever a means to reach the Divine. The true source of unity is on another plane, the theological plane of faith, agape, and hope: and it is from there that it comes down to be incarnated in the human reality. Not the other way round.
c) A third distortion, which is more subtle, but no less pernicious, is the temptation for ideology; in other words to reduce unity to a scheme or system of ideas, even beautiful, well organised ideas, but which run the risk of being mere schemes which ruin our lives, because they prevent Jesus, the living Jesus, from entering in and making things new, and from listening to where the Holy Spirit blows. Unity that has been reduced to ideology is terrible and sterile because it is not Jesus. Those who fall into this temptation above all are those who think they know what unity is and who pretend to draw everyone into the net that exists in their own mind. Or those who adopt a more fundamentalist approach by insisting heavily on the knowledge they already have, but precluding anything new that Jesus continually seeks to awaken in us to draw us closer to Him, and to give himself to everyone, also through us.
d) A fourth distortion is to slip into mediocre compromise. It is like starving unity to death: I know how to behave; how to avoid mistakes, how to wriggle out of things; how to keep myself at arm’s length from being exposed to the fire of the Risen Jesus who purifies, prunes, who continually makes me die in order to be reborn....
e) The fifth distortion is the use of excuses and self-consolation: this is how things are, the other person does not change, nor do I. So, if this is the way things are, we cannot change direction, we have to just leave things as they are... Unity becomes reduced to a few meetings, an oasis of peace where I take refuge, a safe haven where I can find refreshment.... take things nice and easy! It is the euthanasia of unity that has grown senile - but be careful - we are not referring here to old age, but to the spirit, where sadly our spirit has grown old though we may still be young.
The life of the Trinity flows freely
Unity is something completely different: it is the living Jesus and we, who alive in Him, are then able to go out and communicate his life to everyone. There is a very famous writing of Chiara (and who better than she to tell us?) in which she explains this reality in an extraordinarily beautiful, simple but profound way.
It’s from 1950, when Chiara herself, after making the choice of Jesus Forsaken "I have only one Spouse..." at the end of the summer of 1949, then starts to incarnate, above all thanks to the grace of unity with Pasquale Foresi, all the Light of that period of contemplation, into the early structures and relationships of the Movement from which so many living cells were coming to life.
Being united in the name of Jesus (Mt. 18:20) means to be united for Him; to carry out His command (…) which is to love, for him.
Therefore, when we come together even for reasons that are beautiful or religious, but which are not in his name, in His will, He is not among us. For example, if I meet with a friend in the name of friendship or in order to do some kind of work together or for entertainment, Jesus in not among us. If I were a religious leaving with another brother for a mission, Jesus would not yet be among us.
Jesus is among us when we are united in Him, in His will, which is to love one another as he loved us. This word of Jesus: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them "(Mt18,20) and "Love one another as I have loved you",(Gv 15,12) go together [....] Therefore, the two of us, for example, are united in the name of Jesus, if we love one another as he loved us.
Now, from this you will understand how even we who live in the Focolare do not always have Jesus in our midst. To have him so, in every moment I would have to love you (presuming that it is just the two of us who live in a particular F ocolare) as He loved us, and be loved in return by you in the same way.
He loved us to the point of dying for us, and to the point of suffering even the abandonment.
Not always, or rarely, does love for our neighbour require such sacrifice – to die for him or her. However, if my love for you (that action which is an expression of love) does not contain – not only intentionally, but in a real way, that way of loving with which He loved us – then I do not love as He loves. If similarly, you do not love to this extent, then you are not loving in this way either, and so we are not united in His name and Jesus is not among us.
You see, for him to be present, this is how we must love one another. But you know that loving in this way means being “another Jesus”. So, for Him to be present among us, it is necessary that we already be Him beforehand.
But this before is also after. In fact, we are not perfectly Him until he is in our midst.
When He is among us we are ONE – but not before, not before. We are there dying to ourselves. We are ONE and we are THREE, each equal to the one.
In essence, we can sense when he is present among us: when we feel that we are free, one, full of light, joy. When torrents of living water flow from within us [...]
This happens when two are united in the name of Jesus. They must first be Jesus in order to have him among them, but they are fully Jesus when they have him among them.
When we are united and He is present, we are no longer two, but one. In fact, what I say (something that emerges from Jesus in the midst), it’s not I who say it, but I, Jesus, and you in me. And when you speak, it is not you, but you, Jesus, and I in you. We are a single Jesus and we are also distinct: I (with you in me and Jesus); you (with me in you and Jesus), and Jesus among us in whom there is you and I.
His presence in our midst is a mystical presence.
And He – Jesus - is in the Father; therefore, in Him, the two of us are in the Father and we participate in the life of the Trinity. The Trinitarian life flows freely in us, and as we love the others in the same way as he has loved us, we bring them too to participate in this treasure of divine life.
Or better still, they discover the treasure they already have within themselves through the grace of Baptism and the other Sacraments in God through Jesus."
A school of life where we can be formed in this culture
We need to re-learn many things in order to live like this, so we need a school of life where we can be formed in this new culture: a culture that has overflowed from the bosom of the Father and has become incarnate, through the light of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus alive in our midst.
Unity (this unity), is, in fact, both divine and human, spiritual and cultural.
We cannot take for granted that we have acquired it once and for all: we have to follow Jesus together to learn how to be Him; how to welcome and graft our hearts and minds onto his heart and his mind, our lifestyle on to his lifestyle, by adhering with ever renewed commitment to the grace of the Holy Spirit.
We need the courage - says Chiara - not to look for other ways in our spiritual life or pastoral ministry, to enkindle a little bit of Christianity". She explains that we should not look for other ways if they are an end in themselves, having a value that is separate from the life of Jesus in us, because this is our starting point, from which everything sets off. In Him we find the light and courage to make that 'pastoral conversion", to which Pope Francis calls us, and which ipso facto, projects us outwards towards the peripheries where so many of our brothers and sisters lift up their often unspoken cries to Heaven. For us, they have a name and a face, they are our heart, our life, our vocation: Jesus Crucified and Forsaken.
Let us conclude by invoking God's blessing upon all of this:
We thank you, Father, because in meeting the Charism of Unity, you have let us meet the living Jesus. We thank you because you have given us so many luminous examples of brothers and sisters who have gone before us on this way.
We thank you for keeping us faithful to this Light. We thank you, Father, because through Chiara with our gaze fixed on Mary, you have given us the gift of being able to start again. Yes, like the prophet Hosea, we feel that you draw us to yourself and lead us through the desert - this desert which has so many names and faces within us, among us and around us - in order to speak to our hearts as if for the first time (which it is!) (cf Hosea 2,16) and to guide us, with Jesus alive in our midst, along the path of the "new exodus", attentive and docile to where your Spirit blows.
At the beginning of this path - that fills us once again with awe, gratitude and joy - may your promise resound loudly and clearly in our hearts: "Your eyes will gaze upon the king in his beauty, they will look on a country stretching far and wide" (Is 33,17)