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This hymn was written to be sung to the tune “O Waly Waly” (“How Blessed is This Place”). It proceeds from Jesus’ prayer for the unity of His people, to the Crucifixion by which His Church was born, to the post-Resurrection period in which He was made known to His disciples by signs, wonders, risen saints, open wounds and in the breaking of bread. The heart wrenching yearning of His prayer for the Church is linked to the on-going suffering His Body experiences as a result of our disunities. The sacrifice of the Cross is linked to the healing of this Body through the Love among us by which Christ expects to be lifted up for the healing of the world.
I am grateful for the teachings of Chiara Lubich, foundress of the profoundly effective ecumenical movement Focolare, for the concept that it is only through identification with the Crucifixion – the abandonment of Self in love – that we may effect the restoration of the unity within human relationships and within the Church for which Christ died. [Read more…]
How can I become small enough to ‘fit’ the narrow range of perception of a person with whom I share so little experience, philosophy, language, or understanding. Only love can make a way where there seems to be no way, no bridge of commonality. And what does that look like?
I often say, “Love condescends,” as shorthand for this process of smallifying the self in order to be in unity with someone younger, or with less receptivity for what is being given, being communicated. Our example? Christ’s own condescension when He “emptied Himself of all but love” on the Cross.
Chiara Lubich and her Focolarini had a huge influence on this teaching, for which I’m grateful.
- First, I love because God first loved me. I cannot go into a ‘tight spot’ without awareness of my dependence upon His loving mercy to carry me, to make up for all that is lacking in me as I try to communicate with and engage them.
- Second, I must do only what I can do in true freedom, otherwise my gesture may violate the other person and will not be an invitation to freedom. If I do what I feel I must, do it with an interior demand for a response, or act without consideration of my own reality (limits, aspirations, resources), I may (sigh…how often have I done this!) clunk in like a bull in a china ship instead of slipping gently through the crack in their defenses.
- Third, I need to empty myself of contempt, resentment, irritation toward this person. I must erase all the mental labels by which I have distanced myself and protected myself from identification with him. I must open myself to the mystery of this person and approach his delicate being with reverence. Loving condescension is not looking down my nose at him, but descending toward him in love, believing I will see Christ through this encounter.
- Fourth, present and attentive toward this person, aware of but not impatient about my hopes for him, attuned to God’s love for me that wants to pour itself through me into this ‘smaller’ vessel, I wait (Yes, actually stop and wait; be still and wait upon the Lord!) for the dawning of creativity. When the Spirit moves upon the whole of the factors I am embracing, some form will take shape as a response, a gesture, an act of freedom by which I can love this person and, thus, invite him to freely respond.
- Fifth, I will know the mot juste, the Right Thing, the perfect gift, the path to take, because it will be beautiful!
Spiritual friendship begins with unity, and unity begins at the Cross of Christ. We need help learning how to approach and enter into dialogue with people of other faiths, lesser faith, or no faith, without denying our own beliefs. St. Pope John Paul believed this kind of communication is the key to evangelization in our day.
I once gave a version of this talk to Serra Club as “In Conversation with Islam,” and thoroughly enjoyed weaving in insights from Chiara Lubich and the Focolarini who graciously taught me about their charism of unity in Ottmaring, Germany. Focolare is officially known as The Way of Mary, and her way is unity in the Body of Christ – per the prayer of her Son as He faced the sense of being completely forsaken on the Cross. His self-abandonment to the Divine Will, and Mary’s yearning to help us “to be one” with one another are the keys to fruitful dialogue.
Unity: one-ness, integrity, wholeness, continuity, undividedness, solidarity, relatedness and harmony of the parts of a whole, consistency; a quality: the attribute or characteristic or nature of something that is, that has being, that is real.
The word unity describes the relationship between things and thus it is specific to the perspective from which you view those two things; a living work of art, of beauty, that Christ is creating among us. Because its elements are alive – human beings – it is constantly a ‘new thing’, a dynamic thing formed of the movement between elements and not a static thing formed once and for all.
In this talk, I took the St. Paul’s plea to the Ephesians that they “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4: 1-3) and looked at four ‘faces’ of unity to see what that unity looks like with the different people in our lives.
1. Unity with Unbelievers
2. Unity with ‘Taskmasters’
3. Unity with Spouses
4. Unity with Self
This was an interesting topic to work on, and I like the handout I developed for it: Damned Lies and Divine Truths. If I give this talk again, I’d like to include mention of the spirituality of unity as understood by Chiara Lubich, foundress of the Focolare movement. I had a wonderful experience with Focolarini in Ottmaring, Germany during which they taught me priceless lessons from her insights into this crucial quality of community. The key, they say, to unity: identification with Christ forsaken.
Here’s a post about becoming small so as to create unity with another person, to facilitate loving communication.