TOOLS OF COMMUNION
Fr. Paolo Monaco, S.J. – http://www.raggionline.com
Neighbor and Word
How could the Spirituality of Communion become the guiding principle in the preparation of Christians at all levels of the Church, wherever ministers of the altar, consecrated persons, and pastoral workers are trained, wherever families and communities are created?” (NMI, No 43)
What must we do so that it might be a “spiritual path”, without which “external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, “masks” of communion rather than its means of expression and growth.” (NMI, No 44)?
In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola says that:
“love ought to be put more in deeds than in words” (No 230) and that it consists “in an interchange between two parties; that is to say, in the lover’s giving and communicating to the beloved what he has or out of what he has or can; and so, in return, the beloved to the lover. So that if the one has knowledge, he gives to the one who has it not. The same of honors, of riches; and so the one to the other.” (No 231)
Therefore, love must come first, putting in practice the art of love which the Gospel teaches: being the first to love; loving everyone; loving always; seeing Jesus in each neighbor; being all things to all people, except in sin; loving the other as oneself; freely serving, striving for reciprocity.
The second thing to do, as an expression of this love, is to speak. In the spirituality of communion the necessity of the neighbor makes interpersonal communication indispensible. In fact, to become holy together it is necessary to make use of the [spoken] word. Therefore, we should not only speak to God – and speak to Him of our neighbor in personal or communal prayer – but also speak of God to our brother in personal dialogues and in community gatherings.
This does not mean “preaching”, but revealing-giving “God in me” to my neighbor by means of the word and, by extension, through every means of mass communication. To help us in this, we will closely examine those tools which Chiara Lubich offers to us so that we might live the spirituality of communion in a concrete way.
In the spirituality of communion the use of the word does not exclude moments of silence, nor of spiritual exercises which, according to the logic of the spirituality of communion, should integrate moments of solitude and meditative silence with moments of communion and exchanging of experiences, spiritual impressions, etc. Both silence and the word are at the service of recollection and of communion – of me with Jesus in me, and of me with Jesus outside of me [in our midst].
Silence & Word in the Triune God
The Father speaks and the Son listens. The Father says everything and the Son listens to everything. The Father gives Himself totally to the Son and is left in silence. The Son, having listened to everything, “re-says” everything to the Father, giving the words He has received from the Father to His disciples: “for I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you” (Jn. 17:7). And so the Son is left in silence.
The Father is Father in the silence of the Son who receives all of His words: the Father speaks in the Son. The Holy Spirit speaks from this silence of Father and Son. The Holy Spirit speaks again in the disciples to the Father and to the Son, giving to disciples, Father, and Son, the Word as the entire expression of Love (and the Word reaches the full capacity of its communicative force because it expresses its deepest meaning: love).
The Son, in turn, is Son in the silence of the disciples who receive from Him the words of the Father. The Son speaks to the Father in the disciples. But this dialogue between Father and Son which happens in the disciples is Love, it is Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Father and the Son speak to each other and love each other in a Third: the Holy Spirit in the disciples.
The disciples actively participate in this Trinitarian Dialogue. The disciples are brothers of the Son and sons of the Father in the silence of their being; that is, within the measure in which they allow the Spirit to incarnate the Word “in them”, to make it return to the Father “incarnated”. The openness of the disciples to this process of the movement of the Word renders them capable of speaking to the Father and of hearing the Father.
Jesus Forsaken, Word & Silence
How can we understand the Word and the Silence which forms the Trinitarian Dialogue? Only Jesus can explain it to us, especially Jesus Forsaken who is the Word of the Father totally given to mankind and the word of mankind totally given to the Father. Jesus Forsaken has no more words to say, neither as God nor as Man. He has given all of Himself to the Father and to mankind. He has given all of Himself (as) Word. Only a cry remains. Then silence, the silence of a God who has died for love.
But in that case, this silence is not an absence of words, but the Word incarnated in its highest expression. It is Love which gives and speaks in the most complete expression of itself, no longer capable of saying or communicating itself because nothing remains of itself. It has said all, given all. But the Father, recognizing Himself again in the Son, recognizing His self-same Love, His own Spirit giving and communicating all of Himself, He re-calls, re-collets Jesus to Himself, to the Life, as the New Man. And thus the “new creation” is accomplished in Jesus: the Trinity in us and among us.
Jesus Forsaken is Silence of Love who gives the Word (Himself) and us back to the Father. This is so that in Him (Silence: Word totally given out of Love), the Father and mankind can once again say Themselves, communicate Themselves; “For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you. . .” (cf. Jn. 17:8).
Silence is Word and Word is Silence: each of them an expression-communication of the only Love which is Communion (precisely!), mutual re-collection (acceptance) of one in the other.
Recollecting Myself In My Neighbor
We are also drawn into this beautiful Trinitarian Dialogue. And we experience it when our love is perfect, that is, when our egos are “silent” because they die for love of God in our neighbor.
Then we feel that the silence, the word, the solitude and the communication are “light”, imbued with the Holy Spirit. We feel that we remain “recollected in communion” with Jesus in our neighbor and with Jesus in us.
“And just as I love Him in me, recollecting myself when I am alone, I love Him in my neighbor when he or she is near to me. And so I do not only love silence, but also the word, communication; that is, communicating God in me with God in my neighbor. (. . .) We should always be recollected even in the presence of a neighbor, not by escaping from them; but rather by recollecting them into our Heaven and recollecting ourselves in their Heaven. “
We should certainly love God where He is found dwelling in our hearts. He is in the Most Holy Eucharist, where He is always waiting for us. But we must also love Him in all of His other presences that we know – in every neighbor we meet. We must recognize Jesus in him/her, that same Jesus who is present in our own hearts and souls.
In this way each of our relationships in life will be a relationship with only One, with Him, with Jesus. This is my, our specific way of living: “Alone with Him alone”, for there is no longer anyone to come as a wall between us. On the contrary! I stand already now as I shall at the moment of my death and immediately after: me and Him.
Here then is how we can actualize our Ideal of perfect communion with our brothers and sisters, which coincides with perfect recollection.
I am called to live with Jesus continually, to be one with Him in every moment of my life, and to direct my every action toward this goal. Now, my day is comprised of many moments. Some of them, like the moments of prayer, place me in relationship with Jesus within myself; others with Jesus outside of myself. Whether Jesus is within me or outside of me, He always wants me to love Him.
And loving Him in one or the other of these ways silences and mortifies my ego: in prayer, so that I can listen to the voice of Jesus and speak to Him; with my neighbor, so that I can listen to the voice of Jesus who asks me to put aside everything that does not help me to love Him in my neighbor. I encounter a neighbor in every moment: in church, at school, in community gatherings, in corridors, at lunch, at play, watching television, studying, planning apostolic activities, etc. These are the moments in which I can “recollect myself in my neighbor” and be one with Jesus. And if I am one with Him, then all is accomplished.
Feelings, Intellect and Will
We know that our silence and our word, our being recollected in each other, besides immerging us in divine grace and in our good will, can also be subjected to “disturbances” (conditioning) by our feelings and our sinfulness.
It is utterly important, therefore, that we practice all the necessary means, so that our silence and our word may partake in the Trinitarian Dialogue. A “Practice Method” is necessary for the spirituality of communion.
Above all (there must be) an intellectual conversion which will allow us in concrete terms to accept the neighbor and reciprocity as the “theological setting” in the light of which we re-understand the entire mystery of Christ (intended as the revelation of God and of the human person).
This will involve making Jesus’ choice my own choice, that choice which was the motivating force of His entire existence: to place the other before himself. It means renewing the fundamental option of the faith by really placing love as the basis for my existence, re-motivating my entire life starting from my relationship with my brothers and sisters, living according to the measure contained in Jesus’ “as” I have loved you.
This must be the “spiritual-ethical-position” by which I define myself by defining the other and my relationship with him or her. It is my vital existential position while in this world, which translates into gestures, thoughts, choices, actions, projects, etc. It is the “how” and “why” of my life.
A second aspect of this translation of the spirituality of communion into a “practice method” is the reform of “spirituality” understanding it as an experience and as a method.
I think this involves re-forming our spiritual formation, re-organizing the instruments (both old and new) which we have at our disposal. It is evident that in the measure to which that “conversion of heart” is global and profound, this pedagogical search will be a progressive and fruitful one on its own.
The experience of Chiara Lubich can help us in this search, because she has already walked the itinerary of the spirituality of communion, and the Church, as we have seen, has adopted it as its own.
There are some tools embedded in the experience of Chiara Lubich that most properly belong to a spirituality of communion.
In the texts we shall read, Chiara uses the expression “collective spirituality” to define her experience, but shortly afterward, she changes this expression to “spirituality of communion”.
THE TOOLS OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF COMMUNION
The pact of mutual love marks the passage from an “individualistic” spirituality to the “spirituality of communion”. This pact is sealed with the solemn promise to be ready to give our life one for the other. It is a “declaration” in which you explicitly express to the other your will to love “as” Jesus has loved: “I am ready to die for you; I for you, everyone for each one.” Chiara and the first focolarine made this pact for the first time on the feast of Christ the King in 1944. And from then on, in the entire Movement, it was always repeated, remembered and recalled to the attention of all, in order to revive relationships and to keep the Movement faithful to the charism it received from God: unity. The first cornerstone upon which it rests is without doubt is the new commandment of Jesus: “Love each other as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:21).
“These words of Jesus, taken together with those on unity, form the basis of the spirituality of communion because it takes more than one person to actualize them. They require two or many, a collectivity, a small or large community (. . .)
And what should we do in particular? I think we should revive this love among us and – so that our actions may have seriousness about them and mark a new step in our Holy Journey – I would advise you and me to declare this love among us again (. . . ) Do as the first focolarine used to do when they would say: “I am ready to die for you; I for you,” that is, for each one. This is how you lay the foundations of the Work of Mary. And then live accordingly with intensity. You know that unity, through mutual love, is not operated once and for all. It must be renewed each day with facts and decisions. This declaration of mutual love is something sacred; this pact which I ask of you is sacred. It’s sacred even though it’s done in great simplicity. And it involves some sacrifice. For some it will be easy to pronounce; for others it will mean overcoming human respect; for still others, it will involve some preparation. It is an act that is not without sacrifice because it will be necessary at times to overcome human respect, sluggishness, or the simple daily spiritual grind in which someone may have fallen. You will need to practice humility to silence your self-love, to pay the cost, in other words, for the passage from an individualistic way of living to a collective spirituality.
But the Lord will bless every effort and, if we remain faithful to what we’ve spoken, He will give us the joy of seeing His presence among us, as the effect of unity.” (Chiara Lubich, Santita’ di popolo.)
A Further Step
It is marvelous and still amazes us to see how Jesus, ever since the Movement began to take its first steps, has urged us to stress the words of Peter: “Above all, love each other deeply. . .” (1 Pt. 4:8).
This is the novelty of the Good News: before all else, constant mutual love. Love is to be placed at the basis of everything, for it is the only thing that gives value to everything. In a letter from 1948, which is addressed to a group of religious who had understood and accepted the gift (charism) given by God to the Movement, Chiara writes: “. . . before all else – even if this ‘all’ should include the most beautiful things, the most sacred things: like prayer, celebrating Mass, etc, etc – be one!”
Then it will no longer be you to act, to pray, to celebrate. . . It will always be Jesus in you!” (Chiara Lubich, Santita’ di popolo.)
This pact, which contributes to a supernatural relationship, must then be lived out by each of us. Each and every day, our brothers and sisters with whom we have made this solemn pact of being ready to give our lives for each other, will ask us for it in a number of ways. And if I am prepared to give my life for my brother or sister, what is an hour of my time, a book, a smile, a notebook, an idea, a spiritual intuition that came to me in prayer, when compared to my life? These are all “less” than my life, but in reality they will express all of my life in the moment in which I give them up for my brother or sister.
This willingness must underlay all the acts of love that you perform, so that they are an effective expression of Christian love. Everything becomes the occasion to demonstrate to my brother or sister my “in-tension” to give my life for him and her. This is a profound conversion, the conversion of each moment, my response to the love of God for me. It means making myself one with His will! “This is my command: love each other as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:17).
This pact is also lived concretely through the communion of spiritual and material goods. The other tools of the spirituality of communion are useful for the communion of spiritual goods.
Communion of Soul
“Since this Christian practice helps to make us holy, it is crucial. Like the pact, it might also come at a cost to us. The “communion of soul” is practiced in order to put in common the spiritual goods we possess so that they can contribute to the holiness of others as they do to our own (holiness). We know that we “are” inasmuch as we are “for the others”. We put in common everything that is beautiful and useful for holiness including the latest fruits born from meditation.
We prepare ourselves for each day by reading something from Scripture, from writings about our spirituality, from the writings of the saints or from Church documents that can serve for meditation. We place ourselves in God’s presence; we consider the state of our spiritual life; we allow ourselves to be illuminated by one theme or another as it comes before our eyes in what we are reading; we speak with the Most Holy Trinity, with Jesus, or the Father, or the Holy Spirit – or with Our Lady. We speak with them about what has come to the attention of our soul during the meditation. We make proposals and strive to carry them out.
It is very good to begin each day in this way.
But simply having meditation, doing it perfectly even, is not the strong point of our spirituality of communion. Those who follow an individualistic spirituality also have meditation and do it even better than we. The faithful of other religions practice meditation.
[…]We are called to make our meditation beneficial for others, to share what the Lord made us understand during meditation and the fruits it bore in our lives, with our brothers and sisters so that it becomes beneficial for them.
We should remember and be encouraged by the fact that what we don’t communicate, we lose. Whereas, what we give, is strengthened and returns to the soul of the giver after it has been useful to others.
Mary gives us an example of the communion of soul when she goes to her cousin, Elizabeth. In the Magnificat the Mother of Jesus, the most humble, talks about herself, about what God has done in Her, and She does it to give glory to God. Obviously, there was already mutual love between Her and Her cousin, but the Magnificat has made it even stronger.
We should do the same, careful that everything be solely for the good of our brothers and sisters, and not for our own vainglory.” (Chiara Lubich, Santita’ di popolo.)
Communion of Experiences on the Word of Life
The Word of Life is a sentence from the Gospel for us to put into practice each month. It is accompanied by a commentary from Chiara Lubich.
The practice of the Word of Life goes all the way back to the first days of the Movement. Through living the Word of Life in a radical way, Christ is formed in us.
The Word of Life is very important because, through it, we assimilate that great rule of life (as the Gospel was called since the beginning of the Movement) from which our spirituality emerged. From the Gospel we learn the words that regard love, but also those that touch on all the virtues we are called upon to practice: faith, hope, temperance, justice, fortitude, prudence, patience, purity, humility, meekness, piety, obedience, poverty, mercy, etc.
It is therefore important to live the Word. But it’s not enough.
We are called upon to put in common our experiences of living it. Why? Because this is how the Lord has intended it to be in a spirituality of communion, and not partaking in this communion would be a grave omission.
In one of his letters, Saint Ignatius of Loyola writes about false humility as a weapon the devil uses to bring harm on a person. He writes: “Seeing the Lord’s servant so humble and good. . . thinking he is nothingness. . . the devil makes him imagine that if he speaks of some grace” like the light that comes from living the Word of Life, we might say, “ that God has bestowed upon him, because of his desires and efforts, he sins with a type of vainglory because he speaks to his own honor. In this way the devil impedes the soul from producing fruit in others and in itself, since the recollection of benefits received is always an aid to greater things.” (Letter of 18 June 1537 in Epistolario I, 99-107).
I would add that at times we don’t practice the communion of experiences on the Word of Life because of laziness or because we are drawn into the artificiality of activism and carried away by looking outside of ourselves rather within ourselves.” (Chiara Lubich, Santita’ di popolo.)
The Moment of Truth
The moment of truth is a tool which manifests the need and the quality of the love that those who live the spirituality of communion should have. It is a form of mutual edification and fraternal correction, both expressions of mutual love (cf. Col. 3:16; 2 Cor. 13:11; Heb. 10:24-25).
In their desire for perfection and fidelity to Jesus, and because of their love and trust for each other, the early Christians reached to the point of sometimes confessing their sins to each other.
But this is something completely different. We tell our sins to our confessors. But, because of the love which we also nurture for our brothers and sisters, and motivated only by the desire to love and contribute to their holiness, we offer them, with love, what we observe to be positive and negative in them. It’s a demanding activity, but helps us in our Holy Journey. It has been carried out in the Movement since the very beginning and it still seems beautiful to us.
A brother or a sister can be useful to another, like a hand that washes the other hand. An African proverb says that the brother is the eye on the back of our head. It means that the brother or sister is able to see what we don’t. The moment of truth involves gathering as a not-too-large group, according to our calling in the Work of Mary. One person acts as the moderator to confirm or correct what is spoken. Before beginning we often renew the Pact, so that everything will be carried out in the fullness of love.
And what should the disposition of the person be who undergoes the fraternal judging by the others? He must recall that he is forever an unfaithful and useless servant (cf. Lk. 17:10), that he is nothing, because this is how we all stand before God. Then he will not be disturbed, nor will he feel exalted by all that is said. You draw a name from a hat. Then, with the guidance of the moderator, each brother can tell of some defect that he sees in the person chosen, something not right that he sees in that person. Then you go around the circle again, each one tells of some virtue, some quality or merit that he observed in the person. In the end – and this is what we always find – everyone is filled with a grand joy and doesn’t know why. Perhaps it is the experience of Christian freedom; the actualization of the Word: “The truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:23).
When and how should the moment of truth be done? It is well to do it every now and then. It’s a type of spiritual cosmetic treatment. It’s like when you treat the skin with cosmetics, you remove the impurities and make the skin soft and pliable, and it gives a sense of wellbeing. A similar thing happens in our souls.
During the moment of truth (. . . ) our brothers and sisters say something positive and negative concerning us. Yet, though our brother can see certain things in us that are positive and negative, no one knows us as we know ourselves.
We are aware of our desires for perfection, of the light and consolation, of our good proposals that we make now and then. We know the results of our efforts, but also the shadows that disturb us, our fears and struggles as we strive to move on.
We know – if the Holy Spirit reveals it to us – at what point the tiny plant of our union with God might be. Things such as these and other similar things, as already suggested, are what we put in common with our brothers and sisters during the communion of soul so as bring them up-to-date.
Nevertheless, just as personal remedies are not always sufficient in fighting illness, we sometimes need to entrust ourselves to experts, for a complete check-up. It’s not sufficient to wash and wax our car in order to insure a safe journey, to care for it with love and care, but every now and then we have to take it to the expert mechanic so he can have a look at it and check it. Likewise it is wise, every now and then, to see how our soul is going with the assistance of someone who knows more about the life of the spirit than we do.
This is why we are well advised to turn to our brother or sister who is more advanced through experience or more adapted because of a particular grace they may have concerning us. And at times we may also be called upon to have a chat with someone who knows less than we do about the spiritual path of perfection.
Jesus also had personal conversations with people. And they were as important as his discourses before the crowds (cf. Jn. 4:1-26; 3:1_21).
We should learn from Him how to have these conversations. He doesn’t close His eyes to the personal reality of the people before him: the Samaritan sinner, Nicodemus, a pious but fearful soul. In each case He finds the way of revealing to them the great reality which He came to bring into the world.
We should do the same in these conversations with our brothers and sisters: We should start from where they are right now. And we can know this if we place ourselves in the proper disposition (loving them with all our heart, soul, and mind) and if we are completely empty (as Jesus Forsaken teaches us) – so that our brother can completely open himself, emptying into our heart everything that he often has in his spirit, giving way to that Trinitarian relationship that we must establish with him or her.
[...] Then, listening to the Holy Spirit, who will certainly speak in us if we have loved our brother, we will be able to speak, to not only return peace and serenity to him, but to reveal to him once again, the Ideal that one day illuminated him with its endless shades of light. (Chiara Lubich, Santita’ di popolo.)
And how should we act if we are in the position of receiving? It’s already clear. We must also strive to establish a Trinitarian relationship with the sister or brother who has come to help us. And here again Jesus Forsaken is once again the Master, who, having given everything, became empty.
But here we must search for this emptiness in us by giving our spiritual situation with its struggles and victories, its regressions and progressions.
Then we can place ourselves in a position of listening, certain that the Holy Spirit will give His light to the one who should shed some light on things for us, and that it will be mostly the Holy Spirit whom we must thank if we are helped, uplifted, and encouraged.
If things happen in this way, here again, just as in the moment of truth, the result will be profound joy, joy for the peace that has been rediscovered or increased, joy at seeing more clearly the way we must follow after Jesus, who is the cause of all our happiness.
In the spirituality of communion, the spiritual director is Jesus in our midst; Jesus in me and in my brother. He speaks in me and through my brother. It is Jesus in our unity with each other who guides me, nourishes me, directs me to Him. And inasmuch as I am engaged in the dynamic of unity with my brothers and sisters, I allow myself to be nourished, guided and directed by Him.
Whereas in an individualistic spirituality group sharing is in a certain sense seen in function of personal spiritual direction, that is, as an aid on the individual journey – in the spirituality of communion the roles are reversed: Communion with our brother takes first place and the personal chat becomes an aid.
This seems a mere subtlety. But it’s a revolution! It’s the realization of those words of Jesus who says: “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah” (Mt. 23:8-10).
Chiara Lubich, Santità di popolo, Città Nuova, Roma 2001.
Chiara Lubich, La spiritualità collettiva e i suoi strumenti, in Unità e Carismi 3-4 (1995) 12-19.
Michel Vandeleene, Io – il fratello – Dio nel pensiero di Chiara Lubich, Città Nuova, Roma 1999,
Unità e Carismi 3-4 (1997), 1 (2006).
1 Chiara Lubich, Guardare tutti i fiori, in Nuova Umanità, 18 (1996) 133.
2 Chiara Lubich, Santità di popolo, Città Nuova, Roma 2001, pp. 80-81.
3 Chiara Lubich, Santità di popolo, op. cit., pp. 22-23.
4 Chiara Lubich, L’unità e Gesù abbandonato, Città Nuova, Roma 1984, pp. 37-38.
5 Chiara Lubich, Santità di popolo, op. cit., pp. 25-27.
6 Chiara Lubich, Santità di popolo, op. cit., pp. 28-30.
7 Chiara Lubich, Santità di popolo, op. cit., pp. 31-32.
8 Chiara Lubich, Santità di popolo, op. cit., pp. 34-36.