In a spirit of family

Characteristics of the spirituality of unity that help foster a synodal mentality that Pope Francis is promoting for the whole Church — part II


5 min read

(part I was published in the January issue)

I would like now to describe some important reference points to implement a synodal mentality [in the Focolare]. They are drawn from our experience in the movement, knowing full well that they remain a challenge and that they oblige us, when we make a mistake, to apologize and begin again.

The pact of mutual love, renewed and put at the basis of every discernment process, implies a commitment to be ready to love each other as Jesus loved us; it leads to benevolence, valuing the positive in the other, a culture of trust and a spirit of family.

Placing oneself in an attitude of listening, setting out to learn, because we truly can learn, as Chiara said, if we believe that the other person has been created as a gift for me, as I am for them. 

Loving everyone. Being the first to love. Loving the other as oneself. Making oneself one with the other which, referring to St. Paul (1 Cor 9:22) is an attitude filled with meaning and practicality because it implies making room for someone else, understanding their point of view and cultural reality. This creates a closeness in relationships that enables community discernment.

Another reference point is speaking with respect and with sincerity, and clarity because everything can be shared with parrhesia (frankness), putting oneself before God and trying to put the New Commandment (“love one another,” see Jn 13:34-35) into practice.

As for concrete examples of how we live this synodality, in addition to the Holy Journey — that is, the call to holiness which remains important precisely because we find ourselves walking together with Jesus as our travelling companion — another example I have used is that of the General Assembly of the Focolare [that was held from January 24 – February 4, 2021 online] …

The broad sharing that we had at the General Assembly produced a great wealth of reflection and proposals, to the point of agreeing on a vision and direction. This then matured during direct discussions and were summarized in the final document.

Looking back on this period, I feel that the grace of the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful), the grace of the General Assembly, as it is considered in our own statutes as the supreme organ of governance, really worked. All of this was certainly based on the pact of mutual love [referring to Jn 15:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”] and being open to continuous conversion.

The condition for success was the tenacity not to give up listening to one another with love, until we experienced the fruit, the inspiration on which to focus joyfully, a sign of the presence of the Risen Lord. I see that this process is now continuing in the different regions, in light of the pope’s words and the assembly’s final document, looking for ways to listen to the cry of suffering humanity.

Another eloquent example of contributing to a synodal spirituality, to be given to the churches and to the world, is to witness the spirit of family everywhere, particularly in governance at the central and local levels. The core of our spirituality is to offer to the world a model of a lifestyle as brothers and sisters at the universal level. 

I am certainly interested in the experience of “synodality” in the governance of the movement, that is, conducting everything in a spirit of listening and giving priority to interpersonal relationships and to that fraternal love of truth and charity that illuminates the place that belongs to each one.

In terms of the movement’s General Council, it seems to me that we have already begun the wonderful experience of listening to you, the delegates of the work of Mary throughout the world, who know the potential, the needs and the cultural and anthropological characteristics of your respective communities. 

In any case, the center will always have the task of guaranteeing the unity of the entire movement, highlighting what the Holy Spirit gradually indicates to us for everyone.

As a conclusion I would like to share these words of Focolare founder Chiara Lubich, which she shared in November 1999 in a worldwide conference call after she participated in the Synod. They resonated with me very strongly, and they seem so relevant for today. She wrote:

“What was my experience of those 23 days?... The impression of an extended ‘moment of God,’ especially when we were all together with the Holy Father, who was present in silence and listening. But also in the smaller work groups, when each listened to the other with deep respect in true harmony…

“And this is what I have drawn from it: the Church, people in the Church, do things seriously. Nothing is improvised; each thing is carried out thoroughly and completely, even at the cost of great effort and fatigue. Observing firsthand how the institutional Church does things so conscientiously, we too should double our efforts to do the same — we as one of the expressions of the charismatic aspect of the Church. 

“But how? Over the past few days, several times during meditation, I have wondered: how should I live the time I have left to benefit from that example? And how would I want to be remembered by those who knew me? …

“My answer, which I felt was coming from the depths of my soul, was: “I would like to be remembered simply as the bride of the forsaken Jesus (Mt 27:46), as — and in this way we can all express ourselves — a soul who is the spouse of Jesus Forsaken.

“This possible definition of my life (and may God help me!) seemed wonderful, even if exceedingly high, even if is what ‘I have yet to become.’ Still, I felt like it was my calling.

“We know that to become saints we must aim at a single summarizing idea, which for us can only be unity. But unity is only achieved if our soul is the spouse of Jesus Forsaken. 

“Foco [Igino Giordani (1894–1980), co-founder of the Focolare Movement] would say: ‘Bound to a forsaken God. Infinite possibilities of loving him have presented themselves before me: in personal sufferings, large or small; in the effort that it takes to live a life of virtue; in the small or large disunities that need to be recomposed; in the imperfect unity of the Church; in the fragmentary nature of the various religions; in non-belief; in suffering of all kinds; in sinners; in adverse circumstances; in the unexpected… everywhere.’

“There is work to be done; we need to love.

“Thank you, Lord, for the time we still have to show you our love, to be able to say sincerely: ‘I have only one Spouse  on earth.’”

Excerpts of a talk given to Focolare’s regional directors, October 1, 2021.

Join the conversation. Send your thoughts to the editor Jon Sweeney.