Living a Spirituality of Unity in the United States
By Amy Uelmen and Thomas Masters
New City Press, 2011
223 pages, $16.95
To order: newcitypress.com
Growing from a small group Chiara Lubich gathered around herself in Italy in the 1940s and 1950s, there are now approximately 140,000 members of Focolare and outposts in more than 180 countries, with many millions of affiliated people of all faiths interested in its mission.
In Focolare, Amy Uelmen and Thomas Masters tell the story of the movement and its charism for the world and explain its spirituality and reach in the United States.
The book combines narrative exposition with individual case studies and examples of living in communion, a central Focolare precept. Lubich concentrated on the figure of the forsaken Christ: He is always present in the other, and we must not turn away from others seeking help, as that is reforsaking Christ. In loving the other, we glorify God. The other becomes the object not of charity only, but of gratitude, for the recipient thereby allows the giver to come closer to God.
Focolare spirituality is strikingly relational, focused on the activities of daily life. Unlike other lay groups, there are no devotions specific to Focolare. Other than striving to attend daily Mass, the focolarini concentrate on imbuing Christ into their regular work. They do this, among other things, through communal living among the professed members of Focolare, but also by introducing laypeople — Catholics and others — into the principles of communion.
One of the ways they have done this is the creation of 35 Focolare “cities” across the world, including Mariapolis Luminosa in the United States. These working communities serve literally as focal points for the movement.
This leads to the second characteristic of Focolare: its lay focus. While there are members who have been ordained, and while Focolare is open to priests and religious, the focus of its spirituality is on the laity and deepening the individual’s relationship with others in Christ. In the 1950s, the Italian clergy looked with suspicion on this lay group that was dedicated to reading Scripture and living and sharing things in common, and the hierarchy went so far as to prohibit, for a time, the priests to interact with Focolare. It took others, including Blessed John Paul II, to recognize Focolare’s deep Catholic faith and energizing spirituality. As archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla first met focolarini in 1978 in Poland. “You have the key to living according to what the Church suggests,” he told them.
Focolare addresses a wide range of subjects about the movement, including its relationships with local dioceses, the role of single and married members, its social work and understanding of its spirituality of communion. In the United States, Focolare has assumed an important role in re-imagining the American individualist culture through the prism of the spirituality of communion. Drawing on some traditional Catholic themes in new ways, Focolare presents a clear witness to the richness of the Christian tradition in preserving and expanding the dignity of individuals within a community.
Gerald J. Russello is a fellow of the Chesterton Institute.