by Chiara Lubich (New City Press, 2003)
Early in 2008, a luminous soul returned to her Maker. Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the Focolare movement, died on March 14, carrying her bridal torch whose light would now be overcome by the dawn of eternity. She was 88, and her fidelity to that mission—entrusted to her and a group of companions in 1943—allowed the charism to spread to 182 countries touching five million people.
The phenomenon of her funeral, held at Rome’s basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, revealed that she had made remarkable inroads in ecumenical dialogue, social renewal, and sincere good will among those of various religious affiliations as well as those with none. It was attended by political and religious dignitaries from around the world, with whom she had worked over the decades of her ministry. Countless people interviewed spoke of the Gospel truths she lived and the motherhood she shared, beginning with the most intimate of settings, the family hearth, which is the meaning of Focolare. It is a message we must study and take to heart—for it speaks to the vocation of every woman, which is to witness to the truth of God with a mother’s love.
With so much of the Church’s attention drawn to this powerful force emanating from such a humble and unassuming woman, I began with one of the more recent of her dozens of books: Mary, The Transparency of God. It did not disappoint. The book incorporated some talks given in various settings, but carefully outlined her personal journey of understanding, which came to recognize the importance of Mary’s example in the life of every Christian.
This unfolding journey should console all those who seek to know God and to discern His will, for primarily it underscored the fact that God works slowly, revealing His plans in stages so as not to overwhelm His disciples. So many look at Mary, and then look away—as Chiara herself did.
[She and her companions made a total, virginal consecration to Mary Immaculate in 1946.] Then, to tell the truth, we did not speak much about Mary for a number of years. Each day the Eucharist—bond of unity—nourished us. God, in the meantime, was etching those “new” truths (although they are ancient, too) on each of our souls in fiery letters… When in 1947 someone asked us why we never spoke of Mary, we answered that she was a gate that leads to God. “Hail O Gate of the Sublime Mystery” sounds the Akathistos Hymn. A gate is not a gate unless it opens and allows free passage.
Mary, indeed, led this small band of believers to her Son, and yet, the closer their intimacy grew with Him, the more light He gradually reflected back on the perfect apostle, His mother. “Jesus unveiled her as great, with greatness in proportion to how much she had managed to disappear.” When Chiara and her companions did return to focus their renewed attention on the Blessed Mother in the next few years, the graces flowed abundantly.
The insights about Mary are sprinkled on the pages, between historical anecdotes and explanation of the charism of the Focolare movement. They are as rich as they are unexpected, which made reading this book a delight. Unlike heavy treatises, it is like a visit to an older aunt or friend, whose delight is in making you comfortable, in personally exchanging details of mutual interest and then anchoring the visit in wisdom gleaned from decades of love and sacrifice. Nothing is stilted, nothing is forced—the treasure is available to all her spiritual children because of her constant attentiveness to the things that matter.
Speaking to the packed basilica as well as the enormous overflow crowd outside, the Church’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone noted that the monumental events in Chiara’s lifetime included two world wars and tremendous destruction. Amidst all of this darkness, he called her one of the 20th century’s “bright stars of divine love.”
The founder of the Focolare Movement did not create a welfare or humanitarian association, but in her quite and humble way, she devoted herself to light the fire of God’s love in people’s heart. She inspired people to be love themselves, to live the charism of unity and communion with God and their fellow human beings, to spread love and unity by making themselves, their homes and their work a focolare, a hearth in which a blazing love becomes contagious and lights up all that is around it; a mission that everyone can carry out because the Gospel is within everyone’s grasp.
That blazing love finds fuel in turning our inevitable suffering into joy—for she outlined clearly in this book how “Jesus forsaken” is understood by most perfectly by “Mary desolate,” the faithful mother at the foot of the Cross. By imitating the transparency of Mary even while she suffered for love, the soul finds the meaning of Jesus’ own sacrifice—His complete gift of Self.
In a Good Friday meditation she composed in 2000, she spoke of the power of the Cross:
The problem of human life is suffering. Whatever form it may take, however terrible it may be, we know that Jesus has taken it upon Himself and—as if by a divine alchemy—He transforms suffering into love.
I can say from my own experience that as soon as we lovingly accept any suffering in order to be like Him, and then continue to love by doing God's will, if the suffering is spiritual, it disappears; if it is physical, it becomes a light burden… Light and joy return; and with the joy, that peace which is the fruit of the spirit.
These are not platitudes but words from a refined heart. Find the words of Chiara Lubich and allow her motherly wisdom to caress you, to encourage you, and to guide you. She now recedes and makes way for God. That’s the transparent life, that’s Mary’s secret, and in this we see the loving eyes of the bride turned with burning zeal towards the Beloved.