By Vera Araujo
Every celebration must state its deepest reasons for its being “revoked.” Today, for us to celebrate does not so much mean to mark an event that took place 20 years ago with solemnity or to exalt with a rite. Instead, it means to recall, in the sense of rendering present, the intimate reasons that gave life to that event. And it means above all to reflect on our commitment and involvement in that event, by looking at the present and the future.
All of us here today know what the Economy of Communion is in its characteristic traits, its specific goals and methodology. We also know how it has developed over time and of its expansion throughout the world. We also are cognizant of its joyful moments and its difficult ones. Everything has by now become a patrimony to be safeguarded and from which to draw direction and suggestions to go ahead. Certainly, we understand always more fully that the task we have been called to is neither simple nor easy, even though always fascinating. Above all, it is not an endeavour for amateurs, but, as Chiara said while launching this project, it demands people that are suitably prepared and convinced.
The EoC will increasingly take up the task of deepening the different aspects of the project and scientifically elaborate on them so as to offer all those involved valid and effective support and assistance.
I have always thought that the Economy of Communion requires a new anthropological vision with consequent concrete ramifications. In other words, we can ask ourselves: “Which anthropology for an economy of communion?” Or even: “What type of person is capable of wedding economy and communion together?”
All human beings are called to live the reality of communion in every aspect of their existence. We realize that this could seem an utopia in a society such as our current one, marked by the crisis in interpersonal relationships, with frightening consequences on the social, economic, institutional and international levels.
But in order to speak about economy in the fullest sense, we must first of all recuperate the role and the centrality of the person, lost in modern culture in the gaps of the various systems, or in the absolute affirmations of one’s own individualism and identity.
To re-propose the centrality of the person means to purify it and free it from old and absolute ideological schemes and to place it at the basis of the historical-social sciences, in order to deepen its real meaning today, in the fragmentation and fluid state of modernity.
To say person means to speak of relationships, of communion, because the person is the source of communion. To say person also means identity and sociality, an identity that qualifies the person as a unique being, non-exchangeable and non-suppressible. Sociality present in his/her DNA as constitutive of his/her being, already wholly present in the individual person and which is expressed fully in the encounter with the other as an essential moment.
It follows that to live in communion is not optional, but a deep yearning that each of us has; without it, we will always be unsatisfied, in search and incomplete.
The real problem, therefore, is that of understanding how to live communion in a society that seems to be expressly made to live individualistically.
This is a problem that is overcome with the creativity typical of human beings, who are capable of transforming with their will and intelligence the negative into the positive, or vice versa. In this way, ethnic pluralism, instead of being a barrier becomes a chance to be enriched (the stranger, the person who is different, that we meet on the street, at work, is a person with whom I can and must build a rapport of communion); religious pluralism can go from being sectarianism to an open dialogue, a unique opportunity to live respect for ideas of others, but also to seek out the truth together; political pluralism can move from being a clash on every action or decision made to becoming a privileged moment to discover the good together, not just for some, but for all (the good of the city, of the nation, of the world); the economic inequalities, the material poverty, but also the moral one, can become moments of redemption, of sharing.
In the relationships that are built between one and the other, we can create a real and true communion with a deep meaning, made of a living unity that tends to being fulfilled in the fusion of souls, in the meeting up of goals, in the accomplishment and perfection of a process of unification. Communion can have different intensities, but must always be authentic and non-formal. Communion with our family members or with friends is not the same as with our next door neighbour or the cashier at the grocery store, but both need to be relationships with people and not with functions, or worse yet, with objects.
Simply stated, communion comes about there where people establish real relationships, meaningful and significant ones, innervated by real love, fruit of the constant thrust to give oneself to others, whoever they may be, in the effort to overcome one’s own egocentric and closed individualism, in order to reach an open and mutual understanding.
For Christian faithful, the source of this communion between persons is the Trinity itself, model of unity, reflection of the intimate life of God, One in three Persons.
This is the teaching of the Church as we can find it in the encyclical by John Paul II Sollicitudo rei socialis: « At that point, awareness of the common fatherhood of God, of the brotherhood of all in Christ - "children in the Son" - and of the presence and life-giving action of the Holy Spirit will bring to our vision of the world a new criterion for interpreting it. Beyond human and natural bonds, already so close and strong, there is discerned in the light of faith a new model of the unity of the human race, which must ultimately inspire our solidarity. This supreme model of unity, which is a reflection of the intimate life of God, one God in three Persons, is what we Christians mean by the word "communion."» (40).
This model of Trinitarian communion is not abstract or distant, but wants to be realized on earth among human beings. Chiara Lubich wrote: «This is the life of the Trinity which we must try to imitate by loving one another, with that love which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts, just as the Father and the Son love one another. Since the beginning of our Movement we were deeply struck by the words of Jesus’ prayer for unity: “As you Father are in me and I in you, may they also be one in us ...” (Jn 17:21). We understood that we had to love one another to the point of being consumed in one and then becoming distinct again in that oneness. Like God who, being Love, is One and Three.» (“Lesson” on occasion of the conferment of the Honorary Doctorate in Theology from the University of Trnava [Slovak Republic], 23.06.2003, Castelgandolfo [Rome], Publishing House: Nové Mesto, Bratislava, p. 36).
In order to reach this high level of human communal life, it is necessary to pay attention to our relationships, to develop our interpersonal skills, to understand in depth the essence of human relationships in order to build them in our daily lives and include them in our societal plans.
Let’s pause a bit to investigate this reality that is so central to our existence.
There is a felt urgent need for a culture of relationships, a true revolution capable of facing the challenges of our time. In other words, one feels the need for a formation to the knowledge and practice of those values that permeate significant relationships.
At the risk of appearing out of touch, I would indicate love to be one of these fundamental elements. I am comforted by the fact that mine is not a “religious” talk, or at least not only religious. I find myself in good company in assigning love the pre-eminence and foundation of relationships.
The great Russian sociologist Sorokin, in the introduction of one of his later works, thus confesses: «Whatever may happen in the future, I know that I have learned three things that remain forever as firm convictions in my heart and mind. Life, even the hardest life, is the most valuable, beautiful, wonderful and miraculous good in the world. The carrying out of one’s duty is another stupendous thing that makes one’s life happy, and this is my second conviction. The third is that cruelty, hate, violence and injustice can never and will never bring about a psychological, moral or material rebirth. The only way to reach it is through the noble way of creative and generous love, not only preached but also coherently lived.»
For him, the forms of human relationships are three:
- compulsory (coercive)
- contractual (establishing contract)
- love relationship (of love)
I would also like to cite the Polish sociologist, Bauman, who stated: «Love consists in adding something to the world, and each addition is the living trace of the loving I; in love, our own self is gradually transplanted in the world. Our loving self is spread through our self-giving to the object loved. Love consists in the survival of the self through the alterity of the self.»
For us Christians, love is agape, love that is essence itself of God, given to us by the Holy Spirit («the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.» [Rm 5:5]). It is with this love that we can nourish our relationships in order to reach communion. We well know this art of loving that Chiara, through her charism, taught us with words and her witness of life, drawn from the source of the Word of God, from the Gospel of Jesus.
Let us quickly review the basic points of the art of loving:
- love everyone
Real love is universal, it is not partisan, it does not exclude according to who is just, or categories of every type: sex, ethnicity, race, social standing, citizenship, faith and every other diversity. Everyone, but really everyone, must be included in the circuit of love.
- be the first to love
To take the initiative in loving means to break down barriers, overcome obstacles, tear down fences, and go beyond the walls in order to enkindle a flame, a light; still yet, it means overcoming a certain “fear” to arm oneself with courage and… to begin with energy. To begin is a key attitude: it means to break the ice, to find the right word or phrase that sets off the process, the advancement. In a page from her Diary in 1971 Chiara wrote: «“To love everyone” and “to be the first to love” places our souls in such a dynamic that it sure does not leave them dormant: and so – the Gen would say: ‘for the gift of science’ – as the stars exist as long as they move, we exist as long as we love. These two sentences are so powerful that they alone would be enough to give the maximum speed to our inner life with all the consequences that we can imagine”.»
- To make ourselves one
These are a few words that contain a century full of wisdom and that are not only useful, but often determinant in our relational life. To make ourselves one includes the urge to seek out the other person – whoever they may be – there where they are and in the situation in which they live, without prejudice and expectations from us. And, consequently, to share in the joys and burdens of the other and make them our own, by following Paul’s teaching: «Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another…» (Rm 12:14-15).
- To love our enemy
Here it is not a matter of ancient wisdom. Here we are speaking about something new, that novelty that Jesus brings. The Gospel message that is proposed to us asks us to overcome and get rid of the concept of the enemy, for example, of the heavenly Father who sends the sun and rain on the good and the bad. «Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you» (Lk 6:27). They are simple and clear words that decree a change of mentality and judgement and, above all, that contain a precise mandate to inaugurate a type of human society that excludes, because of the resolution of contrasts, conflicts and simple oppositions, the use of force, vengeance and lies, the instruments of war, the transgressions of power, and abuse and oppression.
To love one’s enemy, today, in our time, is a pressing invitation to total global disarmament, firstly the disarmament of hearts, of intellects and also arms, not to fall into tolerance and anarchy, chaos and disorder, but to invent, with creative imagination that is nourished on love, tools, forms and ways that are more in tune and coherent with a person’s dignity, that of the community and of peoples; to bring about a justice – so corrupt today – that is not inspired by violence, but gives room to methods where forgiveness and mercy are included; a real possibility for rehabilitation. The enemy then is not only the terrorist, the violent person, the oppressor, but is simply whoever hurts me, or does not have my best interests at heart. It is the person who does not greet me, who spreads lies about me, who stops me from being promoted at work.
I feel it dutiful to make this message and teaching sink into the very core of our daily life, in our work activities, in our participation in civic and political life, in our families, social communities and towns, in our nations and global community. Love-agape then takes on colour, or better, assumes at its heart and in its manifestations all the civic virtues, all the values that mark a society that is truly human, with cultural and spiritual dimensions.
We can discern a growth in love, a quantitative but also qualitative growth. The first tends to become a habitus, that is, an attitude which is always more constant, stable, solid and less precarious, variable or rare.
The qualitative growth of love-agape instead regards a series of value contents, that only gradually are we able to take on in a lasting way.
Let’s try and list a few.
A minimum, indispensable grade of social relationships lived in love is tolerance. Tolerance means that, in relationships, the other person can be him/herself, can reveal who she/he is, while I can maintain an attitude of almost indifference. It is already something positive but, we can understand right away, also insufficient. Tolerance can impede open contrasts, a harsh exchange or even outright conflict, but it is certainly not able to build constructive relationships.
Another important value is respect. It means something more than tolerance. Respect recognizes the value and identity of the other person as something that speaks to me and communicates something of their self. A true societal life is not possible without respect for the dignity of others. Richard Sennett, an American sociologist, recently published a significant work entitled: “Respect – Human Dignity in an Unequal World.” In commenting the social welfare system in his country, he stated that it does not safeguard people’s dignity because in offering social services, it does not do so with due respect.
Another attitude that is always more necessary for our relationships is that of gift. In a society such as our current one, characterized always more by the culture of having in which money is able to commodify the most varied expressions, the concept of gift emerges as the element of liberation and freedom. There is currently a real re-discovery of the concept of gift happening. Just to quote two sources: «The gift contains an unalienable social and relational aspect; and in it is present a concretization of expressions and consequences, also independently from the internal or interior orientations – for example, charitable, philanthropic or ‘interested’ orientations – of the person who makes it.»
The great sociologist Simmel states that a reciprocal action is formed in giving and accepting a gift: «In every giving, beyond the intrinsic value of the gift, is included a spiritual value which we cannot absolutely undo or annul with another gift that is externally equivalent to the inner bond created through the acceptance of the gift. The acceptance of the gift is not only a passive enrichment, but also an acknowledgement of the donor. As in giving, also in soliciting that someone give to you, emerges a predilection that goes well beyond the value of its object.»
We can say that the human being is a giver, able of self-giving and to give. This capacity is innate to his/her nature.
For believers, this is the fruit of their being “in the image and likeness of God” (see Jn 1:26), the first and generous giver. For non-believers, it is a fruit of their relational nature, capable of opening up to others in gift of self.
For both the first and the latter, the gift and self-giving are an existential category that should be included at all levels of relational life, be it private or public, in order to build a healthy and civil society.
But we must be careful. The real gift and a true gift, has its own characteristics: it is gratuitous («Freely you received, freely give» Mt 10:8), altruistic (and not egotistical), disinterested (and not utilitarian) joyful («Each one should give as much as he has decided on his own initiative, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver» 2 Cor 9:7) abundant, generous (and not calculated) simple and sincere («When you give, you should give generously from the heart…» Rm 12:8).
Also Chiara has always encouraged us to live the culture of giving. Two brief excerpts from her writings:
«Let’s give always, let’s give a smile, understanding and forgiveness; let’s listen; let’s give our intelligence, will and availability; let’s give our time, talents and ideas …; let’s give our actions; experiences and capabilities; let’s give our goods … so that nothing accumulates and everything circulates. Giving: let this be the word that gives us no respite.» (C. Lubich, Santi insieme, Rome 1994, p 104).
«As each plant created by God absorbs from the earth only the water that it needs, let’s also make the effort to possess only the things that we need. We are better off if once in a while we realize we are in need of something. It’s better to be a bit poor, than a bit rich.» (C. Lubich, On the Holy Journey, New York 1988, p 66).
Also solidarity is a connecting element in relational life. Solidarity means to pay attention to the other who is in need and with whom we identify by sharing in their worries, pains, sufferings, anguish, spiritual and material needs. Solidarity involves the vital forces of society that, organized into so-called “active volunteerism,” meets the most diverse needs which the other persons, whatever person, finds themselves in. Solidarity is not only a question of committing to doing, it is a virtue that is born from the conviction that the other person not only must be aided, but must enter again in the actions of each one; it is a virtue that is born from the heart, a heart that is capable of feeling and of being moved by the suffering of others, which then becomes the firm and persevering resolve to give for the good of everyone and each one, because each one feels and is truly responsible for all.
Tolerance, respect, gift, solidarity: these are some of the expressions of agape. Each one of us can add others, already experienced in our lives.
This programme to create “new people” is certainly demanding but a bearer of joy, of satisfaction, of inner serenity, of deep peace, of human fulfilment.
The question that may come to us is this one: are we capable of so much? Are we able to face the cost, the inevitable sufferings that such actions bring? Is it worth it all? Is there hope on the horizon of our life?
Benedict XVI dedicated one of his encyclical letters to hope, the Spe Salvi. Together with you, I would like to follow him in his deep and convincing reflection: «To suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves—these are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself. Yet once again the question arises: are we capable of this? Is the other important enough to warrant my becoming, on his account, a person who suffers? Does truth matter to me enough to make suffering worthwhile? Is the promise of love so great that it justifies the gift of myself? In the history of humanity, it was the Christian faith that had the particular merit of bringing forth within man a new and deeper capacity for these kinds of suffering that are decisive for his humanity. The Christian faith has shown us that truth, justice and love are not simply ideals, but enormously weighty realities. It has shown us that God —Truth and Love in person—desired to suffer for us and with us.» (SS 39).
Which anthropology for an economy of communion? For an economy that is adept for our times? What anthropology is needed for our global challenges?
In the course of its evolution, of its growth, the human being was called to face new realities, to set off on unknown paths and head for foreign horizons, at times full of unforeseeable things. And the human being has always been able to plunge in and adapt in order to still be the protagonist, according to the loving plan of God, as his representative on earth.
From his awareness of being homo sapiens sapiens, he slowly took on many new traits – homo faber, homo oeconomicus, homo politicus, homo comunitarius, homo psychologicus, homo ludens and so on, according to the transformations in his personal and societal life. In these characteristics, one can feel the influence of one or the other reality.
The Globalization on the move in our world, the growing sense of interdependence, the search for unified solutions to our economic problems, to those of science, political participation, concerns for the environment, etc., seem to demand a different type of person, less territorial and… exactly, global, a sort of universal-person, according to a great expression by Chiara Lubich.
Maybe, and without maybe, this is the era that intensely awaits the emergence of a new type of man and woman, capable and able to embrace all the dimensions of life: from the spiritual to the material ones, from the economic to the political, social and civil spheres, from the relational to the communional dimension. These are the suitable times for the homo agapicus to inhabit our planet: the person who knows how to love and finds in love the seed, the light, the strength and the truth of everything and of each thing; who will be able to bring all works and diversities into communion.