My personal, shared philosophy

Being part of the Economy of Communion at 90

By Mary Langton

from Living City, November 2011

It seems to me that a philosophy evolves over a long time, possibly a lifetime. For myself, I was born into a materially poor family in the 1920s — although surrounded by love of the “richest” kind. I think it was then that the golden thread in the tapestry of my life began.

This was a Christian family, true to a body of truths that Christianity embraced. My earliest memories are the sounds of my mother praying in the quiet of the night. Coupled with this was the feeling of being favored by a father who worked hard to support a family of nine. I was their seventh child.

In my late teens I was seized suddenly by a phrase from Scripture, which cemented in me the truths that I had learned from childhood. These truths no longer belonged to the Church. They became my own. I was in a new stage of consciousness.

In those days I was on my own, trying to make sense of a very busy, hectic world; it was a world where success was measured only in terms of money, career, fame and prestige. People with ideals other than these were hard to come by. Many times I felt like I was just keeping my head above water in a turbulent sea of contrary values.

Later on I was struck by a sentimental Coke commercial: “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…” In a small way it reflected a collective desire, and in it a desire of my own: “perfect harmony.” Of course it resulted in big sales for Coca Cola, but the world went on, and perfect harmony did not come about. Nor was the world any better at loving, as the jingle proclaimed.

In my late forties, I met three people whose behavior intrigued me. Each was born outside the United States: from Italy, China and Brazil. In their interaction as they worked an old-fashioned 16-mm home movie machine, I was struck by their tangible love, which I experienced as something that had to do in some way with religion. I knew they had something I did not have, even though we were raised in the same religious tradition. Early on I realized that they not only knew the Scriptures, they lived them. That was the difference. Their thrust was not to “teach the world to love,” but to love the world, one person at a time. It was not the sentimental love of the Coke commercial, but the love that makes you capable of setting aside something of yourself for someone else. It is a love that everyone, married or single, is capable of living. It enters the kitchen, the nursery, and is felt by teens and the aged. It’s the love that does not discriminate, but gives dignity, which is the right of all humankind. It’s the love that changes you, is never perfected, but begins again in each present moment. It’s a love, based on living the Gospel concretely, that satisfies a seemingly insignificant soul.

After knowing these people, who were Focolare members, for a few years, I experienced a transition from a spirituality lived individually to one lived collectively, though still without losing my own individuality. The search for what could give new meaning to my life was over; the commitment began.

Not only has this spirituality of unity enhanced my relationships of love with my husband and six children but beyond that to whomever I meet on the Journey.  

I’m not sure where I would be today on my own, but living in unity with others I felt pulled from a self-centered worldview to the “otherness” of my neighbor, who is there for me to serve. There is tremendous strength together, with the joy of a Presence that mutual love brings about. This is the love that enables you to be true to your own tradition, but opens your heart and hand to other Christian denominations, to the other religions like Judaism, Islam and Buddhism, where the seeds of Truth also lie.

Focolare spirituality had its roots during World War II and the horrible destruction of 1943, when a few young women decided to put the Gospel into practice. As a result, this spirituality has spread to over 180 countries. In 1991, struck by the poverty in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Focolare founder Chiara Lubich suggested to her followers an “Economy of Communion in Freedom.” The idea spread quickly. Many businesses already established within the community became part of this new economy. New businesses sprang up and all moved to willingly share their profits: one part of the profit would go back into the business, one part directly to the poor and one part into educating people with this new mentality. I remember that when I heard this, I felt it was the missing link in the chain of Christianity. Capitalism is not the answer; communism has failed; a new economy of sharing has come to life.

Currently close to 800 businesses in the world are engaged in this new economy. Of course, it is only a microcosm of an ideal economy, but it is a seed, and if seeds are nurtured, more fruit will come forth. Although the road might be long, it is my belief that we are moving toward the creation of a new society, one based on a “civilization of love.”

Many times during these years I have been mindful of the words of British writer G.K. Chesterton: “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it has not been tried.” Here Christianity is being tried and in these businesses and in people’s lives it seems to be working!

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