Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What happened after Chiara's death...

Published by Uyulala On 20 Mar 2008

I was sure that my posts about Chiara's death and the focolare movement would have been followed by many comments and different reactions. In fact, this is exactly what happened when I published my articles on my Italian blog: www.sacroprofano.net.


Therefore, I want to point out a few things that are very important to me.
I am telling you about my own experience, I am not telling you about the whole world (I wouldn't be able to do this). My experience started when I was about about 15-16 years old and painfully finished at the age of 25. I discovered I was not Christian right on the day of my birthday.

Many people wrote me private comments, they had experiences which were different than mine, some told me that the movement has been for them a source of freedom, that the members are wonderful and so on.

My answer to them is provocative:
Who told you anything?

As long as I do not want to deny those positive experiences, I do not accept that other people want to interpret mine.This is one of the reasons why I was led to abandon the movement. Afterwards, I realized that I was not Christian: I often noticed that people who live an ideal (in any case, not necessarily that of the focolare movement) often fail to see reality as it is, without filters.

Ethical relativism

In my posts, I want to propose ethical relativism as the only way to civil coexistence. By ethical relativism I mean the disposition which does never make us consider our point of view, our view of life and the world as the only existing Truth. This consequently leads us to believe that all people are equal.
The fact that I am no longer a "theist" does not mean that I do not believe in god. It means that I am no longer depending on the idea of its existence, because it is very easy to fall into the trap of justifying your own meanness by claiming that you are following a divine law.

To our detriment, institutional religions, especially monotheistic religions, provided us with a mixed corpus of general rules and abstract laws which lead us to asses the good and the bad aspects of reality a priori, and not moment by moment. While this may be acceptable in the legislative field, it becomes more dangerous in ethics and interpersonal relationships.

Not clinging to the idea of a god, not considering your membership of a group, a movement, a religion as the consequence of having discovered "The way", means to admit humbly that your choices are subjective, debatable and equivalent to other people's ideas. This puts you in the position of not filtering reality through patterns and ideas, but to see it clearly.

This results in a challenging job: you should clean constantly our ego (which in humans is immense, monumental), not leave our guard, not let slogans, clichés, thoughts of other human beings, even if you find them very influential, in order to have a clear vision of reality. Bibles, Gospels, Q'rans, Sutras, Vedanta, Tao-te-ching are no substitute for the strong relationship that we should all have with reality. This is ethical relativism.

Now I want to make a short list of points that I have achieved over the years thanks to the experience in the movement and especially to the critical review I developed after I left:

We are not more important than others.

No God calls us to do anything because none of us deserves to be called.

There is no right and wrong way to experience important events in life, such as: pain, sex, love and affection. All the ways are equal, as long as they are non-violent.

There are no sins, but only different levels of awareness.

The sin-guilt-repair-relapse game is a vicious circle. It 's the very concept of sin which makes sin exist.

Nothing and no one can forgive. Forgiveness does not make sense. Individual responsibility and our ability to take our responsibilities makes sense.

Our very duty is to become more self-confident: this way we will avoid to make fun of ourselves and (more or less subtly) to do harm to others.

There is no way to overcome the existential loneliness of man. It should be faced with courage and determination.

We must live as if this was the only chance of existence, regardless of whether or not you believe in a god, in a life after life, reincarnation, in a biological mechanism, in aliens, in the Great Spirit or in the supreme power of spaghetti. This is the only way to live a morally impeccable life, because if you think that life is one, you will not waste your life: there is no way to fix your mistakes.

All human beings are equal to you. The fact that you are in a higher position that others is a matter of pure luck. So try not to boast yourself: life sometimes is evil, and you may regret having done it.

Corollary to the previous one: if your are undergoing a difficult situation, do not wonder "Why just me?" Instead, do ask yourself "Why not me?" in case you your life is going smooth. Feel yourself good: your wellness is just a gift.

By the way: this is what I tell myself every day. Think about this yourselves...

Uyulala

Translated by Laryssa from the original article at: I post sul movimento dei focolari. Alcune considerazioni scaturite dai commenti
written by Uyulala

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My experience

Published by Uyulala On 18 Mar 2008

I continue the story of my experience within the Focolare movement. I will quickly mention some aspects of its spirituality and express some thoughts that resulted from my experience. The spirituality of the movement is highly structured and indeed complex. Here my comment will be inevitably partial and simple, but it took me years to study it.

During the period when I was gen movement, they opened a school of theology, called "Marian popular university" (the movement is a Marian movement). I was one of the first people ever to take the exams and the theological foundations that this school gave me, paradoxically, are those that later allowed me to disprove the Catholic faith.

Each one of us was called to what was called to "strive for holiness," which resulted in a perfect way to join the dictates of the church and in follow the spirituality of the movement at the highest levels possible.

Over time, we gradually began to assimilate that way of thinking and being of the GEN movement, we began to gesticulate like them, to pay vigilant attention to what "our neighbor” said," to learn that particular type of slang that was also used in slogans. Of course, every slogan also had a deep spiritual and theological meaning, but was then used easily emptied of this original meaning.

The first thing we learned was what it meant to "put Jesus in the midst." This expression made reference to that passage of the Gospel in which Jesus tells his disciples: "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst." So in any kind of meeting, scheduled or occasional, between people of the movement, they all aimed to "put Jesus in the midst." In fact, this created a kind of common purpose and thoughts ("communion of the soul") and the harmony that we felt during those meeting was interpreted as a mystical moment when Jesus came down among us to guide and inspire us. On the other hand, this also had its counterparst: when somebody expressed opinions which were different or not approved by the movement, it was said that "there was not Jesus in the midst," and then all our effort was aimed at filling those fractures that prevented his coming. Eventually, this became an important, although friendly, system to prevent the emergence of individual personalities. Sometimes, they tried to hide this behaviour, which I anyway managed to notice. For some reason, however, this did not make me get out of the movement, at the beginning.

When I was a young girl, I was very interested in literature and poetry and I loved reading everything by many different authors, which, over time, gave me a lot in terms of maturation and culture. I wanted to talk a lot about this and I remember when, at one of my first meetings with pre-GEN (when I did not know to be a pre-GEN), I told that I read one of these books. I think it was a text by Erich Fromm. The girl who was the "white" smiled, almost casually, then dropped the subject and immediately turned to another girl. Over time, I realized that this was the way they were taking controlo of our interests. They encouraged us to read books by Chiara and the other members of the movement, while they subtly discouraged all the others.

I almost immediately subscribed to their magazine, New City (everything was "new" in that movement ...) and by reading it I was indoctrinating myself, even on my own.

Another concept-slogan was "becoming one", which was closely related to the one I explained before, "Jesus in the midst". In fact, this aspect had two faces: one was related to the relationship among members of the movement, the other concerned how to stand against all the other people. The first aspect was about having to abandon selfishness and each individual aspect of the self, in order to find a sort of “mystic fusion "(these are my words, motivated by that experience), together with a person of movement. In fact when it happened (and, indeed, it happened!) we felt a range of emotions which is difficult to describe, which actually made the relationship between members of the movement very special and impossible to share with those who were "outside". You could feel all these emotions even for those you strongly disliked. Indeed, you could feel them even more with someone you did not like, because the effort in trying to overcome these personal feelings was high and therefore the result of "becoming one" was better and more rewarding.

As for the "becoming one" with everyone else, the directives of Chiara were very precise: "Becoming one in everything except in sin." This led to a strange phenomenon: members of the movement became like chameleons. It was said that a member of the movement (a GEN, a volunteer or otherwise) does not have to be distinguished from the others, except for because of their joy. Therefore, those who attended rich places had to dress in an adequate manner, who was among the poor had to maintain their dignity, but also do everything possible not to stand out and not to show off and so on. The "becoming one in everything except in sin" should also develop unusual listening skills because in order to fulfill this, it was necessary to learn how to empty themselves in order to fill the self of the other person. (I must admit that in this aspect, having been a member of the movement for about 10 years, I then found an excellent training for what would have become my current job: the psychiatrist.)

But this also included a "side effect", which was extremely unconscious, always denied, but in fact constantly present in any behaviour and in any thought, in every idea: the firm conviction of being absolutely better than others. Every gesture, every thought, every act of daily life was supported by the idea of “having found the answer," the answer to everything,to every question of life. This attitude was also helped by the thinkers of the movement, some of which were excellent minds in various fields: politics, philosophy, science, physics. Everything was reread and interpreted in the light of the 'ideal' (this was the word we used to define altogether the theological, theorical and spiritual beliefs of the movement). Everything in life was part of the “ideal”.

But before we start talking about this, I should mention two other aspects of spirituality: the "mystical figures" of "Jesus Forsaken" and "Mary in Desolation." These were the last two aspects of spirituality that were learned because they were the most important and "deep", pretty much the same backbone of the spirituality of the movement. Both refer to the moment when Jesus hung on the cross and the Mary was at his feet watching her son die, the son who was also her god. At that time, Jesus shouted to the heavens the famous phrase that the Gospels report in Aramaic: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?". According to the spirituality of the movement, at that precise moment for Jesus and the Virgin Mary there was evidence that was both human and divine: the first and the lacerating "impossible" pain of separation and sense of abandonment by God, that was also a detachment from himself, as if Jesus could no longer perceive his divine essence. The second was linked to the collapse of everything they had fought and suffered for, and the feeling that the belief in the divinity of his own son had been all a mistake. And this in addition to the pain of a purely human sense of life that was passing away (for Jesus) and the knowledge that a child is dying (for Mary).

These "mystic" aspects had some very powerful implications in the life of each one of us, in the way we dealt with pain, in order to cope with life's contradictions. We used the slogan "Living Jesus Forsaken" or "Living Mary in Desolation" in order to face different types of pain and sufferings. We compared the way we suffered with the way mystical Jesus and Mary did, and drew strength from them. Actually, living these aspects of pain, according to Chiara Lubich, was a moment of transition, because "death is followed by the resurrection." But in practice this was a very common way of understanding these issues, stopping suffering, because we focused on these steps. The other way to live these "mystical figures” was also questionable: we" should "at all costs overcome the pain and we" had to "get to the resurrection. Hardly had accepted "with love" were long term sufference, long, protracted crises, sufferings. You had to recover at all costs, regaining that much-vaunted and sunny smile, which had to erase any shadow of doubt.

And so we lived in a constant state of tension, as our way of living the spirituality was always at risk of inaccuracies and errors. The culture of indwelling sin in Catholicism was there extended, although not by that name, to every act of life. Everything had to be perfect, and if it was not like that, we were feeling very guilty.

Of course, not everyone lived this way: ,any were those who saw all these issues with greater flexibility and tolerance, but I must admit that there was a large difference between the male and the female branch of the movement. Males were more tolerant, they are allowed defaillances with greater ease, both in living the ideal, both in the so feared aspects of sexuality. For women there was a strict, ascetic and rather hard effort, the endeavor of striving for holiness was great.

Whenever we had doubts and difficulties, or we asked the "white" or, in cases where doubts were binding directly to the head of Focolare. I still remember the long talks, as I had many doubts, constantly, although I did everything possible to "overcome" the difficulties in the light of the ideal.

I think my big rip-off has been that of wanting to be deeply honest with the movement, with myself, with people and with what I believed then to be god. That was the thing which more than any other consumed me. But I hope to have the opportunity to talk about it in the future.


Uyulala

Translated by Laryssa from the original article at
Movimento dei focolari – Terza Parte: la spiritualità e la tensione alla santità
written by Uyulala

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Focolare Movement - Part two: some hints to the organization of the structure

Published by Uyulala On 16 Mar 2008

In this second part I am using the article published on the blog “clero fobia”, modifying it slightly. I noticed, in fact, that some parts might not be clear to those who know absolutely nothing about the Focolare Movement. If you are curious, moreover, you can comment the articles, keeping in mind that since the time that I went away I had nothing to do with them and do not know about the changes, if any, which might have been modified the structure and organization.In the meantime, I met my first boyfriend (I was not 16 years old yet) who became, after a few years, my first husband. That boy was atheist and this caused many problems to me, but I think that I myself gave him too many troubles. Anyway, I am going to talk about this later.Here I would like to talk a bit about the structure, the backbone of the movement.So, GEN: A group of young members was called UNIT, but in the case of the pre-GEN, of course, was called pre-unit. In both cases, they were coordinated by an older member, who was not necessarily older by age, but she/he must have had a longer experience in the movement. This person was called "pivot" because it was to this person that the others had to refer. He/she was also called "white": I am going to explain why later.

This was what we were told during our “journey”. The "white" also belonged to a special unit, which was called "the white unit": it was made up of young people who had this role within other units or pre-units. The coordinator of all the Gen was a focolarino (or focolarina, according to the sex of the person of persons), who was responsible for the GEN movement. As for the structure of the movement, I would say that is organized in fractions: it is made up of many small groups of people, coordinated by the “whites”, coordinated by groups of whites, coordinated by the focolarini who are headed by a “white”, belonging to a group headed by a local coordinator, headed by a national coordinator, led by continent coordinators who are, ultimately, led by the central focolare: Chiara’s focolare.

Furthermore, the groups of whites, as well as being coordinated by the focolare, are part of a local group called "Rainbow Unit" (I am going to try to explain the special "esoteric” meaning, which the colors assume in the spirituality of the movement ). Honestly, I do not remember at all what were the other structures of the movement.However, this organization was a typical feature of all sectors of the movement. In addition to the focolarini and the GEN movement, there are the so called “volunteers”, who are people who live the spirituality wherever they are: they are usually male and female workers who are particularly involved in the society. They are also divided into small groups. Also, there are groups made up of families, which are nota s involved as the others in the movement and, I believe, the only mixed group (male and females together) because husband and wife participate together.

The Gen are divided by age: there are the Gen 2, approximately aged between 15-16 years until they have organized their social life (with a job, a marriage or a religious choice ). The Gen 3 are aged between 8 and 13-14 years, the Gen 4 from their birth until they are about 8 years.
The Focolarini are the very soul of the Focolare movement. They are people who have expressed the three monastic vows (chastity, poverty and obedience). They live in small groups called "Focolare" and they do not wear a uniform or anything external in clothing or accessories in order to be recognizable by everybody. They usually have a job that allows them to support themselves, but when they do not have it, they are supported by the movement itself. They are subject to move, as well as it happens in every monastic order, and they can be asked to change their life completely in just a few days, sometimes moving to the opposite side of the planet.

Another particular aspect of the movement is the existence of married focolarini. These are people who have made the three monastic vows but have the vow of chastity related to their marital status. As I said in another post, the difference between a vow and an obligation is linked to the fact that breaking a vow is a sacrilege, while not following an obligation may be a sin and nothing else. These are very closet o the focolare, but, and I guess you can easily understand why, they do not live with the “virgin” focolarini. Usually, married focolarini have to deal with the families of the movement. Although by the organization is always stressed that married focolarini are not to be considered "focolarini Series B", I noticed that in fact this is exactly what happened, because living in absolute chastity is considered the perfect application of the love of God.

People with children insist their children attend the focolare practically since birth, bringing them up by following strictly the spirituality of the movement.There is, finally, the whole group of people who belong to the clergy. Anyone can be part of a religious congregation and ALSO of the movement. It is not hard to believe that, among other things, some important prelates are closely linked to the movement itself.For all categories, there is a similar path, in stages, during which people learn very gradually about issues related to spirituality, to life, to the structural characteristics of the movement. A feature of this graduality, among other things, is to learn to keep secret the information learnt. With these writings I am knowingly violating a commitment made many years ago.

Focolarini, volunteers, Gen, Gens (gen who are going to become priests), religious people and families are part of the inner structure of the movement. Around them, there are many other people, whose role is extremely variable. I remember that when I was part of the movement we were encouraged to keep the structural pattern of the movement secret. The writings and conversations of Chiara invited us to take these matters confidential. She often used very elegant metaphors. About this, for example, she said that the structure of the movement was like the skeleton of the human body or the trunk and branches of a tree: it was useless to show the skeleton because what you must see is the whole human body, or the tree with its leaves, flowers and fruits.
In this way, as well as for many other things, we were kindly asked not to share with strangers many aspects of life within the movement, with the result that the members we tightly linked to one another, and were strengthening more and more. We, instead, were separated little by little from the “others”, those who did not share our experience and the ideal. In fact we were to build invisible (but very solid) barriers between who was inside the movement and who was not.

After a long period, this would have had a devastating effect on members.

Uyulala

Translated by Laryssa from the original article at Movimento dei focolari – Seconda Parte: alcuni accenni dell’organizzazione della struttura

written by Uyulala

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Focolare Movement: my experiences in it. Part 1

Published by Uyulala On 15 Mar 2008

I am adding to this blog, little by little, a series of articles that I posted about two years ago in the blog “clero fobia” (now moved to this address: www.sacroprofano.net), hoping to continue the long (very long) story that I had stopped, due to “patience run out”. I wrote these articles very long before Chiara Lubich died and I intend to keep the tones used two years ago.

Ever since I was a little girl, as I have already told you elsewhere, I had a kind of "natural religion" which was derived from Christianity but, as I realized in retrospect, had little to do with it. My troubles about dealing with my parents and particularly my mother made me rather fragile and very needy of love. What happened was that during the second year of high school – between the age of 15 and 16 - one of my classmates invited me to an event organized by GEN, the youth branch of the Focolare Movement. It was a sort of meeting held in the town theater, and it was organized so that boys and girls belonging to the movement mixed involving personal experiences and catchy songs. The thing that struck me particularly was the joyful and peaceful expression of these guys and the fact that we spoke a lot about love. This obviously caught me instantly because those words, their strong experiences, those songs were exactly what I needed in that period.

Furthermore, (now it makes me laugh, but then it made me feel very ashamed) on the stage, among the youth who told about their experience, there was a wheat-blond boy, who had "angelic" blue eyes ... So, I asked Cristina, my classmate, how I could subscribe to that group or association, and Cristina, in an enigmatic way, told me not to worry: there was no subscription, and, since I had left my data, they would have contacted me.

After a short time, the kind voice of a girl called me, inviting me to attend a more “restricted” meeting. She gave me the address of an apartment which, incidentally, was so close to my house, that I could go there walking. I have always been punctual and so I was on that occasion: I was one of the first people arriving at the meeting. I waited anxiously to see the young man with the hair of the color of wheat, but in vain: the meeting was only attended by girls. When I realized that, I felt a little bit guilty about my thoughts, I brushed them away and started participating actively in that meeting. During the meeting, we were given the lyrics of their songs and sang altogether. Some of the older girls told their experiences, and invited us to do the same afterwards. I overcame my usual shyness, and spoke several times.

During the meeting, I read it with "religious attention," the "Word of Life." I still remember one of those first meetings: "By your endurance, you will gain your souls." The “word of life” is a phrase which is mostly taken from the gospel, but sometimes from the Acts of the Apostles, which Chiara Lubich, the founder of the movement, said every month. It is printed on a flyer along with her comment, and distributed both to the people who are part of the movement and to those who show interest.

The members of the movement are required to follow the “word of life” of the month and are invited to tell their experiences they gained by living that phrase of the Gospel at the end of the period. We were all invited to attend the meetings of the movement regularly, once a week, and I enthusiastically joined this initiative. During the meetings we got to know, little by little, some episodes of the life of Chiara Lubich: she was born in Trentino, she experienced the war, she discovered that the Gospel and single phrases taken from the Gospel could be lived day by day, etc. I was fascinated by that environment: they were all so kind and thoughtful, all ready, for example, to leave the most comfortable chair to you and then sit on the floor.

They were all smiling and ecstatic, gesturing with characteristic movements, and all very similar. They really seemed to care about me when I spoke and I was feeling taken into great consideration. In the meantime, I discovered, with disappointment (which cost me more feelings of guilt) than in the Focolare Movement, we met divided by gender: women attending the female focolare and males meeting at the male one. The situations in which there might be a joint meeting were sporadic and mostly limited to public meetings. However, when I asked why all this, I was told it was a choice that dated back to long ago and it was made because we needed not to be “deconcentrated" while following the path of spirituality.

At that point, I accepted as a "good thing" that separation between the sexes and that attention to "purity”, which I later found very heavy... On the other hand, I was wondering why my classmate Cristina was not attending those meetings, and when I asked her this question, she answered evasively. One day at school, she told me in an enigmatic way and with a satisfied smile, that there was a surprise for me, but despite my insistence she did not tell me much. That week I went to the meeting, and at the end of it, the “coordinator” of the group called me and other 4 girls and asked us if we wanted to attend “deeper” meetings. I felt a "chosen one" and I said “yes” with enthusiasm.

I began to attend closer meetings, I think we were about 6 girls and a "coordinator", who was a girl who had more years of experience in the ranks of the movement. What happened since then was characterized by a slow and gradual indoctrination, and an equally slow and gradual discovery of the structure of the movement, of its organization, spirituality and logistics. We were told things very slowly, and there was never a new issue before we had learnt the previous one.

The youth movement is called the Gen Movement, an acrostic meaning “new generation”, and members called themselves GEN (I think that they still do it). Without being aware of it, I became what was called a pre-GEN, i.e. a person who began to get into the movement and who would have become a Gen. It was a journey that lasted an average of 2 years, but it could be shortened or lengthened, depending on the time when the people from the movement decided that I was sufficiently mature to make that step.

Uyulala

Translated by Laryssa from the original article at Movimento dei focolari: le mie esperienze al suo interno. Prima parte
written by Uyulala

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chiara Lubich was called Silvia

Published by Uyulala

I was part of the Focolare Movement. I met Chiara Lubich, who died at her house, a cottage in Rocca di Papa. I was part of that movement from the age of 15 to the age of 23-24 years.

I remember the reverence we had (and, I assume, many more people have right now) for her. I remember the Congress in January, when I was still part of the movement. I remember the meetings in January, which took place at the convention center of Rocca di Papa, or Sassone, males and females strictly separated. I remember when Chiara came to read one of her spiritual conversations. Then, for a short period of time, males and females were mixed and we huddled trying to stay as close as possible to the stage, hoping to be able to make eye contact with her or to be dedicated a fleeting smile. I remember that we were running, when she was coming out of the conference center where we were, we were running to greet her.

In that period I was feeling "split". On the one hand, I wished I became like all the other Gen, and this pushed me to behave and to "feel" some kind of emotion, but on the other hand a strange feeling of detachment led me to wonder: why all this?

Why so much idolatry toward a person? For it was not love or simple admiration. We adored that woman. I could feel it in the way everybody, me included, prounounced her name, in the flash of light that enlightened the people who had had the chance to interact with her.

Everything had to be filtered through her "spirituality." There could be nothing outside of it, nothing but what, in one way or another, could be finally linked to that. Any kind of freedom was denied, and you were kindly invited to give it personally up. And we did it with a smile, offering the pain of those "cuts" to Jesus on the cross.

Chiara's real name was Silvia. She chose her name in the occasion of her original and unusual consecration. This is a common act to many forms of consecration by which you let what is on earth to take a different identity.

My experience of the Focolare Movement has given me deep wounds that I had to treat in many years and which probably have not yet healed. But there is one thing I learnt: I have finally learnt that never, for no reason at all, I may consider another human being on earth as an emissary, a spokesman or prophet of any god, nor as Guru or teacher. And this is the only thing I can be truly and deeply grateful to Chiara: she has been my vaccine.

Now you're back Silvia. I am sorry for those who will be horrified by my words but I am deeply convinced that now you, Silvia, you will know how many mistakes are being made in the name of a spirituality which was exclusively yours. And how much bad is hidden in the folds of the word "good."

Uyulala

Translated by Laryssa from the original article at http://www.sacroprofano.net/2008/03/14/chiara-lubich-si-chiamava-silvia/
written by Uyulala

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A letter from Rene

My name is René and I came into contact with the Focolare in 1979 in Australia. I was then 17 years of age and living with my family. My father was searching at that time for some form of meaningful Christian community to belong to.

I met a handful of focolarini and attended a few mini-Mariapoli days. Some of the gen 2 boys were renting a house (the "Gen House") and I used to travel up on some weekends to visit and stay overnight.After completing secondary school in 1980 I visited my relatives in Ireland, and also stayed for some weeks in Loppiano. When I returned to Australia, I lived for 2 years in Brisbane and did not have any contact with Focolare. I became involved with and lived in a "Catholic Worker" community (inspired by the lives of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York).In 1983 I lived in a "Gen House" until August 1986.

During those years I also attended some Mariapoli in Manila. I then stayed for a few months in Rome at the international Gen House near Grottaferrata within the domain of the focolarino "Opus". I proceeded to live in the Gen School at Loppiano for a further 6 months and on my way home, I stopped off to experience life with the Gen and focolarini of Manila and Tagaytay for 3 months in mid 1987.Within a year of returning from these intense experiences, I expressed a desire to become a focolarino. I lived together in a rented house together with a few other "esterni" for a few years. In late 1990 I moved into a focolarini household for a few months before returning to Loppiano again in January 1991.Together with other prospective focolarini who were not able to speak Italian,

I spent 12 months learning the language before entering the first year of "The School" of focolarini in 1991/2. I completed the second year in Montet in 1992/3 but was experiencing depressive symptoms and was asked to stay another year. Over the course 1993/4 I was offered the opportunity of talking with psychiatrist Dr Paul Schmidt, a focolarino in Zurich. I found the life at Montet so stifling that in September 1994 I asked for a ticket to return to Australia.I stayed in focolare for a month until

I found myself an apartment and employment. I lived alone. I was estranged from both my family and the focolare community. After about a year I suffered a major depressive episode and stopped working for a year.Ten years ago, in August 1996, at the age of 35, I began to go out with a woman, who I married in December 2000. I now have 4 step-children. Last year, the two boys (25 and 21 years old) and the eldest girl (23 y.o.) moved out of home. Our youngest girl is 16 years old.I am finding life "on the outside" to be challenging and rewarding as I struggle with mental illness. After a few years of marriage and some limited capacity in a role as step-parent, stress at work contributed to further episodes of major depressive disorder and over another year out of work.

I have just started to return to work a few months ago in the field of "Personal Support" (a program of assistance to people experiencing long-term unemployment). For 10 years, up until a few months ago, I had avoided any kind of work directly associated with caring for others.Having read Gordon's book, I am also eager to find and talk with others who have undergone such intense experiences and to put together some of the pieces of the puzzle which remains in my mind, heart, spirit and body.

May these lines bring a blessing to your reading of them in some way

Friday, January 23, 2009

Jesus wept.. by Gordon

Jesus Wept…According to an article that appeared in a special edition of the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire (19 March 2008) to mark the death of Chiara Lubich, ‘They [the focolarini] decided, “No tears in Rome [at Chiara’s funeral] because she is not dead. She lives for ever in all of us.” '

Rather than giving a witness to the millions who followed the live broadcast on Italian television or the internet feed - which was presumably what the Focolare old guard intended - this stoical approach lent an eerie atmosphere of uncertainty to the proceedings. A friend of mine who has had no contact with focolare but is familiar with its ethos, had the impression that the members were so used to being told what to feel and how to react that in these unprecedented circumstances they simply didn’t know what the appropriate response should be.

In reality, they had been instructed exactly how to behave and it was this very fact that gave to the event its strange, unengaged quality.As an ex-member who still feels affection for members of the movement and certainly for Chiara, despite my many criticisms of the organisation, I was moved to tears by the funeral and found it odd that those who profess themselves to be her most devoted followers remained dry-eyed.

Only Oreste Basso, one of the first focolarini and the ’Copresident’ of Focolare, broke down when he approached the altar to thank the distinguished guests on behalf of the movement, but then old men are notoriously prone to tears and he struggled successfully to regain his composure. Chiara’s first companions Eli Folonari and Graziella de Luca, on the other hand, had a jolly chat outside the basilica at the end of the funeral as though they had just concluded a successful Day Meeting.Chiara Lubich’s funeral shone a very public spotlight on one of the Focolare Movement’s most serious shortcomings: the detachment from feelings encouraged in members.

In this case, it was so strong that the spontaneous reaction most human beings would experience in such circumstances was absent. Sister Madeleine, founder of the Little Sisters of Jesus, once said that in order to be Christian, it is necessary to be human first; but that is rather difficult in the Focolare Movement in which ‘human’ is a negative term. Psychologists would say that the detachment from ones emotions that the movement promotes is pathological and dangerous. Indeed, it could well be the principal reason for the prevalence of depression and mental illness to be found in Focolare from the top down. Now that the founder is dead, current and former members of the movement would benefit greatly from a probing and truthful investigation into this aspect. The genuine gospel message is certainly not a recipe for mental illness .

If it is truly God’s Word, it should be just the opposite. I remember attending the funeral of a child at Loppiano, the daughter of married focolarini, who had died after suffering terribly from a painful congenital illness. The atmosphere was one of manic rejoicing and not even the parents or siblings let slip any indications of sadness or mourning.I wondered then, and I have wondered down the years, why no one pointed out that this is the Focolare approach and certainly not that of the gospel. Jesus was very much in touch with his emotions and did not shrink from showing them in public. In particular, he wept over Lazarus’ death, even though he must have known he had the power to raise him up. This is surely the good, human reaction to the loss of a loved one. And here is the nub of the problem. What exactly is the nature of the love that Focolare preaches if it is so disembodied, so disincarnate, that it feels no reaction to the loss of someone one claims to have loved to the point of being ready to lay down ones life for them?

In life, as in death, the reaction to the loss of close friends is remarkably cold - as in the case of members who leave the movement for example. Can real love be compatible with such a lack of feeling? I have long been troubled that the gospel virtue of compassion was never mentioned in Focolare teachings. Yet we read that Jesus had compassion on the multitude and that he wept over the fate of Jerusalem. He even compared himself to a mother hen gathering her chicks: a more tender and emotion-filled image would be hard to find. Yet how can the focolarini be expected to ‘feel’ or ‘suffer’ with others if they mistrust feelings so much.

I remember how, shortly after leaving Focolare, I was moved by a television programme or a film which made me weep for the first time in nearly ten years. My emotions had been released from their prison. How can we obey Jesus’ command to ‘Weep with those who weep’ if we are unable to weep ourselves? Rather than follow the stoical line of the movement, I prefer to follow the path that Jesus indicated: ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.' Gordon Urquhart