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