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Spirituality of Union and Dialogue of Life - Presented by Dr Martin Robra, World Council of Churches (WCC) programme executive for Ecumenical Continuing Formation

Spirituality of Union and Dialogue of Life - A Protestant Perspective on Chiara Lubich’s Commitment to Unity – Unity of the Church and of Humankind Dr Martin Robra, World Council of Churches (WCC) programme executive for Ecumenical Continuing Formation, at a Focolare ecumenical meeting entitled: “Walking together. Christians on the road to unity.”

12 May 2017

Spirituality of Union and Dialogue of Life

A Protestant Perspective on Chiara Lubich’s Commitment to Unity – Unity of the Church and of Humankind

Your Eminences and Excellencies, Friends, Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Thank you, dear Maria Voce, dear Jésus Moran and of course also you dear Maria and dear Diego, for the invitation to speak here at this conference. This invitation gave me the opportunity to continue reading many of the very inspiring texts of Chiara Lubich and to learn from her. This was a great gift and I hope that I can share with you some of the fruits. But I want to thank you and all members of the General Council of the Focolare Movement even more for the Ottmaring declaration. This text shows: we are journeying together as disciples of Christ. We may be walking separately for some time, but there are the moments when we come together, when we remember together what happened on the way, renew our commitment to the common pilgrimage, and continue the journey with a shared sense of direction and purpose.

I would like to say more to the Ottmaring declaration in the introductory part of my contribution. I will then speak about my encounters with Chiara and what they taught me about the spirituality of unity. And I will conclude with a few reflections how the ecumenical quest for the visible unity of the church can be deepened and become real as a common journey through the spirituality of unity and the dialogue of life.

Together on the way: the Ottmaring declaration

The Ottmaring declaration refers to two events which are both important milestones first of all for the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Communion, but with great resonance ecumenically: the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification 1999 in Augsburg and the Lund declaration from the 31st of October 2016. Of course, these two events are especially important for me as a Protestant with Lutheran roots.

I find it fascinating how these two milestones become points of reference in the declaration that help us to see the long way we have come from and how to move forward together into the future. The Joint Declaration reminds us of God’s own initiative for the salvation of the world. God’s initiative comes first. God is reaching out to us by grace alone in Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Lund declaration proves that the event in Augsburg 1999 and the common journey that led us last year to Lund have indeed changed many of us. Coming from Augsburg, we have recognized the importance of the wounded and poisoned memories of hate and violent relationships in the past. We were liberated not to leave the past behind, but to free ourselves from repeating the same stereotypes that deepened the separation of the churches and communities and led to violence and war in the five centuries since the Reformation. Instead we have re-discovered that we were one church before and have, indeed, a great common heritage. In this way, we have become responsible for both our past and our future together and no more alone and separated from each other. Instead of moving away from each other, we can walk together and share with each other our stories, hopes and expectations for the Church and this world in mutual love.

The Ottmaring Declartion says this beautifully. Let me read the relevant passage of the text:

We feel strongly called to respond to the Lund Declaration. We see it as a true “kairos’, a sign that God is urging Christians today to work harder for the fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer, “that all may be one”. We will do all that is within our power to sustain the Churches’ efforts to bring about full, visible communion, for the good of all humanity.

Yes, we not only trust, but we know that you will continue to follow your charism of unity in mutual love because we have heard and seen how you live out this mission of the Focolare movement as a gift to the churches and to the world in many ways.

Meeting Chiara

We know, because we have experienced personally how Chiara Lubich and the Focolare movement shared the charism and the spirituality of unity. I find it providential that my wife Barbara met Chiara 1999 in Augsburg and Ottmaring during the event for the Signing of the Joint Declaration. She was responsible for the media operations of the Lutheran World Federation. Barbara returned home full of praise for the Focolare movement and the help she received from the community in Ottmaring. She was deeply impressed by Chiara’s interventions and talks on the spirituality of unity, telling me that I need to learn more about it.

The opportunity came little later when I was invited to come to the House Eckstein in Baar for a meeting with Chiara together with other colleagues from the World Council of Churches. We were impressed by her convincing commitment for unity and checked on the spot with our general secretary if we could invite her to visit the World Council of Churches in Geneva. She came in October 2002 visiting the churches in Geneva, the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey and the Ecumenical Centre with the WCC, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches. But she came not alone. For her lecture at the Ecumenical Centre, she was accompanied by the group of bishops who associate themselves with the Focolare movement. Like leaven in the bread, their friendship and spiritual brotherhood builds ecumenical relationships far beyond their own.

What I will say now about the Spirituality of Unity and the Dialogue of Life, is a fruit of Chiara’s presentations during this visit. The first sentence of her speech said it all: “Unity and Jesus forsaken, as you know, constitute the main principles and the foundation of the ‘spirituality of unity’ that animates the Focolare movement, this modern gift of the Spirit that was born in the Catholic church, but that now includes Christians of more than 350 churches and ecclesial communities.“

Jesus forsaken here is not a theological concept or doctrine. Jesus forsaken refers to deeply disturbing and at the same time fulfilling experiences and insights. I was strongly moved by a meditation that Chiara had written on 20th September 1949 “I know only Christ and Christ crucified” is the one text that shows me the deep experiential and mystical substance of the shorthand “Jesus forsaken”. The text begins with the affirmation and promise: “I have only one Spouse on earth: Jesus forsaken. I have no other God but him.” and it continues “…what is his is mine, and nothing else. And his is universal suffering, and therefore mine…”and again later “…So it will be for the years I have left: a thirst for suffering, anguish, despair, separation, exile, forsakenness, torment – for all that is him, and he is sin, hell.”

These lines moved me deeply when I read them for the first time. And they became so real when I accompanied our general secretary on a visit to Rocca di Papa in February 2008 only a month before God called her. I still see her so tender and frail, visibly marked by her medical conditions. And I will never forget how she turns to me with this one question that reflects the situation at once in the night of the cross and the new daylight of the resurrection: “Who is Jesus forsaken for you?” – for me, for you, for all of us – communion of life in Christ today and in eternity.

It is her in Jesus forsaken that the union with God and with the fellow human being becomes a reality. Jesus forsaken in the midst is the bond of love which binds God and world and all of us together. Whoever has gone through this experience will not accept hate, stereotyping and separation, but look out for the other in love and work for reconciliation and peace between the churches and between all peoples and nations. The spirituality of unity will take shape in the dialogue of life.

Together on a pilgrimage of life, justice and peace

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the WCC general secretary and a Lutheran theologian, referred to the spirituality of unity with Jesus forsaken at the heart with the following words: “In the shattered image of Christ on the cross, we rediscover the face of the human being that we all were meant to be and are to become on our pilgrimage towards God’s reign. Many of those who were instrumental in the formation of the World Council of Churches declared in 1925 in Stockholm: The closer we come to the cross of Christ, the closer we come to each other.

Martin Luther himself gave the following advice: “Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified; learn to pray to him despairing of yourself, saying ‘Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness and I am thy sin. Thou hast taken on thyself what thou wast not, and hast given to me what I am not.’”

It is not difficult to see how much these sentences resonate with Chiara’s text of September 1949. Keeping Jesus forsaken in the midst while walking together on our pilgrimage, we will learn together to reconfigure the past that separates us and to see more clearly where God wants to lead us as disciples of Christ. Ecumenism than is not just a matter of doctrinal dialogue and clarifications, but a dynamic reality that includes all dimension of our witness to the world: so that the world may believe, since we are becoming one while together on the way.

Geneva, 02 May 2017