USC Book Club: Focolare

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November 2011:

Focolare: Living a Spirituality of Unity in the United States

By Thomas Masters and Amy Uelmen

Review: What does it mean to live a “spirituality of unity”? Thomas Masters and Amy Uelmen suggest the best answer lies not in detailed explanation, but in experience. In Focolare they share the stories of a diverse group of people—beginning with Chiara Lubich and those who first joined her during the bombardment of Trent, Italy in World War II, and followed by American children, young adults, married couples, single women and men, women religious, priests, and bishops, who are all part of the Focolare movement.

Although the stories are as diverse as the individuals, they are also profoundly alike. Each has been transformed by an encounter with Christ and his prayer “that they all may be one.” This is an excellent introduction to the Focolare movement as well as a wonderful resource for reflecting on our own experiences of spirituality and community. —Rev. John Molyneux, C.M.F., Editor, U.S. CATHOLIC

FocolareNew City Press says: “Everything is renewed: politics and art, school and religion, private life and entertainment. Everything." With straightforward explanation and engaging personal stories, this book presents the background and life of a movement of the Spirit that has touched thousands of Americans.

Paperback: $16.95

Available at book stores or from New City Press: 800-462-5980 or shop online at www.newcitypress.com

Order now from New City Press.

General Book Club guidelines

Suggested Discussion Questions from New City Press:

Introduction: I want what you have.

Rebecca’s friend tells her, “I want what you have?”  What does Rebecca have, and why would her friend—who seems to have everything—want it?  What do you see in the other young people’s lives that others would “want”?

Chapter 1: Chiara Lubich: A Life for Unity

Chiara Lubich describes what she hoped would happen upon her death: “When I arrive at your door and you ask me my name, I will not say my name, I will say my name is ‘thank you,’ for everything and forever.” Given what the chapter describes about her life, why would she say this?  What does it say to you about her, and about what she might expect of those who follow in her footsteps?

Chapter 2: How Focolare Members Live

Look again at the seven points that 93-year old Bessie uses to organize her life (pages 44-45).  She is trying to live a life in which “everything was to flow from love, be rooted in love…to be an expression of the life of Jesus in us” (44).   How might her experience translate into your own life, or the lives of those around you?

Chapter 3: Walking the Path to Unity Together

This chapter describes how a wide range of people “walk the path to unity together”—single women and men, married people, children of all ages, sisters, priests, bishops.  Some maintain a close relationship with the Focolare, and others have a less formal connection.  What do all of them have in common? 

Chapter 4: A Spirituality of Unity and the Renewal of Social Life and Culture

On page 86, Chiara Lubich is quoted as saying, “If we really want to be another Jesus, we have to have his mentality, which is both universal and particular; we cannot live to love only those who are far without doing something for those who are near.  We need to root ourselves in our own land as well, and show our love with facts, right where we are.” What do you think she means when she speaks of having the “mentality” of Jesus?   How do the experiences of Focolare members demonstrate that mentality?  How does the approach you see here relate to your own experience in family, work, school, or culture?

Chapter 5: The Focolare Movement and the Church

“…Trust and unity between movements and parishes can be nurtured through humility, openness to the direction of Church authorities, and transparent honesty.  In this fashion, movements can find ways to express and share the particular gifts that the Holy Spirit might be sending for the good of the entire Church” (114).  How do you see the relationship between Church movements and the parish?  How should people who feel called to the particular charism of a movement like the Focolare’s relate to the parish where they worship and receive the sacraments?

Chapter 6: The Focolare Spirituality and “The Pursuit of Happiness”

“In the United States, an individual’s identity is often formed and judged by his or her occupation, and happiness is thought to come from success at work or in a profession” (131).  How do Focolare members address this expectation, in light of their desire to live the gospel?  How could you address the “pursuit of happiness” within a gospel framework?

Chapter 7: The Focolare Spirituality, the Moral Life, and the Quest for Freedom

This chapter notes the importance of developing an interior sense of personal freedom that resonates with “outside sources of moral guidance” (156). How do the Focolare members in this chapter define freedom? How do they live freedom as they make important life choices?  What value might their experiences have for you as you make important decisions in your life?

Chapter 8: E Pluribus Unum – The Focolare Spirituality and the Quest for Community in a Pluralistic Society

In American life, forces necessary to build community—such as ethnicity, social status, and religion—also divide people from others who do not share the same identity. What resources do members of the Focolare draw upon to develop a “bonding-bridging dynamic” (178) that enables them to develop unity in diversity?  How can these resources be brought to bear in secular as well as in religious contexts?   

Chapter 9: A Common Commitment to the Common Good – A Spirituality of Unity and the Future of Public Life

This chapter notes, “Bridging the gap between homogeneous groups that hold opposing views requires ….[p]eople…to want to engage the differences that would otherwise make them uncomfortable” (194).  In theory, a spirituality of unity like the Focolare’s would seem a natural antidote for the political differences that separate people.  What kinds of concrete action have people in the Focolare taken to address their political differences?  How does their approach speak to your own circumstances?

Conclusion: A Hearth for the Human Family

Dr Paul Crow describes vividly the effect of the gospel: “Once the gospel comes to a person, their whole understanding of life in the world is transformed, we break the bonds of our parochialism, the scales are removed from our eyes, and we see the whole world again” (204).  How has the gospel affected you?  What steps can you take to make its effect stronger and more purposeful?