June 11, 2005, Focolare, The Art of Loving as God Who is One Loves, by Mercedes Mont.
The following address, "The Art of Loving as God Who is One Loves," was prepared by Mercedes Mont, member of the Focolare Movement in Miami, based upon Chiara Lubich's address at the meeting of Muslim Friends of the Focolare held in Rome, on November 2002."
Along with Diana Scavo, also of the Focolare Movement in Miami, Mercedes shared "The Art of Loving as God Who is One Loves" at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Singer Island in Riviera Beach, as guest speaker for the International League of Muslim Women, South Florida Chapter's 2nd Annual Grandmother / Mother / Daughter Luncheon, on June 11, 2005.
("The Art of Loving as God Who is One Loves" was again shared on June 26, 2005 by Mercedes Cordero of the Focolare community in St. Petersburg, during the Family & Friends Interfaith Taleem at the St. Petersburg Islamic Center. The program included members of the Focolare, members of various masajid from the Bay area and around the state, local members of the contemporary Nation of Islam, and members of the Baha'i faith.)
Good morning ladies. Thank you for your gracious welcome. Diana and I feel honored to have been asked to speak to you today. Our presentation will look at a lifestyle which we know will find a resonance in you because it has very much to do with being women, women of faith as all of us here are. We are all daughters, mothers, and grandmothers who are committed to serving our God by giving life to others, not only physical but also spiritual life, and by forming a family, not limited to our own, but the human family, a family that shows forth the presence and blessings of God.
Pope John Paul II in his letter, "The Dignity of Woman," wrote that the mother's contribution, as mother and first teacher of the spiritual dimension, is decisive in laying the foundation for a new human personality. Our theme this afternoon, "Honoring the wombs that bore us," is a beautiful one because as women, we are, in the Creator's plan, a gift for others in a very special way. Today Diana and I want to be gift for you by sharing with you the most important aspect of the lifestyle of the Focolare, a lifestyle consciously dedicated to building unity with every person we meet. Our topic is therefore "The Art of Loving as God Who is One Loves."
I want you to know that I've prepared for you a talk based very closely on Chiara Lubich's own words, so that you receive, not my ideas, which would be of little value, but the genuine gift of divine light that I myself have received through Chiara, for she is the one who is the instrument in God's hands. And then Diana will share with you a personal experience to illustrate the practice of this Art of Loving.
Before we start, I'd like to give you a little background to the relationship between the Focolare and your community. You may know that for some years Muslims and Christians have been cultivating a friendship and a genuine dialogue based on our being people of faith in the One God. Here in the U.S., this friendship was sparked by an official meeting of our two faith communites which took place in 1997 at the Malcolm Shabazz Masjid in Harlem, where Chiara Lubich, foundress of the Focolare Movement, at the invitation of your own beloved leader Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, spoke to 3,000 Muslim brothers and sisters about universal brotherhood and the unity of the human family. That was not only a joyful but also historic and prophetic gathering.
Since then, in the wake of that first encounter, our two communites have participated, along with Muslims from other countries, in four International Conferences of Muslim Friends of the Focolare Movement, which were held in Rome, and also in a Convention in the Spirit of Universal Brotherhood held in Washington, D.C. in 2000, for the purpose of bringing ahead a greater mutual understanding of our religions, and also to get to know each other and become friends.
The most recent fruit of this friendship has been the lst Symposium of Islamo-Christian Dialogue held in Rome from the 24-27 of April of this year with more than 200 participants, many of them scholars and religious leaders. Over 100 of the participants were Muslims from 33 different countries such as Algeria, Lebanon, Pakistan, the U.S., Canada, Brazil, just to name a few. The theme of the symposium was "Ibada (that is to say adoration in the Muslim tradition) and faith in God who is Love in the Christian tradition." It was a profound meeting of minds and souls.
But we mustn't forget that underlying these large, official events, there is the encouragement of our two leaders Imam Mohammed and Chiara to build smaller, more ordinary bridges of understanding and mutual respect between us. These bridges are the simple, informal meetings of sometimes a few people, sometimes more than a few as in our meeting today, that are taking place continually in many parts of the U.S. from coast to coast. And so, Diana and I are very happy to be here contributing to this "dialogue of life" as John Paul II called it, building the bridges of peace and fraternity that God Almighty expects of us, and that He himself, by His grace, makes possible.
And now let's begin our topic: The Art of Loving as God Who is One Loves.
You our Muslim friends firmly believe, as do we Christians, that God loves all people. This is expressed in the Qur'an in 82 different places. For example: "He is the Forgiving, the Loving" (Q85:14).
And elsewhere it says: "If you would count God's favors, you will not be able to number them: most surely God is Forgiving and Merciful" (16:18). The Qur'an also says: "Righteous is he who believes in God...and gives away wealth for love of Him to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free..." (2:177).
Thus love of neighbor is also important for Muslims. And in Islam, as we know, the concept of unity is to be found everywhere: from the unity of God, to solidarity among people, unity in diversity; unity in a plurality of expressions. The great Pakistani scholar, Mohammed Iqbal, asked: "What is the ultimate goal of nature and the innermost secret of Islam? Universal brotherhood and the presence of love."
We know that humanity is called to fulfill itself as one whole, as a family united. We can see this in the signs of the time that urge us on to dialogue, to cooperation, and to peace. The ultimate goal: only one family!
But how can we think of humanity as only one family? How can we think of men and women in the world as brothers and sisters? We cannot think of it without affirming the need for one Father of all. In the midst of much secularization, there is an urgent need on our planet to rediscover our common heavenly Father -- we must admit this. And we must not only re-discover Him: we must give Him the rightful place in our hearts, that is, the first place.
What does this mean? In the Qur'an, we find: "The faithful are those who put the love of God in the first place." (2:165).
And who is God? What is this love of God? In the Gospel, we find this definition: "God is Love" (Jn. 4:8).
If God exists and He is Love, what attitude should we have towards Him? In order to respond to His love, we must love Him in turn by doing His will, and there is one commandment in the Gospel that sums up the Mosaic Law and the Prophets. This commandment consists in loving: loving God and neighbor, that's to say the person He places beside us. But it's not an ordinary love, not simple friendship, not only philanthropy, but a love which reflects the essence of God -- Who is Love itself. And there is an art to loving as He does.
Love. It's everything. However to live it well we must know its qualities. What I am saying now is very important because it's about that love which sets off a revolution in society. True love, that which is from God, must be given to everyone. It's not like the love that we often live, simply a human love which is limited to a small circle of people: family, friends, neighbors. True love does not admit discrimination; it does not make distinctions between those who are pleasant and the unpleasant; it does not matter if people are beautiful or ugly, adults or children; this love makes no distinctions between those of my country and foreigners, those of my Church or of another, of my religion or of another. God's love is for everyone. And we must do the same: love everyone.
Secondly, true love is willing to make the first move towards the other; it doesn't wait to receive love, as is usually the case with human love: You love those who love you. No, true love takes the initiative as God, Father of the human family, took the initiative in creating and blessing us. Likewise, we should not wait for the other to take the first step, but rather we should be the first to love. Therefore, the first two points in the art of loving as God loves are to love everyone, and to be the first to love.
Then a third point, true love loves the other person as oneself. And this must be taken to the letter: We must really see the other person as we see ourselves and treat the other as we would ourselves. This love suffers with whoever suffers, rejoices with whoever rejoices, carries the burden of others. It has been said that true love makes itself one with the person loved, completely identifying with him or her. Thus, this love does not remain a mere sentiment, an idealistic concept, or nice words, but it is made up of concrete actions of solidarity.
The fourth point is that authentic love sees the presence of God in every person. True love is open to all because God formed and sustains each one of us with his Spirit. He dwells within every brother and sister, and therefore all are to be loved. True love is open to friends and also enemies; it does good and prays for them because it sees and loves God in every man, woman, and child.
Finally, God, our common Father, wants love to become mutual: that one person love the other and vice-versa, to the point of reaching unity. As He himself is one, He wishes us to be one. Yes, all people are called to this union in reciprocal love because God created them in His image and likeness. As we said earlier, humanity is called to realize itself as one united family, as brothers and sisters in God. Mutual love is also mentioned in the Sacred Writings of Islam. There is a beautiful Hadith in which God Himself says:
"My love is given to those who love one another, in Me to those who sit together, in Me to those who visit one another, in Me to those who help one another... in Me" (Hadith Qudsi 262).
These then are the characteristics of the art of truly loving as God loves: to love everyone, to be the first to love, to make yourself one with the other, to see God in him or her, to love each other to the point of unity. This is something to be taken very seriously because it is a means to bring God into the world. And truly, if we are putting these teachings into practice, then what we are experiencing is communion in God. And it is only God who can make us one.
So let's all try it; let's not think that we are already doing it, that we know all about charity. Let's try to love in this way when we go back to our families, to our communities, at school, in the office, in the marketplace.
If this were to come true, there would be wonderful consequences: first of all, the triumph of the spirit over matter, respect for the moral code, love and respect for those who have a different faith, the abolition of wars. Unity -- the one human family!
Let us always remember that it is built, not through grand, abstract projects, but by each one of us loving one by one the person God puts before us at this very present moment.
---------------- Included are excerpts from the original texts, "A Spirituality of Unity for the Harmonious Living of the Human Family," Chiara Lubich's Address, Washington, D.C. November 12, 2000, and "To Live by Love: Ecumenical Reflections" (Chiara's meeting with the Lutheran community, Berlin, November 19, 1998).