Reading through the Other’s Eyes: The Mystical Foundations of Interreligious Dialogue in Chiara Lubich’s Paradise ‘49
2. The Mysticism Intrinsic to Lubich’s Spirituality
- Experience. Mysticism is not primarily situated on the plane of reason (although reason is not excluded), but involves the existence of man as a whole, including emotion, imagination, the senses, and the body. The whole human person is involved in the act of faith.
- Immediacy. The mystic experiences God in a way that sees mediation as an open door to a direct relationship with the divine. To speak of mysticism does not mean to reject the established mediation of the Church through the ministry and the sacraments, nor does it mean to reject the mediation of Sacred Scripture as the external Word that must be listened to. But by all of these means, God speaks directly to the heart, through the Holy Spirit.
- Union. The encounter with God can be experienced as a unifying one, but—at least in the context of Christian mysticism—it does not imply an absorption into an all-encompassing notion of the divine, because it does not abolish humanity and individuality. The form of this unifying experience can vary and may be experienced as an immersion or ascent, as “rapture” in the sense of a change of place, or as a marital union.
- Transformation. In this union, the mystic does not remain the same. His existence is now one in and with Christ, and he is a new creature (2 Cor 5:17), an experience foreshadowing the divinization which, according to the Christian faith, is promised in the final fulfillment.
- Light. The encounter with God always includes an element of revelation, that is, of God making himself known to mankind. This deepening of understanding happens primarily with the help of images, symbols, and narratives, and only secondarily with concepts on an abstract level (Tobler 2020, pp. 211–12).
- Language. A mystical experience can lead to modifications in the use and interpretation of traditional religious expressions; it can also lead to the creation of new and unusual expressions.
3. The Special Mystical Period—Paradise ‘49 as Experience and Text
It was truly the religious vision of the universe, the religious vision of the world. That is, the way God sees the world, how God sees things, how God sees creatures, how God sees Paradise.
4. “To Live” and “To Be” in Paradise ‘49
The Word of God entered deeply into us, so much so that it changed our mentality. The same thing also happened to those who had some kind of contact with us. This new mentality that was taking shape manifested itself as a true divine protest against the world’s way of thinking, of wanting, of acting. And it brought about a re-evangelization in us. The fact is that every Word, even though expressed in human terms and in different ways, is Word of God. But since God is Love, every Word is charity. We believe that at that time, beneath every Word, we had discovered charity. And when one of these Words settled into our soul, it seemed to us that it was transformed into fire, into flames; it was transformed into love. It could be said that our inner life was all love.(P’49 2–3.7–8, written in retrospect 1986).
I felt urged to go back into church. I entered and went before the tabernacle. And there I was about to pray to Jesus-Eucharist and say to him: “Jesus.” But I could not. In fact, that Jesus who was in the tabernacle was also here in me, was me too, was me, identified with him. Therefore I could not call out to myself. And there I felt coming spontaneously from my lips the word: “Father.” And in that moment I found myself within the bosom of the Father.(P’49 26)11.
I tend to avoid speaking of knowing God. I believe it risks thinking of God as merely an ‘object’ outside of us. Instead we can refer to knowing God in God, in order to express the specific participation given to us in Jesus, through the gift of his Spirit, in the knowledge that God has of Godself, and in Godself, of all that exists. This, furthermore, emphasizes that theology is most of all about ‘being’ or ‘dwelling’ in God, which naturally leads to and expresses itself in a knowledge corresponding to that condition.(Coda in: Mitchell 2020, p. 139)12.
4.2. The Eschatological Vision—“To Be” in the So-Called Realities
Here begins a series of “Realities” (as we called them) that we lived while in the Bosom of the Father. They were a prelude, a taste of the glorification that we will have in paradise. I do not remember how these Realties began. The vision of things continued to change, because life in Paradise is not static: it is continuous life. From each Reality another developed, each one complete in itself. We loved, we lived a new Eucharist, and so we always went ahead.13
4.3. A More General Way of Talking about “To Live” and “To Be”
|Reference Word||Number in Combination with “to live”||Number in Combination with “to be”||Total—”to live” and “to be”|
|Jesus (rarely: Christ)||8||32||40|
|Word (rarely: Gospel)||17||18||35|
To live the reality of the marriage of my Soul with the Word: “Love”, whom I saw in Paradise after the Father (Infinite Love), I must be only the Word of God.
Every instant I live the Word is a kiss upon the Lips of Jesus, those Lips which spoke only Words of Life.(P’49 195–196, 24 July 1949).
… living the Word of Life in the will of God, moment by moment, I am the living Word, the living expression of love.(P’49 967, 9 November 1949).
Jesus in me is all me. And yet he continuously presses upon my humanity telling me that he wants to live!(P’49 477).
And again, on September 6:
We truly live Jesus and Jesus lives us. That “Live me utterly, my Love!” which we would say to him, is done. And to him we say: “I live you utterly.”(P’49 581).
It is the point where the created dies into the Uncreated, where nothingness is lost in the Bosom of the Father, where the Spirit pronounces with our lips: Abba-Father.Then our soul is the soul of Jesus.It is no longer we who live; it is Christ, truly, who lives in us.Then within the Bosom of the Father we come to know all the inhabitants of heaven and we understand the work God does in us, clothing us bit by bit in the divine.And this is what God revealed this summer.(P’49 pp. 42–46, 8 December 1949).
5. Through the Other’s Eyes: The Shift in Hermeneutics
5.1. The Shift to God as Love
Today we are Jesus. And Jesus in us walks among people and people do not know it. Our walking, doing, loving, smiling, sleeping is his and bears fruit for souls as was borne by his: loving, doing, smiling, and so on.I feel his Heart in mine and his Soul in mine. His Heart is infinite Love: Love, Love, Love… it cannot be said how much it is Love. And I feel Love for all people who do not have it and I will give it to all.And I feel his Soul in mine: because in me I feel Life for me and for everyone.Jesus in me is all me. And yet he continuously presses upon my humanity telling me that he wants to live!His Light is also in me: but now it is a Light, Love, Life. I do not know if it is more one than the other: I am living Paradise already here below: I am living together in an ever greater fullness with the comprehensors in beatitude.(P’49 pp. 474–478, 25 August 1949).
Lord, give me all the lonely … I have felt in my heart the passion that fills your heart for all the forsakenness in which the whole world is drifting.I love every being that is sick and alone: even plants in distress cause me pain … even animals left alone.Who consoles their weeping?Who mourns their slow death?And who clasps to their own the heart in despair?Grant me, my God, to be in this world the tangible sacrament of your Love, of your being Love: to be your arms that clasp to themselves and consume in love all the loneliness of the world.(P’49 pp. 541–546, 1 September 1949).
And I make contact with the Fire that, invading the whole of my humanity given me by God, makes me another Christ, another God-who-is-human by participation, in such a way that my humanity merges with the divine and my eyes are no longer lifeless, but, through the pupil, which is an open space onto the soul, through which passes all the Light that is within (if I let God live in me), I look at the world and at things. But it is no longer I who look, it is Christ in me who looks and sees again the blind to enlighten, the mute to make speak, and the crippled to make walk—blind to the vision of God within and outside them; mute to the Word of God that also speaks within them and by them could be conveyed to their brothers and sisters to reawaken them to the Truth; the crippled unable to move because ignorant of the divine will that from the depths of their hearts spurs them to the eternal motion that is the eternal Love, where by conveying Fire one is set ablaze.In such a way that, opening my eyes again to what lies outside, I see humanity with the eye of God who believes all things because he is Love.(P’49 pp. 717–718, October 1949).
5.2. The Shift to God in the Other
In however many neighbors you meet throughout your day, from morning to night, in all of them see Jesus.If your eye is simple, the one who looks through it is God. And God is Love, and love seeks to unite, winning over.How many, in error, look at people and at things in order to possess them. And their look is one of egoism or of envy or, in any case, of sin. Or they look within to possess themselves, to possess their own souls, and their look is lifeless because it is bored or troubled.The soul, because it is God’s image, is love, and love turned in on itself is like a flame that, not fed, dies out.Look outside yourself, not in yourself, not in things, not in persons: look at God outside yourself to unite yourself with him.(P’49 pp. 903–907, November 1949)16.
Let yourself be possessed by each one—out of love for Jesus; let yourself be “eaten” by them—like another Eucharist. Put yourself completely at their service, which is service to God, and your brother or sister will come to you and love you. And the fulfillment of God’s every desire is fraternal love, which is a command: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”(P’49 915, November 1949).
There are many ways to clean a room: picking up one straw after another, using a little broom or a bigger one, a large vacuum cleaner, and so on. Or else, to have a clean place, we can change rooms and all is done.Likewise for our becoming holy.Rather than working a great deal, we can immediately step aside and let Jesus live in us.That is to say, living transferred into the Other: in our neighbor, for example, who, moment by moment, is close to us: living the other’s life in all its fullness.Just as in the Trinity—and this alone is Love—the Father lives in the Son and vice versa. And their Love for one another is the Holy Spirit. When we live transferred into our brother or sister (you must lose your life to re-find it), as soon as we have to return into ourselves to respond to them, we find in ourselves a Third: the Holy Spirit, who has taken the place of our emptiness.Now, we can enter into the other in various ways: pushing ourselves in like someone big who wants to get in through a small door … and this is how someone acts who does not listen to the very end (someone who does not die totally into the brother or sister who is Paradise for the self, the Kingdom for the self) and wants to give replies gathered bit by bit in his or her own head that may be inspired but are not that breath of the Holy Spirit which will give life to the other.There are those (passionate lovers of Jesus Forsaken) who more willingly die than live and who listen to their brother or sister all the way to the end, not worried about the reply, which will be given in the end by the Holy Spirit who summarizes in a few words, or in one, all the medicine for that soul.(P’49 pp. 605–611, 8 September 1949).
It is necessary to put ourselves before everyone in an attitude of learning, for we really have something to learn.(P’49 p. 540, 28 August 1949).
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Conflicts of Interest
The tension between the prevailing Catholic culture of the time and the charismatic personality of Chiara Lubich is well described in a sociological doctoral thesis (Callebaut 2017).
The 1962 statutes were later substantially revised and adopted in their current form in 1990, with amendments in 1994 and 1998.
The first publication appeared in 1959 (Lubich 1959). A collection of important spiritual texts is found in the four volumes of Scritti Spirituali (Lubich 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981). A systematic summary in the context of a theological analysis is offered by the author of this paper (Tobler 2002, pp. 93–188).
At the Sophia University Institute (Loppiano/Florence), Michel Bronzwaer is working on a dissertation on all of Lubich’s texts written before 1949 which have been preserved, which are mainly letters. The publication of this work will provide more detailed information.
The historical context and people involved are described in (Abignente and Delama 2019, pp. 77–90).
Nuova Umanità. Rivista bimestrale di cultura, Città Nuova: Roma, 1978ff.
Studi della Scuola Abbà, Città Nuova: Roma 2012ff.
See: https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/claritas/ accessed on 30 May 2022.
This description was written in retrospect in 1986, but there is also older written evidence, dated between August and December 1949, which attests to these early days.
This understanding of theology is taken up and elaborated by Stefan Ulz (Ulz 2019, pp. 143–52).
P’49, author’s comment before para. 434 of 19 August 1949.
As the only fragment from Paradise ‘49, it was already published at that time in publisher Igino Giordani’s journal (La Via 1 (36/1949) 5) and, probably also for this reason, it has the style of a self-contained, freestanding text. It was then printed again, in its full extent for the first time, in 1995 (in: Nuova Umanità no. 102, 17 (1995) pp. 5–8). It was recently subject of a comprehensive analysis in a volume of Scuola Abbà (Blaumeiser and Rossi 2017).
P’49 pp. 931–947, 6 November 1949. It is entitled “Guardare tutti i fiori” and was also analyzed in detail in a volume published by Scuola Abbà (Abignente et al. 2014).
A description together with a theological analysis of the relationships with representatives of different world religions can be found in (Catalano 2022).
This was aptly expressed by the sociologist of religion Peter L. Berger when he speaks about “dialogic engagement” as the most valuable kind of interreligious dialogue (Berger and Schweitzer 2011). Examples based on the spirituality of Chiara Lubich can be found in Chapter 7 of Mitchell (2020, pp. 451–531) which is dedicated to “Implications of Paradise ‘49 for Interreligious Dialogue”, with five comparative studies mainly about the Buddhist–Christian relationship.
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Tobler, S. Reading through the Other’s Eyes: The Mystical Foundations of Interreligious Dialogue in Chiara Lubich’s Paradise ‘49. Religions 2022, 13, 638. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13070638
Tobler S. Reading through the Other’s Eyes: The Mystical Foundations of Interreligious Dialogue in Chiara Lubich’s Paradise ‘49. Religions. 2022; 13(7):638. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13070638Chicago/Turabian Style
Tobler, Stefan. 2022. "Reading through the Other’s Eyes: The Mystical Foundations of Interreligious Dialogue in Chiara Lubich’s Paradise ‘49" Religions 13, no. 7: 638. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13070638