December 2003

During this period of Advent, our preparation time for Christmas, the figure of John the Baptist is put forward again. He had been sent by God to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. To those who crowded around to hear him, he urged them strongly to change their way of life: “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance” (Lk 3:8). And to those who asked: “What then should we do?” (Lk 3:10), he replied:

«Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise»

Why should I give what is mine to another person? Since we were both created by God, the other person is my brother, or my sister; therefore, he or she is part of me. “I cannot hurt you without harming myself,” Gandhi once said. We were created as a gift for one another, in the image of God who is Love. We have the divine law of love in our blood. When he came among us, Jesus explained it very clearly in his new commandment: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). It is the “law of heaven,” the life of the Holy Trinity brought down on earth, the heart of the Gospel. As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in full communion in heaven, to the point of being one (see Jn 17:11), we on earth are truly ourselves to the degree that we live the reciprocity of love. And just as the Son says to the Father: “Everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine” (Jn 17:10), so too our love reaches fulfillment when we share with one another not only spiritual goods, but also material goods.

The needs of our neighbor are the needs of all of us. Is someone unemployed? I am unemployed. Is someone’s mother sick? I help her as if she were my mother. Are there others who are hungry? It’s as if I were hungry and I try to find food for them as I would for myself.
This is the experience of the first Christians of Jerusalem: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). A sharing or communion of goods was not obligatory, and yet they practiced it intensely. As the apostle Paul explained, it is “not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but [it is] a matter of equality” (2 Cor 8:13).
St. Basil the Great says: “The bread you set aside belongs to the hungry; the coat you store in your trunk, belongs to the naked; the money you keep hidden, belongs to the needy.”
And St. Augustine says: “The surplus of the rich belongs to the poor.”
“Even the poor can help one another: one can offer his legs to the other who is lame, someone else his eyes to guide the blind; still another can visit the sick.”

«Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise»

Today too we can live like the early Christians. The Gospel is not a utopia. This is demonstrated, for example, by the new ecclesial Movements that the Holy Spirit has brought about in the Church to help revive, in all its freshness, the passionate evangelical drive of the early Christians, and to respond to the great challenges of a world burdened by many injustices and oppressive poverty.
I remember that in the early days of the Focolare Movement the new charism filled our hearts with a very special love for the poor. Whenever we encountered poor people on the street, we wrote down their addresses in a notebook so that we could later go and visit them and help them. They were Jesus: “You did it to me” (Mt 25:40). After we visited them in their humble homes, we invited them to dinner. We set the table using our best tablecloth, the best dishes and cutlery, the most delicious food. In that first focolare, a focolarina was seated beside a poor person, a focolarina and then a poor person, all around the table.
At one point we felt the Lord was asking us to truly live poverty in order to serve the poor and everyone else. There, in the living room of that first focolare house, each one put in a pile on the floor whatever she felt was extra: an overcoat, a pair of gloves, a hat, someone even offered a fur coat. And today, in order to give to the poor, we have business enterprises that provide employment and distribute a share of their profits!
But there is still a great deal to do to help “the poor.”

«Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise»

We might not realize it, but we have many riches that we can share. We need to sharpen our sensitivity and learn more about how to help concretely, in order to discover the way to live real brotherhood. We have love in our hearts to give, gestures of friendship to offer, and joy to share. We can give our time, we can pray, we can share inner riches through the written or spoken word. At times we have things that we can put at the disposal of others, like purses, pens, books, money, homes, cars. We might accumulate many things, thinking that one day they might be useful. In the meantime there are people nearby who have urgent need of them.
Just as a plant absorbs from the soil only the amount of water it needs, so we should try to have only what we need. Actually it’s good every now and then to experience that something is lacking; it’s better to be a little poor than to be a little rich.

“If we would all be content with what’s necessary and we would give our surplus to those in need,” St. Basil said, “there would no longer be the rich and the poor.”
Let’s try, let’s begin to live in this way. Jesus will not fail to send us the hundredfold, and then we will be able to continue to give. In the end, he will tell us that what we have given, to whomever it might be, we have given it to him.

Chiara Lubich

 

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