On July 16, 1949, after having asked Jesus in the Eucharist to “make a pact of unity” upon her nothingness of love and that of Igino Giordani, Chiara Lubich found herself in the bosom of the Father, with “the clear impression of being immersed in the sun.

It [the “Soul,” the “small company” she envisioned in the bosom of the Father] saw sun everywhere: beneath, above, around, and it awaited new illuminations to accustom its eye to discern all who were living there.” To her it seemed “like an abyss that was immense, cosmic. And it was all gold and flames above, below, to the right and to the left.” It was an infinite reality, and yet she did not feel lost. She had the impression of being at home.

The following day, July 17, she understood the beauty of the Word (Jesus), who is the expression of the Father within himself. When she left the church, the sun had just gone down and its rays flashed from behind a mountain. She exclaimed: “That’s the Word! He is the splendor of the Father!”

While she was receiving this revelation from heaven, an unexpected event took place: “The Word wedded the Soul in mystical marriage.” This was the same experience that other women had had before her: Gertrude of Helfta, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Catherine de’ Ricci, and Maria Maddalena de Pazzi. Among other things, they speak about angels and saints who acted as witnesses as the Bridegroom put the ring on his bride’s finger.

Chiara with her first companions during the Mariapolis summer gatherings in the 1950s.
Chiara with her first companions during the Mariapolis summer gatherings in the 1950s.

One day, while we were reading the texts regarding that period, I asked Chiara: “How was it for you? What happened?” She simply repeated what we had just read: “The Word wedded the Soul in mystical marriage.” Is that all? Yes, that was all.

It was an essential and succinct response, just like what Teresa of Avila had written about her experience, which was similar: “One can say only this: that the soul, or rather its spirit, becomes totally one with God.” Chiara, too, became totally one with the Word, her Bridegroom.

Her experience was similar to that of other mystics, but it had an important unique characteristic. The Word married the Soul with a capital “S.”

Chiara’s experience was an ecclesial one. She felt that she was the expression of the entire group, and she became aware of being “Church.” She wrote very explicitly: “The Word married the Soul clothed as Church.” It is a throwback to the biblical idea of God marrying his people, of Christ marrying the Church.

The great tradition had understood this quite well. For example, St. Bernard wrote, “It was not for the sake of any particular soul, but on the account of many, in order to collect into one Church, to unite and form many into one single Spouse, that God did so much and suffered so much’ ” (Sermon LXVIII on the Canticle of Canticles).

Whereas in the history of Christian spirituality, mystical marriages are often experienced individually, with Chiara it was the experience of a whole group of souls fused in unity, made Church. In the one married Soul, the individual souls can consider themselves as being personally married, too. Indeed, this is baptism carried to its full expression, where the marriage image expresses the full transformation in Christ.

In the days following July 17, Chiara gradually became aware that, by virtue of that profound union, the Bridegroom allowed his bride to share in his inheritance. The “dowry” he brought as a gift was no less than the “whole of Paradise.” That is how Chiara’s
“honeymoon” started.

For months, the Bridegroom showed his bride all that she now possessed. He allowed her to see Paradise through his own eyes. This is what she wrote: “The bride loves, sees, desires what the spouse loves, sees, desires.” She cried out: “My sweetest Spouse, heaven is too beautiful and you, as a divine Lover, after the mystical marriage (…) show me your possessions that are mine.”

CITTÀ NUOVA
CITTÀ NUOVA

This reminds us of what John of the Cross wrote: “The heavens and the earth are mine; humanity is mine, the just and the sinners are mine. The angels and the mother of God are mine. All things are mine. Even God is mine and he is there for me, because Christ is mine and he is everything for me. Therefore, my soul, what are you asking and yearning for? Everything is yours and everything is for you” (Prayer of the Soul in Love).

However, the bride, too, has to bring her Bridegroom a dowry. Since Chiara’s “mystical marriage” had an ecclesial dimension, the dowry could not have been something personal or intimate (such as her own abilities or her own holiness). The Bridegroom requested no less than the whole of creation. Only a whole group could bring as a dowry the entire creation, by being an expression of it.

An experience that reached such lofty mystical heights called for an immersion into tangible reality. It was an invitation to enter every field of work, politics, social and family life, in order to elevate every aspect of daily life.

This was exactly the opposite of a spiritualistic escape from reality. Indeed, toward the end of her life, we heard Chiara using the words of Jacques Leclercq to express her profound desire as his spouse: “I will come to you, my God… I will come to you with my wildest dream: to bring you the world in my arms.”


A TASTE OF PARADISE ‘49

“Only now, after our souls have become ‘Church’ can they, both in unity with others and individually, say that they are spouses of Christ.”

The world-famous theologian, Yves Congar, wrote something similar: “All [Christians] are spouses, but they are seen and desired as such by God only inasmuch as they are members of the Spouse who is the Church.”

Only by living in unity– being one heart and one soul– can we reach the fullness of union with God, which only the Church can possess and give.

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