Agapic Behaviour and Social Sciences
I greet with real joy those colleagues that we already know and with whom we had the chance to exchange some ideas both in the Conference of 2005 on “Social Relationships and Fraternity: a Paradox or Sustainable Model?” and in the Seminar held at the Catholic University of Milan on: “The Humanization of Society.”
However, there are some people who are attending for the first time and it seems dutiful to me to present the reality of Social-One: its aspiration, its objectives, its history and methodology.
In this way, this brief introduction can clarify what we are proposing and what we hope to achieve through this seminar.
The group “Social-One” (Social Sciences in Dialogue) was born almost as a natural and necessary maturation - I would say – from, above all, a spiritual experience of life, but which immediately touched the very roots of our thinking. We are a composite and variegated “we,” an international group of sociologists and social work scholars who meet on a regular basis and work in communion on shared ideas.
Our coming together as a scientific community derives from the always deeper awareness that the spirituality/charism of Chiara Lubich, which we draw from, is able to offer a new paradigm for social sciences.
Its spirituality rests on two cardinal points. The first is unity; that unity which is the fruit and fulfilment of love-agape, that is, of love that is unfolded in life and in the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth in all its anthropological and social richness. It is unity understood and lived as a force capable of composing the human family, bringing about a deep interaction among people, in the necessary distinction, in the context of the different social realities. That is to say, without negating but rather facing all the divisions and contrasts that are the result of political, ethnic, linguistic, social and religious realities (see 1 Cor 12).
The second cardinal point of the spirituality of unity is the contemplation and understanding of the cry of Jesus on the cross [“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34)] as the place and moment of the full revelation of the love of God towards humanity and as the key to understanding and resolving every disunity, conflict and difference between individuals and in society.
In His cry is concentrated all the suffering of the world: every limit, doubt, search, invocation; every burden of the heart and of the mind; every existential and cultural night; every no and every why; every possible ‘unknown,’ to be understood and illumined by the super love of He who in the depths of the abyss hands himself and humanity over to Another who receives him and us.
That cry sums up the cry of everyone and gives light to understand that at the bottom and from the bottom of every darkness emerges a ‘yes,’ an answer of life.
These two cardinal points: unity and Christ’s abandonment on the cross form two sides of a coin which in the middle holds the entire Gospel, all of Jesus’ message, revisited and lived with the sensibility of modernity.
Chiara and her first companions right from the beginning – now we are in the midst of the Second World War in the city of Trent – were convinced that the charism that God was giving them had a universal breadth: in the sense of embracing all of humanity (l’ut omnes unum sint [see Jn 17:11]) and of penetrating all human realities.
In a matter of 60 years the communities of the Movement came to life on all five continents, attracted people of every rank, background, race, language and ethnicity, just as in the time of the early Christians. They were living communities that experienced unity, living agape in every dimension of life, recognizing the face of the Forsaken One in every personal and societal difficulty. It was an immense laboratory where love-agape took shape in individuals, in relationships, giving life to new economic and social structures.
In the ’90s the Study Center of the Movement was born – the Abbà School – which began reflecting and elaborating a doctrine of unity that was interdisciplinary, intercultural and interreligious. It was composed of about 30 members, coming from Eastern and Western Europe, as well as Brazil and the United States. Besides representing the spirituality, they were also scholars in theology, philosophy, the humanities (economics, political science, sociology, psychology, law, communications sciences, etc.) and the natural sciences.
It was in this context that Social-One was born, which intended to insert itself and continue in the current of a humanistic sociology that hinges on the central role of the person as the social actor, offering new points for reflection and research, new keys to understanding and interpreting the social reality.
Our scientific method of work mirrors that which we have already experienced in our spiritual life:
- A community that lives love-agape in studies and research, among its members, and with everyone;
- which dialogues with all disciplines because the truth cannot be reached without everyone’s contribution;
- which opens up to the contribution given by other contexts of civilization;
- that is nourished by the legacy of the “classics” but also aims to the future.
Ours is still a brief history. As a fruit of our commitment, we have held three conferences on central topics for us. The first was in 2002 on “The Social Relationship,” the second in 2003 on “Conflict as Seen in the Light of the Charism of Unity.” In 2005 we held a conference with greater weight: “Social Relationships and Fraternity: a Paradox or Sustainable Model?”
After this last conference, Social-One grew in number. Sociologists and social work scholars began to collaborate with us. Our work began to produce articles, research, publications for literature such as Città Nuova and the book by Pitirim Sorokin “The ways and power of love” with the Italian version “Il potere dell’amore.”
In 2007, on the proposal of the Catholic University of Milan and the group SPE (Sociology for the Person) we held a seminar in Milan titled: “The Humanization of Society.” It was a moment of open, sincere and constructive dialogue with the academic community on our project and thoughts.
The work then continued, maturing its focus on a nodal point – agapic behaviour – as an instrument of social analysis and, therefore, of understanding the social reality.
This will be the main content of the talk given by Professors Colasanto and Iorio that we offer as a proposal for reflection and discussion. Even if it will be delivered with sociological terms, we believe with Bajoit that every talk requires a specific lexicon, that the concepts have meanings which need to be explained.
It is my intention to identify the different aspects of agape that inspire this relationship.
The agape that we refer to is that which wants to produce a civilization of love (John Paul II) whose source is the Gospel of Jesus, the one also in the life experience and the doctrine of Chiara Lubich.
• Agape is the primary substance of every human being created in the image and likeness of God who is love. It is a way of being and behaving that gives value and meaning to all that we do: to our attitudes and actions, but also to our motivations. Therefore, it also remains a choice, a free act of will. Chiara Lubich wrote: «The dynamism of the intratrinitarian life is unconditional mutual gift of self, and it is total and eternal communion (‘All I have is yours and all you have is mine’ [Jn 17:10]) between Father and Son in the Holy Spirit. An analogous reality was experienced to be impressed by God among all human beings. I felt that I had been created as a gift for the person next to me and the person next to me has been created by God as a gift for me, as the Father in the Trinity is all for the Son and the Son is all for the Father. The relationship between us is the Holy Spirit, the same relationship that exists among the Persons of the Trinity» (C. Lubich, The Collective Spirituality: its cardinal points, in Gen’s, 1 (1996), pp 8-9).
• This dimension of Trinitarian agape, in the thought of Chiara Lubich, is not an abstract model. By means of and in Jesus, it must be fulfilled among human beings, also in societal life.
«And we understood that we had to love each other to the point of being consumed in one and to re-find our distinction in the one. As God, who being Love, is One and triune» (From the Lesson during the conferment of the Honorary Doctorate in Theology from the University of Trnava, Slovakia in 2003).
The philosopher and theologian Klaus Hemmerle, disciple of Lubich, underlined and commented on this divine → human rapport:
«Only the Trinitarian model allows for each one to be, in his/her way, the origins of society and that society nevertheless be something more than the sum of individuals; that society may have a united, common life, and that this life also be that of the individual person. I, the other and everything becomes in turn the inaugural moment, the threshold and fulcrum of the movement» (K. Hemmerle, Tesi di ontologia trinitaria. Per un rinnovamento del pensiero cristiano, Città Nuova, Rome, 1996, p.27).
The agape proposed by Jesus is reciprocal and this is the novelty that He brings. The love of God and love of neighbour were already known. Reciprocal agape is His commandment: «Love one another as I have loved you» (Jn 13:34).
Therefore agape, even if it remains gratuitous, develops into reciprocity.
Lubich really insists on this dynamic of reciprocity: «Look then at every neighbour with love and to love is to give. But the gift calls for a gift and you will be loved in return: as in the Trinity» (Nuova Umanità XXII [2000/3-4] 357-358).
• The reciprocity of agape produces a unique reality, a new reality that transcends the two or more who love each other: it is unity.
• The entire Gospel is seen by Chiara in function of unity: «… unity is at the apex of Jesus’ thoughts and sums up and synthesizes his commandments. This is what Jesus made us understand right from the start. God wants from us above all... that we bring about living cells, with Christ in our midst, which are always more ardent; always more numerous; that ignite always bigger fires within families, in offices, in factories, in schools, in parishes, in convents, in order to nourish the fire of the love of God in the Church and in society » (L’unità e Gesù abbandonato, Città Nuova, Rome 1984, pp 45-46).
• Agape lived among human creatures meets, or better, measures itself with the mystery of limitation, of evil. Jesus was the first to experience persecution, betrayal, rejection, the catastrophe. His life seemed like a total failure. The one hanging from that wood was a condemned person. Instead, this is where agape triumphs: in giving us his Life, his physical life and the more real one - his being the Son of God. He is love that is creative, redemptive, he is the super-Love.
Jesus crucified and forsaken can be recognizable, welcomed and re-lived by anyone as the super-love.
• Chiara understands and teaches what it means to give one’s life - on the example of the crucified and forsaken One – in order to create unity. We need to “make ourselves one” with our neighbour.
To make ourselves one is a typical attitude of agape. Chiara developed a real pedagogy on this:
«The real conduct that interprets the word “love,” “to love,” is making ourselves one, to reach out to our brothers or sisters, to meet their needs, to take on their burdens, as well as their sufferings. Then it will be meaningful to give food, to give drink, to offer advice, to help someone » (The art of loving, p. 80).
«Making ourselves one contains all the qualities listed by Saint Paul in his Hymn to Charity (1 Cor 13:1-13).
In fact, ‘to make ourselves one’ it is necessary to be magnanimous, which etymologically means: without any impatience.
When we make ourselves one, we surely want the good.
Envy is far removed from this attitude.
To make ourselves one, we cannot boast, but rather we have to be empty of ourselves.
One thinks only of the other and there is therefore no space for ambition and egoism. When we make ourselves one we do not become irritated, because it requires us be very calm: we do not think badly of the other because we make ourselves one hoping that goodness, justice and truth triumphs in them.
Making ourselves one is to suffer, believe in and tolerate everything» (Idem).
All these dimensions of Agape are not detached from each other, but are linked together, unifying our being and our doing:
«Jesus said: ‘this is my commandment: that you love one another,’ but he did not leave us without a model of this love because he added: ‘no one has greater love than this, to give one’s life for his friends.’
Yes: Jesus crucified and forsaken is the way of loving our brothers and sisters. His death on the cross, where he felt abandoned, is Jesus’ supreme, divine and heroic lesson on what love is at its core.
This vision of Jesus crucified and forsaken is what the Holy Spirit sculpted in the hearts of the members of our Movement so that we would know what love is truly. On His example – in as much as their human limitations allow – they conform their lives » ( L’unità e Gesù abbandonato, p. 104),
There are another two characteristics of agape that are particularly important for a sociological discourse.
Firstly, agape is not a sentiment of the heart, it is a doing. In the parable of the Good Samaritan the neighbour is the one who took care of the man who had been beaten by the bandits. It is therefore a matter of “becoming neighbour,” to take care of the other. To love is to serve, a concrete service towards real people that takes shape in the present moment.
«To love everyone. In order to fulfill this, one must love their neighbour. But who is our neighbour? We know it: we do not have to go very far to find him/her: our neighbour is the brother or sister who is next to us in the present moment of our life.
We need to … love this neighbour now. Therefore, it is not a platonic love, nor an ideal love: it is love made of deeds.
We must not love in an abstract and futuristic manner, but in a concrete way in the present, right now» (p. 33).
This love is not lived out in special places but in our daily lives, in the spaces where everyone is an actor, because everyone is invited to take the initiative, to establish a rapport, a relationship.
To take the initiative, without waiting for the other person to take the first step, is one of the most authentic verifications of agape.
And so agape is always new, never repetitive but always creative, unpredictable; even if it is orderly and has its rules, but it does not allow itself to be codified, it does not let itself get trapped in but makes the one who lives it free like the wind that blows where it pleases... but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going (Jn. 3:8).