- In relazione con...
- La Beatificazione
BLESSED JOSEPH ALLAMANO
FOUNDER OF THE CONSOLATA FATHERS, BROTHERS AND SISTERS.
A short biography and some aspects of the spiritual doctrine
of Blessed Joseph Allamano
I am happy to have a chance to present this small book on the life and spirituality of Bd. Joseph Allamano, whom many of us Kenya Christians rightly consider as our Father in the Faith.
When Bd. Joseph Allamano founded the Consolata Missionaries, he wanted them to continue the missionary activity of Card. Massaia (a Capuchin, born in the same area as Bd. J. Allamano) in Ethiopia. However, for various reasons (political, etc.), his desire could not be fulfilled.
As a consequence, we, people of Kenya, especially those living in the Central part of our Country, benefited. His missionaries came to Murang'a, Nyeri, and later went also to Meru, Embu, and Marsabit. They were the first to preach our Faith in these areas, so that their Founder and Father can rightly be considered as the Father in the Faith of the people living there.
In later years, the Consolata Missionaries went also to other parts of Kenya.
From Kenya they spread to other African Countries: Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Somalia (for some time) and Uganda. Other African Countries that are now benefiting from the missionary activity of the Consolata Missionaries are South Africa, Congo D.R., and Ivory Coast; the Consolata Missionary Sisters went also to Liberia, Libya and Guinea Bisseau.
At present the Consolata Missionaries are working not only in Africa, but also in various Countries of America and Asia.
Some of our sons and daughters have been attracted by the spirituality and charism of Bd. Joseph Allamano, have joined the Consolata Missionaries, and are now working here in Africa, in America, Europe and Asia.
Bd. Allamano's spirituality is appealing and recommendable: a holiness which does not consist in extraordinary things, but in doing all our daily activities in the best possible way; a spirit of prayer; deep devotion to the B. V. Mary and to the Blessed Sacrament; concern for people; desire to share with all people what we consider our greatest treasure, our Faith, etc.
To know more about Bd. Joseph Allamano, this quiet but very active diocesan priest who founded two Missionary Institutes (one for men, one for women), can certainly be of help to all Christians in their striving to live their Christian vocation to the full.
+ John Card. Njue
Archbishop of Nairobi
We remember Blessed Joseph Allamano as a great missionary, and we rightly think of him as “A Father of Innumerable Christians”. This can be said in spite of the fact that he could never personally go to mission countries. In his youth he had wished to join a missionary Congregation, but his application could not be accepted because of the poor health that continued to accompany him throughout his life.. However, the Missionary Charism continued to burn in him, and brought its fruits with the foundation of the Missionary Institutes of the Consolata Fathers and Brothers, and then of the Consolata Sisters. He has always been convinced that he did not engage in these foundations by chance, or just because of the favourable conditions that had arisen at a certain time, but as a response to the Missionary Charism he had been blessed with since his early age. In fact, in a talk to his missionaries he said: “Oh yes, I was thinking of the Missions when I was still a seminarian, but the Lord, in his inscrutable designs has made me wait for the day and the hour”.
So, he is a real missionary who, having been unable to go out to perform the desired missionary activity personally, founded the two Institutes and, through his missionaries, was able to evangelize so many people in different parts of the world and become the “Father in the faith of innumerable Christians”.
This is evident particularly here in Africa, where the Consolata missionaries started their ministry in areas where people had never heard before any preaching of the Good News. For instance, in Kenya, practically all the Catholics of the eight dioceses that form the Nyeri Metropolitan Church can rightly call him their father in the faith, as their ancestors were blessed by the great gift of Christian Life through his missionaries.
It is in view of the many spiritual children of blessed Joseph Allamano that this book has been prepared. We hope it will respond to their desire to know more about his life and to benefit from his rich spirituality. Its first part, “A Short Biography of Blessed Joseph Allamano” is taken from the book “this I want you to be” edited by Fr. Francesco Pavese, IMC, and Sr. Angeles Mantineo, MC. The second part, “Aspects of Blessed Joseph Allamano’s Spirituality” is an abridgement and adaptation from the same book. The original book was mainly intended for the members of the two Institutes, while this work aims at helping the Consolata Friends and Lay Missionaries, and all the people who have somehow been blessed by the Allamano Charism, and desire to follow his footsteps. That is why most of the parts of the original book, concerning the internal life of the Consolata Institutes or the religious life at large, have been left out.
May Blessed Joseph Allamano continue to bless us and more and more inspire us with his missionary spirituality.
Fr. Peter Baudena, IMC
A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF JOSEPH ALLAMANO
By Fr. Francesco Pavese, IMC, and Sr. Angeles Mantineo, MC
Joseph Allamano, the fourth of five children, was born on January 21, 1851, at Castelnuovo d'Asti (now Castelnuovo Don Bosco), in Italy, the hometown of St. Joseph Cafasso and St. John Bosco. His father died when he was not yet three years old, and his mother, Maria Anna Cafasso (the sister of the Saint), was the major influence on his life. Joseph Allamano followed in the footsteps of his uncle, St. Joseph, and devoted himself to the training of clergy. He was a holy man, like his uncle; it was often said that he was "Fr. Cafasso returned to life" and "an almost perfect copy of his great uncle and predecessor".
With Don Bosco. Joseph Allamano finished elementary school in 1862 and that autumn entered the Salesian "Oratorio" at Valdocco, where his regular confessor was Don Bosco himself. After completing four years of intermediate school at the "Oratorio", he felt called to the diocesan priesthood, and left Valdocco for the diocesan seminary in Torino. Don Bosco perhaps had thought that Allamano would enter his own Congregation, and gently reproved him: "You hurt my feelings -- you left without even saying ‘goodbye’." Allamano responded timidly, "I didn't have the nerve ..." He felt great affection for Don Bosco all his life long, and did not want to displease him.
In the Diocesan Seminary. His decision to enter the diocesan seminary met with unforeseen opposition in his own family. His brothers were opposed to this idea, even if his mother was not. They were not against a priestly vocation, but they wanted him to attend the "Liceo pubblico" (high school) before going off to the seminary. Young Joseph was firm and told his brothers, "The Lord is calling me now ... I don't know if he will still be calling me in two or three years." In 1866 he entered the seminary. From his first year as a seminarian there were signs of the poor health that would afflict him throughout his life -- at times his physical frailty was a genuine threat – but, on the whole, his seminary experience was very positive. Mgr. G. B. Ressia, later the Bishop of Mondovi', was his classmate. Speaking about Allamano, he said, "He was the first of our class -- and not just alphabetically; he was first in studies, virtue, gentleness and generosity. Everyone of us realized that he was the one closest to the heart of Jesus, that he was Jesus' closest friend; none of us would have dared to compare with him.
Forming seminarians. On September 20, 1873, Joseph Allamano was ordained to the priesthood. He wanted very much to be involved in pastoral ministry but, instead, he was assigned to the seminary, first as an assistant (1873-1876) and then as spiritual director (1876-1880). Fr. Allamano had very different plans, so that, when Archbishop Lorenzo Gastaldi gave him this assignment, he objected respectfully, "I had hoped to be an assistant parish priest, and later maybe a parish priest in some little village..." The Archbishop responded kindly, "You wanted to be a parish priest? If this is all that's bothering you..., I am giving you the most important parish in the diocese: the seminary!"
As a formator of candidates for the priesthood, he was distinguished by the firmness of his principles and the gentleness with which he put these principles into action. Everyone recognized his excellence as an educator: he was a genuine "master of clergy formation". At the same time he continued his own studies, and on July 30, 1876, the Torino Theological Faculty awarded him a doctorate in Theology, and on June 12, 1977, university teaching credentials. He was later appointed as associate member of the Canon and Civil Law Faculty; subsequently he became the chairman in both of these faculties.
Rector of the Consolata Shrine. In October 1880 he was appointed Rector of the Consolata Shrine in Torino and, from that time until his death, all his work took place at that Archdiocese's Marian Shrine. This new assignment was not an easy one for the 29-year old priest. He later told of his conversation with the Archbishop: "My Lord, I am too young for this job", he said with filial trust. The Archbishop's response was both fatherly and encouraging: "You will see that they will like you even so. It is good that you are young: if you make any mistakes, you will have time to correct them."
Fr. Giacomo (James) Camisassa, a priest Fr. Allamano had known and respected when he was the seminary spiritual director, was his first associate at the Shrine. Fr. Allamano invited Fr. Camisassa to the Shrine, and the letter reveals something of Fr. Allamano's pastoral plans: "You see, my friend, together we can accomplish some good and honour Mary, our Mother and Consolation, with our sacred worship." Their fraternal and priestly collaboration lasted their entire lives. Each respected the other's work and shared the same ideals. Their work together is a magnificent witness to and example of two priests' friendship and pastoral collaboration. Shortly after Fr. Camisassa's death, Fr. Allamano said, "He was always ready to sacrifice himself to spare me". "With his death I have lost my two hands". "We were together as one for 42 years". "Every evening we spent long hours together in my study...". "We have promised to tell each other the truth, and we kept this promise."
The Shrine was physically run down and in spiritual decline. Fr. Allamano's leadership initiated a revival. With Fr. Camisassa's active assistance, the shrine became the artistic, marble and gold jewel we see today. Fr. Allamano took charge of the shrine's pastoral, liturgical and social activity; gradually it became a centre of Marian spirituality and Christian renewal in the city and in the region. Fr. Allamano's special gift for counselling and comfort contributed to this rebirth. People of all classes benefitted from his insight and heart-felt concern. Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot remarked, "Fr. Allamano was an exemplar of what a genuine priest should be; his was a providential mission for a diocese like Torino. It was a mission of counselling, direction, encouragement, admonition, and reviving souls through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He brought the joy and peace of God's friendship to many, and encouraged people to work in the apostolate."
Retreat Director. Along with his work as Rector of the Consolata Shrine, Fr. Allamano was also the Rector of the Shrine of St. Ignatius, on the hills near Lanzo Torinese. This shrine had a Retreat House attached to it, which was well known as a spirituality centre: St. Joseph Cafasso had preached there for many years. Fr. Allamano saw it as a special place for the formation of priests and lay-people. A close co-worker of his, Canon G. Cappella, said, "He was always eager to direct retreats personally and, while he was directing them, he was also participating in them. He used to say, 'I am not just a channel of retreat grace for others, but a basin that gathers grace for himself as well' (...) While he was its director, St. Ignatius’ House became a first-class retreat house: there was never an empty room."
In the footsteps of his uncle, Fr. Joseph Cafasso. In order to provide a model, especially for priests, Fr. Allamano collected memories of Fr. Cafasso, published his biography and writings, and promoted his cause of beatification, which he saw fulfilled on May 3, 1925. He candidly admitted, "I started this process, not out of affection or family bonds, but because of the positive effects this man's example could bring about: people who learn of his virtues may be stimulated to become better priests, Christians and missionaries." Canon N. Baravalle confirmed this: "He never boasted about his family connection with the Blessed, and during our discussions often remarked, 'As a relative I really should not be involved in this affair, and this is certainly not the reason why I am involved. I am doing this as the Rector of the "Convitto Ecclesiastico" (Priestly College - Pastoral Institute for newly ordained priests), a position he held before me. I teach and direct priests as he did, and I feel it my duty to hold him up as an exemplar of virtue and holiness for them.'"
After his uncle's beatification, he wrote a circular letter overflowing with joy and emotion to all Consolata Missionaries: "Blessed Joseph Cafasso is the patron and the co-founder of the 'Convitto'. He is a light and example for devout souls, especially ecclesiastics. But he is also our special protector and "your uncle", as you say: honour him, therefore, and imitate his virtues. I believe that with his beatification I have provided you with an excellent means of sanctification; the beatification has been part of my mission in regard to you."
Rector of the "Convitto". Fr. Allamano worked also to heal the breach caused in the diocese by the closing of the "Convitto Ecclesiastico", where young priests were trained. The Archbishop had ordered this closing because of controversies about the teaching of moral theology. Fr. Allamano brought about the re-opening of this institution in 1882 and was its Rector until his death. He was very concerned with the spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of young priests, and made sure that his program was up-to-date. He emphasized the ultimate goal of a priestly vocation: to save one's brothers and sisters. To the "Convitto" residents, out of his conviction, he proposed also and emphasized the missionary dimension of priesthood. He used to affirm that "the vocation to the missions is essentially the vocation of every holy priest. All it takes is a greater love for our Lord Jesus Christ, which urges one to make Him known and loved by those who do not yet know Him and love Him." Having convinced the Archbishop to reopen the "Convitto" at the Consolata Shrine was one of Fr. Allamano's greatest accomplishments.
Apostle in the local Church. Along with everything reported above, Fr. Allamano was directly or indirectly involved in a host of other apostolic works. He was canon of the Cathedral, a member of various commissions and committees, and the religious superior of the Visitation Sisters and of the Sisters of St. Joseph. He was very involved in anniversary celebrations and worked hard helping refugees and priests and seminarians drafted into the army during the First World War. Fr. Allamano was able to cooperate in all sorts of apostolate. Canon N. Baravalle, who lived with him at the Shrine, said: "The most modern forms of Catholic apostolate, like the press and similar ones, were not just something he admired, but something which he helped with what at those times were substantial financial contributions." Mgr. G. B. Pinardi, the Auxiliary Bishop of Torino, wrote: "During Fr. Allamano's life, there was no single apostolic project that escaped the influence of the Consolata’s 'Convitto'."
Fr. Allamano was a fervent supporter of Catholic journalism, not just in his youth or at the height of his apostolate, but also in his old age and up to the time of his death. Mgr. B. Caselli, editor of the Torino Catholic newspaper, wrote, "Our Catholic newspaper always enjoyed his very authoritative, heartfelt and moral support." Canon A. Cantono had this to say: "He was a valid critic of our journalism work. He wanted it agile and done well. He told me we should not be afraid to use modern forms or technology".
Father of Missionaries. Fired by his intense apostolic zeal and a vivid understanding of the Church's mission, Fr. Allamano's concerns reached out to the whole world. He felt the urgency of Christ's command to take the Gospel to all peoples. He thought it unnatural that the Church in Torino, that flowered with so many institutions devoted to charity, should not have one solely dedicated to the missions. He sought to remedy this situation, thus helping those who felt the missionary call to carry out their vocation and encouraging this call in other people. Founding a missionary Institute was not a sudden impulse; Fr. Allamano conceived this idea after prolonged spiritual preparation and in the face of considerable obstacles and contradictions. Undoubtedly the work of founding the Institute was one of trial and fatigue for Fr. Allamano, who was already deeply involved in Fr. Cafasso's cause and the work at the "Convitto" and Shrine, as well as at St. Ignatius’ House.
In 1891 he believed the right moment had arrived to found his missionary Institute of priests and brothers, but he was only able to carry out this project when his friend and classmate, Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, became the Archbishop of Torino. In Card. Richelmy Fr. Allamano found someone who supported him and shared his ideals. Delay came to a sudden end through the intervention of Divine Providence. In January 1900, Fr. Allamano was close to death; he had contracted a disease while assisting an old woman in an icy attic. He always believed that his recovery was a miracle of Our Lady Consolata. He never doubted that this was a sign that the Institute was to be founded. The following year, on January 29, 1901, the Institute of the Consolata Missionaries (priests and brothers) was born.
The underlying motivation of this foundation was the deep-rooted spirit of Fr. Allamano himself. Fr. L. Sales, his loving disciple and first biographer, claims that the root cause of this missionary endeavour is Fr. Allamano's sanctity. He himself once said: "Since I could not be a missionary myself, I wanted to make it possible for those with this vocation to follow it." There were also other circumstantial reasons for starting this work: a desire to continue Cardinal Massaia's work, and the missionary spirit and urgings of some of the priests living in the "Convitto". Fr. Allamano himself says as much in a letter to Card. Richelmy on April 6, 1900: "During my many years of training clergy, I must confess that I have often encountered genuine missionary vocations." The final decision to found an Institute of missionaries was taken only at the explicit command of the Archbishop. Fr. Allamano responded to this command with Peter's words to Jesus on the occasion of the miraculous catch: "In your name I will cast out the nets".
On May 8, 1902, the first four missionaries left for Kenya: two priests and two brothers. Others followed shortly afterwards. Soon becoming aware of the need for female collaborators, Fr. Allamano obtained from the Superiors of the Cottolengo Institute some Vincentian Sisters to go to Kenya and work alongside the Consolata Missionaries. This collaboration began in 1903 and lasted more than twenty-two years. However, because of difficulties arisen between the newly elected Apostolic Vicar, Bishop Filippo Perlo, and the Cottolengo Superiors, no more Sisters were sent after 1909. Those who were working in Kenya quite gradually returned to Italy.
Fr. Allamano suffered because of the difficulties, but was unable to forestall their consequences. He felt forced to intervene to assure the necessary presence of Sisters in the missions. At the urging of Bishop F. Perlo, with the permission of his Archbishop, and on the advice of Card. Girolamo Gotti, prefect of "Propaganda Fide" and especially because of Pope St. Pius X's support, Fr. Allamano founded the Institute of the Consolata Missionary Sisters on January 29, 1910. He later told the Sisters how their Institute came to be founded. He was asking them to pray for Card. Gotti who was very sick at the time and he said, "It was Card. Gotti who encouraged me to found the Sisters. He told me 'It is God's will that there be Sisters.' And I responded, 'But there are already so many Sisters'. 'Yes', he said, 'many Sisters, but few missionary ones'." Fr. Allamano also revealed the Pope's involvement: "It was Pope Pius X who wanted your foundation; he is the one who gave me the vocation of providing women missionaries". He would continue with pleasure, and recount his conversation with Pope Pius X, to whom he had spoken about his problems in finding female personnel for the missions. The Pope said, "You yourself must found an Institute of missionary Sisters, as you have founded one for men missionaries." "But, Your Holiness", Fr. Allamano respectfully objected, "there are already so many Institute of Sisters". "Yes", the Pope responded, "but they are not exclusively missionary". "But, Holy Father," Fr. Allamano continued, "I do not feel I have a vocation to found an Institute of Sisters!" "If you do not have it," the Pope said, "I give it to you". Logically Fr. Allamano would then tell the Sisters, "You see, it was the Pope, not me, who wanted your foundation. Therefore you must be 'Papaline' (faithful to the Pope)”.
In later years, other mission fields were entrusted to the men and women Consolata Missionaries, in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Somalia, and Mozambique. Today the Consolata Missionaries are working in twenty-four Countries of the continents of Africa, America, Europe and Asia.
Through personal contacts, letters, and formation meetings, Fr. Allamano lavished his most loving care on his sons and daughters. Convinced that the missions deserved the best we have to offer, he was more concerned with quality than quantity. He looked for well-prepared evangelizers, "saint in a superlative way", and willing to give their lives for the missions. He had as a motto: "First saints and then missionaries". For him this "first" was not a matter of time but of priority.
He encourages and blesses us from heaven. Fr. Allamano died on February 16, 1926, at the Consolata Shrine. Today his remains are preserved in the church of the Mother-House of his Missionaries in Corso Ferrucci, in Torino. Missionaries, friends of the missions, and many pilgrims visit his resting place. Bd. Allamano's sarcophagus is not just a tomb; it is an altar on which Mass is celebrated. Bd. Allamano's sons and daughters have placed the remains of his close collaborator and co-founder, Fr. Camisassa, next to his body.
Fr. Allamano was beatified on October 7, 1990, by Pope John Paul II. The Pope confirmed the tributes the new Blessed had received during his life and after his death: "The Consolata Saint", "Provident Father", "Formator and Teacher of the Clergy", "A priest for the whole world". During the homily he delivered at the beatification, the Pope said, "At this moment when his name is added to the list of the Blessed, Joseph Allamano reminds us that, in order to be faithful to our Christian vocation, we must share the gifts we have received from God with brothers and sisters from every race and culture. We must proclaim Christ with courage and coherence to everyone we encounter, and especially to those who do not yet know Him".
Bd. Allamano left a written last will and testament to his missionaries. It included words of encouragement which can certainly be seen as addressed to all people who intend to embrace his missionary spirituality: "I have lived my many years for your sake; I have given my possessions, my health and my life for you; I hope that, after my death, I will be your protector in heaven".
ASPECTS OF BLESSED JOSEPH ALLAMANO’S SPIRITUALITY
Introduced by Fr. P. Baudena, IMC
Blessed Joseph Allamano did not leave publications on spirituality, but, thank God, his thoughts about it were transmitted to us by the records of his conferences. Every Sunday he held separate formation conferences for men and women missionaries. These conferences are an inexhaustible source of first class missionary spirituality and teaching. The spontaneity and simplicity of these conferences are striking. They are more like spiritual conversations a father has with his sons and daughters to prepare them for their future mission. The contents of these conferences are preserved in sixteen notebooks: 552 pages in Fr. Allamano's handwriting that have been preserved. They constitute a legacy for the two Congregations he founded. When he handed these notebooks to the novice master, Father Giuseppe Nepote, he remarked: "The manuscripts of these conferences contain my real thought."
While Fr, Allamano was speaking, his young missionaries took careful and accurate notes of what he had to say. These notes are an almost verbatim record of his conferences. He was aware of these transcripts and gave them his paternal approval: "They represent the substance of what I have been telling you in an informal way".
N. B.: What follows, as it is coming from the records of the conferences of Blessed Joseph Allamano, contains his genuine thoughts on spirituality.
His words are printed in roman type, while the introductions and comments are in italics.
THE PRIMACY OF HOLINESS
A very demanding spirituality
Blessed Allamano was inviting his missionaries, and he is calling the lay Cristians who desire to be inspired by his missionary charism and spirituality, to aim very high, not just at a somehow good behaviour, but "at the fullness of Christian life and at the perfection of love" as the Constitution on the Church of Vatican II (No. 40) will say.
Let us listen to him.
“This is God's will: that you be saints” (1Thess 4:3). God requires holiness from everyone, even from simple Christians, who achieve it through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, the exercise of Christian virtues, and the perfect performance of the duties of one's state of life. If this is the will of God for all Christians, how much more does he expect from those to whom He has given the holiest of vocations?
That you become saints: this is my principal concern and my constant preoccupation. It is not enough that God has given you a very special vocation, nor it is enough that you enjoy its benefits and advantages. You must appreciate it and pursue the perfection it presupposes. This is our goal: to become saints, great saints, saints as soon as possible.
First saints and then missionaries. You are here to become Consolata Missionaries. You cannot accomplish this unless you live and work to achieve the goal of the Congregation: the sanctification of our members and the conversion of people. Something I must tell you over and over: souls are saved through holiness. It is impossible to make others good when we are not good ourselves. No one gives what he does not have. We can administer a Sacrament without being holy but convert a person, no. If an individual is not closely united to God in charity, God will not ordinarily allow him to touch the hearts of others; this would be asking for a miracle. Believe me: unless you yourselves are aflame you cannot kindle a fire. If you do not possess the fire of love, you cannot spread it to others. You must never neglect your own union with God or sacrifice your own holiness for the sake of others.
To evangelize with holiness of life
Missionaries should both be and be seen to be holy: holiness of life speaks to people. People must be able to see God in his missionaries. Jesus said to his apostles: "Whoever sees me sees the Father" (John 14, 9), and you in your turn should be able to say: “Whoever sees me, sees Jesus”! The religious habit and the preaching do not make a missionary; there must be works. Your works bear witness to people. Let us say with Jesus: “The work the Father has given me to accomplish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. The works I do bear witness to me” (John 5:36).
The devil is “the strong man fully armed” who dominates others with the chains of passion and superstition. Being sent by Our Lord Jesus Christ is not enough to defeat him; we must possess the spirit of holiness. Missionaries must pray more, practice greater mortification and be holier. They must be extraordinarily holy.
If a mission is not successful, it might be our fault; we may not be fit instruments in the hands of God. I am not saying that this is always the case but, certainly, if we were truly holy, the Lord would use us to achieve greater things. Converting others is something altogether supernatural. The greater our intimacy and friendship with Jesus, the more we can hope for his intervening Grace. We must ask ourselves if our lack of success is not somehow due to our lack of holiness. After so many centuries of apostolate, there are still so many parts of the world that are not Christian. We must be convinced of the need to be saints.
Saints are happier
Whoever gives himself genuinely and totally to the Lord will enjoy well-being and happiness even here on earth. The more we hunger and thirst for holiness, and the more we hunger and thirst for God, the happier we will be. The saints who experienced this hunger and thirst were the happiest of people. Their inner peace and heartfelt joy were so great that they could be seen and shared with others. About St. Joseph Cafasso we read that just his presence and a few words of his were enough to lift the spirits of others. And about St. Vincent de Paul people said, “Vincent, always Vincent”, meaning that Vincent was always the same, always cheerful whatever happened in his life. He wasn't indifferent or insensitive but, through God's love, he faced every situation with good cheer. When one's heart is at peace, when one feels that God loves him, what can possibly upset him? One can repeat the words of St. Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword ? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom 8:35.37).
To be extraordinary in the ordinary
The holiness I want for you is not that you perform miracles, but that you do all things well. There is a striking passage in the Gospel: after Jesus had cured the deaf mute the crowds remarked, “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37). Would it not have been more appropriate after the miracle to say, “We have seen wondrous things” (Luke 5:26)? Instead, they say, “He has done all things well!” This is the highest praise people could give Jesus. Not only in extraordinary things but in ordinary, common things, He did everything well. These words should be written on our walls and, when we die, on our tombstones: “Bene omnia fecit”. He has done all things well.
We can notice that Fr. Allamano was already saying the same things that the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, will say with different words in the "Novo Millennium Ineunte" (No. 31): that holiness is not a sort of "an extraordinary existence, possible to a few...but a high standard of ordinary Christian life".
HOLINESS IN FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE
Blessed Allamano made ample use of the teaching of the Fathers of the Church and of various Saints. In particular he was fond of St. Augustine. From him he took the following interesting explanation of the role of the theological virtues in our endeavour towards sanctity.
Let us listen to him.
St. Augustine describes holiness as a house: it rests on a good foundation, is constructed with the appropriate material and rises several stories. Thus it is with our own holiness: it rests on the foundation of faith, it is built with hope and crowned with charity. Faith is the foundation of holiness and of every virtue.
Jesus once said to His disciples: “Blessed are the eyes which have seen what you see. Indeed I say to you that many prophets and kings wanted to see the things you see, but did not see them” (Luke 10:23). It was extraordinary good fortune to live at the same time as Our Lord, to know Him personally, to hear Him speak and to witness His miracles. The patriarchs, kings and prophets of the Old Testament never had this good fortune. They, like Abraham, longed to see the Messiah: “Abraham, your father, nourished the hope of seeing My day; he saw it and rejoiced” (John 8:56). He saw it, yes, but only in a vision; the same thing was true of David and Isaiah: they described the life of the Messiah, but they did so before the event. The disciples on the other hand saw and heard Jesus in person; they were familiar with Him.
And are we not also blessed? After showing Thomas His wounds, Jesus said: “Because you have seen me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen me, but still believe!” (John 20:29). We, therefore, are blessed if we have faith in Him. Not just blessed, but doubly blessed. First because we believe without seeing, and then because we really see and hear Him. It is not necessary to see with our eyes or hear with our ears to be able to say that we see and hear. Things are known also from history: we know what Jesus said and did during His earthly life, as well as throughout the centuries through the Church. He is with us forever until the end of time, especially in the Blessed Sacrament, alive as He is in Heaven; here, with the eyes of faith, we can see and hear Him.
Living by faith
What does it mean to live by faith? It means to conform to and model ourselves on the dictates of faith. If this is the principle and rule of our life, we will strive to do everything according to the dictates of this faith. We will judge everything in the light of the faith; faith will provide the criteria for our decisions. All Christians need faith if they are to be saved: “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). Through no merit of our own, we were given this faith at Baptism. It restored us into the supernatural order. The spirit of faith should accompany our every action from morning till evening, by day and by night; it should be the living and profound certainty that guides our daily life.
St. Paul recommends faith to Timothy: “You, man of God … pursue faith” (1Tim 6:11) – in other words, preserve and perfect it. How can we do this? Since faith is a gift of God we must pray for it constantly. Before casting a demon out of a child the Lord asked the child’s father for a profession of faith. The father asked Jesus to increase his faith: “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). This is something we must say repeatedly: help us believe! Or “increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). St. Augustine urges us to pray the Creed often and well; it contains the truths of the faith like so many precious pearls. We must live by faith: “My righteous one shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38).
You will say that, thank God, you do have faith and you hold it dear. Well, you may have an intellectual faith, but does it carry over into practice? It is not enough to possess the faith. If our faith does not produce works it is dead: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).
All our thoughts should conform to the faith. We should ask ourselves, if this specific thought is pleasing to God. Yes, only God. Everything by, with and from God! Get rid of useless thoughts! They give rise to criticism of our companions, the decisions of our superiors, present or past events, the things of this world, etc. What good is all this in the light of eternity? One day, St. Benedict Joseph Labbre, ragged and dirty, was passing by an upper-class gentleman and heard him say, “Poor unfortunate creature!” “No,” Labbre responded, “I’m not unfortunate at all; I am in God’s good graces.” The “gentleman” was judging according to the world’s criteria and the saint was speaking according to the spirit of faith. The same could be said about the false opinions others may have of us – what do they matter? “The one who must judge me is the Lord”(1Cor 4:4).
Are all our feelings guided by the spirit of faith? Do we have any feelings or attachments contrary to this spirit? Our attachments may be trivial, but still they block our total attachment to God. A heart filled with God expresses itself in words: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).
In everything we do, the spirit of faith must be our guide, especially in those of our activities directly connected with the service of God. During a pastoral visit to a parish Bishop Gastaldi found dirty corporals and altar linen, while the house linen was spotless. He addressed the pastor: “Do you believe in the real presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament?” “Your Excellency, you offend me,” the pastor replied. “No,” the bishop said, “do you or do you not believe?” “Of course I believe.” “So much the worse; if you believe, you have no excuse.” If I put the same question to each of you: “Do you believe in the real presence of the Lord in the consecrated Host?” You would surely reply, “Yes.” Then I could further say, “Why is your genuflection so sloppy? Why do you let yourself be distracted? Why do you find visits to the Blessed Sacrament boring? Why do you go all day long without thinking of the Lord?” No; it is not good enough to have an abstract, intellectual faith. Our faith must be practical, something that informs our every action.
Let us open our hearts to hope
According to St. Augustine we build the edifice of our holiness with hope. Note the important role he assigns to hope. Generally speaking this virtue does not enjoy the universal respect it deserves. We recognize the obligation to believe but we are afraid of being too hopeful, too optimistic. We accept discouragement as something beneficial that reflects fear of Lord.
This certainly was not the case with St. Joseph Cafasso: he was a man of hope. He possessed this virtue to an eminent degree. He had so much hope it was contagious. When someone remarked that the gate to heaven was narrow, he replied, “Fine, we’ll go in one at a time.” He could communicate hope even to those condemned to death. He would give them messages to bring to Our Lady and, after their deaths, he would exclaim, “One more saint! “ He even added, “Those rascals are stealing heaven away from us!” He could convert despair into the most beautiful trust. We must never despair of anyone. God’s mercy is infinite. When people ask what St. Joseph Cafasso’s principal virtue was, it is hard to answer: they were all principal. Some think the zeal for souls was principal; others say his confidence in God was; and he did indeed have enough confidence for himself and for others as well. Hope or confidence in God was certainly one of his striking characteristics. I testified to this in his beatification process. Some have a lively faith, but little hope; they have trouble opening their hearts.
Let us open our hearts to living hope. We should not just hope; we should “super-hope”, hope against hope. When we have little hope, we are doing the Lord an injustice. “He desires all people to be saved”(1Tim 2:4). Some people think of their salvation as winning a lottery. People say: “I’m not sure whether or not I will win the lottery.” Similarly, some say: “I’m not sure whether or not I will be saved.” This is not the way things should be. We must count on salvation, because the Lord knows our weaknesses; all we need is a little good will. We should never be afraid of having too much hope. At the moment of his death, St. Hilarion said to himself, “You have served the Lord for seventy years, and now are you afraid of dying?”
We should never say, “Who knows if I will be saved?” Rather, “I want to be saved and will therefore correct my faults and not lose courage.” The fear of not being saved comes from laziness. We must get up and work, as the saints did. We must not lose courage because of our past sins. It is not a bad thing to think of these past sins – it keeps us humble – but we should not be obsessive; the Lord has forgiven us. The Lord will be pleased if we concentrate on His kindness and mercy. Therefore, hope, and hope energetically. In You, O Lord, I have hoped and I shall not be confounded in eternity.
Our eyes fixed on heaven
The idea of heaven must always be in our mind. This thought has made saints; it has filled the desert with hermits; it has filled religious houses with consecrated people, and it has filled mission territories with zealous missionaries. This thought can work great things in us. First of all, it detaches us from this world. St. Joseph Cafasso used to say, “We must look on everything down here in the light of our reward up there; if something is ugly or painful, it will not exist in heaven.” The thought of heaven will help us overcome the obstacles, sufferings, and trials of this life. When boredom, fatigue, or inertia forces us to pass hours and days of darkness, we can repeat the words of St. Francis: “The reward that awaits me is so great that every suffering becomes a delight!” If suffering is not yet a delight for us, it is at least bearable. Suffering lasts but a little while; our reward lasts forever. St. Paul says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2Cor 4:17).
The thought of heaven makes it easier to acquire virtue and to respond faithfully and generously to our calling: to be saints, great saints, the greatest saints possible. The thought of heaven is something truly great that prompts us to become saints. The years go by quickly and we will be fortunate if, at the end of our lives, we can say with St. Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there remains only the crown of righteousness which the Lord will award me on that day” (2 Tim 2:7). Don Bosco had this slogan over his door: “Heaven is not made for the lazy.” Not only is heaven not for the lazy, it is not for those who work only half-heartedly for the Lord.
When you think of those in heaven, do not think of abstractions; think of this or that particular missionary who was faithful to his vocation. The Lord said: “I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). To reach this place we must work and work very hard. It would be far too easy to win heaven now, so quickly. No, we must work forty, fifty, maybe even more years. But the thought of heaven should give us respite. Our reward is there, and it is great. Let us think about this often.
A storehouse of confidence
Really outstanding and robust hope is called confidence. Confidence is, as it were, the essence of hope. It is necessary to make up the disparity between our own nothingness and the sublime religious, priestly and missionary vocation we have been given.
We must have an abundant supply of confidence if we are to inspire it in others. Without confidence we can accomplish nothing. If we are diffident, we do God an injustice. St. Joseph Cafasso called a lack of confidence the sin of the stupid. It costs so little to trust in God! Why then should we not trust in Him?
Everyone needs confidence. It frees the wicked from their vices and puts them on the path of virtue and courage: “I will get up and go to my father” (Luke 15:18). It makes the lukewarm more enthusiastic and zealous: “The Lord is kind to those who seek Him” (Lament 3:25). But it is even more necessary for the zealous. They need it lest they become discouraged by what God asks of them, lest they become dispirited by their frequent falls, sins or defects. When we examine our lives and we find ourselves committing the same faults over and over again, we could be tempted to say, “This is altogether pointless; I will never get any better!” But I would ask, “Why do you find the same defects over and over?” Because you are feeble! Do what you can and the Lord will assist you! We are really foolish when we lack confidence.
We must find the good in everything. St Paul assures us that “everything works for the good of those who love God” (Rom 8:28). Yes, everything – even sin – if there is good will. If we are humble we can turn everything – even sin – to good.
After Confession, we should think of virtue and not of sin any longer. Cheer up; a little love of God will fix everything. Never lose heart, always begin anew: “Nunc coepi” – now I begin. I would say this is the motto of our Congregations. If we have this confidence we will avoid the stumbling block of anxiety and scruples. When we feel anxious or uncertain, we must turn to the voice that provides tranquillity. St. Joseph Cafasso used to say, “We must not be asking pardon at all times. Among intimate friends, we do not ask pardon for each little fault. This is how our relationship with God should be. The love of God washes away everything!” He would further say: “Lord, You know that I do not wish to offend You and that I love You; therefore, if something slips out of me, I do not even wish to ask Your pardon.”
You will need this confidence in the future when you are in the missions. You will become discouraged by your mistakes, the poor results of your apostolate, loneliness, etc. But cheer up; have courage. “Whoever places his trust in the Lord will be like Mount Zion: it does not move, it is stable forever” (Psalm 124:1). If you are not brimming over with confidence, you will be sad in the missions. A missionary without confidence can accomplish nothing; he is a torment to himself and to others as well.
Fear and diffidence make it difficult to make progress in the way of the Spirit. Have a big heart; otherwise you will accomplish nothing. You should not get caught up in details; be relaxed. Jesus is the God of peace, not of anxiety. Let us ask Him to give us peace, save us from scruples and help us preserve a delicate conscience. Neither scruples nor doubt! Everything must be clear and precise. We must go forward with that peace of spirit that dispels scruples and doubt. This is the spirit I want you to have.
Everything is in God’s hands
Confidence shows a loving trust in Divine Providence which guides every step of our life. Let us abandon ourselves to God and leave everything in His hands. He is our Father and does everything in our best interest. We must never fear for the future of our Congregation or any individual. In everything – even little things – let us raise our hearts to God and trust in Him alone, whatever happens. We do not base our confidence on our own human resources: talent, strength, virtue, etc. or on the resources of others. We must do all we can on our part and then, without fear, leave the rest in the Lord’s hands. He never leaves something only half-done.
Trust in Providence
We are called to foster trust in Divine Providence: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?’” (Mat 6:31). The Lord who feeds the birds will surely find sustenance for His apostles. If it is God’s will that we accept so many young candidates, God will have to perform the same miracles He does at Cottolengo’s Little House of Divine Providence. There they care for “poor bodies”; here we care for “poor souls.”
In the Gospel, Jesus warns us against being too anxious – this shows a lack of trust in God and too great an attachment to the things of earth. Trust in Divine Providence, however, does not mean we should not plan and seek to provide for the future. Each of us must work for the common good; we should take care of community property and not want more than we need. If you lead a life of zeal, you will be blessed even materially by God: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice and all this will be added unto you” (Mat 6: 33). When you ask for your daily bread in the Our Father, think first of Holy Communion and God’s Word, and then of the material bread. If God provides us so generously with material things, how much more generous He will be with spiritual things. I truly hope that our Congregations in general and each of you in particular will have this sort of overwhelming trust in God: “Whoever trusts in the Lord will not be disappointed” (Sirach 32:24).
Finally holiness is love
According to St. Augustine, our house of holiness is crowned with charity. God and our neighbour are the objects or rather two aspects of the single object of charity: God in Himself and for Himself; our neighbour in God and for God. Love for God is not just a sentiment; it is an act of the will. One can love very much without feeling anything, possibly even feeling repugnance for the object of one’s love. You can feel greatly and even shed tears without really loving. Love of God is the first great commandment. When a doctor of the Law asked, “Master, which is the greatest of the commandments?”, Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind” (Mat 22:36-37). Mark adds the words “and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
According to St. Thomas, holiness consists primarily of charity: “The perfection of Christian life per se and essentially consists of charity.” Charity is holiness: to love and to become a saint are the same thing. Where there is love, there is everything. The other theological virtues are necessary because they are inseparably joined to charity. One cannot love without believing; one hopes for the thing one loves.
St. Francis de Sales says as much: “True holiness consists in loving God; the more one loves God, the holier one is.” St. Augustine says: “Love and do what you will.” Anyone who loves God cannot offend Him and will serve Him faithfully. Charity is the synthesis and perfection of all virtue. This is why St. Paul says that charity is the “fulfilment of the Law” (Rom 13:10). Undoubtedly without charity nothing else really matters. Even if we spoke the tongues of angels, if we had the gift of prophecy and knew all the mysteries, if we possessed all knowledge and had the faith to move mountains, even if we offered up our bodies to be burned but did not have charity, it is of no avail! (Cf. 1Cor 13:1).
Love as friendship
According to St. Thomas, charity is friendship between God and man. God has chosen us from all eternity: “I have loved you with an eternal love” (Jer 31:3). He takes pleasure in our company: “My delight is to be among the sons of man” (Prov 8:31). God, in effect, loves us; He bestows His grace continually to support us and make us saints; if we sin, He pardons us. When we are afflicted, He says: “Come to me all you who labour and are burdened, and I will restore you” (Mat 11:28). He has given us all we possess; He in no way needs us, but is grateful for every act of virtue we offer Him and He rewards us with abundant grace. We must be equally grateful to Him saying over and over: “We give You thanks, O Lord, our God!” St. Jerome tells us to “desire or not desire the same things our friend desires or does not desire is a sign of true friendship”.
Love God ardently
St. Augustine says, “You have created us for yourself and our heart will not rest until it rests in You.” How must we love God? We must love God ardently, enthusiastically. St. Therese of the Child Jesus was twenty-four years old when she was consumed by the love of God.
Our heart is already very small; we ought not to divide it. St. Francis de Sales said that, if he found a single fibre in his heart that did not belong to God, he would rip it out mercilessly. What about us? Do we really love the Lord with our whole heart? If Jesus put to us the question He addressed to Peter, “Do you love me more than these others?” (John 21:15), what answer could we give? Here is an examination of conscience I suggest you make. Let us ask ourselves often, especially those of us who are missionaries, if our heart is free, undivided, constant. The Lord gives us everything; do we want to hold back something in giving ourselves to Him?
Let us love God with our whole soul, that is, with our whole will, willing what He wills and as He wills it. Let us show Him our love by avoiding evil and seeking perfection. We often deceive ourselves in everyday life, especially in times of trouble or aridity. Love of the will resists all things and remains firm even in the midst of adversity. It is easy to love the Lord when all is going smoothly, when love is comfortable. But to love Him when there is darkness, when our spirit is clouded and our heart is cold, that is true love! We must say with St. Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish? […] No creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35.39).
To grow in love
We grow in the love of God through prayer: ask God often for charity, the queen of all virtues. St. Augustine said over and over again: “Lord, that I may love You.” And St. Ignatius, “Grant me, O Lord, Your love and Your grace, and it will be enough for me!” Let us seek Mary’s intercession: she is the “Mother of Holy Love.” Let us seek also the intercession of those saints who were especially gifted with this love. Through meditation, too, we can set the heart ablaze with love. We should meditate especially on the Passion of the Lord. St. Francis de Sales said that Calvary is the training ground of lovers. Every phrase in the Our Father is an act of love for God. So too is every phrase in the hymn “Tantum Ergo”. The words “We adore the Sacrament” constitute an act of love. To adore is to love. So too “faith makes up for what the senses miss” helps us be content that we do not see; we perceive nothing with our senses, but we trust in His word, and this is love. Again: “To the Father, to the Son, praise and glory.” How many acts of love: that God be praised, that all love Him, that from all places His Greatness be acknowledged! All of this is love, pure love as long as we utter these beautiful words from our very hearts.
We grow in the love of God through our work: let us do things which please God. As St. Gregory the Great teaches: “Action is the proof of charity.” Jesus said, “If you love me, you will observe my commandments” (John 14, 15). The measure of our love for God is what we do. Let us not be happy with just saying the words; let us do the works! We especially must have a “thirst for souls”, as did Our Lord. Through our everyday actions we can be collaborators with the Redeemer. Everything here is designed to enable you to do good in the future. In the missions, you must have a heart open to every weakness and, therefore, full of the love of God. St. Francis Xavier was brimming over with this love, and this is why he was so zealous a missionary. Anyone who does not love will never succeed in doing good. You are blest; you have the chance to be apostles in the missions if you are saints! And you will be saints to the extent you are filled with the love of God.
We grow in the love of God through purity of intention. Purity of intention is an act of love through which we refer all our actions to God alone, to His glory: “My God and my all!” The more perfect our purpose, the more perfect our work. The Lord has said, “If your eye is single, your whole body shall be full of light (i.e. all your works will be good before God)…If, however, the light that is in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be!” (Mat 6, 22:23). How happy we would be if we referred everything to the Lord alone! He alone can bless and console us; He can make all our works successful. It is true that we dedicate all our thoughts, feelings and actions to the Lord every morning, but this is not enough. We must renew this intention many times during the day. We must be careful to keep our intentions pure: God alone! To God alone honour and glory!
Mission is entrusted to those who love much
Love/charity towards God is especially necessary for us who have a vocation and a mission to communicate it. “I have come to cast fire on the earth and how I want it to be kindled!” (Luke 12:49). How can we communicate this sacred fire if it is not already burning within us? Before entrusting His flock to Peter, the Lord asked him three times if he loved Him. Jesus will not entrust the mission of proclaiming the Gospel to those who do not love Him, but to those who love Him and love Him very much. It is not enough to love Him half-heartedly; we must love Him totally. Only great love can enflame zealous missionaries and enable them to bear willingly the sacrifices of an apostle’s life; only great love will guarantee the success of our efforts. Everything the Lord allows to happen to us is for our own good. We must say to Him from our heart: “Thy will be done!” We must strive not just for conformity to God’s will, but for genuine unity with it, which is something even more perfect. Love conquers everything; love overcomes everything.
Let us see if we follow these rules in our every day life. If so, the Lord will use us to accomplish much good, just as He used St. Francis Xavier. If we carry out the will of God always and with purity of intention, our days will be full: from morning to evening there will be a continuous amassing of treasure in heaven. At the end of our life, we will find that we have accomplished great things, even if at present it does not look like we have done very much at all.
THE WAY TO HOLINESS
FIRST: PERSONAL EFFORT
Blessed Allamano was very clear in stressing both the need for personal effort and for God’s help, and so for prayer, in order to attain sanctity.
Take the first step courageously
We must immediately begin to make ourselves saints. We must launch without delay the work of becoming saints. We cannot be sure of having the same Grace tomorrow that we have today. The Grace you ignore now, you will never have again. You may have other graces, but not this one, and you must account to God for this grace. Be courageous and take the first step, today, not tomorrow.
Persevere in full, energetic, and constant will
Blessed Allamano insisted that, after deciding with courage and determination to become a saint, one should persevere in that effort with full, energetic and constant will.
A person with a "full" will is one who sets no limits and fears no excess. Let no one say: "I am satisfied with being good; I'll leave the heroism to others." No, no! Life in this house is the same for everyone - and it is a life that leads to holiness. It is not presumptuous to strive for holiness, even great holiness. But it would be presumptuous to imagine we could achieve holiness without God's help. If we put limits on our quest for holiness, or measure our response to Grace, we will never even achieve ordinary holiness. One does not bargain with the Lord: it is all or nothing. Either we will become saints as He intends or we will not become saints at all.
A person with an "energetic" will is one who says: "I want it very much, and with all my strength I will strive to become a saint; I will take no chance of failing to achieve this goal." Then the Lord will help. People with weak will and half-hearted resolve will never succeed in anything. They will not even begin to tread the path of holiness; they are spiritually lazy.
A person with a "constant” will is one who never loses courage. Instability is, unfortunately, natural for us. We are so created that we need constant nudging. The least setback can discourage us: a dry spell, or a sacrifice that asks more than we are willing to give is enough to make us give up on the path to holiness. During her long years of absolute aridity, St. Teresa of Avila not only did not give up her vocation but none of her resolutions either. And how many trials did St. Margaret Mary Alacoque endure? Her life was a series of trials, each more painful than the previous one. But she did not give up; she overcame each trial with heroic perseverance. If these women could persevere through great sufferings, can we not persevere when faced with the little setbacks that require those small acts of fidelity which lead to holiness? The Grace of God that came to the aid of these holy women and to all the saints, will come to our assistance; we too will achieve the highest degree of holiness.
HOLINESS NEEDS PRAYER
We have heard how strongly Blessed Allamano stresses the need for personal, constant effort to attain sanctity. But he also reminds us that, though very much needed, this is not enough. In fact it is through prayer that we obtain God's help, which is indispensable for any undertaking.
To live well we must pray well
St. Augustine tells us that to learn how to pray well is to learn how to live well. They say that St. Martin's whole life was a ceaseless prayer: his eyes and hands were always raised to heaven. One who prays will be faithful to his vocation. Perseverance in one's vocation is a great gift from God; only praying often and well will ensure it. I can affirm from my own personal experience that those who pray keep their vocation. In Bishop Gastaldi's time some people complained that seminarians spent too much time in prayer; they should have devoted more time to study. But he did not agree. He later remarked, "They tell me, my dear seminarians, that I am making you pray too much. No, No! (His voice and gestures would become more emphatic as he said this). I am making you pray too little!" I would say the same thing to you: one can never pray enough.
St. Augustine urged his disciples to be devout, to cultivate the spirit of prayer. One might think that a Doctor of the Church, the greatest philosopher and theologian that ever lived, would have urged his followers to study more. But quite the contrary: he urged piety. The saints appreciated devotion and preferred it to everything else; they knew well that "piety is useful in every circumstance." Piety will unite us to God, and everything else will follow; the Lord will give us the grace we need if we pray well. At the moment of his death he said: “Charity and piety”. We know that words said at the moment of death are sacred: they are a last will and testament.
Pray always without tiring
Every action, spiritual and material, must begin and end with God. This spirit must accompany us every day of our life; only then will our lives truly belong totally to the Lord. Certainly the primary, most excellent and powerful of all prayers is the Mass. All other prayers point towards the Mass as their centre. St. Thomas tells us that prayer elevates the mind, the heart and the whole soul into the presence of God. Should we pray? The Lord urges us to pray: we must "pray unceasingly without tiring" (Luke 18:1). "Watch and pray" (Mat 26:41), and St. Paul, "Pray ceaselessly" (1Thess 5:17). The Lord Himself gives us an example: "In those days Jesus went off to the mountain to pray and passed the night in prayer" (Luke 6:12). "Gripped with anxiety, He prayed more intensely" (Luke 22:44). The apostles did likewise: "We, on the other hand, will devote ourselves to prayer" (Acts 6,5).
The more work you have, the more you should pray
Prayer is especially necessary for priests and missionaries. St. Joseph Cafasso said the priest must
be a man of prayer. If a priest does not pray often, he is not a genuine priest. And missionaries? What can they possibly accomplish when they ignore the primary means to remain united with God? And how can we accomplish anything worthy if we are not united to God? We can accomplish more in fifteen minutes after prayer than in two hours without prayer. Our words are worthless if God's Grace is not present. Our primary obligation - and never forget it - is not to roll up our sleeves and work, but to pray.
St. Joseph Cafasso further said, "It pains me to see priests who have too much work!" The expression “to work is to pray" can be misinterpreted. The one who works out of obedience or necessity, and does his work for God, prays. This does not free him from the need for real prayer, even at the expense of time spent doing apostolic work. Remember the words of St. Bernard: “We should be pools as well as channels”. A channel allows water to pass without retaining any for itself. Pools fill themselves up first and then let the extra water pass on to others.
Listen to what St. Paul has to say: "I planted the seed; Apollos watered it; but God made it grow. So, neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." (1Cor 3:6-7). We are not the ones who accomplish something; it is the Lord; if He does not bless our work, it is all in vain. It hurts me to hear someone say: "I cannot pray. I have so many preaching engagements!" This individual may be preaching, but he is really shouting to the wind. Look at St. Joseph Cafasso: did he ever omit praying his Breviary, the rosary, or making meditation because he had too much to do? If he found no time during the day, he would pray at night. This is how he composed those magnificent sermons and intense prayers to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Prayer must be our priority
It is so easy to confuse our priorities! First of all we must become saints: first prayer and then good works for others. Let us love prayer. Pray, and pray well. Never think that time devoted to prayer is time wasted. There are those who say, "Nowadays we need action, action!" Yes, you should work, but there is far more need of prayer than of work. We need God's spirit. This is true in the missions as well: you will not be working alone out there. The more work you have to do, the more you should pray. Some individuals no longer pray and use their work for others as an excuse; but in reality they are of no use to themselves or to others. I am telling you all this because I want you to become men and women of prayer, from morning till night.
THE EUCHARIST, A MYSTERY OF FAITH AND LOVE
I would like you to meditate more intensely on this mystery of love. The Eucharist is indeed a mystery of faith and a mystery of love! In the celebration of the Holy Mass, Jesus becomes a victim for us and for our sins (Cf. 1John 2:2). Every day and several times a day He sacrifices Himself for us. Mass does not just represent the sacrifice of the Cross; it renews it: the same victim and the same purpose. The way in which the sacrifice is accomplished differs. On Calvary the sacrifice was bloody, but the Mass is not. It is beautiful to think that each time we celebrate or participate in the Mass, we are once again on Calvary at the foot of the Cross with Our Lady and St. John. Jesus said: "Do this in memory of me" (Luke 22:19), and St. Thomas defined the Eucharistic Celebration as a memorial of the Passion of the Lord. St. Paul says the same thing: "Each time you eat this bread or drink this cup, you announce the death of the Lord until He comes again" (1Cor 11:26). Compared to the Mass, martyrdom itself is not much, because martyrdom is the sacrifice a man makes to God of his own life, whereas in the Mass the Son of God sacrifices His own body and blood for mankind.
By celebrating the Eucharist we render God the honour He deserves; we ask pardon for our sins; we thank Him for the gifts He has given us, and we seek the Grace we need.
Jesus, living bread
In the Blessed Sacrament Jesus is food: "I am the bread of life" (John 6:48). This is why He lives in our midst. He repeats: "Come, eat my bread" (Prov 8:5) which is the bread of life. You who receive Communion must thank the Lord for your intimate participation in the sacrifice.
You ought to recognize the immense love Jesus has for us. Food is converted into the flesh of the one who eats it; Jesus said: "He who eats me will live through me" (John 6:57). He has shown His love by giving Himself entirely to us. How can we respond to that great love? By returning that love and giving ourselves to Him without reservation. St. Teresa said: "One Communion well received is enough to sanctify a soul." After so many Communions, how is it that we are not yet saints and still have the same defects? We will always have defects, but we can bring to Jesus the sincere desire and effort to improve. We should not forego receiving Communion because of some weakness or little sin. You need not be a saint to receive Communion; in fact we receive Communion in order to become saints.
We do not receive Communion out of habit or for human considerations; we receive Communion to express our desire for God and to grow in Grace. This is the attitude we should have at Communion: the right intention, good will and fervour. If you fetch water with a cup, you have only a cupful. If you fetch water with a bucket, you will have a bucketful. This is how it is with Communion. Let us imagine the Lord speaking to us as He did to Zacchaeus: "Come down forthwith; this day I will stay at your house" (Luke 19:5). The Lord wants to come into us and we should desire the same thing. With Samuel we can repeat: "You have called me and here I am" (1 Sam 3: 6). Our life should be Eucharistic. Our mind and heart have to be continually focused on the Blessed Sacrament: not just before and after Communion or during our visits to the Blessed Sacrament, but all day long: when we study and when we work.
We receive Jesus, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, as alive as He is in heaven. Let us approach Him with humility; let us look into our heart and be humbled by our defects; let us tell Him our desires. The Lord only asks for love; one who does not love the Lord cannot expect love. Let us speak to Him as to a friend, and tell Him what is in our heart. While looking at the consecrated host, we should hear Him saying: “It is indeed I, Jesus”. Let us adore and thank Him for His many gifts: His call and our less than perfect response. Let us give ourselves totally to Him: heart, will, etc. Let us ask material and spiritual favours for ourselves and for others; let us make acts of reparation and consolation. Then our Communions will be fervent. We will live our lives wholly with Jesus. Everything will begin and end with Him. Let us immerse ourselves into this spirit of faith: let us spiritualize ourselves! How happy we will be if we stay united to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament! He will be our happiness in this life and our reward in the next.
Jesus: God with us
Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is our friend; therefore let us treat Him as such. He loves us and we love Him. Try to understand the mystery of His love for us: as our friend, He receives us with affection, with eagerness, every time we visit Him. We should respond to this kindness by frequent, eager visits, even if they are brief. We must enter His presence with faith and love, happy to be permitted this intimacy. Have faith and realize that He is there; make respectful genuflections and avoid all distractions. When you leave church, remain spiritually united to Him. Friends are always united. How happy you will be if you are constantly united to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He will teach you all virtues and will light in you the fire He brought to earth and that through you He wants to spread. What happy missionaries you will be, if you are filled with this love. Jesus will be your support, your comfort, your everything.
THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS
The best prayer after the Mass
St. Benedict called the “Liturgy of the Hours” the Work of God; for St. Bonaventure it is an imitation of the heavenly choir. As the angels and saints raise their voice in unceasing praise of God in heaven, through the Liturgy of the Hours so the Church proclaims His praise here on earth. The Hymn for the Dedication of a Church says this so well: "In the heavenly dwelling place - praise sounds eternally - and with unceasing song - the One and Triune God is exalted. - We join our praise to theirs, imitating beloved Zion."
When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours we must make the sentiments expressed our own. When we pray the psalms we should bear in mind the words of St. Augustine: "If the psalm sighs, sigh; if it prays, pray; if it rejoices, rejoice; if it hopes, hope; if it fears, fear." How beautiful the Church's words are! They are the words of the Holy Spirit. We would need entire days to relish them properly. I remember that, when I was a seminarian, I resolved to read all the psalms from the first to the last during my holiday. I managed to do this, and found there was always something new to learn. Anyone approaching Ordination should read the psalms through and try to understand them in depth.
We should follow the timetable the Church sets for praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and never postpone prayer because we have too much work. To pray at the appropriate time is a sweet burden. Regarding place, we should, if possible, pray in church, the house of prayer. After Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours is the best of prayers. Praising is one of our primary concerns: it is something we will continue doing for all eternity.
THE WORD OF GOD
Once more we can notice that the way Blessed Allamano spoke of the Word of God was not generally usual at his time. For us it is now normal, after Vatican II told us that “the Church has the same veneration for the Word of God as for the Eucharist”. But it was not so at that time.
God’s heart in his Word
The First Book of Maccabees reports a letter Areios, the King of Sparta, sent to Jonathan, the High Priest. He offered friendship and assistance to the Jews, but Jonathan responded, “We need none of these things, for we have the holy books of Scripture in our hands to comfort us” (1Mac 12:9). Scripture was enough to comfort them in the midst of their many tribulations. St. Paul said the same thing to the Romans: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). Paul is saying: Scripture strengthens our hope and comforts us when we encounter life’s trials.
The saints looked on Scripture as the source of their support. The early Fathers of the Church, Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose, etc. did not possess theology manuals. The Bible was their only book. St. Jerome said that, without knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures, life was worth very little. “In Scripture,” St. Gregory the Great writes, “we must see the heart of God.” St. Augustine: “There is no sickness of the soul Sacred Scripture cannot cure.” St. Charles Borromeo was asked why he never took walks in the garden, and answered: “My garden is Sacred Scripture.” The saints found life and comfort in Scripture. God’s Word pierces our soul like a sword; it meets all our needs.
The Word of God is useful, alive, and heart-warming
In itself Sacred Scripture is the apex of excellence and supremely useful for us and our ministry. St. Paul says as much in his letter to Timothy: “All Scripture is God-inspired and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16). How very important Sacred Scripture is for us and everyone else! In it there is everything: it is the Word of God; it is alive and it is heart-warming. St. Jerome said, “We should never let the Holy Bible fall from our hands; we should always fall asleep with this book in our hands.”
Reading Sacred Scripture awakens the love of God in our hearts. Lord, your words are fire and as fire they bring us warmth. Look at the disciples of Emmaus who walked along the road with the Lord and did not recognize Him: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). Our Lord’s words are fire!
On the Fifteenth Centenary of St. Jerome’s death, Pope Benedict XV wrote the encyclical “Spiritus Paraclitus”. He confirmed that all of Sacred Scripture is divinely inspired and should be studied for our devotion and preaching. Some years earlier Pope Leo XIII had published the encyclical “Providentissimus Deus” to promote the study of Sacred Scripture which he defined as divinely inspired. Let us bear in mind that, since Sacred Scripture is the “Word of God”, we should both appreciate and study it. Our library is especially rich in the area of Sacred Scripture. In the missions, too, you will have a small library.
The Bible is our book: it provides everything we need to become saints
Sacred Scripture will make perfect all those who study it, and prepare them for good works. It is a source of all grace and virtue; it provides everything we need to become saints. It is a genuine treasure, a storehouse of remedies, in which we find all we need. There are remedies for everything; we will find all that is useful for ourselves and for others. When you confront a specific problem or worry about the future, read the Holy Scripture and you will find comfort.
I am telling you all this so that you will continue to read Sacred Scripture attentively and develop an affection for it. It is our book. Whoever reads the Bible will have his spirit renewed. It is not enough to be familiar with the inspired book; we should find delight and nourishment in it. St. Augustine says we should interpret the Sacred Text for our own spiritual benefit, and we can do this with a certain liberty since all applications are worthwhile. The inspirations that come to us while reading the Bible may not derive from the text itself but, if they are beneficial, we should follow them.
Holy Scripture! The more we read it, the more we study it, and the more we will love it and find delight in it. In our Congregation, Holy Scripture has always held first place, and this will always be true. This is our primary study, the source of everything we study in theology, and something we must continue to study throughout our lives. Read it daily in the missions; it will be your comfort. When you are troubled, read the Bible. You must read and meditate upon it. This is a school that never comes to an end. Let us love Sacred Scripture wholeheartedly, especially the Gospels and the letters of Paul. I want you to develop a great affection for Holy Scripture!
MEDITATION: A SHORT CUT TO SANCTITY
Blessed Allamano gave great importance to meditation. He recommended half an hour of it every day. He presented it, not just as mere reflection, but also as an activity of the heart that reawakens an ardent love for God and so it becomes real prayer. It is already very close to the “Lectio Divina”, not so much practised at his time, but now very recommended by the documents of the Magisterium of the Church, in particular by the twelfth General Synod of Bishops held in November 2008, on “The Word of God”.
Meditation warms up the heart
We must reawaken within ourselves an ardent love of God and we can do this through praying properly and practicing daily meditation, a fire that warms our soul. I hope to convince all of you of the importance of meditation (mental prayer); meditation should become a habit that you practice well and with relish. It is absolutely necessary if we hope to foster a spirit of prayer, grow in the love of God, and avoid sin. St. Alphonsus wrote that all the saints became saints by practicing mental prayer; it is therefore the shortest route to holiness. It is also necessary if we are to do good for others; it is written: “Blessed is the man … whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaves do not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Psalm 1:2-3).
Meditation involves reading a passage slowly, thinking about it and exercising our will and affection to make practical decisions. We choose the passage that has made the strongest impression, and think about it, at the same time making acts of love, thanksgiving and praise. Meditation is a work of the mind, but to warm the heart. It is not enough just to think about something; our affection and resolutions are needed. Meditation must engage our total concentration; we must place ourselves in the presence of God. We begin by reading the passage that struck us; it is not necessary to meditate on each single word; it is better to focus on one point in which the heart finds nourishment and chew it over and over – just like a cow. We conclude our meditation by making resolutions - few and practical - and asking the Lord to help us keep them.
This morning, for example, I meditated on the parable of the good seed and the weeds. I thought: my heart is a field: is there good seed sown in it? Yes, but unfortunately there are weeds as well. Weeds can be malice or some other imperfection; weeds can be a reluctance to obey. O Lord, how many weeds there are! Grant me the grace to root them out immediately; let me not tarry; let me weed the field immediately. And then, is the good seed perhaps weak and feeble? Oh, if it were only beautiful and healthy! Whatever I do today, I want it to be good seed; therefore I will avoid this occasion or that temptation. We must be committed to meditation and never omit it; if we really delight in meditation, we will always find the time. St. Alphonsus tells us that a day without meditation is a day wasted.
Bringing the fruit of meditation into daily life
We know that Jesus told us to pray always (Cf. Luke 18:1); we must be enveloped in a spirit of prayer, just as our bodies are enveloped in clothes. We pray in the morning and evening and at various times throughout the day; but these are acts of prayer and not habits which create a spirit of prayer.
How is it that after so many days, months and years of performing these acts of devotion we are still so far from perfection? We are not just saying this to be humble; it is the truth. There can be only one answer: either we do not pray well or we haven’t attempted to make them fruitful. In a field or vineyard it is not enough to plant good seed carefully; we must tend the plants until they are ready to be harvested. The same is true of our exercises of piety. It may happen that we perform them well, with care, but we don’t think any longer of them after we have finished. We make our meditation, decide on a resolution, but it is only a formality. We forget about it for the rest of the day. We don’t even remember the topic of our meditation. That is the reason why we gain so little from our prayer.
We should leave our exercises of prayer as if we were coming out of a garden where we gather bouquets of flowers that perfume the whole day. We must come out as vases filled with precious liquid, which must be diligently preserved not to be wasted, i. e., we must remember and feel the impressions and inspirations of Grace; we must recall and practice the resolutions we have made.
We must live in a spirit of recollection; we must avoid dissipation, and practice the presence of God. Dissipation is like a wind that blows away everything in its path. Certainly it takes time and effort to cultivate a spirit of recollection, but it is something we must do.
DEVOTION TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Together with the devotion to the Most Blessed Eucharist, the one to the Blessed Virgin Mary has been one of the characteristics of the spirituality of Blessed Joseph Allamano. Listening to him we can understand how deep was his filial affection for her.
Marian devotion is founded on the Gospel
I would be failing in my duty and my special affection for the Blessed Virgin if I did not take advantage of every possible occasion to speak about her. Our Lady is the Queen of all missionaries. To speak about her is a blessing: we collaborate with her in carrying out her prophecy: "All generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48). There is no town or village without a church, an altar or a shrine of Our Lady. Marian devotion is founded on the Gospel. Was there anyone who loved and honoured Mary more than Jesus? At her request, He performed His first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana. The Church applies to the Blessed Virgin the scripture passage: "Whoever finds me finds life and the favour of the Lord" (Prov 8:35). Devotion to Mary is a necessity. If you have no devotion - and not just devotion but tender devotion - to Our Lady, you will never become saints.
To Jesus through Mary
Our Lady's intention was to cooperate with the Lord, lest her Son's blood be shed in vain. With Our Lord she is the Co-Redemptrix; she too bore the weight of our sins. Anything that wounds Jesus, wounds and hurts Our Lady. She has chosen to give her name to our Congregation and help to save as many people as possible. Anyone who wants to save himself and bypasses the Blessed Virgin is making a serious mistake. You can only reach Jesus through Mary: “ad Jesum per Mariam” - to Jesus through Mary!
Genuine devotion to the Virgin Mary
Genuine love of Mary is not a thing of sentiment; it is a readiness to do everything the service of God and her honour requires. We must pray to and imitate the Immaculate Virgin, above all in the purity of our intentions. We are the favoured children of Our Lady, and one day we will be jewels in her crown. Jewels, however, must be polished and, consequently, we must allow ourselves to be polished and worked on, as precious gems are.
Mary is a way to sanctity
Marian devotion will make us saints. Anyone who wants to become a saint without Our Lady is someone who wants to fly without wings. The more we turn to her for grace and holiness, the more we please Our Lord. All the saints were devoted to Our Lady. St. Jerome’s most beautiful homily is on Mary. It is hard to believe that this rather rough saint could be so tender when he spoke of Our Lady. St. Bernard said that Mary is a spring and a channel. She is a fountain of grace; we need only draw from this fountain. She is a channel because all graces come to us through her. What God does through His omnipotence, Mary does through prayer. Our Lady is omnipotent through grace. In God and with God she can do all things. She is the treasurer and dispenser of all graces. The saints called her “prayerful omnipotence”.
Behind her many titles there is but one Blessed Virgin; we especially should be devoted to her under the title "Consolata". Is not Our Lady - under this title - our Mother and are we not her sons and daughters? She is our very tender Mother who loves us like the apple of her eye; she is the inspiration of our Congregation; she has supported us both materially and spiritually through many years, and she is always quick to respond to our needs. Our real Foundress is Our Lady.
We must be piously proud to belong to Our Lady the Consolata; many envy us. And many more love us because we are Consolata Missionaries! Your name should be an incentive to become all that you ought to be. Repeating the words of St. Bernard, “Show yourself a Mother” is almost offensive! She does not need us reminding her to be a Mother. It would be more appropriate for her to say: “Show yourself to be my son/daughter.” We are the beloved sons and daughters of the Consolata; but do we always act as such? Filial love is by its very nature tender. Just as children are always turning to their mother, we must have constant recourse to her, all day long. Anyone without strong feeling or special love for the Consolata is heartless and, if there is one thing we need, it is the heart.
We have so often heard of the excellence of the Holy Rosary in itself and in the respect both popes and saints have shown it. It has been a channel of spiritual and temporal favours for us and all mankind, both in time and in eternity. The Rosary is simultaneously a mental and an oral prayer. The oral part of the prayer involves first of all the Our Father, which St. Augustine described as a short prayer that nonetheless covers all our needs, … and then the Hail Mary…
The Rosary is also a mental prayer. It is the best possible meditation on the lives of Our Lord and Our Lady, and this meditation makes the praying more sweet. It is not necessary that we spend all our time thinking about the mystery; but it would be better if we could. Nor it is necessary that we restrict this or that set of mysteries to the day prescribed. In private recitation one is free to do as one pleases. St. Augustine tells us that in meditation we must give our heart free rein. Prayed in this fashion, the Rosary will nourish both our heart and our soul; we should feel a new eagerness for this holy prayer.
Some object that we repeat the same prayer over and over! Love, Lacordaire tells us, has but one word: the more it is repeated, the sweeter and newer it becomes. When someone loves his mother, he does not seek new and different words. Can one ever tire of saying the Hail Mary? We could go into ecstasy all day long by just saying these words: “Hail Mary!” The repetition is only boring for someone who does not love Our Lady, for someone without spirit. If I say it with fervour the first time, I will say it with enthusiasm the second. Love and respect this prayer and never think of it as a burden. Engrave it in your hearts and make it one of your resolutions.