Reflections for the Feast of the Ascension – based on the life and writings of Joseph De Piro

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 46(47):2-3,6-9; Ephesians 4:1-13; Mark 16:15-20.


In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes how the risen Lord, after a period of time (forty days), is no longer experienced as physically present by the apostles. Mark reminds us that now it is the duty of the body to carry on the work of spreading the Good News and continuing to make Christ present in the world today.

The feast of the Ascension brings to a conclusion the story of the incarnation. God took on human flesh and ‘pitched up tent among us,’ so that we, created in his image and likeness, can now join in his divinity. Jesus took our human body with him to his divinity, the first fruits of the resurrection, so that, after him, we too can follow.

This truth is prayed about in the Collect for today’s celebration, ‘where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.’ This is not a human desire, simply hoping that things will come our way, but a ‘sure and certain’ hope, deeply rooted in our faith in Christ who has died and rose for us to save us.


Further Reading

In book Found Among Sinners, Martin Cilia mssp wrote about the hope of the Servant of God, and of the missionary.


Hope is an important Christian virtue and is an essential virtue in a missionary spirituality. To hope is to be nurtured and sustained by a great faith, based upon a promise made by a power beyond one’s own, that of God. Hope is believing in the promise of God and that God has the power to fulfil that promise. To hope is to let the ideals of the gospel lead and shape one’s life in such a way that even when everything seems impossible one holds firm to the promise, since the one who made the promise is faithful, as Edward Walsh puts it:

‘The task of a missionary is to go to places where he is not wanted, to sell a pearl whose value, although of a great price, is not recognised, to people who are determined not to accept it as a gift … to accomplish this he need not be a saint but he must come close to passing one. And in order to achieve this hoax, he must do so many things that a saint does, that it becomes for him a serious question if the easiest way is not simply to be a saint in the first place and be done with it’ (Luzbetak, Louis J., The Church and Cultures, (New York: Orbis Books Maryknoll, 1993), p. 2).

A missionary spirituality must be hopeful. Joseph De Piro believed in “the Divine words ‘If God does not build the house it is of no use any struggle made by the builders.’” These words reflected his trust in God’s help. When thinking about founding the Missionary Society of St Paul he felt it was nearly an impossible task. In his diary he wrote: “knowing that the Maltese priests love their native country very much, it must be through some miracle that my ideas would become realities.” But nevertheless he was firm in hoping in the One who made the promise. In Henry Nouwen’s words:

‘When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. Therefore to be a fruitful Christian leader one needs to move from the moral to the mystical’ (Nouwen, Henry, In the Name of Christ, (New York: Crossroad, 1989) p. 35).

Such hope beyond rationality becomes the characteristic of the missionary. To take steps beyond what is purely secure and reliable, out of full trust in the One who made the promise. Cardinal Martini writes.

‘I am what I am meant to be in the measure in which I follow that tendency to trust in hope. It is from man’s innate tendency to move beyond himself, to make an act of faith in another person, that society is born, as are friendships, love and brotherhood. If no one ever takes a risk, nothing happens. It is this trust in the promise of Jesus the Word, which makes salvation possible, it is a very special kind of trust that makes evangelisation possible. The evangelist is formed as he learns to surrender himself at Jesus Word’ (Martini, Carlo, Ministers of the Gospel, (USA: Paulist Press, 1993), p. 46).

Surrendering in faith and hope in the hands of the One who calls becomes the foundation stone of a spirituality of hope and trust. To hope is to believe that there is something holy and something hidden in the most ordinary situations. Faith ministry is therefore the greatest possible service that one can render to society. If it is true that humans have different needs, their deepest need is surely for faith, hope, and ultimately love.

The missionary must be ready to understand people’s most hidden needs, the most subtle needs, emerging from their innermost. But if one wishes to preach the gospel to others with compassion and conviction one must open one’s heart to experience the unlimited compassion of the Lord. ‘It is essential that our eager zeal for evangelisation should have its source in a true sanctity of life … this world is looking for preachers of the gospel to speak to it of God whom they know as being close to them, as though seeing him who is invisible’ (EN 76). As Paul VI comments: ‘The men of our day are more impressed by witness than by teachers and if they listen to teachers it is because they also bear witness’ (EN 41). Joseph De Piro gives advice that: ‘each one is to be very careful to avoid even the least idea of giving a bad example.’

A spirituality of hope and trust, when lived to the full, is a witness that the gospel is above all Good News, and that Jesus is not a moral reformer of humanity but a manifestation of the unlimited and boundless love of God. A spirituality of hope is a conviction that in any human situation there is a profound thirst for truth, justice and brotherhood, and that at the bottom of all, there is a sincere thirst for God.



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For the island state of Malta, April 30 was a special day; it marked the first centenary from the granting of its first constitution as a British Colony. Under this constitution, the Maltese were given a bi-cameral system of government to look after local affairs.
While this is a special event for Malta, for us who follow the charism handed down to us by the Servant of God Joseph De Piro, this marks one of De Piro’s achievements. In November 1918 a National Assembly was set up to draft a constitution to be presented to the British government for its approval and promulgation. This National Assembly was composed of representatives from various constituted bodies in the island. Joseph De Piro, Dean of the Cathedral Chapter of Malta, was chosen to represent the Chapter on this Assembly. At this stage, according to the Church Canon Law, the Cathedral Chapter functioned as the bishop’s advisory body, and therefore the Dean occupied a very important role in the diocese.
For this event, a book has been prepared to celebrate the contribution of the Servant of God, especially with regards to the question of the place of the Roman Catholic faith and of the official languages of the islands.
We would like to share with you this new publication The 1921 Malta Constitution. Joseph De Piro’s contributions towards the Religion and Language(s) Issue. We hope this will be another opportunity for us to appreciate De Piro’s ministry, his love for his fellow citizens, and his love for religion.
Tony & Mario
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Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48; Psalm 97(98):1-4; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17.


The life of God within us expresses itself in love. God is love and we live out our sharing in God’s life by the way we love our sisters and brothers. Jesus puts himself as a role model for his disciples. His total love led him all the way to the cross. Jesus tells us that, like him, we too need to learn to love, not in an egotistical way, but in the same way God loves us, an agape type of love. We too are invited to lay down our life for those around us.

In the second reading John again reminds us that the sure way to know that, like healthy branches, we are still connected to the divine vine, is through our deep, sincere and selfless love. In my relationships with my sisters and brothers, as I witness God’s love to them, I need to be ready to put myself aside and ‘love until it hurts.’

For the Apostles, this also meant putting aside their religious laws, handed down to them by their ancestors. Peter had to learn that while Jesus was the Messiah promised to the Jewish people, his salvation was to be applied to all peoples. The early Church tried to resist this new development, but Peter experienced the Spirit moving in a very different way, coming down also on the non-Jewish Cornelius. The divine life and love we receive cannot be limited but needs to be shared with all.


Further Reading

The Servant of God Joseph De Piro had his own experience of love that pushes itself beyond the boundaries. On 8th May 1898, during the supplica prayer he offered up himself and everything he had to the Lord and to the brethren. This he did all along his life.


Joseph De Piro could have enjoyed a very prosperous life. He could have become a painter. In his teens he spent three and a half years as member of the Royal Malta Regiment of Militia where, had he remained, he could have easily been promoted to higher ranks. In 1898 he started a law course at the University of Malta, this would have led him to a lawyer’s career. As a member of the De Piro family, he would have undoubtedly become a member of the Maltese nobility; this title came with a lot of property, both mobile and immobile, for which Joseph had a right. Nobility also implied popularity in Maltese society and the possibility of important roles in the civil administration. The Servant of God left all these behind and opted for the priesthood.

Joseph had not yet began his seminary studies at the Rome Gregorian University when on 24 August 1898 he wrote to his mother:

According to my, unfounded, calculations, if I am still alive, I will be ordained in four years’ time. I do not think I will be asked to do more than two years of philosophy studies, and after two years of theology I think I will be allowed to be ordained. Pray to St Thomas Aquinas to intercede on my behalf to enlighten my mind a bit more, in which case, even one year of philosophy would suffice, making the time shorter still. The theology course lasts four years, followed by three years of studies in Canon Law. If my addition is correct, I will be studying till I am thirty years old.

In his letter Joseph De Piro had a plan of ten years of study in Rome, finishing with a specialisation in Canon Law. At the same time, during his first year at the Capranica College, a short time after he had made his choice for the priesthood, Joseph seemed to be favouring a different route to the one just mentioned; he seemed to be thinking of going to St Joseph’s Home, rather than academic specialisations. Through this last option the Servant of God showed that his was going to be a priestly life dedicated to the poor. When he returned to Malta for his summer holidays, at the end of his first year of studies, he visited St Joseph’s Orphanage to meet Mgr Francesco Bonnici, the Founder and Director of the orphanage. To his astonishment, Joseph discovered that Bonnici had left the orphanage and had been replaced by Fr Emmanuel Vassallo, assisted by Fr George Bugeja. De Piro told Vassallo that, after finishing his studies, he wished to take up residence with him at the orphanage. As a seminarian, Joseph, stayed in contact with Vassallo and Bugeja and corresponded with them throughout his stay at the Capranica.

At the end of his studies in Rome, Archbishop Peter Paul Pace, the Bishop of Malta, offered him the possibility to attend the Ecclesiastical Academy. The President of this academy also approached De Piro. Joseph did not accept this offer; he preferred to return to Malta and work at St Joseph’s Orphanage. Pace accepted the Servant of God’s decision. Again, De Piro left behind him a career full of prosperity and prestige, this time in the Church, and opted to live with the poor boys of St Joseph’s Orphanage.

After his ordination and three more months of study in Rome, Fr Joseph went to Davos, Switzerland, to recuperate his health. In Switzerland he spent 18 months, after which he returned to Malta and stayed for almost three years in Qrendi, a parish to the south of the island, to continue to regain his strength. Although De Piro had spoken to Vassallo about his wish to go to St Joseph’s, Vassallo did not offer him the possibility to live there. Instead, in 1907, Archbishop Pace appointed Fr Joseph to the direction of Fra Diegu, a residence for orphaned, poor girls. This was only the first of a series of orphanages to be entrusted to the care of the Servant of God. Another five followed: Jesus of Nazareth; St Joseph’s, Malta; St Jospeh’s, Gozo; the Home for babies; and St Francis de Paul.

De Piro’s acceptance of the administration of Fra Diegu Orphanage included other options. Pastoral work has always something young priests wanted. De Piro was quite settled in Qrendi, he felt accepted and loved there, and probably it was not that easy for him to leave the parish. In spite of this, he left it without hesitation and went to help the poor girls of Fra Diegu Orphanage.

Fra Diegu was not the orphanage he wished to administer, he would have preferred St Joseph’s Orphanage, which, besides being a residence for orphaned boys, was a place from where he had hoped he come found a male religious society under the patronage of St Paul. Fra Diegu was an orphanage for girls, and it was not possible to initiate a male congregation in it. The Servant of God put the society’s project aside, left Qrendi, set aside the orphanage where he had been thinking to start the society, and settled for Fra Diegu Orphanage!

In 1922 De Piro also accepted the direction of the Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage, Zejtun. This was another orphanage for girls. Yet, he accepted this orphanage and dedicated himself completely for the good of the poor orphans.

It seemed that he was never going to be asked to administer the orphanage for which he had sacrificed an ecclesiastical diplomatic career. The Servant of God did not refuse the direction of these two female orphanages and accepted to become director of both orphanages.

De Piro wanted his Society to work among the poor in its apostolates. In 7 August 1905 the Servant of God wrote about his ‘idea’ of starting a society. After mentioning the foreign missions as the main aim of his congregation, he mentioned the other three apostolates. St Joseph’s Home, Malta, was going the first of these secondary pastoral works.

On 30 June 1914 the Founder wrote to Bishop Angelo Portelli, Malta’s Apostolic Administrator, requesting permission for the members of his Society to wear a habit. Together with this petition, De Piro sent a short prospectus of the rules of the society where he writes: “the aim of this small society will be to help those peoples who lack gospel workers, especially and in the first place reaching out to Maltese expatriates, and, for this reason, will look after orphanages.” These words clearly include an option for the poor. This time it was not only St Joseph’s Orphanage, Malta, it was not even limited to the other orphanages in his native country, rather he wanted the members of his Society, wherever they were going to be, to work in homes for poor children.

In the part of the Constitutions of the Society, written by the Founder, and approved by the Bishop of Malta on 18 March 1924, De Piro almost repeated what he had written in 1914; “It has as its aim… to reach out to those people who lacked gospel workers, and to take responsibility of orphanages.”

On 5 March 1910 the Salesians of Don Bosco were asked by Notary Michael Casolani, Founder of the Oratory, Birkirkara, to take responsibility of the place. Fr O’Grady sdb wrote to the Bishop requesting permission to build a chapel for the Oratory. Seven days later, Canon Alphonse Borg, Provost of Birkirkara parish, wrote to the Archbishop recommending this request. Together with this letter, Borg sent the Archbishop an extract of the rules of the Society of St Francis de Sales. Part 1, chapter 1, of these Rules had these articles:

“Art. 1223 – The aim of the Oratory is to distance the young people from the dangers of laziness and bad company, especially on feast days. Thus all young people are welcome, without any exception.

Art. 1224 – However, the poor, the most forsaken and illiterate are to be preferred since they have greater needs in their faith journey.

Art. 1226 – Physical defects should not prevent anyone from being welcomed, unless they are contagious or so repulsive as to scare a lot of youths away.”

The above Rules clearly stated who the Salesians accepted in their oratories: they welcomed boys of all conditions and grades, yet the poor, abandoned and the uneducated were preferred.

A few years later, Canon Michael Camilleri took the oratory over from the Salesians and wrote an undated letter to Field Marshal Lord Methuen, Governor of Malta (1915 – 1919). Its contents showed that article 1224 of the Salesian Rules was still practiced at the Oratory at the time of Sammut:

“His Excellency

Field Marshal Lord Methuen G.C.B.G.C.V.O. C.M.G

Governor of Malta and its dependencies and commander in chief of the troops serving within the same.

Your Excellency,

… the hundreds of poor boys attending the institution whereof I am in charge… There are hundreds of poor boys who daily flock to our institution (The Oratory, St Julian’s Street, Birkirkara) … It is heartrending to see so many of our children shivering with cold for lack of sufficient clothing, and to know that, however we might strain our resources in order to provide for a very bad care … those who are kept away from attending the Government’s Elementary School simply because their parents are so poor that they cannot dress them with even the minimum degree of decency required for the purpose.”

On 15 December 1925 Casolani wrote to De Piro “… I have been told that you have returned from your trip some time ago, and I hope that it was beneficial for your health, so precious for so many people who love the orphanages in these islands.” Casolani showed that he was aware of the specific contribution of De Piro in Malta; De Piro was Director of orphanages looking after poor and orphaned boys and girls! On 4 April 1927 Notary Michael Casolani donated the Oratory to the Servant of God. This was a centre for poor boys. On his part, De Piro, accepted responsibility for the Oratory and bound himself and his Society to continue directing it on the same lines on which it had been led before. This was another option of the poor!

The letter from the Treasury, Malta, sent to De Piro on 24 March 1927 proved that the Oratory was renowned as a centre for the poor boys:

“With reference to your application dated the 22nd April, I have the honour to inform you that His Excellency the Governor has been pleased to direct that the transfer to the Company of St Paul of the title of the field called ‘tal Uita’ in St Julian’s Str. Birkirkara, together with the Chapel and other buildings erected thereon, in order that the said property may be used as an Oratory for the education of the children of the poorer classes, be exempt both from Donation and from Stamp Duty.”

In June 1928 De Piro, as director of the Oratory, Birkirkara, wrote a letter to the Minister for the Treasury. He spoke about the place by these words and was quite clear about who were the boys who attended the Oratory:

“The ‘Oratory,’ St Julian’s Str. Birkirkara, is an institution established in 1910 for the religious and moral education of the sons of the people, on the identical lines of the Salesian Oratory at Sliema and of the other similar ‘oratories’ of the Venerable Don Bosco, existing all over the world.”

In a contract between De Piro and the Provost of Birkirkara parish, on 1 February 1930, the same aim was emphasised, “Firstly that the Notary Michael L. Casolani established an institute intended for the religious and civil education of the sons of the people.”

On 11 June 1930, in another contract between De Piro and Fr George Preca, Founder of the catechetical Society, MUSEUM, in the presence of Notary Louis Gauci Forno, the Oratory was described as, “a place for the civil and religious education of the children of the working class in Birkirkara.”

The above shows that the Oratory was a centre for the poor children of the common people, and it was this place De Piro accepted in his care.


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Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 21(22):26-28,30-32; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8.


In the Last Supper scene of his gospel, John uses the image of the vine and the branches to describe the relationship that needs to exist between Jesus and his disciples. Just as a branch that is no longer linked to the vine can no longer be fruitful, so also, the disciple who does not have the life of God within him, is a dead disciple. The sap that runs through the vine and its branches, enabling the branches to produce healthy fruit, represents the life and love of God that needs to run through each of the disciples for them to produce fruit.

Pruning, although painful, is a work of love that the divine gardener carries out on the vine and its branches. The branches are kept clean, and their dead parts are removed, so that they can remain healthy. The disciple is invited to welcome this pruning that may be experienced in various different ways. Like a good vinedresser, God only wishes the best for those who trust in him and who have his life in them.

In the second reading, John explains that this divine life that runs in the veins of the faithful disciple expresses itself in the love and reaching out to our neighbour and friend. We are not able to love others unless we carry God’s love within us. This same love encouraged Saul and Barnabas to go around and offer a ministry of preaching and witnessing to the early Church, pushing it beyond its early Jewish boundaries and reaching out to the Greek community. If we allow God’s life to be within us, then we too can produce fruit. When we live a contemplative life, constantly reflecting on God’s action within us, then we can also bring God to others around us.


Further Reading

In his book Found Among Sinners, Martin Cilia mssp writes about Joseph De Piro’s contemplation in action.


God within

The first characteristic is the shift in belief from a God who is above to a God that is within him. It is the realisation that God dwells in his heart and in his life and it is through these that God speaks to him.

It is for our sake that God can be found everywhere; He has not chosen a particular city or sanctuary, but one can find Him in every corner of the city, in the country, on the mountains, in the valleys. He wants to stay among those dear to Him.

The relational aspect of prayer is very clear: “Prayer removes our distance and unites us with God. It is the noblest vocation; it gives us strength, comfort, joy and life. It is grace, indeed a source of grace.” It calls one to go deeper in the room of the heart and meet God there, in secret:

“Keep your soul always as the temple of God should be; and when you cannot do meditation, when the short time of your Communion has passed, do not be discouraged, but shut yourselves for a moment with God inside your soul, and talk and pray with Him continuously.”


Transformed in the image of the Son

The spirituality of Joseph De Piro centres on the fact that spiritual life finds its fulfilment in bringing one’s entire life into a transforming, loving communion with the ineffable God “who in the most intimate union with us transform us into Himself.” This communion is the raison d’etre and the fruition of De Piro’s deeper self: “The one who loves finds himself similar, or strives to become similar to the loved person.”

Many mystics developed a spirituality based on the mystical union with Christ. John of the Cross defines prayer as a meeting with the one who loves us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of Christ as the one in whom we can find all that we have a right to expect from God. In Christ we find everything we need if we are open enough to listen to his voice.

For De Piro, Jesus was the way to the Father, and so he had to be grafted in Him. He was called to live the life of Christ, echoing the words of Paul “indeed, it is Christ who lives in me.” Christianity was much more than an expression of brotherly love, more than philanthropy. Rather, it is a call to be transformed; “that all live the life of Christ is not just an idea suggested by mystical exaltation, but it is the real sense of the Christian life.” De Piro realised that to be a Christian implies a life rooted in the Risen Christ.

Joseph De Piro leads us along a journey of inner self-transformation by the grace of God. James Finley puts it:

“The self that begins the journey is not the self that arrives. The self that begins is the self that we thought ourselves to be. It is the self that dies along the way until in the end ‘no one’ is left. This ‘no one’ is our true self…. It is the self-in-God, the self bigger than death yet born of death, it is the self the Father forever loves.” (James Finley; Melton’s Place of Nowhere, (USA: Ave Maria Press Indiana, 1985) 17).

John of the Cross defines contemplation as: “El amado con el amada, el amada en amado transformada.” (Kathleen Jones, The Poems of St John of the Cross: Spanish and English Texts, (New York: Burnes & Oates, 1993) The lover with the beloved, the lover transformed in the beloved.) Contemplation defined De Piro’s life “We tend towards union, and the more the union is near, the more love grows.” It echoes the theology of the Eastern Fathers who believed that our vocation is divination, to become like God: He became human so that humanity can become God. De Piro explains this transformation in metaphors and images:

“God shows himself as a Father who gives Himself as a gift to his own children. Then the final and highest stage of love lies in the union between the lover and the loved object. As iron changes into fire, so the soul, which receives Holy Communion, becomes Jesus.”

De Piro was aware of a link between his humanity and his spiritual process: the two were never divorced one from the other, but had a mutual influence on each other. By being open to prayer he was also open to receive God’s gift of love in his weakness and everyday reality. About Francis of Assisi he writes:

“These words of St Paul synthesise the story of the soul of Francis of Assisi. They express the life of the man transfigured by means of grace, transformed in another Jesus Christ …. Indeed, he has the mission to reform, according to Christ’s teachings, to make Christ live in the middle of society, and he himself had to be full of this divine life. He, more than anyone else, could repeat the words of Saint Paul: ‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.’” De Piro saw Francis as a model and a friend in this process of inner transformation.

“One day, in the solitude of Ravenna, while Francis was lost in contemplation of the suffering of Christ, he felt such a deep love that he himself changed into Christ.”

Transformation in Christ is the aim and the result of his prayer life; “the most intimate union with us is to transform us in Himself.” One would not expect such a depth in De Piro’s spirituality being the kind of person so active in pastoral ministry. But “Christ lives in me” was for him the membership card to enter heaven. Furthermore, it was the proof of his love for Christ, “one cannot give a bigger proof of one’s love than when he is prepared to give his own life for him whom he loves.” The result of this love that overflows from his encounter with God was the deep conviction that: “Everything that happens during the day, whether it is to our liking or not, let us always be ready to repeat the words of the Our Father, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This was well articulated by John Paul II when he said:

“The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial and even illusory standards and measures must… draw near Christ. He must, so to speak, enter him with all his own self, he must ‘appropriate’ and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears the fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deeper wonder of himself. (Veritatis Splendor, n.8)

  1. Cilia, Found Among Sinnners, Malta 2010, pp. 86-87, 90-94.


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It was a great celebration last weekend as we gathered to officially bless our Church Extensions.

Thank you is extended to Terese Smith and Judy Debono for arranging the Paulist Centre and organising the refreshments.  Thank you to the many people who prepared and provided food for the occasion. Thank you to the Parish Office Staff, to Angel Hartanto, Phuong-Tran Nguyen and John Nguyen for creating the environment. Thankyou to Kevin Lloyd and the Ushers, to Di Caprio’s Restaurant for donating pizzas, the Music Ministry and Samoan Choir for planning the Saturday Working Bee, to Peter and Matthew Lloyd for the marquee.

It was truly a great testimony of missionary discipleship.


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Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 117(118):1,8-9,21-23,26,28-29; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18.


Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd. The image of the shepherd as the one who shepherds the flock, the people of Israel, is one of the themes of the Old Testament. In the gospel Jesus says that he is the good shepherd. Hired hands might do a good job when things are going well, they will look after the sheep and take them to fresh pastures, but they do not own the sheep, and so will run away when life becomes difficult.

As the Good Shepherd, the one who really loves his sheep and does his best to look after them, will be ready to even lay down his own life for his sheep. This is certainly an image of Jesus who is ready to die on the cross in order to continue in his mission of revealing the Father to us, his flock.

The shepherd invites us into a personal relationship with him. For the shepherd, we are not simply a flock of sheep running around, he knows each one of his sheep by name. He gently invites his sheep to follow him into new feeding grounds, and the sheep recognise him and follow him. The Good Shepherd is the model for all those who have a role to shepherd others as parents, teachers or as spiritual leaders. The challenge for us all, regardless of our call in life, is to be ready to lay down our lives for those under our care, in the example of the Shepherd.


Further Reading

This Sunday the Church celebrates Vocation Sunday. In the 1925 almanac Joseph De Piro published an article, talking about parents and vocations.


Parents and Vocations

This article is not meant for parents who think that it is shameful for one of their sons or daughters to become a missionary. Rather, I address parents who lead a life rooted in faith and full of evangelical love. These parents sanctify the days of the week with work and with living out the Christian virtues, and imbue the childhood years of their children with faith, to obtain every blessing from heaven. Often they are blessed with one of their sons or daughters being called to follow the Divine Master more closely.

These parents consider it a great honour that God, in his mercy, chooses a member of their family for his service. This is true because the privilege to serve God and to live in his abode, is much greater than any service in the king’s court or in his army. It is more glorious to serve God than to serve one’s own country. St Jerome says that the service of God gives rise to an intimate union between the family and Jesus Christ himself.

People who become members of God’s household, become like channels of grace between the family and God. God gives a supernatural value to any type of bond that they have with other persons. Although missionaries live far from their parents and siblings, their love towards them is kept alive and pure. Missionaries often think of their loved ones and pray that they may receive many heavenly blessings.

We ought to see this from a faith perspective. The call to follow Jesus Christ, especially in the mission field, rather than being solely beneficial to the individual, is also of benefit to the whole family. The one chosen by God represents the whole family in God’s house. The family, in a way, shares in the missionary’s ministry and prayers and in all the good that he or she does.

This a common reality in the lives of saints. Our experience is that families, especially those that have a son or daughter in Religious Life, receive many more graces. God gives them the gift to be faithful to him, to serve and love him, to pray and to yearn for holiness. We often see that, through love, the families too become ‘religious,’ even though they do not wear a religious habit. They too share in the hundredfold promised to their son or daughter. True Christians and sincere Catholics are proud that their son, brother or sister, cousin, uncle or aunt, have been chosen by God for higher and better things, and have thus disappeared from the worldly scene.

If the call to follow Jesus Christ is a gift that belongs to the whole family, the latter, and not just one person, has the duty to safeguard it. It is a shared duty. The response to a vocation requires sacrifice from both sides. When a young man or woman leaves his or her parents and siblings to become a religious, the loved ones too have to be generous in their separation. They may be comforted to know that just as they share the merit of total detachment, they will also one day share in the prize promised to the missionary.  (tr. C Sciberras mssp)




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Acts 3:13-15,17-19; Psalm 4:2,4,7,9; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48.


The apostles and the early Church tried to understand the meaning of the resurrection and of Christ’s teaching. Two thousand years later we often take these realities for granted, we come after two thousand years of history of Christianity and teaching. For the apostles and the early Church this was all new. What does it actually mean that Jesus rose again from the dead? What will happen to us when we too rise from the dead? When we question these truths and doubt certain aspects of our faith, we are in good company.

In the gospel narrative Jesus tries to explain to the stupefied apostles that he is truly risen. For those who believe in ghosts, these are the spiritual presence of a deceased person. If the Jesus who appeared to the apostles were a ghost, this would have meant that he was still dead. Instead Jesus proves to the apostles that he has a glorified body, because he is truly risen. We do not understand what a glorified body looks and feels like, Jesus shows the apostles that in his risen body he could also consume food; ghosts are bodiless souls and cannot eat or drink!

In the first reading Peter invites the Jews to be converted and to believe in Christ. They need to turn away from looking away from Christ to looking towards Christ and to believe in him and his teachings. Conversion does not only imply leaving sin behind, but also to change our way of life to reflect our new life in Christ.


Further Reading

Who was the Jesus Christ the Servant of God believed in?

Jesus, the Son.

In his sermons, Joseph De Piro spoke about the love of the Father in a special way through the various mysteries of Jesus. The incarnation of the Son of God, his passion and crucifixion, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and his Sacred Heart were central themes.

  1. The incarnation of the Son: ‘God like us.’

When he preached about the incarnation of the Son of God, De Piro could have emphasised Jesus’ poverty, his humility, his being announced first to the Jews and then even to the gentiles, etc. He could have also spoken about humanity’s lack of gratitude for the creator of all and everything. Instead, the Servant of God emphasised God’s coming among us, and his becoming one like us humans.

The expressions used by De Piro in his sermons, to refer to God’s coming personally among us to save us, speak clearly of the Father’s love to us expressed in his Son. When speaking about the incarnation, De Piro emphasised Jesus’ becoming human like us: ‘the Word made man,’ ‘incarnation of the Word,’ ‘God made man,’ ‘became man,’ ‘God the almighty came down from heaven in order to become man like us,’ and ‘in the incarnation the divine nature is united to the human nature.’

Reflection: One must really love another person for him to become like that person.

  1. The suffering Jesus: God in solidarity with the ‘poor’ ones; ‘God with us.’

When De Piro preached about Jesus in his passion and death, he could have spoken about his sufferings, which he did. Yet he emphasised God’s solidarity with the suffering humanity. De Piro often spoke about Jesus being one with suffering humanity, because of sin.

Years after he had drawn the face of the suffering Jesus, Joseph De Piro repeatedly referred to the passion of Jesus. Jesus’ suffering was another way how God could become one with the suffering humanity. “In the other mysteries, divinity reveals itself. On Calvary it is the centurion who declares: ‘This truly was the Son of God’. It was not enough for him not to appear as God; he did not even seem to be human. St Thomas says that notwithstanding this, it is the greatest miracle of Christ.’” Here Jesus is in absolute solidarity with the vulnerable humanity.

Reflection: “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).

  1. The Eucharistic Jesus: ‘God in us.’

The Eucharistic expressions De Piro used in his written sermons indicate God’s love that makes him come in us: ‘The last moment consists in the most intimate union with us …,’ ‘… in the Eucharist he is united to each one of us …,’ ‘… that Jesus, of Betlehem, of Nazareth … is within you, his heartbeats and yours are one,’ ‘… what Jesus does to be united with us …,’ ‘… we who have our God so near to us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, not figuratively, not as a shadow, but in reality …,’ ‘… as a father among his beloved children, as a shepherd among his sheep …,’ ‘… he decided to stay among us …,’ ‘… in the Eucharist … our heart becomes one with the heart of Jesus, his spirit becomes one with our spirit …,’ ‘… Jesus … is always eager to be united to us.’

Other quotes by De Piro about Jesus, who becomes personally one with us in the Eucharist, are longer.

Reflection: For Joseph De Piro, the Eucharist was the continuation of the incarnation. It was the Sacrament instituted by Jesus to become one with us.

  1. The Sacred Heart of Jesus: God who loves through his Son, God’s love that saves; ‘God for us.’

The Sacred Heart of Jesus was, for the Servant of God, nothing less than the abode of the divine love, and therefore, that which saves us continuously. ‘But where did this divine love dwell after coming down from heaven?’ De Piro asks in one of his sermons. He answered: ‘It lived in the Sacred Heart, that most noble part of the human nature that had been united to the divine. It inhabited the most Sacred Heart of Jesus …. As the rudder guides the ship, so also this divine heart, full of love, coming down from heaven, guides the thoughts, words and actions of Jesus. It is because of this that the gospel composed the most beautiful words of praise: ‘He walked by, doing good everywhere.’’

Even without the crucifixion, there would have been a place for devotion to the Heart of Jesus:

“For our redemption it would have been enough that the Sacred Heart of Jesus produced the blood and gave life to the body of Jesus, making it possible for him to do both human and divine acts at the same time. Because every free act of Our Lord Jesus had an infinite value and therefore could redeem us without any suffering …” 

However, the suffering of the Sacred Heart that reveals Jesus’ love to perfection, ‘It is the same with Jesus. Tell him that he could have saved one drop of blood with which his Divine Heart functioned. He would not.’

On 22 August 1916 Joseph De Piro wrote to Cardinal Filippo Giustini, Prefect of the Congregation of Rites asking him to allow the members of his Society to be ordained under the title of missionaries. De Piro wrote:

“From the beginning to this day, each day has had its heavy burdens. I have had disappointments and suffered humiliations. Three seminarians, in whom I had placed my faith, left, and this hurt me, for they had been very promising…. Moreover, Divine Providence has never failed to lighten my burdens. I do not wish these events to overshadow others which have given me great joy .…”

On 3 October 1932 De Piro organised for the blessing and laying of the foundation stone of our Motherhouse, St Agatha’s. In his welcoming speech the Servant of God said:

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain (Ps 127:1)

These divine words kindle in us a total trust, without any reserve, in God’s help. Better still, they give us a strong faith in the first movement of the Principal Agent. They have already been chosen and placed at the beginning of the rules which guide the new Missionary Institute which gathered us here for the benefit of its increase and prosperity. These words are, no less fitting and worthy to be remembered today.

As everybody knows – dear Archbishop – God’s works, and not ours, bear contrariety as a sign and as an ornament. For the span of about fourteen years, in the work we have before us, in our hands, there have been so many difficulties, one after the other, that they could have tired any person. But, since it was God who set to work at the task, His servants never lacked courage. Moreover, like a firm and sweet breeze, God’s spirit … filled the sails of our poor boat, troubled by the waves.”

(Sciberras, Tony, A Journey of Love. Love Generates Love. A Fertile Celibate Love, pp. 25-29).



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Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 117(118):2-4,15-18,22-24; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31.


The mystery of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not easy to understand. We should not be surprised if we cannot fully comprehend what this really means. The disciples of Jesus, the ones who travelled with him throughout his ministry, his passion and death, also struggled with what this really meant.

In the gospel passage this Sunday we join the twelve apostles who, afraid of the Jewish leaders, have locked themselves in a room. For the apostles the locked room becomes an image of their fear. When we are afraid we too lock ourselves away from people who can help us and perhaps even from God.

No walls can ever limit God’s reach. God reaches in and through our fear. The risen Jesus, on the evening of the day of his resurrection, visits the apostles and gives them his peace. He sends them out to preach the good news and to forgive the sins of those who want to believe in God’s great love.

Thomas could not believe that Jesus had in fact risen and requested that he too meet the risen Lord. If we believe, we too can see the Christ, not with our physical eyes, but with our eyes of faith. With Thomas we too are invited to proclaim that Jesus is both Lord and God and in this faith we have eternal life.


Further Reading

In the speech delivered on 3rd October 1932, on the occasion of the blessing and the laying of the foundation stone of the Society’s Motherhouse, St Agatha, Rabat, The Servant of God, Joseph De Piro, expressed the feelings mentioned in today’s gospel.


Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. (Ps 127:1)

Your Grace the Archbishop,

These divine words kindle in us total trust, without any reserve, in God’s help. Better still, they give us strong belief in the first movement of the Principal Agent. These words have already been chosen and placed at the beginning of the rules which guide the new Missionary Society which gathered us here for the benefit of its increase and prosperity. These words are no less fitting and worthy to be remembered to day.

As everybody knows, dear Archbishop, God’s works and not ours, bear contrariety as a sign and ornament. In the work we have before us and in our hands, for the span of about fourteen years, there have been so many difficulties, one after the other, that they could have exhausted any man. But, since it was God who set to work at the task, His servants never lacked courage. Moreover, like a firm and sweet breeze, God’s spirit, which always accompanied every difficulty, filled the sails of our poor boat, troubled by the waves.

Therefore, all those who can recognise all the circumstances, whether very close or from a distance, which during such a long time led to today’s solemn occurrence, can understand quickly and well the great happiness which fills us at this instance. We have reached the longed-for moment. We can now raise our voices in God’s name, as we are in fact doing, to invite you, Archbishop, to pray and call down from heaven your blessing on the foundation stone of this building. This building will welcome those who, with a generous heart befitting their youth, accepted the invitation they heard from on high to devote themselves to spread Christ’s kingdom on earth through their work. Yes, here these youths are prepared to be able to obey the order of the Lord of the harvest. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19); “preach the gospel to all creation” (Mk 16:15).

“Go and teach all nations.” It is here, dear Archbishop, that we quickly feel humbled and confused when we think about how great is the need and how little our effort, still in its beginning, can offer

Archbishop, there are 1,700 million inhabitants in our world today. From these, a 1,000 million, that is much more than half of them, are still waiting the blessing of divine redemption; they still do not know anything about our Redeemer. Their ears have not heard the sweet name of Jesus who, through of the ministry of Paul of Tarsus, has already been sounding on our lips for two thousand years. Therefore, when we compare such a large number to our small fold, for which today we are beginning this building, no one has to wonder if our senses, our mind and our heart feel confused. To say the truth, the gospel event of the widow’s mite encourages us as we look up and put our hope in Him who is our most beloved Father. When God builds, those who build the walls do not labour in vain. We are also consoled to think of the truth that God’s power, which created everything out of nothing, and the power of the God-Man, who fed thousands of people from five loaves, has never changed, and is still with us for ever. The sign of the cross which you, the representative of the Vicar of Christ, Christ among us, put today on this foundation stone, descends like ointment with balm on all those belonging to our Missionary Society. It makes them grow in the spirit of their Father Paul and makes their hearts similar to his because, as St John Chrysostom says, the heart of Paul is the heart of Christ. Then he makes them grow in number so that, in the extensive missionary work, in the infinite enterprise for the salvation of the pagan world, even they have their share as soon as possible. This was the desire of the holy Pope Pius X, when he blessed this Society at its beginning. It is the ardent wish of the reigning Pontiff, Pope Pius XI, the missionary Pope, whenever he repeats his blessing on us. This is the object we long for. Here finally we would be able to say that we have heard and fulfilled the commandment of Christ, “go and teach.”

Dear Archbishop, I would be guilty of seriously offending you if I failed to take this opportunity to thank you today for all the help which you have given to our small work, from its beginning to the present day. We happily remember the state we were in, not properly constituted and surrounded by so many wants and defects. Today we are satisfied to admit that since its foundation, our work, moved and led by Divine Providence, has always found in you that fatherly help which we truly appreciate. The ceding of this very devout temple to us is not the least among these favours. We also add this present meeting and the honour you have been pleased to shower on us by joining us to bless and place this foundation stone with all solemnity. We feel we are fulfilling our duty when we thank you in the presence of such a gentle and courageous gathering of our admirers and friends, who know how to lift up their minds and know how to keep their heart full of the thought of God and of His works. We thank you now, and our gratitude is strengthened when it is united to that of all the others. We make ours the cherished words of our dear missionary Pope as we address them to you, dear Archbishop, in the most kindled wish that the Divine Founder of the Church always pours abundantly his graces on this diocese, so much beloved by your paternal heart.

Bless this foundation stone dear Archbishop and may this blessing, together with the blessing which the Father of all Christians was pleased to give us today, strengthen the truth that God has started this work; our hope in God’s help, which is so necessary, is strengthened. In the words of David, the royal prophet, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.”



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St James The Apostle