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Servant of God Joseph De Piro – reflections from his life and writings; 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19; Psalm 70(71):1-6,15,17; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30.

 

** Gospel Reading

Jesus began to speak in the synagogue, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.

They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’ But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

 

**Further reading

Since the beginning of his mission Jesus started to challenge his disciples not to remain stuck to their old way of thinking but to open themselves to his good news. He invited those around him to put aside their old behaviour and look forward, free from the shackles of the past. This was not only good News, but ground-breaking news.

To help reflect on today’s gospel, we can meditate on the following question and some suggested responses.

How was the Servant of God Joseph De Piro open to freshness, innovation, originality? Was he free to move to new pastures?

  • One can use the historical method by going through the Founder’s life in a chronological way.

Otherwise one may choose to ponder on the fact that as a Founder, he received a charism in, for and with the Church.

Read More →

Nehemiah 8:2-6,8-10; Psalm 18(19):8-10,15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4,4:14-21.

** Gospel Reading

Seeing that many others have undertaken to draw up accounts of the events that have taken place among us, exactly as these were handed down to us by those who from the outset were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, I in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you, Theophilus, so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received.

Jesus, with the power of the Spirit in him, returned to Galilee; and his reputation spread throughout the countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him.

He came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.

He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,

to proclaim liberty to captives

and to the blind new sight,

to set the downtrodden free,

to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’

**Further reading.

There is a close relationship between the second reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians and the Gospel; the first speaks about a theology of charisms and the gospel talks about the charism in practice.

(A)

There have been several attempts to present a theology of the charism of a religious institute. The Claritian, Rudolph M. Mainka, presents a very scriptural attempt at this theology. He speaks of different stages in the formation of a charism:

The charism in the founder (The foundational charism). The founder’s personal charism; through his Spirit, God helps the individual to live the Word as a whole. While the Founder is living, and only because he or she is living, the Word as a whole, God, through his Spirit, introduces him or her to the living of a particular aspect of the Word.

In the Founder the charism has both a spiritual and a pastoral dimension. While God is forming the Founder in the Word in general and in some of its particular aspects, the Founder observes and analyses what he or she sees around him or her in the light of the Word in general and especially in the light of a particular aspect of the Word.

The Founder then starts living and acting according to what he is inspired to live and do through the light of the Word of God in general and the particular aspect of the Word. He or she lives the spirituality of the particular charism (the soul of the charism) and the apostolate of the particular charism (the form of the charism).

In the case of religious Founders, the charism is handed over to a religious institute. Inspired by the Word in general, and especially by the particular aspect of the Word, the Founder lives the spirituality and the apostolate and others are attracted to join the Founder and share this spirituality and apostolate.

This gives rise to the first community with the start of healthy traditions that incarnate the charism in particular time, culture and situation. Every religious institute must continue to incarnate into the present the charism passed on to it by the founder, the first community and previous generations.

(B)

In the Gospel Jesus presents himself as the one anointed by the Spirit for a mission. If the Servant of God Joseph De Piro were to write his autobiography, he would have undoubtedly put these words somewhere in the beginning:

 

“The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to:

be a father and a mother to the girls and boys in the orphanages;

sustain in their various needs the boys and youths of the Birkirara Oratory;

see to it that there is a provision for all the needs of the seminarians at the Mdina Major Seminary;

be a real Father to the members of my Missionary Religious Institute;

help, in their various needs, the families of the girls and boys in the orphanages;

continue to support the girls and boys who had lived in the orphanages;

create social assistance to the employees at these orphanages, in the Mdina Cathedral School and the Major Seminary;

give alms to the many poor and miserable beggars, young or old, women or men;

help the Maltese workers earn a just wage;

help the Maltese families enjoy a decent living;

mediate for peace and concord between conflicting individuals or entities;

keep strong the faith of the faithful Maltese in Malta, young or old, women or men;

rejuvenate the faith of the Maltese migrants, whereever they are; and

announce God’s love to those who have never heard of it.

 

Read More →

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 95:1-3,7-10; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11.

 

** Gospel Reading

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. When they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the wedding was all finished, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said, ‘Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ There were six stone water jars standing there, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews; each could hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water,’ and they filled them to the brim. ‘Draw some out now’ he told them, ‘and take it to the steward.’ They did this; the steward tasted the water, and it had turned into wine. Having no idea where it came from – only the servants who had drawn the water knew – the steward called the bridegroom and said, ‘People generally serve the best wine first, and keep the cheaper sort till the guests have had plenty to drink, but you have kept the best wine till now.’

This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him.

 

** Further Reading

Since we often hear this reading being proclaimed as part of a wedding liturgy, one can easily think that this is its only context. This Sunday it is accompanied with the first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, giving it a much wider context than that of the family.

Today we can reflect on the Servant of God’s homily on marriage.

 

My dear couple, before leaving this sacred place, which will have a special significance for you from now onwards, allow me a few words.

With your mutual consent, expressed in front of God’s and the Church’s representative, you have just done a solemn act and you have also received a Sacrament that the Apostle our Father does not hesitate to define great: “Sacramentum magnum”.

Yes, the Christian marriage is great in itself and it what it symbolizes.

The Christian marriage, in fact, is the symbol of the mystical union between Jesus Christ and his Church, as Paul says: “Hoc autem dico in Christo et in Ecclesia”.

Jesus loves his Church with an indescribable love, to the extent that he shed his blood foe her, and left her all his being in the Blessed Sacrament. Well. Marriage is the holy union of two hearts, for whom love is a duty.

Jesus protects his Church. It is he that gives her the strength to defend herself against the persecutions of her enemies. He makes sure that she is victorious and unhurt after each tempest. With his Spirit he guides her firmly on the path of truth and justice. Well, God has placed a man at the side of the woman: he is stronger, more reflective and has the necessary energy and courage to face the problems of life. In marriage God entrusts the man with the mission to defend, protect and sustain his wife, and to use his physical strength and the boldness of his initiatives for her benefit.

The Church, in her turn, reciprocates with the sweetest demonstrations of love. She speaks lovingly about Jesus to all humanity. She solemnly makes memorial of his actions. She surrounds the Real Presence of her Divine Spouse with all the trappings of the Liturgy. She consoles the Heart of Jesus that many rebel souls offend.

In the Christian marriage, the wife, who is richer in sentiments and more inclined to meekness and piety, has the mission to make the life of her husband more enjoyable. She has the mission to pour balsam on the wounds that sometimes evil persons inflict. She is meant to be the consoler of her companion.

There is even more. Jesus Christ and his Church strive for the same holy goal: the good of the souls that are generated and brought up in the life of the grace through the Blood of Jesus and the Church’s Sacraments. Marriage, my dear friends, is also a symbol of this union. When God gives a couple the joy of parenthood, a new mission commences. They are entrusted with the future of other human beings. They have to dedicate themselves to the noblest art of educating the minds and hearts of their children. In the serenity of their domestic shrine, they are to form loyal and virtuous Christians.

That is why St Paul calls this Sacrament ‘great’; yes it is great not only as a symbol, but in itself, that is, by the grace of God, who, with it and through it, communicates himself to us.

Without the grace of God, all that we have said so far would be merely a dream. In fact, if the man’s strength is not regulated by faith and not guided by grace, it will cease being a protective force, and instead it becomes an oppressive tyranny. Without god’s grace, even the woman’s tenderness loses its nature and becomes useless, if not harmful. Paternity becomes an unbearable burden, and the children that are brought up without a sane education will give a lot of heartaches.

I’m sure that you, my dear friends, have understood all this. You have understood that only God can preserve the beauty of your union; he will give you his grace to accomplish your duties. You have been educated within your respective families to respect God; you have come at the foot of the altar to ask Him to bless you, to place the foundation stone of your marriage. Good for you.

Therefore, allow me to express my sincere wishes in the Lord; also those of the Church and of all those who love you and are gathered here. Yes, be happy. Hold on to the grace that you have received abundantly. Do pray: it is a nice way to communicate with God; therein the Tabernacle, Jesus is always ready to hear your prayers. May you see prayer and the Eucharist as the means to help you keep always alive the grace of the Sacrament that you have received. Yes, prayer and the Eucharist continue in time the joy that you are experiencing today; this would go on even after a tiresome life that would have turned your hair gray: you will still feel young in your thinking and affections, and this will be of help to your children, who, besides resembling you physically will also take up your virtues. Be happy, and live saintly.

 

Read More →

Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Psalm 28:1-4,9-10; Timothy 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16,21-22.

 

** Gospel Reading

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’

Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’

 

** Further Reading

Our discipleship of the Lord, our sanctity, is a becoming, a journey, a process; both the Old and New Testaments abound of these journeys or processes. Even if one were to refer only to the Gospels read during the last Sundays, one would easily find such processes. This Sunday’s Gospel reading is another case:

Jesus’ own process (Lk 3:21-22)

My own process

“… when Jesus also had been baptized …”

I was baptized.

…”and was praying …”

I pray.

“… the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”

The Spirit of God comes in me.

“And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’”

(In comparison with what the people thought of him: the son of Joseph).

And I become son of God with whom he is well pleased.

In the above process Luke is quite clear: the Spirit’s descending in Jesus and then the declaration about Jesus’ divine sonship are intimately related to Jesus’ praying.

Our Founder was a man of prayer:

“Prayer is the lifting up of the soul towards God to know him well, to adore him and thank him and to ask him what you need.” These words of De Piro show quite clearly what was another most efficient means with which he lived his intimate union with God. For Monsignor prayer was that which first and foremost helped the individual come to the knowledge of God. But here it is quite clear that by knowledge De Piro was not implying only intellectual understanding; he even meant experiential awareness. Then as a result of this type of knowledge the individual finds out that he has to adore and thank God. The individual’s experience of God through prayer also encourages the former even to seek the divine help.

There were several witnesses in the Diocesan Process of the Cause of Canonisation of the Servant of God who referred to the prayerful life of De Piro. Putting these testimonies together one can conclude that Monsignor prayed a lot, whenever and wherever it was possible for him to do it. Fr Telesphoro Farrugia O. Carm., said that he used to see Monsignor praying while going to Fra Diegu Institue or when coming back from St Joseph’s, Malta. Mr Louis Galea, who hailed from Qrendi, said that he used to see Fr Joseph going from one side of the parish to the other, praying. Benedetta Farrugia, an Mdina spinster, testified that when she met Monsignor passing by, he often had the Breviary open and he prayed on it. Srs Teresa Degabriele and Pia Caruana said that after visiting the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, De Piro used to go back to St Joseph’s, Malta, by cab, accompanied by Degabriele herself who lived in the Home for babies and small children near St Joseph’s. This must have therefore been after 1925 because the Home was opened during that year. Therefore this was the time when the Servant of God could have taken the opportunity of these trips and talked to Sr Degabriele about her nascent Congregation, the building of the new Institute at Zejtun, or the Home for babies. De Piro did nothing of this. While on the cab, he used to stay quiet, all the time praying. Fr Augustine Grech, a member- priest of De Piro’s Piro’s Society almost summerised all the above when he said that the Founder was rarely seen if not praying, even when walking in the public streets. Br Emmanuel Gafa, one of the first members of the Society, testified that when at St Joseph’s, the Director used to pass through the corridors, praying. Another Brother of the Society, Felix Muscat, said almost the same thing. Srs Consiglia Vassallo and Felice Vella of Fra Diegu Institute testified that the first thing De Piro did whenever he entered the Institute was that he spent some time in prayer. Sr Pauline Cilia repeated the same thing. Fr Michael Camilleri, another exmember of the Society, said that whenever the Founder could not sleep at night, he used to stay praying. Br Felix Muscat synthesised all the above with these few words, “De Piro was a man of continuous prayer.”

De Piro cultivated his union with God through prayer all along his life, but then there were particular occasions when prayer helped him in a particular way in order to keep alive this union with the Divine. As he did in Davos where he was because of his sickness “… I felt sick and for the second time (the first was 19 July 1900) I saw vanishing in thin air all my good intentions” In Switzerland he could not start that congregation which he intended to found in Malta. He could only pray, “…and I prayed,  prayed and prayed.”

Returning from Switzerland to Malta, Fr Joseph was determined to put into practice the “… old ideas”. In less than 12 months, on 9 January of the following year, he started sharing his plans with those whom he thought would be of some help to him. But not only this! He continued praying, “18 November (1906): Being in Rome and being today the dedication of the Basilica of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I celebrated mass at St. Peter’s in the Vatican, and precisely upon the altar of St. Peter.  I celebrated in honour of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, praying to them …”

After facing many difficulties of all sorts, De Piro started his Society on 30 June 1910. If he had prayed before founding his Congregation, he prayed as much after its beginning. In 1923, John Vella, in whom the Founder had put so many hopes, because he was the first priest of the Society, abandoned him to become diocesan. It was De Piro himself who brought Vella the news of his incardination to the Maltese Archdiocese. Fr John himself testified how the Servant of God handled the case, “… the Bishop informed me through Monsignor that he was accepting me in the Diocese. As soon as the Founder returned home, he went straight to the chapel, stayed there for a while and afterwards came to me with the Bishop’s answer.” Some time after Vella added, “He approached me, looking downwards, and told me, ‘The Bishop accepts you in the Diocese.’ ‘What are you saying?’ I asked him. This was a lightning in August. He left me alone and went to the chapel, knelt down and remained there praying, with his head in his hands.”

The acquisition of the land on which he had thought to build the Society’s Motherhouse meant a lot of fatigue for the Founder. According to Mr John Buhagiar, an employee at St Joseph’s, Malta, and Fr Beninju Azzopardi, one of the first members of the Society, the Servant of God prayed a lot on that occasion.

Mr John Balzan of Qrendi testified that Monsignor was very regular in his prayers. He used to be daily at church for the rosary and the Blessed Sacrament Benediction. Fr John Vella, the first priest of the Society, said that even after a hard days’ work, he never slept without reciting the Breviary. And in order not to drowse while reciting the Liturgy of the Hours, he used to say it while walking. Anton Muscat Azzopardi, a St Joseph’s oldboy, said that in order to remain awake he wanted one of the members, Fr Joseph Spiteri, to remain near him.

Several witnesses emphasised the fact that the Servant of God was very concentrated, recollected and devout during his personal prayers or the liturgical celebrations. And he did not want anyone to disturb him. Fr Michael Camilleri said that, “During prayers he did not talk to anyone. Once there came the Bishop to talk to him. Since we knew that he did not want to be disturbed when praying we did not want to tell him. At last one of us informed Monsignor. After the Founder went out of the chapel he told us, ‘The one with whom I was is more important than the Bishop.’”

Camillo Aquilina, another of the first members of the Society, emphasised the same thing as regards the Founder. Sr Eletta Sant of Fra Diegu, noticed the Director’s recollection while in the chapel of the Institute. Carmena Mallia referred to De Piro’s devoutness during mass. As did Fr Augustine Grech, a priest of De Piro’s Society, and Joseph Vella and Br Felix Muscat, two old boys of St Joseph’s. The latter also noticed the Director’s great recollection when praying in front of the Holy Eucharist. Fr Ugolino Gatt OSA related Monsignor’s devoutness to God’s presence in him especially in his participation in the Liturgy at the Mdina Cathedral, “In liturgical acts and in the sacristy he showed the same seriousness. And here one could observe the solemnity of his comportment. He showed most clearly that there was something in him which he really lived and showed externally.”

Sr Pauline Formosa, who was a child in Mdina at the time of Monsignor, confirmed Gatt’s testimony. As did Fr Seraphim Fenech OfmConv., Mr Biagio GaleaMr Peter Paul Cutajar Fr Alphonse Maria Camilleri Ofm., and one of De Piro’s nieces, Sr Marie De Piro.

In the above paragraphs there has already been mentioning of some types of prayer of Monsignor, but there can be more references to De Piro’s particular prayers. Fr Augustine Grech referred to the Founder’s meditation:

He made his daily meditation. He used the book “Meditazioni per Religiosi” written by a Jesuit father. From a note written in his meditation book by the late Fr. Joseph Spiteri MSSP, we know that his last meditation, on the very day of his death, was ‘The unfaithful religious in front of God’s Tribunal.’ Whenever he was in our House, he made his meditation with us. Our meditation used to last for half an hour.

Here Fr Grech was referring to the days when De Piro had already founded the Society. But the Servant of God himself indicated that he had been doing the meditation much before 1910. In the pros and cons exercise with which he discerned his vocation, Joseph, although he was not even a seminarian, mentioned the meditation.

De Piro could not act otherwise. He was so much convinced of the necessity of the meditation in the life of consecrated persons. To the 1929-1930 Brother novices he said this, “Meditation is very much necessary … The meditation is that we think of God in his virtue. Meditation is half an hour’s retreat. Therefore we should leave everything behind and think of God.” Fr Augustine said also that De Piro, “… was faithful to the Divine Office.” The same witness testified that,“At midday he made the particular examen, and before going to rest in the evening, the general examen of conscience.” Two Brothers of the Society, Felix Muscat and Venanz Galea, and Fr Dominic Coppola Ofm, an exmember, said almost the same words about the Founder’s meditation, the Divine Office and the examinations of conscience.

Srs Vassallo and Vella said that the Director visited the Institute three times each week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Thursday, at about 3.00 pm., he used to make the one hour adoration with the girls of the Institute. The same was said by Carmena Mallia, an oldgirl of the Orphanage.

Michael Vella Haber, another ex-member of the Society, mentioned two invocations repeated frequently by the Founder: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of Jews, have mercy of us,” and “Ecce crucem Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, fugite partes adversae, vicit leo de Tribu Iudeae, radix David, Hallelujah!”

In the pros and cons exercise for the choice of his vocation, young Joseph De Piro mentioned the reading of the lives of the saints.

Fr Augustine Grech testified that he could notice that the Founder, because he was a man of prayer, was continuously in the presence of God.

 

Read More →

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 71:1-2,7-8,10-13; Ephesians 3:2-3. 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12.

 

** Gospel Reading

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him, ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,

for out of you will come a leader

who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

 

** Further Reading

The demythologization movement existent mainly during the first half of the 20th century has tried to divest this Sunday’s Gospel from several not so necessary “details”. At the same time it is very probable that these same “details” were the result of Matthew’s reflections on what Jesus had done and/or said when among us. Among these “details” there are these elements:

All humans, whether Jew or gentile, are in search of the transcendent.

God himself provides the means with which we can search for him: nature, other individuals or groups (sometimes even not so good ones!).

Some very important ingredients necessary for the success of the search:

the motivation;

the virtue of simplicity;

endurance and magnanimity or perseverance, two other virtues which must accompany the search.

While searching we have to be ready for anything, we must not be disappointed if the God we find comes from Bethlehem, or if we in fact find (1) a helpless baby (2) in a manger (3) surrounded by a simple mother and father.

In spite of this, can we recognise the discovery as king, divine and human?

Reflect on the moments when the Servant of God lived through these stages in his journey of discovering Jesus and meeting him?

 

Read More →

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 66:2-3,5,6,8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21.

 

** Gospel Reading

The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception. This time I must wish you God’s peace more and more; it is the feast of peace.

 

In 1916, during the second World War, the Servant of God Joseph De Piro accompanied a group of Maltese faithful on a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieha. On this occasion he encouraged the faithful to pray for peace. Four years later, on 21st March 1920, De Piro returned to Mellieha with another group to thank Mary for the termination of War.

Sermon 1

Oh! If only we could remove the veil that hinders us from seeing Mary, our Mother! We would see happiness written on her face as she welcomes us after this pilgrimage in her honor, during which we prayed to her to intercede with her Divine Son and give us peace. We would hear her say: “Qui timetis Dominum sperate in illum et veniet vobis misericordiam” (“You who fear the Lord, hope in Him and you will find mercy.”) (Eccl.2,9)

Yes, it was the holy fear of God that has gathered us here together; faced with his scourges we came into this ancient and devout Sanctuary to pray to the Queen of peace so that, through her intercession, they are put away.

Faced with these ruins of our times, a spontaneous question arises: Why? Why do we have this cruel and inhumane war that is disrupting whole nations? The root of such evil is one: the nations have put aside the fear of God, they moved away from his laws and they forgot the commandment of love. Yes, society has waged war against God: at all levels God has been reduced to a hate symbol. All over the world, instead of praise and blessings, God is addressed through the diabolic language of blasphemy, ‘I will not serve’. This language is found on the lips of young and old men, children and even women. God cannot remain passive in front of this. Were it not for his mercy and goodness, the earth with all its wickedness would have already been reduced to ashes. If, however, we fear God, we have a reason to have hope, as Mary tells us; her mercy comes down to console us. Yes, God’s terrible hand is stopped by the continuous atonement of the souls that fear God. Above all, it is her Divine Son who, annihilated and hidden in the Most Blessed Sacrament, builds a protective armor of salvation around the world and puts on hold all major punishments.

Yes, Jesus, it is you who saves us from Divine Justice which is angry because of our sins. You immolate yourself for us on all the altars of the earth, and remain hidden in millions of tabernacles for our protection and defense! Therefore, dear Jesus, to atone for many others, we would like to offer you this Holy Communion. We offer you all the Communions received on the battle grounds and in the trenches by the moribund and those preparing for battle. We offer you the vows and the merits of so many grateful souls. We offer you the toils of those Apostles that preach your doctrine in far away countries. We offer you the sacrifices and the hardships of the many who live in cloisters, and whose innocent body is subjected to the roughest penances for the sins of the world. In a special way we offer you the weariness and the hardships of all those that at this very moment are engaged in battle. We ask you, Oh Queen of peace, to present this our offer to the throne of the Most High, in order to move him to have compassion for us and this huge calamity might stop and peace once again shines among us.

Yes, dear Mary our Mother: remember that all graces pass through your hands. Please, Mary, turn your gaze upon poor Europe that is being tried by the greatest misfortune: for two years it has been torn by a most terrible war the likes of which was never recorded in history. Have pity and mercy for it. Make sure that the heart of your Divine Son Jesus is appeased by the holocaust of the many young lives lost on the battle grounds. Make sure it is appeased by the copious blood that is staining the ground. Yes, Mary: you who once cried for your only son, look at the tears that many mothers are shedding from their eyes, together with those of many sisters, wives and innocent children. Please Mary, stop this horrific catastrophe; we expect this grace from you, Oh Queen of Peace, intercede and pray for us.

 

Sermon 2

About four years ago war was doing a complete upheaval of whole nations and sowing all kinds of ruins. Mothers, sisters, wives and innocent children wept their beloved fighting on the battle field or threatened by the sea. We prayed, and with our hearts full of the fear of God, we saw the consoling star that would have soothed our afflictions.

Yes, we saw Mary as if on a throne in the clouds. She had the royal crown on her head, and she carried her Divine Son on her arms. She fixed her gaze upon us and seeing the sweet smile that illuminated her face, we understood        that she acknowledged us as her children. Our Lady of Mellieha. She will be the one to console us. This was our thought: let us go to our mother, the Virgin of Mellieha!

This thought was followed by action: on the morn of February 16, 1916, we came to this devout sanctuary from all parts of the island to be at the feet of Mary. No one will ever forget the sweet consolation that invaded our souls on that day. She was the safe Ark, and we were sure that our prayers will be heard, and indeed they were. This is exactly what made us return to this altar of our tender mother Mary. Yes, we disdain the nine lepers of the Gospel; we want to imitate the Samaritan: like him we came back to sing a hymn of praise, of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Yes, Mary, publicly in the presence of this your people who continuously witness your graces, we want to thank you with the singing of the Te Deum. Yes, we thank you God; may the praise be yours always and everywhere. May you be glorified always for having given us such a tender and loving Mother, who is always so prompt to wipe our tears.

(Translated by Fr Conrad Sciberras mssp).

 

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Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 97:1-6; Hebrew 1:1-6; John 1:1-18.

 

** Gospel Reading

In the beginning was the Word:

the Word was with God

and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things came to be,

not one thing had its being but through him.

All that came to be had life in him

and that life was the light of men,

a light that shines in the dark,

a light that darkness could not overpower.

A man came, sent by God.

His name was John.

He came as a witness,

as a witness to speak for the light,

so that everyone might believe through him.

He was not the light,

only a witness to speak for the light.

The Word was the true light

that enlightens all men;

and he was coming into the world.

He was in the world

that had its being through him,

and the world did not know him.

He came to his own domain

and his own people did not accept him.

But to all who did accept him

he gave power to become children of God,

to all who believe in the name of him

who was born not out of human stock

or urge of the flesh

or will of man

but of God himself.

The Word was made flesh,

he lived among us,

and we saw his glory,

the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,

full of grace and truth.

John appears as his witness, He proclaims:

‘This is the one of whom I said:

He who comes after me

ranks before me

because he existed before me.’

Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received –

yes, grace in return for grace,

since, though the Law was given through Moses,

grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God;

it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,

who has made him known.

 

** Further Reading

The Incarnation of the Son of God was central for Joseph De Piro. In his book “Found Among Sinners” Fr Martin Cilia dealt with this Mystery as conceived by our Founder:

Incarnation: the heart of God revealed

“De Piro believed that Christianity does not consist of abstract notions about God, but of faith in a person, a God with us. Jesus became “the image of an invisible God”. Through prayer De Piro developed a relationship which touched on a basic fundamental need; “Man’s heart is intended for God. The primary need of the human soul is to move towards God, to go near Him, to unite with Him. Man’s heart in God alone finds its life, peace and happiness.” De Piro writes: “In the Incarnation the divine nature is united to the human nature.” The incarnation of Jesus plays a central role in his writings. In this mystery he finds a source and a meeting point for his interior life and his missionary and apostolic life.

In his generosity Jesus has abandoned everything. As the Word he left Heavens, and all that he enjoyed in the presence of his Father; the peace of eternal joy. As a man he left everything to embrace a life of suffering and sacrifice.

In line with the spirituality of his time De Piro developed a spirituality of the heart through devotion to the Heart of Jesus. Such devotion grew in response to his ever-growing awareness of God’s love for him. The image of the heart was a favourite one:

The heart is the most important part of the human body. In fact, with a never-ending effort, it preserves our life and our health. And when in the evening after a day’s work, one’s arms are tired, one’s eyes are shut and the mind is paralysed by sleepiness, the heart keeps operating; it continues to beat and to see that life is preserved, because this is its grave responsibility.

This image helped De Piro to articulate that the love of God is always present: “He never sleeps nor slumbers Israel guard.” He contemplates, “This heart with all its light, all its love, all its treasures of His Grace, comes and lives in us.” Such devotion allowed De Piro to go deeper in the love of God and find safety and shelter in it.

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Sirach 3:2-6. 12-14; Psalm 83:2-3,5-6,9-10; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52.

 

** Gospel Reading

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied. ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.

 

** Further Reading

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. The Servant of God Joseph De Piro has not left many wedding homilies, but he has one which is really holistic: biblical, theological, spiritual and also psychological.

Christ towards the Church

The Husband in relation to his wife

in marriage

“Jesus loves the Church with such a great love that He shed His blood for Her, gave Himself for Her in the Eucharist.”

“The holy bond/union of two hearts whose love and affection are a duty/must”

Jesus protects the Church. He gives her strength to fact all the challenges and difficulties that everyday brings. He helps her to be victorious on all the battles .His Spirit helps and guides Her to walk along the road of truth and justice”

God has placed the husband next to his wife and to him God endowed him with a strong will power, a deep sense of reflection, more energy and courage to face the never ending battle for existence. God has placed the husband to defend his wife, to protect her, to look after her and the courage of his initiative

The Church towards Christ

The Wife towards the husband

The Church reciprocates what Christ does for her through her tenderness. This takes place when She speaks to the hearts and minds about Jesus, from whom she encourages /entice their love for Him. His actions/life are celebrated and remembered in the beauty of her solemn liturgies. These liturgies surround /encapsulate the Royal Presence of her Divine Groom.

The Church consoles the Heart of Jesus that is offended/hurt by many rebellious people.

The wife has been gifted more than her husband in the areas of sentiments, gentleness and piety. Her mission is to make people happy, to make her husband’s life and existence better and to rub balsam on the wounds that the cruel events of everyday life inflict on her husband’s heart. The wife is a source of consolation/support towards/to her husband.

Christ – Church

Husband – Wife

Jesus and the Church have the same holy aim: to strengthen/encourage the hearts that have been generated and grown for a life of grace through the blood of Christ and the Church sacraments.

When God bestows the blessings of paternity on a couple, a new mission starts for them. They need to prepare for the here and now and the eternal future of their children and for the most noble science and very delicate vocation: to form their heart and mind.

In their peaceful domestic sanctuary the couple need to form the honest and loyal person, the virtuous wife, the good and courageous Christian.

 

 

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Micah 5:1-4; Psalm 79:2-3,15-16,18-19; Hebrew 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45.

 

** Gospel Reading

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

 

** Further Reading

Several Biblical persons were mentioned during the Advent Season: Adam and Eve, Abram/Abraham, Manoah and his wife, Samson, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Joseph and Mary, the mother of God. This Sunday we have the visitation of Our Lady to her cousin Elizabeth.

The Paulist Missionary Directory of Formation speaks about: “A healthy devotion to Our Lady as being another important element in our spiritual formation …

In our formation we have to teach our candidates to keep Mary as their teacher and as the one who, after Jesus, will best orientate them for their future missionary activity. As missionaries we must look up to Mary of Nazareth as a model missionary. She was the first to be evangelized (Cf. Lk 1:26-38) and the first to take Jesus to others (Cf. Ibid 1:39-45).

This same dynamic devotion must be our characteristic: through our spiritual life we need first to evangelize ourselves and then we are sent out to evangelize others.”

Having studied the material related to the New Evangelisation I found out that the third of the five realities implied is exactly that we ourselves have to be evangelized in order to evangelise.

The Servant of God Joseph De Piro was evangelised through his union with God the Father, the Son, the Spirit, Mary, the saints, the Word of God, the divine will … and through prayer. About prayer we read:

“Prayer is the lifting up of the soul towards God to know him well, to adore him and thank him and to ask him what you need.” These words of De Piro show quite clearly what was another most efficient means with which he lived his intimate union with God. For Monsignor prayer was that which first and foremost helped the individual come to the knowledge of God. But here it is quite clear that by knowledge De Piro was not implying only intellectual understanding; he even meant experiential awareness. Then as a result of this type of knowledge the individual finds out that he has to adore and thank God. The individual’s experience of God through prayer also encourages the former even to seek the divine help.

There were several witnesses in the Diocesan Process of the Cause of Canonisation of the Servant of God who referred to the prayerful life of De Piro. Putting these testimonies together one can conclude that Monsignor prayed a lot, whenever and wherever it was possible for him to do it. Fr Telesphoro Farrugia O. Carm., said that he used to see Monsignor praying while going to Fra Diegu Institue or when coming back from St Joseph’s, Malta. Mr Louis Galea, who hailed from Qrendi, said that he used to see Fr Joseph going from one side of the parish to the other, praying. Benedetta Farrugia, an Mdina spinster, testified that when she met Monsignor passing by, he often had the Breviary open and he prayed on it. Srs Teresa Degabriele and Pia Caruana said that after visiting the Jesus of Nazareth Institute, De Piro used to go back to St Joseph’s, Malta, by cab, accompanied by Degabriele herself who lived in the Home for babies and small children near St Joseph’s. This must have therefore been after 1925 because the Home was opened during that year. Therefore this was the time when the Servant of God could have taken the opportunity of these trips and talked to Sr Degabriele about her nascent Congregation, the building of the new Institute at Zejtun, or the Home for babies. De Piro did nothing of this. While on the cab, he used to stay quiet, all the time praying. Fr Augustine Grech, a member- priest of De Piro’s Piro’s Society almost summerised all the above when he said that the Founder was rarely seen if not praying, even when walking in the public streets. Br Emmanuel Gafa, one of the first members of the Society, testified that when at St Joseph’s, the Director used to pass through the corridors, praying. Another Brother of the Society, Felix Muscat, said almost the same thing. Srs Consiglia Vassallo and Felice Vella of Fra Diegu Institute testified that the first thing De Piro did whenever he entered the Institute was that he spent some time in prayer. Sr Pauline Cilia repeated the same thing. Fr Michael Camilleri, another exmember of the Society, said that whenever the Founder could not sleep at night, he used to stay praying. Br Felix Muscat synthesised all the above with these few words, “De Piro was a man of continuous prayer.”

De Piro cultivated his union with God through prayer all along his life, but then there were particular occasions when prayer helped him in a particular way in order to keep alive this union with the Divine. As he did in Davos where he was because of his sickness “… I felt sick and for the second time (the first was 19 July 1900) I saw vanishing in thin air all my good intentions” In Switzerland he could not start that congregation which he intended to found in Malta. He could only pray, “…and I prayed, prayed and prayed.”

Returning from Switzerland to Malta, Fr Joseph was determined to put into practice the “… old ideas”. In less than 12 months, on 9 January of the following year, he started sharing his plans with those whom he thought would be of some help to him. But not only this! He continued praying, “18 November (1906): Being in Rome and being today the dedication of the Basilica of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I celebrated mass at St. Peter’s in the Vatican, and precisely upon the altar of St. Peter.  I celebrated in honour of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, praying to them …”

After facing many difficulties of all sorts, De Piro started his Society on 30 June 1910. If he had prayed before founding his Congregation, he prayed as much after its beginning. In 1923, John Vella, in whom the Founder had put so many hopes, because he was the first priest of the Society, abandoned him to become diocesan. It was De Piro himself who brought Vella the news of his incardination to the Maltese Archdiocese. Fr John himself testified how the Servant of God handled the case, “… the Bishop informed me through Monsignor that he was accepting me in the Diocese. As soon as the Founder returned home, he went straight to the chapel, stayed there for a while and afterwards came to me with the Bishop’s answer.” Some time after Vella added, “He approached me, looking downwards, and told me, ‘The Bishop accepts you in the Diocese.’ ‘What are you saying?’ I asked him. This was a lightning in August. He left me alone and went to the chapel, knelt down and remained there praying, with his head in his hands.”

The acquisition of the land on which he had thought to build the Society’s Motherhouse meant a lot of fatigue for the Founder. According to Mr John Buhagiar, an employee at St Joseph’s, Malta, and Fr Beninju Azzopardi, one of the first members of the Society, the Servant of God prayed a lot on that occasion.

Mr John Balzan of Qrendi testified that Monsignor was very regular in his prayers. He used to be daily at church for the rosary and the Blessed Sacrament Benediction. Fr John Vella, the first priest of the Society, said that even after a hard days’ work, he never slept without reciting the Breviary. And in order not to drowse while reciting the Liturgy of the Hours, he used to say it while walking. Anton Muscat Azzopardi, a St Joseph’s oldboy, said that in order to remain awake he wanted one of the members, Fr Joseph Spiteri, to remain near him.

Several witnesses emphasised the fact that the Servant of God was very concentrated, recollected and devout during his personal prayers or the liturgical celebrations. And he did not want anyone to disturb him. Fr Michael Camilleri said that, “During prayers he did not talk to anyone. Once there came the Bishop to talk to him. Since we knew that he did not want to be disturbed when praying we did not want to tell him. At last one of us informed Monsignor. After the Founder went out of the chapel he told us, ‘The one with whom I was is more important than the Bishop.’”

Camillo Aquilina, another of the first members of the Society, emphasised the same thing as regards the Founder. Sr Eletta Sant of Fra Diegu, noticed the Director’s recollection while in the chapel of the Institute. Carmena Mallia referred to De Piro’s devoutness during mass. As did Fr Augustine Grech, a priest of De Piro’s Society, and Joseph Vella and Br Felix Muscat, two old boys of St Joseph’s. The latter also noticed the Director’s great recollection when praying in front of the Holy Eucharist. Fr Ugolino Gatt OSA related Monsignor’s devoutness to God’s presence in him especially in his participation in the Liturgy at the Mdina Cathedral, “In liturgical acts and in the sacristy he showed the same seriousness. And here one could observe the solemnity of his comportment. He showed most clearly that there was something in him which he really lived and showed externally.”

Sr Pauline Formosa, who was a child in Mdina at the time of Monsignor, confirmed Gatt’s testimony. As did Fr Seraphim Fenech OfmConv., Mr Biagio GaleaMr Peter Paul Cutajar Fr Alphonse Maria Camilleri Ofm., and one of De Piro’s nieces, Sr Marie De Piro.

In the above paragraphs there has already been mentioning of some types of prayer of Monsignor, but there can be more references to De Piro’s particular prayers. Fr Augustine Grech referred to the Founder’s meditation:

He made his daily meditation. He used the book “Meditazioni per Religiosi” written by a Jesuit father. From a note written in his meditation book by the late Fr. Joseph Spiteri MSSP, we know that his last meditation, on the very day of his death, was ‘The unfaithful religious in front of God’s Tribunal.’ Whenever he was in our House, he made his meditation with us. Our meditation used to last for half an hour.

Here Fr Grech was referring to the days when De Piro had already founded the Society. But the Servant of God himself indicated that he had been doing the meditation much before 1910. In the pros and cons exercise with which he discerned his vocation, Joseph, although he was not even a seminarian, mentioned the meditation.

De Piro could not act otherwise. He was so much convinced of the necessity of the meditation in the life of consecrated persons. To the 1929-1930 Brother novices he said this, “Meditation is very much necessary … The meditation is that we think of God in his virtue. Meditation is half an hour’s retreat. Therefore we should leave everything behind and think of God.” Fr Augustine said also that De Piro, “… was faithful to the Divine Office.” The same witness testified that,“At midday he made the particular examen, and before going to rest in the evening, the general examen of conscience.” Two Brothers of the Society, Felix Muscat and Venanz Galea, and Fr Dominic Coppola Ofm, an exmember, said almost the same words about the Founder’s meditation, the Divine Office and the examinations of conscience.

Srs Vassallo and Vella said that the Director visited the Institute three times each week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Thursday, at about 3.00 pm., he used to make the one hour adoration with the girls of the Institute. The same was said by Carmena Mallia, an oldgirl of the Orphanage.

Michael Vella Haber, another ex-member of the Society, mentioned two invocations repeated frequently by the Founder: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of Jews, have mercy of us,” and “Ecce crucem Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, fugite partes adversae, vicit leo de Tribu Iudeae, radix David, Hallelujah!”

In the pros and cons exercise for the choice of his vocation, young Joseph De Piro mentioned the reading of the lives of the saints.

Fr Augustine Grech testified that he could notice that the Founder, because he was a man of prayer, was continuously in the presence of God.

 

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