Missionary Society of St Paul
The Missionary Spirituality
of Joseph De Piro
Founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul
Martin Cilia mssp
MA in Pastoral Leadership
A Dissertation presented to
All Hallows Missionary College
As part fulfilment of
Masters of Arts in Pastoral Leadership
I dedicate this work
to my parents
John and Mary
with gratitude for gifting me
with my life and their love
This study is concerned with the Missionary Spirituality of Joseph De Piro, founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul. It is a study that retraces the original sources but goes beyond the literal reading of the texts as it tries to interpret them and apply them to the current understandings of spirituality. The main object of this study is not to analyse the original texts as such, but to correlate insights from the past with present day modes of perceiving and living missionary spirituality. It does so by exploring the meaning of spirituality in general and missionary spirituality in particular and how these were lived and assimilated by Joseph De Piro throughout his life. Attention is given to the particular culture and Christian tradition, in which De Piro grew. The study proceeds on how De Piro lived the missionary charism by integrating contemplation and action within his life of prayer and his spirituality of ministry. Finally there is a pastoral focus on how the Missionary Society of St. Paul can live out this spirituality today.
This research is the result of years of reflection and study. As a member of the MSSP it has always been my dream to study the spirituality of its founder. The aim behind my study was not to write a hagiography but to show the relevance of De Piro’s thought and charism in today’s culture. I acknowledge that this study is the result of a scholarly analysis of the original sources and documents that were available in the archives of the Missionary Society of St. Paul. However, it bears my imprint, highly influenced by my way of seeing reality and my personal questions. My wish is that all who read this study will develop a deep respect for a man who made God the centre of his life with the hope that those who come to admire him will follow suit.
This work would not have been possible without the help and encouragement of many people. First of all, I would like to thank the members of the Missionary Society of St. Paul who made my studies possible and from whom I always received great support and encouragement.
I would also like to thank Miss Una O’Connor, for her help in tutoring my work.
A special word of thanks goes to Brian Gauci for his proof reading of the text and for his constant support and friendship during the writing of this dissertation.
For their English translations of the original Italian texts I am deeply grateful to Mr. Gerald Bugeja and Miss Riene Lucia. I would also like to thank my sister Joanne for typing the quotations: her work is deeply appreciated.
I am grateful to Fr. Norbert Bonavia mssp for his help with the translations and to Mr. Frank Smyth and his family for providing me with a pleasant and supportive environment in which to complete my work. Thanks goes also to the Salesian community in Sean Mac Dermot Street, Dublin, with whom I stayed during this last year and who supported me throughout.
Finally, I would like to thank God for blessing me with all these people whose support, guidance and encouragement made my dream come true.
Martin Cilia mssp
Table of Contents
1.1 Charism: A gift from God
1.2 Creative Fidelity
1.3 In the MSSP context
1.4 The life of Joseph De Piro
1.5 The Missionary Spirit of the time
2.1 Spirituality Defined
2.1.1 A cloud of witnesses
2.2 De Piro’s understanding of Spirituality
2.2.1 Listening in Faith
2.2.2 Mary, a path to God
2.3 A Missionary Spirituality
2.3.1 Pauline Inspiration
2.3.2 Spirituality of Hope, Trust and Authenticity
3.1 Jesus the Model and the Way
3.2 Incarnation: the heart of God revealed
3.3 God’s will
3.4 Surrender in Love
3.5 Characteristics of De Piro’s prayer life
3.5.1 God within
3.5.2 Faith as a gift
3.6 Transformed in the image of the son
3.6.1 Solidarity with humanity
4.1 Called to love
4.1.1 Discernment: as a way of life
4.2 Availability: ‘Lord what do you want me to do?’
4.3 Solidarity with all
4.3.1 Living with orphans
4.3.2 Working for justice
4.4 Missionary involvement
4.4.1 Missionary Awareness
4.4.2 Help and support to Missionaries
4.4.3 Missionary Vocations
4.5 The Cross: Power the of missionaries
4.5.1 Members leaving the Order
4.6 God’s Providence
4.6.1 Bethlehem Image
4.6.2 The ship in the sea
4.7 Unity: ‘May they be one’
4.7.1 Unity in the Church
4.7.2 Unity in the Missionary Order
5.1 Vatican II’s understanding of charisim renewal
5.2 God bestowed special love on the MSSP
5.3 A fire that needs to be rekindled
5.4 The Originality of the Founder
5.5 Making the original inspiration our own
The context in which a missionary charism is born
"La Vita di ogni Santo non e’ che
una pagina nuova nella storia
dell’amore verso Dio."
Throughout the history of the Church the Holy Spirit inspires and calls different people in different cultures at different times to be prophets in their own world. It was a call to live the Gospel in a way that inspired others to follow their footsteps. Each founder or foundress received a special charism from God to be specifically given to the Church at that particular time in history. As Joseph De Piro puts it: It was a new page and a new insight in one’s response to God’s love and call.
1.1 Charism, a gift from God
A missionary charism within the Church is a special gift that enriches the whole Church. It is rooted in God’s call and inspired by the Holy Spirit:
It offers the human race the light and the strength to respond to its highest calling…The Spirit’s presence and activity affects not only individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures and religions. Indeed the Spirit is the origin of the noble ideas and undertakings that benefit humanity on its journey through history…leads us to broaden our vision in order to ponder his activity in every time and place.
Charisms are gifts by the Spirit for the benefit of the Church; the Orders are the bearers of these gifts. Each charism received, lived out and transmitted is given to the Church and humanity at a specific moment in history. This intuition has neither boundaries nor precise direction; time and space do not limit it. Yet, this new and pressing experience of the Holy Spirit energises founders to transform their lives.
This transformation in the life of founders is characterised by a greater awareness towards the poor and a decision to be in solidarity with them, resulting in the gradual emergence of the need for a specific type of presence in the pursuit of a work or a multiplicity of works. At each turn, confusion and risk mark this re-orientation but the sense of urgency prevails over the uncertainty. The keen evangelical insight becomes a force and a power that move the person beyond his/her imagination and leads him/her to live life in a prophetic and evangelical way.
1.2 Creative Fidelity
The mission of particular orders differs according to the originality of the founding charism. Fidelity to the order’s distinctive character demands of the entire community a continuous discernment of the original inspiration so as to deepen its roots and identify new ways how to implement itself to the evolving, changing times. There is a need to re-create the freshness of novelty but at the same time to be faithful to God’s calling. Hence we need Creative Fidelity.
At the closing of the Synod on Consecrated Life, Pope John Paul II specifically invited the orders to reclaim the enterprising initiative, creativity and holiness of their founders and foundresses, and to develop a dynamic fidelity to their mission, adapting forms to new situations and different needs. Such discernment leads to a radical conversion and fidelity in accomplishing the founding evangelical vision.
Special attention is required to re-focus, inculturate and communicate the original vision. The destiny of these precious traditions is in the hands of those who inherit them today, but it is the same Spirit who grants the wisdom to revise and incarnate the charism in a relevant and significant way for each era. One must study the past, reflect and make choices, in order to meet the future more effectively. To speak about charism necessarily means to, "courageously propose anew the enterprising initiative, creativity and holiness of our founders and foundresses."
The challenge of creative fidelity demands above all the knowledge and study of the original gift given by the Spirit to the founder/foundress. Charism gives the order its identity, and the spirituality of a founder/foundress gives the order a means that helps members to follow. Spirituality is the fire of that originating energy and if it is lost or not discovered the evangelical intuition will no longer inspire others.
The charism bequeathed by the founder/foundress is never static. It summons the followers to new frontiers; it demands the courage to go beyond its incarnation in a particular context from which it sprang and be applied for today. This compels, not only to see and to live differently, but also to consider new ways of living the vision. It is a time that invites for "dynamic fidelity" for recreating rather than repeating. It is a time to:
Reproduce with courage and audacity the creativity and the holiness of Founders as a response to the signs of the times that arise in the world of today.
Religious orders undertook with insight and courage, the Church’s post-conciliar invitation to carry out the renewal of their orders. The renewal was not simply to adjust to the demands of the world but in fidelity to redefine the meaning of religious life. Such creative fidelity calls for new responses to the way of living and translating the charism of the founders. Such endeavours prompt the need to re-discover and revive the genius and impulses of the heart, the zeal and boldness that characterised the founders.
1.3 In the MSSP context
To look with creativity is to look with hope. It is the look of the sentinel who is not weary to scan the horizons for a possible new incarnation of charism, convinced that each twilight harbours a new beginning, a glimmer of Resurrection. Rediscovering Joseph De Piro missionary spirituality can be for all the members of the Missionary Society of St. Paul an opportunity to go back to the well that sustained Joseph De Piro. It can help the Missionary Society to allow the same Holy Spirit that inspired him to breath in our sails, and to give the Society the necessary power and strength to trust in the One who is sending them to the ends of the earth.
This dissertation is an attempt to search in the depths of the heart of Joseph De Piro a man who was called by God to serve the Church in a particular culture and with a particular vision. Studying his spirituality helps not only to know better Joseph De Piro but also the source from which he drank each and every day, Christ the Lord. Spirituality is not an ideology that one can discover and possesses but it is more of a call to become, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, an icon of Christ who calls all to be transformed in his image and likeness. This is why discovering the spirituality of Joseph De Piro can help the Missionary Society of St. Paul to understand and own the original grace, welcome the signs of the times, and undertake with courage new missionary endeavours.
Discovering the missionary spirituality of Joseph De Piro is by no means a question of repeating in an identical way the works of the founder. It is more a question of letting his spirit inspire us to live our Missionary Charism today in view of the future but never unrooted from the past with its tradition and richness. We must be rooted in evangelical values, planted in the fertile soil of the church and open to the world.
1.4 The life of Joseph De Piro
Joseph De Piro was born in Malta on November 2nd, 1877 into a wealthy and influential family to the Noble Alessandro dei Marchesi De Piro and Ursola, neé Agius, the seventh of nine children.
He excelled in the art of painting during his primary and secondary education. He entered the Royal University of Malta as a student in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Between 1897 and 1898 he started reading law. While still at the University he also served in the Royal Malta Militia.
At the age of 21, he felt the call to the priesthood and on May 8th, 1898 while praying to our Lady of Pompei, decided that he should follow the vocation. In 1898 he enrolled as a student at the Carpranica College, beginning his studies in Philosophy and Theology at the Georgian University in Rome. He was ordained priest at St. John Lateran on the 15th of March 1902.
He was involved in different ministries within the Church, but his main concerns were the missions and work amongst the poor. Between 1902 and 1904, he convalesced from a sickness at Davos in Switzerland. He returned to Malta in 1904 and spent three years of pastoral work in the Parish of Qrendi. In 1907 he was appointed Director of Fra Diegu's Orphanage for Girls in Hamrun. In 1911 he was nominated canon of the Cathedral of Malta. In 1915, the then new Archbishop of Malta appointed De Piro as his secretary. De Piro served as Rector of the Major Seminary of Malta in Mdina between 1918 and 1920. During that same period, De Piro was one of the Maltese leaders during the Sette Giugno disturbances of 1919. In 1920, he was nominated dean of the Cathedral Chapter. During this period, De Piro was a member of the National Assembly. In 1921 the National Assembly was able to bring a new Constitution to the Maltese islands.
During 1922 De Piro served as a substitute parish priest for seven months in Gudja. De Piro also served as director of various orphanages, St. Joseph's Home, Hamrun; Jesus of Nazareth Institute, Zejtun; St. Joseph's Home, Ghajnsielem, Gozo; The Home for Little Children, St. Venera; St. Francis de Paule Institute, B’Kara.
In 1930 he served as intermediary between the Church and Lord Strickland in a political religious conflict. Continuing his involvement in Maltese politics, a common practice by church members in the early history of Malta, De Piro served as a Senator in the third Maltese Parliament.
As a young priest he began to work towards bringing to fruition his long cherished dream of establishing an order of priests and brothers committed to the spreading of the Good News. June 30th, 1910 was the foundation day of the Missionary Society of St. Paul. He started the society with two members and called the order the small society of St. Paul. To its first members he passed on his missionary zeal and his love for those in need.
In 1927 he sent his first missionary, Br. Joseph Caruana, to Ethiopia. Br. Joseph spent 48 years in this country without returning to Malta. Six years later he himself with two other members was going there to help consolidate this new mission and to realise the dream of his life that of being a missionary. But on September 17th, 1933, he died unexpectedly at the age of 56 when he collapsed during a liturgical service.
He left behind a small group of priests and brothers with no leadership. The small Society went through difficult time since "with his death the society seemed to have lost its soul."
The life and work of Fr. Joseph De Piro can be synthesised in his deep spiritual life which was reflected in his social action and pastoral love and in his missionary spirit to make the Kingdom of God present everywhere.
1.5 The Missionary Spirit of the time
It is clear that Joseph De Piro personal call and Charism was prompted by the missionary consciousness that characterised the context in which he grew. He was open to the signs of his time and knew that: "the conversion of pagans has never been in such large numbers as in this century of ours."
The nineteenth century brought a new missionary consciousness to the Christian world, a revitalisation to the mission spirit heretofore unknown, that effected Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox, the clergy, religious and laity alike.
In fact many missiologists refer to this century as the Great Century. When studying the missionary projects and endeavours happening in this period, one cannot but emphasise the role played by missionary societies: "the nineteenth century is in fact sometimes referred to as the century of missionary societies." Among the pioneers of this missionary zeal were the old religious orders such as the Jesuits and Franciscans. However new male and female religious orders were emerging into the world; specifically founded for missionary work.
Such spirit was fully backed by the Church and by encyclicals published on missionary theology and action Popes such as Gregory XVI and Leo XIII and Benedict XV were all very enthusiastic about these new missionary endeavours and did their best to help and support all new initiatives, De Piro writes:
Moved by the Holy Spirit these last three popes did their best to advance always the evangelisation of the infidels. Although they are pressed by the troubles of the whole world, they put this matter of the missions at the top of their apostolic ministry.
De Piro was deeply influenced and caught into the missionary enthusiasm of his time. In his diary we find "I feel that God wants to start in Malta a congregation of priests called after the name of St. Paul." It is in these early years of his studies that the dream of forming a missionary order in Malta is born.
The above presentation of the context in which Joseph De Piro grew and lived, gives us a picture of the many factors that helped give birth to his missionary charism. Such endeavour helps us not only contextualize the missionary charism, but also to understand it in order to extract its core essence. The present understanding of religious life calls for faithfulness to the core essence of the original charism but with a creative openness to the signs of the time. So as to grasp De Piro understanding of spirituality and missionary call we must first define the parameters of both terms. This is the aim of the next chapter.
"La vita interiore deve essere l’anima
delle nostre azioni esterne,
e senza la quale
poco si potrebbe sperare
dalle opere di Missione."
An introduction to Missionary Spirituality must begin with defining the terms themselves. I use the term spirituality with some hesitation. Spirituality has been defined in innumerable ways and it can be approached from different points of view. Such variety about the definition of spirituality shows that there are various ways how one can view the subject. For the sake of clarity I will develop the theological aspects of Missionary Spirituality, by defining the terms as used in my work and as understood by Joseph De Piro.
2.1 Spirituality Defined
Spirituality is a broad term and there are different points of views about the very meaning of the word. In defining it we are limiting the terms itself to a definition that best suites our purpose. In Sandra Schneiders’ words, "spirituality is the experience of consciously striving to integrate one’s life in terms not of isolation and self absorption but of self transcendence towards the ultimate values one perceives." Schneiders highlights the problem in defining spirituality:
I have been challenged by theologians who think that spirituality, like brushing one’s teeth, is absolutely necessary but should be done in private; by historians who think that spirituality, like happiness is a term that should not be applied until its subject is quite dead; by psychologists who think that spirituality is the word pious type use for what normal people would call good mental health; and by scholars of religion who maintain that the competent study of any religion will include an objective account of whatever the terms spirituality covers.
I narrow down my options to define spirituality as a gift from God’s spirit that helps by adopting and developing certain attitudes and that shape one’s inner being. It implies a vision of life itself, which is not reflected primarily in actions but rather in a stance towards the world.
Christian Spirituality involved the human capacity of self-transcending knowledge, love and commitment, as it is actualised through the experience of God, in Jesus, the Christ, by the gift of the Spirit. Because God’s Spirit comes to us only through experience and symbols inseparable from human community, Christian Spirituality includes every human dimension of human life.
Christian spirituality includes one’s whole reality as rooted in God with a deep sense that one belongs to community, which expresses its sense of the sacred through words, gestures, actions, events, tradition and community. Christian spirituality then is not a push from below but a gift from above. Hence, spiritual experience becomes the focus and the centre of spirituality. It demands choices to be made in consistency with the upheld ultimate values. As Wilkie Au puts it "the word signifies our whole interior and spiritual life, and it includes mind and will, knowledge and love. It is not primarily head, action oriented, or moralistic, but rather, it is a matter of being caught up in a dynamic loving relationship with the Lord and others."
2.1.1 A cloud of witnesses
Spirituality in history is the story of flesh and blood people who lived lives that only later generations came to see as smooth sailing down an easy street called the spiritual life.
A "cloud of witnesses" marks the story of spirituality, people who tried their best to seek appropriate ways to live the fullness of life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. So even if there is only one Way, who is Christ, the Spirit works in different cultures and at different times, calling forth expressions of the Christian life appropriate to the respective cultures and times. Christian spirituality is not one dimension of Christian living but it is Christian life itself. The way in which Therese of Lisieux lived the integration of her contemplative and missionary call is all together different from the way Ignatius of Loyola lived them and Joseph De Piro saw them both as models and light in his path to God.
2.2 De Piro’s understanding of Spirituality
De Piro was convinced that Christian spirituality must be rooted in the affirmation of a personal God, who is active in the history of humanity and who is active in his personal life; "every thing that we have, indeed all that we are, every thing is a gift that God has bestowed on us." From an early age his desire was to be in tune with God and to do God’s will by developing an intimate relationship with the Lord of life. "A good thought is a seed that Our Saviour throws in our soul." This was quite unusual for his time as spirituality then tended to be more theoretical rather than experiential. Little awareness existed that experience can be the point of entry into the spiritual life.
This characteristic is what Karl Rahner years later articulated so well when he "recognised human experience as a locus of God’s revealing self disclosure." For Rahner human life and activities, events and history, are capable of disclosing the presence and action of God. Thomas Merton in his book Contemplative Prayer writes:
We are a word spoken by God, and God does not speak words without meaning. Therefore our true identity is hidden in God's call to us and our response. All of us need a certain amount of interior silence and discipline to maintain our human and Christian identity…There is no magical system. What counts are faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust and Joy…. Having a contemplative attitude is more important than the way or the number of times we pray.
Joseph De Piro saw his story as a gift from God, "for those who love God, all things help them to be of good to others." He felt that God speaks in many ways but surely God shouts in his story. To see his reality and all that happened to him in the light of faith was the most basic notion of De Piro’s Christian spirituality; "God's visits are those movements in our heart which help us to follow truth." God spoke to the people in their story, in their very slavery and heard their cry by sending them a Saviour. De Piro was convinced that God speaks in history and in the person of his Son God became one of us in order to save us. In the same way God enters our own personal history. De Piro’s spirituality can be defined as learning to read his story and events in the light of God’s story. When he accepted his reality as a gift from God he started living with the conviction that God turns everything into good for those who love God. He believed "that which to us appears wrong will not be other than a wise disposition of Him who is protecting us and we are to turn to Him." This attitude can be traced back early in his life. When all the family was bereaving the death of his brother De Piro wrote to his mother:
I think I am the last of all my brothers that can give you any consolation. It is clear that God and the Blessed Virgin have not forgotten us once they often present to us incidents through which we show always our trust in them. As regards Berti we can say that he is better off than we are and that he finds himself with the other good souls who left before him…After the accident that happened to us, it is also a clear and doubtless fact that Our Lady had accepted the supplica he had addressed to her on the 8th of May so much so that he had not yet had the time to thank her with the usual novena of thanksgiving as she had already taken him with her to Heaven. Last year the same Virgin made me offer myself to her son on this earth, while this year, my dear mother, she gave Bertie to Him in Heaven. So I say to all at home, who like me are very sad about this, to thank Mary for having permitted things to happen in the best way possible and let us declare to her that this circumstance in the future will be another golden link that keeps us united to her. This is the only comfort that helped me and I cannot find better words than "Let God's will be done."
In reading his story De Piro had to listen in faith to God: "Those who do not believe think that everything happens by chance, but to us who have faith we quickly perceive the hand of God." So deeply rooted in Him was this attitude that:
During sorrow and disappointments, even in the face of death itself, I try to raise my mind and heart towards the heavenly father and tell him "Thy Kingdom come."
2.2.1 Listening in Faith:
To read his story in the light of God, and to be in tune with the One who loved him and called him, De Piro was more than aware of the need to listen to the voice of God who speaks in the silence of the heart. "Do you know what is the most important thing?" he writes "It is to listen and follow God's word that is much more worthy than the whole world with all that it can offer." He founded his spiritual life on: "the duty to stay always near God to listen to his voice." This was the beginning of his radical commitment to others and his steadfast perseverance in his vision and dream, "the ear of your soul should be always ready to hear His voice." On the contrary deafness to this voice is, "the terrible consequence of sin."
2.2.2 Mary, a path to God
De Piro chose Mary as the model of one who listened to the voice of God. We cannot but notice his Christo-centric Mariology. Mary was for him a model of discipleship. He reflects on the gospel passage when a woman praised Mary with the words: "Blessed is she who begot you and who suckled you" and on Jesus’ response "Blessed are those who listen to the word of God and keep it." About Mary’s faith De Piro writes:
She saw her son in the cattle shed of Betlehem and believed He was the creator of the world. She saw him fleeing Herod, and yet she believed he was the King of kings. She saw Him being born and she believed He was eternal. She saw His poverty and believed He was omnipotent. She noticed that He did not talk and believed He was infinite Wisdom. She heard Him cry and believed He was the joy of Heaven…Mary saw him crucified, and at the same time she believed He was God. And…after the Ascension, it was Mary who, as a torch, kept alive the faith in the heart of the Apostles.
De Piro was grateful for the gift of faith freely given by God. "We must be careful that we never fail to give thanks to God for the gift of faith that He deigned to give us without any merit on our part, and we try to keep in us the fervent wish to attract the unbelievers and make them come and share with us this great gift." Gratitude permeated his life and was the starting point of his missionary zeal "Jesus, help me to spend the rest of my days thanking you". Listening to the voice of God, having faith and doing God’s will were pure gift of the Spirit:
Without God's grace all that we have said now would be only a dream, an illusion. Man's strength and energy, if they are not controlled by faith and given direction by grace, ceases to be a protective force, but becomes an oppressive tyranny.
2.3. A Missionary Spirituality
The mission of the Church is essentially a spiritual activity, the real agent of all missionary work is the Holy Spirit. The effectiveness and true success in mission cannot be measured except in terms of the supernatural. Behind every human effort there must be the free power and the free gift of God. Missionary spirituality is founded on the truth that without the power of God one can do nothing at all, Jesus Said: "without me you can do nothing". Without the Holy Spirit the Church would be a lifeless body. Paul VI writes, "There can be no evangelisation without the co-operation of the Holy Spirit." Behind every missionary activity there should be the guiding hand of the spirit of God. Louis J. Luzbetak says:
If the role of the Spirit is so important as we say it is, it must follow that the effectiveness of mission and the solution to its problems must first and foremost be sought not in humans cleverness, no, not even in anthropology but elsewhere. The most important and most desirable ingredient in a person engaged in mission is a genuine and deep spirituality.
De Piro insisted that, "the missionaries should remember that once God had chosen them He expects to have their hearts all to Himself. This thought echoes Benedict XV’s writings, a pope whose work De Piro quotes often in his Almanac for the Missions.
For those who enter upon the apostolic life there is one attribute that is indispensable. It is of critical importance… that they have sanctity of life. For the one who urges others to despise sin must despise it himself… give the missionary if you will the most extensive learning and the most brilliant culture. Unless these qualities are accompanied by moral integrity they will be of little or no value in the apostolate…
Accordingly the heart of missionary spirituality is:
To communicate to others by entering ourselves first of all into the centre of our existence and become familiar with the complexities of our inner lives. As soon as we feel at home in our house, discover the dark corners as well as the light spots, the close doors as well as the drafty rooms, our confusion will evaporate, our anxiety will diminish, and we become capable of creative work. The key word is articulation. The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life, who can give names to his varied experiences, need no longer be a victim of himself but is able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that prevented the spirit from entering. He is able to create space for Him whose heart is greater than his, whose eyes see more than his, and whose hands can heal more than his.
Penetrating the inner self therefore becomes the soil in which missionary activity can grow and be effective. Neuwen summarises this very well:
This articulation, I believe, is the basis for a spiritual leadership, because only he who is able to articulate his own experience can offer himself to others as a source of clarification. The Christian leader is, first of all, a man who is willing to put his own articulated faith at the disposal of those who ask his help. In this sense he is a servant because he is the first to enter the promised but dangerous land.
De Piro believed this to be the only way in which the Word of God can be accepted by people; "Every member of the Society should do his very best to be able to deliver the Word of God as worthily as possible. His way of life should be in conformity to what he is preaching." In fact, Thomas Merton deepens this thought and go as far as to say that:
He who attempts to act and do for others or for the world, without deepening his own self understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love, will have nothing to give to others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressively, his ego-centred ambition and his own delusions about means and ends.
A real missionary spirituality then must be grafted in a deep relationship with the Lord who loves us, who calls us and who commissions us. Convinced of the importance of such relationship De Piro wrote: "missionaries must be careful not to neglect the advance of their own soul by thinking of saving that of others." He was more than convinced that only those who have a personal experience of God can preach the truth; one can only transmit truth fully if in the process one has made it one’s own. This is very much in line and in anticipation of the thought developed in Evangelii Nuntiandi: "More than ever before, the witness of our lives has become an essential requirement if our preaching is to be effective." In the Rule De Piro writes that the spiritual life must be the aim of all external actions, otherwise little or nothing will be obtained from missionary work. In fact De Piro concludes that:
on this earth the missionary enjoys the real peace and calmness in his heart as a reward for all his struggles, pains and persecutions. This gift of peace which only God can give and which the world can never offer because it is a gift reserved only for the followers of Jesus Christ.
2.3.1 Pauline Inspiration
One cannot speak of missionary spirituality, especially as understood by De Piro without reference to Pauline spirituality. Paul’s question and deep search inspired De Piro, "Lord who are you?" and "Lord what do you want me to do?" To know and to deepen the knowledge of and the relationship with Christ were for Paul his very life "life for me of course is Christ" and the very essence of his mission. The second question was a logical consequence of the first for Paul: his missionary endeavours were for Paul the result of his relationship with Christ. There was no dichotomy between his spirituality and his ministry.
Joseph De Piro’s motto was to give to others what Paul gave to us (Maltese). "God" he said "had been greatly loving to us Maltese when he permitted St. Paul, as the first missionary, to come over to our island and convert us from the darkness of paganism and give us the light of the Christian belief." This gratefulness for the gift of faith was the source of his inspiration to form an Order of missionaries under the guidance and patronage of the missionary Paul.
De Piro saw in Paul not only the hand of divine providence but an example of a true spirituality for missionaries. "Paul’s heart" he writes "is the heart of Christ." "Paul was always ready to do all that God asked him to do." Such openness and willingness was De Piro’s wish and desire for each member of his Order. He defined Paul as "a heart burning for the love of God" and nothing and nobody could quench that fire. Paul knew himself well and was aware that Christ was his life and his message: "if you read my words you will have some idea of the depths that I see in the mystery of Christ."
At the heart of Paul’s spirituality and his missionary activities was Jesus Christ. This total conviction in the centrality of Christ led him to a total commitment. He knew that he was only a servant of the message that he was proclaiming:
Paul always saw himself as an authentic messenger entrusted with an authentic message. The message he brings is not some human concoction. It is simply, God’s message to man. Paul is its bearer, not its author.
This reality lead Joseph De Piro to pray with all his heart; "Let us pray to Paul to give us more Missionary vocations and install in their hearts the desire for suffering, the fervour to be of help to others, and to love the Divine Master with the same love which he felt burning in his heart and which made him often suffer for his brothers."
2.3.2 Spirituality of Hope, Trust and Authenticity
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.
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 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.
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 an other 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.
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." 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." 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 is 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.
A true missionary spirituality according to Joseph De Piro holds the conviction that those engaged in missionary work and in any ministry must be above all individuals of deep living faith. God must be the very heart and centre of their lives and they must sincerely believe what they preach. De Piro was aware of what Evangelii Nuntiandi articulates so well; "our age is thirsting for sincerity and honesty. Young people in particular are said to have a horror of falsity and hypocrisy." This meant to take to heart the words of Paul, "to put on the mind of Christ" to such extent that De Piro could say "for me life means Christ." "It is not we who are living, but Jesus Christ who lives in us."
In this chapter I tried to highlight the interconnection between spirituality in general and missionary spirituality in particular. De Piro’s spirituality in fact calls for a balance between the busy hands and the praying hands. This brings us to the next chapter on prayer and prayer is the intentional opening of one’s self to God and is enormously significant within an understanding of a spirituality which centred so much on the experience of God.
A life rooted in and transformed by prayer
"Cosi lontano dal mio paese…
Mi restava altro che la preghiera
mia ottima compagna
ed ho pregato, pregato, pregato."
In this chapter I shall elaborate on prayer in the life of Joseph De Piro. Prayer forms the backbone of his spirituality; it is the energy and the power that transformed his whole life and formed the very pulse of his work. In the midst of everything that he was engaged in, prayer was his constant source of strength. In studying De Piro’s writings I realised that for him prayer was not just a duty or a private devotion but a friend and a life long companion. Prayer and contemplation were for him a means and a source behind his entire pastoral ministry. Prayer lead him to ministry and ministry created in him the need for prayers. It was for him a process of letting go of his old self and surrender to God’s will in trust and love.
3.1 Jesus, the model and the Way
The model and the way for Joseph De Piro’s prayer life was Jesus himself: "all our religion" he said, "consists in the idea that God is present in our midst." De Piro was fascinated by the apostles’ question "Lord teach us to pray." It is a simple, profound and direct question. The apostles do not ask Jesus how to work miracles, how to preach and teach, or how to lead the Church, Lord teach us to pray is the one and only necessary thing on which all other things depend. They ask the Lord to help them be in touch with their inner reality that brings them closer to the Father. The apostles realise that prayer is the secret behind Jesus' personality, De Piro writes:
In the Holy Gospel almost in every page attention is drawn on the need to pray. This Truth is also taught by the example of Jesus Christ who used to spend nights praying…We see him pray before he begins some important action, before he chooses the Apostles, before Lazarus' resurrection. We see him pray in the Garden before his passion. Now, if the need to pray is so big, it is as much difficult to know how to pray well. By himself man would have never succeeded in finding the way to pray. When we remember the foundation of the Church, we find the Apostles, who are certain of the real need to pray but who do not manage to pray, and so they go near Jesus and ask Him to teach them how to pray.
De Piro’s prayer life was centred on Christ; "a characteristic of the catholic cult is to offer oneself to God and pray to Him through Jesus Christ." Prayer consists of listening to the voice of God who speaks through his Word; "The ear of our soul should always be ready to hear His voice."
To find the very Sacred Heart of Jesus there is no need to go up to Heaven, to go up to the right of the Father, because Jesus is still here with us. Jesus still lives on earth, among us, and we can go near Him any time that we want. And He is always ready to welcome us and open to us His Heart to live in it…Enter this heart and you will find your safety.
If Jesus is the Word of God, then those who decide to follow him must be ready to listen to his voice. It is a shift from talking to listening, a difficult but necessary shift for someone who was so involved and so busy in everyday. Silence spoke to him more than words; it allowed him the space to be with his own reality and be with God.
3.2 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.
3.3 God’s Will
Discerning and doing God’s will was for De Piro his very life. In a letter to his sister he writes: "There is only one good wish I accept with all my heart: that I may be able to recognise God’s will and follow it faithfully. This is enough for me." It is a must for someone who wants to be a missionary:
We must be ready to follow God's Will with a real generous heart convinced in our motto "We follow you whenever you go".
In fact this was a daily prayer; "After communion the grace that I ask for is that the Lord will help me to discern his will." Many authors describe spiritual life as a struggle, a battle of wills and a moulding of beings. For De Piro Mary is an excellent example of this struggle and surrender in faith: "I shall mention to you her obedience, and the manner in which her will was always and only the will of God." Such trust emerged out of her faith in God’s love for her. Mary was a model for De Piro:
"The devotion towards Mary consists in obeying her. She herself says to us, ‘do what my son, Jesus orders you to do’…In Mary you have found a treasure of holiness, grace and glory."
3.4 Surrender in Love
To go into your inner room means that you enter the room that is within you, where your thoughts are shut up, the place that contains your feelings. This room of prayer is within you at all times. Wherever you go, it is a secret place and what happens there is witnessed by God alone.
This quotation is a good summary of De Piro’s life. In a culture where to do was very important and where the value of the person was tied to one’s work, the call to enter the inner room of his feelings was quite an important and at the same time difficult task for De Piro. With a busy programme as his was, De Piro was convinced of the need and the necessity to take time to explore his inner reality and know the spirit that gives strength to what he is doing.
Prayer is the means that makes us receive treasures of graces from God… and such wonderful treasures such as faith, heaven, the love of God and neighbour are not deprived of a key, and this key can be found by any baptised person through prayer.
Wilter J. Burghardt defines contemplation as, "a pure intuition of being, born of love. It is experiential awareness of reality and a way of entering into immediate communion with reality." Thus to be contemplative and have a contemplative stance is to see life as the fruit of love and all that happens as the result of this story of love between oneself and God. Out of this experience of love that transcended the level of thought, De Piro was able to integrate the emotional side with his rational side and live by this force of inner love.
De Piro compares contemplation with falling in love: "Why does the Lord order us to love him with all our heart, our soul and strength? Because he wants us to be happy, and we cannot be happy unless we love Him." He felt born out of love, his life experiences were a window into that love given freely to all, he prayed; "Accept our prayer as a hymn of gratitude for many blessings we have received… fully untied to you, we may forever sing the hymn of love." Only after falling in love could he be ready to proclaim that same love to others, "He who loves Jesus Christ will do his best to make all people of all nations love him." In love De Piro found the reason not only to exist but also to live a fully human life: "We are tied not by iron chains, by moral duty, sin, or fear of hell, but by the sweet chain of love of our Lord."
To be in love with God and with creation is not just a romantic sensation; "Even our souls has to undertake a long journey through the desert of this life, and it needs to maintain its own forces." Both Scripture and Christian mystical tradition speak about the desert or the dark night of the soul in this process of union with God. Contemplation does not always summon up in delight. The desert, in biblical tradition, is the place where one has to face one’s inner demons. De Piro had to face his own self but he was able to acknowledge the hand of God in every difficult moment.
God’s works bear contrariety as a sign…For the span of about fourteen years, there were so many difficulties one after the other, that they could have tired everyone. 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 that always accompanied the difficulties blew in the sails of our poor boat troubled so much by the waves.
Contemplation for De Piro is knowing the one who loved him even in the most difficult situations. He let this love so penetrate his being that it strengthened to love in return, De Piro believed in the transformation that such love could bring. Francis of Assisi and Therese of Lisieux were living examples of such personal change they allowed God to change them and give them a vision, which they passed on to the world they lived in. "Therese and Jesus weren't two anymore, but Therese had disappeared, as a drop of water in the sea, and Jesus remained alone." What De Piro writes about Therese, very well describes his own life. Walter J. Burghard says "to touch men and women like these and you will touch the stars, will touch God."
To enter in the place of his feelings meant for De Piro to experience fully the love of God. Such love helped him to experience his weakness as well as the need for the one who loved him. Tasting that love was for him an experience that transformed his work into prayer and his whole being into a dwelling place for God.
3. 5 Characteristics of his Prayer life
Joseph De Piro believed that prayer is a relationship, and as all human relationships, it was prone to change. He changed and matured in his understanding of God and of his own self: "As physical life grows in stages, so the spiritual one…wait with patience and trust in the help of the Lord wait for his mercy."
In studying his writings there’s a difficulty in understanding De Piro’s soul. Where the need for prayer is well articulated, we find little about the way, what happened in these secret moments prayer lead to a certain way of knowing that is hard to express in words. Inspite of this personal nature of prayer I will attempt to read between the lines, and bring out different characteristics of De Piro’s prayer life.
3.5.1 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, don't get discouraged but shut yourselves for a moment with God inside your soul, and talk and pray with Him continuously.
3.5.2 Faith as a gift
May the Lord, through his spirit, enable you to grow firm in strength with regards to your inner self, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, to all God's holy people.
De Piro was convinced that, like all human relationships, there is a particular paradox about prayer. It is a gift from God but at the same time it depends on one’s openness to it, "if the need to pray is deep, it is as much difficult to know how to pray well. By himself man would have never succeeded in finding the way to pray." He knew by experience that he had to relax into the reality of being loved by God and at the same time he struggled to let go of his own defences in an act of self-surrender. He developed a very simple child-like attitude but it took him a life long journey to achieve it.
De Piro was very much in touch with his own weakness, and that he shared in the weakness of all humanity. Humans by nature are weak, they are slaves of evil, so they need to unite themselves to God. Weakness for De Piro was not only moral but also physical to the bishop he writes, "as you know, last year I was hit by a breakdown, that has weakened me, I lost energy and strength to keep up with my activities." Such weakness was never a source of discouragement but, to the contrary, it drew him more and more to root his strength in God:
Lord see to it that my heart be similar to yours, so that the saying ‘the priest is another Christ’ ever assimilated in me’. My heart is poor, but you enrich it with your heavenly gifts; my heat is weak, but you give it life with you love; my heart is restless but you strengthen it with your blessings, my heart is blind, but you shine with your divine light.
Basic to De Piro’s prayer life was to learn to be in tune with the voice that was calling him in his story and to "judge everything with the eyes of faith." In order to develop such attitude one needed to be near the Lord, "as water is necessary for the tree so is prayer for the soul that believes, as long as we go on praying we get stronger in virtue and in the grace of God."
3.6 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 in Himself." This communion is the raison d’etre and the fruition of De Piro 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; "indeed" echoing the words of Paul, "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." He 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.
John of the Cross defines contemplation as: "El amado con el amada, el amada en amado transformada." 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 every day 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 do 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. And he, more than others, could repeat the words of Saint Paul: "vivi vero in me Christus.
De Piro saw Francis as a model and a friend in this process of inner transformation.
In the solitude of Ravena, one day 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 our heavenly Father, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." This was articulated so well 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.
3.6.1 Solidarity with humanity
Whereas speech is the mark of community, silence is what characterises solitude…We should be silent at the opening of the day so that God have the first word, and be silent at the end of the day so that God will have the last word. True silence is the consequence of spiritual stillness. After we have been silent for a time we meet the world and other people in a new and fresh way.
Bonhoeffer’s words echo De Piro’s thought. Prayer is not an end in itself but a means; "God’s love should be the cause of the love of our neighbour." Here lies the roots of a radical commitment towards others, as prayer resulted in service:
Those who have Christian blood in their veins will naturally feel in their heart the desire to help their neighbour, which is the same desire of the heart that would like to follow the Divine Master Jesus Christ.
This marks the move from prayers as a personal private affair to solidarity with other human beings. Being alone with God leads to being aware of and getting involved with the struggles of others. Thus prayer becomes radical: "one can be exempted from praying, fasting and doing common acts, but never from loving one’s neighbour."
De Piro realised that prayer leads to love otherwise it is not real Christian prayer; "the treasure of all treasures is love, it is the king of all virtues, the fullness of perfection, God himself." From his writings it is evident that ministry was intimately related to De Piro’s spiritual life as a minister. His spirituality and life of prayer were never by any means an escape from the hot issues of his time. In Joseph De Piro we have a model of a minister whose ministry and spirituality were never separated; both ministry and spirituality were a way of life, his life.
Prayer for Joseph De Piro was a growth in faith through which he developed a vision that guided all his life. He learned that God will work all things for the good of those who love him. So prayer becomes a way to meet God the Father through His Son. The path, once taken, becomes less and less the focus of the journey; the goal becomes the all pervading concern. Thomas Merton writes that: "Jesus is not the goal but only the way to it." To be one with Christ is to be fully in the path as Jesus "the way, the Truth and the Life" and no one can go to the Father expect through Him.
In prayer Joseph De Piro learnt to love, forgive, serve, follow and let himself be moulded by the hands that created him, in an act of total self surrender. Prayer was path to seek the face of God, in his story, in his brothers and sisters, and above all in his own soul and deep inspirations. Prayer enlarged his vision of reality and helped him to enter in the inner room of his heart, and to feel safe in the hands of God.
"Your Kingdom come"
A Spirituality of Ministry
"L’amore di Dio e’
e deve essere
il motivo dell’amore
The Christian message is by its very nature a message of hope, love and service. The Word of God is "Spirit and Life" and in the spirituality of Joseph De Piro these two realities go hand in hand so much so that one is the logical consequence of the other. Jesus’ incarnation calls for a faith that implies involvement in the world through values such as solidarity, availability and hope. This way of living out faith is in itself evangelisation. Nouwen writes:
When we have met our Lord in the silent intimacy of our prayer, then we will also meet him in the campo, in the market, and in the town square. But when we have not met him in the centre of our hearts, we cannot expect to meet him in the busyness of our lives… This viewpoint explains why true ministers, true missionaries, are also contemplative. Seeing God in the world and making him visible to each other is the core of ministry as well as the core of the contemplative life.
In this chapter I would like to go deeper in the spirituality of ministry as understood by Joseph De Piro. I will link his spirituality of prayer with his missionary spirituality by highlighting some fundamental characteristics of the way he lived his Christian calling.
4.1 Called to love
Louis J. Luzbetak says that "a spirituality of mission presupposes a deep but humble and obedient sense of personal mission, a conviction tied to an unshakeable trust in God." De Piro’s spirituality of mission starts with the basic notion that he felt called by God. Defining one’s calling is difficult but in the words of Whitehead and Whitehead:
A Christian vocation is a gradual revelation - of me to myself by God. … In this vision, a vocation is not some external role visited upon us. It is our own religious identity; it is who we are, trying to happen.
In this light we can understand the importance that De Piro attaches to his vocation. He recalls the experience on the 8th of May, 1898, as the moment when he made the decision to follow this inner voice: "Last year it was the same Madonna who offered me to her divine son on this earth." He felt a strong desire to become a priest. This was to have big consequences on De Piro’s life. Coming from a very rich family he had all possibilities open in front of him. He had to give up his studies in law. But he saw God’s providential hand in everything, even the unexpected death of his father who had objected to the idea of his son going for the priesthood. In a letter to his mother De Piro wrote:
According to our judgement, this year has been a year of misfortune. This is our way of looking at it, because God does nothing that is not perfect, and his works cannot be but good. On this occasion I can say without fear that the consolations we have experienced has been greater than the grief caused through our great loss.
De Piro’s calling was rooted in the awareness that "Jesus prefers those who wish to remain hidden. When He chose me to be one of his ministers, He found me among sinners." He understood his vocation as the answer and a deep desire to be near the One who called him. De Piro deeply believed that, "we have been created just to love him," and that "God will give himself completely to those who leave everything for his love."
This deep awareness of being called played a central role in De Piro’s life. The Lord Jesus was his life and his model; "Jesus' life on earth has been an act of self giving. And he wants his followers to be perfectly follow his steps." The uniqueness of Christ lies in the fact that he followed the voice of the Father fully with all its consequences, even unto death. De Piro pondered on Augustine’s words that, He who gave him all he had, wanted him to give him all he was. De Piro reflects and prays:
You have never liked sacrifices and holocausts. You have given me a body. Indeed, you have given me a body, a heart, a soul. Behold I offer them to you, I consecrate them to the souls' glory.
After having said all this, we still fall short of picturing the depth of De Piro’s calling. In his own words, "It is fitting that some secrets of the heart are left only to Jesus." On the other hand, his writings show clearly that for him to follow Jesus meant first and foremost to know and chose in daily life God’s unique calling for him. De Piro made his own the question of the young man in the gospel, "O good Master, what should I do to obtain eternal life? Follow me. Behold, in this consists our calling!" The idea of regarding his own vocation as a valuable starting point for his spirituality developed. De Piro’s only wish was to "remain a priest without honours; for me the priesthood is the highest honour."
4.1.1 Discernment as a way of life
One cannot speak of vocation to ministry without referring to discernment. De Piro was formed in the Jesuit tradition and through such influence he adopted discernment as a way of life. In the most important and crucial moments of his life we cannot but notice that discernment was at the top of his agenda. Richard Hauser provides this definition:
Discernment is the art of listening to our inner selves and learning to recognize (discern) movements that arise from the Holy Spirit (our true selves) from those which do not.
Discernment was as natural to De Piro as breathing when he was discerning his vocation he wrote on a piece of paper what drew him to follow the priesthood and what were his deepest fears. Discerning where to live he discerned "if I live with my family, I shall be tempted to grow attached to worldly goods. Even if I do not get attached, money and wealth will take up much of my time and make me think of these matters frequently." On this basis he had chosen to live with the orphans, the poor of his time. De Piro was very much in tune with the fruits of discernment. To feel peace of heart was for him a sure sign that he was doing God’s will, "everybody desires peace of heart and will remain unhappy if he does not succeed to find it even though he might be occupying high places in society. Man finds his calmness when his heart is at peace with God even though he might be the most looked down being on earth.
Another important aspect in his discernment was the inspirations of his heart. He trusted these inspirations and saw in them a window that opened into God. "God," he writes "shows us his will not only by things external to us but also by means of inspirations...We should pay great attention to our internal inspirations." Such was his belief in inspiration that in the Rule for his Order he wished the members to, " make others share the holy inspirations, which the Lord will have inspired them. In doing so value was given to what is human and ordinary in every day life. In the Rule De Piro seals this reality; "one must not fail to notice that all his natural and human gifts received from God are helping greatly for the welfare of the Order." "Outward appearance is the reflection of the inner self; as the fragrance of a vase of flowers, so virtue cannot hide itself." Discernment led De Piro to an integration of his whole life. He was convinced that:
As Christian, in any action one should imitate the example of Jesus Christ. One should imitate His innocence, and so try to remove any dishonest action, while being loyal to God's commandments always and everywhere. One should imitate His humility and so avoid self-praise. Moreover one should not pride on one’s social position, nor on the praise received from others.
4.1 Availability: ‘Lord what do you want me to do?’
Robert Wicks defines availability as "an opportunity to be spiritual, to be open to relationships in the most deepest and most elegant sense of the term…without a sense of availability to self, others and God, life loses its spirituality." Joseph De Piro lived his vocation open to others and with a strong involvement in the world he lived in. It was not just generosity or kindness but a deep personal and religious conviction. Through obedience he saw the possibility of offering himself in total availability to God in response to the availability of God’s love for him:
Obedience being the Society's characteristic virtue it is clear that its members should not be satisfied to obey only when the matter is serious. They should try to be perfect in such excellent virtue, thus imitating Jesus Christ, a real perfect example, and His Apostle and our Father, St. Paul, who with those words and meaningful words "Lord what do you want me to do?" offered himself as a sacrifice to God, putting in practice the Christian obedience.
However, De Piro tried to live out this primarily in his own life. His decision to live in St Joseph’s orphanage was based precisely on this attitude of availability towards God. "In St. Joseph’s Home it will be easy for me to get trained in the virtue of obedience, without binding myself with the vow." He developed an attitude of allowing himself to be accessible and available to all. Such attitude involved the risk of the unknown, the loss of control and the loss of the ability to predetermine his life. It was an attitude that led him to give this control freely to God. It meant an attempt to move to the unknown guided only by the light of his faith. Such availability involved a sense of emptiness which led to active receptivity. The prayer of Thomas Merton articulates well the importance of availability for De Piro:
I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
4.2 Solidarity with all
Christianity is first of all a way of life, rather than a way of thought. Merely to study Christian truths and gain intellectual understanding of them is not enough… It is only by living the Christian life that we come to understand the full meaning of the Christian message.
Letting go and letting God be inevitably led De Piro to social involvement. In a world in which poverty was the norm De Piro could not but get involved and give his share to be there for people who needed help. Karol Wojtyla defined solidarity as:
A natural consequence of the act that a human being exists and acts together with others. Solidarity is also the foundation of a community in which the common good conditions and liberates participation, and participation serves the common good, supports it, and implements it.
Jesus was the inspiring force behind De Piro solidarity with all. In Jesus he saw a missionary who redeemed people by being with them and by showing them the Father’s love. He writes:
You can tell Jesus that he did not have to be born in a stable in the cold winter; you can tell him he did not have to suffer for us; you can tell him he did not have to shed his precious blood for us. He will answer that he could not help doing all this for us. His heart could not but love us; and he could not help trying to make us understand his infinite love for us. This heart that has loved human beings so greatly.
It was this conviction and desire to be one with the Lord that opened him to "a selfless dedication to the needs of others." Solidarity was not an option but a basic constitution of De Piro’s spirituality. Paul writes to the Corinthians "I will gladly spend myself…for your sakes." Spending oneself for others is an important dimension of a true missionary spirituality. As John puts it: "the way we came to understand love was that he laid down his life for us; we too must lay dawn our lives for our brothers." This implied for De Piro a daily self-giving. As Luzbetak puts it: "the most painful and most important but generally unrecognised form of self immolation is the call to small but real and continuous daily sacrifices."
It was such deep solidarity with all what prompted De Piro to write his canticle of love in the Rule. He makes Paul’s words his own and proposes them as a way of achieving this attitude of solidarity in daily living:
To attain and enjoy such a way of living one must be ready to bear the miseries and weaknesses of others, and help in carrying each other’s crosses…One must not have at heart his own interest but that of others following Paul's advice "love is patient." One must bear patiently any harm caused to him, and return by good actions. Envy is to be avoided and one should not be proud if possessing earthly things, should not be bad, double-faced or proud but the thought that he possess God should must fill his life and one must not consider anything belonging to him except that of having God and God alone. If someone is offended in any way, he must not have any resentment and must not pay back, but try to think well of others. Meanwhile everyone should be cautious and prudent when speaking of himself and of others. In the case of his brothers in religion, one must keep such high opinion of them, even to consider them as his own superiors and show them the respect due to them and be careful not to order or scold anybody… In trying to satisfy the desires of others, one should not do it to the detriment of one's strength, but be always ready to help whether asked or otherwise knowing that the action done is well received by the brother. When speaking to each other of one's own defends, missionaries must be careful they are acting rightly.
These words reflect the heart and attitudes of De Piro. Solidarity meant for him loving others. Service was the expression of his search for God and not just the desire to bring about social change. His writings show clearly that solidarity called for community, and communal love.
In reading the signs of his times De Piro felt that he could live out his solidarity in society by being involved in various fields. I will only focus on two main areas; his involvement with orphans and his involvement in politics.
4.3.1 Living with Orphans
The founding of St. Joseph’s Home caught the imagination of De Piro; "the desire to live with the priests in St. Joseph’s Home had been constantly present in De Piro’s mind and heart even while he was a student in Rome." Reflecting on what he wanted to do after his ordination he wrote: "I kept on thinking constantly whether I should go and live in St. Joseph’s Home." Living in this house with more than two hundred boys De Piro could live out his solidarity. Compassion was evident in his life he could be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion meant for him full immersion in the condition of the poor and the weak of his time.
Working with the orphans was dear to De Piro’s heart and his sense of availability and obedience led him to accept the direction of not less than six different Homes for boys and girls.
4.3.2 Working for justice
De Piro held that "Faith will bring freedom with it." Solidarity moved him to be seriously involved in politics. His spirituality was not lived in a storm free zone but in the reality of life; hence, his spirituality implied social involvement and action. As the representative of the Maltese clergy in the National Assembly he felt duty bound to give his share.
De Piro proclaimed forcefully that "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 finds its life, its peace, its happiness only in God." When speaking about education he said: "In the schools not only intellectual culture is necessary but also careful training of the heart is essential." In the discussion about the health problem De Piro insisted that: "In hospitals the sick need not only material solace but also spiritual uplift." De Piro never refrained from speaking on behave of social justice he was aware that even in the Church people can become slaves of public opinion, and would not speak because of fear of what others might think. This was even more so because of the socio-political conflict of his time however: "if the Holy Spirit descends upon you, you shall confess your faith courageously in Jesus Christ. You should not take heed of respect for public opinion: acknowledge God's commandments, do not be ashamed to say no."
De Piro believed that this was part of his priestly vocation; "the priest should cry out and raise his voice as a trumpet, and keep alive the flame of the Catholic faith. When selfishness triumphs and the poor are ill-treated, the priest who preaches the commandment of evangelical charity with apostolic courage should remind all of justice." He was conscious of this prophetic calling: "the priest reminds you that the surplus of wealth does not belong to you, it is the patrimony of the poor. Help the poor, love him because he is your brother."
In order to respond to this inner call without any fear, De Piro knew that he needed the strength and the inspiration from the Lord who called him. He shares with his fellow priests:
I know you will not be surprised if I tell you that I really felt God was guiding me to speak that evening in the Senate… By the grace of God I did not utter a word which could offend anyone, which later I would have regretted saying… allow me first of all to thank God for his help.
4.4 Missionary involvement
De Piro entire pastoral ministry, reflections, prayers and writings reveal a man inspired by missionary zeal. Kosuke Koyama defines a missionary as " anyone who increases by participation the concretization of the love of God in history." De Piro was aware that this concretization of God’s love was a gift that God wanted to give to the Church through him "The future of the missions lies in the hands of every one."
His missiology was Christo-centric, and the more he tried to assimilate the vision of Christ the more this missionary zeal grew in him: "The Lord Jesus Christ taught us to embrace the whole world." Reflecting on the purpose of missionary endeavours he came to the conclusion that "the Church sends its missionaries all over the world to extend more and more the Kingdom of the Sacred Heart of Jesus present in the Eucharist. This heart does not know limits: it wants to include all peoples, all men, no one excluded." This attitude of openness to the entire world was inclusive of all races and people, "According to divine institution there can be no difference of race in the Catholic Church."
Another important truth central for De Piro was that missionary work is above all the work of the Holy Spirit. The missionaries are only instruments, depending on the power of the Holy Spirit: "The Holy Spirit has descended not only to fill the apostles with love, but also that they might rouse others with the fire of their own tongue." Such mission prompts the heart of ministers to embrace the entire world. His belief was that for Catholic ministers their ministry includes the whole world:
The priest, apostle of Jesus Christ, does not limit his mission to one single country, one single city, to his motherland, and his country. Indeed since for him distances do not count, he leaves his fatherland, says goodbye to his friends, his relatives, his father and mother with only the power of speech as his weapon.
De Piro’s desire that he himself would go one day to the missions was never realised. He had everything planned to go and visit Br. Joseph, the first missionary of the order working in Ethiopia. De Piro was eagerly waiting this day but unfortunately, due to his unexpected death in September 1933, his wish never came true. However, the more we explore the heart and attitudes of this man the more we realise that he was more than a missionary, even though he never set foot on a missionary land. His zeal and eagerness make him not only missionary at heart but founder of a missionary order. De Piro’s great desire is being realised each and every day when members of his order, inspired by his charism, fulfil the ministry that he wished so much to do.
4.4.1 Missionary Awareness
Joseph De Piro believed that the first step to missionary involvement was missionary awareness. He felt the need to create in the Maltese people a sense of what mission, missionaries and missionary work is all about. For him loving and working for missions meant having the love of the redeemer who, "leaves the ninety-nine sheep in order to seek the one which withdrew from the bosom of the flock of the church." He knew that missionary awareness had to reach as many people as possible and that he had to work and pray hard so that the "light of Christ shined everywhere." As a means and an effective tool to achieve this he he used the printed material:
The printed material is one of the best servants to proclaim the missionary thought, to form the mind and heart of youth, to raise up and gather missionary vocations, and also to ask for temporal help.
The outcome was a newsletter ‘St. Paul: Almanac for Missionary Institute’, "almost every article published in the Almanac was written by De Piro." The aim was two fold. He wished to create awareness of missionary work and to make available documents and reflections about missionary endeavours in the world. In this way he showed different ways of how one can be a missionary. "If we cannot give our work because we have not been called for it," he wrote, "if we cannot give temporal wealth because we lack it, let us at least not leave undone what we can do, that is to pray for missionaries." The other reason was to make known his missionary Order and to invite young people to consider the missionary vocation.
4.4.2 Help and support to Missionaries
De Piro was conscious that "It is not enough to send a missionary and leave him on his own. One must support him and give him the help which he needs." De Piro was a very down to earth person and knew that various types of help were needed if missionaries were to achieve their aim. Br. Joseph’s letters manifest the great care that De Piro had for this first missionary. Br. Joseph found in De Piro a father and a person who really supported him. Expressing his sincere gratitude he writes: "Dear Father, even though so far away, you help me in my spiritual duties. I thank you Father and hope that Jesus will repay you for all you do for me." With all the different works he was responsible for De Piro felt called to support the missionaries in many ways:
No, we will not forget you; we will be with you in our thoughts, during our work, when we are helping you. You pray for us and we will pray for you. In this way our heart, immersed in that of precious heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ, will keep beating for you although far away from each other.
4.4.3 Missionary Vocations
Another field into which De Piro put energy was vocational work: "one of the best efforts of missionary work is to help to promote other missionary vocations." Besides promoting and supporting missionary vocations at home in Malta, De Piro had a prophetic vision of promoting indigenous vocations.
The very foundation of the Missionary Society of St. Paul was a clear answer to missionary vocations. With the deep conviction that "instilling a Missionary vocation is a very precious thing in God's eyes," Joseph De Piro tried his best to create the right environment where such a vocation could become a reality. He expresses great happiness when one of his members was ordained priest:
As the birth of a new member in a family brings great joy…the same thing happens in our religious family at the sight of a new priest joining the life of the society. The joy is even greater for us in our beginnings, when priests are so badly needed to work in the vineyard of Christ.
His need and wish for missionary vocations were always accompanied the awareness that such vocation was not easy, and that it demanded by its very nature great sacrifice. He made it clear to anyone who aspired to join his order that:
A missionary vocation is a great honour and the sacrifice it demands is also great. The missionary has to be separated from the world, his native land and his family. Those who are called walk happily on the way of the cross, and with a generous heart make their sacrifice in abandoning all for Jesus, a step rewarded with great happiness. It is a wonderful and admirable call and we must help all concerned.
Furthermore, De Piro gave importance to the formation of what he called the indigenous clergy. He realised that only by forming leaders from the local cultures would the gospel really be implanted in the roots and hearts of these people.
The formation of the indigenous clergy is one of the best means to announce the gospel of Christ. In fact when the people see a priest from the same country in front of them they feel more confident and accept his word more willingly. Likewise it is much easier for the indigenous priest to divulge the doctrine of Christ because he recognises better the character of his people.
4.5 The Cross: Power of the Missionary
One cannot speak of a truly Christo-centric spirituality without a reference to the cross as the path to new life. De Piro calls the cross, "the most powerful arm against one’s enemies." In line with Pauline theology he knew that the message of the missionary is "Christ and Christ crucified… power of God and the Wisdom of God." Here lies the challenge to follow Christ. De Piro’s faith challenged him to see the cross as a sign of God’s presence. He held that:
To find his cross the Christian, does not need…to undertake long journeys and strain himself. What he has to find is not a material cross, but a spiritual one, which lies around him and behind him in such a way that if he were to flee from it or avoid it, he would not succeed.
Hans Kung says that, "Faith is challenged to see the cross as a sign of God’s presence in God’s very absence, as a sign of life through death. The following of Christ does not imply simply imitation. It means to act in a way analogous to and correlative with Christ’s way of acting… the message of Jesus Christ must always be translated." De Piro, through his union with the Lord, was able to accept in faith the cross in his life. He was convinced of the Lord’s love: "Who will separate me from the love of God?" Even when caught in the web of meaningless and suffering De Piro never lost hope in the Lord.
This process of being one with Christ in his suffering meant for him absolute dependency on God. The cross of the Lord meant for him a deep conviction that in his insecurity, anxiety, darkness, loneliness and failure God was always there for him and with him. This attitude of trust is at its best when De Piro faced the death of some family members. He was well able to unite his humanity with his spirituality: "It is natural for us to weep when our heart is breaking with sorrow, but when God permits that we should suffer, this very grief becomes our treasure."
The Cross made it possible for De Piro to see meaning in very difficult situations, to hope against all hope and to trust in his dreams and his call: "I thank God for visiting us, in the midst of our rejoicing, with some set-backs. After all, He is quite capable of using this mishap for the good of the work that is coming to life." In the words of Hans Kung the virtue of hope inspired by the crucified Christ made him able not only to act but also to suffer, not merely to live but also to die.
I shall go into two main features from De Piro’s life that show how he lived this attitude; when some of first members left his order and his deep faith in the providence of God.
4.5.1 Members leaving the Order
A constant matter for disappointment was some members were leaving the Order. He writes:
From the beginnings to this very day, each day has had its heavy burden. I have had disappointments and suffered humiliations. Three students, in whom I had placed my faith, left, and this hurt me, for they had been considered very promising at the institute. On the other hand, Divine Providence has never failed to lighten my burdens. I do not wish these events to overshadow others which have given me great happiness.
The above quotation shows clearly an ability to feel the hurt and to unite his suffering with the Crucified Lord in full trust of divine providence. De Piro’s reaction and his deep compassion for those who left the Order is impressive. He was so united with Christ that the attitude of Christ was his guidance in such situations:
One day a priest of deep spirituality… said to him: ‘Don’t you see people are fooling you, and robbing you.’ De Piro calmly answered with his typical kindness of heart, so much a part of his nature: ‘no… never mind if they get free schooling and then leave me. What they have learnt will not be lost, and for me, it is enough that I have done some good. In time to come they will remember the benefits they received. Jesus never compelled the Apostles to remain with Him, so how can I compel these young boys to do so…Good may come from the very fact that they joined the Society and then left it.
De Piro knew that true love leads to freedom and not domination. "When an action is done for God's glory, there is to be no fear of any frustration." In face of all difficulties he could not but feel that "this hope of ours seemed to be thwarted by mysterious adversity, as if we would never be able to realise it. However, whatever God wills nobody and nothing can impede." Faith in the crucified Lord permitted him to experience internal freedom in belief that: "when we work for God’s glory obstacles abound, but our heavenly Father’s loving hand has been extended to aid his faithful servants." He was more than convinced that he was the steward and not the owner; the dream was God’s and not his. This helped him never to despair. When caught in situations where success was totally absent he persevered and prayed:
May we be strengthened in the truth that God started this work and that our hope in God’s help, which is so necessary will be strengthened.
Such deep spirituality of acknowledging one’s limits and limitations and believing in what was humanly speaking impossible, lead De Piro to a deep belief in the providence of God.
4.6 God’s Providence
God’s providence meant for Joseph De Piro a deep trust in the Lord of history. He believed in an attitude of active passivity and of trusting the guiding hand of God. His trust in God "who does not fail in his promises" translated itself in a deep conviction that all will be well.
De Piro’s trust in Divine providence meant a belief and a certainty "that we can say that our work, in its foundation, was moved and lead by Divine providence." Whatever happened to him did not happen just by chance but "in his great providence God reserved this work to the society of missionaries." All this points to De Piro’s conviction that mission has its origin in the heart of God. God is the source of this sending love in which he felt privileged to participate and give his share.
The smallness of his Order did not make him loose heart. On the contrary he saw the humble beginnings in line with the Gospel:
The gospel event of the widow’s mite encourages us, to look upwards and put our hope in him who is our most beloved father because when God is building those who build the walls do not labour in vain… God’s power, which made everything out of nothing and the power of Jesus who fed thousands of people from five loaves has never changed and is still there forever.
De Piro was convinced that mission did not depend on numbers but on people who were in love with the Lord and were drawn by a desire to share this love with others. Two important images for De Piro stress this thought.
4.6.1 Bethlehem Image
Images help us more than words because they catch our imagination and leave open the doors of interpretation. The image of the stable in Bethlehem was for De Piro an icon, a window into a greater reality. It is an image, which links in a profound way, a vision, a theology and spirituality. In the opening of the first house of the Order, De Piro recalled this image while addressing the bishop: "we feel a certain reluctance in presenting to your grace such a poor and humble beginning, but the mystery of Bethlehem fills us with courage." Cardinal Piero La Fontaine was impressed by the Grotto image and elaborated on it in response:
God will bless you even more because you compare the beginning of your work to His coming into our world. Bethlehem is full of enchantment. It is impossible that the modest House of St. Paul, in its humility, will not grow. Who knows perhaps there might be the flight into Egypt…or even Calvary…But in these circumstances the hand of God is obvious and faith will yield its fruit.
Once again the spirituality of De Piro proves to be Christo-centric and biblical in nature. The incarnation, as we have elaborated earlier, was central in his understanding of missionary spirituality, and smallness, failure, and disappointments were for De Piro signs that he was on the right path following the foot prints of the Lord.
4.6.2 The ship in the sea
Another important and strong image that De Piro used to articulate his thoughts and his vision was that of a ship in the sea. He understood this image as a mysterious call from God saying "one can find God’s call in a mysterious dream." He recalled this dream just few days before his death:
I found myself in a ship and as we were sailing along, suddenly there was damage in the propeller. I went down wanting to repair it myself but I was not in time, because I found a young lady beside me who said: ‘Leave it to me. Now I will carry on guiding it’.
The image of the small boat in the sea helped him see the Order as totally dependent on the Spirit of God. He writes: "Like a firm and sweet breeze God’s Spirit always accompanied the difficulties and blew in the sails of our poor boat troubled by the waves."
These images show how De Piro’s faith was based on the conviction that God chooses the weak, the poor and the small to show His strength in weaknesses. Trust in God’s providence led him to entrust himself in the guiding hand of God whom he saw as the real founder of his dream.
4.7 Unity: ‘May they be one’
De Piro’s missionary spirituality was sealed with a great desire for unity, both in the Church and in particular in his Order. In his life he worked towards this goal. He knew that without a united community witnessing to the one whose wish is to unite would not have the desired effect. This vision for unity was prophetic in De Piro’s time; there could be no real ministry if it did not have at its core and aim unity with God, with others and within the Christian churches.
4.7.1 Unity in the Church
De Piro believed in God’s dream that unity is a must in order for the world to believe. He writes: "I must gather them! One cannot but rejoice at the consoling prophecy which pleased the Divine heart of our Lord…and they will hear my voice and there will be one flock and one shepherd." A missionary work should fulfil such wish of the master with responsibility. De Piro made his own the vision of the prophet:
The wolf and the lamb meet together; they eat from the same grass and drink from the same valleys to unite their forces so that hand in hand they try anew to befriend other animals. Yes, diverse races join together; the black mixes with the white, the savage with the gentle; the deprived with the virtuous, the poor with the rich, the old with the young, without considering their diverse nature they unite together in one thing and one force. They eat from the eucharistic bread which makes them one nature, one body, one blood, one soul under one Lord who do not wish anything except unity, belief, justice and mercy."
4.7.2 Unity in the Missionary Order
De Piro’s dream of a missionary order was based on the conviction that where unity resides there is strength. "Every member should be convinced of the need to love each other. In fact the more the members of the society will be of one heart and soul between them, the better the society will be."
This dream for unity was based on another important value, the need for reconciliation. De Piro knew from experience that a real missionary spirituality must be based on the Johannine principle "he must increase and I must decrease," a principle that De Piro adopted as a way of life for him and proposed it for his Order. Koyama calls this principle "the secret of the dynamic identity of the Christian missionary." De Piro held that in order for unity to be achieved one must be moulded in the gospel values and in the Pauline idea that "love does not insist on its own way." His practical advice is that:
In case someone has been offended or he himself has suffered an offence, every effort should be quickly made to ask forgiveness for any harm caused and one should be proud to be the first to humble himself in doing so… Following St. Paul's advise no one should go to sleep before having reconciled himself.
This spirituality of unity was so much part of De Piro’s missionary spirituality that in his spiritual testament he wished:
To the members of the Missionary Society, without any distinction superiors and subjects alike I earnestly request that they do their utmost to love one another in Christ. They must be certain that nothing will glorify God and benefit the Society and be of spiritual advantage to them and their ministry more than love, according to the words of our father St. Paul: "it is love which leads us.
Joseph De Piro’s spirituality of ministry reveals a man who chooses to allow the mysterious and all pervading presence of God to give meaning and purpose to his life, his choices, his work and his vision. The continual discovery of the mystery of the Incarnation allows De Piro to meet God in human reality and in others. For De Piro his ministry and active commitment were not peripheral to his Christian living but his spiritual journey became incarnated in reality and his spiritual insights were rooted in concrete human experiences. To be in solidarity meant to love people and to wait for others in their becoming. His understanding of justice was more than just proclaiming what is just; he had to be just. His motivation and deep desire was that people see him: "a priest according to the heart of God."
This chapter highlighted some of the basic characteristics of De Piro’s pastoral spirituality. What follows is a chapter on the implications of this missionary spirituality on the Missionary Society of St. Paul.
Pastoral Implication: A Spirituality that inspires all
"Sorgi e corri…
Porta loro il lume della verita’.
spingiti fino agli estremi confini della terra
e porta loro la mia vita."
Vatican II documents and post-Vatican II theology of the consecrated life all stress the essential and continuing role of founders in religious Orders. This role is not limited only to research in archives; on the contrary, it is a continuing ever founding activity of the Holy Spirit within an Order… the same Spirit that moved the founder/foundress of that particular Order in the first place. There is an intimate interplay between the past, present and future. In this chapter I will elaborate on the pastoral implication of the missionary spirituality of Joseph De Piro on the MSSP.
5.1 Vatican II’s understanding of charism renewal
Vatican Council II, in its Decree Perfectae Caritatis, mentions the return to a founder/foundress as one of the essential elements in the revitalisation of a religious life. This must be accompanied by a return to the gospel because it is Jesus who calls. In sharing in the life and mission of the Church today the members of an order be aware of the world in which they live and discernment how best they can answer to the emerging needs in line with the original charism. Top priority must be given to spiritual renewal, especially to the living of the vows, as the irreplaceable basis for the mission of an Order.
If the return to the founder/foundress is not done through this wider perspective it could easily be misleading. However, it would be equally misleading to concentrate on any of the above points without referring to the founders of the orders. The return to the past must help to rediscover more the spiritual heritage, at the same time such return to the sources is an act of faith in the active presence of God in the founding and the history story of the order. Therefore the charism is more than a past happening; it is a dynamic ever-presence of the creative Spirit. Thus the purpose of our return as MSSP to the founder is to deepen our awareness of our missionary identity so that we may see how best we can be formed in it and help form others. The integration of fidelity and creativity is probably one of the greatest challenges that religious life is facing today.
5.2 God bestowed special love on the MSSP
Vatican II’s understanding of renewing a particular charism implies certain consequences. To reduce renewal to a purely natural or sociological study is not only an impoverishment but also a serious misunderstanding of the original inspiration. De Piro was more than convinced that what gives us identity is not what we do but who we are. Secondly, an increased spirit of prayer and reflection is an essential ingredient for renewal. In order to build on sure foundations. Such contemplative attitude must influence the ministry itself. If change is to occur within the mssp order it must leave its mark on ministry. A missionary spirituality cannot separate the two; both are essential and both enrich each other.
Sociology and strict historical research are needed if one is to understand the Joseph De Piro properly. It would be short sightedness to underestimate them. At the same time, it would dangerous to neglect the importance of faith in God’s Providence. To reduce everything to a purely human level does not do justice to all the facts. Faith in God’s Providence is a vital aspect in De Piro’s spirituality. Throughout his life he had to face what seemed like insurmountable obstacles. With every obstacle overcome, the more he became convinced that God was with him. If such belief in Providence is neglected what is left is a view of the world and the Order that is completely out of harmony with that of De Piro.
5.3 A fire to be rekindled
One piece of historical evidence does perhaps call for reflection. In the past the most effective and vital reforms in religious life took place as a result of returning to the original "rule" of the founder/foundress. This involved more than a return to a radical way of life. It was a determined, radical, enthusiastic return to the founder/foundress original concept of the order. It involved a return to what was clearly an alternative way of life; alternative not only to the world, but also, very often, to the main body of the order in need of reform. The return to the original inspiration of the founder/foundress, therefore, is a challenge to re-light the original fire that moved the founders and their followers. The re-lighting of that fire is a grace freely given by God, just as the original fire was, and one can only pray for it humbly and with courage because it will not come merely from human efforts and inevitably it involve sacrifice.
One is tempted to think of some original golden age to be imitated. Studying the order’s story keeps us in touch with reality as we realise that there was no golden age; the first years were difficult and were no better than our own. However a difference exists in that in the founding beginnings there was a sense of freshness, of novelty, of adventure, of relevance. A fire was burning and in order for the MSSP order to be renewed this original fire need to be rekindled. Without this renewal in fidelity all new endeavours of the order and all pastoral ministry will become a heavy burden, rather than a source of renewal.
This calls forth for discipleship. True renewal must be sown in the soil of prayer. The practice of genuine prayer should involve fearless listening to the Word of God. Prayer involves openness to the Spirit of God; an openness to the same Spirit that set fire and inspired the vision of Joseph De Piro himself. In the words of Paul, this Spirit "moves us to pray" and "pours God's love into our hearts" leading us to active compassion for others.
Joseph De Piro clearly intended the Order to be essentially missionary and its members to be available to be sent and evangelise both as communities, and as individuals. The missionary charism is to be embodied in the spirit, in every structure, in every work because the very essence of the MSSP is to be missionary and evangeliser. A return to the founder, therefore, calls for openness, to the world and to the culture in the spirit of the Gospel. One cannot be in harmony with De Piro unless one is trying to be missionary today as De Piro was in his time. To follow his spirit and footsteps is to feel moved to go to the areas where Christ is not effectively present. That is, to those who do not know him; to those who are disenchanted with religion or indifferent to it or even hostile to it; to the oppressed and marginalized, the poor; to those who have lost their meaning in life; to those who thirst to deepen their love of the Lord.
Although the spirituality of Joseph De Piro is clear, it still allows for a variety of emphases. As a result, different people at different times will bring to the fore their own legitimate interests, preconceptions and needs; they will look at the same reality from a different perspective. However, Joseph De Piro must be kept alive lest facts are changed to suit our own likes and dislikes. But the way we put these facts together, the emphasis we give them and the conclusions we draw will vary according to the sorts of questions we ask. A genuine return to the founder does not result in stereotypes. The return is rather an attempt to re-awaken the inspiration and dynamism that characterised him; to make his basic concerns our concerns.
But if a return to the Founder is to be creative in our time, the values need to be continuously discerned and re-evaluated. There are values that transcend all times and must be upheld whereas other values are only applicable to a particular time. We cannot take everything that the Founder said or did as absolutes otherwise all present sorts of choices and actions have to be justified accordingly and no creative freedom is left. However we are likewise misled if we put the needs of our own time as absolute. Therefore, a continuous dialogue must be kept between De Piro original inspiration, the gospel, and the signs of the time.
5.4 The Originality of the Founder
There is very little, if anything, in our Founder's works that is original with regards to religious life. He used material that was already existing. De Piro explicitly mentions the Society of Jesus: "the society bases itself on the book of the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and takes from it the rules and constitutions." In other words, he followed the commonly accepted views of his time
But we should not underestimate Joseph’s De Piro in this regard. He selected his sources only after much deliberation, and made them his own and adopted them for the order he was founding. However by founding his own Order, De Piro wanted his followers to have their own special identity and mission, even if he was highly influenced by other sources in implementing his dream. De Piro main motivating force was a deep personal call from God to share with others what he had experienced himself.
5.5 Making the original inspiration our own
Joseph De Piro’s founding experience has three inseparable aspects. First, there is a deep personal conviction of God’s love for humanity and the world. Secondly, there is an awareness of the need and that urgency that the good news be proclaimed to all those who never experienced it. Thirdly there is a conviction that such mission could only be undertaken if the ones being commissioned are in community, with a common vision and a common spirit.
Joseph De Piro did not only experience God love and the needs of the world. He understood that he had to give his share. He felt sent by God into the world with the deep conviction that "if the Lord does not build the house in vain the builders work." His experience of God was essentially missionary, he was as a result missionary at heart. What makes a missionary is not the fact of being in a missionary land but the readiness to answer to God’s calling in our own personal story.
Consequently everything centres on De Piro’s experience of being called and being sent to share Christ's own mission into the world. This was achieved by his surrender in the loving hands of God and by letting himself be transformed by the very love that he was called to proclaim.
Joseph De Piro’s intuition is that mission has its origin in the heart of God. God is the source of all commissioning love. There is a strong correlation between finding God and understanding mission. To be missionary, according to De Piro by its very nature calls for an attitude of faith that is open to the novelty and to the mystery of God. Outside this ongoing Christian journey, mission loses its meaning.
This implies that the missionary Order founded by De Piro was not founded just to teach, preach, run parishes and go to foreign lands to proclaim the Good News. The main mission was to make people aware of the love of God that De Piro himself freely received and experienced. De Piro believed that ministry should point always to the presence of Christ.
De Piro lived this spirituality in ordinariness, in simplicity and in lack of pretentiousness. His trust in God’s providence lead him to find God in the bits and pieces of everyday life and saw his vocation as being the yeast that causes the dough to rise. His life reveals that an authentic proclamation of the Gospel must always be marked by an attitude of humility and service. The mission and the message is God’s and not his own. He was a faithful servant who answered with generosity to God’s call, "God in whom I placed my trust, wanted to use me to found this Society." His conviction was that the Holy Spirit is the real founder and an experience of the Spirit must precede any reflection or proclamation of the message. This reality permeated De Piro’s life and was a well spring in his journey. Gustavo Gutierrez offers a contemporary paraphrasing:
To respond creatively to the new demand of the gospel… we need a vital attitude, all embracing and synthesising, informing the totality as well as every detail of our lives; we need spirituality… Spirituality is a concrete manner, inspired by the Spirit, of living the Gospel… It arises from an intense spiritual experience… Spirituality means a reordering of the great axes of the Christian life in terms of contemporary experience… This reordering brings about a conversion into life, prayer, commitment and action.
De Piro shows clearly that mission is an attitude rather than a geographical place; "to know if we have God’s love in our heart need only look within us and see whether we have the wish that his name be known everywhere." He had cultivated the missionary ideal ever since his youth. He had a true missionary vocation that he was able to realise through his spirituality, his life, and through the missionary Order that he founded.
De Piro’s spirituality is rooted in the continual rediscovering of the mystery of the Incarnation, which allowed him to meet God in all of human reality, especially in his story and that of others. His spiritual journey was not a means of alienation from reality, but an experience lived in daily life. He understood that the missionary task is to discern and discover God’s presence in each encounter and to make known the new faces of the Pascal mystery that are constantly being revealed. In hope De Piro committed himself to seek and do God’s will and set his vision on the broader horizons that a faith perspective offers. For De Piro hope is not wishful thinking but an option based on faith.
De Piro’s missionary spirituality is founded on the experience and the intuition that everyone is deeply loved by God on discovering such a basic reality one’s life completely changes. When one discovers what one is, what one should do follows naturally. Missionaries must help people discern the signs of God’s love present in them and in the world in which they live, and their mission is to work for a world more reflective of that love. Jose Comblin writes: "Truth is not a doctrine, a teaching, a series of concepts. Truth is a force that denounces and destroys the lie. Truth is the birth of a new reality. By their activities, the communities give birth to a new reality: the reality of humanity."
My conclusion from this research is that the Missionary Society of St. Paul must be faithful to its origins but at the same time, be courageous and open to the new and to change. The Order is at a stage of needing a re-founding experience. Fidelity to the founder cannot but be dynamic, and this requires above all a documented research, an attentive study and a profound assimilation. Dynamic fidelity to the spirituality inherited from the founder requires an actualisation in the present. It must be faithful first of all to the Gospel. De Piro always points to Christ and asks of all members of his Order to undertake the journey of being disciples before being evangelists.
The re-founding should be done by initiatives that seek a balance between contemplation and ministry, of which De Piro is primary example. He lived his spirituality rooted in the experience of God’s love that directed his attitudes in life towards total availability to God’s will. Those who follow De Piro’s spirituality must live a harmonious synthesis between deep spirituality and ministry. If conversion and transformation are the very goals of missionary activity, a missionary spirituality must consist first and foremost of a conversion and transformation of all those who are being sent. Authentic proclamation must always be thoroughly intertwined with witness.
My aim in this dissertation was to give a new perspective on how the missionary spirituality of Joseph De Piro can be relevant for the Missionary Society today. The spirituality of Joseph De Piro requires to be studied afresh in every age, otherwise it remains encapsulated in the century and terminology of his time.
De Piro’s unexpected death left the first community facing difficult choices. A re-founding experience was necessary: "At his death, it was as if the whole Society lost its soul…we were bewildered and astounded people because of what happened to us… We found ourselves in the wilderness, in the desert, surrounded by darkness and open space; without any help although deep down we felt that help was near; that it was with us; that it was in our soul."
This evidence from the first community shows clearly that what the Order is going through today is not new to its short history; the first members already experienced it. They had to hold firm in the hope that: "if he provided us with all our needs while he was with us, how can he abandon us, now that he is in heaven…Now we expect the mercy of God’s providence."
Such witness gives us courage to look with hope. De Piro’s deep conviction is that: "God is with us, indeed, one should not get discouraged, God is with us, there is no doubt about this reality, but our part is exactly this, to listen to his voice who calls us to follow." This voice was the force and the reason behind this study. It was a call to explore and discover in a new way the missionary spirituality of Joseph De Piro which will always leads us:
Never to cease from exploring, and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started,
and know the place, as if, for the first time.
Benedict XV, Maximus Ilud.
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Regole Della Compagnia Di San Paolo
(Rule of the Society of St. Paul)
1R Volume 1
2R Volume 2
3R Volume 3
G. De Piro, Predikatur Imheggeg tal-Kelma ta’ Alla
(Joseph De Piro, Preacher of the Word of God)
1P Volume 1
2P Volume 2
3P Volume 3
AM - Almanac of the Institute of Missions
D - Mons. G. De Piro; Djarju 1889 – 1909
(Diary of Joseph De Piro 1889 – 1909)
Il-Qaddej ta’ Alla G. De Piro: Korrispondena
(Joseph De Piro, Servant of God: Correspondence)
1K Volume 1
2K Volume 2
3K Volume 3
S - Twemminu f’Kitbietu: Sayings ta’ Mons. De Piro
(Sayings of Joseph De Piro: His Beliefs in Writing)
Life - The Life of Joseph De Piro by Alexander Bonnici
mssp - Missionary Society of St. Paul
N.B. The number before the abbreviation refers to the Volume Number whereas the numbers following the abbreviation refer to the page number. The last number is just a reference to facilitate my work.
An example: 1R; 50:3 – Regole Della Compagnia Di San Paolo; Volume 1, page 50.
"I follow you wherever you go"