MISSIONARIES OF ST. CHARLES
 
 
BLESSED JOHN BAPTIST SCALABRINI - FATHER OF THE MIGRANTS

Spiritual and Pastoral Essays
selected from the writings of
Blessed J.B. Scalabrini
Bishop and Founder

 

By Father Stelio Fongaro

translated by Fathers Gino Dalpiaz
and Peter P. Polo

Table of Contents

The Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini
Bishop of Piacenza and Father to the migrants

 

Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini (1839-1905) is one of those figures who take on ever clearer and more striking features as time passes and they move from a newsworthy status to an historical one. Scalabrini has become an increasingly necessary reference point for those who want to know Church history, particularly that of the Italian Church, at the turn of this century.

Born at Fino Mornasco near Como in 1839 and ordained to the priesthood in 1863, he was professor and rector of the Como minor seminary until 1870, and pastor of St. Bartholomew’s parish in Como until 1875. Consecrated bishop in 1876, he headed the diocese of Piacenza until his death in 1905.

He was first and foremost a pastor. On the one hand, he can be seen as one of the descendants of the tridentine reformation, in the likeness of St. Charles Borromeo and St. Francis de Sales: this is reflected in his restructuring of catechesis, the intensity of his proclamation of the Word, his work on seminary reform, the five pastoral visits, carried out in person, to the 365 parishes in his diocese, the legislation of three synods, the new life he breathed into the pastoral ministry of his clergy, and the reflowering of worship. On the other hand, he can be rightly considered the forerunner of new times and methods, confronting the great problems of his time with courage and far-sightedness - problems such as: legitimate freedom of opinion in the philosophical sphere, participation of Catholics in the political life of post-unification Italy and the debate on "the Roman question," the new relationship between Church and people, especially the rising working classes, and the solution of the "social question."

However, his name is linked above all with emigration at a time when the Church and Italian society were faced with the dramatic tragedy of mass emigration on an unprecedented scale. The State was absent in this sphere, and the Church was caught unprepared, but Scalabrini was the main planner and most practical developer - if not the only one - of integrated action to help migrants, organizing and providing a whole program of religious, social and humanitarian assistance that took account of all the human and Christian needs of the millions of migrants scattered mainly in the two Americas. In this context, he founded the Congregation of Missionaries of St. Charles for Emigrants (Scalabrinians) at Piacenza on 28 November 1887, and the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo (Scalabrinians) on 25 October 1895. In 1889 he also started the St Raphael Association so that lay people could also be involved in work for migrants. If he is commonly known as the "Apostle of Migrants," which is also why Pius XII described him as "an apostolic man to whom both Church and country owe a great debt of gratitude" - the words of appreciation of the other popes who knew him should not be forgotten: Pius IX gave him the title "Apostle of Catechism"; Leo XIII confidently depended on his fidelity and loyalty, entrusting him with delicate missions; St. Pius X saw him as "the learned, meek and strong bishop, who has always loved the truth and made others love it even in harsh circumstances, and has never abandoned it because of threats or enticements"; Benedict XV held him to be an "incomparable prelate," admiring his "very high virtues, most especially his chief one, charity"; Pius XI wanted "to bear witness not only to his pastoral and episcopal spirit but also to his truly apostolic and missionary spirit."

Scalabrini stands out among Italian bishops of the late 19th century: he had to battle against the current, but, as his friend Blessed Guanella rightly said, he belonged neither to the rearguard, nor to the center, but "to the vanguard, though always with the Pope." Along similar lines, Paul VI said that he was "famous for certain positions that we can say anticipated events in the history of Catholics in Italy, because he had his own particular views - then hotly contested, but in fact far-sighted - on the position of the papacy in the Italian State and the participation of Catholics in the public life of the country - from which they were excluded at that time. This meant that he attracted greater controversy, but it also gained him the merit of having predicted the role Catholics were to play in this country."

Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini was proclaimed Blessed by Pope John Paul II in Rome on November 9, 1997.

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THE NATURE OF SPIRITUAL EXERCISES
ACCORDING TO BISHOP SCALABRINI

 

Scalabrini’s first official act of government as Bishop of Piacenza was to write to his clergy a pastoral letter in Latin, reminding them of the mandatory nature of the spiritual exercises. Scalabrini makes reference to a 1710 directive by Clement XI in which bishops throughout Italy were encouraged to remind their priests of the annual obligation of this "religious practice". He not only reminds his readers of the obligation, but wisely points to the reasons outlined in the papal document which led the Church to impose it: these fruits flow naturally from the practice of the spiritual exercises. Indeed, these reasons/results provide the framework for his 20-page letter. Scalabrini knows that the will moves if it has motives, which are the values intrinsic to the thing to be done. This means that if he had limited himself to imposing the obligation without providing the reasons for it, he would be "failing in his duty" (p. 6).

The reasons/results in the papal document and Scalabrini’s motives are as follows: "The spiritual exercises of their nature are capable of (...) easily removing the grime produced by the world’s pollution which clearly contaminates even religious souls; of restoring the ecclesiastical spirit; of raising the soul’s eyes to contemplation of the things of God; and lastly of instituting or confirming a righteous and holy way of life." Here we shall consider the second, third and fourth of these results as they seem particularly Scalabrinian in spirit.

Clement XI’s encyclical goes no further than the text cited here, and is thus a formula in need of explanation, a half-empty wine-skin which is then filled with Scalabrinian wine.

The second point states that the Spiritual Exercises aim at the "restoration [reparatio] of the ecclesiastical spirit," and the following four reasons are given: (1) because pastoral activity inevitably leads to a decline in spiritual strength; (2) because we all have a tendency to grow less fervent; (3) because we are all tempted by the devil to "exhaust ourselves" in caring for others; (4) and lastly because the dignity of the priestly vocation requires it. To us, however, the most striking feature seems to be the lucid discussion of true and false conceptions of the spiritual exercises, described as a time of grace leading to renewal, and not merely as a pause for reflection and prayer amid the bustle of apostolic life.

In the third point Scalabrini states that the Spiritual Exercises are also an intense experience of prayer, aided by solitude and reflection.

The fruits produced by this kind of prayer are the biblical "spiritual ascensions," a fullness of interior life, which kindles a pastoral approach of high evangelical profile.

The beautiful definition of what prayer should be for a priest - "his work and daily food" - should not escape our attention. In addition (and, maybe, above all!) we should note the ascetical nature of prayer, which will shed light "on the virtues and duties of one’s own state." An apt quotation from St. John Chrysostom is then developed in the following paragraph, which says that if man is to meet God, who is everywhere, he will generally need "certain times and places": even Jesus, the perfect Man, who could have created a desert environment anywhere, chose solitude and the mountain for prayer!

The last paragraph already foreshadows the topic of planning and evaluation.

In the fourth point, which deals with the planning (and evaluation!) of a whole program of life, we can almost detect Scalabrini himself: during his monthly retreats or annual exercises he points to the state of his soul, and with pen in hand he jots down a very detailed resolution (a dynamic requirement of the will enabling it to really will!) to do this or that, even binding himself "sub gravi" (under pain of serious sin) in certain circumstances, but not others. We see in him, in other words, the wise scribe of the Kingdom. See, for example, the section in Francesconi’s biography on the practice of prayer, Chapter VII, pp. 347-352.

The pastoral letter, Scalabrini says, is the fruit of a burning anxiety that seized him from the moment he was first appointed Bishop of Piacenza. It is a verbum bonum (a good word) rising from his heart (p. 4) like the Psalmist’s - and so powerful as to render any opposition useless (p. 24). Exactly like certain inspired words!

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Restoration of the Spirit

 

Coming to the second point in the admired encyclical - restoration of the ecclesiastical spirit - we can all see how important it is for each of us to withdraw from time to time to reflect seriously on the extreme need to mend our ways, and there is no better time to do this than during the spiritual exercises, which can rightly be described with St. Paul as "the acceptable time and the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2).

However, we should not falsely think that these holy exercises mean simply spending time away from the bustle of worldly matters and tasks, while, in reality, doing the same everyday things, or simply praying a little more and listening to a few more sermons on the Word of God. Not at all! We should remember that by their nature they bear the fruit that will serve our soul’s needs, which, while numerous for everyone, are even more numerous for the clergy. Their life of constant contact with others, the unavoidable drain of their tasks and the inevitable distractions even in their sacred ministry often show that while they assist others in offering the means to salvation, they weary their own spirit, weakening it almost to the point of neglecting it.

We must consider the general tendency to grow lukewarm on the path of virtue, the fragility of human nature, the countless dangers inherent in the exercise of ecclesiastical ministry, and lastly the temptations and the cunning of the enemy who never slumbers - and who knows every art of causing harm, even convincing us to dedicate and exhaust all our strength in caring for others under the pretext of good, virtue and charity, so that we are so taken up with this activity that we neglect the care of our own soul. Then the need to take a few free days becomes clear. This is not just to withdraw physically from the world and its affairs, but to recover what we have lost, to restore our spiritual forces, and embrace a lifestyle that allows us to say, like St. Paul: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20).

Venerable brothers, let us truly meditate on the sanctity of our priestly order! It is infinitely higher than the Old Testament priesthood, from which God demanded holiness, even though its task consisted simply in offering incense and bread. This will allow us to see clearly which virtues we must clothe and gird ourselves with to devote ourselves effectively to our neighbor’s good, to guide him in observing the law of God, and lastly to be a light before all with a life of good example and the practice of those virtues we want others to practice. In this way we will also ensure our own salvation, which is the most important task of all. What we must fear most for ourselves - what St. Paul also feared for himself - is being disqualified after preaching to others (1 Cor 9:27). Therefore, to accomplish all this and to do it in the best way possible, it is absolutely vital that through the spiritual exercises we restore the spirit of God and Church we have received in our sacred ordination. This goal becomes easier to reach, as Pope Clement’s venerable encyclical states, because, in the course of these exercises the eyes of our soul are raised toward better and easier contemplation of the things of God.

From the "Pastoral Letter on the Spiritual Exercises", Piacenza, 15 August 1876

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Exercises and contemplation

 

Prayer, which is very useful and necessary for all, is especially so for ministers of the Church, who will never be as the Church wants them to be, unless they be men of prayer. Prayer must be their daily exercise and food. Every day must begin with it, with early morning meditation on the virtues and duties of one’s own state, on the Mysteries of our Faith, on the awesome and awe-inspiring truths of eternity, and on the other truths affecting individuals. Naturally, we presume - and would gladly believe - venerable and dear brothers in Christ, that each and everyone of you have always been faithful to this prayerful exercise. However, there remains the ever more valid and very pressing need to withdraw from all of life’s affairs for a while to obtain the peace of mind needed to make a better examination of our progress, or lack of it, on the path of virtue, perfection and salvation. Here we must learn how best to serve God, removed even from the sacred duties of our ministry, and open wholeheartedly to God and to our soul. The saints have left us excellent examples of this. Although their lives were hidden with Christ in God, still once a year, and at times more often, they made their spiritual exercises. Then, with renewed spiritual vigor, and afire with greater love, they would devote themselves with greater resolve to the apostolic task of leading sinners back to the path of salvation, eradicating errors, reestablishing morality, correcting behavior, and promoting virtues. And, as you are well aware, the same thing that happens to the saints also happens to all those who undertake this very salutary exercise as they should, so that they return spiritually renewed to their holy vocation, full of an ineffable joy and interior peace, and enriched with more abundant gifts of grace. Disposed in this way to ascensions of heart, they are filled with merit, advance on the path of salvation, persevere in prayer, and are much more fervent in pious recitation of the breviary and in devout celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, strangers to any iniquity, sober, modest, and much more faithful guardians of the discipline of the Church; and when they have to correct in the course of administration, or teach or exhort, they do so with humility; they pasture the flock entrusted to them as God wishes, and spread the good perfume of Christ everywhere with their words and example, having voluntarily become models for their flock. In order to teach us about this, Christ the Lord used to withdraw very often from the crowd, the disciples, the very activities of the divine ministry entrusted to him by the Father, in order to reflect and meditate in solitude. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, "And for what purpose did he go up into the mountain alone to pray? Certainly in order to teach us that when we have to pray to God, we particularly need solitude. Therefore he often sought deserted places, spending nights in prayer alone, so that in imitation of him we have to seek both a time and a tranquil space" (On Matthew 19).

Revered brothers, repeating the commandment reiterated so often by Christ the Lord, and highlighting his example as seen above, we urgently exhort you and issue the same invitation that he made to his disciples: "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while" (Mk 6:31). Although the Christ’s apostles and disciples certainly never neglected the duty of prayer, the Lord specifically called them from all their other exhausting occupations, even the tasks of the apostolate, so that in interior peace they could dedicate a little time to God with prayer and contemplation. Although God fills everything with himself and is present everywhere, generous toward all those who call on his name - although, as St. Leo the Great says, "there is no time that is not full of divine gifts, and through God’s grace access is always open to his mercy" (Sermon 4 on Lent) - he likes to establish certain times and places in which he is ready to pour out much more abundant graces on us, and he particularly prefers solitude in order to speak to man’s heart in person.

And who of you, revered brothers, does not feel the need for God to speak to him, truly saying to his heart the word that is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit (cf. Heb 4:12)? If "we are not sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, for our sufficiency is from God" (2 Cor 3:5), how important it is that God in person should first speak within us, and that we should then listen with inner attentiveness, docility, and deep-rooted obedience to what God says to our heart! Having seen the will of God, we shall thus be able to organize a plan of righteous and holy life in keeping with his law; or if through God’s grace we have already done so, we shall confirm it with greater force, as is also indicated in the wise words of Clement XI’s encyclical that we are using as a guideline here.

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Planning and verification

 

Especially during these days, each of you who truly cares (and how could he not?) about the most serious matter of all, indeed the only really necessary one, i.e. the eternal salvation of his soul, should therefore make sure that he can examine the state of his whole life. Concentrating on the words of the Prophet, "Be watchful therefore, give yourself over to bitterness, turn your heart to the path of righteousness" (Jer 31:21), he should think back bitterly over the past if he finds something there to weep over, arrange the present with wisdom, and lastly provide for the future with dispatch, as St. Bernard says in his explanation of these words (Sermon 2 on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul). In the brief time of the exercises we must make sure that the concerns of everyday life, worldly duties and matters that are not really necessary should be set down before us and silenced. With hearts free of all superfluous thoughts and distractions, we shall then hear what the Lord God says within us - for he will certainly speak of peace to his servants, to his saints, and to those who examine their hearts. This is the grace that we wish for all of you, most revered and loved brothers, and that we humbly beseech of the Lord, through the intercession of the Immaculate Mother of God.

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SCALABRINI AND DEVOTION
TO THE MOST BLESSED SACRAMENT

 

Love of the Eucharist "was the most marked feature in Scalabrini’s spirituality" (Francesconi). His 1902 Lenten pastoral letter - on devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament - can be seen as a spiritual testament, giving a good idea of his burning love for the Eucharist. The letter sets out to provide his people and clergy with a condensed version of the synod celebrated two years earlier.

It is important to recall that the celebration of the synod dedicated to the Eucharist at the end of the century was intended to provide a program and express a hope for the new century (see the "Dedication to the Synod" and the letter convening it, p. 10, as well as the Incipit, p. 21, which speaks of the Eucharist as of "hope and wish for the 20th century"). The opening and closing words of the pastoral letter are both important and moving, especially if we remember Scalabrini’s modesty over showing his feelings. At the start of the letter he says that he celebrated the eucharistic synod "with very lively joy in our hearts" (an endearing royal "we"!), and at the end he refers to himself as "that father who would willingly give his blood and life in order to kindle in you love for the sacramental Jesus"!

Again we find: "When the Lord in his infinite goodness and mercy has granted me the boon of seeing eucharistic devotion deeply rooted in my beloved diocese, I shall be left with nothing to do but exclaim with the prophet Simeon: ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace ... for my eyes have seen your salvation’ (Lk 2:29-30), loved, thanked and venerated by those who are my joy and crown in time and in eternity." A similar attitude is expressed in the 1899 synod: "This is our greatest desire: that a solid and salvific devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament should enter the souls of all our children, putting down deep roots; and our joy will be perfect when we can say of our Church: ‘Your children are like olive shoots around Christ’s table’" (Synod, p. 58).

The pastoral letter has a very simple structure: eucharistic devotion means "solid and deep instruction" on the eucharistic mystery, and a "practice" in which "a perennial hymn of blessing and praise" is sung to the Eucharist. The practical part encompasses all those acts of private and public eucharistic devotion, ranging from visits to the Blessed Sacrament, vigils of adoration, and perpetual adoration (private worship), to the celebration of Corpus Christi, the Forty Hours, First Communion, Viaticum, and the Holy Mass as sacrifice as well as sacrament (public worship).

It is important to note the Scalabrinian definition of eucharistic devotion as "consisting in a pious movement of heart, an effective will to dedicate oneself generously to all that pertains to eucharistic worship." The second part of the definition applies the classic concept of devotio - "a will to dedicate oneself readily to all that pertains to the service of God" - to the Eucharist; the "pious movement of heart" is the most marked feature of this Scalabrinian devotion, which for the sake of greater clarity we can describe as Augustinian and Bonaventurian rather than Thomistic in type, and affective rather than intellectual. It seems to me that Scalabrini himself provides the key to interpretation in the conclusion of the letter: "Even if you do not feel called to a life that is deeply interior and of high contemplation, be with the sacramental Jesus in heart and deed, in private and public, now and always." This devotion takes the form of various devotions, with a spiritual approach marked by gentle tenderness toward Christ’s humanity and the "accessibility" of God, who, on the altar, "is not among the lightning and thunder, as he appeared to Moses on Sinai, but is like a teacher, father, spouse and friend to you, in order to pour graces and blessings over all."

However, misconceptions apart, this devotion is not sentimentalism, but is "the triumph of the spirit over the flesh, charity over selfishness, faith over proud reason," and is "nourished by the blood of the Redeemer, sacrificed on the cross" (p. 36); in other words, it is heroic.

These pages use "clear, simple language," and breathe forth the special quality of words that hold the joy of the wonderful truth they communicate, and the renewed and grateful wonderment over "the memory of all the wonders of a good and merciful God." They are words that fulfill to perfection the initial hope of the letter: "Oh! Let my poor words be a ray of that sun, penetrating your minds and making them walk in the wondrous light of Christ; let them be a spark of that fire, kindling your hearts and making them burn with love for Emmanuel, God-with-us, veiled under the sacramental species."

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The miracles of the Eucharist

 

Priests have the duty of providing the faithful with "solid and deep instruction" on the eucharistic mystery. We do not love what we do not know, so it is vital "to enlighten the minds of men" in order to allow them to know and love. Scalabrini’s insistence ("speak often," "explain frequently," "priests have the very strict obligation to speak often to the faithful about all that concerns the Eucharist") is even in a way paradoxical: "We have to preach the divine Eucharist in season and out of season [St. Paul’s expression] in all places and at all times!"

The content of catechesis is a eucharistic summa summarizing Chapters I to IV of the first part of the synod. The Eucharist "is the masterpiece of God’s mind and heart." It is both Golgotha and Tabor, Gethsemane and Resurrection morning! It is a "miracle" - or, rather, a collection of "miracles of wisdom, power, force and divine goodness." We are struck by the passionate lyricism with which these views are given - seen not as theological facts, but as wonders of God, "the sweetest food of the intellect, the dearest delight of the heart."

The Eucharist is why we have no more regrets over not being born in Jesus’ time, hearing him at Capernaum and eating with him at Tiberias: "The whole earth has become God’s dwelling place," for the Eucharist is the fulfillment "of Emmanuel or God-with-us," a concept that is even more striking in a theological perspective and recurs three times in the letter.

The purpose of catechesis is to encourage devotion, practice and love. It is not some cold, abstract, speculative lesson, but engaging. This concern is also expressed in the synod: "Such instruction should be institutionalized and firmly based, with its various dogmatic, liturgical and moral aspects; it should not be dry and purely speculative, but ardent, full of unction, and practical; it should illuminate people’s minds and bring their spirits to a firm resolution to live in accordance with what they believe" (p. 29).

We should note the beautiful architectural comparison of eucharistic devotion to the structure of a cathedral, with the altar as the focal point. Vatican II uses another image to say the same thing, describing the Eucharist as source and culmination of the whole liturgy.

Lastly, in the warning addressed to the faithful, we should not overlook the implications of identification between Christian life and eucharistic life.

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Enlightening

 

And, my revered brothers, in your noble mission of enlightening men’s minds, you should speak often of the eucharistic mystery.

This does not mean telling people about an individual truth of our religion, but about the supreme mystery of faith, so you must preach the divine Eucharist in season and out of season, in all places and at all times. The Lord must have his part in every contact of social life and in every outward action, so that Christ may be proclaimed in every possible way.

So speak of the real presence, the miracle of transubstantiation, the reasons for which the Eucharist was instituted, and the way in which the immortal, unfading and glorious Christ the Lord, King of kings, Sovereign of all, is found therein.

Explain often, as soon as you have pronounced the words, "This is my body, this is my blood," over a little bread and a little wine, that although nothing is visible, it is no longer bread or wine, but Jesus, with his whole being as God and Man. Tell people how, through a separation that goes beyond any natural order, a few accidents then remain separated from their substance, yet still subsist; how a body is enclosed in the narrow space of a few species, without losing its natural extension - a very real body, but one without weight, a body that is not everywhere, but that cannot be circumscribed by any place, a flesh that is eaten, but is not consumed, a food that is offered to many, without being divided.

Preach how the words "This is my body and this is my blood" hold the most perfect solution to the question of Emmanuel, or God-with-us, a question that has kept the heart of humanity in suspense for a long time - for humanity is divine in origin and therefore constantly strives to communicate personally with its source and ultimate end. Through these words, not only Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Tiberias and Jerusalem - in other words, Palestine - but the whole earth has become the dwelling place of the Man-God. He dwells equally in the cathedrals of major cities, in the country churches that poor people offer him, or in the shelter of fronds where the savage adores him. He has made himself accessible to all - Greeks and barbarians, the people of Israel and the children of the desert.

It is true: no created intellect, not even an angelic one, will ever be able to understand these miracles of wisdom, power and divine goodness with sole natural power. But what does it matter? Let reason be confounded, let proud souls that understand nothing of the mysteries of God rebel; meanwhile, through your words the faithful will be illuminated by the faith that is concerned with things unseen, and will see in the Eucharist the reflection of all the wonders of a good and merciful God. Only then will they feel an irresistible need to hurry to quench their thirst at the spring of water that wells up to eternal life; only then will they exclaim with the bride of the Song of Solomon: "I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go" (Song 3:4).

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Practical instruction

 

You must realize, though, that abstract, speculative instruction, however excellent, is not enough: it must be accompanied by practice. If many Christians are fidgety and bored in church while the divine mysteries are being celebrated, detached from everything that is taking place, this is precisely because they see nothing but the outer form in the sacred rites. So you must teach them to recognize the different parts of the rites, enabling them to penetrate, so to speak, into the spirit of the sacred liturgy. Their minds will at once be concentrated on thoughts of God, and their lips will naturally open in prayer. There is no soul so cold that it is not capable of rising from the tangible to the supra-tangible, and does not feel carried away by Catholic worship, which converges in the Eucharist, in the same way that in temples raised up by Christian genius all the architectural lines are focussed on the altar.

Especially in instructing young people, you must strive to arouse them to practical love of the most August Sacrament, by accustoming them to being centered and devout in church, taken up by the holiness of the place and the majesty of him who dwells there. The society of the future lies in young people, as the plant lies in the seed. In a few years’ time they will be the population of country and city. Moreover, like soft wax, they can receive any imprint. If you are able to inspire eucharistic devotion in those virgin hearts before the pestilential breath of the world touches them, this devotion will quickly put down deep roots and develop in your parishes.

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Listening

 

However, if priests have a very strong obligation to speak often to the faithful about everything concerning the Eucharist, the faithful have the duty of listening attentively to these words of eternal life.

So, my very beloved sons, let me speak to you now in the words of St. Paul: "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith" (2 Cor 13:5). Seek with all diligence to see if eucharistic faith and knowledge are whole or half within you, clear or dark, alive or dead. Come what may, strive - and especially in the Lenten season - to know it better, so that it may become the sweetest nourishment of your mind, the dearest delight of your heart and the surest guide of your pilgrimage, and so that it can be said of you that you truly want to live the life of the Christian, the eucharistic life.

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Dedication to the acts of the 1899 Eucaristic Synod

 

The conceptual high-point of this dedication lies in the view of the eucharistic Jesus Christ as Emmanuel, or God-with-us. Through this "hidden presence" human history has its divine specific weight, its light, its bond of charity. The use of the superlative "sweetest" indicates the whole divine unction of Scalabrinian eucharistic piety.

O JESUS CHRIST
Lord and Savior of mankind,
hidden presence and ruler of all history,
in your benevolence accept with favor
this Third Eucharistic Synod
humbly offered to you by the Bishop
and clergy of Piacenza
for a happy beginning to the new century.

O EMMANUEL
Way, Truth and Life,
through your grace, may shadows flee
may your sweetest light shine forth in souls,
and may the hearts of your faithful people be permeated
with the law of charity.

Communion is the spring from which the soul draws the water that wells up to eternal life; it is the place where its wounds are healed; it is, in a word, the principle and end of that union with God raised to the highest power and brought to that highest degree of perfection that can be hoped for in the present order. If the Word of God was united personally with human nature in the incarnation, it is united more to our personality in communion. In this way, he renders our essence divine, Christianizing, so to speak, our individual being; and his union with us has as its emblem the same one that transforms food into the substance of the body that eats it. So those who take communion, as a holy doctor wrote, have Jesus in their minds, hearts, breasts, eyes and tongue. This Savior corrects, purifies and vivifies everything. He loves in the heart, understands in the mind, imparts strength in the breast, sees in the eyes, speaks by means of the tongue, and moves every other faculty. He works all things in all people, and they no longer live in themselves, but it is the Word of God who lives in them, setting nobler and higher aims and purer and more perfect motives for their actions.

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SCALABRINI AND DEVOTIONS
TO THE MOST BLESSED SACRAMENT

 

Scalabrini’s most compelling quality is his capacity to translate pastoral ideas into concrete actions, which should permeate the whole Christian being from dawn to dusk of both day and life, just like his model St. Charles Borromeo. Grass-roots action is one of the main aspects of his pastoral approach: "He worked out all the means for an adequate preparation of young people for communion, he recommended even daily attendance, he spread the practice of the Forty Hours, and from the start of the new century he organized perpetual adoration ...; he also obtained commitments from priests for night adoration. He reactivated the confraternities of the Most Blessed Sacrament. He also renewed the outward signs of eucharistic worship, consecrating over two hundred churches, decreeing that altars of the Blessed Sacrament should be made of marble, chalices at least of gilded silver, and vestments decorous. He revived the practice of eucharistic processions for Corpus Christi, as well as monthly parish processions .... The monument to his eucharistic piety was the third synod ...; written personally by him in its entirety, it is ... an extension of eucharistic worship to all aspects of the life of priests and people, and also an example of the energy and enthusiasm of the Servant of God.

"We should also remember the creation of the Tabernacle Society, the founding of the Deaf and Dumb Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, affiliated with the Daughters of St. Anne, the support given to various priests’ initiatives in Piacenza, such as the Pages of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Association of Guards of Honor, and the League for Feast Day Mass.

"The main impulse to eucharistic piety came from his example" (Francesconi).

The extracts given in this publication are taken from the 1902 pastoral letter on devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament.

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Frequent and daily Communion

 

The extract speaks of frequent - indeed, daily - communion, with an openness that foreshadows Pius IX (to whom Scalabrini sent the acts of the eucharistic synod). Communion is not a prize, but a necessity, and in order to have access to it, it is enough to be in the grace of God, without demanding an "extraordinary purity of mind." The adjectives with which Jansenistic rigors are stigmatized - "dry and frozen piety," "small-hearted and savage doctrine" - well describe the opposite of Scalabrini’s own attitude to the "memorial of all the wonders of a good and merciful God."

The first synod, held in 1879, had already in fact laid down the legal basis for this practice of frequent communion, and the underlying theological and pastoral motivations (pp. 65-70).

It should be emphasized that for Scalabrini the Eucharist brings not only personal, but also social advantages - and not only to Christians, but to "the whole of civil society."

The words of the second paragraph are a real hymn to communion, in other words to that union with God "raised up to the most sublime power" which makes our person Christ-like. The "holy doctor" referred to is St. Francis de Sales.

Especially the acts of preparation and thanksgiving, but also the fruit of sacramental communion, are typical aspects of Scalabrinian spirituality. See also Francesconi, Vita, pp. 368-370.

However, eucharistic devotion requires much more. It requires that in each parish a considerable number of people should take communion several times a month; others several times a week; and others every day. Where this frequency is not found, even the most essential part of Christianity gradually languishes and fades because it lacks life.

Communion is the spring from which the soul draws the water that wells up to eternal life; it is the place where its wounds are healed; it is, in a word, the principle and end of that union with God raised to the highest power and brought to that highest degree of perfection that can be hoped for in the present order. If the Word of God was united personally with human nature in the incarnation, it is united even more so to our personality in communion. In this way, he divinizes our essence, Christianizing, so to speak, our individual being; and his union with us has as its emblem the same one that transforms food into the substance of the body that eats it. So those who take communion, as a holy doctor wrote, have Jesus in their minds, hearts, breasts, eyes and tongue. This Savior corrects, purifies and vivifies everything. He loves in the heart, understands in the mind, imparts strength in the breast, sees in the eyes, speaks by means of the tongue, and moves every other power. He works all things in all people, and they no longer live in themselves, but is the Word of God who lives in them, setting nobler and higher aims and purer and more perfect motives for their actions.

As you can see, my loved ones, there is nothing beyond this union but heaven. So when the divine substance is conjoined with ours, if God were to transform our understanding into his and our will into his love in the same proportion, then we would see him clearly and love him with the love of the blessed. Now, what else is this if not eternal life?

However, if these are the fruits of communion, what can we say about those confessors and spiritual directors who do not exhort the faithful to attend it, preferably every day, but instead remove them from it, under the pretext of zeal for honor and reverence toward the sacramental Jesus? This is the result of a misunderstood, dry and frozen piety. These people are unintentionally contrary to the mysteries of divine love, perhaps because they are still permeated with a small-hearted, hypocritical and savage doctrine, and could do no better if they wanted to take Satan’s side in bringing about the loss of souls. No, this is not the example left us by the early Christians, who nourished themselves on the eucharistic bread every day; it is not the teaching of the Council of Trent and the Roman catechism; it is not what we are taught by the most eminent fathers, doctors and theologians of the Catholic Church. The authoritative voice of St. Augustine can stand for all when he says: "This is daily bread: receive it every day so that it may be of help to you every day." Lastly, is this not the wish of the divine Master, who excluded nobody from the solemn feast described in the Gospel, which prefigures the Eucharist, except the person who dared come to it without a wedding garment, in other words lacking in grace. So a Christian who is adorned with sanctifying grace may even have imperfections and fall into venial sins, but he is still a child of God, an heir of heaven, and hence worthy of seating himself, even daily, at the great banquet that Jesus Christ keeps laid out in his Church, so that Christians can go forth from it with ever-increasing fervor and a greater desire to return. So why should the faithful be asked for an extraordinary purity of mind, heart and deed before being admitted to this feast? Surely daily communion is in fact the best disposition for approaching the Eucharist worthily? Ah, if everybody had a higher concept of the beauty and nobility of a soul in grace, frequent communion would certainly soon be revived, to the very great - indeed, incalculable - advantage of the Christian people and the whole of civil society.

Take communion, I shall now say to all of you, my very dearest children, take communion often, and you will find all you need. If you lack help, Jesus is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire heaven, he is the way that leads there; if you flee the shadows, he is light; if you seek your food, he is the living bread; so taste how sweet is the Lord. However, so far as you are able, let your life be such as to be worthy of receiving the holy Eucharist each day. Come to Jesus with purity of mind, heart and body, and with the firm intention of never offending him again. Urge yourselves to the liveliest acts of faith, humility, hope and love before receiving him in your breast, and, after receiving him, stay with him for a long time, thanking him for every good thing. Then I am sure that you will always leave the eucharistic table better, and more disposed and ready to walk to the eternal pastures in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd.

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Showing with your deeds

 

This passage is an exhortation to his priests for renewed eucharistic devotion. And we should again note how this devotion entails (as was seen in essay no. 2) the "pious movement of the heart" ("What do the sanctuary, the altar, the tabernacle say to you? What impression do they make on you?" etc.) and the firm will to sacrifice oneself for Jesus. The Scalabrinian priest is thus seen as "a man who lives, works and sacrifices himself for the sacramental Jesus, the sole goal of all his aspirations." His solid but tenderly affectionate piety, made up of gestures, thoughts, and gentle attentions which extend to flowers, perfumes and decoration, finds its consecration in the very words he uses, which are the expression of a nuptial attitude: "Let your tongue speak often of him, let your heart sigh after him, nor let any hour of the day pass without dedicating a thought of affectionate gratitude to him." And the last adjective (printed in bold here) shows once more the special nature of Scalabrinian eucharistic piety, as was seen in fold-out 2.

In other words, revered brothers, if you truly yearn to call eucharistic devotion back to life in your parishes, show with deeds that you yourselves have it deeply rooted in your hearts. Let your devotion be interior and exterior, and let it proceed from a living faith and a sincere love for Jesus, the divine host.

Alas, however, we must admit that faith is often lukewarm, and often, after many years of priesthood, people no longer love the divine Master, or love him with a lifeless love. Nonetheless, the true priest is simply a man who lives, works and sacrifices himself for the sacramental Jesus, the sole goal of all his aspirations. Does this describe you? What do the sanctuary, the altar, the tabernacle say to you? What impression do they make on you? After receiving the body and blood of Jesus, do you not feel, as St. Vincent de Paul said to his priests, do you not feel your hearts being kindled with the divine fire? Now, does this fire, which burned so strongly in the breast of that humble priest, that hero of Christian charity, also consume your own, or does your heart remain always cold and frozen? ... How can you ever have the zeal to inspire a devotion in others that is a thousand miles distant from you? I beseech you, even if you do not feel called to a deeply interior life of high contemplation, be with the sacramental Jesus in heart and deed, in private and public, now and always. Let your tongue speak often of him, let your heart sigh after him, nor let any hour of the day pass without dedicating a thought of affectionate gratitude to him. Take the words that St. Lawrence Justinian addressed to the priest in general as spoken to yourself personally: "Approach the tribune of the altar like Christ, be present there like an angel, act there like a saint, offer the prayers of the people like a priest, beseech peace like a mediator, and pray for yourself like a man."

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The practise of daily Mass

 

Scalabrini had a sense of values or degrees, and the Mass was the pinnacle of the scale. He heard Mass every day if he could, apart of course from celebrating it. "I celebrate and hear the holy Mass. Deo gratias!" (from Diario di bordo). The thought "If only a single Mass were celebrated a year" is taken whole from The Imitation of Christ (IV, I, 13). As we have already seen (fold-out 2), Scalabrinian eucharistic devotion echoes that type of spirituality.

So if it is a holy thing to foster eucharistic worship with processions and other solemn celebrations, is it not perhaps even more beautiful and obligatory to establish the practice of attending the divine sacrifice not only on feast days but other days as well, and spread it among peoples? If even Caesar’s decrees or violent persecution were never able to prevent Christians from gathering in the catacombs in the days of the early Church to attend the bloodless sacrifice of our altars, why can people today not take half an hour from their ordinary occupations in order to devote it to the same most noble and holy purpose? If only one Mass were celebrated a year, and in a single place on earth, who would not feel happy to be there at least once in their life-time? And when Jesus sacrifices himself each day and in every place, why should you remain cold and indifferent? My very dearest brothers, this would be the worst form of ingratitude. You must therefore commit yourselves to taking part in such an august mystery at least as often as the concerns and tasks of your state allow you; and, in order to attend with those sentiments of faith, humility, hope, compunction and love with which you would have been present at the great sacrifice on Calvary, make use of the prayers that the holy pastors of the region of Emilia publish for this purpose.

Then work so that the association of the faithful that already exists in various places in the diocese with the intention of attending Mass each day if possible should be formed in your parish. It is impossible to say how much good you will obtain from this. The mystery of faith will lead to a salvific reawakening in individuals and families of that faith without which it is impossible to please God; the mystery of love will lead to that rekindling of charity which is the bond of perfection; the mystery of the sacrifice will lead to the practical Christian life, which seeks not its own, but thinks solely of the things of heaven ....

May you be given thanks, O good Jesus, O eternal Shepherd, that you have deigned to sustain us poor exiles with your body and precious blood - indeed, inviting us with your own words: "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (from The Imitation of Christ, IV, I, 13).

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SCALABRINI AND PRAYER

 

Scalabrini was a bishop who nourished his tireless activity with an intense prayer life. At least half an hour’s daily meditation, to which he bound himself with a vow under pain of serious sin, was one of his major prayer practices. The vow is like a seal, expressing Scalabrini’s character, and also revealing the secret source of his activity, for it was his loving contact with God that set Scalabrini in the midst of the divine plan of salvation, which extends to all men, especially the humblest of Jesus’ brethren. Knowing God and his plan, he also knew man entering into God’s plan, and had a better understanding of man’s history cooperating in the fulfillment of the plan; in other words, he knew the signs of the times. The prophetic activity of the Bishop of Piacenza, especially in his major work of evangelizing migrants, was also the fruit of this contact with God, which had prayer as its ordinary channel.

Apart from being his light for his action, prayer was also his strength: "Man draws superhuman energies from this contact with the Divinity. I admire two great things in heaven and on earth: in heaven the power of the Creator, on earth the power of prayer. However weak man may be, if he prays he becomes strong with the very strength of God."

In the first fold-out in this series, we spoke of the first official act of the Bishop of Piacenza: a letter written to the clergy a few months after his appointment to remind them of the need for the spiritual exercises. In the present fold-out, we shall now see his last pastoral act: a 34-page letter entitled Prayer written for Lent 1905, a bare three months prior to his death.

The pastoral letter is as usual linear in structure, telling the faithful first of the need, then of the excellence, and lastly of the effectiveness of prayer.

The need springs from man’s position as creature (even the man Jesus), from his dignity as the "voice" of creation, and from his "wretchedness" in the natural and supernatural order, a wretchedness that is an appeal - or prayer - to the divine mercy to obtain the grace necessary for salvation. The example of the Church, which prays on earth and in heaven, also confirms this need. The conclusion will be St. Alphonsus’ maxim, "He who prays is saved, he who does not pray is damned."

The excellence of prayer flows from its very nature as the soul’s elevation to God - which means that he who does not pray "either does not understand, or does not feel, or does not love" - and from the fact that it gives rise to "good and sometimes great thoughts" (with abundance of examples, from Galileo to Newton, Blessed Fra Angelico, St. Thomas, Haydn, Mozart, Columbus, etc.). It "forms the martyrs and heroes of Jesus Christ," "transfigures and divinizes man," and lastly "is the bond of all humanity," holding in unity the living and also the Church on earth, in Purgatory and in Paradise.

The effectiveness of prayer is seen not only in sacred history prior to Christ, but has been clear since, "in the form of a slave, Christ became still more the servant of all those who pray"; it is, moreover, anchored in Jesus’ repeated promises: "Ask, and it will be given you."

The Bishop says that, "God willing," he will discuss other matters of great importance another time, but closes for now with a moving exhortation to perseverance in prayer.

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Need for prayer in the most popular among beings

 

The first argument in support of the need for prayer is wisely anchored in man’s condition as creature - each person’s deep conviction first and foremost of not having being made by himself, but created by God, and then of being conserved in life also through God’s gift. Every form of prayer is born of this awareness and is its concrete acknowledgment. Prayer is therefore a need deeply rooted in every person and confirmed also by his history. We might say, "For us rational creatures, prayer is an inborn, instinctive, irresistible need"; in other words, it is a need and not a luxury, just as it is not a luxury for a triangle to have three angles.

God is the supreme and all-wise author of all things, and everything is in his hands. Who could deny this, without denying his own reason? "In him," as St. Paul says, "we live and move and have our being." He gave us our being, and at every moment he conserves this being. So if our life here below is his gift, if we belong not to ourselves but God, we clearly owe him the perennial homage of our gratitude, the offering of our fealty, the tribute of our praise, the worship of our adoration, the sacrifice of our whole selves. And sacrifice is prayer, worship is prayer, praise is prayer, gratitude is prayer - for prayer, in its broadest and noblest sense, is an elevation of mind and heart to God, the homage of the creature to its Creator. When we bow down in the dust before the majesty of the Eternal One, recalling his attributes and favors, we instinctively feel urged to exclaim: "O great God, I adore you! O beneficent God, I thank you! O offended God, forgive me! O merciful God, help me! O good God, I love you and will always love you!" And this is worship, this is prayer. Neglecting such worship and prayer means neglecting an essential obligation of nature and religion - indeed, our first and principle duty.

The obligation of prayer as an act of worship and a part of religion is so deeply rooted in the human heart that it has survived all catastrophes, and goes back to the beginnings of the world. We could describe the whole Jewish religion as nothing but sacrifices and prayers to the God of Sinai, the Awaited One of the people (or the Messiah). Although pagans did not have an adequate concept of God, wrapped as they were in the shadows of idolatry, even the most savage nations always and everywhere offered up prayers and sacrifices to him.

When scholars search through the ruins of antiquity and dig down into the ground where powerful cities once stood, what do they find? Remains of temples, traces of buildings intended for payer. "You will find cities without walls," said Plutarch (the ancient Greek historian), "without government, without laws, but in no corner of the earth do you find a people without altar, without prayer, without God." In one place with solemn pomp, in another with rough simplicity, the human race has always prayed, always believed that it needs God’s help, always felt that it needs this help in all its actions, from the smallest to the greatest, in order to think, act, love, suffer and win, and that prayer is the only means of obtaining this.

Prayer is an inborn, instinctive, irresistible need for us rational creatures. And this loving connection between heaven and earth, this invisible relation between man and God, ... will always exist here on earth. Even were the world to grow old and worse, were men to become insolent to the point of delirium, they would never be able to break the chain that links effect to cause, creature to Creator. God will always, I might say, be the most popular of beings.

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Jesus too felt the need to pray

 

The high-point of this passage is that even Jesus "felt the need for prayer"; in other words, Jesus prayed not only to set us an example, but also because of an "inborn, instinctive, irresistible" need, since he too, as true man, was a creature.

Here we enter into the mystery of Jesus, and although Scalabrini barely touched on this mystery, his observations were deep and beautiful: "He himself prayed to the Father, he who with the Father was a single thing [and so he would not have needed to show him his heart!], he to whom the Father had given power over all things [and so he would not have needed to ask for his help!]." However, being true man, he felt the need to open his heart to the Father and receive his help.

And inasmuch as the Word of God was made man in order to instruct us, not only with precepts but also with examples, he himself prayed to the Father, he who with the Father was a single thing, he to whom the Father had given power over all things. He prayed, withdrawn in the desert; he prayed all alone on the mountain, keeping watch for the whole night; he prayed at Lazarus’ tomb and at the entry into Jerusalem; he prayed before starting on his mission; he prayed in the Temple, in the upper room, in Gethsemane, on Calvary; he prayed until his last breath in order to rescue from eternal torment humanity - which trembled in him, appalled, sweating blood and falling under death-dealing blows. What more?

He wanted to draw the model for our petitions with his own hand, giving us the prayer that is so simple and sublime to the eyes of faith that after two thousand years it has echoed on the lips of every generation, and embraces all the needs of soul and body in its divine brevity: I mean the Lord’s Prayer.

Now, exclaims St. Cyprian, if Jesus who was the Holiest of holies prayed, how much more should sinners pray? If the Head prays, how will the members not pray? And if the divine Master felt such a deep need to pray, how can his disciples not feel it?

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The excellence of prayer

 

The extract expands on the classic definition of prayer as "elevation of the soul to God" with a series of verbs all moving in a vertical direction: prayer "launches the soul into flight, raises it up, carries it." And this lyricism becomes truly daring when it states that when man prays "he commands and God obeys."

There is a clear reference to the incarnation - which opens good relations between man and God - where Scalabrini refers to the Christmas antiphon, "O wondrous exchange."

The deepest and most beautiful thought is, however, found in the second paragraph, which defines prayer as an expression of love (the first letter had already described it as a "loving correspondence" between God and man), as a familiar conversation which makes us "share in the friendship of God, in his tenderest outpourings." The effective definition of prayer as man’s "noblest and most glorious function" is also noteworthy.

What in fact is prayer? It is the elevation of the spirit to God, the source of life; it is the mysterious bond of that wondrous exchange which exists between man and his eternal Maker. It launches our soul into flight, raising it up above this region of pain, and carrying it into the breast of the Divinity. The body is on earth, but the soul is in heaven. Man speaks and God listens, man asks and God fulfills; or, let us put it more daringly, saying that man commands and God obeys! ...

Prayer is without doubt the noblest and most glorious function that man can exercise in this world, conferring on him a grandeur that is sovereign over all. Not only does it place us in close relationship with all that is true, beautiful and holy in heaven and on earth, but it also makes us share in God’s friendship, in his tenderest outpourings, in his most intimate confidences. Prayer is God, who, invoked, comes down; God poured out, infused into our hearts, to use St. Augustine’s beautiful expression; God, our Creator, our Father, our Redeemer, our Friend, our Brother, who looks at us and listens to us, smiling benevolently on our expressions of homage and affection. Prayer ... is never anything but the noblest conversation with God. What an honor, my loved ones! The benevolent gaze of an earthly ruler or the friendly smile of a great prince makes you feel honored, so that your heart jumps with joy. And what if this prince, this ruler, admitted you as part of his court - and for ever? Well, my dear ones, God does us an incomparably greater honor when he allows us poor creatures to appear in his presence, spend as long as we like there, open our hearts to him and express our needs freely to him, speaking simply with him, exactly as we do with our friends. And this is not all, for he lets us live at his court, and not as foreign guests, but as members of his household and family! The royal prophet [David] quite rightly exclaimed: "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you."

And God grants this sovereign favor to all souls of good will. For him there are no privileged classes, and all have equal right of entry. The trust of a son who loves, righteousness of heart: these, my dear ones, are sufficient qualifications.

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The effectiveness of prayer

 

Through the thought of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, prayer is presented as "supplicating omnipotence," as "man’s strength and God’s weakness," as "Jacob’s ladder" carrying men’s petitions to God and God’s blessings to men. And Scalabrini’s voice can certainly stand alongside the prestigious voices of the doctors of old: "‘God is all-powerful,’ says the Prophet, ‘and who can resist him?’ Prayer, I say!"

When prayer is humble, it not only equals, but I would almost say surpasses the very power of God. "God is all-powerful," says the Prophet, "and who can resist him?" Prayer, I say ....

So we find that throughout the history of the world the man who prays sees heaven, earth, humanity and hell obeying his voice. What am I saying? He sees God himself obeying his voice.

With this "supplicating omnipotence," as St. Bernard calls it, it seems that God himself wanted in a way to forearm himself. For when God wants to leave free course to his justice, what does he do? First of all he makes prayer fall silent ....

For in the face of prayer God does not want to - does not know how to, cannot - hold out for long. St. Augustine said that prayer is man’s strength and God’s weakness, and St. Jerome added that it even goes so far as to cancel his decrees ....

There is no doubt, my dearest ones. Can the truth deceive? Now Jesus Christ, Truth in essence, has spoken once again, and his words could not be more explicit, more precise: "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you" [Mt 7:7]. "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you" [Jn 15:16]. "Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it" [Jn 14:13]. "Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will" [Mk 11:24]. This was his promise, and as if this were not enough, he confirmed his promises with a solemn oath: "Truly, truly, I say to you" [Mt 7:7; Jn 13].

After all this, is it surprising that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church should vie to produce the most splendid praise of prayer? "Key of heaven," St. Augustine called it, the mysterious key that opens the treasures of the highest graces to the righteous. It is a golden chain, said St. John Chrysostom, suspended between heaven and earth, which links us to God, and through which we possess his heart. It is Jacob’s ladder, said St. Gregory of Nyssa, on which the angels go up and down, carrying our petitions to God and bringing us his blessings.

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Scalabrini’s last words

 

This is the last exhortation of the bishop to his flock before his death, and it is a pressing call to pray above all with the Lord’s Prayer, as we learned at our mother’s knee. Thirty years earlier, when he was parish priest of St. Bartholomew’s in Como, he wrote in his Little Catechism for Nursery Schools: "Jesus Christ made this prayer short, so that everybody, even children and the uneducated, could easily learn it, remember it, and often recite it. It is indeed the most beautiful prayer, the dearest to God, and the most useful."

I do not want to end this letter, my very dear brothers and sons, without exhorting you to pour out your soul in prayer, especially in the sacred period that we are approaching.

Oh, yes, pray. Nobody is excused from this law. If you are virtuous, pray to remain so; if you are sinners, pray to rise again from your pitiful state. Pray for one another that you may be saved, because it is written: "The assiduous prayer of the righteous can be very powerful." Pray with humility, with trust and with perseverance. Pray at home and pray in the Church. Pray especially with that holy and sublime prayer that Jesus Christ himself, as I have already told you, taught men, and with which we ask our Father who is in heaven for the glorification of his name, the coming of his kingdom, the fulfillment of his will, our daily bread, forgiveness for our sins, protection and help whenever we need it. This is the way of praying that we learned at our mother’s knee, the first prayer that we offered up with lips still innocent before the household altar, which bore the image of this loving Father. And perhaps the good God, out of regard for the purity and innocence of that age, will be merciful to us even today, contaminated as we are by innumerable sins. Oh, come, my beloved! You know your real needs. Ask him for a more lively and active faith, greater detachment from the things of earth, greater courage in disregarding human opinions and in openly confessing Jesus Christ. Ask him for humility, patience, resignation, charity, devotion, fortitude, a spirit of sacrifice, perseverance in doing good. Ask him all this above all, and your petition is bound to be granted.

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SCALABRINI AND THE ROSARY

 

The queen of Marian devotions for Bishop Scalabrini is the daily recitation of the rosary, a pious practice he remembers as a kind of family heritage, particularly from his mother. He highly recommended it in the three synods, as well as in his pastoral visits and letters: "We ardently desire that you strongly urge your parishioners to make an effort to practice the sublime devotion of the rosary in public or private, each one in his own home and family, and never skip it. We have made this exhortation to you more than once during our pastoral visits, and we repeat it now with all our heart, my dearest children" (Pastoral Letter of 1883, introducing Leo XIII's encyclical on the rosary). Witnesses say that on this occasion he wanted to set an example by reciting the holy rosary for the month of October in the cathedral with his flock.

Apart from punctual pastoral letters introducing Leo XIII's numerous encyclicals on the rosary, Scalabrini's Marian writings on the rosary also contain an 1894 homily that we decided to quote here because it is a short treatise on the rosary. Its main features are of considerable relevance today, even after Paul VI restructured the rosary in Marialis Cultus:

  1. The rosary is "the most perfect and most sublime" prayer, because "it unites and harmonizes vocal prayer (prayer expressed in words) and mental prayer (contemplation of the mysteries of Jesus' life)." This structure means that the rosary can satisfy both great and small in every way, because, "while it is very easy for the simplest minds, it is sublime for the more intelligent ones. All can find in it a substantial and most pleasing pasture. All can learn from it very great lessons."
  2. The rosary, especially with the contemplation of the mysteries, is a Christocentric prayer, in which even Mary "is always found at the side of Jesus."
  3. The rosary is actually a theocentric prayer, in which the whole Church prays to "the Divinity."
  4. Because of all these characteristics the rosary "is not any ordinary prayer, but the sum of the Christian religion, the most attractive depiction of what Jesus Christ has done for our souls, the memorial of the most marvelous wonders" In these two emphasized phrases we find two of the major features of Marialis Cultus (48).

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Structure of the Rosary

 

After speaking of the excellence of this prayer, an excellence validated by Our Lady herself with her apparitions, Scalabrini moves on to consider the dignity of the prayer in itself a dignity founded on the fact that the vocal prayer of the rosary uses the most important prayers of Christianity, "wonderfully" woven together so as to make up "a garland of roses" and not just sixty unconnected roses.

We should note the beautiful descriptions of the individual prayers, which become effective summaries of their content in the case of the Hail Mary and the Salve Regina. The description of the litanies is also beautiful, especially when, calling them "the most imagerich praise," he highlights their lyrical and poetic aspect. We should also note that through these prayers the rosary is a prayer of the whole Church: Christ, Mary, Angels, Saints and ordinary Christians.

What is the rosary? It is a wonderful interlacement of prayers formed like a garland of roses; and these prayers are the easiest, tenderest, most effective, greatest, most perfect, most sublime that can be conceived. Thus, we have the Lord's Prayer, the prayer Jesus Christ himself taught us with his own lips, the prayer par excellence, the rule and model of all other prayers. Then the Hail Mary, the kiss, the greeting, the petition of children to their faroff mother. Then the Gloria, echo of the praises that the angels sing unceasingly around God's throne in the heavenly Zion. And the Salve Regina, the applause of subjects for the august Queen of Heaven, the groaning of the heart that yearns after her, the cry of the soul that places every trust in her. The litanies, compendium of the virtues and privileges of the loftiest of creatures, the most imagefilled, varied and truest praise that mortal lips have ever intoned to celebrate her who transcends every praise. Thus, in the rosary Jesus Christ himself prays in us and through us, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary prays for us, the Angels pray, the Saints pray, the whole of Paradise prays. And all these prayers, praises, hymns and anthems alternate, intertwine, and are repeated in the rosary with uniform variety and varied uniformity so as to increase their effectiveness and value a thousandfold.

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Meditation of the Mysteries

 

"Contemplation" of the mysteries of Jesus' life, "an essential part of this beloved devotion" (as Marialis Cultus, reiterates, 49a), makes the rosary a Christological prayer. Moreover, Scalabrini draws contemplation of the life of Mary into the sphere of that of Jesus, so that she always appears at his side, inseparably united with him.

The purpose of contemplation, then as in fact is always the case in Scalabrini's devotion and pastoral approach is the imitation of Christ, and (note the happy use of the expression "journey of the mysteries"!) "walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ," "learning from that divine prototype," turning our gaze on the Crucified One/serpent, in order to let him heal us, and conforming our hearts to him. The same slant is also found in Marialis Cultus: " ... contemplation, by its very nature, encourages practical reflection and provides stimulating norms for living" (ibid.).

The mysteries of Jesus and of Mary "at his side" are contemplated not only in their fulfillment, but also in their prophecy in the Old Testament and in the final, eschatological solution.

However, all this is still little, dearly beloved. As you know, meditation on the mysteries is an essential part of this much loved devotion. This means that not only the tongue prays in the rosary, but also the mind; and tongue and mind exercise themselves in honor of Mary, the former repeating, and the latter contemplating the most sovereignly lovable and most lovably sovereign being in heaven and on earth. Dearly beloved! Is there anything sweeter and more useful than contemplating Jesus, infinite beauty, author and fulfiller of our faith? The bronze serpent raised up in the desert was an image of Jesus Christ, and if those who had been bitten by poisonous snakes looked at it, they escaped certain death. No, in the depraved condition of our being, we cannot be saved unless we walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Now the rosary meets this need of every Christian soul with wonderful solicitude, because the mysteries, strewn rather like shining gems among these mystical roses, show us the main facts of our redemption. Divided into joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, they remind us of the incomparable joys, sufferings and triumphs of Jesus Christ.

So while we contemplate this divine prototype, he speaks to our heart in a mysterious but most effective way, saying "Learn from me!" Proud souls, learn humility from me; sensual souls, learn chastity; sensitive souls, learn mortification; rebellious souls, learn obedience. Timid ones, learn courage from me; hottempered ones, learn gentleness; greedy ones, learn a lack of selfinterest; ambitious ones, learn disregard for worldly honors; slaves of selflove, learn love of God and men. Yes, learn from me, for I am the way, the only way to eternal salvation, and nobody comes to the heavenly Father except through me. However, if it is sweet to contemplate Jesus in the rosary and hear his voice, it is no less sweet, my beloved sons and daughters, to contemplate Mary. And in the mysteries of the rosary Mary is always seen at Jesus' side.

These two sublime figures are inseparable in the rosary. In Nazareth and Bethlehem, Egypt and Jerusalem, and on Golgotha we always see Jesus with Mary, and Mary with Jesus. So in the rosary we have the mysteries that were revealed in various visions to the prophets lined up before our eyes and already in actual fact fulfilled: with Isaiah, we contemplate the virgin who gives birth to Emmanuel; with Malachi, the angel of the covenant who enters the temple; with Daniel, Christ who, after the prescribed weeks are consumed, is put to death to redeem his people; with David, the night that shines as bright as day in his resurrection, and the eternal gates that open wide for his ascension; with Joel, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the outpouring of his gifts; with the author of the Song of Songs, the assumption of the virgin in the bride who comes up from the wilderness surrounded by delights, leaning upon her beloved; with the seer of Patmos, the triumphs of this Virgin and the glory of all the Saints in the heavenly Zion.

Thus, my most loved sons and daughters, in the rosary we have what is needed to revive faith, change one's life, foster fervor, raise hopes, strengthen the will, console the spirit, and honor Mary.

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The golden key of paradise

 

In the conclusion of his homily, Scalabrini stops to consider the effectiveness of the rosary as demonstrated in the history of the Church (which has therefore "enriched it with many indulgences, privileges and favors"), and the way of reciting it, namely, with faith, devotion and perseverance. In this connection, a consistent feature of Scalabrini's piety emerges also in the recitation of the rosary, namely, the community dimension (which, incidentally, is also recovered and valued in Marialis Cultus, 48): "Let us recite the rosary in large groups," especially in families, and "open a school of Christian wisdom to your families with it each evening." The community concern is also highlighted in the presentation of an encyclical of Leo XIII (1893): "With my dear sons and daughters in Jesus Christ I like to emphasize just one thing: family recitation of the rosary. This pious and dear habit of our ancestors has never ceased among us and must now be made as universal as possible, so that no Christian family is left without it. The rosary is a soothing balm, a symbol of unity, a messenger of peace within the family."

A school of Christian wisdom: this could be a good definition of the rosary. And the essence of the wisdom learned at this school is found in the truths powerfully summarized by the mysteries of the rosary as well namely, that "God is love giving itself, Jesus Christ is love sacrificing itself, and Mary is love giving comfort."

However, I would go on for ever if I tried to tell you of the merits of the holy rosary, which are so many and so great that it could rightly be described as the golden key of paradise, the anchor of our salvation.

So it is hardly surprising if people in every age have obtained the most outstanding favors and won the most amazing victories through the rosary. It is hardly surprising if famous people illustrious through birth, teaching, fame or holiness, popes, bishops, kings, princes, commanders, warriors, judges, lawyers, doctors, scientists, writers, artists have made the rosary their dearest delight. It is hardly surprising if the rosary has become the devotion of all times, places, conditions, ages and languages, the queen of devotions, the universal devotion. It is hardly surprising if the supreme pontiffs have enriched it with so many indulgences, privileges and favors that perhaps there are now no more to be obtained beyond those already granted. It is hardly surprising, lastly, if the concern of the reigning pontiff, Leo XIII, to bring about better times for the Church and society, has led to repeated calls to all the faithful, even recently, to pray the rosary.

Let us recite it with faith, humility, devotion and perseverance; let us recite it every day, and if possible several times a day; in large groups, laying siege, as Tertullian puts it, to God's throne in close ranks, and doing him gentle violence. In this way, shall we not also see the wonder admired by St. Augustine: man's prayer going up, and God's mercy coming down?

Let us therefore be devoted to the rosary, dearly beloved. It should be as dear to us as it was to our forefathers and mothers. You parents especially, each evening with the recitation of the rosary you, open a school of Christian wisdom for your families: make sure that, as your children meditate on those mysteries and repeat those vocal prayers, they are reminded of the love of God, of Jesus Christ, of Mary; they should learn that God is love giving itself for our salvation, Jesus Christ is love sacrificing itself, and Mary is love giving comfort. In the midst of so many voices that strive to bend them down toward the earth, let there be a powerful voice that raises their hearts high and makes them love heaven.

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Commentary on the first part of the Hail Mary

 

In the words of the Angel Gabriel, which in a tradition no longer followed today Scalabrini also extends to Elizabeth's greeting, "Blessed are you among women!" and, closely following the text of Pius IX's Bull proclaiming the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, Scalabrini finds confirmation of the unique privilege of the mother of Jesus, who was full of all the graces, "in fullness of measure and time," in other words always. The deepest thought, however, is the one that links the privilege of the Immaculate Conception to Mary's divine motherhood, and even more to the mother's close participation in the Son's redemptive work, "in this superhuman work which has the aim of bringing down the rule of sin": it would have been repugnant for her to have been contaminated by sin. In the last part we find a "litany" of poetic images in praise of the Immaculate Conception taken from tradition and showing the patristic dimension of Scalabrini's preaching.

This passage is taken from a homily on the Immaculate Conception and is given here because it is a beautiful commentary on the first part of the Hail Mary, and because it shows us what Scalabrini says in the 1883 letter already quoted that the rosary is "the prayer that is most pleasing of all to Mary." This is because "it recalls her best loved titles, her most excellent merits, whether in the joys of life, the sorrows of the passion, or the glories of the triumph," linked, in other words, to the attributes of her Immaculate Conception, divine motherhood, and Assumption into heaven.

The fullness of time has come. Under the Old Law, Mary was simply a hope, foretold by the prophets with the most charming images, but without naming her. Now we know who she is. God himself allowed us to know her. He (as we heard a moment ago from the Holy Gospel) sent a prince of the heavenly court, an archangel, to her as ambassador, and he knelt down and said to her: "Hail, full of grace!" We find the dogma of the Immaculate Conception embedded here too as a precious jewel in a circlet of gold. And can you tell me, my brothers and sisters, how Mary could rightly have been described as full of grace if the beginning of her existence had been like a scrap of accursed earth, devoid of grace? No! Mary is full of grace. Full of grace, because she is enriched with all the virtues, all the gifts, all the charisms of the Holy Spirit. Full of grace because she had been enriched with all these virtues, all these gifts, all these charisms, in superabundance. Full of grace because she was never without these virtues, these gifts, these charisms for a single moment, because the Holy Spirit had possessed her from the start of her journey, because her mind, her heart, her body, were always in holiness. In other words, full of grace because, in virtue of a unique privilege of God and the merits of Jesus Christ, she was allbeautiful, allpure, allimmaculate from the very first moment of her conception. Thus a fullness of gifts, a fullness of measure and a fullness of time are like the three elements making up that unconditional fullness of grace to which the archangel bears witness, and hence a fullness of every degree of holiness, holy to such a high degree that she has no equal among either men or angels, holy, allholy, always holy from the beginning, from her conception, in other words, conceived immaculately.

And in order to make sure that nobody should doubt this fullness of grace, the archangel also says to her, "The Lord is with you," with you who are his temple, his dwelling place, his throne, his favorite creature. He is yours with his power, his wisdom, his grace, his love, even before he is with you with the fullness of his divinity. With you even before time, before the earth, with you from the moment of your conception: "The Lord is with you." And if this were not enough, the archangel adds: "Blessed are you among women." No woman whatsoever is excepted here. Mary is blessed among and above all other women. So she is a woman inferior only to God, the supreme woman, the privileged woman, the miraculous, incomparable, divine woman: "Blessed are you among women." And this means that while all human creatures find a curse on the door of life, only the Virgin finds a blessing. It means that while all human creatures are vessels of wrath through the contamination of nature, only the Virgin was a vessel of favor because she was preserved from the general condemnation. It means that while all human creatures are conceived in sin, only the Virgin was conceived without stain of sin, in the splendor of justice and holiness.

This, my brothers and sisters, is a direct consequence of another very sweet dogma: that of the divine motherhood. For when Mary became mother of God, to what task was she raised up? That of the incarnation and redemption the superhuman work that has the aim of bringing down the rule of sin and setting to rights its terrible consequences, establishing worship of God on earth and winning us from the yoke of nature. Now, will the Virgin, who was chosen and predestined from all eternity to be the privileged instrument of this reparatory task, also be involved in the work of our ruin? Will she who is to demolish the rule of sin be the slave of sin? Will she who is to restore order be a prey to disorder? Will she who has to defend life be dead to life? Will she who must host the Holiest of holies within her be first a shelter for sin, or a dwelling place for Satan? The idea is repugnant. The Mother of God had to be worthy of God. If there is an indispensable exception, it is the one that removes this most human creature from the general law. Christian tradition has always greeted Mary as the virgin conceived without sin. The faithful in every age have greeted her with the poetic language of the holy books as the mystical ship safe among the ruins of the shipwrecked world, an immaculate dove who never sets fool among earthly filth, a hedged orchard defended from every incursion of profane feet, a pure white lily, untouched among the thorns, a marvelous thornbush unsinged among the flames. Even more eloquent voices have been raised in chorus through the centuries to proclaim her a garden of delights, full of lilies and unfading roses, a paradise of innocence in which the tree of life spreads its branches, a palace of the supreme king, decked out with the rarest decorations; or again, an everlimpid fountain, a mirror without stain, incorruptible wood, star of the morning, house of glory, chosen and precious relic, purest golden urn, treasurehouse of immortality, new Eve, only daughter of life, protected with every blessing, holier than the saints, higher than the heavens, more glorious than the cherubim, more honorable than the seraphim, more beautiful, purer and holier than holiness and beauty themselves. I these words, my brothers and sisters, you have heard the great saints and doctors of Christianity ....

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SCALABRINI AND THE INCARNATION

 

Among the Christian mysteries, the Incarnation - which has its major festival in Jesus’ nativity at Christmas - holds a privileged place in Scalabrini’s spirituality. We should not forget that Scalabrini’s episcopal coat of arms, with the motto of Jacob’s ladder, refers directly to the mystery of the Incarnation as seen by John the Evangelist (Jn 1:51).

Scalabrini’s spirituality has with reason been defined as the "spirituality of the Incarnation" (Francesconi), with the Incarnation being seen in the manner of the Greek Fathers as the event which, "divinizing Christ’s humanity, divinized all humanity. No event escapes Christ... All reality is caught up in the history of salvation [wrought by Christ], it all turns around Christ, it was created by him, in him and through him, and it is all in tension and on the way toward God through Christ" (ibid.). Even devotion to the Eucharist and the Crucified One - two other features of Scalabrini’s spirituality - are also integrated into the mystery of the Incarnation, expanding on it, as it were: "The Eucharist and Golgotha are an extension of the Incarnation" (Devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, 1902).

Scalabrini’s writings as Bishop of Piacenza include eighteen homilies for the Christmas Day Mass and six short lyrical-affective outpourings for the Midnight Mass.

Each homily illustrates some specific aspect of the Christmas event. The one found in the present fold-out was given in the Piacenza Cathedral over one hundred years ago, for Christmas 1894. Beautiful and linear in plan, it also contains some salient features of his preaching, particularly the prevalence of the biblical-theological aspect (what God has done) over the moral-exhortatory aspect (what we ourselves should do); hence the constant reference to the inspired books and the thought of the Fathers of the Church. Above all, however, it contains the kindliness of the burning heart of one who is father and pastor. The divisions and subtitles have been inserted by the present editors.

Here we would simply list the subjects of other beautiful Christmas homilies: Christmas as birth of the Church, our infallible teacher (1876); Christmas as mystery of peace because it is reconciliation with God (1878); Christmas and promotion of the poor (1879); Christmas and the Christian paradox (1880); Christmas and human promotion (1881); Christmas and the Kingdom of Christ (1992); Christmas, mystery of wisdom, love and faith (1883); Christmas and the nature of true peace (1885); Christmas and the benefits of redemption (1892); Nativity of Jesus the master (1895); Nativity of the Prince of peace, intelligence and heart (1896); Christmas and the teachings that come to us from the crib (1897); Christmas and the jubilee of the turning of the century (1899)

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Homily for Christmas day 1894

 

1. After a preamble on Christmas joy, as derived from the beginning of salvation,

2. Scalabrini introduces the subject of his homily: love of a God who, at Christmas, reveals himself, gives himself and unites himself with man.

3. Before Jesus’ nativity, God dwelt in inaccessible light, jealous, so to speak, of his privacy; but now he becomes visible and tangible, not through intermediaries such as angels or prophets, but through his own Son. This is the thought expressed in the opening verses of the Letter to the Hebrews. It is interesting that Scalabrini sees in the evil of idolatry a good and natural need of man - the need to see God. And this need is answered by Christmas, which thus reveals God’s love for man.

4. He who is love not only reveals himself, but also gives himself; in other words, he is also the one who comes, and who, indeed, becomes "ours." This solidarity, which started with Christmas, will see its fulfillment and perfection in the Eucharist and the sacrifice of the cross, which were willed for love of us. Christmas - Eucharist - Calvary: three cornerstones of Scalabrinian spirituality, also highlighted here by the reference to the Sequence of the Office of Corpus Christi (Lauds, 4th strophe).

5. The aim of this love which reveals and gives itself is that of communicating his own divine life to us, or, as St. Peter says, that of making us "partakers of the divine nature." It is an "elevation" to a dignity so high as to leave us dazed, because (as Scalabrini says in his 1890 Christmas homily) Jesus has made us "consorts, relatives, concorporeal and consanguineous with God, members of the same household and family as him, with the same blood and lineage as the Divinity." The union between divine nature and human nature as taken on by the Son of God is extended "intimately" to our human nature, even if in a "less perfect" way than in the case of Jesus (because Jesus is the Son of God by nature, while we are his children only through grace), and also "all creation" sets out toward a sharing in the glory of the children of God, as expressed in the Letter to the Romans, chapter 8. This is the deepest theological concept in the homily, and contains terminology dear to Scalabrini, when he speaks of the Incarnation as an "extension" of Christ, or as "sonship of Jesus Christ which broadens and spreads" to all men.

The conclusion for such a gift of grace is the liturgical exultemus et laetemur:

"Let us exult and be joyful."

6. The exhortatory part flows naturally: how could we not love the God who has loved us first - and so much that he has become a child for us? The quotation is from St.Bernard.

7. After a clear summary of the three moments, the homily naturally dissolves into a prayer which not only invokes the grace of that love of God but also urges the hearts of the faithful in the same direction.

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Homily for Christmas day 1894

 

1. Christmas, the feast of the beginning of salvation

 

Dearly beloved, why is there such heartfelt joy in souls, such unusual merriness in families, such universal deep feeling in peoples on this occasion more so than at other solemnities of the Church? Ah, if nothing else, because the thought is deeply engraved in the awareness of Christian nations that our salvation had its start in the most holy nativity of Jesus Christ. This is so true that down to our own days, and until the end of time, years and ages of history have been and will always be counted from that most auspicious day.

Yes, the destiny of all humankind is linked to the birth of Jesus. On the one hand he fulfills the desires of past generations, and on the other he opens up the way to new progress. A new age - the age of freedom, civilization and progress - begins with him. After 1894 years he is still at the head of the civilized world, despite the disbelief of many; and his kingdom will have no end, because it is the kingdom of truth, the kingdom of love: "And of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:33).

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2. Subject of the homily

 

We have seen on other occasions how the sun of truth appeared to the world with Jesus Christ’s nativity. Today let us take a brief look at how love appears in this mystery. It is a subject that deserves our full attention.

Dearly beloved, God manifests his love in the mystery of Christmas in three ways, revealing himself, giving himself, and uniting himself.

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3. God reveals himself

 

First of all, he reveals himself. Before the Incarnation - although present everywhere through the infinitude of his being - God, so far as man was concerned, seemed confined in a region immensely far off. He was in the heights of heaven, infinitely above the world that we live in, so that we had to go out, so to speak, in order to look for him and offer him the homage of our adoration. It could have been said that God was jealous of showing himself to his creatures, and ancient people believed that nobody could see him without dying.

Moreover, man’s heart had a pressing need to see God. A hidden God was not enough for him, and this need led paganism to shape idols of wood, stone and metal, and lavish incense on false and deceitful divinities. God had mercy on man’s deep wretchedness and finally allowed him to know him. Through a wonderful invention of his love, this God of goodness bridged the space separating us from him, dearly beloved, and deigned to come to us, clothing himself in our flesh and becoming man, so that our eyes could contemplate him and our hands touch him. "He has been seen on the earth," says the prophet, "and has conversed with man" (Bar 3:38).

"We have beheld his glory," adds St. John, "glory as of the only Son from the Father" (in 1:14).

In the first place, the mystery of Christmas is hence God made visible to humanity. Until then, my dear ones, he had not shown himself to our ancestors except through angels. Now, tearing aside the veils that hide him, he showed himself to us in person. Until then, if he wanted to talk to us, he had used the voice of the prophets, but now it is his own voice we hear: "In these last days, he has spoken to us by a Son" 1:1). Moses rejoiced with the Israelites over their good fortune in having the holy ark that accompanied them on their journeying and from which God promulgated his oracles. He exclaimed in amazement that there was no nation so great that it had its gods close to it as their God was close to them. But, my dear ones, what was this privilege in comparison with the one we enjoy on the basis of today’s mystery? God no longer reveals himself and speaks to us simply from a physical ark, hut in his own Word made flesh: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (in 1:14). What condescension, what truly ineffable goodness!

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4. God gives himself

 

Behold, by becoming man, he, the Eternal One, the Immense One, the Creator and Lord of the universe, the Immortal King of the ages has become our friend, our brother, the companion of our exile. From that day, until the end of time, he would never abandon us, first living thirty years of our mortal existence and then continuing to abide with us under the Eucharistic veils: "When he was born, he became our companion."

With truly singular and exquisite love, he makes himself our food. Nothing is more intimate to us than food, which, by becoming our substance, preserves and renews our energies. And it is precisely under this form that Jesus wants to belong to us: "by being our food at his banquet."

And if this were not enough, on the Cross he will become our victim. To redeem us from sin and death, he will pour out his blood to the last drop and will sacrifice his life, making himself the price for our ransom: "dying he gave himself up as a ransom."

Finally, after giving himself for us in all these ways, he will crown his favors by giving himself to the elect as their eternal reward in the splendors and glory of heaven: "Reigning he will be their reward."

Tell me, my dear ones, has the most ardent and generous love ever gone so far? Has it ever inspired a gift of self comparable with this perfect and absolute gift, a gift without reserve, an infinitely precious gift that has God himself as object, with all the treasures, perfections, riches and graces that are inseparable from him? oh, wonder of truly divine charity!

The mystery of the crib, my dearest ones, is the announcement, the pledge of this heavenly gift. Today God makes a promise to man by being born, a promise he will fulfill throughout the course of his life. He will take no step, say no word, perform no act that is not directed toward our salvation and that does not have our salvation as the final goal: for us men and for our salvation (the Creed).

Yes, from now on, Jesus is ours, really ours, completely ours. May he be everything for us. Blessed is the soul that understands this and therefore seeks, desires and longs only for Jesus in everything!

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5. God unites himself

 

However, the Incarnation of the Word has a still higher aim, my dear faithful. Jesus comes on earth in order to make us live with his life, in order to make us, so to speak, a single thing with himself. "I came," he says, "that they may have life, and have it abundantly." Now the life that Jesus comes to communicate to us, uniting himself to our souls, is his very own life.

Jesus’ union with the Christian soul is the foundation of the whole supernatural order. Through it, man is raised up to share in the divine nature; and in it, he raises up the whole of creation. "All things are yours," cries St. Paul, "whether the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s" (1 Cor 3:22-23).

These are wonderful words, which reveal to us the whole sublime economy of the Gospel. United to the Word through the Incarnation, the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ has become a single person in him. And we are united to Jesus Christ - in a union which is of course less perfect, but is still indescribably intimate - so that we are like an extension of him, belonging to him as limbs belong to a body.

This is the true basis of the very high dignity of the Christian, my dearest ones, and this is why our deeds have any merit for eternal life. Performed under the influence of Jesus who lives in us, they belong in a way to him, and therefore have a divine form or character. It is also on this basis, as St. Paul says, that we are "blessed, chosen, destined, adopted as sons in Jesus Christ, made acceptable to the Most High" (Eph 1).

This thought is also inexpressibly consoling! God loves his Son: he loves him as of his essence, nor can he not love him. But that beloved Son became man. So God loves man with an undivided satisfaction and delight. So we too are enveloped and included with him by the Father in a single act of love; and as Jesus Christ’s sonship is broadened and extended in us and through us, so too the Father’s love is broadened and extended to us too: "He freely bestowed his glorious grace on us in his beloved Son" (Eph 1:6).

Is there anyone who does not feel touched to the depths of his soul when he recalls these highest truths? As the bridegroom who loves the bride loves through her everything that belongs to her, so God loves us in his Son. The Son is loved for himself, we are loved in him and through him.

So let us rejoice in this day, my dear ones, let us exult; and let us respond with as much love to the tender, strong, initial love that Jesus has shown us by being incarnated: "We love, because he first loved us" (1 in 4:19).

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6. Exhortatory part

 

Was Jesus not born in this way precisely in order to give rise to this noble sentiment in us? Absolute master of all things, he could certainly have taken on a glorious, unfading, immortal body; he could have appeared to the world in the fullness of the perfect age, taken as his home the greatest palace on earth, surrounded himself with the most splendid court ever seen. However, he wanted to pass through the weaknesses and ills of childhood. And why else, if not to win our hearts more effectively? For what, my dearly beloved, is more attractive than a baby? The cradle, writes an illustrious contemporary, is the most enchanting thing on earth, concentrating within it the affection and tenderness of the family, and arousing the most beautiful hopes of both Church and country. The prayers of the parents are set on the cradle which holds the newborn child, as the cup of a flower holds the dew of heaven. Everything that is dearest, richest and most beautiful in the home, be it a prince’s palace or a fisherman’s hut, surrounds this favorite gem of the domestic shrine. Here we feel a kind of air of heaven which makes it a little paradise. We see an angel, as it were, hovering over and protecting that mysterious flower, defending it with his wings in both sleeping and waking hours. Who could look at it without feeling a deep movement of tenderness toward it? Ah, we love a baby! We are forced to love it!... And God manifested himself to us precisely in the ineffable attractions of infancy: wanting to be loved, he chose to be born in this form.

In all his mysteries Jesus has the right to our homage and adoration, but in this mystery of his birth he has above all the right to our love.

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7. Conclusion

 

As we have seen, out of love he revealed himself to us, gave himself unreservedly to us, and communicated his life to us. So is it not right that we should give ourselves unreservedly to him, live only for him, and declare ourselves openly for him?

Yes, most lovable Redeemer, this is the prayer that we gratefully place at the foot of your venerable cradle today. Let all the peoples bow down before you and adore you, love you, exalt you, bless you.

May all grasp the value of the soul for whose salvation you so humbled yourself; may all understand the sublime nature of their eternal destinies; may all know that there is no consolation, no joy, no peace, no salvation, no happiness outside you. I beg you to grant all this without distinction to all my beloved children and brethren, especially in these holy days.

0 Jesus, be born again in our souls according to the Spirit, so that we may be shaped according to your image here below on earth, and thus become worthy of sharing in your glory in heaven for ever and ever. Amen.

"The awesome God is now the God who loves and wants to be loved, not only for what he is in himself, but also for what he does not show himself to be, the God who gives us greater rights over his heart, the greater the trouble he seems to go to in order to win ours" (Homily for Christmas 1880).

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SCALABRINI AND THE WORD OF GOD

 

1. If we consider the three most significant activities of Bishop Scalabrini - his work in favor of the deaf and dumb, the catechism, and migrants - we notice that they have an underlying common denominator, namely, the word of God: the word of God as handicapped, developed, and deprived. The maxim that faith is born from hearing cannot be applied to the deaf and dumb, since they are unable to hear the word: "Religion, as you know, is revelation, and revelation is word; indeed, the divine intelligence cannot communicate itself to the human intelligence except through the word" (Pastoral letter of 1880, on the deaf and dumb). The Catechism is the Gospel, the glad tidings of Jesus, or, better still: "The Gospel can be called the book of Jesus’ catechisms" (The Catholic Catechism, p. 102) .

Lastly: "The problems of our emigration can be summed up in this: loss of faith through lack of religious instruction.... Ah, the misadventure of being deprived of that spiritual bread of the word of God!" (First address on emigration). Here Scalabrini, who had compared a deaf and dumb person to a foreigner, also compares an emigrant to a deaf and dumb person regarding the word of God.

2. If Scalabrini was "the apostle of the catechism" (Pius XI), he also exercised the prophetic mission in its irreplaceable form of preaching the word of God, with both the liturgical action of the homily and the more strictly didactic one of catechesis. We have over two thousand pages of his homilies, which were generally written out in full. We should also remember the special form of catechesis of the word represented by the seventy pastoral letters. However, he understood homilies and catechesis not only as teaching but as teaching that has the direct aim of changing a person’s life, leading people to follow Christ. This teaching of course used different methods. In the homilies it was celebrational, solemn, biblical, patristic, liturgical, full of unction and incentives, while in catechesis it was more discursive and had broad freedom of movement. Moreover, in his homilies, the relationship between theology and morality, between what has been done and what is to be done - the so-called dialectic between indicative and imperative - follows in the footsteps of Paul: first (and in a 4:1 proportion) what God has done for us, and then what we should be doing for God.

3. From the writings which deal expressly with the word of God, we quote some passages from the Pastoral Letter for Lent 1897 on "The Divine Word" and a shorter extract from the Second Address to the Third Synod (1899), under the title "Eucharistic Preaching." Scalabrini’s thinking on the word of God is vast if we take account of his practical activity as catechist and pastor and also his theoretical activity in the field of catechesis. Here we offer only a few representative elements.

4. The most striking feature of this remarkable organizer of the catechism, this concerned and inspirational pastor of souls, is the spirit of faith in which he sets himself - and wants us to set ourselves - before the word of God; for the word of God has an effectiveness of its own over and beyond that of the media, as well as an interior Teacher whom we must learn to listen to even more than to any speaker who speaks from outside. Priests have a reason for both humility and consolation in a thought expressed to the Third Synod, p. 243- "Do not be discouraged by fear that the faithful will not understand, for understanding of the mysteries flows not from natural intelligence, but from the light of faith, which God infuses into hearts during preaching." And the following thought embraces the full implications of being "God’s fellow workers" (1 Cor 3:9): "The word of God loses none of its value and remains always the word of God, even on the lips of the most worthless of priests .... The Word of God obliges himself to pass through his mouth, just as on the altar he obliges himself to pass through the hands of even the most imperfect minister. God ... did not want the effectiveness of these ministries entrusted to man to depend on the virtue or holiness of the man in question, because otherwise people would be obliged to this man for their sanctification and salvation. The effectiveness of God’s word ... is linked neither to personal gifts, nor to skill, nor even to the holiness of the minister, but to the divinity of the ministry, to the word of the man, to the extent that this word speaks of Jesus Christ and in the name of Jesus Christ, or, rather, inasmuch as Jesus Christ speaks in the man" (1897 Pastoral Letter).

Here Scalabrini puts back into perspective the importance of the minister, who is a servant who works with others in a field that is God’s. What counts is God; it is Christ.

5. The pastoral letter from which we quote here is divided into three parts:

Why should we listen Lo the word of God? From whom should we listen to it? How should we listen to it? He answers the first question by saying that we must listen to it "precisely because it is the word of God," and the word of a God who became man to give us this word full of truth and life, capable of illuminating the mind and moving the will. He answers the second question by saying that we must listen to it from those whom the Word of God has authorized to be ministers of the word: the Pope, bishops and priests (a reminder of the tragic context of the Miraglia schism of those years!). He answers the third question by saying that we must listen to it with attention, and with the firm intention of practicing it. We shall quote particularly from this last section.

"[Eucharistic] Catechesis - with its dogmatic, liturgical and moral sections - should not be dry and purely theoretical, but fervent, inspired and practical, illuminating the mind, and leading the will to good resolutions" (Third Synod, V, 3).

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The word of God is living and effective

 

Commenting on the famous hymn to the word of God found in the Letter to the Hebrews, Scalabrini highlights the illuminating virtue of intelligence and conscience - which is a quality of the word of God - but he highlights, above all, its effectiveness, in other words, its capacity to move the will, providing motivation to its mysterious mechanisms, so that it will carry out the will of God. The word of God has the capacity to make saints! Scalabrini had apparently realized what experimental psychology would later say: that the will is moved not so much on the basis of exercise, as on that of motivations, in other words through values.

God’s power working in the soul is infinite and ineffable. As St. Paul says: "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb 4:12).

The word of God is living: it is the very life of God which in a certain sense animates his word and makes it operative. It is active: it has the divine omnipotence at its disposition, ready to carry out whatever it commands. It is sharper than any two-edged sword: just as a two-edged sword penetrates more deeply, so does the word of God, piercing to the division of soul and spirit: we can say that this instrument of God divides the sensitive soul [= sensitivity] and the spiritual soul into their potential parts, delving into man’s deepest self, and working whatever God wants within the person’s spirit. To the division of joints and marrow: the most intimate folds, the most hidden thoughts, the hidden, subtle motivations that determine the will to act. Discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart: the active, effective word sees everything, makes everything clear in the soul, giving a judgment of discernment, leading the soul back from iniquity to justice and reconciling it with God. "For thy immortal spirit is in all things!" exclaims Solomon. "Therefore thou dost correct little by little those who trespass, and dost remind and warn them of the things wherein they sin, that they may be freed from wickedness and put their trust in thee, 0 Lord" (Wis 12:1-2) (Address 2 to the Third Synod, pp. 236 - 237) .

Jesus devoted himself to the ministry of the word for three years: "I must preach the good news... for I was sent for this purpose" (Lk 4:43). And he says "for this purpose, as if this were the only task of his divine mission.... Jesus then gave the apostles the gift of working miracles as confirmation of their word of truth (First Synod, p. 22).

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The Word of God, strenght of will

 

Original sin caused the most serious wound to the will, which often does not have the strength to do the recognized good and to live a life of holiness. John calls this strength "spirit," and it is the Holy Spirit who "instructs the heart" and "moves from understanding to conscience" and from conscience to the morally good deed, exemplified in the Christian social life.

However, it would serve little purpose if our intellect were illuminated to know the truths of faith and enjoy their fruit, if our will were not moved to embrace them. And the divine word provides for this too in a wonderful and most effective way. "My word is the spirit of life," said the divine Redeemer. It has the virtue not only of changing wills, but of purifying hearts, forming saints: "For the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true" (Eph 5:9). Just as the light of the sun circulates throughout the universe with rapid immediacy in order to communicate its rays and effects - which are the source of life - to all things, so the light of the word of God, full of splendor and fire, and no less rapid, incessantly streaks through the world of souls, infusing warmth and life into every part of it: "His word runs swiftly" (Ps 147). Everything moves and is animated by the word: holy thoughts, chaste affections, generous intentions, magnanimous undertakings, are born and multiply through it; and the Church is crowned with all the flowers and fruit of the most beautiful virtues through it. No word is more effective. Human wisdom has, of course, spoken magnificent sentences and wonderful pages on habits and duties, virtues and passions, their causes and their remedies, and these pages and books contain useful truths, and even flashes of real genius. But why is it that so many beautiful words are incapable of repressing a passion, correcting a vice, exercising a virtue, or reforming - I will not say a people, a city, a family - but even a single soul? Ah, because man’s word is not spirit and life if it is not spoken in the name and through the authority of Jesus Christ. Separated from their eternal principle in other words, the creative Word - you will see the very doctrines of the Gospel immediately struck by sterility, like plants that cannot flower, still less bear fruit, far from the climate in which they were born. Leaving aside the supernatural virtues which are obviously the reserved treasure of the Catholic faith, where will you find instruction capable of forming the good man, my dear ones - the instruction which, after illuminating the spirit, leaves the heart by no means indifferent, which passes from the intelligence to the conscience and directs thoughts and deeds to the faith, which makes children respectful, wives faithful, servants trustworthy, the rich charitable, the poor resigned, merchants upright, craftsmen hardworking? No, you cannot have this wholesome instruction except through the word of God.

Preachers should remember that although their words do of course have the purpose of illuminating the mind, their main task is that of touching hearts ... and the homily should always have a practical goal, even if it is a panegyric (Second Synod, II, 18).

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The Word, heard and not read!

 

"We must first of all listen to the word of God, my beloved children," he had said. And here he returns to the question, with a thought that has been revitalized by post-conciliar reflection: the word of God, which has in itself "the divine efficacy," is the word proclaimed more so than the word read and meditated on. Here he is referring above all to the proclamation in the eucharistic liturgy. Jesus gave the Apostles a message, not a book! The "reason" for this efficacy is worthy of note: "the very special outpourings of his grace" which accompany preaching.

Some people might object, saying that by reading good books we can certainly learn the same truth that comes to us from the preaching of the word of God. Yes, I answer, and there is nothing more praiseworthy; but reading it is something very different from hearing it, because the written word does not have the hidden virtue, the divine efficacy, of the preached word. The reason is that the Lord accompanies the preaching of his teaching with very special outpourings of his grace. This is why Jesus Christ describes those who listen to his word, not those who read it, as blessed:

"Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God" (Lk 11:28). Just read the stories of the Church and examine daily experience, and you will see that conversions rarely, very rarely take place through good reading, but very often through the preached word. The very conversion of the world is owed not to the reading of holy books, but to the preaching of what is contained in the holy books.

The spiritual life, with faith as its principle, communicated by Jesus Christ to the Apostles, does not come to us except through the ministry of the same Apostles and their successors. Indeed, Jesus Christ did not tell the Apostles to go out into the world and tell men that he would speak inwardly to each of them in their heart; nor yet that they should go out into the world, and, after writing down the facts of his life and his teachings, offer men this book, leaving each of them to himself to draw from it the truths that he had revealed to them and that they ignore at the peril of their eternal salvation. Instead of saying this, Jesus Christ told them: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mk 14:15-16).

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Attention and respect while listening

 

The moral section is fully supported by theology. Having seen the analogy between the table of the word and the eucharistic table, it follows that attention is needed, because while the preacher speaks from outside, Jesus speaks from within and from heaven! It also follows that the priest and his word, clothed in his personal gifts, even holiness, are secondary to the proclamation, which is always made by Jesus Christ. The energy of the word is owed wholly to the Spirit. The present extract contains a kind of challenge to pay more attention and respect to an inadequate instrument in order to receive a supplementary lesson from the "Master who is within" - a recognizable reference to Father Miraglia, who had caused a schism in Piacenza partly through his skill as a preacher. The description of the gospel word as "a letter sent to you by your heavenly Father" is taken from St. Augustine, and the context is one of liturgical celebration.

It should be heard with attention, and, in the words of the holy doctor Augustine, just as we use great care when the body of Christ is distributed to us, making sure that none of it falls to the floor, we must take similar care with the divine word so that none of it is lost and falls from our hearts while we think or talk of other things. Nor is this a vain scruple, because (concludes the saint with words that make us tremble) someone who listens negligently to the word of God is no less guilty than someone who lets the least particle of the body of Christ fall to the ground. Then too, we should not forget, dearly beloved, that while the preacher speaks to us from the pulpit or altar, Jesus Christ speaks to us from heaven; the sound of words strikes our ears from outside, but the Master is within; and we must open the ears of our spirit to his word, even more than the ears of our bodies. He makes us understand in a hidden but very clear way what he wants of us. In the second place, the word of God should be heard with respect. So, my dear ones, away with idle curiosity, the spirit of criticism, immodesty in dress, gossip, signs of impatience or boredom. No pretensions of sublime concepts, elegant phrases, ornate clothes. When our Lord walked the roads of Palestine in poor clothes, was he not the same God who appeared one day on Mount Tabor, shining with light and mantled in glory? Was he, before that, less worthy of respect? So, too, when the priest’s words are presented to you in poor clothes, what does it matter when you can recognize Jesus Christ in them? The gospel word is like a letter sent to you by your heavenly Father. Now, a loving son does not stop to see whether the paper is good or bad, or the letters clear or smudged; he hurries to see what his father has to tell him. So too, in the case of sacred preaching, attention should be given not to the person who is speaking or the way he speaks, but solely to the truths he proclaims. Then your heart is bound to be seized by the most loving and deep respect.

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The Word of God must be put into practice

 

Two thoughts are highlighted, both leading in the same direction: the word must not only be understood, but also loved - or, to use his felicitous expression, "transformed into affection" - for love is also the best way to understand it, as well as to translate it into practice. The word must also be meditated on. Indeed, for Scalabrini meditation in fact brings light to the conscience and force to the will - which is like saying that meditation produces "the firm intention to put the word into practice": it makes us become "saints"!

Lastly, the word of God must be heard with the firm intention of putting it into practice. For what is its purpose, dearly beloved? That of making us good Christians, Christians in mind, Christians in heart, Christians in deed. Should it make us Christians in mind? Then we must meditate on it. Hearing the word of God and then not thinking further about it is, according to the Apostle St. James, like someone who looks at his own face in the mirror and passes on. What impression is he left with? None. Only with reflection does man learn to know what he is and what he should be, to think and judge as a Christian in all circumstances. Should the word of God make us Christians in heart and deed? Then it must be transformed into affection. Not only must we understand the truth. We must love it; and not only must we love it, we must put it into practice: speaking the truth in charity (Eph 4:11), as St. Paul teaches. The sign that the divine word has borne its fruit in us are our deeds, because if faith without charity is dead, charity without deeds is not charity. When God speaks, he lets us know what we must do, but at the same time he makes us put into practice what we know.

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SCALABRINI AND THE CATECHISM

 

1. "The apostle of the catechism," as Pius IX described Scalabrini, was "the bishop who wrote most about catechesis in the last quarter of the 19th century in Italy" (U. Gianetto) and "had received the supernatural intuition to restore to Christian education its religious primacy and, in the area of religious education, to celebrate the primacy of catechesis, giving the catechism not only a conceptual and instructive value but also a fundamental formational role, tying together and underpinning religion as something known with life as something lived" (S. Riva).

2. The magnificent accolade of Pius IX was given him for his merits in the field of catechetical science, and here we would recall especially The Little Catechism for Nursery Schools produced in 1875 when he was still parish priest of St. Bartholomew’s in Como, The Catholic Catechism in 1877, and The Catholic Catechist, a monthly catechetical review which was the first in Italy and the second in the world, making Piacenza "the city of the catechism" (Leo XIII), where Scalabrini held the first National Catechetical Congress in 1889.

3. However, the title "apostle of the catechism" refers above all to Scalabrini’s merit as reorganizer of the School of Catechism in his diocese of Piacenza. He drew inspiration mainly from the pastoral approach of St. Charles Borromeo. He set up an organic, efficient, grass-roots structure, "constantly animated and vivified by the zeal and charity of people... from whom the breath of life should incessantly go out" (Rules for the School of Christian Doctrine, 1876). He thus managed to restore and revitalize in every parish the school of "The Little Catechism" (Class I), "First Communion" (Class II) , "The Big Catechism" or "The Catechism of Perseverance" (Class III), and "Adult Catechism" (Class IV). The novelty of Scalabrini’s pastoral approach to catechism - even in comparison with that of his model St. Charles Borromeo - lay above all in the following elements:

  1. Scalabrini understood that society, both civil and family, had changed in his day, moving from the previous Christian civilization to a lay civilization (we should recall the Italian law on the abolition of religious teaching in schools, and the various proposals to introduce a law on divorce), so that Christian education, which had previously been given by the family and school, now had to be given by the Church.
  2. Then, since society was no longer Christian but lay in character, the contents of catechism had to be changed; in other words, the aim should not only be defense against heresy (as in St. Charles’ approach), but also and above all justification of the faith in the face of lay reason. It is a catechism in which "faith seeks understanding," namely, its reasonableness.
  3. Schools of catechism not only instruct but also educate. To use St. Paul’s brilliant expression, they "form Jesus Christ in the souls of children" (Pastoral Letter of 1876). It is a modern school that harks back to the ancient catechesis with, as its "model, the baptismal catechumenate - which is a specific formation - through which the adult convert is led to the confession of faith" (Italian Bishops’ Synod, 19-77). In this sense lay teachers rise to the role and mission of mystagogues. This is perhaps the most contemporary aspect of Scalabrini’s approach to catechesis.
  4. This approach led to all his activity in forming male and female teachers to constitute a kind of lay congregation, which could dispose not only of theology teachers and suitable methods, but also spiritual directors and monthly spiritual retreats. Scalabrini was in fact convinced that "choosing a few people (the directors, teachers and assistants for the Society of Christian Doctrine) is something, but it is forming them with patient care that fulfills and in a way perfects the holy institution" (Pastoral Letter of 1876) This means making them authentic apostles, "so that they can resemble the first Christians" (ibid.).

5. We will now give extracts from Scalabrini’s second pastoral letter on Christian Doctrine (1877) and from The Catholic Catechism, a theoretical and practical essay, which, someone said, is a veritable lost drachma of catechetical literature.

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Catechesis in ancient times

 

Scalabrini saw the catechism less as a book than as a learning of Christ, a kind of catechumenate, in which the school of catechism was seen as a family that educated souls to God. As we said, this is the summit of the contemporary relevance of Scalabrini’s thought, which was also rediscovered by the 1977 Synod of Italian Bishops. We should also note the contemporary nature of the term used: catechesis.

The catechesis of the primitive Church with its teachings, exhortations, tests, secret assemblies, and the vigilance of catechists - who watched to see not only whether the catechumen learned the teaching but also whether he mended his habits - was a real source of Christian life, for through catechism the Christian life matured and flourished. Catechesis was not seen as a mere school of religion but as a family in which souls were brought to maturity for God, for the Church, and for Heaven; a shrine, a sacred sanctuary, where people learned to love the faith; a sheepfold where the lambs of the divine Shepherd gathered so they could receive nourishment suited to the weakness of their age. In this school the spirit of the listeners became attuned to Christian thoughts. Here the mind was trained to understand and judge things no longer according to the standards of pagan wisdom but according to the standards of the faith of the Gospel. With great love and generosity, catechists worked hard to form in those souls, still young in the faith, the spirit of Jesus Christ, nay, Jesus Christ himself: "Until Christ be formed in you." (Gal 4:19).

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Education with Catechism

 

Scalabrini distinguishes "instruction" from "education," with the former being addressed to the intellectual sphere, and the latter mainly to the moral sphere. Inasmuch as catechism "forms Christ within souls," it is not only instruction, but primarily education; indeed, it is the first means of education, because it educates the religious and moral man, who comes first in a harmonious and well-ordered education of the human faculties.

Educating morally and religiously means ennobling man’s sentiments, illuminating his intelligence, adding the light of faith to that of reason, directing his will, purifying his heart, forming his conscience, consolidating his character, and raising up the present life to eternal life - all things that can be obtained only with catechetical teaching that starts in good time and continues until perfection.

Instruction - even that of the intellect alone, as well as the alphabet, which is its first step - is a good thing that should be spread as much and more than others, for example salubriousness of places and hygiene of the human body. It is a development of human nature, indeed one of the noblest forms of development, and those who counter it are guilty of lese humanity. However, just as all things have their measure and their goal, such instruction must not only be suited to the various types of people, but must also be in harmony with all the perfections of which each person is capable, Perfecting man’s faculties harmoniously is called education, and education embraces body and spirit, heart, affections, imagination and will, together with intellect. Now, while we do not believe virtue and vice to be physical products, like sugar and sulfuric acid - and, worse still, spontaneous effects - they nonetheless are effects of people’s moral education and not just of intellectual education. In practice they can be found separately, and we do in fact find noble, righteous and kind hearts together with low mental culture, just as a cultured, learned man can be a harmful citizen, destined to swell the prison population. The factors involved in this moral education include family, social context, the teacher, the child’s habits, but above all a rightly inspired religious sentiment.

So, religion, yes: religion is the first means of education.

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The need for Catechism School

 

Since school and family do not provide a Christian education today, the Church has to strive to fill the gap, and it institutes schools of Christian doctrine for this purpose, as an initiation to the Christian life.

in the crisis of the educational function of the family, we should note how the thought of "education" recurs again.

The reference to the thought of the English bishops clearly reflects an awareness that a change has taken place in civilization: it is no longer a question of warning Catholics against heresies, but against atheism (at that time socialism was also seen in this light) and the unbelief that affects not only "educated people" but also "the working classes." This will entail the need for a change in the content of the catechism.

A pastor of souls concerned over the instruction of Christian youth cannot count on the school or family, but must strive with all his own forces to set up true schools of catechism.

Schools today seek to educate without faith and without a thought for the life to come, eliminating the idea of God and Divine Providence, sowing rationalism and naturalism far and wide, and paving the way for the triumph of socialism. Perverted ideas of revolution have to a large extent brought about the downfall of the modern family, which thus does not take care of the religious instruction of its children or educate them with a view to the Christian life. It does not form their conscience, heart and Christian sentiment; nor awaken the salvific seeds of faith within them; nor develop the great thought of God as present, the fear of offending him, and the desire to please only him, serve him, love him and be loved by him; nor point out good and evil from the moral viewpoint; nor raise them up to ideas of the spiritual life. In other words, it does not form the first precious religious habits in its children’s minds, consciences and behavior .... The Christian life of the family of old has vanished, and, apart from a few glorious exceptions, the family is no longer capable of providing a Christian education for its children, who breathe the poisoned wind of unbelief that destroys even the first seeds of virtue, instead of breathing the air of faith beneath their parents, roof.

"The present times," said the bishops of England in a joint letter to their dioceses [in September 18731, "are more dangerous than past times. The atmosphere of the 19th century is permeated with hostility to God, the Church, the doctrine of revelation and also the truths of the natural order. The unprecedented activity of the press means that something that was confined to a few educated persons a century ago has now been spread throughout the working classes of every country, particularly England. So we should be arming not only adults against the spirit of error that is assailing us from every side today, but first and foremost young people, through the instruction of the catechism."

This shows the very great need for supreme efforts to restore vigor to faith and to save the new generations. Catechism schools are the most powerful and fruitful means of bringing about this religious restoration.

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"Very special prize for the mission of catechists": 1877 Pastoral Letter

 

Apart from reiterating that the catechism is not only instruction but Christian education, Scalabrini makes two other noteworthy points. The first is that of seeing the catechist as a true missionary, and the second is a very acute insight, in that, "seven years before St. John Bosco, he spoke the maxim that constitutes one of the fundamental strands of his famous letter from Rome" (Gianetto): "Your little pupils should know that you love them."

It is also clear that Scalabrini is motivated by the same reasons that led St. Charles Borromeo to found the Christian Doctrine School, in other words, the souls "that Jesus bought back with his divine blood."

And how could Jesus Christ not look on you with eyes of special favor when you strive with such concern to bring tender children to know and love him? When you take such pains to lead to his bosom these innocent creatures whom he redeemed with his divine blood and whom he loves as the apple of his eye? Lastly, we know that every act of charity performed for our neighbor in God’s name will one day have its reward. Is there any action more marked by mercy than that of instructing the ignorant in the things of the soul and teaching them the way to eternal salvation? You may often envy those who disregard the voice of flesh and blood, crossing the ocean billows to far-off lands in order to spread the faith to peoples who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. But what good are such wishes? Teach children the catechism and you will do something as worthy as the work of converting idolaters, and your name will be written in the book of life beside those of the most heroes.

However, it is not enough to teach them these truths in material terms. You must make them appreciate them and translate them into practice. You must educate their character, their conscience, their heart. You must, to use St. Paul’s words, form Jesus Christ in them, bringing them up, so far as you can, in innocence, piety, the light and grace of the gospel virtues, and fear and love of God. You must train their thoughts, desires and affections. In other words, you must dispose them for the future life through the sanctification of the present life. Nor should you think that these things are beyond your strength. Each of you can succeed in this without much preparation and with the greatest of ease. Do you know how? By setting a good example. Oh, of course your lessons are effective, even eloquent. For Jesus Christ’s innermost heart and for love of yourselves, I beg you to set an example in all things and all places, but especially before children. Young people live to a great extent out of imitation, and they will grow more or less religious according to how religious you are. So let them learn from you to make the sign of the cross with reverence, to join their innocent hands in prayer, to dispose themselves to adore the Lord. Let the names they hear most often on your lips be the very holy names of Jesus and Mary, and never pronounce them in their presence without signs of the tenderest devotion. Let them see you practicing all the acts of Christian piety with reverence, respectful with ministers of God, regular in Church attendance, religious and devout. Your example will give strength, light and effectiveness to your words, and in this way these words will penetrate those virgin hearts and certainly produce very abundant fruit. So set a good example, we repeat. Set a good example. Above all, be full of gravity in your comportment, but also gentle and kindly. Your little pupils should know that you love them and that if you wear yourselves out, you are doing so solely for their good. Then they will also willingly receive your admonishments and happily listen to you. Be sure of this: children need tenderness more than anything, but the tenderness of piety. So beware the sharp, severe attitude, the imperious tone of voice that is so offputting for them. Dearly beloved children, we wish you the heart of a St. Paul, who made himself all things to all people ....

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Punishment: "Catholic Catechism"- chapter XXI

 

Chapter XIX gives "rules for teaching the catechism with fruit, " the eighth and last of which is as follows: "The teacher should use every means available in order to make our august religion dear and lovable to young people." Hence the approach of the chapter dealing with punishment: "Punishment is necessary, but we must observe with a wise educator that joy and trust should be the ordinary disposition of young people." I think the "wise educator" is St. Francis de Sales, from whom Scalabrini drew all the confident breadth of his teaching approach.

It is significant that when listing "the gifts necessary to catechism teachers" (Chapter XVIII), all taken from St. Charles, when he gets to "(E) GENTLENESS," Scalabrini refers us not to St. Charles, but to St. Francis de Sales.

In this passage we seem to be hearing the reading of the breviary for the feast of St. John Bosco. Catechism school does not confine itself to teaching young people the truths of the faith, but educates them in the faith; it not only teaches Christianity to young people but educates them in Christianity. We must not only instruct, but also educate, cultivating and developing not only the mind, but also the heart (Catholic Catechism, 71).

In these days of skepticism and errors, ordinary instruction is not enough. We have to lay stable foundations in the hearts of young people, forming an enlightened and deep faith within them, and giving them a solidly Christian education (ibid., 141).

Catechism is a great work of Christian regeneration, the work of the kingdom of heaven and the salvation of souls, and will always be the subject of the most lively concern for true pastors and great men of the Catholic Church (ibid., 31).

Just as medicine for bodily sicknesses is taken only when absolutely necessary, so punishment should be used only when there is absolute need. It should he used very sparingly, and only after every gentle, loving approach has been tried. In such a case, punishment will make an impression on the young person’s mind and will seem a very serious and almost unbearable thing, so that he will do everything he can in order not to deserve it again. The best students will very seldom see their teachers being led to any great severity, but those few punishments will remain in their memories for a long time - and with the memory, their perseverance in the good. However, a hard look or some short phrase can often be enough - "I thought you were better than that" and other similar admonitions.

You should criticize and punish, but calmly, and never in the first flush of anger. If a teacher does punish in that first flush, the pupil will think that he is acting out of ill-humor, not for a good reason and for the child’s good, and so the superior loses and his authority gains nothing. And if the child is punished in the very first moment, his mind will not be free enough to realize the importance of the criticism. An angry man’s mind is dimmed and his spirit in tumult, and he is not master of himself, so that an angry admonishment will always worsen rather than improve young people.

Physical punishment must never be used. Let the teacher criticize, make them kneel, report disobedient and inattentive pupils to the director, and if this is not enough, to the parish priest, so that the parents can be advised. And if the child is causing scandal, he should even be expelled from the class, but he must never be struck. We must respect the extreme sensitivity of families, and such punishment must be left to the father’s authority. Teachers should remember that indulgence with children is always better than excessive severity, that they should not expect too much, that there is a soberness of perfection that is very difficult to attain, but without which all rules, even the wisest, are of little value, and, lastly, that the child’s nature, which is worse on the surface than in the depths of the heart, must be directed and assisted, never forced, concentrating firmly on the ultimate purpose, but always acting with gentleness.

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SCALABRINI AND PENANCE

 

1. Visitors to the Scalabrini Museum in the Mother House of his missionaries in Piacenza are struck by a showcase holding various instruments of penance, which his biography tells us that he used.

We know that his spirituality was well summed up in the invocation he so often repeated: "Fac me cruce inebriari! (O Mary,) let me be intoxicated with the cross!

He wrote to his friend Bishop Bonomelli saying that "if the Lord had not given me the grace of a little asceticism at the right time, I don’t know how I should have managed." Asceticism means penance.

2. Scalabrini also left his writings on the question in the form of ten pages for his first synod, as well as a Lenten pastoral letter for 1895, which is worth quoting - and not just because this year marks its centenary.

3. The structure of the pastoral letter - which also takes up some core theological concepts from the synodal text - encompasses the two points of "how necessary penance is, and how we should practice it." The first part gives the theological and biblical basis for penance, while the second describes its practical application in the context of the "favorable season" of Lent.

It should be noted that Scalabrini intends penance to cover not only the specific form of Lenten discipline called fasting and abstinence, but also any other form of voluntary or voluntarily accepted sacrifice and mortification, and that the Lenten form would also include prayer, listening to God’s word, and charity: all actions performed with a view to the sacrament of penance, "the second table of salvation" (1879 Synod and 1895 Pastoral Letter).

4. Scalabrini understands Christian penance in the same sense as the Church, in the first place as a sign of the disciples’ participation in the sorrowful event of their Savior’s passion and death, leading to the joy of the resurrection: "When a sovereign dies, do you think it right that public festivals and shows should be suspended in the cities? ... Would you accept an invitation to a festive banquet or a lighthearted conversation when your father or mother was dying or dead at home? ... Our Mother the Church ... invites all of us to a spirit of recollection, to constant meditation on the passion, agony and death of the Holy Redeemer. She exhorts us to return within ourselves, to be converted through fasting, tears and mourning" over the death of Jesus.

Scalabrini also says that Christians do not fast in the same way as certain contemporary lay people, as a protest or in order to sensitize public opinion to specific problems. Nor do they do it as a simple ascetic does, in order to obtain self-mastery, but for love and in memory of the sufferings of Jesus Christ. They also perform penance in order to obey and imitate their Master.

5. Even so, Christian penance is the sister of joy, not of "sadness" or "melancholy": "The law of fasting is the law of penance, not of destruction; a precept of mortification, not a decree of death," continues Scalabrini, highlighting the liberating rather than destructive value of Christian discipline.

The positive value of penance springs above all from the charity into which it is transformed and to which it incites us. "We want to die to self-love but in order to live to charity" - which is also a beautiful formula, capturing the essence of the ultimate significance of every form of Christian ascetics.

"Parish priests should encourage parents to bring their children with them to receive the sacrament of penance. In this way the parents will be not only ministers for their children, but truly merciful fathers" (Synod I, 1879).

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Penance is asked of us as Christians

 

The law of penance is not only asked of us "to disarm" the lust innate in each person (part of the pastoral letter not quoted here), but above all because we are Christians, that is, disciples of Jesus, who made it obligatory for us not only with his teaching, but above all with his life, which was "all cross and martyrdom."

This is an application of the great law of the Christian: everything he does, he does in union with Christ and in imitation of him: prayer, work ... and also penance.

But there is more. Dearly beloved, if penance, is asked of us as children of Adam, it is also asked of us as Christians. The religion we profess is by its nature a commitment to penance; and this virtue is a kind of compendium, the spirit or character of Christianity. I turn the pages of its history and find that the Church’s saints and chosen ones were always a community of people who crucified their own flesh with its desires and its lusts, a spiritual army with no other leader than a crucified God, no other standard than the cross, no other exercise than suffering, no other weapon than mortification. I open the Gospel, this divine rule book according to which we must one day be judged, and on almost every page I find nothing but precepts of self-denial and sacrifice. I lend an attentive ear to Jesus Christ as he himself speaks, and what does the divine Master say, dearly beloved? He says first of all that he came to call sinners - in other words, everyone - to penance. He says that the kingdom of heaven calls for strength and that only the strong can conquer it. He says that anyone who does not take up his cross and follow him cannot be his disciple. He also says "Do penance." Then he adds: "If you don’t do penance, you will all perish in the same way." Could his words be clearer or firmer? While he withers the fortunate and pleasure-seekers of this world, he raises a voice of blessing over all those who generously mortify themselves and thus conquer their disorderly passions, over the poor, the meek, the humble, the pure in heart, over those who weep and those who suffer persecution for the sake of justice. Indeed, I would almost say that I hear only a single word, a single teaching, a single command from his adorable lips: penance!

Having heard the language of Jesus Christ, I turn to contemplate his person. He is the great model of Christian life, a model so essential, my dear ones, that the secret of our predestination lies, as St. Paul attests, in similarity to him. This said, I would then ask which road he took to go up to heaven? That of wealth, riches, glory and pleasure, or rather than of poverty, humiliation and suffering? The whole of his life, writes St. John Chrysostom, was nothing but cross and martyrdom! From his first to his last moment, how much hardship, how many troubles, how much work, how much persecution, how much slander, how many sufferings, how many pains!

"I contemplate Jesus crucified: if my God did not intend to deceive me when he came to earth, if he became visible to my eyes so that he could be my guide, I am forced to greet penance as the sole hope of Adam’s children" (Pastoral Letter of 1895).

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Penance so as to avoid falling into sin

 

The basis for the need to do for penance, in other words moral ascetics, is a result of our condition as sinners, for even after baptism we are weak and can sin. Christians are therefore urged to vigilance, sobriety, renunciation, and spiritual combat in order to hold the positions they have reached. Scalabrini quotes St. Paul, who described this ascetics in terms of combat, using sporting metaphors - "gymnastics," "running, "wrestling," "boxing" (found in the letter but not quoted here).

Penance is needed, my dear ones, not only in order to expiate the sins committed, but also to avoid committing new ones. So long as we are in this life, we are like weak reeds exposed to every wind. I mean that created goods entice us, temptations assail us, passions corrupt us, bad examples lead us astray: everything we see in the world, the very air we breathe, infects and seduces us. Only penance makes us as unyielding as stones to every assault, and indifferent to every vain and gratifying surface appearance, by deflating our pride and self-love, crushing our desires, curbing our sensual appetites and detaching us from earthly pleasure. St. Augustine writes that the righteous man can remain in grace only as long as he is upheld by penance. And why? Because, answers the Council of Trent (and experience, sad to say, confirms this), even after making bold resolutions, our will is still so weak, so illinclined, because of acquired habits, that the danger of a relapse is always there. For this not to happen, constant efforts and precautions are needed, a more powerful action of divine grace. And God’s minister in this work of perseverance and salvation can only be penance. This is why St. Paul could say: "I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor 9:27).

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Penance as liberation and interior joy

 

The authentic meaning of Christian penance is that found in the Gospel, and the Gospel aims first and foremost at a moral purification from the lack of truth and love - in other words from all the egoistic passions that prevent man from accepting God’s will in its purity. Penance thus becomes a liberation from our own selfishness in order to be more available to do good toward our neighbor.

It is therefore accompanied by interior joy: "The Christian life also has its pleasures and joys here below.... And what pleasure can be purer than the one that comes from experiencing our own dignity, contempt for luxuries, peace of conscience, a trusting abandon to the divine mercy, sweetness of repentance, expectation of the eternal prize?"

Some people have a very superficial and small-minded idea of Christian penance, believing that self-mortification is a wish to suffer out of a simple taste for suffering. No, dearly beloved, no. We aspire to a much higher goal. With an illustrious philosopher, I will say that when we mortify ourselves we do not want to destroy, but to edify; we want to repress the flesh, but in order to give freedom to the spirit; to strip ourselves of the old man, but in order to put on the new man; repudiate our corrupt will, but in order to replace it with God’s holy will; to die to self-love, but in order to live to charity; to demolish the rule of evil, persecuting it in itself and in its external and internal accomplices, but in order to found the rule of good, the rule of truth and love, within us; to lose something of the present, but in order to ensure our future. In other words, we want to take up our crown again; to be not only men, but also Christians; to rule in time and in eternity.

And is it not true that observance of the divine law calls for much less toil and suffering?

If we were alone in this struggle of the passions against the spirit, my very dear brothers and children, we should certainly have cause not only to tremble but to succumb. But God is with us; he is with us with his light, his strength, his grace, his sacraments. Jesus Christ is not a cold lawgiver who commands implacably: "Here is my law. Keep it." He knows how weak we are, and he says: "I am here, sons of my blood, to help you. I shall bear your burden; I shall sweeten your toil. Take courage! And when you do happen to fall wretchedly, take fresh courage: for I am here to hold out my hand to help you up and clasp you again to my bosom: ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Mt 11:18)."

Yes, Jesus is always the Redeemer, the Father, the Friend of men! Observance of his law is still a source of ineffable consolation! It brings with it a sweetness, a peace, that is far more satisfying than all the joys, all the delights, all the pleasures of the world.

You have clear evidence of this, my dear ones, in all the true servants of the Lord; in thousands and thousands of truly Christian souls; in those poor religious and in those humble virgins who live apart from the world; above all, in the examples and lives of the saints. Surrounded by the harshest penances, the cruelest persecutions, and deprivation of every kind, they could often be heard exclaiming with St. Paul: "I am intoxicated with consolation, overflowing with joy." This was the case with St. Francis Xavier, St. Philip Neri, St. Francis de Sales, St. Vincent de Paul, Blessed John Gabriel Perboyre, and hundreds and hundreds of others. You would be awe-struck, dearly beloved, if I could describe to you the joyful scenes, the superhuman delights of the soul happy in virtue.

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Penance and charity

 

Fasting must be transformed into solidarity, which is the name of justice guided by love: whatever I save must quickly go to wherever it is needed. Christian penance is linked in this way with the bodily and spiritual works of mercy in which the Church is so rich. This is the value of penance that is felt most strongly today.

For what joy is greater for the Christian soul than being able to help the poor, teach the ignorant, relieve the oppressed, dry the tears of the unhappy, save some souls, in other words do a little good?

Jesus Christ in his entirety cries out to us with one voice: "Penance!" It is the second table of salvation for man, the source of every good for families and society. It is what created the apostles, the martyrs, the confessors, what peoples the deserts with anchorites, the cloisters with virgins, the earth with saints, paradise with the blessed. To penance we owe the most beautiful centuries of Christianity. And we must be grateful to this sublime inspirer of every holy and glorious action if even today, in the midst of so much perversion of ideas and depravity of habits, we can see souls who remain faithful to God, setting an example of every beautiful virtue, and consecrating themselves day and night to the service of their brethren in hospitals, insane asylums, prisons, on battle-fields, in places infected with plague, and wherever a groan of pain is heard.

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The sophisms of the world

 

Even in Scalabrini’s day, the practice of penance was seen as oldfashioned by orthodox thinkers. But Jesus Christ and his law belong to all times! Indeed - and here Scalabrini’s thought has especial relevance to our times! - we have even more need of it than in the past, living as we do in a society of luxury, consumerism and pleasure, with its "incentives to vice."

Despite this, people say that the law of penance is now out of step with our age - an age of civilization and progress, an age in which science is making life more comfortable and pleasant every day, with its wonderful discoveries....I know; but what of it? Just because the times have changed, has God perhaps changed? Has he promulgated an easier, more indulgent gospel than the one our forefathers and mothers followed? Does this mean that the kingdom of heaven was the reward for harsher struggles, more generous sacrifices and more arduous toil for them, and will be the reward for sloth, soft living and every evil satisfaction of desires for us? Come on! We must not be seduced, my very dear sons and daughters, by the sophisms of a corrupt and corrupting world. The incentives to vice and the dangers of falling have increased today precisely because of the increase in the comforts and pleasures of living. Which is why Christians have an obligation to walk more cautiously than ever, be more vigilant than ever, and embrace mortification and penance with still greater alacrity. The law exists: Jesus Christ, the immortal King of all ages, promulgated it, and human events are incapable of destroying or lessening it. "Heaven and earth will pass away," says the Lord, "but my words will not pass away" (Mk 13:31) .

Others will then object that this means that our life must always be depressing and melancholy, always full of trouble and distress .... Even if this were true, and the law of penance were in fact the harsh, frightening thing you imagine, surely God would have the right to impose it on us? However, he gives us sacrifices that are extremely light compared with the suffering due to sin! In any case, we all know that we cannot hope to win major prizes except by dint of major effort. As St. Paul says, if athletes steadfastly abstained from anything that could weaken their bodies, hardening themselves with harsh exercise and accustoming themselves to suffering in order to win a corruptible and short-lasting crown (the laurel wreath that was given to winners), should we not be even more willing to wear ourselves out for a crown that will never fade or wither, but last for all eternity? Of course! People subject themselves to abstention from food and drink, and surrender their bodies to iron and fire, in order to recover lost health; they put up with trials and tribulations, facing danger and not rarely putting their very life in danger, shrinking from nothing for a worthless and fleeting - and often uncertain - gain. How is it that everything seems so difficult and too much to bear for the infinitely noble gain, the full, eternal prize of the salvation of soul? And tell me, do those who give free rein to their own unruly passions then taste the satisfaction and happiness they expect? Ask the crazed seekers of worldly pleasures, ask the ambitious, the shameless and wanton, the miserly. Alas, how many painful treatments they undergo, how many dashed hopes, how much humiliation, sadness, suffering, anxiety, remorse - and at the very moment of tasting the pleasure.

"St. Francis de Sales says that confessors need the patience and gentleness of a martyr: ‘One is a martyr,’ he says, ‘not only confessing God before men, but also confessing men before God", (First Synod, 1879).

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SCALABRINI AND ST. CHARLES

 

1. The decision to give his congregation St. Charles Borromeo as its patron was not apparently the result of some sudden inspiration, but came to Scalabrini from afar, from the innermost core of his whole spiritual life.

The very words he used when announcing it to his Missionaries in the famous letter of 1892 indicate this: "One day, after praying to the Lord in this regard [i.e. "placing our congregation under the patronage of a saint"], and beseeching light from the Holy Spirit, the figure of the great St. Charles came into my mind more radiant and gentler than ever." The last phrase, italicized here, indicates that he had seen the saint as radiant and gentle even prior to this.

Apart from his Lombard origins, we should remember that as a priest Scalabrini had the task of revising the Como Catechism in the light of St. Charles Borromeo's Christian Doctrine School; also that in his Little Catechism for Nursery Schools (1875), he quotes St. Charles twice, while his Catholic Catechism (published at Piacenza in 1876, but written in Como when he was parish priest of St. Bartholomew's) is studded with over thirty quotations from St. Charles Borromeo - including the whole of Chapter XVII.

2. It should also be noted that Piacenza had very close ties with Charles Borromeo through Scalabrini's predecessors, the bishops Burali (much respected by St. Charles, who invited him to take part in two of his synods), Sega (to whom Bascapè would dedicate the account of the last hours of St. Charles' life), and Rangoni (who was one of the promoters of the cause for the beatification of St. Charles).

3. St. Charles Borromeo was also at Scalabrini's time "the personification of the ideal bishop" (Alberigo), the pastor "who does all things for all people," burning with zeal for the salvation of the souls that cost Christ's blood. According to Soranzo, the renowned Venetian ambassador of the period, Borromeo's example was more valuable than all the decrees of the Council of Trent, because, by creating the suitable structures, he fulfilled all the Council's decrees concerning the ministry of bishops: residence, preaching, pastoral visits, seminaries, catechism, synods and provincial councils, worship and charitable works. The simple list of these elements seems to foreshadow the attitudes and features of Bishop Scalabrini.

4. The most reliable historiography sees St. Charles above all as a bishop-pastor.

"The more we study, read, know and hear about what Borromeo did, the more we are led to believe that the most probable key to his extraordinary stature lies in his function as shepherd, which he exercised with his eyes on the one and only Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, so that he perhaps came closer than anyone else has done to the image described in Chapter 10 of St. John's Gospel.

"He organized the whole care of souls with new structures which survived almost down to our own days, establishing very close relations between faithful and bishop and between faithful and priest as a cornerstone. Both bishop and priest had to know the baptized, helping them, nourishing them with sound doctrine, freeing them from ignorance, correcting them in their errors, punishing them for abuses if necessary, and assisting them if they needed it.

"Living alongside the people - hence the obligation of residence for parish priests and bishops and the example he set in this regard - became a primary commitment for St. Charles, allowing him to obtain a deep knowledge of the virtues and vices, needs and capacities of his people. He then issued a series of practical dispositions on the basis of this knowledge, ranging from exhortations to orders .... And before acting with ordinances and corrections, he would act by setting a good example. He always walked before his flock and was always the first to do what he asked, following Christ's example of "doing and teaching" (Acts 1:1). And Christ and his gospel became the reference point for St. Charles' every action and every ordinance ..." (L. Crivelli).

5. The many ways in which Scalabrini mirrored St. Charles will shortly be seen in this series of fold-out pamphlets, especially those on the subjects we consider the two cornerstones of his pastoral approach - after those of the Eucharist (fold-outs 2 and 3) and the catechism (fold-out 8) - namely, the pastoral visits and the synods.

For now, we shall confine ourselves to noting some elements common to both men, in order to sketch parallel portraits.

However, although we can draw a parallel between Borromeo and his "imitator," we should not ignore their major differences not only in personality (although this is not the right place to discuss these), but also between the two societies in which they played leading roles: that of the Counter-Reformation - or, better, the Catholic Reformation - and that of the Age of Positivism. St. Charles was in a way more fortunate than Scalabrini, for his society was still a Christian and unsplintered one, while Scalabrini's was lay and pluralistic: lay in family, school, world of work and politics, etc. Moreover, St. Charles' society had not yet been corrupted by the canker of anarchic individualism as had Scalabrini's.

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St. Charles Borromeo and Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini: a brief sketch

 

a. Both were practical rather than theoretical men. Both were geniuses more of the will than the mind, and conceived pastoral strategies with meticulous detail and rules, scrupulously implemented, and capable of involving and motivating the people.

Their main element of genius was perseverance and long patience.

b. Both were involved in the social sphere. Here we can recall St. Charles' teaching institutes for the clergy, the nobility and the people, the institutes for the moral and material assistance of orphans, fallen women, old people, beggars, etc., the foundation of hospitals, etc. In Scalabrini's case we can recall his institutes for the deaf and dumb, rice-workers and emigrants, and the foundation of various rural credit and savings societies, Catholic banks, etc. In both cases, we should also recall their very generous charity, even with the sacrifice of personal possessions and the risk of their own life, not only during the plague and cholera epidemics, but also during the famines that afflicted the poor especially.

c. Both had the gift of making their pastoral activity reach down to the grass-roots level, to the point that the works and days in the lives of the members of their flock, whatever their position and situation, were all permeated with Christian leaven.

d. Both worked hard for the dignity of the house of God (in the Eucharistic Synod in 1899, Scalabrini took the Acts of St. Charles as his model, especially in the normative section [II], but also partly in the theological section [I), regarding construction and restoration work, consecrations, establishment of Marian shrines, etc.

The "colossal" tasks of restoring the Milan and Piacenza Cathedrals can be seen as emblematic for the two men.

Lastly, both were devoted to the saints who had established the faith and confirmed the historical truth by recognizing their relics.

e. Their main devotion in their pastoral approach was the Eucharist.

f. Love for the Crucified Christ, with whom St. Charles is depicted in iconography, was also progressively assumed by Scalabrini; and as his biographer (Bishop Caliaro) says, this can be summed up in his motto: "(0 Mary,) let me be intoxicated with the cross!"

g. The decrees of the Council of Trent, to which both often refer, was the basis for a new approach to ecclesiology, which was carried out through pastoral work, an ecclesiology whose precise goal was the Church: "The supreme law is the salvation of souls."

This pastoral approach meant that bishops in particular had to invest all their energies in making possible the practice of the faith, the exercise of worship in spirit and truth, and the effective practice of charity on the part of the faithful.

St. Charles and Scalabrini refer explicitly to the reform decree of the 23rd Session, which can be seen as a pastoral program for bishops: "By divine command, those who must tend to the care of souls must know their own flock, offer the sacrifice for them, nourish them with the preaching of the divine word, the administration of the sacraments and the example of all good, showing fatherly care to the poor and other unfortunate persons, and dedicating themselves to all other pastoral tasks."

Here we should recall not only that Scalabrini's main apostolate - that to migrants - was dictated by this concern for the "salvation of souls" ("... who will lose the faith of their fathers" - Italian Emigration to America, p. 6), but also that his political commitment was itself dictated principally by his pastoral concern - a concern that led him to exclaim sadly over the present situation: "And in the meantime, souls are lost!"

h. St. Charles felt very strongly about the dignity of bishops and "the joint responsibility of bishops in governing the Church" (Alberigo), what today is called "collegiality," not in the "episcopalian" sense, but as a primary ecclesial element which combines with the papal element to produce an articulated, complex view of the Church. The same has been said of Scalabrini, and this certainly led to his sensitivity over "bishops in top hats."

i. Both lived with intensity the interdependence of the personal virtues of a Christian called to holiness and those of a bishop responsible for the government of a Christian community. Prayer, self-renunciation, mortification and penitential instruments were not private spiritual practices for them, but above all apostolic requirements and energies placed at the service of their activity as pastors. Their own gospel path was that of those who follow more closely in the steps of the Shepherd who gives his life in the midst of his flock, be it the Milan or Piacenza of their day.

Their ministry requires personal ascetics, so that both men stepped up their ascetical practices when they felt unequal to the service called for of them, as on the occasion of the plague and the Miraglia schism. Thus they became saints because they became increasingly aware that they were pastors; they would not be pastors and saints, but saints because they were pastors.

St. Charles emphasized the close connection between his own ascetics and the fact that he was bishop in a letter to the Archbishop of Valenza: "Having understood that the bishop must be a light before the people, showing them the path of virtue not only by preaching the gospel, but also through an example of life, I felt that it was my duty to set an example in both fields, and in such a way as to be an example, especially in the life of sacrifice and in hardship."

And in a letter to his friend Bonomelli, Scalabrini emphasized the fact that the crosses of his episcopate during the Miraglia schism were what led him to a more intense ascetical life (Letters, 491). We then find the following among his resolutions:

"'The bishop" - and we should note that the subject of these resolutions is not some jealously private ascetic, intent on his own perfection, but the Bishop - "must be moved in every action by the Holy Spirit, the hidden motor of the all-holy humanity of Jesus Christ.

"He must do violence to himself to become holy.

"The bishop must be virgin, confessor and martyr ....

"Raise me up, make me noble, purify me, sanctify me."

1. In both we see a constant ascent toward an exclusive concentration on Jesus Christ and his passion, which "must be the foundation on which must stand all those who want to treat Christian and spiritual things with the people" (St. Charles to Cardinal Valier, 1582). And Scalabrini: "'Let me be intoxicated with the cross!'I will repeat often, pressing the pectoral cross to my heart. Humiliations, griefs, insults and bitter disappointments are part of God's plan .... I shall never lack them, nor do I at present .... My God, may you be blessed! Courage in the cross of Jesus Christ!"

Both shared St. Paul's "concern for all the Churches." We must remember St. Charles' concern that Rome should set up a congregation of cardinals to help bishops in applying the Council, the distribution of the Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis throughout the world, and "the seminary of bishops" that Milan became.

For Scalabrini, we would recall his memorandum to the Pope (twenty days prior to his death!), asking for the creation of a congregation for Catholic emigrants, which Pius X would in fact implement in 1912.

In 1591 Possevino, St. Charles' biographer, wrote: "His charity was not enclosed within the bounds or confines of his diocese or province, but went out from them, embracing all the dioceses and provinces of the world, in this way resembling the apostle Paul's daily concern for all the churches" - an observation almost truer of Scalabrini, who had realized that the care of Catholic migrants was the future of the Church in the New World and a kind of "extension of the Catholic faith."

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The Gook Shepherd

 

Scalabrini "mirrored" the following portrait of a true bishop, as written by St. Charles for the Fifth Provincial Council in 1579:

"The bishop must be assiduous in prayer, a lover of contemplation of the things of God, constant in his presence in the diocese, applying himself wholly to his tasks and duties as bishop, and dedicating himself wholly to fasting and abstinence, a hospitable and true father and pastor to the poor, the widows and the young, a guardian of holy places, and a solicitous promulgator of holy institutions ....

"A person who has taken the Good Shepherd as his rule always fulfills the office of preaching the word of God as prescribed by the Council of Trent. On the other hand, a person who has focussed on the prestige of the episcopal dignity and not the toils, on the riches and not the responsibilities, on the ease and not the concerns and anxieties entailed in so many duties, will rarely - or indeed never - feed his flock with the word of God.

"The former celebrates a diocesan synod every year, while the latter does not convene congregations of clergy and priests, let alone a synod.

"The former commits himself fully to making the pastoral visit to the diocese, while the latter does not even know the faces of his flock, nor is he in any way concerned to be known lovingly by his flock.

"The former does everything to fulfill the aim of rooting out the bad habits, vices and sins of his flock and bring each erring sheep back to the path of salvation, while the latter measures everything against the yardstick of public opinion, and ignores people's sins in his concern to please them - if he does not in fact, horror of horrors, offer his flock an incentive to sin!

"The concern of the vigilant pastor is also seen in the splendor of worship and of places of worship..."

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All things to all people

 

Scalabrini in fact drew a portrait of himself when he sketched his portrait of a bishop on the occasion of Bonomelli's jubilee:

"Now the mission of the bishop is precisely that... of preparing the ways of the Lord in souls: 'Make straight the way of the Lord.' In his position as supervisor, which is always difficult and often dangerous, the bishop has three things constantly before his eyes which keep him in a state of trepidation: the dangers to souls, the crime of silence, and the judgment of God.

"Thus he fulfills all the duties of the good shepherd, guiding his sheep to health-giving pastures and springs of clear water, and moving boldly and resolutely against the wolves who infiltrate the sheepfold in lamb's clothing.

"He speaks, writes and acts, but in doing so, his one aim is the glory of God and the salvation of souls .... His rule is not his own comfort or interest, not his own or others' petty satisfactions, but the truth, nothing but the truth ....

"Disregarding his own peace and rest, and restrained by neither inclement seasons nor harsh journeys, nor dangers of any kind, he spends a large part of his life travelling from cities to villages, from palaces to huts, from valleys to mountains, visiting churches, altars and cemeteries, eradicating abuses, settling disputes, exhorting sinners, confirming the righteous, consoling the afflicted, blessing children, kindling the zeal of priests, 'making himself all things for all people' ....

"The spirit, the character, the sole ambition of the bishop lies in sacrificing himself in every way to spread the kingdom of Jesus Christ in souls, if necessary risking his own life for the salvation of his beloved flock, placing himself on his knees before all the people, as it were, imploring their permission to do them good. He uses everything - his whole authority, skill, health, strength for this noblest purpose."

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St. Charles, the Apostle of Christ

Letter to the Missionaries for the Italians in the Americas, 15 March 1892

 

There are three "exemplary" aspects of the "patron" who would also be the "model" for his missionaries: St. Charles the apostle, St. Charles the man of will, and lastly St. Charles the man of constancy, patience and perseverance.

St. Charles is "a true apostle of Jesus Christ," who "thirsts after souls" to such an extent that he neither desires, asks, nor wants anything other than souls. "Give me souls and keep all the rest!" - a well-known biblical phrase, which Scalabrini could also have read in the portrait of the pastor of souls in a synodal prayer of St. Charles (Diocesan Synod XI).

St. Charles, a man of will and not intelligence, a pastor and not a doctor of the Church (his St. Francis de Sales had seen him in this light, not without irritating the Milanese!). And, as a man of will, he would also be a "man of action" more than contemplation.

This active will is then expressed in a pastoral strategy which determines the needs of souls and then considers the remedies, creates the most suitable structures, fulfills its objectives patiently and perseveringly, verifies them in minute detail, and lastly upholds resolutions and actions with the fire of his zeal, "not leaving even the dead in peace" (Giusanni, Life of St. Charles Borromeo, 1912, quoted by Scalabrini).

It seems superfluous to add that Scalabrini saw St. Charles as the portrait of the bishop and pastor of souls whom he took as his inspiration, as well as that for any other pastor, and for Catholic missionaries, including his Missionary Fathers and Sisters.

 

"The moment has come, my dear ones, to place our congregation definitively under the patronage of a saint, whose name should distinguish it and be a kind of banner or seal, according to the desire you have expressed to me several times.

"One day after praying to the Lord in this regard, and beseeching light from the Holy Spirit, the figure of the great St. Charles came into my mind more radiant and gentler than ever. I almost seemed to hear a voice telling me: Here is the patron, the support, the model for your sons! ... And from that day I decided to place you in his hands. The dear Saint immediately gave me a sign of his approval, providing me with a way to get a church dedicated to him. This is the church that will be built beside the large new premises that I hope to be able to acquire very soon with the help of various good people and also yourselves.

"From now on, you will have the honor of calling yourselves The Missionaries of Saint Charles.

"Saint Charles! He was one of those men of action who do not hesitate, do not bend or ever retreat: who throw into every act the whole strength of their conviction, all the energy of their will, their whole personality, all of themselves, and win.

"Saint Charles! What a marvelous example of undaunted constancy, of generous patience, of enlightened, unrelenting, and magnanimous zeal -- an example of all those virtues that make a person a real apostle of Jesus Christ. He thirsted for souls. He desired nothing but souls, did not ask for anything but souls. "Give me souls; take everything else away," he used to say. My God, to gain souls for Jesus Christ what did he not do! What did he not endure! What did he not say!

"Saint Charles! This is a name which the Catholic missionary should never hear without being inflamed with the noblest and liveliest enthusiasm, without feeling profoundly moved (...).

Dearly beloved, pattern yourselves after him. Recommend yourselves to him. Put all your trust in him. You can be certain of his protection."

"May I find comfort in the thought that this time too, my visit has done a little good to your souls - souls which are as dear to me as my own soul. I seek nothing but souls, I want nothing but souls, I thirst after nothing but souls.

"Lord, give me the souls of my children, and may none of them be lost!"

(Scalabrini's words at the opening of a pastoral visitation).

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www.scalabrinians.org - Missionaries of St. Charles - Scalabrinians - 2010