In the Last Supper scene of his gospel, John uses the image of the vine and the branches to describe the relationship that needs to exist between Jesus and his disciples. Just as a branch that is no longer linked to the vine can no longer be fruitful, so also, the disciple who does not have the life of God within him, is a dead disciple. The sap that runs through the vine and its branches, enabling the branches to produce healthy fruit, represents the life and love of God that needs to run through each of the disciples for them to produce fruit.
Pruning, although painful, is a work of love that the divine gardener carries out on the vine and its branches. The branches are kept clean, and their dead parts are removed, so that they can remain healthy. The disciple is invited to welcome this pruning that may be experienced in various different ways. Like a good vinedresser, God only wishes the best for those who trust in him and who have his life in them.
In the second reading, John explains that this divine life that runs in the veins of the faithful disciple expresses itself in the love and reaching out to our neighbour and friend. We are not able to love others unless we carry God’s love within us. This same love encouraged Saul and Barnabas to go around and offer a ministry of preaching and witnessing to the early Church, pushing it beyond its early Jewish boundaries and reaching out to the Greek community. If we allow God’s life to be within us, then we too can produce fruit. When we live a contemplative life, constantly reflecting on God’s action within us, then we can also bring God to others around us.
In his book Found Among Sinners, Martin Cilia mssp writes about Joseph De Piro’s contemplation in action.
The first characteristic is the shift in belief from a God who is above to a God that is within him. It is the realisation that God dwells in his heart and in his life and it is through these that God speaks to him.
It is for our sake that God can be found everywhere; He has not chosen a particular city or sanctuary, but one can find Him in every corner of the city, in the country, on the mountains, in the valleys. He wants to stay among those dear to Him.
The relational aspect of prayer is very clear: “Prayer removes our distance and unites us with God. It is the noblest vocation; it gives us strength, comfort, joy and life. It is grace, indeed a source of grace.” It calls one to go deeper in the room of the heart and meet God there, in secret:
“Keep your soul always as the temple of God should be; and when you cannot do meditation, when the short time of your Communion has passed, do not be discouraged, but shut yourselves for a moment with God inside your soul, and talk and pray with Him continuously.”
Transformed in the image of the Son
The spirituality of Joseph De Piro centres on the fact that spiritual life finds its fulfilment in bringing one’s entire life into a transforming, loving communion with the ineffable God “who in the most intimate union with us transform us into Himself.” This communion is the raison d’etre and the fruition of De Piro’s deeper self: “The one who loves finds himself similar, or strives to become similar to the loved person.”
Many mystics developed a spirituality based on the mystical union with Christ. John of the Cross defines prayer as a meeting with the one who loves us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of Christ as the one in whom we can find all that we have a right to expect from God. In Christ we find everything we need if we are open enough to listen to his voice.
For De Piro, Jesus was the way to the Father, and so he had to be grafted in Him. He was called to live the life of Christ, echoing the words of Paul “indeed, it is Christ who lives in me.” Christianity was much more than an expression of brotherly love, more than philanthropy. Rather, it is a call to be transformed; “that all live the life of Christ is not just an idea suggested by mystical exaltation, but it is the real sense of the Christian life.” De Piro realised that to be a Christian implies a life rooted in the Risen Christ.
Joseph De Piro leads us along a journey of inner self-transformation by the grace of God. James Finley puts it:
“The self that begins the journey is not the self that arrives. The self that begins is the self that we thought ourselves to be. It is the self that dies along the way until in the end ‘no one’ is left. This ‘no one’ is our true self…. It is the self-in-God, the self bigger than death yet born of death, it is the self the Father forever loves.” (James Finley; Melton’s Place of Nowhere, (USA: Ave Maria Press Indiana, 1985) 17).
John of the Cross defines contemplation as: “El amado con el amada, el amada en amado transformada.” (Kathleen Jones, The Poems of St John of the Cross: Spanish and English Texts, (New York: Burnes & Oates, 1993) The lover with the beloved, the lover transformed in the beloved.) Contemplation defined De Piro’s life “We tend towards union, and the more the union is near, the more love grows.” It echoes the theology of the Eastern Fathers who believed that our vocation is divination, to become like God: He became human so that humanity can become God. De Piro explains this transformation in metaphors and images:
“God shows himself as a Father who gives Himself as a gift to his own children. Then the final and highest stage of love lies in the union between the lover and the loved object. As iron changes into fire, so the soul, which receives Holy Communion, becomes Jesus.”
De Piro was aware of a link between his humanity and his spiritual process: the two were never divorced one from the other, but had a mutual influence on each other. By being open to prayer he was also open to receive God’s gift of love in his weakness and everyday reality. About Francis of Assisi he writes:
“These words of St Paul synthesise the story of the soul of Francis of Assisi. They express the life of the man transfigured by means of grace, transformed in another Jesus Christ …. Indeed, he has the mission to reform, according to Christ’s teachings, to make Christ live in the middle of society, and he himself had to be full of this divine life. He, more than anyone else, could repeat the words of Saint Paul: ‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.’” De Piro saw Francis as a model and a friend in this process of inner transformation.
“One day, in the solitude of Ravenna, while Francis was lost in contemplation of the suffering of Christ, he felt such a deep love that he himself changed into Christ.”
Transformation in Christ is the aim and the result of his prayer life; “the most intimate union with us is to transform us in Himself.” One would not expect such a depth in De Piro’s spirituality being the kind of person so active in pastoral ministry. But “Christ lives in me” was for him the membership card to enter heaven. Furthermore, it was the proof of his love for Christ, “one cannot give a bigger proof of one’s love than when he is prepared to give his own life for him whom he loves.” The result of this love that overflows from his encounter with God was the deep conviction that: “Everything that happens during the day, whether it is to our liking or not, let us always be ready to repeat the words of the Our Father, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This was well articulated by John Paul II when he said:
“The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial and even illusory standards and measures must… draw near Christ. He must, so to speak, enter him with all his own self, he must ‘appropriate’ and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears the fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deeper wonder of himself. (Veritatis Splendor, n.8)