The Church invites us to reflect on our relationship with God who is a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The experience of the People of God in the Old Testament is that they were a people chosen by God. God expresses his great love for his people through his interaction with them at the time of the exodus from Egypt, and later on through the prophets. In the New Testament, Jesus, the Son of God made human, invites us to share in the life of God and become his sons and daughters. Jesus invites us to call God ‘Abba,’ Father. He shows us how to relate with God the Father and how to approach him as a loving parent.
At the conclusion of the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations, ordering them to baptise them in the name of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit, the eternal love between Father and Son, is given to us believers so that we can participate in the life of God.
Our duty is to reflect on what this relationship means in our daily life. How do I live as a son or daughter of God, brother or sister to Jesus? How does the Holy Spirit assist me, every day, to deepen my relationship with this God who is eternal Love?
The incarnational aspect of Joseph De Piro’s spirituality.
When one studies the lives of individuals who lived charity, whether in schools, in orphanages, in hospitals, in old peoples’ homes, in prisons, etc., and/or through the evangelisation of others, one would immediately discover that in the Church human activity cannot be supernaturally fruitful, nor can there any spirituality of action without the fruit of an experience of contemplation. This is so because whenever we say that an individual in the Church lived evangelical love towards the children, the sick, the elderly, the oppressed, etc., or towards those in need of evangelisation, we understand that he or she lived the charity of Jesus Christ. The charity of Jesus Christ, incarnated in his words and/or actions, was inseparable from his filial experience, an experience of closeness with the Father. One can also say that Jesus’ filial relationship with God was at the centre of his personality; his actions and words were really just an echo of the Father’s love that the Son experienced in his inner self. De Piro’s love for the underprivileged and for the spreading of the Good News can be considered to have been evangelical because it came out of his intimate relationship with God; it came out of his face to face encounter with God’s love, his experience of God, his rootedness in God.
(i) De Piro’s union with God the Father.
Joseph De Piro wished to be united to God since his early youth, and he desired this in a complete way. He was not even 21 years of age when he wrote in his discernment exercise in relation to the choice of his vocation: “The desire to give myself totally to God….”
On 15 May 1987 Fr Augustine Grech mssp said that, “… externally it could be noticed that De Piro was continually in the presence of God.” Br Felix Muscat mssp repeated the same thing. Fr Louis Gatt mssp: “… I noticed that God was always in De Piro’s mind …” Br Venantio Galea mssp indicated how he noticed the Founder’s union with God; “The Servant of God was a man of great supernatural faith. He impressed us very much, and much more than others did, when he either addressed us at instructions, homilies, etc., or when he spoke to us individually. He seemed to be a divinely inspired man with deep convictions.”
In 1987 Sr Marie De Piro, the Servant of God’s niece, spoke about her uncle as a person who was very close to God. She could see her uncle’s union with God during his apostolate, “To serenely and competently fulfil so many seemingly incompatible commitments, could only be the fruit of a deep union with God…” Referring to her uncle’s ability to give advice, and his dedication to his ministries, she said: “I would now say that my uncle’s wisdom and prudence derived from his union with God, and were not simply the fruit of his natural qualities and character.” Mgr Paschal Robinson, who visited Malta between 3 April and 2 June 1929 as Apostolic Delegate during the politico-religious conflict between the Church and Sir Gerard Strickland, spoke about the Servant of God to Fr Daniel Glavina sj. Robinson saw De Piro as “a man of God.” This belief was also expressed by Fr John Vella, the first priest of the Society, and Fr Arthur Vella sj, his nephew, John Vella and Victor Tedesco, two ex-members of the Society, Fr Raphael Azzopardi osa, Sr Marie De Piro and John Buhagiar, an employee at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Malta. Azzopardi also mentioned that many religious in Rabat, Malta, had the same impression about De Piro.
(ii) De Piro’s union with God, experienced through his union with the Son.
The same can be said for De Piro’s union with Jesus Christ; the Son of God occupied Joseph’s heart and mind quite early in his life. At fourteen years of age, the Servant of God drew the face of the suffering Jesus in a most expressive way. When he came to the choice of his vocation he showed that he wished to be one with the suffering God and therefore the Lord Jesus. About three years later, as a seminarian at the Capranica, he expressed this same wish when he wrote about his desire to imitate Jesus an intimate way, “Because in this way I can follow Jesus more closely.”
De Piro presented the union with Jesus as central to the members of his Congregation. At the very beginning of the Constitutions he wrote: “He who wants to belong to the Society … must be aflame with the love of our Lord Jesus Christ …”
The Founder urged the members of his Society to imitate Jesus Christ in his obedience, in his modesty and in his sacrifices. He asked the novices to imitate the hidden life of the Lord. He requested the spiritual prefect of the catechist brothers to deliver a weekly reflection. First among the topics the prefect needed to talk about was “… the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ …” The superior general of the Society had to be closely united to Jesus Christ so that he could spread on each member the fragrance of the Lord. The Founder also exhorted the sick members to be united to the suffering Jesus Christ.
“The sick must not be concerned if he is not useful for the community, or if, he can no longer carry out his ministry or his office. All his attention must be to carry out God’s the will in the condition he finds himself in, offering his suffering in union with the sufferings of Jesus Christ in his passion and death….”
Speaking “about the purity of intention,” the Servant of God exhorted all members not to be concerned about the criteria of the world, or their self-love, when carrying out their apostolate. There is only one way to achieve this, “… to see our Lord Jesus Christ in everybody.” The Servant of God advised the preachers of the Society, “to be fittingly prepared to preach the priests of the Society must be completely taken by the love of Jesus Christ, and by the inherent duty of spreading his fragrance everywhere (2 Cor 2:15).”
(iia) De Piro’s union with God experienced through his union with the Incarnate Son.
Apart from some meditation notes about the birth of Jesus, De Piro does not seem to have written any complete sermon speaking exclusively about the incarnation of the Lord; yet he used many phrases to refer to the mystery of the incarnation. Studying these phrases one can easily conclude that for De Piro the central truth in the mystery of the incarnation was God becoming one with humanity through his Son Jesus.
These above-mentioned are found in sermons that deal with other subjects: God, Jesus Christ and his various mysteries, Our Lady and her mysteries, the saints and missions. This implies that God’s union with humanity through the incarnation was always in De Prio’s heart and mind. Since he himself was a human being, one can justly say that God’s union with him through the incarnation of the Son, was a central truth in his mind and heart.
(iib) De Piro’s union with God experienced through his union with the suffering Son.
In his younger years Joseph De Piro made a pencil drawing of the suffering face of Jesus. This drawing shows Jesus’ eloquent silence, his strong fragility and is an expression of him as a sign of contradiction. One wonders how Joseph, a young teenager of 14, could have included all this in his drawing unless he had been united to the suffering Jesus from before doing this drawing itself.
In his discernment exercise to discern his vocation, Joseph De Piro mentioned “the desire to give myself totally to God; He who suffered so much for my sins.” This God was no one but the suffering Jesus!
In his second discernment exercise, deciding whether to go to the Ecclesiastic Academy or to St Joseph’s Orphanage, Malta, Joseph, a third year theology student, the Servant of God wrote:
“In fact, once I had asked the Rector of the Capranica to convey to the President of the Academy my refusal to enrol at the Academy, I felt great consolations when I considered that I had chosen a crown of thorns with Jesus, rather than one of roses.”
“So that on my deathbed I may be able to find some comfort in knowing that I would have suffered a little for Jesus’ sake, He who suffered so much for my sins.”
(iic) De Piro’s union with God experienced through his union with the Eucharistic Jesus.
De Piro preached about many topics. In many cases the subject he was asked to speak about was not the Eucharist, yet in these sermons, at some one moment, as if forgetting the main topic, he spoke about the Blessed Sacrament. In his sermons dealing with the Eucharist, De Piro spoke about the sacrificial characteristic of the Sacrament, the conditions for the reception of the Sacrament, the Eucharist and sin, First Holy Communion, the frequency of its reception, its effects, the adoration of and prayers to the Blessed Sacrament, the hour adoration, the visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and the Eucharistic Congress. Despite these many and various Eucharistic aspects, one notes that the Servant of God repeatedly mentioned Jesus’ unification with the humanity through the Blessed Sacrament. In the forty-four pages of sermons about the Eucharist there are at least twenty-eight references to Jesus who becomes one with us through the Blessed Sacrament. Some are short phrases while others are longer passages. Doubtlessly Eucharist was another main source for De Piro’s union with Jesus Christ.
After all this, one can unhesitatingly say that a love relationship existed between Jesus Christ and De Piro. De Piro was a permanent disciple and progressively becoming the property of Jesus Christ. He was an authentic expression of the sentiment of Jesus Christ that penetrated his whole being.
(iii) De Piro’s union with God experienced through his union with the Spirit.
Joseph De Piro spoke nineteen times about the Holy Spirit. In one of them he expressed who the Third Person of the Trinity was for him. “The third person of the most Holy Trinity comes down upon the universe to re-create it.” Here De Piro showed that the Holy Spirit does not act on the universe from afar. He becomes one with the universe and therefore with humanity. The Servant of God also presents the Holy Spirit as the, “universal partnership between God and man.” Here he is more explicit about God’s union with humanity through the Holy Spirit.
(Tony Sciberras, The Incarnational Aspect of the Spirituality of Joseph De Piro)