Due to the fact that Mgr De Piro had a special devotion towards St Paul (DP, 1987:76), he wanted the members of his Society to celebrate the feasts of the Apostle especially his conversion, in the chapel of the Motherhouse (DP, 1987:76), and even in the other houses of the Society. In the Constitutions of the Society, Mgr De Piro encouraged members to pray to St Paul for the spiritual needs of the Society. In the Original Constitution, Mgr De Piro exhorted the members of his Society to imitate St Paul in his generosity and absolute obedience to God’s call to follow Him in his humility and love for others (DPA, 2003: (3) 69). When he talked to the members, he often referred to the Saint because he wanted to instil in them the Apostle’s zeal (DP, 1987:279).
Mgr De Piro was very familiar with the Epistles of St Paul. Out of 468 biblical references in his sermons, 73 of them were from the Pauline letters (DPA, 1987, vol. 1:23; vol. 2:25; vol. 3:25). He urged the Society members to familiarise themselves with the writings of St Paul and to memorize his letters. Mgr De Piro’s sermons refer to 10 out of the 13 letters of St Paul. He made use of Pauline literature in different contexts, for example, he quotes 21 times Romans chapter 8 on the love of God, shown to mankind through his Son Jesus. Mgr De Piro used quotations, such as Romans 8:35, not only in his sermons about the Sacred Heart of Jesus (DPA, 1987:148-151), but also in wider contexts on Sunday homilies and martyrs’ feast days. In this way, he showed that the martyr could offer his life precisely because he experienced God’s love first. When celebrating the feast of St Calcedonius Mgr De Piro opened his sermon with the words of St Paul (Rom. 8:35): “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” (DPA, 1987:42- 44).
Mgr De Piro was also capable to find the exact quotation for the right circumstance, such as: quoting Romans 2:11 “For there is no partiality with God.” He used this verse and presented it to Mother Superiors so that they could exercise it in their ministry with the community members (DPA, 1987:112, 291). Hence, he could adapt Pauline’s texts so well because he was well versed in them.
In his sermons, Mgr De Piro, unlike Fr George, did not insist too much upon fire and hell and God’s punishment for sinners. Whenever he referred to sin, rather than referring to punishment, Mgr De Piro explained who the human being is “… he in whom God himself dwells …” and “… he who, through the resurrection, is transformed into God himself” Mgr De Piro emphasized more Romans 6:22: “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” These words were delivered in two sermons about the aim of the human being (DPA, 1987:327, 329).
It was this “God-love for humanity” that enabled Mgr De Piro to love humanity to such an extent. God’s unity with humanity and humanity’s with God meant so much to him. In fact, God’s incarnation was another recurring theme; where he mentioned Philippians 2:7-8: “… but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (DPA, 1987:404-405). Here he saw God’s initiative to become one with humanity. When he preached about the Eucharist, he could not refrain from explaining this reality. Mgr De Piro referred to Galatians many times when speaking about the Eucharist (DPA, 1987:77) “it is no longer I, but Christ living in me” (Gal. 2:20).
The Founder always urged his members to practise reciprocal love; and from the letter of Paul to the Church at Colossians 3:14, he used to emphasize “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (DPA, 1987:409-410). From Romans 8:9 Mgr De Piro used to explain to his congregation that the reason why Jesus entered into time and space was to demonstrate God’s love (DPA, 1987:10-12); and for Paul to lead a Christian life is to be loved by God and love God, and not to observe the rules and regulations of the law. When referring to Romans 10:18 to prospective missionaries, Mgr De Piro added that they ought to walk and live secure and confident in God’s love, knowing with deep certainty that in everything God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. In his sermon to a newly ordained priest, Mgr De Piro said: “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth and their words to the end of the world’” (DPA, 1987:64-72).
Mgr De Piro was so full of love for God and neighbour that he wanted to imbue his members with Romans 8:38-39: “For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord” (DPA, 1987:155-157). He always quoted St Paul to emphasize that love is above all practical. It is not a theory or an abstract idea but lived out and real. The Founder constantly urged his members that love should be sincere and shown in true devotion and affection for each other.
Mgr De Piro wanted his members to ensure that love was the motivation for all their actions. When St Paul penned his ‘Hymn to Love’ he encapsulated the beauty and glory of love. Many times, when referring to 1 Cor. 13:4 Mgr De Piro repeated: “Love is patient; love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant” (DPA, 1987:241, 257). The Apostle shows the order of importance in spiritual gifts. Love is agape – the supreme love is God’s love for humanity. St Paul ends this passage by saying that out of the three theological virtues the greatest is love. In this hymn, love is revealed as a person. Jesus was for the living embodiment of love. Today we are living in an age where we see shelf after shelf of books about love, and media devoted to help and suggesting ways to be happy.
However, for Mgr De Piro, the cult of St Paul was to follow Christ and obey his law of love, and that would make one happy. Mgr De Piro used to tell his listeners that what counts more than anything else is faith working through love and serving one another in love. When he preached about love and forgiveness he quoted Ephesians 5:2: “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (DPA, 1987:405). No wonder the Founder urged the members of the Missionary Society of St Paul to study in-depth St Paul’s Letters, in order to appreciate the greatest gift of all – love. When expounding the parable of the Prodigal Son, Mgr De Piro referred to Timothy 1:15 “and Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and among whom I am foremost of all” (DPA, 1987:372). He gave them the example of St Paul who viewed the entire gospel as a living and tangible witness of God pouring out his love.
I recommend to all the members of the Society of St Paul without any distinction, be they superiors or subjects, to engage to the full their holy eagerness in maintaining among themselves mutual love in Christ, being convinced that nothing may procure more the glory of God, one’s spiritual good and that of the neighbour than the conservation of the same, according to the words of our father St Paul, ‘But love builds up’ (NAV R723/90, ff. 3524-3525).
An excerpt from a thesis, “The St Paul Cult in Malta – An evaluation of the contributions of Monsignor Giuseppe De Piro and Saint George Preca” by Maria Dolores Cannataci (2014), 142- 145. Click here to access the full thesis.