Jesus told a parable to his disciples, ‘Can one blind man guide another? Surely both will fall into a pit? The disciple is not superior to his teacher; the fully trained disciple will always be like his teacher. Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the splinter that is in your eye,” when you cannot see the plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.
‘There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit. For every tree can be told by its own fruit: people do not pick figs from thorns, nor gather grapes from brambles. A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart; a bad man draws what is bad from the store of badness. For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart.’
In this Sunday’s gospel speaks about the virtue of prudence.
The Servant of God practised prudence in the deliberations and sense of fairness with which he reached any judgments he had to make in life. Before making any decision, he was always careful and put a lot of thought into it. He was never in any hurry, but took all the time needed so that he could see the matter from all angles, and only then he could be sure of a mature judgment. He carefully considered all the circumstances and never hesitated or held back from seeking the advice of those whom he considered to be more competent than himself. His prayers, the spiritual direction he sought and the discernment exercise he carried before he left his Law studies and started preparing for to the priesthood are proof of this. Before he decided to live at St Joseph’s Orphanage rather than to remain in Rome and prepare for a diplomatic career in the Church, was moment that confirms this. The story narrating his efforts to start his new Society is another proof of his prudence.
Yet, once the Servant of God took the decision, he acted very promptly, but if a change in circumstances indicated the necessity of a change in his judgment, he was quick to do this and to adapt to the new situation. He was not attached to his decisions for their own sake. The history of the conception, birth and infancy years of his Missionary Society are proof of this.
Several times De Piro confessed that he achieved this high degree of prudence with the help of the sacraments and prayer to God, Our Lady and the saints. In his sermons De Piro showed that like the apostles, we too, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can become more open to understand God’s will for us and be strong enough to execute it prudently. If the Servant of God had simply relied on his own abilities, would have never succeeded in discerning what was the correct way forward for him. His continued union with God in prayer helped him live this virtue. His union with God was further strengthened with his sacrifices.
The prudence of the Servant of God was particularly evident in the way he organised all the activities entrusted to his care. Firstly, he always started by praying very hard and encouraged others to pray for the success of these same activities. In his short diary, made of only 12 sheets, in which he recorded the planning of the foundation of the Society, he spoke about prayer eight times, almost a reference on each page. In his correspondence with Fr Angelo Mizzi ofmcap, discussing the foundation of the mission in Abyssinia, De Piro encouraged this Capuchin Friar to ask the Somali children to pray for the success of this new mission.
He recommended prayer to those who worked with him and those depending on him. He insisted with them that it was the Lord who could make their efforts bear fruit. During his time in Qrendi, at the beginning of his ministry, by both word and example he encouraged the parishioners to devote time to prayer and the sacraments. He believed that the life of the parish depended on these two. In the orphanages where he was director, he led the way with frequent public prayer. He urged the staff at these orphanages, especially the members of this Society, to set fixed times in their timetable for prayer and meditation.
Since the time of their prenovitiate, the members of his Society were trained to reserve particular moments for what the Founder called ‘acts of piety’: Mass, meditation, particular and general examens of conscience, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, spiritual reading and the rosary on a daily basis; the Way of the Cross and the sacrament of reconciliation once weekly; a day of retreat once monthly; and an annual retreat.
It was evident to all that he had the charisma needed for his many activities, but he himself attributed the effectiveness of his apostolate to God’s help. In his address on the occasion of the laying and blessing of the foundation stone of the Society’s Motherhouse, is a strong proof of this. Moreover, he expected the same attitude from the members of his Society. Sixteen of the hundred and thirty-eight conferences he delivered to the Brother novices in 1929-30 were about prayer in its different forms. He also mentioned prayer five times during a sermon at a wedding, he encouraged the newlyweds to pray continually for the success of their marriage.
In every orphanage, where people were dependent on him, he strove to give them a solid spiritual formation, based on orthodox teaching. He insisted on the need to avoid dangers that could lead one away from God. He was convinced that solid and careful training and instruction were necessary to help a person reach maturity. He was ready to trust people. He had a very high regard for honesty and integrity and saw to it that a solid spiritual formation came first.
A marked characteristic in the life of the Servant of God was his strong determination to discern between the methods he used to help him achieve his end and how to overcome any stumbling-blocks in his way. This was certainly due to the fact that he knew what he wanted, was certain of his ultimate aim, and worked consistently to achieve it. The history of how he helped his Society to develop is prove of this.
De Piro also acted this way in his relationship with others and when he found himself in situations that needed him to be prudent to be able to make a wise and truly Christian decision. This was the way he acted during the heated conflicts known as the riots of 7 June 1919, where some people wanted the Church to get involved.
About ten years after these riots, the relations between Church and State in Malta were in a very bad shape. Through the endeavours of the Servant of God, a prudent solution was reached and even some members of government expressed their gratitude and real sense of appreciation. The Malta Chronicle, the paper of the party in government, expressed its appreciation for De Piro’s intervention. While always remaining completely faithful to the Church, Joseph De Piro handled the situation with such prudence that Lord Gerard Strickland, the Prime Minister, sought him out, discussed the matter with him several times, obeyed the advice of the Servant of God and returned to the Church. Apart from this, many individuals burdened with problems, personal or otherwise, went to him for advice. On his part, he always helped them reach a Christian solution.
His prudence was evident when he had to decide about his vocation. Initially, he did not give it much thought, but when God showed him His will more clearly while at prayer, he helped himself along step by step until he made his decision. He consulted his mother so that she, who knew him so well and also had a clear picture of the meaning of the priesthood, could give him her advice. He was also in constant contact with his spiritual director. In his Diary he several times mentioned Fr Gualandi sj and Fr Sammut sj.
He followed the Ignatian method of discernment when he needed to decide his course of action after his priestly ordination. His options were either to continue his studies and become a Church diplomat, or to join the community of priests living at St Joseph’s Orphanage.
The Servant of God also practised the virtue of prudence when he was planning to start his Society. He said that he prayed hard so that God would show him His will. He also consulted several priests, well known for their knowledge of ecclesiastical matters. Several times he discussed with them how best to achieve his aim. When he presented his ideas before the ecclesiastical authorities, he did so with the utmost delicacy. From the beginning he communicated his intention to his bishop and, in spite of his own personal convictions on many occasions, he never did anything without the bishop’s blessing. He acted in a similar when he corresponded with the Vatican officials. Each time he had to take a decision about which they needed to be informed or consulted, he did this faithfully. His letters addressed to the Vatican officials indicate that the Servant of God always communicated with his superiors without ever expressing any expectations or claiming any rights with regards to his requests. His letters always demonstrated great prudence.
This continued even after the start of the Society’s and during the first years of its existence; the Servant of God moved ahead prudently in his relations with the hierarchy.
When he had to examine prospective candidates for membership in the Society, he checked that they had all the requisite qualities. He was prudent even in the first years of the Society, when he still lacked members. He also practised prudence in admitting members to proceed their final profession or their priestly ordination. He always checked that the candidates were fully prepared to dedicate themselves to their vocation; otherwise, the Servant of God would not permit anyone to stay in the Society.
Regardless of the many discussions and deliberations about the Society in order to decide when to start, where to have its residence house, or whether it should be a regular religious institute or a society of diocesan clergy, he never discussed with anyone about the main aim of his congregation. At times it seemed easier for him to achieve his aim if he were to be ready to compromise about the main aim of the Society. Yet, while always acting with great calmness and waiting for the right moment for things to clear up, he never wavered in the aim of his missionary Society. He was convinced that God Himself wanted him to give birth and life to that particular ideal, and no other. So, in his eyes, it would have been imprudent to act in any other way on this matter! The history of his emphasis on the ad gentes main aim of the Society and at the same time “starting with Maltese living away from their motherland,” proves this.
The Servant of God practised prudence in the way he guided his Society. Although he was the Founder and knew better than anyone else the ultimate goals of the Society, yet he asked the Archbishop whether he could have, as soon as possible, two members of the Society to help him, as counsellors or assistants. He was careful to have regular meetings with them and often consulted them.
He was very interested in the progress of the members of his Society, especially those still in the novitiate and the studentate. He often consulted the formator about the progress of the junior members and when he needed to take a decision concerning one of these, he always followed the master’s advice and that of his two assistants.
In founding the Society, the Servant of God practised prudence, careful about three things concerning the members, (a) a good formation, (b) an intense spirituality and (c) an apostolate conforming to the ideal of the Society itself.
The documents related to the foundation and the first years of the Society are proof of the Founder’s prudence:
He referred to the Society as: “Small Company of St Paul,” “Small Society of St Paul,” “Small Institute,” “Little house of St Paul,” “Little Work,” “small mustard seed,” “Little or poor plant” or “small boat”.
He was really and truly convinced that the Society was meant to be “ad gentes”, but he considered it to be a gross imprudence for such a small Society to send out its members immediately to big countries where they would feel unprepared for the tasks ahead. He explained clearly that they should start with their apostolate among Maltese expatriates and then move on to work in ad gentes countries.
De Piro did not hesitate to do whatever had to be done, but in the case of the writing of the Constitutions for his Society, he went in stages. He wrote several drafts of the constitutions, before settling down on the final version. He wanted the members to try to live this or this version, and after some years living these initial versions, he presented them with the last edition.
He exercised prudence in the guidance of the orphanages. He was director and had full authority over them. Yet, there were also the religious sisters or members of his Society in charge of the daily running. Although at times they hesiated about what to do, he always encouraged them and showed that he trusted them. He always respected their rights and, although he was their superior, he never did anything without first consulting them.