Once Jesus was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘Say this when you pray:
“Father, may your name be held holy,
your kingdom come;
give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.
And do not put us to the test.”’
He also said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, “My friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him”; and the man answers from inside the house, “Do not bother me. The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it to you.” I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants.
‘So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg? If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
It is about prayer this Sunday. “Prayer is the lifting up of the soul towards God to know him well, to adore him and thank him and to ask him what you need.” These words of De Piro show quite clearly what was another most efficient means with which he lived his intimate union with God. For De Piro prayer was that which first and foremost helped the individual come to the knowledge of God. But here it is quite clear that by knowledge De Piro was not implying only intellectual understanding; he even meant experiential awareness. Then as a result of this type of knowledge the individual finds out that he has to adore and thank God. The individual’s experience of God through prayer also encourages the former even to seek the divine help.
There were several witnesses in the Diocesan Process of the Cause of Canonisation of the Servant of God who referred to the prayerful life of De Piro. Putting these testimonies together one can conclude that De Piro prayed a lot, whenever and wherever it was possible for him to do it. Fr Telesphoro Farrugia O. Carm., said that he used to see De Piro praying while going to Fra Diegu Orphanage or when coming back from St Joseph’s Orphanage. Mr Louis Galea, who hailed from Qrendi, said that he used to see Fr Joseph going from one side of the parish to the other, praying. Benedetta Farrugia, an Mdina spinster, testified that when she met De Piro passing by, he often had the Breviary open and he prayed on it. Sr Teresa Degabriele and Sr Pia Caruana said that after visiting the Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage, De Piro used to go back to St Joseph’s Orphanage, by cab, accompanied by Degabriele herself who lived in the Home for babies and small children near the orphanage. This must have therefore been after 1925 because the Home was opened during that year. Therefore this was the time when the Servant of God could have taken the opportunity of these trips and talked to Sr Degabriele about her nascent Congregation, the building of the new orphanage at Zejtun, or the Home for babies. De Piro did nothing of this. While on the cab, he used to stay quiet, all the time praying. Fr Augustine Grech, a member-priest of De Piro’s Society almost summarised all the above when he said that the Founder was rarely seen if not praying, even when walking in the public streets. Br Emmanuel Gafa, one of the first members of the Society, testified that when at St Joseph’s Orphanage, the Director used to pass through the corridors, praying. Another Brother of the Society, Felix Muscat, said almost the same thing. Sr Consiglia Vassallo and Sr Felice Vella of Fra Diegu Orphanage testified that the first thing De Piro did whenever he entered the orphanage was that he spent some time in prayer. Sr Pauline Cilia repeated the same thing. Fr Michael Camilleri, another ex-member of the Society, said that whenever the Founder could not sleep at night, he used to stay praying. Br Felix Muscat synthesised all the above with these few words, “De Piro was a man of continuous prayer.”
De Piro cultivated his union with God through prayer all along his life, but then there were particular occasions when prayer helped him in a particular way in order to keep alive this union with the Divine. As he did in Davos where he was because of his sickness “… I felt sick and for the second time (the first was 19 July 1900) I saw vanishing in thin air all my good intentions.” In Switzerland he could not start that congregation which he intended to found in Malta. He could only pray, “…and I prayed, prayed and prayed.”
Returning from Switzerland to Malta, Fr Joseph was determined to put into practice the “… old ideas”. In less than 12 months, on 9 January of the following year, he started sharing his plans with those whom he thought would be of some help to him. But not only this! He continued praying, “18 November (1906): Being in Rome and being today the dedication of the Basilica of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I celebrated mass at St. Peter’s in the Vatican, and precisely upon the altar of St. Peter. I celebrated in honour of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, praying to them …”
After facing many difficulties of all sorts, De Piro started his Society on 30 June 1910. If he had prayed before founding his Congregation, he prayed as much after its beginning. In 1923, John Vella, in whom the Founder had put so many hopes, because he was the first priest of the Society, abandoned him to become diocesan. It was De Piro himself who brought Vella the news of his incardination to the Maltese Archdiocese. Fr John himself testified how the Servant of God handled the case, “… the Bishop informed me through De Piro that he was accepting me in the Diocese. As soon as the Founder returned home, he went straight to the chapel, stayed there for a while and afterwards came to me with the Bishop’s answer.” Some time after Vella added, “He approached me, looking downwards, and told me, ‘The Bishop accepts you in the Diocese.’ ‘What are you saying?’ I asked him. This was a great surprise. He left me alone and went to the chapel, knelt down and remained there praying, with his head in his hands.”
The acquisition of the land on which he had thought to build the Society’s Motherhouse meant a lot of fatigue for the Founder. According to Mr John Buhagiar, an employee at St Joseph’s, Malta, and Fr Beninju Azzopardi, one of the first members of the Society, the Servant of God prayed a lot on that occasion.
Mr John Balzan of Qrendi testified that De Piro was very regular in his prayers. He used to be daily at church for the rosary and the Blessed Sacrament Benediction. Fr John Vella, the first priest of the Society, said that even after a hard days’ work, he never slept without reciting the Breviary. And in order not to drowse while reciting the Liturgy of the Hours, he used to say it while walking. Anton Muscat Azzopardi, a St Joseph’s old boy, said that in order to remain awake he wanted one of the members, Fr Joseph Spiteri, to remain near him.
Several witnesses emphasised the fact that the Servant of God was very concentrated, recollected and devout during his personal prayers or the liturgical celebrations. And he did not want anyone to disturb him. Fr Michael Camilleri said that, “During prayers he did not talk to anyone. Once the Bishop came to talk to him. Since we knew that he did not want to be disturbed while praying we did not want to tell him. At last one of us informed De Piro. After the Founder went out of the chapel he told us, ‘The one with whom I was is more important than the Bishop.’”
Camillo Aquilina, another of the first members of the Society, emphasised the same thing as regards the Founder. Sr Eletta Sant of Fra Diegu, noticed the Director’s recollection while in the chapel of the orphanage. Carmena Mallia referred to De Piro’s devoutness during mass. As did Fr Augustine Grech, a priest of De Piro’s Society, and Joseph Vella and Br Felix Muscat, two old boys of St Joseph’s Orphanage. The latter also noticed the Director’s great recollection when praying in front of the Holy Eucharist. Fr Ugolino Gatt OSA related De Piro’s devoutness to God’s presence in him especially in his participation in the Liturgy at the Mdina Cathedral, “In liturgical acts and in the sacristy he showed the same seriousness. And here one could observe the solemnity of his comportment. He showed most clearly that there was something in him which he really lived and showed externally.”
Sr Pauline Formosa, who was a child in Mdina at the time of De Piro, confirmed Gatt’s testimony. As did Fr Seraphim Fenech OfmConv., Mr Biagio GaleaMr Peter Paul Cutajar Fr Alphonse Maria Camilleri Ofm., and one of De Piro’s nieces, Sr Marie De Piro.
In the above paragraphs there has already been mentioning of some types of prayer of De Piro, but there can be more references to De Piro’s particular prayers. Fr Augustine Grech referred to the Founder’s meditation:
He made his daily meditation. He used the book “Meditations for Religious” written by a Jesuit priest. From a note written in his meditation book by the late Fr. Joseph Spiteri MSSP, we know that his last meditation, on the very day of his death, was ‘The unfaithful religious in front of God’s Tribunal.’ Whenever he was in our House, he made his meditation with us. Our meditation used to last for half an hour.
Here Fr Grech was referring to the days when De Piro had already founded the Society. But the Servant of God himself indicated that he had been doing the meditation much before 1910. In the discernment exercise with which he discerned his vocation, Joseph, although he was not even a seminarian, mentioned the meditation.
De Piro could not act otherwise. He was so convinced of the necessity of the meditation in the life of consecrated persons. To the 1929-1930 Brother novices he said this, “Meditation is very necessary. The meditation is that we think of God in his virtue. Meditation is half an hour’s retreat. Therefore we should leave everything behind and think of God.” Fr Augustine said also that De Piro, “was faithful to the Divine Office.” The same witness testified that, “At midday he made the particular examen, and before going to rest in the evening, the general examen of conscience.” Two Brothers of the Society, Felix Muscat and Venanz Galea, and Fr Dominic Coppola Ofm, an ex-member, said almost the same words about the Founder’s meditation, the Divine Office and the examinations of conscience.
Sr Vassallo and Sr Vella said that the Director visited the orphanage three times each week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Thursday, at about 3.00 pm., he used to make the one-hour adoration with the girls of the orphanage. The same was said by Carmena Mallia, an old girl of the Orphanage.
Michael Vella Haber, another ex-member of the Society, mentioned two invocations repeated frequently by the Founder: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of Jews, have mercy of us,” and “Behold the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ; run away you enemies, the lion of the tribe of Judah wins, root of David, Alleluia!”
In the discernment exercise for the choice of his vocation, young Joseph De Piro mentioned the reading of the lives of the saints.
Fr Augustine Grech testified that he could notice that the Founder, because he was a man of prayer, was continuously in the presence of God.