Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else, ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’
Joseph De Piro’s experienced his union with God the Father through his union with the Son: Incarnate, Suffering, and Eucharistic, through his union with the Holy Spirit, his union with Mary and the saints, his union with the Word of God, in general, St Paul’s letters in particular and his rules of life. He experienced a continuous search for the divine will and prayer.
This helped De Piro to get to know and accept himself.
In the discernment exercise to discern his vocation to the priesthood, and in the second one to decide whether to take up residence at St Jospeh’s Orphanage, Malta, against attending the Ecclesiastic Academy and become part of the Church diplomatic services, De Piro showed that from a young age, he knew himself quite well. In two reasons in favour of becoming a priest, Joseph showed that he knew himself and could clearly see that the priesthood was the state that would best match his character. ‘Having found, after reflecting, that this is the state which is most suitable to my nature,’ and, ‘the feeling that I would be happy in this state, considering all the difficulties which I have already encountered in my life.’
Among his reasons for wanting to take up residence at St Joseph’s Orphanage, the third year theology student mentioned his wish to live in a community, ‘The love of living in community of clerical persons. I feel that I should be happy in the company of two priests, who are already in charge of St Joseph’s Orphanage.’ The only reason De Piro put against becoming priest showed that he was conscious of the existence and power of his sexual needs, ‘The animal instinct towards the conjugal life, and the fear that in my celibate life, in the struggle between spirit and matter, the latter should have the upper hand.’
When Joseph was deciding in favour of going to St Jospeh’s Orphanage he mentioned another two needs which he felt he had to educate in him: ‘Because if I remain in the family I would be in danger of attaching myself to wealth; or that at least it would occupy a great amount of my thoughts and my time. Because I will be in danger of desiring status, office and honour. By refusing to go the Academy, I will be safe from desiring, and much more from requesting, status and honourable offices in the diocese.’
When he was considering why he should not attend the Ecclesiastical Academy, he mentioned his academic limitations, ‘In fact I am not very bright.’
In the two exercises mentioned above, the Servant of God showed that he knew and admitted that he was a sinner. He used expressions like, ‘for my sins,’ ‘who found me among sinners,’ ‘when I consider my sins,’ and ‘the desire to make penance for my sins. He also mentioned one particular sin, ‘In particular that which has harmed my brother.’
The above quotes from De Piro’s own words show that he was conscious of his own nature and being, and accepted himself with all those defects.
De Piro humbled himself
For Joseph De Piro, union with God was based on a life of charity, especially towards the underprivileged and those who lacked the good news. It also needs to be affirmed that charity requires humility; Jesus emptied himself to reveal to us the Father’s love. De Piro’s charity was based on his humility. His union with God through his words and actions, De Piro wanted to be a faithful transmitter of God’s love. To achieve this he chose the path of service and humility and lived in solidarity and self-sacrifice.
His contemporaries often spoke about De Piro’s humility. Some said that the virtue of humility was the one that was the most obvious in the Servant of God. Aloisius Aloisio, who interviewed a number of De Piro’s contemporaries, said that ‘Those I interviewed showed me that they were not struck with the many activities carried out by the Servant of God, but rather by his humility and his humanity based on a strong sense of spirituality. At times I was deeply moved by what they narrated and helped me feel the deep spirituality of the Servant of God.’
Even people like Mgr Lorenzo Spiteri, who rarely met Joseph De Piro, could appreciate that he was a very humble person.
Those who spoke about De Piro’s humility came from all walks of life: diocesan clergy, religious men and women, members of De Piro’s own Society, and laymen and laywomen. They hailed from both from Malta and Gozo, from the city of Mdina and from various towns or villages. These people had come across Joseph De Piro in different circumstances. His relatives met him on family occasions, some attended the catechism classes in the Society’s first house and others lived in one of the orphanages under his care. Some formed part of the staff in one of the orphanages. Put together one can see a picture of one who was always humble, everywhere and with everyone.