Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached Jesus and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well, then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died. Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’
Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’
In today’s gospel reading, the Saducees confront Jesus about belief in the resurrection of the dead. The Servant of God Joseph De Piro speaks about his faith in eternal life when he speaks about death.
A year after his father’s death, Joseph wrote to his mother and his siblings about their loss. ‘Last year, according to our way of reasoning, was an unfortunate year. I say this because God always acts in a perfect way and his actions are the best. Moreover, in the circumstance of our father’s death, we were comforted so much that, I dare say, our consolations far surpassed the misfortune we suffered. The graces God poured out on us in the past year were neither few nor small; there is no need for me to list them, as we all know what these were.’
In the following year there was a second death in the De Piro family, the son Alberto. On 15 May 1899, Joseph wrote to his mother from Rome. ‘I am the least one among my siblings who can console you, but I will do the best I can. It seems that God and the Virgin Mary have not forgotten us, once again they are giving us an opportunity to express our trust in them. Regarding Alberto, we can say, and rightly so, that he is in a better state than us, and that he is in the company of all the others who have left us before him. In the letter he wrote to me on the ninth of this month, among other things, he gave me some good and consoling news about 8 May, ‘that most devotional day of the year.’ From these words alone, I can see the great love he harboured in his heart towards the Virgin of Pompeii. I notice the great trust with which he asked the Virgin Mary to grant him the grace he requested. From this misfortune, we can see clearly that the Virgin appreciated the prayer he addressed to her on that day. He was not even given the time to thank her with the usual novena, she has already allowed him to participate in the one true gift, Paradise. Last year the Virgin offered me, here on earth, to her Divine Son; this year, dear mother, she took Alberto by the hand and offered him to her Son in Paradise. Therefore, I say this to all of you at home, you who, like me, are grieving, thank the Virgin Mary for the way she thought best to act. Let us tell her that this event will in future be a new golden ring in the chain that links us to her. This is the only consolation that I can validly turn to, and I cannot recommend you anything better; may God’s holy will be done.’
Eight years, Maria, another of Joseph’s siblings, died. She was the third sibling in the family and was 35 years old when she died. This time Ursula, the mother, wrote to her sons and daughter. ‘I start with thanking you for your kindness to your sister Maria and to me. I am especially grateful for the way you behaved like real Christians; you have lived the formation you received. In this way, you have honoured your father and, though I do not deserve it, to me in my sorrow. In November, Maria started to feel unwell. She said that she felt as if her heart growing. Her husband Alfredo hoped that she would get better with some rest. In the beginning of December I asked him to test her water. Here he discovered a large amount of albumin and wanted to consult with Hamilton, his older brother. At first, Maria disagreed, but later she accepted. Hamilton visited Maria and after a long consultation, decided that Maria was suffering from nefratitis. She needed to be wrapped up in wool and given milk to drink. Maria suffered greatly from these restrictions, but she accepted everything with resignation and a saintly patience. At Christmastime, she became very sick. She felt her body, especially her head, aching. She was greatly agitated. After the Christmas season, the wretched creature started to feel better and thought she was going to recover fully. She asked Alfredo whether they would be able to travel abroad so that she could recuperate her health. Alfredo agreed.
Everything was going on well; her sight was restored to her, she was calm again in her sleep and slept well; she no longer lamented about her pain. Her progress could be measured since her albumin level went down to nil. We were all satisfied with this, but, as it turned out, this was only a cruel temporary reprieve; it seemed that the sickness had retreated for a short while to regroup and attack with a renewed force.
One night, at the end of January, at about 1:00 am., Alfredo called me and told me that Maria wanted to see me. I immediately went to her bedside and found her breathless. She told me that there was something wrong on the right hand side of her body as she did not have any feeling there. She was very alarmed and was in a pitiful state.
While I was with Maria, Alfredo changed his clothes. When I saw this, I was truly alarmed; I realised that this was a critical time. I too went to put on something decent, and that is what I did. By early morning, Maria told us that she was feeling better and her heartbeat had settled. This was the only thing that changed during her illness; everything else remained the same as if nothing had happening; her appearance remained normal, she was placid, beautiful, clear minded and a little excited. She encouraged greatly as she was calmly telling us what she was expected; that we admired her greatly.
At daybreak, Alfredo contacted to Hamilton who came immediately. Eduardo, another of Alfredo’s brothers, also came. They agreed that Maria had blacked out, and if this repeated itself, it could be fatal. They decided to consult Dr Tabone and Dr C. Sammut. Maria asked to see her confessor and I requested a taxicab from the Percius family to pick him up. Maria also expressed her wish to receive the Blessed Sacrament, preferably the Holy Viaticum. For a number of reasons it was not possible to organise the Holy Viaticum. At 4:00 pm the doctors held another consultation meeting and spoke at length with Alfredo. The latter informed us that they had not gone near Maria so as not to alarm her. On her part, Maria showed that they could have gone near her as she was prepared for any eventuality. They therefore went near her bed. While Dr Tabone remained standing silently and compassionately, Dr Sammut asked some questions. They could not offer any suggestions. Dr Tabone informed Joseph that Maria had requested the Holy Viaticum. Fr Joseph Apap Bologna, the brother-in-law of Maria’s sister Teresa, arrived and together with Jospeh, they offered Communion to Maria. It was about 6:00 pm. We started praying the novena to Our Lady of Pompeii and some other prayers. After this, Maria started to feel better and we hoped she was recovering.
On the 28th February, since Maria was feeling better, I went for a few hours to our house in Mdina, since I had been missing from there for over two months. I returned at about 5:00 pm and Maria was happy to see me back by her side. She told me that during the day she felt quite well and that Hamilton had visited her and found she was doing well. She had hardly finished telling me this when she told us that she was feeling sick again, and asked us to call Alfredo and Hamilton. I ran out of the room to ask for them. Maria sent her daughter Victoria to look for them. Meanwhile I asked her to tell me what she was feeling. Maria told me that she was feeling very sick, but she could not explain what she was feeling. She asked for some ether. I tried to do everything possible to help her. About half hour later, Hamilton arrived and injected in her caffeine. After a while she was already feeling better, the poor creature; she was planning about what to tell Alfredo so as not to alarm him. Alfredo had gone to Sliema, and was unaware of the latest developments. When he arrived, she explained to him gently, so as not to alarm him. From that time onwards, she started to suffer stronger attacks more frequently. This continued until Saturday, that memorable day that no one can forget.
All along her illness, Maria had always been resigned. Elena and Bice, Maria’s daughters were with Emilia, their paternal grandmother. I asked them to approach their mother. Maria always tried to find some excuse to keep the three sons away from her room when they returned from school; she was already trying to detach herself slowly from her sons and daughters.
She spent the whole month, between the reception of the Holy Viaticum and her death, in constant prayer. She often told me: ‘Mama, this room is blessed by the Lord’s presence.’ She also told me, ‘I do not pray to be cured. If I die providence will look after my sons and daughters.’
One day she asked permission from Joseph to perform a penitential vow to be cured. Joseph answered affirmatively. Therefore, she called Alfredo and told him that she intended to wear the Carmelite habit for a whole year. Alfredo replied that she was free to do whatever she thought best. She repeatedly prayed, ‘Lord, hide me in your wound. I wish to die embracing your cross, Lord.’ When she survived an attack she would say, ‘I am expected to suffer more. I do not want to suffer less.’ She also prayed repeatedly, ‘Lord, I offer you the sacrifice of my life for the good of my family.’ To us she encouraged us to hold strong in the faith, that we live a good life, so that we may merit heaven and therefore meet there together. She told me: ‘I do not feel any temptation.’ When Fr Joseph, her confessor, arrived, she told us: ‘I do not need to go to confession, this month I have done nothing wrong, therefore I have nothing to confess.’ She asked to hug and kiss everyone. She kissed Hamilton and Eduardo, who were there, and Pio and Joseph. On Friday, at midnight, she heard the clock strike and told us, ‘It is midnight, before Saturday. I will die today; this is Our Lady’s day.’ This is exactly what happened. At 11:15 am everyone was at her bedside. Alfredo was holding one of her hands and Joseph was holding the other. The latter was really admirable, he stayed with her all the time. Fr Joseph gave her the absolution. Pio, Teresa and all the servants stood near. I held her head. She seemed very ill, she tried to look at everyone, to talk to everyone and was praying until the end.
That is all, my dear sons and daughter. She died as she had lived: as a saint. She was always an example, full of faith in God. Her two confessors admitted that she was free from sin. Alfredo told me that she was a saint and she died for her duties.
On Sunday evening, she was taken to St Dominic’s Church, Rabat, according to her wish, which she had expressed to Alfredo. She is now and there, resting with her grandmother and her baby son. I have forgotten to say that on Friday she asked to be anointed with the oil for the sick, which she received with great devotion. Those three days she did nothing except pray, and give orders and advices, all spiritual as material ones were of no interest to her; she was completely resigned. This is all I can say about our desolation and pain. It is impossible to describe and imagine things. At the moment I am here, with the youngest two of Maria’s children, waiting for Alfredo to decide how to organise things. He is to be pitied. He does not yet know what to do. Two nights ago he went back to his home, together with his sons Alessandro and Vittore. Ernesto and Elena are with their other grandmother. This is where they are at for the moment. Dear sons and daughter, I ask you to continue to pray so that this family, which has suffered this tragedy, may regain its spiritual and temporal serenity.
Carmelo is still with us, but he will be leaving soon. This time I am sad to see him go as he is not feeling well. I really wish him to stay longer to get some to rest. He says that it is impossible for him to stay here because of his work.
We are relatively good. I intend to send this letter to my son Fr Santin, for him to pass it on to the other two sons Guido and Gino. I feel it is impossible for me to repeat the whole story again.
I, your mother, hug and kiss you with all my love.’