It takes great faith to live through suffering and death and onto resurrection. It required of Jesus an immense trust in the Father for him to be able to submit to this journey, offering himself for our salvation. It required an equally strong faith for his disciples to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead.
Suffering and death are part of our human experience. We try in many ways to avoid suffering, pain and loss, but they are an integral part of who we are. Everything that lives on earth, has to die. We know this, we have experienced it many times.
Resurrection from the dead requires faith. In the gospel according to John, Mary of Magdala is the first one to visit the tomb; she is faced with an empty tomb. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have put him!” she tells Peter and John. How can we reconcile an empty tomb with the mystery of the resurrection? What does the resurrection actually look like?
These are the mysteries of our faith. We believe that what is buried in Christ, with him and like him will rise again. In faith we are invited to trust and believe, yet we do not know how the resurrection will happen.
This faith was very strong in Joseph De Piro’s life.
Joseph De Piro was a contemplative; this led him to see the risen Jesus even when faced with a sealed tomb:
Joseph tried to listen to God’s voice even at the death of his father, which left his mother a widow and himself and his eight brothers and sisters orphans. God, incarnated in him through his contemplation, gave him the possibility to see:
On the 22nd December 1898, at 21 years of age, he wrote to his mother, brothers and sisters from Rome: “According to our judgement, last year was an unfortunate one. I say this because God always acts in a perfect way, and his actions cannot be but the best. On that occasion we were so consoled that, I say without any hesitation, the consolation surpassed our pain.”
His brother Berti died a few months later. On 15th May 1899, Joseph wrote to his mother: “It seems that God and the Virgin Mary have not forgotten us, they frequently offer us circumstances through which we can increase our hope in them. Regarding Berti, we can say without any hesitation that he is in a better place than us, he is near other good people who are departed …”
Joseph listened to God’s voice even in the ill health which he experienced during his studies in Rome. God, incarnated in him, gave him the possibility to realise that he was not destined to remain in Rome for further studies, as he had written to his mother in 1898, a few days after he had arrived there. He understood that God’s will for him was not to advance in the Church hierarchy, as Archbishop Peter Pace wished him to do. “With regards to my intelligence, I am not special. I have coped until now; out of three exams I almost failed two. If I consider my abilities and remember the difficult exams, I have to admit that I do not stand much chance of any further degrees.”
As a newly ordained priest, Joseph tried to discern what God wanted to tell him, even through the sickness he experienced once again after his priestly ordination, which stopped him from returning to Malta to start his pastoral work. God, who had called young Fr Joseph, now gave him the opportunity to realise that he had to rely more on him and let him lead the way: “… amidst the icy Alpine mountains, so far from the land where I hoped to realise my dreams,…” he could not do anything about his “… plans that I have matured in me for so long.” He “… was left with nothing but prayer – my most intimate friend. And I prayed, prayed and prayed.”
Joseph tried to discover what God wanted to tell him even in the discouragements and disheartenments caused by his companion priests, whom he approached about the foundation of the society. De Piro realised that it had to be the Lord who was to build the house. At the beginning of each section of the constitutions, and a number of times in the speech at the laying of the foundation stone of St Agatha’s, he quoted Psalm 126.
In November 1906, while De Piro was in Rome, he wrote in his Diary: “As I was in Rome, and today being the feast day of the dedication of the Basilicas of St Peter and St Paul, I celebrated Mass at St Peter’s, in the Vatican, on the altar dedicated to St Peter. I celebrated the Mass in honour of the Apostles St Peter and St Paul, asking them to help me clearly understand God’s will for me and to help me put it in practice.”
De Piro tried to listen to God’s voice even in the youths who joined his society and left a few years later. God inspired him to feel that it was enough for youths to receive some education. Msgr Antonio Buhagiar testified: “De Piro used to send the aspirants to St Aloysius College, Birkirkara, to prepare for the Matriculation Exams, and then make them wear the habit. Thanks to the generosity of the Jesuits, education was free. Unfortunately, some abused De Piro’s generosity and left the society soon after having finished their secondary education. After getting the necessary qualifications, they could easily find a suitable job. Once I told him, ‘Can’t you see that you are being deceived? These young men are only seeking to be educated, to be able to find a job.’ De Piro always answered with his usual calmness: ‘I do not care if they do this. I am happy for them that they will have acquired and education that will serve them. Jesus never forced any of his disciples to stay with him. Who am I to impose anything on these boys? God knows how to make use of the formation they have received; the good they have received will, one day, produce fruit.’
Not only the young students left the society; four years after his ordination to the priesthood, even the first priest of the society left the society. The founder had relied a lot on him. Later, this priest narrated how De Piro behaved with him when he we given permission to join the diocese: “He approached me, looking downwards, and told me, ‘The bishop accepts you in the diocese.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I asked him. This was like a thunderbolt in the middle of summer! He left me alone and went into the chapel, knelt down and stayed there praying, resting his head in his hands.”
De Piro also tried to see God’s will in setbacks caused by the ecclesiastical authorities, with regards to the main aim of the society. God who had his abode in him, showed him clearly that he had to remain faithful to the divine will and to continue with his plans, even when results were lacking.
De Piro had to face problems even after the foundation of the society; in all these difficulties he continuously looked out for divine interventions. Fr Augustine Grech, one of the early members of the society, witnessed that: “During meals he used to ask us whether we had dreamt anything. One day, he shared with us his own dream. He was on a big ship and there were many people from various nations on it. Suddenly the propeller stopped working. The founder went into the engine room to fix the engine. While he was there, a woman approached him and told him to go back up on deck; she was going to fix the engine herself. Suddenly the ship started moving again. The founder told us that the woman was St Agatha.”
The Servant of God was chosen as a representative of the clergy on the Third Maltese Parliament (1932-1933). During the nine months of this administration De Piro only intervened twice. After the first session he met with the cathedral chapter, which he was representing, and stated: “Gentlemen, my heartfelt thanks to the Reverend Chapter for the praise you have expressed for my efforts; I appreciate this praise even more, knowing from my experience that the Chapter does not easily utter words of this kind…. I know I am among beloved colleagues, who are also my brothers in the priesthood. Therefore, I know you will not be surprised if I tell you that I really felt God was guiding me to speak that evening in the Senate. Msgr. Bonnici, my co-senator, was not present as he was indisposed. I felt it was my duty to express myself for the first time in the Senate. Lord Strickland moved a motion of non-confidence in the Minister of the Police Force, on the matter of morals. I felt I had the backing of all the Maltese clergy. Meanwhile, I had to face the government ministers, who are indeed very wise and able members. I also had close to me a strong opposition, led by Strickland. At the far end of the hall, the public present were keen on hearing an enlightening debate. In itself, the matter was a difficult one. Personally, I feel deeply aggrieved by the harm those bars were causing. I, personally, had to face a number of sad cases, in connection to the orphanages I administer. Despite my strong feelings, by the grace of God, I did not utter a word which could offend anyone, and which later I would have regretted. I thank you for your praise – but allow me first of all to thank God for his assistance.”