Dear brothers and sisters in the MSSP charism,
From a very young age, deep down in his heart, Joseph De Piro felt that his life was not his own but a gift from God, which he needed to take good care of. Since he came from a family with a healthy religious background, the possibility of being called to priesthood was certainly not contrary to his ideals. Yet, besides his father’s refusal to allow him to choose in favor of priesthood, Joseph had other life choices he could make and which were still congruent with his desire to serve God. However, 125 years ago, on the feast of our Lady of Pompei (8th of May) in front of this same image of Our Lady he “…found the strength to decide for the better – that is in favor of becoming a priest.”
Most of us discover our vocation in life gradually, and rightly so. Lightning bolt calls are very rare, and rather suspicious. We slowly take small steps to achieve our main calling and to decide with whom we want to live it. Our call is very concrete, and being paralyzed by fear of taking any action is worse that erring, standing up and starting again. Because our life vocation touches our everyday life, it means that it needs to pass through a process of purification and maturity, becoming this is a life-long progression.
In my formative years with the Missionary Society of Saint Paul, I learned that the reason why I entered religious missionary life may not be the same for which I stayed. Life circumstances change, my vision hopefully widens and my commitment is purified, mainly through my own struggles and the struggles of those around me. This was also true for our Founder. As we celebrate the 125th anniversary of his call we recall both where he came from and who he became. Surely, his vocation, like ours, cannot be understood as a single yes in a static lifetime commitment.
Like us, Joseph De Piro, was not a ready-made person neither in his spiritual nor in his human journey. This can be seen in the gradual shift in the themes that directed his call from the early stages of his formation to his death.
This year Pope Francis gave the priests who attended the Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s, a collection of essays entitled – The Second Call. In one of these essays the transition from the initial following of Jesus to a more mature one is described as: from desired holiness to offered poverty. There is a point of departure from which we all start and a path marked with stages through which we are led. There are good and lofty desires that fill our youthful years with a generous energy to donate ourselves, followed by the years when our balance shifts towards the receiving end. At that stage, like the widow in the Gospel, we can only offer our few meagre mites. There is a holiness that we strive to reach, hoping that it will enrich our lives and a poverty that opens the space for God’s activity in us.
Like us, Joseph De Piro was not a ready-made person neither in his spiritual nor in his human journey. This can be seen in the gradual shift in the themes that directed his call from the early stages of his formation to his death. During the time of his vocational discernment, he was eager to give himself to God; He who suffered so much for his sins. When he went deeper into his priestly vocation, he invited others to join him in his missionary desire, and invited them to follow Christ wherever he goes. Building on a growing intimacy with Christ, there was a readiness to become one with Jesus in his ministry. However, a myriad of setbacks and challenges in life continued to purify De Piro’s call until Psalm 127 became his leading light – “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.” His address during the laying and blessing of our Motherhouse’s foundation stone, in the last year of his life, reveals to us a man tested by life, who humbly welcomed God’s grace of a small community, but with a readiness to accept God’s further purification.
As we, Lay and Religious Paulist Missionaries, continue journeying in the footsteps of our Founder, we are also a continuation of Joseph’s call. Both personally and as a community, we too are being led from active giving to passive receiving, a spiritual dynamic which saints like John of the Cross spoke about so strongly. May Joseph De Piro even today speak to each one of us according to the phase in which we find ourselves in our spiritual journey.