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in the spirituality according to Fr. Alberione
Acts of the International
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)
by Guido Gandolfo ssp
0. Some premises
In the development of our Seminar, the present paper introduces to a certain degree the stage wherein we shall focus our attention on Jesus, the Master, starting more directly from the heritage left us by the Founder. We shall, in fact, discuss the various aspects of our consecrated life spirituality, formation, apostolate, communication within a precise point of view: "according to Fr. Alberione."
For our topic, some premises seem necessary as regards the term "spirituality" or the principal reference text wherein we focused our attention. (summary)
0.1. "Spirituality," that is, life according to the Spirit of Christ
In the attempt to define the term "spirituality" in order to better understand its specific meaning, we deem it useful to adopt, as a common platform, the Christian New Testament environment, more specifically, the environment of the Pauline letters. It is there in fact that we encounter Christian life, fermented by the evangelical novelty of our salvation in Jesus Christ Son of God, as life according to the Spirit, that is, "spiritual" life.
We find in Chapter 8 of the Letter to the Romans the description of the divine sonship of every human creature as fruit of the Spirit of God gifted us through baptism in the death and resurrection of the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
"For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father! The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him" (Rm 8:14-17).
At first blush, spiritual life means Christian life, life of adopted children in the same Son of God incarnate for us and for us crucified and become glorious. It is therefore a life in the dignity and freedom that are born out of the same life (cf. Gal 4:1-07): the slavery of sin and death, cause and model of every other form of slavery, is finally conquered and our vocation is to grow in the gift received till the full maturity in Christ Jesus, true God and true man.
This dignity and freedom of sons have concrete consequences and is unbreakable for the life of all the believers: "But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. Consequently, brothers, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Rm 8:9-13).
Far from being bound to a single sphere, perhaps the more concealed, of human life, life according to the Spirit covers the person in the totality of his physical, psychological and spiritual totality thus making him new creature who thinks, acts and loves in a manner in conformity with the image of the only-begotten Son of God. Turned into the habitation of the Spirit of God (cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6, 19), we are called and made capable to live in faith, in hope, in love and to discern all things and all events starting from the same Spirit of God who lives in us. He, establishing us in communion with the Father, reveals to us the depths of his heart and makes us conform with it: "For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God so that we may understand the things freely given us by God... The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him? But we have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor 2:10-16).
With us having to dwell for long on the historical panorama regarding the applications that, through the centuries, have characterized Christian life as spiritual life, we deem it enough to call spirituality precisely that manner of living which, conforming itself with an aspect of the multiform mystery of Christ Jesus, characterizes a Christian in his relationship with the Most Holy Trinity in the Church. This manner of living is shared with other brothers and sisters and then eventually systematized and theorized: monastic spirituality, presbyterial spirituality, Franciscan, Ignatian, Pauline, etc.
Spirituality is therefore the all-embracing sphere of "Christian" life insofar as conformed with Christ Jesus. It is a life-sphere that shapes the whole person (thinking, acting, loving) and which marks in an unmistakable and indelible manner his existence, as if a marked "made by fire," thus making the person believer and therefore believable. The spiritual man meanwhile becomes witness and communicator of what he had experienced. In fact, the imperative coming from this spiritual dynamics characterizes, for its missionary dimension, the whole Christian life: "It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). (summary)
0.2. The spiritual experience of Fr. Alberione
To speak then of "Jesus, the Master, in the spirituality according to Fr. Alberione" means to try to understand how the Divine Master, by virtue of the re-creating and sanctifying action of the Spirit of God conferred in Baptism and in the religious Profession, has shaped the entire existence of our Founder and how he wanted to transmit it to us so that it may shape our life in the same manner as it did his. It is necessary, therefore, to start from the spiritual heritage which Fr. Alberione in his life and in his experience has brought to maturity and which, in virtue of the charism of Founder, he left us as inheritance. In fact, it is a common conviction that the Person of the Divine Master has filled so much his existence so that it dominated it, as he himself confesses, "the thoughts, the prayers, the interior work, the aspirations" (cf. AD 20): a totality and domination which he busied himself to transmit to us his children and heirs inasmuch as he himself held it to be full of salvific consequences for the whole humanity. Jesus Master, as he emerges from the experience and existence of the Primo Maestro, formed through the Pauline spirit, therefore: a most singular interpersonal relationship between Master and disciple.
The moments of most intense and prolonged intimacy of our Founder with his Lord have certainly been the spiritual exercises:(1) weeks, and also entire months during which he exclusively entrusted himself to the school of the Divine Master, in order to be healed and enlightened.
A witness as to how those periods of grace and of intimacy with the Master left profound marks on him, we can read in the touching self-revelation which Fr. Alberione himself left to us, concerning the course of exercises he lived in July, 1936:
To elevate us. Last June I had the remarkable grace of withdrawing by myself for a bit of spiritual exercises with which to make reparations for the past, be united with Jesus, make amends for my life.
As I already did in one of the courses, I took for a theme Jesus Master Way-Truth-Life, in the Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles.
Am I truly Jesus Christs, in all my strength, in every moment, in every action?
Contemplating, more than meditating, Jesus Christ, working for the discovery of myself, I have a dual vision: the first is that of my being, nothing by nature and nothing by grace, and even nauseating and deformed by my sins; the second is that heavenly of Jesus Master, the beloved of the Father, merciful Reparator, in whom we must incorporate ourselves and of whom I must live as Christian, religious, priest.
I cried, hoped, prayed, loved as Peter; my trust, however, is superior to the humiliations.
I ask pardon from heaven and from men, especially from my dear Brothers; I beseech them to bear with me and to help me with their examples, prayers, corrections. I am sure that, just as they have done for me, I am going to do for them [SP no. 25, July 1936].
Fr. Alberione welcomes the spiritual exercises as a "remarkable grace"; they had the purpose of leading him to "to make reparations for the past, be united with Jesus, make amends for my life." The theme, not new, is the Person of the Divine Master. The disposition that favors the encounter is contemplation, since it seemed meditation alone were not enough.
The vital encounter with the Master makes him perceive a "dual vision": his condition as a person deformed by sin; but especially the "celestial" vision "of Jesus Master, the beloved of the Father."
He draws a burning question: "Am I truly Jesus Christs, in all my strength, in every moment, in every action?"; and the consequent valid commitment for everyone: "we must be incorporated" in the Master and live of Him alone.
We can suppose that this was the habitual style with which Fr. Alberione lived, during his spiritual exercises, the strong experiences of Christ Master and in view of "setting order in ones life" as Ignatius himself suggests (E. S., no. 21). (summary)
0.3. The "normative" teaching of the Founder
What the Founder lived and "experienced" in person has become the heritage which with a greater strength he entrusted to the Congregation and to the Pauline Family. Now the more the life experience of him who shared in some way the journey of configuration with the Master, the more necessary it is to gather in his preaching and in his writings the spiritual vitality that these contain.
To go back to the past, to amend our lives, to unite ourselves with Jesus Christ: these are successive steps which are brought to reality through the incorporation with the Master and the consequent belonging to him, in order to be His "in all my strength, in every moment, in every action". It is a dynamism which Fr. Alberione habitually points out with the concepts of conformation, configuration, to the point of Christification.
The objective of conformation with the Master has undoubtedly been the most insisted upon by the Founder. As we shall underline it later, "to be conformed with" comports taking into us the "form" of Christ: to allow that gradually the Master "be formed" in the believer-Pauline: "donec formetur Christus in vobis" (Gal 4:19).
It is not without sense that the "first circular letter" sent to all the brothers in 1934 should emphasize this orientation: the commitment for the conformation with the Divine Master is already evident in the title "Donec Formetur Christus in vobis." Equally worth noting is the fact that the Primo Maestro felt the need of publishing again that "first circular letter: in San Paolo of February 1962 (CISP 11-12), probably to respond to the desire of brothers who did not know it:
"Donec formetur Christus in vobis". This has been the first circular I sent: now I repeat with the same thoughts: "...praedestinavit conformes [fieri] imaginis Filii sui, ut sit ipse primogenitus in multis fratribus..." (Rm 8:29).
The task of the religious is to work for perfection: "If you want to be perfect..." The process of sanctification is a process of Christification: "donec formetur Christus in vobis" (Eph [Gal] 4:19).
Therefore we shall be saints by the measure with which we live the life of Jesus Christ; or better still, according to the measure with which Jesus Christ lives in us: "Christianus alter Christus"; and what St. Paul says of himself: "I live now not I but Christ lives in me."
This is formed gradually in us until "the age of the manhood of Jesus Christ": the same way as the child grows to full adulthood.
Jesus Christ is Way, Truth and Life. In the spiritual life, there is the commitment:
- a) to imitate the holiness of Jesus Christ who marked the way with his examples and teaching: "be perfect."
- b) In the spirit of faith according to Jesus Christ-Truth: to think according to the Gospel, the New Testament, the Church which communicates it to us;
- c) In the grace which is participation in the life of Jesus Christ, in the Sacraments and in all the means of grace.
In this manner, Jesus Way, Truth and Life is formed in us: "conformes fieri".
In this manner, Jesus Christ Way, Truth and Life nourishes our soul in its faculties: will, intelligence, sentiment. The nourishment is especially complete in the Mass, Communion and in the Adoration-Visit: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (Jn 6:53-55).
The other practices of piety: meditation, examination of Conscience, Breviary, Office of the Blessed Virgin, spiritual reading, morning and evening prayers, rosary, etc., are a preparation, the dispositions and the divine help for the Mass, Communion and the Visit-Adoration; the sacramental Confession is as purification and sanctification.
Move on in faithfulness, donec formetur Christus in vobis!
St. Peter invites: "But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pt 3:18).
St. Paul: "Through him [Jesus Christ] the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Eph 2:21). (summary)
0.4. The privileged reference of this research:
the "Donec formetur Christus in vobis"
The whole itinerary, then, originates from the invitation of the Father whom "he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rm 8:29). The religious is called, as his first duty, to the work of "perfection." And "the process of sanctification is the process of Christification". It is a continuous growth, until Christ Master "is formed" in the believer-religious: donec formetur Christus in vobis". The manner by which "Christ Way, Truth and Life is formed in us" is that of "spiritual work," specified by Fr. Alberione in the three well known dimensions which involve mind, will and heart.
The first brothers (and sisters) who received this first "circular letter" find in it a familiar language... and take it as home-made food. In fact, the Founder formed them with corresponding instructions and meditations. These were gathered in the "Appunti di meditazioni ed istruzioni del P. Maestro," for the spiritual exercises and the Novitiate and religious formation in general which could be found in the book Donec formetur Christus in vobis (DF), published with the "official" date of 1932.(2)
For this reason, inasmuch as we have to make a choice among the countless pages which Fr. Alberione dedicated to the Person of the Divine Master and to the relationship with Him on which every Pauline is called to establish, it seems opportune to concentrate our reflection precisely on the volume, "Donec formetur Christus in vobis.(3) In fact, even today, it seems the piece of writing that most completely gathers either the spiritual experience or the teaching of the Founder along the theme of spiritual formation according to the Pauline charism.
The context is intentionally pedagogical along the line of spiritual life and religious life, which require in the first place the master of novices and the spiritual director to existentially assimilate the concepts and norms presented. In fact, we should never forget that it is primarily the experience of Fr. Alberione himself as a man guided by the Spirit of God the life milieu wherein the "Pauline" pedagogical-spiritual method that leads the young to decidedly center himself on the person of Jesus Master Way Truth and Life. This pedagogical intent, far from binding this written piece as exclusive for the "working personnel", nonetheless allows us to capture the relevance and the universality of application inasmuch as the whole religious life is "a continuous novitiate for Heaven," according to an expression habitual to Fr. Alberione. The characteristic of religious life, we have emphasized, is precisely the progressive growth until maturity In Christ, until the full conformation with the Son of God, our Master.
In taking into consideration this "little manual of ongoing formation" (cf. Introduction of Fr. Damino, p. 14), it is useful to bear in mind what the censor of the English edition, Rev. Richard V. Lawlor, emphasized (1983): Fr. Alberione is capable of presenting very deep concepts, also technical ones, in a concise and condensed manner. Every line is vital and has something to teach. This is not a book that one shall hurriedly read. The reader must read and re-read it, while considering a statement at a time in order to appreciate its importance."
This need to weigh the words, if it is valid for all the writings of our Founder, for a greater reason do we need to remember it when dealing with this work which marks the expression of the spiritual and pedagogical vision of Jesus Master Way, Truth and Life, in its systematic form. (summary)
First objective: the conformation to the Divine Master
Jesus Master yesterday, today and for ever A historical-charismatic survey
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