Father’s letter Lent 2020

Father’s letter Lent 2020

 Carissimi confratelli


“It was your own arm which redeemed your people”
(Psalm 77, 16)
“Sing to the Lord a new song for he has performed marvels,
His own right hand, his holy arm, gives him the power to save”
(Psalm 98, 1)
“You brought your people out of the land of Egypt with signs
and wonders,
With mighty hand and outstretched arm” Jer. 32, 21)
“He has shown the power of his arm,
He has routed the proud of heart” (Lk. 1, 51)
This title comes easily to mind if we look carefully at the
medieval fresco of Jesus on the cross in the central nave of the
Basilica of San Giovanni in Porta Latina, in Rome. Other frescos
elsewhere are probably more “beautiful”. The wonder, in this
fresco, is created by the sight of Jesus’s arms widely open. God’s
charity is infinitely beyond limits.
The painter has ignored the feet, in order to give the faithful an
eloquent “close-up”. Why? The reason is evident, if one also looks
at the scene in the upper part, which shows the expulsion of the
sinful couple. The beautiful gates of Eden remain barred, until
the new Adam, Jesus, humbling himself even on to death, with
arms outstretched between heaven and earth, opens them wide
forgiving those who crucified him, all of us, and all those who
become reconciled with the Father.
Jesus’ arms are now the wide arms of the Church, and therefore
also our Rosminian arms. The religious, brothers and priests, the
adoptive sons, the Rosminian Sisters, and the Ascribed members
constitute the Rosminian Family with arms wide open, since our
charity is, and must be, universal.
How can we keep our arms wide open during this time of
dangers for so many people?
The present situation, a great challenge for all of humanity, leads
us to seek the essential, to wipe away many illusions, without,
however, having to renounce at keeping our arms open for love,
in line with our vocation. We have a unique and unexpected
situation. The Holy Father celebrates Mass alone, bishops and
priests must do the same. They still open wide their arms during
their liturgical celebrations, raise them up, as Jesus also did, as
they pray the Our Father, but there are no faithful in the church.
Should we give up all celebrations? No, absolutely! Let ministers
continue to celebrate, even without the presence of the faithful.
Let the faithful not fall into despair, even if they cannot
participate personally, actively and fruitfully. Why?
Because there is a worship “in spirit and in truth”, always present
and indispensable in all celebrations, which does not depend
exclusively on the celebrations. It is the divine life which is
communicated through the sacraments, and which makes us one
in body and blood with Christ in a permanent way, and temples
inhabited by the Spirit.
Let us accept with confidence all that happens to Holy Church,
working earnestly after the divine call. Like the wondering
people in the desert during their exodus to the promised land, let
us experience the “pillar of fire”, the divine presence to show us
the way and keep “our hearts lifted, and turned to the Lord”.
We ask ourselves: how did Antonio Rosmini manage to continue
perfecting his consecration even when he had to face very
difficult trials?
There is only one answer: he responded to God’s grace, day after
day, consecrating himself to charity, worshipping in spirit and in
truth. It is easy to verify this consecration.
“Dedicated and consecrated to God, pleasing God alone,
suffering for God, rejoicing in God alone”.
Rosmini’s consecration was clear and effective, even as a newly
ordained priest at the age of 24.
But already that private “consecration” demanded a completion,
that is, a community not only of priests, but also of other
consecrated persons.
I offer at this point a reflection which I think it is relevant today.
From the limited standpoint of the exercise of our priestly
ministry, let us make, my dear priests, an examination of
conscience about how much we value our religious consecration.
Clericalism is still with us, that is, the excessive valuation of the
ministry understood as a source of power and prestige. This
virus will always be with us, but it should not have any part in
our Institute, as we all know. We are religious, we are indifferent,
and yet temptation still knocks at the door: let us leave the
Institute, giving up our religious consecration.
Rosmini, however, was already a priest: he became a consecrated
religious at a later stage. This is important. When God planted
the Institute on Calvario at Domodossola, under the wide arms
of Jesus on the cross, there were with him fourteen others also
priests like him; they were there to become Rosminian religious!
We can learn much from this. Let it be clear: I am writing this not
because we wish to see fewer priests in the Institute, but because
we have the sure hope that their religious consecration to God
and neighbour will be of help to them to being also good priests.
What did he say about their consecration during the homily?
This is the sublime line of his homily, the everlasting star for him
and for us: “We must be grateful, brothers, to the charity of him
who, without needing us, “has loved us first” (1 Jn. 4, 19). Our
hearts have every reason to expand with holy joy at this moment.
There is no happier moment for human beings than that in which
they, who come from God, are once more grounded in God, or
that in which creatures, moved by the Creator, consecrate
themselves to the Creator” (A Society of Love, p.3).
“Human beings, who come from God, are once more grounded
in God, and creatures, moved by the Creator, consecrate
themselves to the Creator”. These words shed a perennial light
over our vocation!
Thanks to this conviction, the harsh trials of the following years,
regarding the houses that had to be closed, the missions that did
not reach the desired result, did not cause in Rosmini a crisis of
vocation or of depression.
Few indications of his unshakeable consecration.
The Emperor does not approve the Constitutions; the Bishop no
longer supports the Institute’s work in the Diocese. For Rosmini,
this is a sign that God does no longer want us there, “no prophet
is accepted in his own country”. The Tyrol is not the only place
where we can live and practise consecrated charity.
The Government suspends his mandate in Rome, the Pope no
longer shares some of his proposals, two of his books are placed
in the Index of forbidden books. Let us be patient, trusting in
Providence; let us move on, there will be many other books
which will be appreciated and set free from doubts and
suspicions: “Dimittantur”, let them be circulated freely.
The trials have put his consecration to the test, but they have not
been able to extinguish it, they have tempered it, as by the fire,
because his love for God was always strong, more than death.
This is also true for us. It is always possible to “be grounded in
God”; consecration is for life.
A beautiful page of the first Rosminian consecration
It may be of help to remember that our Rosminian Family is a
Family with arms wide open, with an elevated mind, and with a
great heart.
It was born on that day, the 25th March 1839.
Present with Rosmini for the consecration there were 14 Spiritual
Coadjutors (priests), 5 Temporal Coadjutors (brothers), 5 Ascribed
members, all of them diocesan priests, and 5 Ascribed members from
the laity.
Moreover, “at the same time as at Calvario, the same ceremony was
being had in two places in England, at Spetsbury and at Prior Park”.
In the former place, Fr Luigi Gentili and Fr John-Baptist Pagani
made their vows “in the chapel of the nuns who insisted at being
present”. Two other Spiritual Coadjutors, two Temporal Coadjutors,
and a scholastic made their vows in the hands of the Bishop in the latter
place” (see Life of Rosmini, Pagani-Rossi, Vol. II p. 4-5).
The Rosminian Family, small, but complete with its four arms,
was all there, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord,
of the Word made flesh.
It is important to stay still to contemplate anew the fulness of our
consecration according to the characteristic Rosminian charism.
This is no small matter, rather it is a case of understanding the
nature of the Rosminian “consecration”. Let’s limit ourselves to a
few examples, taken from our Common Rules, printed two years
earlier. They are 90, and most of them are taken from the
Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. Among the Rules written by
Fr Founder, the three that follow concern the constant
“consecration”, day by day, in all our activities.
Rule 1 says: “It is by the internal law of love and the most active
charity which the Holy Spirit impresses on our hearts that God in his
mercy brings us to salvation and perfection”. Consecration consists
precisely in this: to co-operate with the Holy Spirit in bringing to
completion the work He has begun in us. To consecrate myself
means: “To remain, journey, and return with God”.
Rule 11 is seen as very important for the perfection of the soul,
which consists in the love of God raised to a superlative degree.
Many experts on the spirituality of the consecrated life have
given this Rule the seal DOC, so to speak, that is, the seal of high
quality. “The chief and most solid work of piety consists in striving by
the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to carry out more perfectly day by day
all that is required of us by our state or grade, so as to join our lives ever
more closely to God our Lord, in order that they may eventually become
a continual service and a total sacrifice to his divine majesty”.
St. John Bosco stated that he had not noticed in other priests the
intensity and concentration in the celebration of Holy Mass that
he had seen and admired in Rosmini.
Nobody can concentrate at the highest level if he is not already at
a very high level. This is what Father Clemente Rebora seemed to
be saying when he wrote: “He, mystic among the most exalted,
had no exceptional manifestations, except that of living totally
and perseveringly as a most exuberant member of the Mystical
Rosmini: “a most exuberant member of the Mystical Body”.
Member of the Mystical Body. This is true consecration, being
one with Jesus, as He is with the Father; and not only I, but my
whole Institute.
The Rosminian religious with temporary or perpetual vows is a
member of this Body; and so is the Rosminian religious priest, or
the adoptive son, or the Rosminian Sister, or the Ascribed. We
are all “parts”, “arms” of his Mystical Body. It is necessary to avoid
giving importance to being a priest at the expense of being a
consecrated person, and even at the expense of being a baptised
person. All three are co-essential vocations for the life of the
Rosmini, who gave such importance to being religious to the
point of wanting to be one even though he was already a priest,
as I said earlier, gives us a clear message. It is not a question of
taking away from the ministerial priesthood anything of its
importance. It is a question of recognizing and living our
religious consecration in its true reality. The same must be said
for the common priesthood of the faithful, about which he wrote
extensively at a time when very few even mentioned it. The Rule
which follows contains something about it as well.
Rule 58. This Rule was written by Father Founder from
beginning to end. I mentioned it already in my Christmas Letter
entitled “We are all Administrators”, which dealt with the
economy, lived and cared for by everyone, as teamwork, at the
service of the charism and mission. I will quote only the first and
the last phrase: “The brethren must realize and inwardly reflect on the
truth that everything in the Society (our Rosminian communities) is
sacred, because it is all consecrated to God and our Lord Jesus Christ,
and , and offered in his service and to his glory. This applies to all
persons, things and actions…. If we reflect along these lines and have
the intention of acting accordingly, then all our actions, even those that
seem common and neutral, will be sanctified; and so we shall offer our
whole life as a sacrifice to God, and give honour to the Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ”.
This is true worship “in spirit and in truth”. It does not exclude
nor forbids liturgical celebrations and personal prayers, all of
them necessary. Prayers, however, are not pleasing to God if they
do not originate from persons who try their best to be “holy” in
their “things and actions”.
Let us practise charity, which is wide, constant and orderly
Going back to the current health emergency, the questions are
many and serious, but we must not give up looking for personal
and communal ways to advance our consecrated mission.
We need to discover ways for a safer journey. It may be useful to
read again my Lenten Letter of 2015, “Let’s journey together”. The
letter contains many subtitles with suggestions which may be
useful even today, as for example: The route; The Airline; The
luggage; The fuel; Waiting times; Check-in; The take-off; The
Rosminian three-engine jet plane; The tasks entrusted; Closely
united with God; We can give security; Safety belt; Emergency
equipment; Emergency exits; The landing, and so on. In the
section about emergency, it may be useful to read again what I
wrote about the scrupulous observance of the procedures which
must be followed in emergencies.
During the security instructions given and mimicked by the
flight attendants, we are shown a mother who puts on her own
oxygen mask before putting it on her child. It seems absurd, but
it is not! If a doctor, a health worker, or a priest should perform
their professional or pastoral duties without checking first their
own condition with respect to the virus … I leave the conclusion
to you.
As I am writing this, I have just received the Note from the Italian
Bishops’ Conference with detailed specifications about the
procedures to follow in the administration of the sacraments
during times of health emergency!
Spirit of Intelligence
The Sixth Maxim mentions it at n. 4 with regard to the spiritual
life: “The spirit of intelligence will lead Christians always to think first
of their own purification, far more than the purification of their
neighbour”. Having said this, when precautions dictated by
prudence are guaranteed, Father Founder continues at n. 18: “The
same spirit of intelligence moves us to undertake very great, and most
difficult and perilous tasks”. We must be prepared to embrace the
most dangerous undertakings, if this is the will of God. It is Jesus
who asks to embrace them, as we embrace his Mystical Body,
diseased in the body but incorruptible in the spirit.
The Christmas Letter 2016 entitled: “The song of the Pelicans with
the Pelican” can also be of help. Among other things, you can find
a few pages with reference to “resilience”. We need it now and
we will always need it. This word originated from Physics, to
indicate the rebound of a material similar to rubber compared to
the non-rebound of a stone, but it has moved on to wider
meanings, so much so that this word is mentioned in the New
Dictionary of Mysticism, on p. 1856. Rosmini’s resilience
consisted in a special way in his moral and spiritual strength, not
unlike the strength of a prophet to whom God has entrusted a
difficult task, giving him at the same time an interior armour, so
that the stones thrown at him bounce back without killing him.
Hopefully, our resilience will be as strong, and will be also
accompanied by the other form of resilience, that of bouncing
back from falls, holding on to the Father who embraces and kisses
What must we still do?
One choice is to turn off the illusions of progressive selfish wellbeing.
We must keep alive the practice of charity, which can
never be turned off, neither in wartime nor in times of epidemics.
Consecration to God continues even now, because we have
already offered ourselves for life, until death. Those who love
find the means to be helpful, without being reckless.
Another choice requires a decisive pruning of everything which
does not bear fruits of holiness in charity. There are many sorts
of attitudes which waste time and energy for things which do not
bear fruits worthy of that Rosminian consecration which we have
experienced and lived for many, many years.
Two testimonies of Rosminian consecration.
Brother Ezio Viola, schoolteacher
Forty years of “desert” of priests among Rosminians in Italy.
The decree condemning forty propositions taken from Rosmini’s
writings issued in 1888 caused the exclusion of his thought from
Catholic centres of culture, from the formation of future priests
in seminaries, and of young people in religious institutes. The
Institute had very few religious priests for about forty years.
Most of our religious were lay brothers, as they were called at that
time. They were teachers in primary schools, and others in high
schools. Brother Ezio Viola was a primary school teacher at the
Rosmini Institute in Turin and at the Rosmini College in Stresa.
His earthly life came to an end this year. His dedication to Father
Clemente Rebora as a nurse and aide in the mid-1950s became
later a source of faithful witnessing for many years. Scholars of
our poet and writer Rebora have benefited greatly from Brother
Ezio’s experiences. A poem, The Poplar, requested by Ezio Viola
from our poet who was sick in bed, was used by Pope Francis in
his visit to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, to stimulate
Europe to still draw sap from its Christian roots, which are the
healthier, true and precious part, as in the case of the plant.
When Brother Ezio celebrated his 70 years of consecrated life,
Father General sent him a letter. With his permission, I transcribe
here the main part. May it help us to keep high in our esteem, as
a light on a candlestick, our religious consecration, and not just
our consecration as religious priests.
“Looking at your CV, one can see that almost all of your life has
been spent within the context of our schools, and of course in
recent years in Stresa, where you were the Director for many
years. And it was in Stresa that I met the affable and kind Brother
Ezio, always smiling, calm and welcoming. Sometimes, coming
to Stresa from Borgomanero for the Christmas dinner, I met some
of your ex-alumni who had come there to greet their past teacher
– truly, a sign of their respect and esteem for you. Moreover, you
are still a column of the College and for many people, Brother
Ezio Viola is very often the first Rosminian they meet when they
arrive in Stresa. There is always, on your part, the kind welcome
and readiness to help. Obviously, if they wish to visit Rosmini’s
tomb and learn more about Rebora, they have an expert guide in
you and one who has a personal knowledge of the latter, and a
very thoughtful understanding of the former.
I have always noticed your care and kindness with the elderly,
and it is easy to forget that you too are of a certain age (as the
elderly say in the confessional here in Rome). However, you have
always maintained a young spirit and behaviour, and it seems to
me that this is due to many years of service and care for others.
All this is founded on a life of constant prayer and recollection”
(Father James Flynn).
Professor Maria Cristina Boffelli, consecrated Ascribed
Her life came to an end on Sunday 15 March, at the age of 96. She
was an ascribed Rosminian since 1940, an unparalleled
consecration for duration in time, but also very significant for its
intensity. Already as a young woman she took the personal vow
of virginity. In addition to her teaching profession, she dedicated
her time in parish and diocesan activities, leading Bible study
groups. The group of the Ascribed in Bergamo met for more than
fifty years in her home, more than once a month. She normally
participated in the Spiritual Exercises for the Ascribed and
Friends at Calvario. On one occasion, the Spiritual Exercises were
conducted by her and myself together, on the tenth lesson “On
the Order of our Petitions to God”. For the past thirty years, she
was the contact person for the Sodality of consecrated Ascribed.
Their Rules can be found in the Appendix of the Rules of the
Ascribed. This particular Sodality concentrates on the practice of
one of the Evangelical Counsels, obedience, by accepting a
particular duty assigned by Father General. The essential nature
of such consecration, renewed year by year, can be found in the
Maxims of Christian Perfection, sixth lesson, n. 11: “The
circumstances of their state and the relationships which bind them to
others may be such as to put no obstacle to the practice of the evangelical
counsels…. In this case, Christians will embrace these counsels with
courage and eagerness. If they are free to do so, they will practise all
three of them; if not, they will take up one or two of them as
circumstances permit”.
During a meeting in Stresa, on July 1st, she was invited to give a
witness. The applause that greeted her at the beginning, burst out
again when she recounted an episode of her younger days.
During the years before the Second World War she was in a girls’
boarding school. There were no mirrors for them and therefore
they had to settle for a few glances on the glass of the windows,
with the fear, however, that this was a sin of vanity. It was a talk
given to the girls by Father Giuseppe Bozzetti that set her free
from that fear. The joy of that memory, told so spontaneously,
was shared with a great applause by all those present, applause
directed at her, but also at the spirit of intelligence of Father
Bozzetti. She was a consecrated Rosminian Ascribed worthy to
be admired and imitated even today.
I do not exclude preparing, at a later time, a short study, with
links to our spirituality as it is presented in the Acts of the
International Symposium on Consecration held in 2018 on the
initiative of the Congregation of Consecrated Life. The theme
was “Consecration through the Evangelical Counsels”. It can be
found on the Holy See website.
I wish you all a happy memory of the birth of our Founder on
24th March, a happy memory of his Baptism on 25th March 1797,
and, why not, a happy memory of 25th March 1839, the date of
the “birth” of our Rosminian Family, with its wide and
consecrated arms open to universal, orderly charity.
I again recommend the prayer suggested in the final document
of the General Congregation 2018. The last section deals with the
four dimensions of charity, the first of which is precisely the width
of charity.
Rome, 25th March 2020.
Fr. Vito Nardin,
Provost General
We beg you
To pour your love into our hearts
With all its four sublime characteristics,
To give substance and light
To the actions of all of us consecrated to imitating your love,
Which is superior to all human knowledge.
Help us
To keep wide our heart
To benefit all, without limits, without exceptions, even our enemies.
Give us a greatness of heart that never fails,
That praises good wherever it is found
And praises whoever does it,
So that we may become seeds of concord and peace scattered throughout mankind.
Make us
Constant in our love,
So that we never cease loving,
Never tire doing good,
Never abandon the good works we have begun,
Never permit the sacred fire of love to be extinguished.
Let our love be all action, all life, all deed.
Show us
The sublime height of the end, which is God,
Let our affections and our endeavours have as their ultimate end
The salvation and the blessedness of our fellow men and women.
Let all our works be love,
Whether they are concerned with our temporal
Or intellectual life,
Or with the life which is above all other life, that is, moral virtue and holiness.
Help us
To accept humiliation for the sake of love,
A love which was brought to the humble by the humiliation of the Son of God.
Help us to trust in you, O Master of love,
O Leader who make heroes of your weakest soldiers.

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