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Acts of the International Seminar
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)

by Josť Bortolini ssp



1. Examining the journey covered

In a conference presented during the "First Course of Studies on Pauline Formation" (Ariccia, 1-10 Sept. ’76), the late Fr. Renato Perino expressed himself thus: "I shall try... to trace along general headings the lines of the Pauline pedagogy anchored on Christ Master, Way, Truth and Life. I shall then try to trace the identity features of the ‘Group master’ according to the mind of Fr. Alberione, after which I shall list some criteria, priorities and particular problems that concern the same master. Next I shall mention the reasons that make, in the mind of the Founder, the work of the ‘Master’ indispensable and, in the end, I shall rapidly compare this dominant figure in the Pauline pedagogy, along with the Superior of the house, the vocation director, and the formative community." (1)

This text, even after 20 years, continues to be valid and extraordinarily rich for reflection regarding the theme we now are dealing. The substance of what I shall eventually say is founded on this aforementioned conference. (return to summary)

a) The identity of the "Master of the group"

To present the identity of the "Master of the group" (pp. 35-45), Fr. Perino availed with two important texts of the Founder. The first was published in San Paolo of April ’61 (cf. CISP 771ff) and it was addressed to the "Master in charge of the aspirants till the perpetual profession of Disciples and the accomplishment of the pastoral year for the priests." The second is a part of a published article in San Paolo of July-August ’53, under the title "Spiritual direction of our aspirants."

Basing himself on these two texts, Fr. Perino wants "to clarify once and for all that, in the Alberione semantics, the denominations ‘Master of aspirants’ and ‘religious Master’ correspond – except for contrary specification – with ‘Master of the group,’ where for ‘group’ is meant every community of young persons belonging to the entire period of formation." (p. 53).

To ratify this, it is worth recalling what the Founder said during the prayer and study meeting with the Master in-charge of the aspirants (27-28 March ’61). Someone asked him:

"Is the Master of the group enough for discipline and spiritual direction at the same time?"

The Founder replied:

"For religious institutes... one is the Master who assumes in himself the two assignments, unlike in seminaries, where two persons with different assignments are needed (cf. CISP 74/g).

Fr. Perino points out that the institution of the "Master of the group" is "a true ontological sharing to the ‘religious Master’ of what Christ Master, Way, Truth and life is and possesses’; it is not a matter of mere instrumental mediation (‘a mountain lake that contains the divine treasures,’ ‘a mother... who shall give milk,’ not ‘a mere channel’) on the part of the master in relation to the disciple" (p. 33). Here is what the whole text says:

"We consider the Master as regards the aspirants as Jesus Master amidst the Apostles. Jesus Master defined himself, ‘Way, Truth and Life’; the formator of vocations accomplishes the tasks of Jesus and hence he ought to be way, truth and life to his aspirants.

Jesus is Way because he preceded the Apostles by example and concluded, ‘Imitate me’; thus the master shall precede in piety, in humility, in charity, in obedience; and just as Jesus Master preached Christian and religious perfection, so shall the Pauline Master do.

Jesus spoke of himself as Truth and taught his novices with his words of highest truth, adjusting himself to their condition and presenting everything as images, examples, parables; this is as well the fundamental task of the Pauline Master who shall abound in preaching and in counsels.

Jesus spoke of himself as Life because He is life, according to the expression, ‘I am the vine and you are the branches.’ ‘He who eats my flesh shall have life.’ The Pauline Master ought to possess much grace and holiness and then communicate them through the sacraments and prayer in general.

The Master takes Jesus Christ and gives him to the aspirants, however, he is not a mere channel which only brings water; but he is like a mountain lake that contains the divine treasures; for being so full, it lets the divine treasures overflow on souls. The mother nourishes herself well in order to keep her own strength, but she later gives her milk to her baby.

The Pauline Master must continually deny himself in order to make himself servant to the needs of his aspirants; even to the point of adjusting himself to some of their caprices. He has to guard all of them against sin: ‘quos dedisti mihi custodivi,’ Jesus said. The Master shall always be present amidst his aspirants.

The Master shall always be able to count on the graces of his office since he was chosen to this most lofty mission" (CISP 784-785).

1. A kind of pastoral "munus" is therefore referred to the Master of the group because he participates in the mission of Christ king and Shepherd ("way"), Master ("truth") and Priest ("life") in his threefold role of guide-witness, teacher in the faith and sanctifier through the sacraments. For Primo Maestro, the Master of the group is responsible of the religious formation of the Pauline, and this covers the task of Spiritual Director, of being in-charge of discipline and, at times, also the role of confessor.(2)

2. A second peculiarity coming from the role of the "Master of the group" is that of his being the "point of reference for unity and coordination of integral formation" (Perino, p. 35). Among the fundamental preoccupations of the Founder is the unity of the human person and therefore also of the unity of formation.(3) Perhaps it was because of this that he insisted on the constant presence of the Master of the group at all times of the life of the formandi,(4) without however his becoming like a policeman in the life of the aspirants.(5)

The Founder wants the Master of the group to be like a ring of unity among the various sectors or moments in the life of the formandi (piety, study, apostolate, poverty). His views are relevant to the persons responsible of the aforementioned moments ("and let him [master] have a greater weight in forming judgments...").(6)

By the fact that he accumulates the roles of Spiritual Director and, at times, also as confessor, the Master of the group has access to the depths of the conscience of the formandi.(7) Fr. Alberione dedicated numerous reflections on this topic, and as a result we have various texts elaborated at different times, aside from having a study done, commissioned by him, regarding The psychological and neuro-psychiatric problems in formation (cf. Perino, pp. 37-38).

We can summarize this aspect with the same words of the Founder:

"The highest studies of the Master shall be: to meditate on Jesus Christ educator. He is the light, the example, the law, grace, joy, the reward of the educator. The renunciation, the generosity he required; the maternal tenderness and encouragement; the divine and only method, the teachings, the aids, the reward he was promising are all recorded in the gospel; it is the best treatise on pastoral pedagogy" (CISP 254, no. 16). (return to summary)

b) Why a Master of the group?

In 1965 the Founder pointed out three functions of the Master of the group (or Spiritual Director): "1. To discover from signs, which are varied, what is the vocation...; 2. To enlighten him, help him so that he may follow his vocation; 3. To give him a corresponding formation." (8) (return to summary)

c) Is there a secret for a successful formation?

In the aforementioned encounter of the Founder with the Masters of aspirants, it was asked:

"But what secret is principally necessary to support the young man in his difficulties?

Fr. Alberione replies in the following manner:

"There are three secrets, not one: 1. The Master must really be one who commands following, that he is enthusiastic himself about his vocation, with a thousand inventions of supernatural love. 2. The interference in the group of unedifying or less united persons with the Master of the group should be removed. 3. A piety that is felt, Marian, eucharistic, Pauline, that could support him in his inevitable and most difficult moments" (CISP 775/i).

In another circumstance, the Founder established six important points so that formation might succeed: prayer, formation for the mission, experience, specific training of formators, access to all the necessary means and, finally, the constant stimulus of the formator on the formandi:

"In order to obtain a speedy and maximum result with the minimum of means, energy and time, it is necessary:

a) that from the Lord be asked the composite of intellectual gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, intelligence, knowledge, counsel;

b) that be always borne in mind the tight bond between the spirit and the apostolate, study and human formation that work in the same person, and that they acquire greater effectiveness, and that they complete one another;

c) likewise, it has to be borne in mind that, aside from school or studies, experience is most beneficial, experience that is drawn from the history of men and of society, from nature, from liturgy, from divine illustrations, from social life and from all the good things that are becoming mature in the mystical Body of Jesus Christ;

d) for greater fruit in school, many things depend on the training of individual teachers, as well as from the mutual understanding among teachers of different subjects;

e) that in formation, recourse be made to all aids and possible improvements and especially if they are necessary;

f) that the Master may always know how to stimulate in the disciple the correspondence and enthusiasm for his duties" (UPS II, 193-194). (return to summary)

d) Qualities

The Founder underlines three principal qualities in the Master of the group, to be developed progressively: patient and benign charity, priestly and pedagogical knowledge, prudence according to the Divine Master.(9) The first characteristic comes immediately striking (patient and benign charity), because Fr. Alberione refers to the same characteristics that St. Paul wanted from the members of the communities founded by him, and Fr. Alberione quotes Gal 4:19: "My children, for whom I now suffer the pains of childbirth, until Christ be formed in you." Paul was not only father for his people (cf. 1 Cor 4:14-16), but also mother (Gal 4:19) and father at the same time (cf. 1 Thess 2:8-11).

This is the eloquence "of the religious Master, especially the Pauline, of the formator of priests and religious: of him who, in substance, is with a soul fully and holily enthusiastic of his state, with a life which teaches by holy examples more than with words, with a heart overflowing with supernatural affection for his spiritual children; he wants to fuse himself with them; the model for the Christian, the religious the priest: Jesus Christ.

And yet the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians: ‘Rogo autem vos, imitatores mei estote’ (1 Cor 4:16). Another model? No. The disciple is a humble interpreter, not a falsifier of the Divine Master, and then he immediately adds: ‘Sicut et ego Christi.’ The figure of Jesus Christ immediately reappears: almost as a commentary to the expression of St. Paul himself: ‘Scitis quamadmodum oporteat imitari nos’ (2 Thess 3:7) because he placed himself on his place: ‘Ut nosmetipsus formam daremus vobis ad imitandum nos’ (2 Thess 3:9). And thus a dual teaching comes out: the duty of the spiritual father, or Master, of being a model: the duty of the spiritual son to imitate the Master. Hence he shall draw great profit from a human type of priest, because ‘ex hominibus assumptus’ (Heb 5:1); these are nearer to men than to the divinity.

The Master, the Pauline priest, welcomes the young aspirants: he studies them in order to discover their intentions, their aptitudes, their tendencies, their vocation; he sets himself in front of them: ‘Follow me, imitate me.’ He wants to pour on them his own soul, faith, spirit, knowledge, heart. The meditations he holds, his advises, his reminders, his ordinary words, all become eloquent, formative. There is in fact an apostolate of ordinary words, so much used by Jesus; the gospel gives us many examples. From a big mass, the artist draws out a beautiful Jesus" (CISP 750-751).

In a text of the Appunti di Teologia pastorale he underlines even more the characteristic proper of the "motherhood" of the Master of the group: "The priest must acquire true dominion and direction of hearts: this, however, he shall never truly obtain except with the sweetness of charity..., with amiability, with proving himself equal to himself, always kind: these are bonds that unite hearts with us. One truly becomes strong by giving up force." (10)

In order to achieve this, the Founder suggests that the Master of the group should have adequate knowledge of psychology and psychiatry in order to better understand and direct the young.(11) And he recognizes that an adequate training of formators is necessary – both on the spiritual and on the intellectual level and also on the level of zeal – admitting that many times such training is inadequate.(12)

"The guarantee that the Lord sustains and compensates our inadequacy does not allow us at all to be superficial and approximative. Hence, together with basic training and ongoing formation, the Master of the group must improve his professional training, the rationalization and the organization of our apostolate" (R. Perino, Lettera annuale sull’Apostolato, 1981).

Among the priorities of the Master of the group, the Founder underlines two: piety and love for the apostolate. Regarding piety, he insists that it be "felt, Marian, eucharistic, Pauline," with a special emphasis on education to meditation(13) Love for the Congregation and for the Pauline apostolate is also of fundamental importance, a distinctive mark of the true formator, and it becomes the distinctive mark of vocation on the part of the formandi.(14)

"General principle: the whole formation must be arranged and ordained in a special manner towards studies as regards the apostolate proper to the Pauline Family. Such an end has to be borne in mind since the start of the entrance to our Institute: in school, as well as when giving advises, meditation, homilies; in this manner a generic life is not communicated but piety and religious life that are eminently Pauline" (UPS II, 193).

The Master of the group does not act alone or on his own account. Being the "unifying and coordinating point of reference of integral formation," his action is inserted in an environment that is much greater and requires collaboration with the other areas: he has to listen to what they have to say – the heads of the other sectors having to do with the life of the formandi – and at the same time he has to be a co-protagonist in the decisions that regard the life of the aforementioned formandi.(15)

"The Master especially in our houses shall earn the collaboration of those who have to do with the aspirant: classroom teachers, masters of apostolate, confessors, assistants, etc." (CISP 776, no. 9).

"During the whole period of formation, what is needed is a wise, prudent, constant, pious caring, ever inspired towards optimism. For a total formation: religious instruction; catechism that is full of the Bible and of liturgy: liturgy full of the Bible and of catechism; Bible full of catechism and liturgy. It means to give Jesus Christ, Master, Way, Truth and Life" (CISP 202, no. 6). (return to summary)

Continued: The group master in the mind of Fr. Alberione - 2 -

return to summary


           Jesus Master yesterday, today and for ever

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