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A historical-charismatic survey

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

by Eliseo Sgarbossa ssp


3. The "turbulent years"

Within this "great disturbance" the personal crisis of the young Alberione ended.(41) That crisis, which came to him at the age of sixteen in the spring of 1900, has not to be ignored if it decided upon his expulsion from the Seminary of Bra and deeply marked his psychology for always with the stigma of the "converted." To the disturbances and the falls of adolescence, the contagion of the century was added. The contagion was more serious and deeper: the seduction of "modernity" and the discovery of an off-limits continent identified with all that came from the European literature of the century’s end.(42)

We find traces of this crisis, emotional and intellectual at the same time (an accomplice: a devastating flood of uncontrolled readings: some sixty books in but a few months) in the diary of youth which we can consider the Confessions of the young Alberione.(43) He speaks of an "embittered soul" and tempted to commit suicide,(44) who does not want to die but accepts death as "sacrifice of expiation";(45) he speaks of a "terrible state,"(46) of a "web of misfortunes and of deceit,"(47) of "unhappiness"(48) "fatal and turbid years," of "illusions" and of "chasms";(49) of "energies spent in holocaust to the devil";(50) in short, of a devastated kingdom,(51) wherein, in the end, a light of hope is lighted.(52) These are dramatic expressions due, in part, to the "twilight" style of the time, with which the seminarian in his twenties subjectively exaggerated an adolescent experience which, perhaps, was not that disastrous.

Nonetheless, cleric Alberione was not the only one who paid for the bad teachers: other companions, either in Bra or in Alba, were also infected. From himself we learn that among the seminarians circulated clandestine publications of the kind which he defined as "bad books" and "bad periodicals".(53) And from other sources we know that the clerics of the Alba seminary, infatuated with the new ideas, questioned the teachings of Francesco Chiesa and turned to the priests smelling of modernism, while others of Rimini were writing to Fogazzaro asking him questions which were not only literary but also religious and pastoral.(54)

Nevertheless, the effect of such contacts was for the young Alberione a kind of vortex, as if a shipwreck due to a whirlpool, which invokes an appeal, a light, a salvation. The experience of conversion followed it as an illumination, an interior integration and orientation. (summary)

4. The "light from the Host"

Recalling the "many deviations" of the early 1900’s, Fr. Alberione in his later years affirmed that "Everything was school" (cf. AD 90). However, face to face with that turbulent era, he measured the avoided danger in all its seriousness and attributed his own salvation to a special intervention from above: "God’s grace and Mary saved me" (cf. SC 93). That "grace of God" – which, drawing him out of the vortex made him discover at the same time the "Master" and the magisterium of the Pope, his visible "lighthouse" – had its peak in the holy night between 31 December 1900 and 1 January 1901. To that charismatic experience he traces the origin of the providential light which enlightened him regarding his own vocation as a consecrated person and a founder (cf. AD 13-22).

The first glimmer of that light were put on in him by the masters of Christian thought, listened to and known during those months (cf. AD 14),(55) who lighted up his spirit and those of numerous young men with their appeals for awareness and for action. Thanks to them, Alberione started to open his eyes as believer on the social-religious situation of the moment. But the decisive light "came from the Host" (cf. AD 15) to him, and in that "light" were included many other things: the call of Jesus, ‘Venite ad me omnes", as if to say, "Come all of you to my school"; the meaning of the Pope’s appeals; the true mission of the priest and the need of adequate training since he was keenly aware of his own inadequacy, sustained by trust in God; the urgency of "opposing press with press", an expression which, in some other place, would be expressed as "opposing teaching posts with teaching posts"; in the certainty of being able to count on the great resources of the ever present master ("Vobiscum sum...") and that "in Jesus-Host one could find light, comfort, victory over evil" (cf. AD 15-16).

To this setting up of mind followed an assumption of responsibility, through a series of resolutions and projects ever more defined in view of a personal commitment lasting a whole life: to work for the healing of culture, for a new missionary thrust, for the reception of the teachings of the popes, for the use of the new means for the apostolate, and all this synthesized in a few rallying words: Eucharist, Gospel, Pope, the New Century, New means, New apostles, new formation of self and of new candidates with the precise orientation to such commitments (cf. AD 19-21). (summary)

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