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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



Recalling the stages of his seminary formation and of his first pastoral ministry, Fr. Alberione remembers a series of experiences which led him to the path of meeting the Master.

He repeatedly makes reference to the magisterium of Leo XIII, his encyclicals and his "invitations." He evidently alluded to the encyclical Tametsi futura, of 1 November 1900, but he never mentions it explicitly although it is held by many that it is from it that he derived his "illumination" on the Master. On this regard, an initial clarification is opportune. In that pontifical letter mention is made of Jesus "Redeemer" and of the "triple foundation of every salvation" (Christ Way, Truth and Life). The title Jesus "Master" never recurs at all, at least in its official formula and neither did Fr. Alberione use this title when he commemorated that encyclical and reproposed it as a fundamental document for the Pauline Family towards the end of the fifty’s.(56) An attentive analysis of the drafting stage of that document reveals an interesting fact: the first draft, entrusted by Leo XIII to Fr. Riccardo Tabarelli,(57) did not only not touch on our specific topic but also presented a section under the title of "Magister."(58) This draft was considered apologetic and could suffer reduced interpretations (intellectualist) of Redemption. However, precisely for this, its writer revealed the spirit of the century about to end, with the dramatic perception of the ongoing clash between the "light" and the "darkness."(59) In this atmosphere, of Christian cultural counter-attack and of neo-Thomist mark, the idea of Jesus "Master" was in the air and it could be breathed especially in the seminaries where Professor Tabarelli was considered one of the most eminent champions of the time.

In 1904, cleric Alberione was assigned to prepare a lecture on St. Thomas Aquinas, with the theme, "The Thomistic foundation of thought amidst the chaos of ideas." "He drew spiritual advantage and guidance from it," drawing from it the conviction that "no holiness [is possible] where there is no truth, or at least love for truth; holiness of the mind is the first part. There is no orientation without logic; no vast perspective without metaphysics; no secure way if not in the Church" (AD 91-92).(60)

His principal inspirer was Canon Francesco Chiesa, "venerated master" as Giaccardo would define him later. He was an educator, a guide, a man who "so possessed the reasons of his knowledge, and adhered to them so, that he was, among masters, a bunch, the bunch of truth" (cf. CISP 407-410) In the seminary he personified the model of "master" as Fr. Alberione would propose it.

Equally meaningful were his experiences teaching catechism in the oratory of San Secondo in Alba, from 1905, where the cleric and then the priest Alberione learned the art of teaching while he experienced growing in himself the force of the divine mandate: "Go, preach, teach..." (cf. AD 81-82).

A frequent theme in his first catechesis was the need to beware of the mentality of the world, "an enemy and a seducer..., master of iniquity, which teaches tyrannically" (cf. Q 026 [1905] 14). Approaching ordination to the priesthood, deacon Alberione "had a much clearer light on the spread of the Gospel" and this, so he clarifies, "during Eucharistic adoration" (cf. AD 136).(61) It was light which would immediately be translated to work after the ordination, with the proposal and the celebration of the first Sunday "Gospel days" (cf. AD 138).

It was above all in his role as Spiritual Director of the seminary, starting in 1908, that Fr. Alberione would begin to speak of Jesus "Master," at first using the expressions of the Gospels and then theorizing the meaning and the weight of the title. (summary)

1. The "good Master"

Between 1908 and 1912, Fr. Alberione conducted meditations almost everyday to the seminarians and his notebooks document the catechesis that he was developing around the person of Jesus. The most frequent title was that of the "Sacred Heart," but the title of "Master" appeared more and more, pointed out especially as model of the pastoral magisterium for which the future priests were called. From a reading of Alberione’s notebooks, these lines slowly emerge:

An elementary first synthesis is found in a notebook of the years 1911-1912, containing a series of catechetical notes on the "Creed," from where we gather the following statements:

2. The Priest-master

In that same notebook, we find an outline of an "Adoration for priests" dedicated to Jesus Master, with this intention: "to become like him in teaching" (cf. Q LV [1913] 97). The priest has been made so to be "master" to the people of God. On this concept Fr. Alberione insistently returns with the end of infusing on the candidates the passion for study along with spiritual and moral formation. "The priest [in fact] must be an example to the people, master in the practice of virtues..." (cf. Q 012 [1908] 3). Let not the candidates to the priesthood forget that the priest is "alter Christus" and, as such, "he takes into himself the qualities of master educator of children, of doctors, of judges, of sovereigns..." by teaching the doctrine and the morality of Christ (cf. Q 018 [1908] 53).

Called by the Divine Master to reveal His presence in his own person as He is present in the Eucharist (cf. Q 018 [1908] 48), the priest must draw from Him light and strength for his mission of witnessing and of evangelization. He in fact is "teacher of the world, salt, light of men" (cf. Q 040 [1910] 9 [cf. Mt. 5:13-14] and Q 038 [1910] 159).

In this catechesis to the seminarians, the young Fr. Alberione proceeded in harmony with the Rector of the Seminary, Canon Danusso, as it appears from the Indice e schemi delle meditazioni dettate nel Seminario di Alba, where, on Saturday, 2 January 1909, we see noted the topic "The way of the elect and the Divine Master" and, on 4 March, "Conference of the Rector on the obligation to pattern ourselves after the Master Jesus Christ".(65)

The first requirement of such discipleship is love for the Divine Master and,(66) at the same time, love for studies. Inasmuch as the priest has received the same mission as Jesus Christ, to become "above all master of a population" and not only a pray-er or a celebrant, he has the obligation of studying deeply the science of theology (cf. Q 041 [1910] 34-36). Love for books is a sign of priestly vocation, just as in the twelve-year-old Jesus the knowledge of the Scriptures and interest for the things of God revealed his future mission as Master (cf. Q 040 [1910] 109-110).(67)

From here comes the lofty dignity and responsibility of every priest dedicated to teaching. If, as a Christian teacher, he exercises a task of human promotion which places him on a higher level to that of the pagan pedagogue (cf. Q 045 [1910] 132), as priest-formator of souls, he carries out a role well above any other, including that of kings (cf. Q 044 [1910] 38). He is "master of most lofty and sublime things" (cf. Q 046 [1910] 120-126). (summary)

3. The "big fire lighted by Jesus Christ"

In a meditation of 1910, Fr. Alberione explained a thought which had given light to his youthful years and contributed to the resolution of his crisis: the earthly presence of the Pope, the visible image of Jesus Christ, "infallible teacher of truth," "our guide," our confirmation and "consolation" amidst numerous dangers of errors and contradictions.(68) In another sermon in 1912, alluding to the doctrinal disputes of the moment and to the condition of Pius X, almost a prisoner, he remembered with moved words the expressions of solidarity rendered by five hundred bishops to Pope Pius IX half a century earlier.(69)

The pompous language of that time, prior to two Vatican councils, translated nonetheless a concept well rooted in the spirit of Fr. Alberione since early youth until the end of his time. For him, the Pope is always "master, light, guide, rock of truth, sentinel against errors". Remembering this conviction alone we come to understand his affirmations, repeated in Abundantes divitiŠ forty years later: the Pope is the "the great fire lighted by Jesus Christ for humanity, for every century" (AD 57). It is in fact due to the experience of his youthful years – to the "deviations" and to the debates among different ideologies – that Fr. Alberione would trace the "persuasion" of the need to remain faithful to the Pope’s magisterium with an attitude of unquestionable adhesion to that value which he called "RomanitÓ."(70) His visit to Rome in this sense was decisive. He came to Rome in 1911 to represent the diocese in the congress of the Unione Populare. It was visit during which "he had the chance to pause in prayer at the tomb of St. Paul," drawing from there the inspiration for the future development of his works.(71) - (summary)

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