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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



In Abundantes divitiŠ, Fr. Alberione wrote that, among the "devotions" already practiced in the seminary, he introduced to the Pauline Family that to Jesus Master, "which summarizes every devotion to Jesus Christ" (cf. AD 180).(99) This "devotion" then has a story as we have seen from the Notebooks of Alberione’s sermons. And yet the title Jesus Master does not explicitly belong to the official formulae of Pauline piety, neither in other text whatsoever of the foundation period until 1920. In the community’s prayers, Jesus was invoked with the traditional titles and the iconographic representations showed him in the guise of the Sacred Heart.(100) This silence on the title of Master, however, belongs, so it seems, to that prudent choice of "kenosis" to which Fr. Alberione himself refers while speaking about the origins of the Pauline Family.(101)

The deciding point in the explication of the title, of the doctrine and of the "devotion" to Jesus Master took place at the beginning of August, 1921, with the entrance of the Pauline Communities in their own newly-built house after so many moving in and out of other people’s houses. (summary)

1. The "light of truth"

In the month of July, 1921, came the immediate final transfer to a new house and it was made clear that the new house "is for the spread of the Gospel...; it is as if a church where the light of truth has to be made to shine... "Ut luceat omnibus" (Mt. 5:15)... The machines are pulpits, the workers are preachers..."(102)

The circumstance inspired "reflections before machinery" wherein a first theology of technology and preaching through media was being drafted.(103) In terms of Pauline apostolate, theories were considered over the debated problem of the Catholic press and the conclusion was that "it all is a matter of souls". And when there are these, the great venture could be started. "Good press needs writers, diffusers who work with true spirit, as with a true apostolate... Now we begin... Finally we shall soon have a house adequate for the purpose; there are people enough who are bound together in a society of souls, of wills, of hearts for the work of the good press... There are numerous true vocations... Hence the house assumes its true name ‘Pia SocietÓ S. Paolo.’ The Scuola Tipografica, opened some seven years earlier, has been a period of preparation, of training" (PP 144-145).(104) Thus, Fr. Alberione’s family acquired its historical name and started to reflect on its identity and its own spirit.

The transfer took place on 10 August. Three weeks later, the printing of the periodical La Domenica was started. On 21 September the Archbishop of Pisa, Cardinal Pietro Maffi wrote to Fr. Alberione a letter of encouragement (cf. PP 414-415). On October 5, in a semi-official form, the new Congregation was on its way with the profession of the perpetual vows by the Founder and of 14 young members, while other 15 candidates made the temporary profession of the vows.(105) The same day the house was blessed by the Bishop, Msgr. Re and – especially significant for us – the country house which temporarily sheltered the female community was called "Ges¨ Maestro" (Jesus Master).

On November 23, the report on the foundation was presented to the diocesan curia. In it was affirmed that Fr. Alberione, as Superior General, was called "Maestro Generale" (Master General)... The list of on going apostolic activities was notable, among them were the periodicals Gazzetta d’Alba, Vita Pastorale and La Domenica, aside from 52 parish bulletins and the creation of 150 roving libraries.(106)

In January 1922, Fr. Alberione came to Rome for an audience with the pope and, on his return, he was Cardinal Maffi’s guest in Pisa. Coming back to Alba, he launched the fortnightly Dottrina e fatti. The dominant anxiety in those months was how to put the word and the spirit of the Gospel into the publications: "Our attention is the spread of the Gospel by means of the press above all."(107) - (summary)

2. The "School" and the "Disciples of the Divine Master"

Two articles, of 4 June and 10 August 1922 respectively, aiming to illustrate contextually the "three devotions" to Jesus Master, to the Queen of Apostles and to St. Paul (UCBS no. 7 and no. 9 of 1922; cf. PP 456-457), give ample space for an adequately defined vision of their respective doctrinal motivations and of their corresponding spiritual, apostolic and formative expressions. A discussion apart deserves to be made on the concept of "devotion," which we shall do later.(108)

The topic that interests us here concerns the definition of Jesus as "the only and true great Master of peoples." And his "school" evoked by the gospels. "We read always with feelings, with fruits, with passion the pages of the Gospel when the apostles in the school of Jesus were telling him: "Master, teach us to pray"; when the crowds pushed against each other to listen to the Divine Master’s word of eternal life; when the young man approached him trustfully and asked: "Master, what must I do to gain eternal life?" the Savior enjoyed the name Master and expressed his enjoyment: "You call me Master and you do well because indeed I am."

The key elements of this "school" deserve to be underlined:

Now "the Pious Society of St. Paul has placed the students who aspire for the apostolate of the Good Press under the protection and the guidance of the Divine Master and calls them the Disciples of the Divine Master (UCBS 4 June 1922). But who, in truth, are these "disciples"? It is not easy to say exactly inasmuch as this term often changed meaning during the course of a few years.

In 1917 all the components of the first Pauline community, except the Founder, were students who aspired for the apostolate of the Good Press; and yet among them there were "students" and "workers," the first destined to degrees in social sciences and the second, destined to manage the printing press.(110) In 1922, as we have just seen, the title "disciples" referred to all aspirants without indicating which kind. In 1924, it would be said that "the "postulants" called the Disciples of the Divine Master (UCBS 15 August 1924) were dedicated to him [Jesus Master]. Finally, in October 1928, the title would exclusively refer to the Brothers consecrated to God for the Pauline mission alongside with the priests.(111)

Going back to the "school" of the Divine Master, two were the privileged forms of participation: the daily reading of the Gospel and assiduousness for the Visit to the Eucharist. The reading of the Gospel is advised above all in the first part of the Visit, but it is a rule among the students at the start of the daily classes. The Adoration of the Eucharist already has a long tradition since Alberione’s youth in the seminary; but it acquires a progressive consistency and specification in the new house of the Society of St. Paul especially between 1918 and 1923 when it becomes an essential part of the "laus eucharistica" which accompanies daily apostolic work.(112) On the first Sunday of the month the adoration is solemn, public and aimed at the promotion of the good press.(113) This initiative would assume its full animating and promoting role in the course of all the years. Twenty years, as we would see. But this draws strength and light from a second charismatic experience of Fr. Alberione, lived between the end of 1922 and the spring of 1923. (summary)

3. "Jesus Master said: ...From here I want to enlighten"

It was only during his mature years that Fr. Alberione allowed himself to be convinced to speak of his revelatory dreams. The first conversation, as we know it, dates back to June, 1938, during a course of spiritual exercises to priests (cf. Mihi vivere [MV] nos. 138-139); the second, more explicit, in 1954 (cf. AD 26 and 151-158).(114) From both narration, one could understand that the dreams were at least two.

The first dream, dating back to the late summer of 1922, concerned the "greatest sorrow" (for the deviations and defections) and the encouragement of Jesus regarding vocations; the second, had in the spring of 1923, consisted in the vision of the Master who pointed at the Tabernacle and reassured him. The narration of both dreams integrate and enlighten each other.(115)

It is useful to remember that in those months, Fr. Alberione was going through a two-fold pain suffered by the Apostle Paul: physical personal pain (serious sickness of tuberculosis) and moral pain for the future of the foundation and of its members (the "thorn in the heart"). A chronicle of that time witnesses the penitential spirit with which the communities of males and females participated in the sufferings of the Founder: a new Via Crucis, inaugurated in March 1923 with a ceremony that lasted two hours, carried this commentary: "The Via Crucis leads the heart to hate sin..., to sacrifice one’s self for souls: and the House of St. Paul is the House where... everyone lives for the Divine Master" (cf. PP 118).

In this context one can understand the importance of the dream and of the Divine Master’s words: "Do not be afraid, I am with you. – From here I want to enlighten. – Be sorry for sins." In his 1954 narration, Fr. Alberione clarifies, aside from the divine message and the motives of hope, their having been drawn from the Tabernacle: "that from Him – the Teacher – comes all light that has to be received". A special insistence falls on the theme of "light," which recurs six times in few lines; with the following modulations: light from the Tabernacle which enlightens us ("I am your light"), light that makes us His "reflectors"; strong and radiant light having evident normative character: "An invitation to all to draw from Him, the Divine Master living in the Tabernacle." And from here the conclusion: "Let everyone understand and think of himself that he is a transmitter of light, speaker of Jesus, secretary of the Evangelists and of St. Paul...; that the pen in hand with the pen of the printer’s inkwell carry out one single mission" (cf. AD 157).

The consequences of this dream are manifested soon in the explosion of apostolic activities that would follow and, on the purely charismatic level, in an ever more explicit formulation of the "devotion" to the Divine Master. (summary)

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