Today we celebrate the feast of our Founder, St. Vincent Pallotti, a day of prayer and blessings for the entire Pallottine Family. How fortunate we are to have St. Vincent right in our midst even after 170 years of his death. Today we wish to pray to God through his intercession for the entire world afflicted by the sorrows of the Coronavirus pandemic, and for all those who are sick and have lost their lives. Above all, we pray for all those who have lost their hope. Especially present in our hearts as we celebrate this Holy Mass are the deceased and sick members of our Pallottine Family.
The topic entrusted to me for our reflection today is “The Pallottine Family in the footsteps of St. Vincent Pallotti in service of the fraternity in the world”. Indeed, a beautiful and relevant theme.
St. Francis of Assisi was known as a mystical saint who believed in universal fraternity. His concept of fraternity involved not only the human race but also God’s entire creation, hence his composition, the Canticle of Creation. He thanked God for brother sun and sister moon, for brother wind and sister water; concluding by saying, “I praise and bless you, Lord, and I give thanks to you, and I will serve you in all humility”.
It’s this extraordinary saint who continues to inspire millions of people around the world. In a special way, Pope Francis continues the mystical way of St. Francis of Assisi. He bears not only his name but also his spirit. Pope Francis realised that it is only a return to the Gospel way, following a life of simplicity and poverty of the “poverello di Assisi”, that can truly make us disciples of Jesus. He understood that touching the poor meant touching the flesh of Christ; On the face of every child, we see the face of Child Jesus. In the downtrodden and the despised, we meet Jesus on the cross. Like St. Francis, our Holy Father believes in the universal fraternity of humankind and entire creation. His two Encyclicals, “Brothers and Sisters All” and “Laudato Sì”, are the fruits of these fraternal convictions, and totality of Creation. In “Brothers and Sisters All”, Pope Francis says, “This saint of fraternal love, simplicity and joy prompts me to devote this new Encyclical to fraternity and social friendship. Francis felt himself a brother to the sun, the sea and the wind, yet he knew that he was even closer to those of his own flesh. Wherever he went, he sowed seeds of peace and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least of his brothers and sisters” (n.2).
The Roman saint and mystic, Vincent Pallotti, is another prophetic figure who believed and promoted universal fraternity. He is a saint of the infinity, the universal soul, who remained in mystic union with God and his whole creation. Though mostly limited to Rome’s geographical boundaries, his horizon embraced the infinity of God’s love and mercy and all creation. The celebration of the Octave of Epiphany was, for example, the manifestation of the universal spirit of this Roman mystic.
Universal fraternity is rooted in some fundamental anthropological and spiritual principles. First, it is a recognition of the Lordship of God as our loving Father/Mother and the Creator of all that has come into being. Second, we are all God’s children, created in his own image and likeness, precious and honourable. The whole of creation manifests the glory and infinite wisdom of God. Third, in His infinite wisdom, God has made us interconnected and we realise ourselves in being related to each other and in living and working together in communion and harmony. Fourth, all God’s children have equal right and dignity to enjoy the fullness of life promised by God through Jesus. Likewise, every created being has the right to develop and reach its fulfilment. This means we need to respect God’s creation and not manipulate and plunder it for our egoistic motives.
The question before us is: how can we, as members of the Pallottine Family following the footsteps of our holy Founder, live and promote universal fraternity. I wish to point out three concrete ways, based on the three readings of today.
The first reading, from the book of Isaiah, speaks of the importance of fraternal charity as a genuine way to become God’s children and manifest His glory. The words of the prophet are very clear and strong: “Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me…to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to clothe the man you see to be naked…Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over” (Isaiah 58: 6-8).
Pope Francis, in “Brothers and Sisters All”, takes the parable of the Good Samaritan to show the importance of reaching out to men and women who have fallen on the other side of the street. The Pope says, “Jesus tells the story of a man assaulted by thieves and lying injured on the wayside. Several persons passed him by, but failed to stop. These were people holding important social positions, yet lacking in real concern for the common good. They would not waste a couple of minutes caring for the injured man, or even in calling for help. Only one person stopped, approached the man and cared for him personally, even spending his own money to provide for his needs. He also gave him something that in our frenetic world we cling to tightly: he gave him his time. Certainly, he had his own plans for that day, his own needs, commitments and desires. Yet he was able to put all that aside when confronted with someone in need. Without even knowing the injured man, he saw him as deserving of his time and attention” (n. 63).
His Holiness then gives us this message: “The parable eloquently presents the basic decision we need to make in order to rebuild our wounded world. In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the Good Samaritan. The parable shows us how a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject the creation of a society of exclusion, and act instead as neighbours, lifting up and rehabilitating the fallen for the sake of the common good. At the same time, it warns us about the attitude of those who think only of themselves and fail to shoulder the inevitable responsibilities of life as it is” (67). Here is then the first key to build up a universal fraternity: “a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others”.
In the second reading, St. Paul shows us that love alone can be the foundation of our life and every action. Hence why our Founder chose his motto Caritas Christi Urget nos. Since God is love, where there is God, there will be fraternal communion. Human organisations and juridical bonds can help us to some extent. It’s only genuine fraternal love, rooted in the mystical experience of God, like our Founder, can create and strengthen communion, and indeed the Union of Catholic Apostolate. The General Statutes, speaking of the spirituality of its members, says, “The specific spirituality of the Union is the following of Christ, Apostle of the Eternal Father. In faith and in charity the members of the Union are determined to remain united with the crucified and risen Christ ever present among them (cf. Mt 18,20).; they strive to imitate his love for the Father and for all persons, seeking to live his life-style and apostolate as perfectly as possible” (n.19).
Genuine love of God flows into authentic fraternal love, as Pope Francis says, “Life without fraternal gratuitousness becomes a form of frenetic commerce, in which we are constantly weighing up what we give and what we get back in return. God, on the other hand, gives freely, to the point of helping even those who are unfaithful. There is a reason why Jesus told us: “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give” (Mt 10:8) (Brothers and Sisters All, n. 140). As members of the Pallottine Family, we will be united when we forget ourselves and give ourselves to God and our fellow beings gratuitously.
The Gospel passage that we have heard speaks about our missionary mandate. The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out in pairs to towns and villages. Carry no purse, no sandals. Cure those who are sick and say, “The Kingdom of God is very near to you”. As our Founder taught us, we are all missionary disciples of Jesus. Our mission is to form others to become genuine apostles of Jesus, always in service of the mission of the Church.
What has truly inspired and strengthened me during these years as Rector General is the passion for the mission, especially for those of the periphery. I have experienced what the Gospel says today, “the harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to His harvest”. There are too many people waiting outside in the world, for the Gospel message, for compassion, for bread and healing. There are too many people going to bed hungry; there are millions of little children thrown on the streets without food and the minimum of security; there are too many women carrying heavy loads on their head, together with their babies on their back. What sense does it make to spend hours in feasting when millions around the world go hungry? We as Christians and consecrated persons will lose our saltiness when we lack radicality in our following of Christ. If many young men and women do not find meaning in being a Christian or a consecrated person, it is a clear indication that worldliness and comfortable living have conquered us and we do not live the radical spirit of the mission. On the other hand, the thousands of men and women of all walks of life working in the peripheries find much joy of the Gospel. There the Church of Christ will live. This is what our Founder, St. Francis of Assisi and all the saints have shown us. Radical living of the Gospel: this is the real challenge before us.
Dear brothers and sisters of the Pallottine Family, present here in our Church, and those who are following this Mass through the Internet, let us work towards genuine fraternal and universal communion among us. This is possible when we are focused not on ourselves and not even on our charism, but on God and his people all over the world. As said above, first of all, we need to become compassionate and caring especially of the most needy people among us. During this time of the pandemic, our compassion must be translated to the most concrete actions of spiritual and corporal acts of mercy. This is what our Founder did on the streets of Rome. Bread for the hungry, water for the thirsty. Medicine for the sick. Secondly, we need to become more and more God-centered persons and not only organisers of meetings and projects. With all our discussions and planning, if we have no time for prayer, for God, we will become only empty sounding gongs. Finally, we need to move out of ourselves and must get rid of our worries only of survival. We are all sent. I am a mission and we are a mission. We are instruments of God’s love, the channels of the compassion of Jesus and ambassadors of the Holy Spirit, the renewing and creative spirit of God.
It’s proper to conclude this homily with the prayer for universal fraternity given at the end of the Encyclical Brothers and Sisters All - A Prayer to the Creator:
Lord, Father of our human family,
you created all human beings equal in dignity:
pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
dialogue, justice and peace.
Move us to create healthier societies
and a more dignified world,
a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war.
May our hearts be open
to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
May we recognize the goodness and beauty
that you have sown in each of us,
and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects,
and shared dreams. Amen.
To learn more about St. Vincent Pallotti, please click here.
For more resources on Pope Francis's encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, please click here.