Thursday, December 07, 2023

Our Lady And The Community

My dear brothers and sisters,The Lord asks us to acknowledge what He has fulfilled. The most important events of the Community’s brief history are all God’s work. As we prepare our selves for the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, I would like to reflect upon how it came about that the Lord gave us two well-known Marian shrines beyond all our expectations and planning. His Eminence Cardinal Piovanelli was the first to ask us the favour of establishing a small family of the Common Life as keepers of the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Graces in the town of San Donato in Poggio. This happened in January 1990. In the same month, Serafino and I went there to take a look at the rooms and other things of the shrine in order to prepare to transfer three of our sisters there. Three elderly nuns wereliving there at the time, nuns who soon thereafter left the shrine and retired in their own convent. As soon as everything was prepared and the house was cleared, our sisters moved in. This was on the first of October, 1990. Our sisters have been keeping the shrine for two years already, to the pleasure of the inhabitants of San Donato, who love “their Madonna”. I often receive appreciative comments on the witness of humble charityand prayer that our sisters living in San Donato give. Scarcely a year had passed and we were ingreat difficulty at the motherhouse of San Sergio because there weren’t enough rooms to accommodate the new vocations that were coming during that period. Then the rector of the shrine of Our Lady of Sasso(in the diocese of Fiesole, near Florence) unexpectedly asked us if we could start a family of our monks in the complex of the shrine. The rector, who was by then anelderly man, desired to secure a future for the shrine, a shrine which is probably the holy site which was most venerated by the people of Florence. It therefore seemed to us that the Lord wished to give us a sign of his love and predilection in a miraculous way, entrusting us to keep these two Marian shrines. On the first of November, 1991, we transferred the novitiate for men to the shrine of Sasso. Protected and defended as we were (and are still now) by Our Lady underneath her gaze of maternal love, we felt that we could not have hoped for more.The Holy Virgin has thus decided to takecare of us. It was she who chose us, she who desired that we live in her house, she who continues to say what she said one day to the servants of the wedding at Cana. We feel particularly moved by her wish of our living in the Shrine of Sasso. It is the only place in Tuscany where she appeared.When she appeared there in the 15 thcentury (between 1484 and 1486), in a dramatic period of the history of Florence, she gave a message to the citizens of Florence which today we find particularly apt and pressing. The message she delivered to the young girl to whom she appeared is addressed to us as well. The message was an exhortation to read and reflect on the Gospel that, in so doing, one might live as her son Jesus taught, as Jesus indeed lived. Today the message of the Virgin Mary is given to us. Perhaps this is thevery reason of being of our Community, that is to say, to love the Word of God and to meditate thereupon. It has been from the outset one of the pillars of our religious life.The Holy Virgin confirms our Scripture-based spiritual journey and commitment. She, moreover, wishes that her message reach, through us, all of her children. Certainly, our presence at San Donato and especially at Sasso is a particularly important, or rather, decisive sign for our religious life. We beseech the Blessed Virgin to make us worthy to carry out her message of love ands ubsequently to bring it to others. We cannot be children of God if we are not children of Mary. We are indeed children of God because we are one with Christ, we are members of His Body. This is what God has willed. But we know Christ, the Son of God, only because it is the Virgin who has led us to Him. We are united to Christ only insofar as He has associated us with and united us to Himself in His Body. We have always loved the feast of the Divine Maternity of Mary more than other feast in her honour. She is a mother to us all because, being mother of God, she is also mother of the Church and of all Christians. How sweet it is to think that we have a Mother who looks after us, who defendsand protects us, who unites us to her Son,who lovingly encourages us to respond to God’s call and to do so ever more humbly and sincerely, who assures us of God’s forgiveness, who vouchsafes our spiritual journey and who will open the gates of Heaven for us.

The Father

One soul and one heart (1958)

Dear Friends,

The Community is still in its infancy; as a Religious Family it has only recently been constituted, and the Lord inspires and moves us more and more, so that the will to live closer to Him may develop in us ever more clearly.

Let us seek not only to love one another, but to be one soul and one heart.

Our unity is the necessary condition of future devel-opment for the Community: if we are less perfectly united, growth and extension of the Community will break it up. Only a unity grounded in Christ, full, total, perfect, can be a guarantee for us the kind of growth which will not destroy our movement. These are the most important years for the future development of our Community. If we are truly united, we shall have nothing to fear from the buffets of misfortune, nor from (what is more dangerous) the favour of men, the too rapid growth and popularity of our family. We must therefore be most absolutely united, and must feel ourselves one; there must be no differences or oppo-sitions amongst us. Divine charity can bring about such unity, so that no external threat can ever cause division between our souls.

But we shall never achieve this unity if egotism remains amongst us. Such unity demands complete freedom from egotism, from the desire to preserve something of our selves inside the Community: a desire that is all the more dangerous in that it concerns spiritual goods: ideas, modes of thinking that prevent us from unifying totally. Each one of us is different, but we will live this unity precisely by contributing to the Community, providing we do so with humility. All gifts are complementary, and so everyone’s contribu-tion is harmless so long as our egotism does not impose our own point of view. According to our egotism, whatever we propose will become an obstacle to the perfect interior unity of the whole family. So we must not only love one another, but we must be one, and love each other in such a way as to keep nothing of ourselves when we give ourselves to the Community. The development of the Community depends on the unity we have established. Numbers and buildings are not important. What is important is that our unity be so unbreakable that nothing can shatter it, so strong that no future growth can weaken it. May it grow like a germ, remaining always the same, ever revealing what it had from the beginning in potential.

I believe that one of our absolute needs is that we should be one. Every religious Congregation has re-cognised its ideal in the primitive Church: one soul and one heart.

We shall never be so until we are one Christ. But if we manage to achieve this unity we need fear nothing: Christ who lives in us guarantees that the Community will live despite all the storms, that it will grow and will have a mission of salvation for many souls, that it will be the visible sign of the presence of God among men.

And we for all eternity shall have nothing to do but thank God and praise Him for having chosen us.

From Fr Barsotti’s circulars – Florence, June 2nd, 1958

Ut sitis filii Patris vestri (1960)

Dear Friends in the Lord,

I am driven to write to you under a powerful im-pression, I believe, of divine inspiration. It seems to me that at last the Lord wants to give us a motto and a programme. From the very beginning of the Commu-nity the Lord has wanted to inspire us with a great love for the Sermon on the Mount, and has given us as our programme the Beatitudes which Jesus preached. From the start St Francis, with his prayer, has lent us his heart and soul in love with God.

Was not this the goal of all our aspirations, our desires, our secret hopes that God gave us from the very moment that He called us? To be the witnesses of God: to reveal His holiness, His infinite purity, to be as it were His presence for men on this earth.

Well, tonight in the depths of my soul the words of Jesus have been echoing: I repeat them for me and for you:


That you may be the children of your Father

These words conclude Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of the Beatitudes; every divine commandment has been given to us only for this: so that we may become and be in truth the Children of God, the children of the Father. To be children is to reveal with our entire life this ineffable mystery of divine love, it is our whole programme, because this is our vocation, which we have received from God: in humility, in peace, in simplicity, in the purity of a life filled with love, to want nothing more than this, to be children of God.

The words of Jesus teach us that humility, peace and purity are the doors into the Kingdom, but the Kingdom is nothing but love. Charity: that is what makes us truly children of the Father: a charity without bounds, living our life only to give, living to sacrifice everything in an ever-increasing forgetfulness of self. If we must, according to Jesus’ commandment, be per-fect even as our heavenly Father is perfect, then we must know that this perfection is nothing but love: a disinterested charity, a humble and pure charity, a charity without limits. We cannot expect charity to distinguish our little Community in the Church of God from the other religious communities, because charity is the badge of all the saints, but this is our vocation, to be saints, to live only for God, or rather to allow Him to live in us His pure and tremendous life.

For this to come about, we must all of us walk the path of humility: to disappear, to be no more, to expect nothing for ourselves, to seek for nothing, to be for-gotten, to be lost in silence. That He should be: only He. We must reveal nothing but Him, must be the con-dition for His presence, must know no other name.

UT SITIS FILII PATRIS VESTRI. May the Lord, who has given us these words as a motto, fulfil them in us, He who is the only-begotten Son of the Father. Let us pray therefore to the Lord, let us never tire of praying for each other, so that He may come into each of us and be Himself the Praise of the Father, the salvation of the world.

Bless you.

From Fr Barsotti’s circulars – Casa San Sergio, October 24th,1960

The greatness of the contemplative vocation (1961)

How grateful I feel today to the Lord for having given me this vocation, and how I feel bound to pro-claim the greatness, the necessity also in the service of others, in service of all mankind, especially of those Christians most taken up with work, most distracted by the occupations and preoccupations of everyday life! For many people our life may seem wasted. And indeed on the natural level it is, because in human terms our desire for silence is incomprehensible and mistaken. We could certainly achieve apparently better results with our ordinary work: living among men, exercising a profession, involving ourselves in a more direct kind of service than our humble praying. One can understand other people’s incomprehension. But to understand it is not to justify it. Is it not the most suitable and the greatest service to give our life for all those whom the cares of living distract from God? Does not the life of all tend towards death? But this is why death becomes more and more a reason for dismay and terror, a reason for scandal and rebellion, because men no longer know how to live for God. They would like to serve God for the sake of their human interests. They would like the religious life to serve only to enrich the few years of their earthly pilgrimage. They live for death, but true life is beyond this life.

This is what we want to teach: power and grandeur do not count; efficiency in work, dignity in ministry do not count; only love of God counts, because love of God alone remains. Men must know that these are not mere words: for this we must waste ourselves away with humility, for this we must accept that the sacrifice of a poor and obscure life is to pass uncomprehended by those for whom we live and whom we teach by example. If we truly believe that we are made for everlasting life, what are the eighty or a hundred years that we spend on this earth compared to the eternity that awaits us? How can we contemplate eternity with-out terror, if up until now we have sought to live in such a way that the loss of anything there is counts for nothing with us?

No. From now on we must become used to living among the emptiness of things in the infinite presence of God. We must in some way anticipate, in poverty and in humility, the joy and peace that await us in the future. If God is nothing for us then our death will take us to hell. Who can fill the emptiness caused by the detachment from creatures, the end of the present world, if we have not learned to know God, if we have not loved Him in this life? We want this: to give men a sense of the reality of the divine world, which is not a future world entirely separate from us. No, we should already carry this world in our hearts, we have already entered this world through the sacrament of baptism, already this world is our most real one.

Our humble life must bear witness so that in poverty the Kingdom of God may become in some way visible to man. By a journey of humility and silence, we must make space in our life for the presence of God.

Hermitage of Fornace, April 26th, 1961

Imploring the Spirit that His will may be done (1961)

We are in the octave of Pentecost. The song of thanks and praise is also the song of humble and impassioned supplication: the Spirit who has come down, who has filled the earth, must continue to come; 

we join with the supplicating Church in her joy and the response she receives, and we join with the exultant Church in the prayer she raises. The gift of the Spirit which the Church continually receives, and we receive with her, constantly extends the capacity of creation, of the soul, to receive. Thus the gift creates the desire, and the desire becoming more lively and more pressing, raises a new prayer to receive God. In this living desire which the Holy Spirit has enkindled in our heart, we repeat the words of the liturgy, for our-selves and for all our brethren, for ourselves and the whole Church, for ourselves and all humanity: Veni Sancte Spiritus!

The prayer is both guarantee and promise of the gift. This is our true vocation, the vocation of every Christian: to pray! It is God who is working, it is from Him that we look for all things. Incapable of discern-ing our true good, certainly incapable of grasping it on our own, we can always turn to God for assistance. May He illuminate us and guide us on our path, may He sustain us; by the power of His Spirit, may His holy will be done in us.

Our work must be the work of God Himself; man cannot act without Him, cannot act truly except in as much as he is moved by the divine Spirit, by the same Spirit who brought about the first creation, who brought about the second creation in the Incarnation of the Word, and who will finally bring about the Kingdom of God. Yes, the supreme activity of the Christian is docility to the Holy Spirit, and his ever more impassioned prayer to God is that the Kingdom should come.

In prayer man rises from his stupor and sets off to-wards his destination, but in its living awareness of our radical incapacity to attain that destination, prayer lends man’s action its highest value. What would be the point of all that man can do, if man’s action were not radi-cally prayer, if man’s action were not the anticipation and the prefiguring of what man can expect from God alone? Every action of man that does not end in prayer is for man nothing but the tragic experience of a failure. Life has no justification except by means of death, history has no justification except by means of its end; but the death of man and the end of the world will not lead into the Kingdom of God, unless man’s journey in this life, and man’s journey through history, have been first of all a search for God, a supplication for grace.

God will complete what He has begun. In prayer it is He who lives in you, who is your desire and your hope; this is the God who troubles your inmost parts, who spurs you into action.

We know: the definitive response to man’s prayer will be the end; but, moved interiorly by the power of the Spirit, man passes from prayer to action, lives the reality of prayer in concrete commitment: thus the strength of prayer is measured by the strength of the commitment.

It is God who prays by means of man, and it is God who by means of man replies. In as much as Christian prayer is efficacious, it is identified in some way with the very action of the one who prays. Supplication to the Spirit that He may come, does not excuse the Christian from acting; rather, the gift of the Spirit which the Christian has invoked becomes for him an irresistible force impelling him to action. The duty of the Christian at this moment is extremely grave and urgent: all of Christendom must join together in a humble and lively prayer, an impassioned supplication to the Spirit, in order to live in the Spirit the common labour of a universal renewal.

Pentecost, 1961

The negative virtues (1961)

Dear Friends,

We must get used to humility and silence, we must love humility and silence. The contemplative life re-quires a progressive divesting of the soul: the soul must allow itself to be sweetly deprived by God of everything human; it must be reduced to its original creaturely poverty. Having become pure capacity, it opens to God, and God gives Himself to it, so that He becomes its whole life. We look for nothing else, we desire nothing else: God alone.

Our prayer must be simple and pure. We mustn’t believe in fine thoughts, we mustn’t trust our feelings; in the humility of faith we cleave to God, who remains hidden. We mustn’t allow our occupations, study, work, human relations, to distract us from Him; in particular we mustn’t think or behave as though God and our union with Him served to obtain or possess some secondary object. We must content ourselves with God. This means that the soul should remain in peace, what-ever happens. Nobody and nothing can tear us away from the Lord.

The progressive shedding from the soul must make it evident, not only to ourselves but to others, that our only good is God: in our serenity, in our humble and pure joy. This is the supreme testimony that is required of every Christian today, the testimony that we must render to the world. Our greatness is humility, our riches are peace, our joy is in silence.

The exercises of the religious life are not the reli-gious life itself, but means to achieve it; our religious life goes far beyond these exercises, in the tranquil cleaving of the soul to the God who is present. For us everything points towards the purity and the simplicity of this cleaving. Not only continuous attention to Him, not only living His presence: God is not only the One who is present, He is the One who loves. Your faith is not merely the recognition of the absolute reality of God. His immensity does not appear to your spirit as an indifferent and impersonal reality. He is everything for you. The act which you must live, which is already the life of heaven, is the act by which you receive Him continuously, the act by which you cleave to His love, take your pleasure in Him, rest in Him.

You have no need of words. You do not need many thoughts or sentiments. Just as the life sheds every-thing superfluous, so too does prayer. And all the more does the Lord become present, in the poverty of every-day things.

We live, dear brethren, in this continuous need for humility and silence, the pure condition for the presence of God in our poor life. How much sweetness there is in the full acceptance of God’s action in removing from us, day by day, our every secret ambition, our every desire for power! How sweet it is to drown the soul in the forgetfulness of creatures! In the pure silence of the soul, love is not denied, but love is no longer ex-clusive, closed, egotistical, troubled, anxious. This life absorbed in God is not denied its fertility, but its fertility does not detract from its purity.

It is not poverty, humility and silence that make God present: rather it is God who, the closer we approach, the more He gives Himself to a soul, the more He makes it poor, humble and alone. It is not for you to make God present in your poor life; it is He who, making Himself present, consumes and destroys your opacity, turning you into pure crystal for His light, reduces to nothing your power and strength and will, leaving you with the absolute simplicity of infinite light.

I ask God’s blessing on all of you.

Advent, 1961

There is no incompatibility between our life and our vocation (1964)

Dear Friends,

In this circular letter, I would like to continue what I had begun talking about after the spiritual exercises and to say something about a temptation and danger which threatens the unity of our life.

How often do we separate our consecrated life from our life in the workplace! In our view, perfection must consist in giving witness to a life of prayer, of hu-mility, of peace, virtues which we practice precisely where Divine Providence has appointed for us to live and precisely in the fulfilment of our mission, in the realization of those works which our brothers and sis-ters expect from us. It is precisely in living our life of teaching, of household work, of responsibility in various associations, etc., that we may give witness to an authentic life of prayer, humility, and love. This fact is very obvious and yet we are unable to accept it. We live as if there were some incompatibility between our life and our vocation. This incompatibility is fruit of our will alone, our will which tends to separate what God has joined together.

It is certainly not easy to live a life in which we must bear witness to a real presence of God, while at the same time working and living like everyone else; yet this is precisely what Jesus taught us. Jesus, in order to live His life of union with the Father, did not separate Himself from the human race, He did not try to defend His own private prayer nor reserve personal time for Himself in the silence and recollection of the cloister. On the contrary, he lived with other human beings, he lived the same life they did. In order to live our consecration to God, we need not separate our-selves from our brothers and sisters, we need not live a life which is, if not extraordinary, at least different from that of everyone else. Or put in a better way, in our love for our neighbour (which is inspired and nurtured by God Himself) we must be in solidarity with everyone, we must not distinguish ourselves from others, but rather identify ourselves with them. Our love for God must make us, in an increasingly deeper and more concrete way, equal to our brethren in every sense: equal in our life, work, in the problems of the Community. We believe that everyone can become part of the Community, and we believe that those of the Common Life must not erect a barrier between themselves and other men and women, a barrier which is a kind of escape from the problems, work, and life of others.

If Jesus, in order to live His life as Son of God, as Redeemer of mankind, did not escape the common life of men, then it follows that the common life of men does not hinder, in itself, living the most sublime life of holiness. We are not saying that our occupations, the environment we live in, the responsibilities we have, the difficulties of life all hinder our life of prayer and union with God. If we are not living our vocation, it is so both because we place ourselves outside of reality while waiting for certain conditions of life which God has not promised us and because we do not commit ourselves to respond to God here and now. We must live the grace of the present moment.

In the religion of Israel, man had to wait for the fulfilment of God’s promises, but in the Christian religion, man must receive, in faith, the gift of God Himself. The gift is so great, that it permits and re-quires that one embark on a spiritual journey towards holiness, but this gift does not take me elsewhere, it does not make me wait for something that I do not already have: it immerses me ever more deeply in Christ, it opens my heart more and more so that the capacity of my heart may gradually adapt to the immensity of this gift.

It is in this life of ours that we must receive God and live with Him. Precisely in living today your com-munion with God are you in the position to fulfil His will tomorrow.

There is no preparation for all of this other than prayer; there is no other way of knowing God’s will tomorrow other than that of doing His will today. We are humble and attentive without getting discouraged by problems; we are without anxiousness and without fear.

May God help us carry out this resolution of ours so that we may live the life of prayer to which we are called: with this hope, I pray for and bless you all.

Ember Days of Lent, 1964

Humble reality (1966)

Dear friends,
what we have to meditate today is the promise the whole liturgy gives us of a new forgiveness that will renew all of life, and in our case will renew our Com-munity. The Community needs rejuvenating.

We must acknowledge not only our private faults but also our faults in relation to our sisters and brothers, to the entire Community. We are in fact responsible for each other. Only Cain said he was not his brother’s keeper. Many of our sisters are extremely old; but it is sad to see them not being replaced by younger women. Does the Community have to get older before it gets younger? Nobody seems very interested in our cultural activities. It may be my fault, but on the other hand it may be yours.

No more attempts have been made lately to find aspirants in the various categories (widows, old women for the First Level), as though we had no more respon-sibility for those souls.

If a sister leaves us, perhaps we should all feel re-sponsible. We are far too prone to engage in useless criticism, instead of trying to help to make things bet-ter. Perhaps it is the fault of the superiors, who do not sufficiently challenge the souls in their charge.

Let us not forget that one cannot achieve individual perfection without concern for others. A soul which practised all the virtues would still be damned if it had not the love which is Christianity’s first requirement. We are involved with everyone else and we cannot avoid it. We may feel good because it seems to us that our spiritual life has found a bed in which to rest, but it is a bed of death. We are forgetting the other souls who also desire sanctity. We pay no heed to the real Com-munity. Yet we should love it, and all the souls that belong to it.

This involvement with others requires sacrifice: peo-ple near us seem worse than those far away, but God has put them near us so that their deficiencies may be reason for loving them more and making sacrifices for their sake.

We must do everything possible to get back on the road, with trust in God: trust is not presumption, pro-vided we recognise our failings. The pre-condition for divine forgiveness, and for renewal of our interior life, is confession of our sins.

Let us try to be simple, concrete and straightforward, speaking of ourselves as we are: imperfect, and with precise responsibilities towards our religious institute.

How we must all feel responsible that the Commu-nity should live! The life of the Community conditions our interior life; our response to the Lord is inseparable from our commitment to serve the Community, even before our consecration.

Now we are at the beginning of Lent I want to wake the Community up, and convey a sense of urgency to you.

We must in all humility be committed, practical, realistic! The more we dream of great things, the more responsible we are for the withering of the little seeds of life within the Community. We risk disappointing those souls who are asking us for something: a gift of patience, love, attention.

It is such a beautiful thing that the Lord is asking from us. And it is so necessary for the Church that here, and nowhere else, each soul, in the state to which it has been called, should truly live this recognition of the primacy of God, should be especially committed to the gift of love.

Lenten Ember days, 1966