By Lissy Maruthanakuzhy, DSP
Mumbai, June 30, 2019: Today, June 30, is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
We conducted a novena as preparation for the feast of St Paul, the patron of the Pauline Family.
Blessed James Alberione, an Italian priest, started the Pauline Family. In 1914, he founded the Society of St Paul, the first of five religious congregations, four Secular Institutes and one Association Pauline Cooperators.
The Daughters of St Paul was founded in 1915. Both the congregations have the same mission of proclaiming Christ through the media of communications.
Alberione chose St Paul as our patron, because he felt that ‘if St Paul were alive today, he would use media for evangelization.’ In fact, he often told his people, “Truly, St Paul is your founder.”
As I sat on the second last pew in the chapel our headquarters in Mumbai my eyes went to the statue of Saint Paul, standing majestically on the left-hand side of the sanctuary. His right hand rested on his chest, a sword in his left. A copy of the Bible, supported with his hand, was on the left chest.
A burning lamp and a bunch of flowers at his feet signified that the day was dedicated to him.
But I felt uneasy as his eyes fell on us, seated comfortably on the bench, with feet resting on the cushioned kneeler in front. Our patron had suffered much to make Jesus known. We have no patience to bend our knees in prayer for a while. It amused me.
I could not escape his eyes so I bowed my head as songs, scripture readings and reflections , all centered on the saint went over the loudspeaker.
“You must preach to the Gentiles and you must go to Rome
But Paul you must suffer, till I call you home.
You sleep in the desert they’ll be out of street
But on preaching the Gospel for me.”
The song resounded with the Lord’s mission to Paul our father and founder.
The reading from the letter of St Paul followed:
“…I have worked with unsparing energy, for many nights without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty, and often altogether without food or drink; I have been cold and lacked clothing. And besides the external things, there is day in and day out, the pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. If anyone weakens, I am weakened as well; and when anyone is made to fall, I burn in agony myself.” (2 Cor.27-29)
The voice of Alberione suddenly echoed within me:
“The first feature of the Good Pastor and of the Pastorine is to know their sheep and (then) to make themselves known to them. The former is proof of their concern; the latter is a requirement if the sheep are not to become frightened and fearful of their presence.” (Alberione’s Biography – I am with you)
One of Alberione’s concerns was to preserve the faith of people. As a result of the Industrial Revolution mechanized production had reduced the need of workers. The struggle for work in order to survive was very strong. Many people from the countryside moved to cities in search of work. People who previously had had a strong, supportive Catholic environment in their villages, found themselves shattered in their faith life.
Alberione was conscious of the situations of the Christian community and looked towards a new evangelization using the press together with traditional evangelization (preaching and catechism) which revolved around the parish.
Many sheep stay outside the sheepfold and they do not come to the pastor because they do not know him, because perhaps they oppose him, and they oppose him because they do not know him. It is necessary to save all the souls. It is necessary that the pastor go to them. Today you go to these people by means of the press (Bulletin of Paoline Cooperators Nov., 1922)
St Paul and Blessed Alberione were on fire with zeal for God and his people. For this they were willing to sacrifice and suffer to any extent.
Different scenes of my recent experiences flashed my mind:
The mother who was shedding tears during Mass later confided, “Sister, I have lost my only son. I have lost everything.” She was referring to her only son who had joined a new Christian sect and had become a disturbing factor in the family.
The young man who travelled with me told me, “I was born a Catholic. Now I follow Methodist Church. Because I find fellowship, Bible sharing and opportunities for charitable works organized from the Church.”
Are these the same “sheep” Blessed Alberione refers or the “weak” that St Paul mentions? Are these the “sheep” and “weak” we have to cater to now?
These thoughts began to disturb me.
St Paul and Alberione left their comfort zones to be with people to know their agonies, concerns, longing and to quench their thirst for spiritual things.
How can I keep up their spirit today? How do I move out to the people of today? Where can I meet them?
The answer is indeed a long search. But for that I have to first lift my feet from the cushioned pews and kneel down on hard realities.