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Pallotti as the Spiritual Director of the Sisters

INTRODUCTION

I am glad that today we are sowing seeds on a fertile ground of Pallotine studies about Pallotti as the spiritual director of the Sisters. The subject is unique for several reasons which also determine the structure of this speech.

First of all we will have to face a general question about a man. Who is he? What is the source of his existence and the ultimate goal of his life? This concerns the concept of a person according to Pallotti. This search for an adequate and complete picture of man is an indispensable condition for answering the question of what was the spiritual direction taken by Pallotti. What were its sources, methods and means? Second of all, the topic sets the direction of reflection on the sacramental/ontic and functional/social identity of Pallotti as a priest. What does Pallotti say about himself, leading so many Sisters from various religious congregations and traditions? Third of all, who were these Sisters with whom Pallotti had spiritual, paternal ties? And fourth of all, the topic has some hopes for a preliminary reconstruction of Pallotti's ministry as the spiritual director of the Sisters. Although, of course, I do not include here the whole political, social and religious context.

This allows me to hope that this speech will also be useful and inspiring for us, because it directs our eyes to the constant timeliness of questions about man, consecrated life, priesthood, spiritual direction, Pallotti and the charism. Therefore I encourage you to study the following findings.

Please allow for a word of introduction, as the topic requires some explanation at the beginning.

As is often the case today, for Pallotti, the spiritual direction of the Sisters was closely connected to the sacramental confession, although, obviously, they differ in substance. However, Pallotti himself wrote that it is more useful when the spiritual director is also a confessor (OOCC X, p. 754 – 760). Hence, many aspects of the spiritual direction remain unknown to us, especially those taking place in the confessional. Therefore, the analysis of this dimension of Pallotti's pastoral work is limited to the sources left in his letters.

Let's move to the first point.

PALLOTTI'S CONCEPT OF A PERSON

Pallotti derives the truth about man from the biblical message about creating him in the image and likeness of God. For Pallotti, to be a man is to be a picture of God. In “God, the Infinite Love” Pallotti says that man, by virtue of the act of creation, is the image and likeness of the essential Love, infinite Power, infinite Wisdom, essential Justice, Mercy, Essential Purity, Essential Holiness and Perfection.

As such, a man is endowed with free will; he is able to gain knowledge, to love, to relate and to work. He has the inalienable value of dignity. By creating a man, God also revealed the will to stay with him in unity, in community, in communion which – through the union with Christ – is also man's ultimate goal. It is love that creates community, and unity in love is a special likeness to God. It also means that the world of interpersonal relationships is not limited to living side by side. This is an important thought of Pallotti, because it suggests an extremely significant and probably not yet discovered category of participation. Man not only stands before God and another man, but he also participates.

The fact that man is the image of God also implies the obligation to realize and improve this image. “My soul feels the natural necessity of ever greater improvement and growth in the merit in its natural essence, reflecting God and the whole God” (God, the Infinite Love, p. 41). “By the nature of creation You have committed us to perfection as we are the living pictures of You...” (OOCC III, p. 151, 218).

It is only in this context that Pallotti's spiritual direction will reveal to us, as I trust, as discovering and learning God in man.

SOURCES OF SPIRITUAL DIRECTION

Fr. F. Amoroso said about Pallotti that “he did not write a treatise on spiritual direction, but he marched greatly on the paths of the spirit” (Amoroso 1995, p. 19). Nevertheless, in his writings we find a lot of valuable hints about spiritual direction. Thanks to them, Pallotti is a part of the rich stream of Christian tradition, in which spiritual accompaniment occupies a prominent place. What was Pallotti's inspiration when he was giving wise advice, warm encouragements or simply doctrinal indications?

Although he was not a theoretician of spiritual direction, he had a reliable philosophical and theological education. The first source was the Scripture. Many of the fragments of his correspondence are direct biblical quotes and paraphrases.

Another source was the scriptures of the Desert Fathers and the classics of spirituality. As he testified many times in his writings, Pallotti knew masters of spirituality. That was the basis for a prudent pursuit of the souls entrusted to him. He often cites biographies of saints worth following, quotes their thoughts and gives examples from their lives, motivating to make an effort and commit. It is impossible to mention here all of Pallotti's references. As an example, I will only remind you that in 1816, he mentions the words of the Abbot of Moses: “Surrender yourself to a demanding and severe man who would handle you hardly and roughly, and then try to accept all the reprimand and undermining as you would drink milk and honey, and I assure you that in a short time you will be at the top of perfection” (OOCC X, p. 65).

Pallotti knew that the Scripture, reading pious books, and listening to the Word of God in sermons or conferences is a real food for the soul that is following the path of perfection.

Prayer was also a constant source. Pallotti gives the words of prayers directly. He often asked others for a prayer for himself and for the ones he accompanied. Many of his incentives and admonitions are written in a form of a prayer or short concluding prayers (Frank 2007, p.333).

Then there is personal spiritual discipline. To find an example of it, let's return to the resolution from 1842. Pallotti wrote then: “I want to lead a life constantly in the highest perfection, under the most harsh, strict and punitive direction of a pious man who, wanting to see me fully purified, punishes me severely in everything, even in small deeds, as always imperfect” (OOCC X, s. 213).

Furthermore, it is impossible not to mention Pallotti's own practice of spiritual direction. Let's have a biref look at his spiritual directors. This will allow us to further highlight the most important pillars of Pallotti's spiritual culture in their historical and biographical context.

Pallotti benefited from the ministry of three spiritual directors:

– in 1807-1837, priest Bernardo Fazzini (1758-1837). Saint Fazzini, as Pallotti would call him. Roman, vicar and a parish priest of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, chaplain of the Ospizio di San Michele a Ripa Grande. He was Pallotti's confessor from the time he turned twelve, and he accompanied him on his spiritual path for the following thirty years. It is him who opens the list of the UCA members in 1835. We only have two letters addressed by Pallotti to Fazzini. Pallotti visited him on his deathbed on Christmas Day, December 25, 1837. They were joined by a deep and intimate relationship. In his presence in 1816, Pallotti made a vow of obedience to the confessor. He opened his soul to him and allowed himself to be guided in everything. It was Fazzini who witnessed Pallotti's mystical encounters with God. No one knew his soul more deeply than he did. He shaped Pallotti into a great priest who treated his priesthood as a special path to holiness.

– in 1838-1844 a Capuchin, Father L. Pellegrini, Serafino da Monte S. Giovanni (Father Seraphim from Mount St. John). Professor of theology and philosophy. They knew each other well. They met at the family home of Pallotti, at the church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans, and at the Capuchin monastery in via Veneto. At Pallotti's request, Father Seraphim approved all of his spiritual notes from Camaldoli from July, 10 to October 28, 1839. Fr. Seraphim wrote a very moving letter to Pallotti (WP III, s. 208). Pallotti also recommended him to others as the one from whom one can “certainly receive appropriate advice and enlightenment” (OCL III, Letter 545, p. 23, June 9, 1839 to Francis Virlli). It was Fr. Seraphim who said that the reason for Pallotti's severe illness in 1839 was his exhaustive ministry of accompanying the Sisters. In his letter to Camaldola he wrote: “Were it not for the hearing confession of the Sisters, you would not have to cough blood today” (Frank 2007, p. 341).

– between 1844 and 1850, Fr. Salvatore Pascale. He became a confessor and spiritual director of Pallotti in 1844, after the death of Fr. Seraphim. He accompanied him for six years, until his death. They probably knew each other for about 22 years. The exchange of correspondence shows how much confidence Pallotti had in Fr. Salvatore.

Here are another three very important sources of Pallotti's spiritual direction, resulting from his rich ascetic and mystical experience.

The experience of God – infinite love and mercy. How important it was in Pallotti's life, in experiencing his own contingency and everyday effort, also in the eschatological dimension! I dare say that it is in this experience that Pallotti shows us the true dynamics of spiritual direction as a deep desire to change one's life (OOCC X, p. 167).

A deep relationship with Mary. This Marian feature of Pallotti is not just piety. It was a living relationship that stimulated him to a holy life, and had its consequences also in the ministry of spiritual direction. Among other things, it reveals one of the methods used by Pallotti to lead souls. One year after the crucial event of his spiritual marriage on December 31, 1832, Pallotti prepared a triptych of reflections for the month of May. In them, Mary appears as a spiritual mother, a spiritual guide who teaches, shows her way, and encourages.

The desire for holiness, expressed in the General Declaration of 1816, to which he remained faithful throughout his entire life. Pallotti, imbued with the need for a constant and love-inspired encouragement to care for his own sanctification, was aware of the need for spiritual direction in the conscious pursuit of perfection. He expressed it many times. “A spiritual director should be a man according to the Spirit of God, not according to our spirit, which is capricious and changeable” (OOCC X, p. 758). It was also the fulfillment of his priestly identity: the sanctity of life achieved by leading and sanctifying souls.

PALLOTTI'S SPIRITUAL PROFILE

“Oh, my God, I am the most unworthy of the gift to become a true father of souls, who should lead them to the loving wounds of Jesus Christ...” (Frank 2007, p. 253). Pallotti said this about himself. Others, in turn, testified: “Pallotti made himself known as a selfless, truly apostolic priest, devoted to the cause of the immortal souls with dedication” (Frank 2007, p. 334). His whole inner world of relationship with God was expressed in love for man. He repeated many times: “Remove me, Jesus, and take my place”.

The sources, methods and means of Pallotti's spiritual leadership also show this ecclesial and apostolic dimension of accompaniment. It was a place of teaching and leading people to God and the Church. He wanted to awaken in his penitents a fervent desire for evangelical perfection and apostolic zeal. Pallotti valued the stability of a spiritual director, obedience to him, authenticity, honesty and diligence. He accompanied with gentleness, patience and prudence. With supernatural cleverness, he was able to discern the state of the soul. Some people say that he read one's mind. His letters reveal him as a man of great sense, determination, fatherly kindness, intelligence, respect and sense of humor. Always with a word of encouragement, a reminder of gratitude to the merciful God and the necessity of a firm decision to improve life. The proposed penitential acts were not only a form of satisfaction for the sins committed, but also a kind of help to progress in virtue. He encouraged to frequent prayers, recommended visitations of the Blessed Sacrament, reception of Holy Communion, and care for deep spiritual life through devotion to the Mother of God. He encouraged the Sisters to poverty, love, faithful observance of the rule and perfect community life. “Please, Sister, do not lose your courage, trust, peace and silence of your spirit!”, he wrote to one of the Sisters from the convent of San Domenico e Sisto.

Pallotti helped to recognize God's action. To a Sister from Osimo, he wrote: “You, Sister, should use all the favours God gave you, and seriously take to heart that you can become a saint if you want to! You have all the means for it” (Frank 2014, p. 348).

Did Pallotti, the spiritual director of the Sisters, had knowledge, sanctity and experience – the qualities that St. Teresa of Avila required from the confessors? Witnesses picture him as a man of faith, who loved Christ and the priesthood, who was full of an extraordinary apostolic zeal and  holiness. One of his penitents said: “He had something that I could not find in other Servants of God... A sense of heavenly goodness, the ability to calm down and silence the soul with the help of just few words, but the right and effective ones” (OCL IV, p. 390).

In the ministry of spiritual director Pallotti himself saw the path for his own sanctification: “The spiritual director of the virgins consecrated to God, enclosed in holy monasteries, can acquire the great spirit of evangelical perfection... Reflecting on this, I make the following intention: My God... immersed in Your infinite mercy, power, wisdom, goodness and deity, I desire for all the eternity and eternally forever, to live being busy leading souls to the highest perfection; and I want God to be glorified as if all the beings have benefited from this leadership with the perfection of the cooperation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the holy humanity of Jesus Christ” (Frank 2007, p. 334).

THE SISTERS

Pallotti accompanied many people. Among his numerous penitents, there were also Sisters. In Pallotti's view of the apostolic procura, they found themselves under protection of Saint James the Less. Though “at the beginning he was very reserved in accepting the spiritual direction of these souls” (Frank 2007, p. 330), with time he became a very sought-after confessor to the Sisters. Among other things, Cardinal Odescalchi's testimony has been preserved. He recommended Pallotti to Sister Aluffi, calling him an extraordinary confessor. “He is a saint”, says the Cardinal in the letter. “Believe me, Sister, I say this without any second thought... I say this because, in certain circumstances, the intention of a person enlightened by God can help a lot. If you, Sister, did not benefit from it somehow, at least you would always have his prayers with you, and the prayers of this Servant of God reach very high” (Frank 2007, p. 333-334).

His spiritual ministry in Rome served the Salesian Sisters dell'Umiltà, the Augustinian Sisters delle Vergini, Sisters of Santa Martha, the Poor Clares of San Silvestro in Capite, the Celestine Sisters called Turks, Sisters Della Annunziata, Mantellas from Gianicolo, Sisters Sacre-Coeur, Sisters of San Cosimato. Among them, Pallotti had special penitents whom he accompanied. He usually visited them every Monday. Sometimes, also as an extraordinary confessor, he heard confession of the entire community. Outside Rome, he accompanied the Sisters from the communities in Cingola (Santa Sperandia Convent), in Osimo (Santa Caterina Monastery), and in Fara – the Poor Clares.

Pallotti was aware that a spiritual director should know the rule and character of the community in order to accompany the Sisters in the spirit of the order. He perceived religious life as an invitation to greater perfection. Hence, he recommended to remain in the enclosure of concentration, and to exercise in the virtues of humility, obedience, trust and generous pursuit of holiness. To warm up one's zeal, he recalled the testimonies of the founders' lives. Religious vows, recognition and acceptance of God's will, and perfect community life held an important place in his accompaniment. “The lack of perfect agreement with the holiest and purest will of God, the lack of true poverty, faithful observance of rules and truly active love is the greatest obstacle to the imminent introduction of a new order. Let us pray and weep at the feet of the Crucified One! (...) I would like to encourage Sisters to reconciliation, poverty, love, faithful observance of the rule and perfect community life”, wrote Pallotti to a Sister from the convent of San Domenico e Sisto.

The ministry of spiritual companionship included, as we could already see, a significant number of Sisters. As an example, let's have a closer look at some of the penitents.

Sister Aurelia Paris – Augustinian Sister from the monastery of Delle Vergini, whom Pallotti accompanied until her death. He treated her gently, recognized the type of her individuality, encouraged to preserve the virtues of humility and love, and gave his instructions in a prayer he often recommended to say. While conducting a retreat in the Augustinian community, he also gave the outline of religious perfection in several points (Frank 2007, p. 331). For example: “Being fully aware of the presence of God in all matters, in every place and at every moment; love of silence; complete and incessant spirit of humility”.

In the vicinity of the Augustinian monastery there was another community of Sisters, whose superior was Sister Gertrude Costantini (1780-1846). Pallotti was her confessor for 16 years. We have a very rich collection of Pallotti's letters (about 200) addressed to S. Gertrude; Sister destroyed her letters. The correspondence is very personal. Pallotti confided his innermost spiritual experiences and gave Sister many deep and simple indications. For example, in response to an account of difficulties, Pallotti wrote to her: “Instead of two or three words, I am writing to you, Sister, only one thing: GOD!” (Frank 2014, p. 350). He encouraged to love the Cross and to adore the Crucified. He comforted her in difficult moments: “Put your present tears in the hands of our Beloved Lady so that they will be tears of humility and regret, not fear” (Frank 2014, p. 350). When someone close to her died, Pallotti wrote: “One should not say death; we should rather say: he stopped dying because he was born for God in the revelation of His glory” (Frank 2014, p. 350). Under the direction of Pallotti, Costantini achieved high perfection. He also heard confession of other Sisters from this community, and was an extraordinary confessor of the entire congregation.

Servant of God Maria Luisa Maurizi (1770 - 1831), co-founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mary in Rome. Pallotti was her spiritual director for several months before her death. He was also a witness in her beatification process. It was probably him who testified about the miracle of liberation from spirit possession, which happened when a person touched a piece of material from Maria Luisa Maurizi's clothing. He said about her: “Since the Lord entrusted me with the guidance of this soul, great before God and hidden from people, I felt that listening to confession meant so much to my spirit, as if I were to concentrate spiritually” (Frank 2007, p. 342).

Sister Gertrude Vincentini. She said that from Pallotti's leadership she “drew light, comfort and power” (Frank 2014, p. 351). It was at her request that Pallotti wrote down instructions on the virtue of simplicity.

The goal of spiritual direction is the spiritual path and accompanying on the way of holiness. Nevertheless, I would also like to draw our attention to its psychological aspect. Why do I suggest it? Because here we come across a very interesting dialectic of femininity and consecration. Studying Pallotti's correspondence with various Sisters, we see that while accompanying the Sisters in their spiritual path, he encountered some attitudes typical for a feminine identity. And he could answer them maturely, wisely and faithfully. An example may be found in the correspondence with S. Gertrude Costantini.

We can see that the Sisters were looking for a deep contact, they were interested in Pallotti's personal life and wanted to share his joy and care. They also had a desire for spiritual direction, they were sincere and open.

CONCLUSION

I want to conclude with a beautiful and funny part of a letter. Although the letter does not come from a Sister but from a student of the Collegium Urbanum, it remains a moving testimony: “You can not imagine, [grandma], how pleased I am with our confessor. The whole Rome calls him a saint, because he truly is one” (Frank 2007, s. 391).

By Sr. Anna Małdrzykowska, SAC

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"Our diverse talents and abilities, our differences in culture, nationality and age are assets for the richness of the community. Although we may be engaged in a variety of ministries, we all share the common call to apostolic discipleship in a community of the Catholic Apostolate of St. Vincent Pallotti."(OWL, 91)

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"Christ, the Apostle of the Eternal Father, and his mission are central to our personal and community life, giving meaning and direction to our thinking, our spirituality, our prayer, action and suffering." (OWL, 19)

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"As a community of disciples we are gathered around Jesus, the Apostle of the Eternal Father. Like the first disciples, we want to be with Jesus, be sent out by him and return to him to evaluate our service in the light of his presence." (OWL, 88)

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"As Pallottines, it is our special charism to foster growth in faith and love among the laity, to awaken them to awareness of their apostolic call, and to cooperate with them in furthering the apostolic mission." (OWL, 21)

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"Our relationships with one another should be marked by a love that bears all, believes all and hopes for all, a love that is neither conceited nor jealous, which hurts no one, nor is embittered or resentful. It is never discouraged but remains patient and kind. It rejoices with others and shares their suffering. It is with this kind of love that we should help and support one another." (OWL, 90)