THE HANDLING OF
THE SERVANT OF GOD
JOSEPH DE PIRO
Mario Zammit Satariano mssp
A Dissertation Presented to the
Faculty of Theology
in Part Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Licentiate in Sacred Theology
at the University of Malta
To my parents
"Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain."
Although this work carries my name as its author, I am sure that it is a product of the efforts of a much wider circle of persons who contributed, directly or indirectly, to my own formation.
The place of honour among these persons, goes, undoubtedly, to my parents, to whom I dedicate this study, my four sisters and my relatives. They provided me with the necessary warmth to grow.
My brothers in the Missionary Society of Saint Paul, especially those who were directly involved in my formation, have also greatly contributed their share.
Fr. Joseph Calleja ofm conv., who patiently assisted me all through this study deserves special mention. So also all the professors and lecturers who shared their knowledge and experience with us during the years at the University.
Finally I would like to mention Mgr. J. De Piro whose contribution to the present study is not only material but also spiritual. He had enough courage to live and preach the word of God and to incarnate in his Missionary Society, the charism granted him by God.
I would like to thank you all for your contribution and hope that this study will proof to be another small stepping stone to help bring to light the wealth we inherited from our beloved father Joseph De Piro.
Mario Zammit Satariano mssp
September 17, 1993.
60th anniversary from the
death of Mgr. J. De Piro.
List of bible abbreviations
1Co 1 Corinthians
2Co 2 Corinthians
1Jn 1 John
1K 1 Kings
1P 1 Peter
1Th 1 Thessalonians
1Tm 1 Timothy
2K 2 Kings
2M 2 Maccabees
2S 2 Samuel
2Tm 2 Timothy
Ac Acts of the Apostles
Sg Song of Songs
The trend of the time, is to study classical texts from different angles, especially to bring out the use of Scripture by these authors. In the present work we have likewise undertaken to study the published sermons of the Servant of God Mgr. Joseph De Piro (1877 - 1933).
The edition available presents a number of homilies presented according to themes and not according to chronology. One has to distinguish between fully developed themes and what is merely the presentation of the main points. A respective number has been attributed to each homily to facilitate reference during the study. (Some mistakes have crept into the text of the homilies mainly through the typists' difficulty to understand the original text. The biblical quotations themselves present an other difficulty as in the large majority of cases they are quoted in Latin since De Piro followed the Latin Vulgate.) This study is based on this edition of De Piro's homilies which, in spite of its great value, is not a critical edition.
In his constant use of various biblical texts, from both the Old and the New Testaments, De Piro is the heir of a long-standing tradition of Church preachers. Very often a biblical text is referred to together with other biblical quotations. He seems to have had a list of texts according to the topic with which he was dealing at the moment. These texts are quoted mainly for their illuminating content and serve to help him in the development of his line of thought. At times some key words in the main text suggest other texts wherein the same important words occur.
We have centered our attention on Joseph De Piro's references to the Pauline epistles, which constitutes for him a fact of great credit, especially at a time when Paul was not so well known, far less quoted. In our study we have followed the epistles according to the number of quotations in use. Thus so much importance is attached to Paul's letters to the Corinthians and the Romans.
Each chapter is divided into two parts, in the first part the letter is studied while in the second, the homilies are discussed. In each case, the letter is first presented as a whole and then each text is studied within its original context. Summaries of De Piro's homilies, according to their content and main points are also provided. The presence of biblical texts in both contexts (Paul's epistles and De Piro's homilies) is meant to bring out the contrast between the original meaning and the respective use by De Piro himself. We are aware that very often texts were quoted and used according to their own meaning irrespective of the original context. One should keep in mind that this was the trend at a time when the historico-critical method was not so much in use within Catholic theology, much less among preachers.
Furthermore one may note that the text at the beginning of the homily, not only sets the tone but often remains the point of reference throughout the sermon itself. Texts under the different main points develop the section itself. Others are quoted more than once because of their importance. One has to distinguish the occasion when the text has been quoted to confirm, from the other occasion when the text itself proposes a step further in the sermon's layout.
To provide some method of approach to the sermons, we grouped the sermons as: homilies delivered during the Sunday liturgy, those delivered on feast days and other occasions, while a final section is made up of meditations delivered during retreats.
Joseph De Piro preached these homilies more than half a century ago. He teaches us that all preaching should be based on the living word of God. Although he draws his inspiration from both Old and New Testaments, he attaches much importance to the Pauline epistles. This shows that he was imbued with the apostolic zeal that finds its driving force in the writings of the great apostle of the gentiles. In this sense Mgr. De Piro is quite ahead of his own times and remains as an ideal for his followers and for priests in general. His knowledge of Scripture is coupled with the knowledge of other sources which must have been Italian preachers popular in his days.
The sermons themselves show this man's sense of responsibility evident in the preparation of such homilies. In spite of the lapse of time, they still preserve various aspects that could be meaningful even in our own times. We would be more than satisfied if through our effort we have shed light upon these writings so that others might be inspired to take up these homilies and to study them from other possible angles and fields of interest.
1. First and second letters to the Corinthians
Most scholars agree that Paul has written various letters to the Church of Christ in Corinth, of which only two are available.
The first letter is Paul's ardent plea to the divided members of this community to be one in mind and in heart. Apart from this, here Paul had to face a number of other problems. Corinth, being an important sea port and a place of transition, was open to the existence of different ethnic groups and cultures. This together with the fact that there were many temples dedicated to the goddess of love, explains the life of low moral standards. As a reaction, and in view of the belief in the imminence of Christ's second coming, Christians felt the urge to live their Christian ideals on a high level.
In the first part of the first epistle, Paul condemns the disorders that cropped up within the Christian community. He gives particular attention to an incestuous episode and condemns all types of fornication (6,12-20). In the second part, he answers various queries that the community had put forward.
Paul discusses the issue of marriage and virginity (7,1-14), eating meat that had been offered to idols (8,1-11,1) and participation in idolatrous banquets (10,14-22). He insists on order during the liturgical assembly (11,2-34), and speaks of charisms and their respective use in the community (12,1-14,40). He finally addresses the issue of resurrection from the dead (15,1-58). The letter ends up with an epilogue (16,1-18).
The second epistle to the Corinthians is also divided into three distinct sections. Here Paul justifies his own conduct and speaks of his apostolic ministry (1,12-7,16). Then he organises a collection to face the needs of the Church in Jerusalem. In last part of the letter Paul engages in a polemic against his opponents.
Sed sicut scriptum est: Quod oculus non vidit, nec auris audivit, nec in cor hominis ascendit, quae praeparavit Deus iis, qui diligunt illum.... Animalis autem homo non percipit ea, quae sunt Spiritus Dei: stultitia enim est illi, et non potest intelligere: quia spiritualiter examinatur.
In the very opening chapters of the letter, Paul insists on the nature of the content of the Christian message. The Corinthian Christians, living in a Hellenistic environment, were being influenced by Gnostic philosophy and sought to be addressed by preachers who followed the canons of classical rhetoric.
Paul's statement in 1Co 2,14 is made against this background. He distinguishes between those who follow the dictates of reason and others enlightened by faith and endowed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this context, in verse 9 Paul insists that the object of his preaching goes beyond this earthly experience and hence appeals to a higher form of knowledge. He has in mind God's revelatory initiative and the Christian's receptiveness in faith.
Si quis autem superaedificat super fundamentum hoc, aurum, argentum, lapides pretiosos, ligna, foenum, stipulam, uniuscuisque opus manifestum erit: Dies enim Domini declarabit, quia in igne revelabitur et uniuscuisque opus quale sit, ignis probabit. Si cuius opus manserit quod superaedificavit, mercedem accipiet. Si cuius opus arserit, detrimentum petietur: ipse autem salvus erit: sic tamen quasi per ignem. Nescitis quia templum Dei estis, et Spiritus Dei habitat in vobis?
In chapter 3, Paul emphasizes God's initiative, in order to bridge the differences among the Christians. He explains that through their missionary activity, the community's leaders, Peter, Apollo and himself, were only instruments in God's hands, and that their distinctive activity serves to build the one temple, the Church of Christ.
Paul derives his imagery from the art of construction, where while building upon one foundation, different individuals contribute for the construction of the same edifice according to their skills and preparation. The material used could be of different qualities but what matters is the solidity of the edifice itself. It has to stand the trial of the fire on the day of Christ's second coming. According to Paul, the nature of the material used is of little importance provided that the construction itself stands the test of fire (vs.12-13).
Verses 16 and 17 provide an interpretative key for what has gone before. Addressing himself directly to the Corinthians, Paul shows that it is the community at large which forms God's temple, wherein the Spirit of God dwells (vs.16). On these grounds, Paul aims at ruling out both the possibility of false teaching within the community and the attack against its unity by the existing factions.
An nescitis quia iniqui regnum Dei non possidebunt? Nolite errare: Neque fornicarii, neque idolis servientis, neque adulteri, neque molles, neque masculorum concubitores, neque fures, neque avari, neque ebriosi, neque maledici, neque rapaces regnum Dei possidebunt.
In chapter 6(vss. 1-11), Paul takes up and deals with various issues that were threatening the community life. Paul criticizes the fact that issues among believers were being brought up before the state courts and hence they were being settled by pagan judges. Paul considers having a dispute as a serious difficulty within the community of believers, but then he stresses the need that the community should be well equipped with the means that provide solutions to such issues.
Within this context, Paul groups together a list of vices that disrupt community life and create differences among members. Those who practice these vices create disorder within the community and will not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul ends by insisting that they are all justified through Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of God.
Hoc itaque dico, fratres: Tempus breve est: reliquum est, ut et qui habent uxores, tamquam non habentes sint....
The first letter to the Corinthians was written in answer to particular situations in Corinth. This is more evident in chapter 7 where Paul is seen answering particular questions. The Corinthians were living in a pagan environment at a time when many Christians believed that Christ's second coming was imminent. In this case Paul had to answer questions concerning life options, such as marriage and celibacy.
Although celibacy is placed on a higher level, married life forms an integral part of God's plan as revealed to humanity. From verse 28 onwards, Paul takes into consideration the urgency that has been created by this historical context. The fact that the second coming of Christ was thought to be so imminent, increased the sense of expectation, and so time was said to be pressing for all Christians (vs.29). Christians living their daily lives, according to their commitments, had to prepare themselves for that sudden change that would be brought about by the Lord's coming. Paul is so sure of this that he concludes saying "the world as we know it is passing away" (vs.31).
Nescitis quod ii, qui in stadio currunt, omnes quidem currunt, sed unus accipit bravium? Sic currite ut comprehendatis.
Throughout chapter 9, Paul offers himself as an example for all Christians at Corinth. As a missionary and founder, Paul felt the need to be one with the different groups forming an integral part of this community, made up of Jews, Greeks and Romans, each with their own traditions and customs.
Paul felt the need to renounce his own rights to be as close as possible to these different groups of believers. This suggested to him the concentrating effort required of all those who engage in athletics. In verses 24 to 27, Paul offers this type of imagery to invite all Christians not to spare themselves in view of the common goals they are requested to achieve.
Itaque qui se existimat stare, videat ne cadat.
In chapter 10, Paul depicts the present situation of the Corinthians by referring to the Old Testament typology. He mentions various shortcomings in the Israelites' attitude towards God. Against the fact of God's intervention in favour of Israel, Paul reviews the causes that contributed to their mass defection and death during the desert experience.
The climax of the argument is his warning in verse 9 where the apostle admonishes the Corinthians to avoid putting the 'Lord to test'. Those who complain against the Lord ignore his salvific activity and merit punishment. The parallelism between the situation in Corinth and this fundamental episode in Old Testament history is meant to create the necessary condition whereby Christians are asked to put their trust in God. In spite of all trials and life difficulties, God does not try individuals beyond their strength.
This is indeed the context where Paul advises his readers saying: 'the one who thinks he is safe, must be careful lest he falls down' (vs.12). Trials therefore serve as an invitation not to rely on one's own efforts but to trust in God. Christians should therefore neither complain of nor trust in their own efforts: both circumstances would lead to a consequent fall.
Imitatores mei estote sicut et ego Christi.
In the last part of chapter 10, Paul deals with the practical issue of the food that had been sacrificed to idols (vss. 23-30). As a conclusion to this section, he gives an important indication to all Christians, insisting that all human activity should have the glory of God as its goal and objective.
Thus Paul warns that Christians should avoid all forms of offensive conduct. He then reformulates his statement in positive terms. As he himself did not seek what was self advantageous, but what procured the salvation of one and all, so he invites all Christians to follow in his footsteps.
Accipite, et manducate: hoc est corpus meum, quod pro vobis tradetur: hoc facite in meam commemorationem.... Quotiescumque enim manducabitis panem hunc, et calicem bibetis: mortem Domini annunciabitis donec veniat.
In the second half of chapter 11, Paul deals both with the agape meal (vss. 17-22) and the celebration of the Eucharist (vss. 23-34). He insists that both aspects of the celebration presuppose full unity and full sharing among members, to rule out all social and class distinctions. Against this context, he speaks in terms of the Eucharistic celebration by quoting the consecration formula (vs.24) according to the Antiochean tradition.
In verse 24, Paul repeats both Jesus' words and sayings. Jesus is reported to have thanked, broken and said; the bread is said to be his body given as an offering, with the command to celebrate the Eucharist as his memorial. Paul records in the same way the blessing of the cup. The cup is intimately associated with the new covenant ratified in Jesus' blood. In this case too Jesus commands us to do this in his own memory.
In verse 26, there is the idea that this re-enactment has to go on until Christ's second coming. Paul insists on the worthy reception of both body and blood of the Lord. Besides the abuses that might have suggested Paul's intervention, the Eucharist itself serves as an antidote against the factions existing within this community.
Charitas patiens est, benigna est. Charitas non aemulatur, non agit perperam, non inflatur.... Charitas nunquam excidit: sive prophetiae evacuabuntur, sive linguae cessabunt, sive scientia destruetur.
In chapter 12 Paul dealt with the different gifts and charisms which should serve the purpose to create greater unity among members within the same community. He drives home this idea by means of the analogy of the human body where members with different functions are of service to the body as a whole (12,12-31). In the concluding line of this section (vs.31), Paul promises 'to show a way that is better' still than any of the previously-mentioned charisms. Thus the theme of love is introduced and is presented as being at the very basis of all God's gifts.
In verse 4, after he had shown that charisms without love serve no purpose, Paul starts to bring out the various connotations that accompany and qualify true love. According to him, love 'is always patient and kind', and on the other hand, avoids all forms of jealousy, boastfulness or conceit. He continues to rule out all vices that disrupt the unity among members within the same community where love should reign supreme (vss. 5-6).
Paul then speaks in terms of the immediate effects of love in positive terms (vs.7). Love is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and above all, to endure whatever comes. At the very end of this chapter (vs.13) Paul speaks in terms of the three theological virtues and to extol the superiority of love, for it alone endures when faith and hope give way.
Stimulus autem mortis peccatum est: virtus vero peccati lex.
In chapter 15, Paul has argued about the fact of the Resurrection (vss. 1-34) and about its manner or modality (vss. 35-53). Scholars believe that the concluding lines (vss. 54-58) constitute a hymn of complete triumph over death. Paul asks rhetorical questions stressing man's immortality in spite of the reality of physical death in the life of the Christian.
In verse 55 the apostle states that death has been swallowed, conquered and rendered innocuous, from a spiritual point of view, through Christ himself. In verse 56 Paul leads his way back from the reality of death (both physical and spiritual) to law through the experience of sin. This indeed is taken up once more in the letter to the Romans (5,12) where it is said that death is the immediate outcome of sin (per peccatum mors).
Paul is hinting at the idea that once Christ has definitely conquered sin, he has completely deprived death of its evil effects upon humanity. This reasoning becomes more explicit in verse 57 where all Christians are enjoined to thank God for the victory that has been granted through the Lord Jesus Christ. This section ends up with Paul's evident invitation so that all Christians may be confident enough through their faith in Christ and engage in the works of the Lord.
Semper mortificationem Iesu in corpore nostro circumferentes, ut et vita Iesu manifestatur in corporibus nostris.... Ergo mors in nobis operatur vita autem in vobis.
In chapter 4 of the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of the trials and hopes that form part of his missionary activity. The apostle sheds the light of Christ in spite of the fact that he is a weak instrument at the service of God. He insists that whereas the message belongs to God, the apostle is fully conscious of his shortcomings and frailty.
Paul wants to underline that both the divine and the human are at the complete service of the Gospel. The apostle, given the fact that he is weak and frail, should not think high of himself; the listeners should attribute the good effects of all apostolic ministry to God himself.
In verse 10 Paul says that Jesus has become a source of life through the mystery of his own death. The apostle experiences the same event of Christ when he is opposed, refused and ignored. To such an individual, the life of the Risen Lord is being not only promised, but given. The concluding line (vs.12) shows that it is through suffering and persecution that the apostles procure life for those who accept in faith their word and ministry.
Quoniam raptus est in Paradisum: et audivit arcana verba, quae non licet homini loqui.
Paul's heavenly experience is elsewhere said to go beyond his sense perception. In this context he seems to be the subject of some mystical experience (not so well defined within the letter itself) during which he hears mysterious words.
Paul experienced heavenly reality in a way that cannot be easily explained in human language. Paul, in this context, distinguishes the divine from the human, that which has been granted from that which strictly, belongs to him. He considers human weaknesses as his own, everything else has been granted to him and hence not strictly his.
The first sermon for our consideration is homily 6 delivered on the 2nd Sunday of Lent. De Piro dwells at length on the theme of Jesus' transfiguration as it occurs in the Gospel according to Mt 17,1-9.
After giving a brief description of the Gospel content, the preacher dwells at length on the contemplation of God in heaven, of which the transfiguration of the Lord is indeed a prefigurement. The person concerned is gradually being ushered in by the Guardian Angel and is taken before the throne of the Blessed Virgin, that of Jesus, her son, and before the Blessed Trinity. In the second half of the sermon, De Piro deals with death as being the decisive moment when one achieves (or forfeits) his specific goal.
It is while speaking of heaven, the place where the saints - much like Peter, James and John in the transfiguration episode - behold God's glory, that the first Pauline quotations are inserted. Joseph De Piro stresses the fact that heaven was constantly kept in mind as the saints' unique goal, and this reality is expressed through the quotations from 2Co 12,4 and 1Co 2,9. As it stands in this homily, heaven is that ineffable mystery which goes beyond our sense experience. This is the destiny that has been assigned to each individual and it goes beyond the limits of our imagination.
From the rest of the sermon, we conclude that through our daily spiritual experience we move in the direction of that place, where we have direct experience of God. It is this aspect, which, according to De Piro, finds no adequate expression in human language.
Speaking of death in practical terms, the servant of God dwells at length on the moment when one is called to contemplate God's mystery. Resorting to 1Co 7,29, the preacher draws his audience's attention to the fact that that day is at hand and the time is running short. As a result, those present are to prepare themselves and to concentrate on the means by which they are to attain their goal..
Homily 104, delivered on the feast day of St. Ursola, gravitates around the quote from Pr 15,83. This homily speaks of humility as the necessary prerequisite to attain glory. Joseph De Piro insists that one should have the right disposition to follow God's teaching and inspiration and to leave aside all human considerations. In this context he quotes 1Co 2,14 and points at Ursola as a clear case in point.
In the introductory paragraph, De Piro speaks about all worldly suggestions and promptings which could easily mislead us. While the world offers its allurement, saints exercise a deep sense of self abnegation and invite us to do likewise. 1Co 2,14, quoted in Italian, is purposely chosen to show the two distinct attitudes and options of humanity.
'L'uomo carnale', follows the dictates of reason, and for the preacher stands for those who follow personal gain of a vain and frivolous nature. Such individuals are incapable of following the promptings of divine inspiration. In this context De Piro suggests that one should be open to the teaching of God and his divine assistance. Throughout the sermon, one's response and co-operation with God's grace is implied.
De Piro quotes Jn 8,46 as the opening text of homily 7, delivered on Passion Sunday, when the gospel reading is taken from Jn 8,46-59. Jesus is depicted as claiming his innocence by means of a question. The term of reference in this homily is the quotation from Heb 7,25 where Jesus is said to be the innocent and the holy one set aside from sinners.
In the second half of the homily, De Piro asks whether we could make the same claim or not. Quoting 1Jn 1,8, he states that we cannot ignore our sins. At this point 1Co 3,12-15 is quoted in a way that does not recall the original context: wood, straw and stubble stand for our venial sins and weaknesses. These are enough, according to the preacher, to fuel the fire of Purgatory.
Although these weaknesses are of a venial nature, they merit some form of punishment (Purgatory) of a transient and non-permanent nature. Mgr. De Piro also says that such a form of punishment could be meted out during one's own earthly life, on the physical or spiritual level.
Homily 36 was delivered after the publication of the decree Sacra Tridentina Synodus of Pope Pius X, in 1905. De Piro refers to the practical norms that form part of its content. He insists that each one who receives Holy Communion should be free from sin and have the right intention.
Joseph De Piro dwells at length on the fact that the Christian should strive to avoid also venial sin, at least that deliberately done. He speaks in terms of its gravity and seriousness especially when mentioning Purgatory. The preacher quotes 1Co 3,12-15 to show that such sins are enough to fuel the fire of Purgatory and weakens, "even if it does not estrange", one's relationship with God. The relationship between the quotation in this context and its respective use in homily 7 above, is easily seen.
Speaking about venial sins, Joseph De Piro insists on their immediate effect. Still we notice that in this sermon he goes into greater detail to drive home the idea that one should strive to avoid them at all costs. Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, the servant of God concludes that venial transgressions lead the way to mortal sin.
Speaking of sin as being the destruction of God's temple, in homily 160, Joseph De Piro argues that the worst form of such a destruction is brought about by mortal sin. Here he resorts to 1Co 3,16 where the human body is said to be the 'templum' where God dwells and bestows grace.
In this short summary De Piro shows that, within this temple, we could introduce either God or the devil. He speaks of the devil as if the latter were a beast that threatens the safety and beauty of this temple.
In the rest of the homily the preacher speaks on how we ought to flee from the occasion of sin by avoiding all sorts of bad company. The sermon comes to an end by recalling that the end is not all that different from one's own life-long commitment. This truth is further strengthened by the importance of education, life and death as being three distinct stages that are interrelated.
Homily 155 deals with the evil effects of mortal sin. Joseph De Piro develops his own thought by speaking of the effect of sin and the human soul. Then he goes on to examine the state of the soul as seen from God's point of view.
The preacher dedicates half of the sermon (points 3, 4 and 5) to explain that by mortal sin one deprives himself of God's friendship and inherits Hell. This includes the risk of ending up in Hell for good. In this latter context De Piro explains that through mortal sin, we lose no earthly gain, heritage or royalty, but Heaven itself.
Once this is firmly established, Mgr. De Piro quotes 1Co 6,9-10 as a proof text to confirm the point just raised. Thus affirming that one should not be misled, once God's kingdom is never possessed by either fornicators or idol-worshipers.
In both homilies 167 and 172, De Piro deals with death and develops the theme by following the same schema in both cases. In homily 172, quoting Rm 5,12, he shows that death is the sad lot for humanity, once all have sinned.
His main thesis is that death is the only reality about which we have direct knowledge, whereas the other final realities associated with humanity's goal are only grasped through faith. Death is well embedded within the vivid consciousness of every individual. In the introductory paragraph of this schema, Mgr. De Piro inserts various experiential themes of a sapiential nature. Here it is enough to recall the brevity of life and the vanity and ephemeral nature of earthly things.
In the latter half of the same schema De Piro deals immediately with the visible effects of death and the decaying nature of the human body. This decaying process ends up by reducing the dead body into ashes. In the introductory paragraph, the preacher quotes 2Co 4,12 both as a proof text and as a saying in this context. By the quotation 'mors in nobis operatur' he concludes the introductory paragraph and synthesizes his line of thought.
Speaking of the corpse, De Piro quotes various biblical texts, but then he asks the important question: 'When?' To this he gives his answer by referring to three distinct texts (Si 14,2; Lk 12,40 and 1Co 7,29), death may be imminent and one should be prepared, for time is indeed running short. This is certainly the idea which the preacher wants to convey to his congregation.
We have more or less the same build-up in homily 167 where we notice that Mgr. De Piro deals right away with the decaying process of the human body. In the very first paragraph, when speaking about the corpse, the preacher concludes that death will not tarry and time is short enough. By means of two texts (Si 14,2; and 1Co 7,29), he insists that such a condition will soon arrive and consequently one should prepare oneself.
Homily 116 is a short address delivered by Joseph De Piro when he was asked to preside over the annual competition organised by the Istituto Maltese d'Educazione Cattolica. After addressing the organisers, and praising the competitors, he quotes the Pauline epistles at the concluding section of his address.
Speaking of the participants, De Piro recalls St. Paul's dictum: 'sic currite ut comprehendatur' (1Co 9,24). In the concluding lines, he encourages the organisers to get on with their spiritual work and endeavours for time is running short (1Co 7,29). The final recommendation is taken from Mt 16,18 where it is said that the gates of hell will never prevail. Once the outcome is so guaranteed, one is therefore encouraged to do the utmost.
As is evident from the introductory quotation from Rv 2,10, homily 157 is an ardent appeal so that the believer may remain loyal till death, in view of the reward that has been promised. The sermon stresses the theme of perseverance.
In the second part, perseverance is reassured only if sin is kept at bay. Here De Piro inserts quite appropriately the Pauline quotation from 1Co 10,12: 'let him who thinks that is on his two feet, pay careful attention lest he falls down'. This quotation invites the hearers not to give in to sin and to leave completely aside the negative experiences of their past life. Speaking of the last realities, he refers to a group of texts which underline the frailty of human existence and the suddenness of death as a possible reality.
Homily 83 speaks of our devotion to St. Joseph. According to the title itself, the real devotion to St. Joseph implies one's imitation of Jesus Christ. Even if we only have the main points of the homily, Joseph De Piro insists that we are asked to imitate Christ as devotees of St. Joseph on two distinct scores: both as Christians and as missionaries. In the second half of this schema, we notice that he speaks of what is strictly necessary for our salvation and for the salvation of others.
In the first section, De Piro quotes 2Co 4,10 whereby it is said that the Christian should lead his life in such a way as to manifest the life of Christ. In line with such a text, the preacher recalls Paul's invitation in 1Co 11,1. The apostle invites the Corinthians to imitate him, as he had imitated Christ. Missionaries too should be in a position to offer themselves as examples. This explains the opening statement of the homily which says that those who see our activity should conclude that Christ so lived, spoke and acted.
Homily 30 deals explicitly with Holy Eucharist. In the first section, De Piro quotes Ex 16,4. dwells at length on the whole context of Israel's exodus and the manna theme. This soon recalls Jn 6. Against this setting, Joseph De Piro insists on the importance of the frequent reception of Holy Communion by referring to the document Sacra Tridentina Synodus.
In the second half of the sermon, Mgr. De Piro dwells at length on Jesus' own words as expressed in Jn 6,50;51a;51b;53. As a fitting conclusion he recalls 1Co 11,24.26 to justify our frequent access to this sacrament in particular.
It was Jesus, as recalled by Paul, that insisted on the re-enactment of the Eucharistic sacrifice: 'hoc facite in meam commemorationem' (vs.24). It is important to notice that in this sermon, vss. 24 and 26 are stitched together. To do this in memory of Jesus becomes equivalent to our full participation by sharing the one bread, thereby announcing the Lord's death. Jesus' injunction to recall his self-offer suggests our frequent access to Holy Eucharist.
Homily 97 was delivered to the Sisters of Charity of St. Jeanne Antide, on the feast day of St. Vincent de Paule. In this sermon the preacher keeps in mind the fact that these religious, following their patron saint, are to practice Christian love by means of charitable acts to those in need.
De Piro insists that saints are proposed to us to be our examples. We have to live according to our theological virtues, show devotion to the Blessed Virgin and exercise other important virtues by following the example of saints. Saints are models of self abnegation in their daily commitment to God and fellow neighbour.
In this context Mgr. De Piro envisages the life of St. Vincent de Paule and the work of his religious. This explains why he chose the Pauline saying 'charitas patiens est' (1Co 13,4) as a title for this homily. From the text of the homily one concludes that love towards others is not only patient, but is willing to suffer out of love and imitation of Christ.
Homily 91 delivered on October 4, 1927, at Fra Diego Institute, (Hamrun), is one whole sermon on the person of St. Francis of Assisi. By constantly resorting to 1Co 13,8, Joseph De Piro wants to give a fully-fledged portrait of Francis' personality, especially of his love towards God, the person of Jesus Christ and his service towards his neighbours, both within and outside his order.
This sermon is the classical example where the introductory text not only sets the tone but is repeated throughout to build his own thought. De Piro insists by saying that love does not come to an end, on the contrary, it strengthens the relationship between the one loved (in this case, God) and the lover (Francis). Such a saying helps the preacher to see Francis' hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God within the right perspective.
It is through his love of Christ, that Francis is urged to live his self-offer in poverty. The text implies that the one who loves, offers himself completely out of sheer generosity and for no personal gain. This same text, according to the preacher, invites Francis to engage in missionary activity. By referring to Mt 6,9 (hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come) in conjunction with 1Co 13,8, we are led to think that God's kingdom comes provided Francis and his companions dedicate themselves to evangelise others.
This text provides the key to interpret correctly Francis' self-surrender to God at the moment of his death. Death is the best expression of the constant self-offer to God during this earthly life: it is therefore a fitting conclusion of such a constant yearning for God.
In homily 5 delivered on the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Joseph De Piro dwells at length on the theme suggested by the liturgical text (Lk 7,11-16). The three main points of this section speak of the unexpected nature of death, Jesus' admonitions and the state of sin. Within the third section De Piro quotes, right at the very beginning, 1Co 15,56: it is sin that brings about spiritual death that renders us inept to meet the Lord at the moment of our physical death.
This same text is taken up once again in homily 118 when De Piro once more deals with the theme of death. In the central section of this second sermon, where death is said to be the gateway to either Heaven or Hell, he quotes 1Co 15,56.
The listeners are to keep in mind that death arrives sooner or later and that we have to be prepared and to keep in mind that it is only sin that procures the worst form of death. In the concluding section of the sermon, the servant of God invites his listeners to ask for the grace of a saintly death. The sermon ends up with a positive note, true repentance should lead us to penance and not to a state of despair.
2. The letter to the Romans
More than a letter, .Romans is a whole treatise extolling God's initiative in view of the salvation of humanity. This is what came to be known as justification. Humanity becomes conscious of its own sinful situation, but through faith it receives the full salvific benefits brought about by Christ's paschal mystery.
This endeavour explains the unfolding mystery of salvation, brought to completion in Christ. Faith establishes an enduring relationship between Christ and the respective believers. Paul is writing to the community of Christ's faithful in Rome which was not founded by him nor had they met him before.
Iustitia enim Dei in eo revelatur ex fide in fidem: sicut scriptum est: Iustus autem ex fide vivit.
In the very first chapter after his introductory address (vss.1-7), Paul engages in prayer and thanksgiving to God through Jesus Christ on behalf of the Roman community and for their faith which is indeed renown throughout the world (vss.8-17). It is precisely in the last two lines that Paul states the theme of the whole letter.
Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel, the saving power of God for those who have faith, both Jews and gentiles (even if the former had the place of preeminence within God's plan of salvation). In verse 16, Paul summarizes the theme of God's justice in favour of those who believe.
As a conclusion to verse 17 Hab 2,4 is quoted. This short saying states that the upright man finds life through his faith in God and in the person of Jesus. One is led to consider faith as the necessary condition to receive life from God who has already taken his salvific initiative in our favour. Faith is therefore the necessary condition and important prerequisite.
An divitias bonitatis eius, et patientiae, et longanimitatis contemnis? ignoras quoniam benignitas Dei ad poenitentiam te adducit? Secundum autem duritiam tuam, et impoenitens cor, thesaurizas tibi iram in die irae.... Iudaeo primum, et Greaco, non enim est acceptatio personarum apud Deum.
In Rm 2,1-11 Paul speaks about the Jews and their relationship to God. God shows no favour towards the Jews who failed to abide by the dictates of the law. In the form of a question, verse 4 states that God's mercy is often ignored by the unmindful Jew who hesitates to repent. A particular day comes when God's wrath would manifest its justice even to those Jews who have been hard hearted.
In these introductory chapters, Paul dwells on the sinful situation of both Jews and gentiles. The Jews, even if they have greater knowledge of God's will, are indeed not better off before God with respect to the gentiles: all human beings have sinned. Against this setting the apostle presents God's salvific initiative to be received in faith by both Jews and gentiles - thus being offered to both categories in an equal way, proving that both are on an equal footing before God.
Propterea sicut per unum hominem peccatum in hunc mundum intravit, et per peccatum mors pertransit, in quo omnes peccaverunt.
In the section 5,1 to 7,25 Paul deals with the good effects of God's justice as experienced by the Christian. Chapter 5 explains that peace with God brings about certain hope in the salvation offered to the believer (5,1-11). In verses 12-21, the author then deals with the theme of complete liberation from original sin, and from punishment by death that normally follows as a result.
The key text, at the beginning of the second half of chapter 5, is creating an evident contrast between Adam and Jesus Christ. What has been denied to us through Adam's disobedience, has been restored through Christ's salvific intervention on our behalf. In verse 12 (including vss. 13 and 14), Paul says that sin has become man's condition from the time of Adam himself. This explains why death held sway over the whole of humanity right from the time of Adam onwards.
This was constantly the situation during the intervening time between Adam and Moses. Still sin has only become imputed after the time of Moses when the law was given by God. Through the abundant divine grace that came to us as the free gift of Jesus Christ himself, this condition has been considerably outweighed. This has to serve as a sure motive of our hope (vs. 15).
Nunc vero liberati a peccato, servi autem facti Deo, habetis fructum vestrum in sanctificationem, finem vero vitam aeternam.
In chapter 6 Paul deals the theme of union with Christ baptism, by which we experience Christ's death and resurrection (vs. 5). As an immediate effect of this situation, the Christian is invited to lead a life of holiness (vss.12-14). The Christian who lives a life of grace is destined to lead a life that is free from the slavery of sin (vss.15-19).
As a conclusion of this chapter (vss.20-23) Paul draws a comparison between the punishment of sin and the reward of holiness. In verse 22, he argues that now that we are free from sin, we have been made 'slaves of God'. This is meant to be our reward, leading to our sanctification and guaranteeing eternal life. Paul sums up saying that the wage paid by sin is death, whereas God has given us eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Vos autem in carne non estis, sed in spiritu: si tamen spiritus Dei habitat in vobis.... Siquis autem Spiritum Christi non habet: hic non est eius. Nam quos prescivit, et praedestinavit conformes fieri imaginis Filii sui, ut sit ipse primogenitus in multis fratribus.... Quis ergo nos separabit a charitate Christi? tribulatio? an angustia? an fames? an nuditas? an periculum? an persuctio? an galdius?.... Certus sum enim quia neque mors, neque vita, neque angeli, neque principatus, neque virtutes, neque instantia, neque futura, neque fortitudo....
Paul deals at length with the spiritual life of the Christian; the life of the Spirit becomes the major theme in 8,1-11. Through the giving of the Spirit we have become the children of God (vss.14-17). As a logical conclusion of the preceding section Paul speaks of glory as being our destiny (vss.18-27) and of our call by God to have our share in it (vss.28-30). In the concluding lines of chapter 8 (vss.31-39), Paul engages in one whole hymn to God who, out of love, destined us (by giving us his only son) to share in his glory. Against this context we now examine the meaning of verses 9, 29, 35 and 39.
Verse 9 draws a distinction between the unspiritual and the spiritual condition of humanity. Paul seems to understand that the unspiritual condition has now become spiritual through Christ and in Christ. In the second half of verse 9, we are led to understand that by possessing the Spirit of Christ, we belong to God. This explains why man's soul is destined to live on for ever, whereas man's body is still subject to physical death.
In verse 29 Paul says that God has called us to share in his glory. Through the giving of the Spirit, we become images of the Son, the eldest of so many brothers. Only those who have been called were ultimately justified, and once justified, share in God's glory.
Both verses 35 and 38 occur in the same context, and seem to be intimately interrelated. After speaking of God's love manifested through Christ Jesus, the apostle states that nothing can come between the believer and Christ, given his constant effort on our behalf. Paul recalls the various difficulties he had to face during his ministry, through which he manifests both his love for Jesus and the power of 'him who loved us' (vs.37).
It is interesting to note how this long list of difficulties reaches its climax and comes to an end in verses 38 and 39. In verse 38 (as opposed to vs.35) Paul mentions the love of God, but then goes on to say that it has been made visible in Jesus Christ our Lord. Ultimately the difference between both expressions in the two distinct lines is only on the verbal level, because the context is the same.
Sed dico: Numquid non audierunt? Et quidem in omnem terram exivit sonus eorum, et in fines orbis terrae verba eorum.
The next quotation is taken from Rm 10, an important chapter within the third doctrinal section (9,1-11,36). Here as in chapter 9, Paul writes of the Jews and their strict adherence to the Torah, as opposed to the fact of our justification in Jesus Christ (vss.1-13), and insists on the importance of faith in response to the message proclaimed (vss.14-21).
Paul states that the word of Christ is being still preached by the apostles and it still demands a total commitment in faith. From verse 18 onwards, Paul tries to examine the situation of the Jews by putting precise questions trying to see to what extent they are responsible for their lack of faith in Christ.
The first question is whether they did hear. Paul himself provides the answer: quoting Ps 19,4, he speaks of the apostles' ministry of the word: the word had been preached and the Jews had no excuse. Then the apostle asks another question: whether they could be excused on account of their ignorance. This too seems to be ruled out by resorting to Dt 32,21 and Is 65,1-2 where no plausible ground is left for such an excuse.
Tu quis es, qui iudicas alienum servum? Domino suo stat, aut cadit: stabit autem: potens est enim Deus statuere illum.
In this doctrinal epistle, Paul is concrete enough to deal with the different groups within the same community. Group members have the tendency to see everyday reality from their own point of view and life exigencies.
In spite of the fact that reality is made up of distinct tendencies, Paul guarantees the unity of the community by proposing Christian charity. Charity unites individuals and serves to eliminate the various differences existing among members. In verse 4, Paul argues convincingly that it does not stand with us to condemn individuals who have vouchsafed their service to God and who thus have him as their protector and Lord.
Mgr. De Piro delivered homily 82 on October 28, 1907, when the feast of St. Joseph was being celebrated for the first time as a solemnity. He here insists that all saints, not least St. Joseph, were given to us as examples and models.
St. Joseph, although not the natural father, had to take care of both Mary and her son. He fulfilled his mission to perfection in a way that shows his constant loyalty to God. The preacher avails himself of the adjective 'iustus' proposed in Mt 1,19. This text, and particularly the adjective 'iustus', soon suggested the use of Rm 1,17, where it is said that 'the just one lives through faith'.
St. Joseph, not withstanding his fidelity towards God and to Mary, found himself in an embarrassing situation. Still this served to manifest his strong attachment to God on whom he relied. Such texts show to what extent St. Joseph was willing to carry out his mission and whenever obstacles or difficulties arose, he simply believed that God would be on his side.
Homily 112 was delivered to the mother superiors of the Franciscan sisters in 1924. The homily as such presents itself according to the different points touched upon by the preacher.
In the section that deals about the first four points, Joseph De Piro quotes Rm 2,11 wherein he insists that superiors should not give in to preferences and should keep away from creating distinctions within their own community. In Rm 2,11 Paul says that for God there is no 'acceptatio personarum'; there are no distinctions before God and so also it should be with those who wield authority over others in God's name!
In homily 155 Joseph De Piro does not quote the letter to the Romans directly, but explains in his own words the content of Rm 2,4-5. Within this context the preacher states that the sinner should make it a point not to abuse of God's patience.
Repeated sin would merit God's punishment, referred to as a treasure of wrath to be assigned on the day of anger, when God manifests his just judgment. The text, re-echoing the Pauline quotation, comes as a warning for all those who take their repentance lightly.
In homily 172, speaking on the theme of death, the servant of God quotes Rm 5,12 as his introductory line. It is important to notice that such a key text speaks of death as being the outcome of one man's sin.
In the first paragraph, which sets the tone for the whole sermon, there is no direct reference to the text itself. Still death is the only reality of which man is so sure 'as against Heaven, Hell and judgment', proposed by our faith.
We have more than one homily dealing with man's goal in life, but it is in homilies 141 and 143 that Joseph De Piro quotes Rm 6,22. These two homilies have a similar structure: both sermons are made up of six distinct points. Yet the twofold division suggests that we have three main points followed by another three main points.
In these two homilies, the third of the first three points includes the quotation from Romans where it is said that one should seek holiness as the immediate effect of all one's actions. The second part of the same quotation is a further explanation of the statement just quoted; the 'goal' of humanity is indeed 'eternal life'. One may note that the word 'finem' has been suggested to the preacher by 'fine' used in the title itself of the homily.
Joseph De Piro mentions means that help us in our sanctification. Speaking of the breviary and the Rosary, and exulting the pious celebration of the liturgy and the decalogue observance, suggests that homily 141 has been delivered to priests or ordained religious.
In the final section of homily 6 De Piro, speaking on the transfiguration of Christ, says that unless one is imbued with Christ's spirit, he does not belong to him, (Rm 8,9). In the concluding lines of the homily, the preacher suggests the reality which provides the interpretative key to this Pauline quotation.
On the one hand, the whole life of Christ was 'crux et martyrium'. While, on the other hand, a second quotation (Mt 16,24) suggests that we should follow Christ by shouldering our own cross. These two quotations reveal the way how the preacher concretely understands the introductory line of the concluding section.
In homily 83, basing the devotion towards St. Joseph on the imitation of Christ, Joseph De Piro quotes Rm 8,29 when dealing with the necessary things for our salvation. This classical text establishes that the one known and predestined by God conforms himself to the person of his Son.
In the following section of the homily, the preacher harps on the same theme by referring to Jesus' invitation ('come and follow me'; Mt 19,21). The term of reference is therefore Jesus himself, and both texts ask for our unconditional imitation of him.
In homily 17 delivered on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, as an explanation to the biblical text suggested by the official liturgy, De Piro takes great pains in describing two existing movements within Judaism. Mid-way in the sermon, he puts once again the question: about the main commandment within the decalogue taken as a whole.
Mgr. De Piro insists that to love God with one's own mind and heart spells out one's life-commitment as a follower of Christ. In the second half of this sermon, one finds a number of examples taken from Church history where individuals overcame temptations thereby remaining loyal to Christ himself. The preacher then quotes Rm 8,35 at the very end of his homily, implying that the Christian should make it a point to shun all things that may separate him from the love of Christ.
The homilies 50, 53, 54 and 55 were delivered within the same period of time, and on the same theme. In these four sermons Joseph De Piro deals mainly with the mystery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by following the same line of thought and by resorting to the same Pauline text (Rm 8,35).
Speaking about the heart, Mgr. De Piro speaks of Jesus' love for us, made manifest especially through the mysteries of the Incarnation and of his death and Resurrection. Special mention of Margaret Alacoque and of her ardent devotion is repeatedly made within these sermons.
In sermon 50, after speaking in terms of maternal love, De Piro speaks of Jesus' prodigal love lavished in favour of us all. Here he exclaims with St. Paul that such love merits a generous response. This is the sense of the quotation: 'quis nos separabit a charitate Christi?' This rhetorical question shows that our love needs to be strong and effective to overcome all obstacles.
Homily 53, attaches great importance to the devotion introduced by Margaret Alacoque. First the servant of God speaks about the beginning of this devotion and then, in the second half, about Jesus' heart as the seat of great love.
In the introductory paragraph of the homily, the preacher avails himself once more of Rm 8,35 at the very beginning and the concluding lines. Thus he shows that Jesus' love urges us to set aside what might endanger our fitting response to his infinite love. In another instance, in the first half of the sermon, in answer to Jesus' self presentation: 'behold the heart that so much loved humanity', De Piro quotes: 'who is going to separate us from the love of Christ'? This question is again only rhetorical in intent, and the listeners' love should be so great that it could be subject to no form of threat or temptation.
At the very end of this same homily, we have once more this quotation within the context of Holy Eucharist. It is out of love that we become one with Christ and that in so doing we obtain so much help that nothing can come in between.
It is interesting to note that in homily 54, the text occurs often in order to show that our love should be so radical and self involving that nothing would be effective enough to weaken it. At the end of this sermon, the Pauline quotation comes as a fitting remark in answer to Jesus' unwavering love.
Joseph De Piro gives the impression that one may find oneself on alone, without the support of others, but it is in such moments that we remember Jesus' constant and loyal love for us. Such a consideration demands a radical response that does not waver.
Homilies 105 and 106 not only follow the same line of thought but also employ the same Pauline texts. Speaking of St. Calcedonius, Mgr. De Piro introduces his subject by exclaiming that nothing is left to intervene between us and Christ; not even fear, thirst or death itself (Rm 8,38).
Speaking about such a saint, De Piro urges his hearers to have the same orientation and attachment to Christ. Here he quotes Rm 8,35. Reviewing the life of self-dedication of St. Calcedonius, the preacher synthesizes his life commitment by stating Paul's words: 'quis nos separabit a charitate Christi?' As in the previous case, the text is used both to bring out the saint's commitment and to urge the sense of imitation on the part of the listeners.
Homily 25, delivered on the feast of the Assumption during the first solemn mass of a newly ordained priest, sings the praises of Catholic priesthood. It is mostly in the section that deals with teaching, that De Piro quotes the New Testament to bring out the characteristics of the priestly missionary activity.
Priests are to be sent in the same way as Jesus had sent out his apostles (Mt 28,19). They are to preach the word to which hearers are invited to give their full assent (Lk 10,16). Through the priest, Jesus is brought in to rule and dispel all forms of darkness, since he presents himself as the truth and the life (Jn 14,6). Joseph De Piro shows how the priest is invited to denounce all forms of errors existing within society and the Christian community itself.
In the following section, the preacher quotes Rm 10,18 to show that the priest is not attached to one particular place, but in line with his own mission, his call takes him to very distant places. De Piro refers to this text without quoting it directly.
In homily 198, where Joseph De Piro deals with the theme of charity, we have a conglomeration of New Testament texts that help the development of the line of thought. At the end of this section the preacher quotes Rm 14,4 insisting on the fact that members of the same community should not pass judgment on one another.
De Piro makes Paul's recommendation his own: it is only God who is in a position to judge. Indeed this is his exclusive right. This quote is here coupled with the Jm 4,12 whereby one is to refrain from passing judgment on one's own neighbours. These texts recall that we all are in a precarious situation and hence we have no right to point an accusing finger.
3. First and second letters to Timothy
The Pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) reflect a rather late situation of the various Churches in a particular area. These letters have in common the fact that they were addressed to the heads of the community rather than to the community itself. Timothy himself must have been in charge of various Christian communities, especially in the Church at Ephesus. He was sent as a missionary bishop to the capital of the Asian region.
From the 1Tm, we know that Timothy had to see that certain people stopped teaching strange doctrines. On the contrary, he was asked to dedicate himself to that correct instruction from which ensue love, a clear conscience and sincere faith. He was sent to bring about the unity of the various communities and to curb the harmful influence of some false teachers within the fold.
In 2Tm, we have an introductory exhortation whereby Timothy is encouraged to preach the Gospel with a sense of determination. The author speaks also of the sufferings that accompany apostolic activity (2,3-13), but then Timothy is exhorted to pay careful attention towards false teachers (2,14-4,5). The epilogue is said to be the spiritual will of Paul (4,6-8).
Fidelis sermo, et omni acceptione dignus: quod Christus Iesus venit in hunc mundum peccatores salvos facere, quorum primus ego sum.
In chapter one the author of 1Tm stresses the need to control false teachers; the law is there to help the stray to find their way back (vss.8-11) into the fold. In the last part of this section, he writes about Paul's calling and about the responsibility that should be shouldered by Timothy.
The author speaks of Jesus Christ who came into the world with the express intention of saving sinners. In the context where he speaks of Paul's calling the author considers him as being the greatest of all sinners (vs. 15). Yet Jesus Christ showed his inexhaustible patience in choosing Paul to dedicate all his energy to call gentiles to salvation.
Similiter et mulieres in habitu ornato, cum verecundia, et sobrietate ornantes se, et non in tortis crinibus, aut auro, aut margaritis, vel veste pretiosa: sed quod decet mulieres, promittentes pietatem per opera bona.
In the body of 1Tm (2-3,6) we have special recommendations concerning the correct government within the community. The author insists that women should behave themselves in a way that befits their dignity especially when they are asked to form part of the Christian assembly. The text suggests that they should not dress in a way that would distract the devotion of the other members in the sacred assembly.
Nemo adolescentiam tuam contemnat: sed exemplum esto fidelium in verbo, in conversatione, in charitate, in fide, in castitate. Dum venio, attende lectioni, exhortationi, et doctrinae.
In chapter four, the author once more draws Timothy's attention to the presence of false teachers, especially those that occur during the last times. These teachers are presenting nothing else but 'godless myths and old wives' tales.
According to this writer, Timothy should oppose them by indulging in works, pious activities and in virtues (vss.8-12). He should also be conversant with the sound teachings of sacred scripture (vs.13), by means of his frequent readings and the charism of his ordination.
In verse 12, the author advises Timothy not to let people look down on him because of his young age. Rather, he is to serve as an example by the way he speaks and behaves. His love, faith and purity are to outshine within the community of believers.
Nam qui volunt divites fieri, incidunt in tentationem, et in laqueum diaboli, et desideria multa inutilia, et nociva, quae mergunt homines in interitum et perditionem.
In 1Tm 6, the author speaks about slaves and about true and false teachers (vss.3-10). Then he speaks once again of Timothy's vocation (vs.11-16). In the concluding section of this chapter, the author warns rich Christians lest they should look down upon others.
He insists that the Christian should not strive to obtain what is superfluous for such an urge will give rise to foolish and dangerous ambition that eventually leads to their ruin and destruction (vs.9).
Nam et qui certat in agone, non coronatur nisi qui legitime certaverit.
In verse 5, speaking of the hardships during apostolic activity, the author resorts to the imagery taken from the life of the athlete. The competitors wins the crown only if they stick to the rules of the game. The idea behind this is that the missionary should continually engage in his apostolic activity without giving in to hardships and temptations.
Bonum certamen certavi, cursum consummavi, fidem servavi.
This time the quotation occurs in the section known as Paul's spiritual will. Here too, the underlying imagery, is taken from the context of athletics.
The apostle is presented as reviewing his whole ministry while the end is drawing near. Two distinct images are involved, one recalling gladiators and their combats (I have fought the good fight) the other recalling athletics: I have run the race to the finish. Emphasis is laid on the fact that Paul kept his faith till the very end.
Homily 176 deals with the specific theme of God's pardon by taking into consideration the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15,11-32). The opening line of the homily is taken from 1Tm 1,15 where it is said that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners. In this text the author of the letter considers himself as being the foremost beneficiary among such sinners.
There is an evident contrast between this text and the father's image and role in the parable. God is not only is waiting for the return of the sinner, but takes the initiative to call sinners to repentance through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The text therefore does not only set the tone but also serves as an interpretative key to the whole sermon. Moreover it conditions the meaning that should be assigned to the parable of the prodigal son.
In homily 71, where Joseph De Piro addresses members of the pious congregation 'Figlie di Maria', he dwells at length on the distance between God and humanity. In the central part of his sermon, he deals with the two persons that serve as mediators: Jesus Christ and Mary, his mother. By drawing their attention to Mary's image on the medal, the preacher invites hearers to imitate her particular virtues while carrying out their daily duties.
Following the footsteps of Mary, they should be obedient, humble and modest in dress. De Piro quotes the special Instructio of Pius XI where 1Tm 2,9-10 is quoted directly. These ladies should be decently dressed and should behave in such a way that they follow the Pope's recommendation, which becomes Mgr. De Piro's own recommendation.
In homily 107 the introductory text not only sets the tone, but suggests the line of development. The author of 1Tm insists that Timothy should set an example to all believers especially by the way he speaks, indulges in conversation, observes charity, shows his faith and lives the ideal of chastity. According to De Piro's consideration, these aspects should form the ideal of religious life. The servant of God takes into consideration 'verbo' and 'conversatione' together, but then he separately deals with the other three virtues.
Homily 204 is a well organised sermon concerning the confession of sins. We have only the schema of the sermon, made up of four principle points. First Joseph De Piro speaks of God's presence and thanksgiving, asks for necessary light to examine one's conscience (point 3), and requests forgiveness.
At this stage, De Piro suggests the necessary means to obtain the right disposition. He insists on sorrow as being the required condition to obtain forgiveness. The homily takes into consideration confession and satisfaction as the concluding stages of one whole process of conversion.
Before dealing with confession itself, the preacher inserts the quote from 1Tm 4,13. The author of the epistle suggests that Timothy should dedicate himself to the study of Scripture in view of his duties as teacher and head of the community. One could say that Scripture is effective in bringing about a sense of sorrow just before confession itself.
In homily 172, speaking of death and the fact that the human body will end up as a lifeless skeleton, De Piro resorts to 1Tm 6,7. Thus he shows how insane and stupid it is, on one's part, to give in to the temptation of riches and avidity.
The author of the epistle stresses the fact that riches lead us into various temptations. Mgr. De Piro states that riches make us forget the brevity of life and that all earthly goods are of little avail, beyond our life span on earth.
In homily 157 in line with the positive tone of the opening text (Rv 2,10) and the content of the sermon as a whole, Joseph De Piro inserts 2Tm 2,5 half way down the presentation of this homily schema. It is only the one who participates in the contest and proofs oneself loyal to the entry requirements, may hope to receive the glory of final success.
Through this imagery, Mgr. De Piro stresses that life is like a competition, and we are to engage all our energy. This text is coupled with another Pauline text taken from 1Co 10,12.
In homily 18 De Piro speaks of the mysteries that had taken place on the cross. He deals with what is traditionally known as the seven last words proffered by Jesus immediately before his death. We notice that such words are taken from various gospel texts.
Speaking of Jn 19,30, (it is accomplished), the preacher quotes 1Tm 4,7. Here this text may have been suggested by the use of the same verb (consumatum est - consumavi). In the first case it is Jesus who declares that his mission has been now fulfilled, whereas in our case, it is the author of the letter, who speaks of his own life that is drawing to an end. The latter equally states that he has persevered in his faith. This text is adduced by the preacher so that the listeners may be invited to persevere till the very end.
4. The letter to the Philippians
Paul's letter to the Philippians is a writing where simplicity and immediacy are evident throughout. Paul addresses the community in a way that betrays his fatherly love and sense of care. He arrived at Philippi during his second voyage and it was thus the first place to receive the Christian message, even before to Greece and Rome.
Scholars believe that the canonical letter is made up of different writings addressed to the Philippian community by the apostle himself. In the first part of this letter, Paul gives news of himself and useful instructions to the Christian community. He insists on unity and steadfastness (1,27-30), humility and the generous self-offer (2,1-11) obedience and the witness that Christians ought to give to the world around (2,12-18).
Through the recommendations in the second half of the letter, we come to know of the rivalry and the jealousies that existed among them. As a remedy, Paul suggests humility and unity among Christians to be achieved through love, affection and sympathy. Christians are called to show their respect to each other, and their openness of heart to the Spirit. Paul repeats that humility is necessary where service is required, and that both are essential to achieve unity, among Christians who are living together.
Sed semetipsum exinanivit formam servi accipiens, in similitudinem hominum factus, et habitu inventus ut homo. Humiliavit semetipsum factus obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis.
In chapter 2, where Paul explicitly mentions humility, he does not hesitate to present Christ as one example. Here he quotes a Christological hymn with which the whole community might have been familiar.
In the hymn (2,6-11) Christ, not withstanding his divinity, became man and humbled himself on the cross. After he had carried out his mission Christ was glorified. We are destined to share in his glory, provided we offer our service in humility, according to the example of Christ.
Verse 7 strikes a note of contrast especially when the author states Christ, a divine person, emptied himself by taking the form of a slave. In these two lines (7-8) Paul insists on Christ's gradual self-offer that eventually becomes the motif for his exaltation. Following Christ, we too achieve unity through humility, love and service that should characterise Christian living.
Eadem vobis scribere, mihi quidem non pigrum, vobis autem necessarium.... Nostra autem conversatio in coelis est: unde etiam Salvatorem expectamus Dominus nostrum Iesum Christum.
Paul writes that the Philippians should be on the look out against false doctrine and teachers, so that they may not be led astray. Thus this letter serves as a timely warning to ward off all dangers of false teachings. In verse 20, the apostle recalls Christ, our saviour, who comes from heaven, and the fact that it is there that we enjoy full citizenship.
Omnia possum in eo, qui me confortat.
As a missionary, Paul is always ready to accept his situation and condition. He is moreover given to his pastoral ministry and is happy with the means that are available to him.
Verse 13 shows that God is on his side, while he is carrying out his special ministry, and this is enough to help him fulfill his own duties. This saying gives the impression that Paul, the missionary, is concentrating and asking for what is essential. Everything else is to be considered superfluous and of little value.
Homilies 31, 39 and 41 may be grouped together because they deal with the same theme: the Eucharist.
In homily 31 De Piro expounds the sacrificial aspect of Holy Eucharist. The preacher states that we have to keep in mind five distinct elements. It is God who accepts what is being offered, especially once we recognise him as the lord of creation. Then it is necessary that a priest acts as a representative of the people. There must be an offering, and, finally, the destruction of what is being offered thereby showing that the offering has become the exclusive possession of God himself. Destruction is an other way whereby we set apart the offering from its normal use.
Joseph De Piro dwells at length on these five distinct points and explains how Christ offers himself up: to God as a victim, and to us as bread and wine. He insists on the necessary faith of Christians when they receive Holy Eucharist.
In homily 39, delivered during a Eucharistic exposition and adoration in one of the parishes, the servant of God dwells at length on Christ's self-offer and his other promises. The preacher says that while we are on our way to the promised place, we have Christ as our companion. De Piro dwells at length on Christ's humble presence under the species of bread and wine. He is present to invite us in his direction to receive from him, forgiveness, light and acknowledgment.
Homily 41, delivered to a group of children on the day of their first Holy Communion, follows the same arguments. Here too it is said that Christ loved us to the extent that he wanted to live amongst us both during his earthly life and especially through the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. There is always the emphasis on the idea that the king is willing to humble himself for the spiritual benefit of his subjects. The Eucharist therefore shows in a concrete way, Christ's constant love and care through his presence amongst us.
Ph 2,7 is being quoted in these three Eucharistic sermons. Paul insists on the fact that Christ humbled himself through his Incarnation, passion and death. Yet De Piro seems to imply that, Incarnation means presence both in history and in Holy Eucharist.
In both cases love is more than evident and this presence solicits our loving response to Christ and our fellow neighbours. Thus Holy Eucharist provides both the necessary benefit and the example for the Christians while still on their way.
Homily 156 presents an entirely different context and theme. Here De Piro speaks in terms of sin and its evil effects. Sin is defined as disobedience to God's commandments. The preacher draws the traditional distinction between grave and venial sin and concludes by saying that venial sins too weaken one's own life commitment and orientation. In this way, stressing the importance of what is usually considered less serious.
Speaking of God's commandments and our obedience, Joseph De Piro quotes Ph 2,8. He wants to recall the fact that Christ both humbled himself and obeyed, or rather, obeyed the Father's will when he became one of us. It is obvious that De Piro is offering Christ's obedience as an example and as a remedy against sin. Christ not only accepted God's will on our behalf, but also provided an eloquent example to those tempted to abandon the dictates of God.
Homily 1, on doing God's will, was delivered during the third Sunday of Lent to the sisters at Fra Diego Institute. After a short introduction on Jesus' miracles and direct conflict with the Pharisees, the homily is divided into six distinct points. Mgr. De Piro argues that the hearing of God's word suscitates the desire of a fruitful response.
The preacher then warns his audience not to listen to the word out of sheer curiosity or in search of eloquence. He insists that ordinary things could have a direct and lasting effect upon the hearers provided we show the right disposition; God's word has always to be applied to oneself and not to others. De Piro suggests that certain facts are to be mentioned to prevent them from taking roots in the hearers and what is said in general is to be applied to oneself by each individual.
To illustrate this, the servant of God quotes Ph 3,1b. In this text, to think and write ordinary things, is indeed useful to emphasize what is necessary, even if it is already known. The preacher states that the right disposition serves so that the audience becomes fully aware of the usefulness of what is already known. It all depends on one's disposition. De Piro also insists that his audience should not be overwhelmed by the desire of looking for new things.
In homily 107, speaking of one's use of language, De Piro insists that the religious should always speak about God and should not engage in worldly conversation. To carry conviction he quotes various biblical texts, not least Ph 3,20, where the apostle says that by means of language we should anticipate the fact that we are heaven oriented.
Homily 158 is an earnest recommendation so that his hearers may avoid evil and sin right from the very beginning, not to be overwhelmed by vice in their lives. The preacher says that no one is sure of the future or whether old age will be guaranteed to him. This seems to be the main idea to which the fact that one has to struggle a lot against vice, is coupled.
Here Joseph De Piro quotes Ph 4,13 together with other biblical texts and some other episodes taken from the lives of the saints. As an answer to his question: 'how am I going to do away with my own evil inclinations?' he replies with Paul: 'Omnia possum in eo qui nos confortat'. What seems difficult in the life of the individual, becomes easier if assisted by God's help. It is God's grace that helps the individual to control oneself and achieve goodness. One may note that Mgr. De Piro changes 'me' into 'nos', thereby showing that we, as individuals and as a group, are invited to make full use of God's help.
In homily 214 once again De Piro deals with the theme of sin, its nature and evil effects. This homily seems to be delivered either to young seminarians or to the newly ordained. The servant of God ends this sermon on a very positive note, when he speaks about the generosity and one's commitment through daily work.
Against such a context De Piro asks at the end of the sermon, after he had suggested frequent access to the sacrament of reconciliation, how we are to overcome our evil inclinations. He mentions once more Paul's saying in answer to this question: full control of self takes place through God's grace. The text itself, implies that once there is an endless struggle going on, God is on our side, guaranteeing complete victory over sin.
5. The letter to the Ephesians
Although this letter has been considered as deutero-Pauline, still it takes us back to Paul himself at least in its spirit. As regards vocabulary, style and content, this letter seems to belong to a disciple of Paul and it recalls to mind Colossians, to which it is somehow related.
In the first part of the letter, the author deals with God's plan that has been accomplished and revealed to us. He speaks about the benefits enjoyed by both Jews and gentiles. The author argues that God not only forgives the sins of the gentiles, but unites all into the one fold, of God's People.
The author insists on faith and obedience to the covenant and hence everything depends on God's initiative and not on circumcision. Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, in him no distinction between Jews and gentiles exists. With the fall of Jerusalem, these distinctions crumbled down and unity has been achieved through Christ's death. Christ is therefore depicted as the Prince of Peace.
This epistle draws our attention to the use of various metaphors that bring out the position of the Christians within the one Church of Christ.
Ergo iam non estis hospites, et advenae: sed estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei.
According to the author of Ephesians, the gentiles, when compared with the Jews, are to consider themselves no longer as strangers or guests in God's family. They are indeed fellow citizens and equally close to God himself.
By this type of language, the author, is inviting gentile Christians, to consider themselves as no second class citizens. They should remember that they are equally founded upon the apostles and prophets, having Christ as the corner-stone. The concept of corner-stone conveys the idea that it is Christ himself who unites Jews and gentiles together.
Et ambulate in dilectione, sicut et Christus dilexit nos, et traditit semetipsum pro nobis oblationem, et hostiam Deo in odorem suavitatis....Videte itaque fratres, quomodo caute ambuletis: non quasi insipientes, sed ut sapientes: redimentes tempus, quoniam dies mali sunt.
The opening lines of chapter 5 take into consideration verse 32, of the previous chapter. It recommends that fellow Christians show mercy and forgiveness, much as God himself had pardoned us in Christ. The author states that we as Christians should follow Christ, our only model, who had shown his love by offering himself unto us. The author directs our attention to the redemptive and expiatory value of Christ's death, and to him as being our unique model.
The author also recommends that Christians should be wise enough by being moderate, prayerful, and especially by being thankful to God. True wisdom helps the individual to discover God's will. The author mentions the fact that time is running short and so much time has been lost in things of little worth and sin. He seems to have in mind the adage 'carpe diem', whereby Christians are invited to make their utmost within the time that is still available.
Sacramentum hoc magnum est, ego autem dico in Christo et in Ecclesia.
In giving his advice to male and female partners within marriage, the author of this letter refers to the relationship of Christ and his Church as an example. The Church shows submission towards Christ, who offers himself up to sanctify and purify her through baptismal waters.
In this context the Church, Christ's body, is indeed to be loved. As an expression of such love, every husband leaves his father's house to unite in marriage where the two partners become one flesh (Gn 2,24). This is indeed a mystery that applies to Christ and his Church.
In homily 120, delivered in November 1930, Mgr. De Piro dwells at length on atonement and the link between the three distinct phases of the Church: militant, suffering and triumphant. He insists that Christians on earth are assisted by saints in heaven; those in Purgatory need Christ's intervention on their behalf through the intercession of Christians on earth.
While explaining this constant link between triumphant and militant Church, the preacher resorts to Ep 2,19. Christians on earth form God's household and are fellow citizens of the saints. Thus we while still on earth are God oriented and related to the saints in heaven. De Piro makes full use of this quotation as it sounds, on its own, out of its proper and original context.
In homily 198, where De Piro speaks on charity, he repeats the sacred author's invitation: 'ambulate in delectione sicut et Christus dilexit nos'. At this stage of the sermon, no better example can be adduced for those who ought to engage themselves in brotherly love than Christ himself.
Recalling the good we have received from God through Christ, Mgr. De Piro intends to create the necessary dispositions in Christ's followers. Christians in God's presence, should make a detailed examination of their conscience asking for both pardon and God's assistance, to carry out their daily duties.
Homilies 122 and 124 present two short schemas of sermons delivered at the end of the year. In both, De Piro insists that in time we have done our best to carry out our daily duties, but it is also in time that we are fully conscious of all the good occasions we have missed.
Quoting Ep 5,15, Joseph De Piro states that true heavenly wisdom is only obtained through the good that is achieved over a long period of years. He makes a list of questions whereby he leads his hearers to make their examination of conscience.
In homily 44, delivered to a newly wedded couple, De Piro dwells at length on the importance and meaning of such a sacrament for the Christian community and society at large. No better example could be provided to the Christian couple other than that of Christ's loving self-offer to his Church. Both partners should dedicate their whole life to each other and create the necessary environment for the reception and full integration of offspring.
The Church also provides a good example to the female partner called to assist her husband and to contribute seriously for the upbringing of children in a healthy environment. Much like Christ and the Church, parents should help in the process of their children's spiritual growth.
Following the preacher's thought, we can understand why he quotes the Ephesians, right at the very beginning of his homily and as he goes along. The preacher draws the spouses' attention by insisting on the adjective 'magnum' with reference to marriage (Ep 5,32). The same verse is explained better against the fact that human marriage finds its excellent explanation through the relationship between Christ and his Church.
Mgr. De Piro explains the importance of this sacrament by stating that it has a value that is both real and symbolic. He suggests that the spouses are to preserve the integrity of their marriage through a life of prayer and union with Christ in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. In this way both they remain faithful to each other, and carry out their duties in a responsible way.
6. The letter to the Galatians
Galatians and Romans are both included within the list of Paul's 'great letters'. Paul discusses at length justification, and lays emphasis on God's salvific initiative. Both Jews and gentiles are asked to consider salvation as being the sole prerogative of God's intervention in favour of humanity.
Faith is indeed not only necessary but it helps both Jews and gentiles to establish a relationship with Christ. Jewish law, in spite of its divine origins, decreases in importance and only serves to lead believers to Christ, unique source of life.
In this letter one can speak of a threefold division right after its introductory section (1,1-10). In the first two chapters, the apostle writes about his own activity in what is known as Paul's apology. In the second section (3,1-4,31), he speaks of justification through faith and not by law. In 5,1-6,10 Galatians are exhorted to preserve their freedom as Christians. Various warnings and final greetings bring the letter to an end (6,11-18).
Vivo autem, iam non ego: vivit vero in me Christus. Quod autem nunc vivo in carne: in fide vivo filii Dei, qui dilexit me, et tradidit semetipsum pro me.
In chapter 2 (vs.11 ff.) Paul spares gentile Christians from the requirements of Old Testament law. In line with this argument, the apostle insists that we are all justified through faith in Christ. Paul states that justification is not to be achieved through the works of the law.
In the concluding section of this epistle, speaking of the law and Christ, Paul sides with Christ ignoring all the requirements of law. In verse 20 he states that, through faith, Christ becomes the effective life principle within him.
Quicumque enim in Christo baptizati estis, Christum induistis.
Chapter 3 develops the same themes introduced in the concluding section of the previous chapter. From verse 19 onwards, Paul discusses the importance and role of the law itself. Speaking of faith, he states that, all baptised have put on Christ (Rm 6,3; 13,14).
Through faith and baptism we receive a new birth and become children of God assuming a new dimension in Christ. Being Jew or gentile does not matter any more, what counts is being descendants of Abraham!
Mihi autem absit gloriari, nisi in cruce Domini Nostri Iesu Cristi: per quem mihi mundus crucifixus est, et ego mundo. De cetero nemo mihi molestus sit: ego enim stigmata Domini Iesu in corpore meo porto.
In this letter's epilogue two key texts speak of Paul's relationship to Christ. Paul shows that there is a strong opposition between himself and the world because of the cross. The cross guarantees the necessary life to the one who believes in Jesus, still it creates a sense of shame and frustration in those who reason things out from a human point of view.
Paul concludes that we become new creatures through our faith and union with Christ. Circumcision itself is to no avail within this eminently Pauline perspective. Paul is so dedicated to the cause of Christ that his sufferings become the outward and visible signs of this union with him. Paul drew his imagery from the practice of slaves who had to bear a physical sign indicating who was their master.
Homilies 28 and 32 deal with Jesus' presence and life in the Blessed Eucharist, and follow the same line of thought, even if the latter is rather longer and more developed. Right after the introduction of the first homily, we have various themes that explain the peculiar union between Christ and the believer.
The idea of one's assimilation is well brought out by the fact that Eucharist is one's spiritual nourishment. Joseph De Piro then speaks of one's faith as being the necessary condition to receive the full benefit of this sacrament. By means of different biblical texts, the preacher deals both with Jesus' own desire and with the condition necessary to obtain the promised life. Holy Eucharist is the effect of Jesus' own initiative; it is the effect of his wisdom, goodness and omnipotence.
In homily 32, the same themes are developed at greater length. This sermon is more developed from the theological point of view. Holy Eucharist is Jesus' own readiness to remain with us and moreover is the continuation of the Incarnation itself. He takes into consideration the fact that we remain so unchanged in spite of the frequent reception of this sacrament. Mgr. De Piro also discusses the giving of grace by means of different sacraments. Through Holy Eucharist we are united to Christ in a more complete way. The sermon ends by insisting on the importance of one's openness to Christ in faith.
In Ga 2,20, Paul states that Christ becomes a life principle acting within each believer. Such a text presupposes the union of two distinct persons through faith. Such a union reaches its climax and fulfillment through Holy Eucharist itself. The Christian is convinced of Paul's words that Christ not only dwells within us, but becomes a source of life through faith. One could say, at a deeper level, that the Christian is entirely at the service of Christ and that incarnation is still taking place. Within this context, Paul's saying gives expression to De Piro's own reflection: "it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me". Christ becomes the active life principle that causes one's life to develop; indeed one spiritually lives through Christ.
Joseph De Piro develops his own thought by referring to this text in particular. He says that by means of Holy Eucharist, our intellect receives the powerful light of divine understanding. The human heart is imbued with supernatural and divine love. Through the Eucharist man takes all the human drives and passions under his control; thus we could say that the human dimension in man is at the service of, his spirit.
In homily 82 De Piro speaks of St. Joseph, and quotes Ga 2,20 within the Eucharistic context. After the reception of Holy Communion one could say with Paul: I do not live, because it is Christ who lives in me.
St. Joseph has been at the complete service of Jesus and yet it was Christ who has given himself up for us to become our spiritual nourishment. The text is here immediately followed by a quotation from John, that confirms and explains Ga 2,20. Life in us is justified by the fact of our union with him: "in me manet et ego in illo" (Jn 6,57). Still we could say that the Pauline quotation throws more light on the fact of mystical union with Christ through the sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
Homilies 88 and 89 are both delivered to Third Order members of St. Francis. Mgr. De Piro follows the same line of thought in both homilies. After giving the principle points in the life of St. Francis, Joseph De Piro deals with the First, Second and Third orders.
It is through the main points of the first section that the preacher explains the gradual transformation that takes place in Francis' life. In the second half of these sermons, Francis' own spiritual transformation in Christ becomes an invitation for distinct groups within the Church to follow in his footsteps. It is evident that by speaking of male and female religious, De Piro wants to address lay people who by living their daily commitments, want to embrace the Christian ideal as presented by Francis of Assisi.
In both sermons, the servant of God quotes the same Pauline text right at the very beginning. The text which deals with Paul's own mystical experience gives expression both to the union that takes place through the Eucharist, and provides the right perspective against which we have to view Francis' whole life. For Mgr. De Piro no other individual could apply such a text to himself than Francis. De Piro concludes that these are precisely the words that synthesize the whole of Francis' life.
This is also, more or less, Joseph De Piro's position in homily 89 where the same text is put on Francis' lips. There too, De Piro states that Francis, more than others, could rightly repeat the words of Paul.
Homilies 100 and 101 were delivered on the same occasion and are both dedicated to St. Therese of the Child Jesus. In both sermons, De Piro points at the Eucharist as being the focal point of Therese's own life. This union with Christ makes her life so transparent and accounts for her simplicity of life. Her life of silence and humility, her obedience and docility, cannot be better explained unless we keep in mind her constant union with Christ through the sacraments.
This sermon dedicates much attention, at the very beginning and end, to the fact that Eucharist brought about the constant change in the life of Therese herself. In homily 100 Galatians 2,20 is often quoted. Paul's biblical text serves as the opening words of the sermon. On three other occasions, this text is used to bring out Therese's complete insertion in the mystery of Christ. Through her humility she has managed to reach the high ideals of Christian perfection. Again the text is quoted to show how her mystical love for Christ helped her to stand so much suffering. We note that the text is also placed at the very end of the sermon as an inclusion, the saint is asked to bring about the same devotion in the hearers that they may express their union with Christ in these terms.
In homily 120 De Piro explains that Christ both helps those who form part of the pilgrim Church, and sets free the just ones in Purgatory. In two distinct paragraphs he tells us that Christ offers himself up for the spiritual benefit of both the living and the dead.
In this context the preacher quotes once more Ga 2,20. We notice that he speaks of Holy Eucharist and explains the biblical text by means of another quotation, Jesus says: "non ego mutabor in te sed tu mutaberis in me". Transformation takes place to the extent that both the living and the dead benefit from Christ's salvific self-offer.
Galatians 3,27, used in homily 83, is quoted to justify the preacher's line of thought: we cannot show our devotion to St. Joseph unless we imitate our Lord Jesus Christ. Mgr. De Piro quotes the text that speaks of our relationship to Christ in baptism, when we are asked to put on Christ. Through baptism Christ becomes our representative and what is achieved is indeed achieved on our behalf.
We can easily compare this text with Ga 2,20. In both quotations, Christ acts from within and from the outside in favour of the believer to whom he is related. Imitation takes into consideration the fact that we are his followers. On the other hand these Pauline texts show our complete transformation in Christ. Here we have the highest degree of union that does justice to Paul's own mysticism. In this case, 2Co 4,10 is not only the continuation of the same thought, but rather its best explanation. Christ acts and is manifested in us through a life that is based on his teachings.
In the third section of homily 156, Joseph De Piro quotes twice the letter to the Galatians. In his exhortation to keep away from all sin, he suggests the example of Christ's poverty, humility and meekness. Paul confirms that he boasts of nothing else, other than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In De Piro's thought just as in Paul's, there is an evident shift from Christ's salvific cross to the hardships one has to endure out of Christian love. In verse 17, Paul states that he bears on his body the marks of Jesus' suffering. This does not necessarily mean the physical signs of Jesus' stigmata, but rather the hardships he had to endure during his apostolic ministry.
7. First letter to the Thessalonians
1 Thessalonians is the first Pauline epistle and is indeed the first among New Testament writings. This letter is divided into two equal sections. In the first Paul provides enough indication about the style of his preaching (2,1-16; 3,9-12), whereas in the second half he delivers various exhortations and teachings necessary for the Christian daily living. The letter ends with the usual prayers and greetings.
Vos autem frates non estis in tenebris, ut vos dies illa tamquam fur comprehendat.
The Christian should live in holiness and charity (4,1-12). Paul also speaks on eschatology: we completely ignore the time of Christ's second coming (5,1-11). Against such a fact, Paul insists on one's watchfulness. Christians are ardently invited to be watchful and to remain awake and sober. In the following lines, Paul insists that Christians belong to daytime and that they should be well armed and on the alert - whether alive or dead, we are all to live through Christ and through his self offer.
Homily 16 is based mainly on Mt 22,1-14, the text for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost according to the old Missal. Mgr. De Piro dwells at length on the ingratitude of the Jews who refused to give heed to the word of the prophets, John the Baptist and the apostles themselves. They had to pay a grave penalty for their sin: the Romans completely destroyed the sacred city, Jerusalem. The preacher gives a whole list of suggestions that would help each individual to live a devout life. Yet the refusal of the Jews served so that all gentiles may be included within the one fold.
Here Joseph De Piro quotes 1Th 5,4, meant to envisage both Jews and gentiles within the one People of God. Paul states that God has brought gentiles in to the one brotherhood. They are, therefore invited to live no longer in darkness. De Piro says that the Maltese too had been called from early times to form part of the one Church of Christ.
8. The letter to the Colossians
This epistle is also considered as deutero-Pauline and it moreover runs parallel to Ephesians both as regards style and theological themes. After a short introduction, the author deals with Christ's universal primacy in the first part of the epistle. Christ is also the head of the Church, his body. The author becomes the preacher of Christ's mystery among pagans.
In the second half of this letter (3,1-4,6), the author exhorts readers to look for things that are in keeping with their calling. He extols certain eminently Christian virtues (3,5-17). The author also deals with the morals of home and household (3,18-4,1) ending up with an epilogue (4,7-18) and the usual general recommendations (4,2-6).
Super omnia autem haec, charitatem habete, quod est vinculum perfectionis.
While giving general rules that should characterise Christian behaviour, the author insists on the theme of Christian charity. As the lord has forgiven us all, so we ought to forgive one another.
Verse 14 is indeed the concluding line of such reasoning. Love should reign supreme, for this is indeed the bond of perfection. It is out of love of God that one lives a virtuous life, and shows love towards one's neighbours. Charity becomes the very foundation upon which Christian behaviour is well grounded.
Homily 201 has Christian charity for its theme. We have only the outline of De Piro's sermon. Charity gives expression to God's will and turns out to our own advantage and to that of our community. On the other hand, there is nothing worse than lack of harmony among members within the same community. Col 3,14 is the opening text and determines the development of the whole homily. No better sign of perfection and the unity willed by God himself could be shown more than love itself.
After giving a brief review of the sermons and after studying De Piro's use of Pauline quotations in the sermons, we would like to examine possible sources.
We are aware that the existing edition of the homilies reproduces only a part of the sermons delivered. Yet, even if the collection is incomplete, one can see that Joseph De Piro preached on various themes and in different circumstances. There is enough ground to affirm that he was one of the best preachers on the island during his time. He is indeed to be praised for the rigour shown in the preparation of these sermons. This applies to both context and the choice of the biblical sources.
De Piro must have relied on sermons of Italian preachers at the time, but he never failed to work out his themes in a creative way. A thorough comparative study to show exactly his indebtedness strictly goes beyond the limits of our purpose. Still by way of conclusion, we intend to examine some part of the sermons in the light of possible sources that may have been resorted to. This is relevant in our case to the extent that it may show how the themes suggested by these sources might have also proposed the biblical texts.
One of the possible sources is the Italian preacher Paolo Segneri (1624-1694) who is often quoted by De Piro himself in the sermons. In spite of the many references, we notice that only a few of his ideas and examples are borrowed . He never slavishly relied on the whole context of Segneri's sermons notwithstanding the fact that at times they deal with the same topic.
Another preacher who could have exercised some form of influence must have been Chaignon whose three volume workIl prete santificato, was often read and recommended by De Piro to the members of his Society.
By way of example, some of Mgr. De Piro's homilies delivered during the Sunday liturgy, will be examined. Here one has to keep in mind that both De Piro and his sources limit their considerations to the gospel text suggested by the liturgy.
On the second Sunday of Lent the disciples' presence with Jesus during Transfiguration suggests to the preacher paradise and one's presence among the Blessed Virgin and the saints. One finds a corresponding theme in Segneri's Quaresimale. The heavenly vision itself might have been inspired by this source were both speak of the thrones of the Virgin Mary and of Jesus, her son, and both quote 1Jn 3,1.
On the other hand the use of different biblical texts at the end of the sermon (Rm 8,9; Mt 16,24) may find a possible parallel in Chaignon's meditation for the second Sunday in Lent. In both cases such texts suggest to the listeners what is really necessary to be with God in his heavenly abode.
This shows how ideas and texts (as is the case here) could have been borrowed from different sources and put together in the same homily. The fact that these two sources cover only a part of Joseph De Piro's homily indicates that he had various sources at his disposal and could handle these sources in a creative and intelligent way.
On other occasions the servant of God borrowed ideas from his sources as is the case in the homily for the third Sunday of Lent but then he provided the texts which were completely missing in his source. The fact that the ideas borrowed from Segneri are found in an entirely different context shows that he could adapt his sources to his own needs and circumstances. This too militates against the idea that he slavishly copied the ideas of others. It shows moreover that through his own experience, personal reading and reflection, he developed themes along his own lines of thought.
Homily 18 which presents Jesus' final words on the cross, lays special emphasis on the verb consummatum est. This expression shows Jesus' conviction that both the mission assigned has been fulfilled and that his earthly life have come to an end. Chaignon too attaches great importance by repeatedly using the same verb during the meditation for Good Friday. In this context, Chaignon attaches to this verb 2Tm 4,7-8. Here too one may conclude that possibly De Piro availed himself of the text in an entirely creative way.
Mgr. De Piro's homily for the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost shows traces of dependence on some of the ideas contained in Segneri's homily for Ash Wednesday. Here De Piro uses Segneri's episodes, biblical text and the presentation of the main arguments. This is indeed a case in point where one can notice his ability to put together ideas borrowed from different sources.
As a conclusion we have to say a word on the other texts chosen to develop the author's thought. Joseph De Piro's method takes us back to the classical usage of Scripture by early Church Fathers. Texts were often quoted either because of their content or because of verbal links.
By way of example, the various sermons on Holy Eucharist will be quoted. We notice that Ga 2,20 occurs in homily 28 accompanied by the New Testament texts from John's Gospel (chap. 6) and Lk 22 which occur again in homily 30 with 1Co 11,24.26. Ga 2,20 occurs again in homily 32 accompanied with a different set of texts.
One cannot bypass the conglomeration of biblical texts that occur in homily 30 where the texts from John and Luke are added to 1Co 11 (vss. 24.26) and the summary in Ac 2,42. Still all this is placed against the Old Testament text taken from Ex 16,4. Homily 39 shows the combination of the greatest number of New Testament texts on the theme.
Considering the fact that De Piro lived decades before Vatican II, proves that he knows his biblical texts. De Piro confirmed what he was saying by adducing proof texts. The fact that he quotes the New Testament so often shows that he wanted to resort to those texts with which the congregation were more familiar. Quoting the Pauline epistles so often at a time when these were not so popular is certainly to De Piro's credit. This point could be studied more deeply in connection with the preaching of other priests engaged in missionary activity among the Maltese population.
Appendix 1: Mgr. J. De Piro - Biographical notes
- 1930: served as intermediary between the Church and Lord Strickland.
- 1932-1933: served as a Senator in the third Maltese Parliament.
- 17 September 1933: Mgr. De Piro, aged 56, died after collapsing during a liturgical service at St. Cajetan' Parish Church, Hamrun.
Appendix 2: List of sermons mentioned in this study
1. Sermons for Liturgical Sundays.
(In each case the title is followed by homily number, volume and page number in the published edition, and page number in the present work.)
Second Sunday of Lent: 6; I,10-12;*, *.
Third Sunday of Lent: 1; I,1-3;*.
Passion Sunday 7; I, 13-14;*.
Good Friday 18; I, 45-46;*.
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost 5; I, 8-9;*.
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost 17; I, 42-44;*.
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost 16; I, 40-41;*.
2. Sermons for feast days and other occasions.
i. Feast days
Holy Eucharist 28; I, 77;*.
30; I, 81-83;*.
31; I, 84-89;*.
32; I, 90-97;*.
36; I, 104-105;*.
39; I, 109-110;*.
41; I, 112-113;*.
Sacred Heart of Jesus 50; I, 148-149;*.
53; I, 150-151;*.
54; I, 155;*.
55; I, 156;*.
Our Lady 71; II, 189-190;*.
St. Joseph 82; II, 220-223;*, *.
83; II, 224;*, *, *.
St. Ursola 104; II, 274-275;*.
St. Calcedonius 105; II, 276-277;*.
106, II, 278-279;*.
St. Francis of Assisi 88; II, 232-235;*.
89; II, 236-238;*.
91; II, 241-243;*.
St. Vincent de Paule 97; II, 257-259;*.
St. Therese of Lisieux 100; II, 264-266;*.
101; II, 267-268;*.
ii. Other occasions
Priesthood 25; I, 64-72;*.
Marriage 44; I, 122-124;*.
Religious life 107; III, 280-281;*, *.
112; III, 291;*.
Catechism 116; III, 495;*.
Dead 118; III, 299;*.
120; III, 302-303;*.
End of the year 122; III, 305;*.
124; III, 307;*.
3. Retreat meditations
End of man 141; III, 327;*.
143; III, 329;*.
Sin 155; III, 342-343;*, *.
156; III, 344;*, *.
157; III, 345;*, *.
158; III, 346;*.
160; III, 348;*.
Death 167; III, 359;*.
172; III, 366-367;*, *, *.
The Prodigal Son 176; III, 372;*.
Love 198; III, 404-405;*.
201; III, 409-410;*.
Confession 204; III, 414-415;*.
To Seminarians 214; III, 426-428;*.
Appendix 3: Texts used the Eucharistic sermons
Appendix 4: List of all biblical texts used
(In each case the text is followed by homily number, volume and page number according to the printed edition.)