Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Of Paulines and Character

One of the constants of Father Alberione’s life was an awareness that he was meant to commit himself unreservedly to an emerging charism of the Lord, while at the same time prayerfully determining  its unfolding designs, step by step, with a truly faith-inspired humility. His earthly journey exemplified the great reality that no life is placed on this earth without graced hope for its distinct fulfillment. With the years, he came to more deeply understand that so much of that fulfillment depended on a closely lived relationship with Jesus Master. He proved himself extraordinary in seeing this through to the end of his days.

Such was echoed in a comment to Paulines in a special audience ten years ago (October 4, 2005), in which Pope Benedict perceptively observed:
“Your vanguard apostolate in a broad and complex field, offers many opportunities and entails at the same time, not a few problems.  To proclaim the Gospel  one also needs a firm personal adherence to the Divine Master. 
“It’s an activity that calls for preparation, specific competencies and constant updating, if you are to respond effectively to the challenges of the present day world...
“I recall Father Alberione’s particular devotion to the Eucharist, his listening to the Word, and his hours of prayer.  
“Enamored of God as Father Aberione was, he asked his priests, Brothers, Sisters and other Pauline members to cultivate a robust interior life, rich in balance and discernment.”  
As the Holy Father surmised, faced with today’s widespread disconnect of the spiritual and human, our specific missionary media outreach could struggle and scramble without sustained grounding in the living risen Christ. In this context, it was an unexpected and stunning delight to find a recent piece on the Web bemoaning the across-the-boards public sparseness of “character formation.” It announced that this sadly neutered topic is at the core of the current #1 best-selling book, The Road to Character.

More of a surprise was the author’s unlikely identity—a celebrated columnist of The New York Times. That such secular media stalwarts engage themselves in this serious and urgent study was for me something right out of Lourdes! An inexplicably hopeful media—and national—sign of the times. The Times columnist, David Brooks, continues to make headlines for the way his book presents the case for a societal  return to morality. Acknowledged as meticulously researched, the book poses this provocative thesis:
“We as a modern society are cultivating outwardly impressive but ultimately superficial ‘resume virtues’—not character. And it’s costing us dearly, the author concludes, both personally and communally.”
I hopped over to Amazon and the available reviews of the book, which by far, are positive. Interestingly, David Brooks, while not a Christian and comfortably secular, is sound in his understanding of key social, human, and spiritual values. The Catholic News Agency’s blog features a story about him entitled: “A priest’s powerful impact on the New York Times’ David Brooks.” It suggests that some of  the inspiration for his book came from this priest friend whom he describes as an “insanely joyful” person, a person of character who could, in turn, inspire the pursuit of character in others.

Fr. Alberione also had much to say on this subject. To him, a person of character learns to remain focused, without vacillating in his or her resolutions. In his little book, To the Pauline Families, he urged:
“Form the character of the young by educating the will. One who has a good character has an ideal to attain: to become a saint….[and] directs everything toward that goal—prayer, study, apostolate,…and docility to the one who guides.”
Those who guide the young, he says,
“should strive to form individuals of strong and decisive personalities founded upon profound convictions, with perseverance in fulfilling them. One day such an individual will influence the weak and the wavering, dominate a variety of opinions and surroundings, and be capable of attaining a personal ideal with constancy.”
Fr. Alberione may not have had the Apostle Paul in mind when he wrote those words, but he could have:
“Train yourself for devotion, for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future….Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity” (1Tm. 4:7, 8, 12).
May Paul gain for all Paulines a mind, will, and heart—convictions, sentiments, and human/spiritual values—for life and for eternity.
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Photos - vine: Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP; tree: Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP
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Brother Aloysius Milella entered the Society of St. Paul as a candidate for the Brotherhood on the feast of St. Paul, June 30, 1946, and pronounced first vows in September 1948. Following his perpetual profession in 1953, he was assigned to the staff of the SSP family monthly, Catholic Home Messenger, published in Canfield, OH, where he would be engaged in its editorial and production sectors for 14 years. He worked briefly as the province’s vocation director, before serving as a member of the congregation’s governing body in Rome for the next 17 years.  After returning to the States in 1986, he was involved in book center ministry and then in administration, guiding its day-to-day apostolic fortunes in various communities. After a period in Dearborn, MI, he returned to Staten Island in 2012.

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