To Jesus, to the Holy Father and to souls through Our Lady:
Our Lady calls our Congregation to be a Marian Congregation,
Which lives with a love for God, for the Church and for the poor,
But through and completely with a love for Our Lady.
As we celebrate today the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we find it appropriate to share with you a thought of our Founder St. Luigi Orione on Mary.
Mary, the way to Jesus
To speak about Don Orione’s love for Our Lady means speaking about his person, so much did he fill his whole life with Mary. These words of his show this: ‘Read on my forehead, read in my heart, read in my soul, and you will see nothing that does not bear the writing: Thanks to Mary’.
This close link with Mary is explained by the strong experience that Don Orione had had of Christ; for whom, following the example of St. Paul, he could also say: ‘For me, to live is Christ’ (Gal. 2:20). Our Father has offered us the love for Our Lady as the way and the road that leads us to Jesus, because she is the perfect model of the love of Jesus.
But to reach the point of living Jesus, Don Orione was as much convinced of the necessity of imitating Mary, since she is the Mother and the disciple who permits us to reach her Son.
Mary is in a position to help every Christian and every man to get nearer to her Son, because she welcomed Him into her life, because she was the first to show Him to humanity, represented by the Magi and the Shepherds (cf. Mt 2:1-12; Luke 2:1-20, and then because she was always near her Son in the most important moments of His life.
‘She is the shortest and the most certain way to go to Jesus Christ. ( ... ) if we are very careful about what the Gospel is indicating, it is always Our Blessed Lady who shows us Jesus: she shows us Him in swaddling clothes in Bethlehem, suffering at the Circumcision, a worker at Nazareth, evangelising at Cana by His first miracle, and then dead for us on the Cross ( ... ). By loving Mary we are certain to love Jesus.
A Filial Love
The love and devotion of Don Orione for Mary had the characteristics of filial love. There emerges from all his writings this sense of sonship, like that of a baby who abandons himself into the arms of his own mother. (cf. Ps 131 , 2). It was precisely from that experience that Don Orione loved to say, and he was fully convinced of this, that Mary is the foundress and the mother of the Little Work; he placed it under her mantle because ‘it is hers’: ‘Our Institute is particularly devoted to her, and stands beneath her mantle as her littlest, weakest and most needy sons’. This vision is clear, precisely because Don Orione had personal experience of it since his boyhood. Think of the little Luigi, finding himself out in the countryside, bringing flowers to the little chapel with the picture of Our Lady in it, or else the famous episode of the Madonna della Fogliata, amongst the hills of Casalnoceto.
The Marian devotion of Don Orione was characterised by some Marian titles which were dear to him. From among these he chose, as the Little Work’s own, that of ‘Mother of God’. He indicated how particularly appropriate to the spirit of the foundation were the titles ‘Mother of Divine Providence’ and ‘Mother of the Church’.
Mater Dei: ‘We have chosen the most beautiful title honouring Our Lady (...). In relation to and dependence on such devotion, each Order, each religious Congregation has a Marian ejaculation which is its evident, substantial expression. So too, the Little Work has its particular Marian devotion and ejaculation, reflecting its spirit and its cult of Mary Most Holy: it is the invocation “Mater Dei, ora pro nobis”.
This title sums up all the dogmas, whether referring to Christ or To Mary, and it is the one which manifests the true nature of Our Lady, because it is exactly on account of her divine maternity that she has been filled with special graces. ‘We come to affirm, in this title, all dogmas, because all the others, with respect to this one, are secondary, that is derived from it’. ‘We wish to confess always, in the cult of Mary as well, the divinity of Jesus Christ, as our heart, our mind and our faith believes, loves and adores Him’. Besides, the ‘Mater Dei’ becomes the sign and the expression which best manifests the characteristic and the aim of the Little Work: fidelity to the Church, to the Pope and to the Magisterium. Among all others this title is the most ecclesial.
The whole of Don Orione’s life is marked by trust in and abandonment to Divine Providence. It is exactly in this context that he sees Mary as ‘Mother of Divine Providence’, since she is the one who intercedes, approaches and brings to Jesus and so, consequently, who helps every man to fulfil God’s plan in his own history. Our Founder was able to see the maternal action of Mary especially in two ways: as a help in fulfilling the life of man and as a help in understanding the signs and messages that God sends to him. Many of the events Don Orione lived through are confirmation of this. He invokes her when the Congregation is in danger; when he cannot find solace and when men do not understand him; when he has to open a new house; or when he is overwhelmed by debts, etc. He wanted each one of his sons and daughters, as well as each man, to trust Mary, to go and speak to her and love her as the mother of Divine Providence, with the certainty of having their prayers answered.
The patristic tradition has many times emphasized that Mary is a figure of the Church.Onto this tradition our Father Founder has given prominence to the link running between Mary and the believing people. ‘Our Lady was there and acted as the mother of all her Son’s disciples; she was since then the Mother of the Church. (...) May she who is the mother of Jesus and our mother, be, especially in these times, the Mother of the Church’.
Don Orione emphasised many times that the motherhood of Mary towards us, her sons, implies the imitation of her virtues.
John Paul II, in Redemptoris Mater, recalls that ‘during the Council Paul VI solemnly proclaimed that Mary is the Mother of the Church, “that is Mother of all the Christian people, of the faithful just as much as of the pastors”.
The Marian Apostolate
The cry of Don Orione Souls! Souls! was well known to all. So it came spontaneously to him to ‘use’ Mary to bring souls to Jesus.
Our Father knew intuitively that Mary enters easily into the heart of man, since she is seen as a mother and a woman, one of us, a model of a holy life and near us. ‘Yes, we wish, with cult of Mary, to put back into Christian education the courage of virtue, the scent of piety, give vigour to bad consciences. We wish to help the sentiment of the simple, the people, the good ones, directing it towards the sacred ideals of Christianity, whose devotion to Our Lady is the most intuitive, most sensitive and the easiest for all to understand, even the unlearned’.
Recognising the effective pedagogy of Marian devotion in bringing (people) to Jesus and to the Church, Don Orione often organised pilgrimages, erected shrines, he spoke of Mary to the people, emphasising her merits and virtues. With these initiatives he also wished to stress the evangelising aspect of Marian devotion: ‘To give Our Lady to souls means to give them Jesus Christ, God, the Church, the faith, that is to give them salvation’. He busied himself, too, with these pastoral methods, so that the people would encounter the mercy of God through the sacrament of Penance and so Mary became the way of reconciliation, and the sinner saw in her the heart and love of a mother, who is always ready to reconcile the son with the Father.
‘Popular’ Marian Devotion
For Don Orione it was not enough to bring Our Lady to the people, and so he used suitable pastoral instruments and means; he desired and requested that the Marian devotion of his sons and daughters should be popular. He expressed himself in this way: ‘The Congregation has a characteristic of which I spoken to you at other times: that of humbling oneself, of serving and addressing the people (...); but go too to the people in this way: to take care of and strengthen piety and religion in the simplest of people, in those who cannot understand other forms of piety, in those who can hardly read’. With this he did not mean to assume an impoverished piety, but to help the poor to assume a real Marian devotion. Besides, a concrete sign of our Father Founder’s Marian devotion are the numerous Marian shrines that he desired, had built and even re-built.
Don Orione has passed on another characteristic interpretation of Marian piety; the coupling of Marian piety and charity. ‘Piety and charity are like two good sisters who like to live together and embrace. Wherever a work of cult or a Marian shrine appears, there should also appear a work of charity. The shrine of the Madonna della Guardia (at Tortona) will be a work of faith, of cult, but many will not understand the work of cult and then it will be necessary to add work of charity. Charity moves (people) and leads to faith and hope’.
Happy Feast of the Assumption and may the Virgin Mary our Heavenly Mother and Founder goes before her Divine Son with all our prayers for the sake of our religious family and for the good of all her sons and daughters ad maiorem Dei gloriam.