Centre français d’études rosminiennes
mise en ligne le 13 novembre 2007
par James Flynn, Père Général de l’Institut de la Charité fondé par Rosmini
I would like to highlight instead what the Beatification of Antonio Rosmini means for the whole Rosminian Family (Institute of Charity, Sisters of Providence Rosminian and Ascribed Members).
In 1888, following the condemnation of the 40 Propositions, the then Superior General, Luigi Lanzoni wrote to all the members of the Institute to obey fully and without reserve the Papal condemnation. (In this, he was following in the footsteps of his Founder who in 1849 submitted without a word of protest to the putting of two of his booklets on the Index of Forbidden Books). In his communication of March 25th 1888, Lanzoni wrote: “We are religious, not philosophers and the Holy Father, in his 1882 letter to the Bishops of Northern Italy, made a clear distinction between the Rosminian Philosophical Question and the Institute of Charity ..”
Though the circumstances have changed and Rosminian philosophy is now no longer regarded with suspicion, the above point is equally valid for today and we Rosminians need to be constantly reminding ourselves of the true significance of the Beatification of our Founder. We must beware of the danger of associating it with other aspects (the social, historical and political) that are being highlighted, often controversially, in newspapers and journals. The Church is not Beatifying our Founder for any of these reasons. It is doing so because it sees him as a model of sanctity who is relevant to our times and certifying also that his spirituality and charism are valid means for leading one to God. His Beatification has to be an encouragement and a renewed call to us to be holy. If we miss that point or if it is not foremost in our minds, then our celebration of the Beatification is an empty show and we will have missed an important moment of grace.
This point was also strongly emphasised by Fr Giuseppe Bozzetti, the then Superior General in his 1953 Christmas Letter to the Rosminian Family: “Who is able to guarantee the good that we expect will come to the Institute from the Beatification of the Founder? History warns us that some religious Institutes, exactly after the Beatification of their Founder, decayed instead of progressing in the practice of religious virtues. Certainly, good would have come from the Beatification but not for those who should have been the first to benefit from it. God forbid that the same should happen to us. Nothing would be more contrary to the spirit of Father Founder than to desire something that is not directed to the increase of our sanctification. The satisfaction at seeing him on the altar would be an empty one if it did not serve as a stimulus to us for a more sincere and fervent study of the interior life.”
Again, in his 1955 Christmas Letter, he wrote: “We are at the conclusion of the Centenary of Father Founder and we certainly have reason to thank God for the success of the celebrations that took place everywhere. Our sole desire is that all these should prove to be simply and purely for the glory of God and we invoke the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ so that He will maintain this pure intention in us and purify it all the more. We believe that a due recognition of the merits of Father Founder in all the fields in which he received, and brought to fruition, the talents given him by God, will redound to the good of the Church, our Mother. It is this good that we have first and foremost in mind. The advantage that the Institute can draw from it is relegated to second place and we do not wish this advantage if it is not subordinate to the first. This is the school and the example of Father Founder to which we intend to remain firmly faithful. And so we put into practice, also as regards this point, the second of the Maxims of Perfection: “To direct all our thoughts and actions to the increase and the glory of the Church of Jesus Christ”. But we know how this Maxim is rooted in the first: “To desire only and without limit to please God, that is to be just”.
What is the difference between Beatification and Canonisation? When a person is Beatified (proclaimed Blessed), that person’s cult (liturgical devotion) is confined to a particular diocese or nation or religious Institute (if relevant) and is not extended to the Universal Church. On Canonisation, the name of the newly proclaimed saint is inscribed in the official Church calendar of saints, a particular feast-day is assigned and the cult is permitted in all areas of the Church.
For a person to be proclaimed Blessed, all canonical procedures have to be meticulously followed. As the Church’s proclamation of a person as Blessed is a first step towards canonisation (declaring one to be a saint), it checks and double-checks every aspect of the person’s life and actions (to determine the degree of a virtuous life) and all the person’s written works and recorded utterances (to make sure that he/she was orthodox in understanding and teaching the faith). Naturally, all this takes a lot of time and particularly so in the case of a prolific, and at times controversial, writer. An illustration of the complexity of the Founder’s Cause was the size of the “Positio” that was presented to the Congregation of the Saints by Fr Claudio Papa, the Postulator of the Cause. The “Positio” is a well-documented ‘summary’ of all the main events in the person’s life, the accounts of contemporaries and of witnesses to a virtuous life, the inventory of all writings along with a summary of these, detailed explanations of any controversial aspects, the listing of all writings about the person in question. There also had to be a medical account of a posthumous miracle worked through the person’s intercession. On account of all that, all Positio’s are rather bulky but in Rosmini’s case, it came to nearly 5,000 pages!
When the Church inquires into a person's life with the view of proclaiming him/her a saint, evidence of heroic virtue is required. Benedict XIV thus describes this kind of virtue: "In order to be heroic, a Christian virtue must enable its owner to perform virtuous actions with uncommon promptitude, ease, and pleasure, from supernatural motives and without human reasoning, with self-abnegation and full control over ones natural inclinations." A heroic virtue, then, is a habit of good conduct that has become a second nature, a new motive power stronger than all corresponding inborn inclinations, capable of rendering easy a series of acts each of which, for the ordinary person, would be beset with very great, if not insurmountable, difficulties. Such a degree of virtue belongs only to souls already purified from all attachment to things worldly, and solidly anchored in the love of God.
A few years ago, Cardinal Ratzinger, the then Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, said that when the heroic virtues of a person are emphasised, “it does not mean that that person did ‘gymnastics of sanctity’ but rather that the presence of God is revealed in his/her life. Being a saint does not signify being superior to others; being a saint is nothing else than putting oneself at the disposition of God and talking to Him as to a friend”.
Rosmini’s holiness has never been in doubt and even his fiercest opponent never questioned it. Various Popes have expressed the same conviction but said that the controversies about his writings would first have to be resolved before his sanctity could be officially proclaimed. When those questions were settled, only then could the Beatification process begin. As we know, once the Congregation of the Faith issued its 2001 Nota concerning its earlier condemnation of the 40 Propositions, this is indeed what happened.
At the closure of the Novara diocesan process on the miracle attributed to Rosmini, Monsignor Renato Corte, Bishop of the diocese and a noted admirer of Rosmini, had this to say: “We speak of him [Rosmini] as a holy person, with reference to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit illumines us within and makes us luminous without. Moses on Mount Sinai and Jesus on Mount Tabor are examples of this. The Jesuit theologian Rupnik has written that the Christian becomes the word of God and that those who encounter him encounter God. .. Rosmini seems such to me; illumined within by the presence of the Holy Spirit”.
An aspect of Rosmini’s holiness
This is summed up in the Affetti Spirituali which were written by Rosmini at the age of 24.
How delightful it is to speak with God,
To talk of God,
To be satisfied with God alone;
To recall, desire, understand, know, and love God;
To rest in God, journey with God, return with God;
To seek and find God in God,
Giving oneself wholly to God.
To leave for the sake of God even the delights of God;
To think, to speak, to work for God;
To hope only in God, delight only in God;
To keep one’s mind always intent on God;
To do all things with God in God,
Dedicated and consecrated to God,
Pleasing God alone, suffering for God,
Rejoicing solely in God;
To desire God alone,
To abide with God for ever,
To exult with God in times of joy, in times of pain;
To see, touch, taste God,
To live, die, and abide in God,
And then, rapt and translated into God,
With God and in God, to offer God to God
For God’s eternal honour and glory.
O God, what joy, what sweetness there is in God,
God, O God!; God, O God!; God, O God!; God, O God!; God, O God!
To keep ones minds intent always on God”: to put it mildly, the Founder’s aspiration is more than difficult as anyone who tries to put it into practice for even a short time becomes only too well aware. Despite our best resolve, a jumble of other thoughts and concerns jostle aside all thoughts about God and we return to our usual unreflecting way of life, reacting to events in an instinctive fashion and judging according to human standards and criteria. However, at some time or other, all of us have met people who seemed to be able to accomplish this extraordinary ‘feat’ of being at the same time both intent on God and particularly present to others. There was no contradiction or discontinuity in their lives, becoming ‘pious’ or ‘religious’ when such was expected of them and then reverting to being ‘sensible’ in all other things. Everything and everyone were seen ‘sub specie aeternitatis’ (in the light of eternity). The Founder was such a person and whilst we have divided, for convenience sake, his many letters into the ‘ascetical’ and ‘general’ category, the latter still carry the mark of his deep spirituality. In computer language, it could be said that the ‘God programme’ was always running in the background of his personality and make-up, constantly monitoring and influencing his thinking and speech and coming easily and effortlessly to the foreground as the occasion demanded.