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You are here:Home / Family News / NEF 2013 / Family News - 2013 December 14th / Narratio Fidei of Father Alessandro Paniga scj
Dec 14, 2013

Narratio Fidei of Father Alessandro Paniga scj

Narratio Fidei of Father Alessandro Paniga scj

Yahweh, let me know my fate, how much longer I have to live. Show me just how frail I am. ‘Look, you have given me but a hand’s breadth or two of life, the length of my life is as nothing to you. Every human being that stands on earth is a mere puff of wind, every human being that walks only a shadow; a mere puff of wind is the wealth stored away -- no knowing who will profit from it.’ So now, Lord, what am I to hope for? My hope is in you. (Psalm 39, 4 – 7)

He sent us his beloved Son. The Incarnation of the Son was the greatest gift God could give; it was the greatest proof of the Father’s love. Not satisfied with loving from afar, from the highest heavens, he stooped down and sent his Son.
To bring men back to the memory and love of their Creator, our Lord Jesus Christ showed them the divinity made present in their humanity. Behold him present in the Crib and under the appearances of bread and wine in the Eucharist. (Titus 2, 12).
It is a manifestation offered to everyone, a school open to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. What a school! What a teacher! What power and what gentleness in the lessons of the Crib and the Circumcision! What attraction to win the greatest number of sinners. (MS)

 

Narratio... What do these passages mean to me? Psalm 39 (38) describes the interior struggle of someone in pain, who initially had promised to support the pain in silence, complaining to no one, not even to God. But he had been incapable of containing his anguish and so he pours out his suffering before the Lord. I am surprised to see that the victim doesn’t ask God to be cured but rather asks when his life is going to end because he is aware of his fragility and how outmoded human life is: “Lord, let me know when my life will end; I shall know how fragile I am. Man is but a breath, so, according to the Psalmist, it would be senseless and stupid to depend on men. God alone can give meaning to a life which is expiring in a breath. In God alone can an anchor for salvation be found; “Now what more can I expect, Lord? All my hope is in you.”

This psalm has been called “a simple prayer” by some; stripped of everything but rich in meaning. It is a psalm of suffering, but also one of hope in a God who is close to us for our salvation.

This psalm also echoes in my ministry here in Solbiate (CO) in the service of a hospice which takes in old and sick patients. Life is short, it is but a breath. I see it every day as I accompany these old people on the last stage of their life. It often happens that I can see in their eyes the fear and the sadness of a life drawing to a close and seemingly useless. I have often heard them complain of their suffering. They even sometimes attack God over it. They wonder when he is going to end their suffering, why they should have to suffer so much. There is no answer. There is no choice except to remain with them and help them to discover God who loves us in spite of everything, a God in whom they can hope. Some express deep faith and support calmly their present situation certain in the knowledge that God will not abandon them. For me this is an important life giving lesson. Everybody is afraid of death. But I realise that as one approaches death God grants the grace to accept it serenely. Lord, all my hope is in you.

In the course of my mission I try to help people to understand the value of each person in God’s sight, despite our fragility. What is man that you know him, Lord? (Ps 143.3) What is man that you should think of him, the son of man that you should care about him? (Ps 8, 5). The greatness of man resides in the gift, freely given. We receive our dignity from God who created us in his own image and likeness (Gen 1, 26). This explains why man is great. It is God’s love which gives dignity to mankind. To help us understand that he really loves us God sent his Son among us. St Michael tells us: To help man to understand the memory and love of their Creator, Our Lord Jesus Christ shows them the divine nature really visible in his humanity. For our Founder the Incarnation is a school and the Schoolmaster is the Son of God Himself, a school which attracts by its power and gentleness. The association of these two vocations reminds me of the homily preached by Pope Pius XII, 6 July 1947 when he canonised our Founder and when he wanted to underline the strength of character of St Michael he compared him to “etched engraving” united to his gentleness in his dealings with others. That was how he applied to him the biblical expression: from the strong man came gentleness (Jg 14, 14), recalling Samson who had consumed honey found in a lion’s carcase. From the strong man, St Michael, emerged his gentleness of character. From God comes the gentleness of his love. That’s what I call the Incarnation: the power of God’s love united to the gentleness of his mercy towards every one. So it is, according to St Michael, that the Incarnation is a manifestation for all of God’s love which becomes a magnet attracting even the greatest of sinners.

In his mission Pope Francis doesn’t weary of telling the men and women of today in word and deed that God loves us; he is walking beside us, just like a companion on the route to lead us all to the father.

What aspects of these passages have made the greatest impression on the life of a Betharramite religious? The first I think is just my fragility. In the course of my life and even as a child I came face to face with several difficult situations: my father’s illness, my brother’s, the death of my young sister, the loss of our home in a fire; I have always been convinced of the uncertainty of life and I have always had a certain fear of death.

Even though I have accompanied many people to their death, it is something which has filled me with an element of fear. Here in Solbiate I accompanied Fr Angelo Pessina, Fr Alessandro Del Grande, Fr Angelo Petrelli on the final stage of their life. I was favourably impressed by their death. I would want to die like them, have somebody beside me to accompany me in those final moments. That is perhaps where my fear lies; to die on my own without somebody to accompany me at the final moment. As I assist the dying I realise how shaky life is; it escapes like a breath; on the other hand I have confidence in the Lord as I have seen it happen so often with those I have been assisting to their death.

This is why I want my fears to be replaced by my trust in God who loves me and is my hope and my salvation. I would dearly love to pass this hope on to the sick, the weary, the depressed who have abandoned all hope and whom I meet every Monday in the “S. Benedetto Clinic” d’Albese (Province of Como).

There is something else which I note especially and which this passage inspires me is how good and generous God is to me. When I entered the seminary at the age of 11 I didn’t know what I was doing. I probably owed my vocation principally to my mother, a bit like St Michael. It was thanks to his mother that he became what he was. When I was small I was very naughty. I did some awful things! So my mother had the bright idea of sending me to the seminary to improve my ways. To tell the truth in the beginning at the seminary I didn’t know myself what I wanted, but there was one thing sure and certain I wanted to help others and give my life for the good of others. So it is my mother who deserves gratitude for my vocation. I know that she prayed a lot for me. When I was ordained priest she told me that she had called me Alessandro after the Bishop of our diocese and that in the depths of her heart she always longed for me to become a priest. She obtained that grace. As I was growing up in the seminary I gradually got to know St Michael and his spiritual doctrine which immediately fascinated me. Obedience to the Father’s will and his love for mankind made the Heart of Christ the centre of my spiritual life. I have always tried to obey my superiors so as to do God’s will, including in those difficult times when I was being asked to shoulder tasks and responsibilities for which I didn’t always feel up to it. I tried as far as possible to be available, committed for the good of others, especially for the poor and those most in need of affection, attention and solidarity. In the different parishes where I was missioned (Monte Porzio, Catone, Albiate, Albavilla) I tried to do my best for the people by being close to their sick parents, and for the last few years I seem to have found my real vocation: be close to those needing help, care, respect and friendship.

St Michael stressed the importance of being close to the sick and the needy. Today I can say that I am very much on the same wave length. It is the school of the Incarnation of a God who became one of us to be with us and to save us. At Christmas I am very touched when I contemplate the generosity of a God who - as our Founder says -, just like a mother who sinks to the level of her child, “humbled himself and became a gift... dissolved in love -, and seeing the heart of man and his frail humanity, became incarnate so as to raise mankind to divine unity. The Word became Flesh. The Son of God became like one of us to make us like him. The more God becomes humble the more he is powerful. Let’s be full of amazement and gratitude so as to “become more generous.”

Fr. Alessandro Paniga with Fr. Angelo Pessina (in the middle) and Fr. Angelo Petrelli (on the left) in 2007 in the Care Home of the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God in Solbiate.

How am I to put into practice what these words inspire me to do? God’s goodness for me is inviting me to deal with others with the same goodness. The idea that the heart of God is a bottomless pit full of goodness, ready to move our hearts with the plenitude of his mercy encourages me to be attentive, available, open, kind and gentle with the people I meet every day. I have learned what it means to be close to the people, to smile more and I see how this helps me to have a better relationship with them. I have come to realise this myself and I recommend it to everyone. A smile can bring relief to the weary, encourages those under trial, and it is a good remedy in times of sadness. As a child I was carefree, joyful, but with the passage of time, cares and worries made me too serious, even silent and melancholy. Today I seem to have recovered the serenity which I needed and still need to have, with God’s help, better relationships with others.

What should I be particularly careful about? I need to have more trust in God, especially in times of fatigue and weaknesses. I would also like to be more fully aware that it is by having my eyes fixed on the Lord and on his love for me and for others, that a better world is possible, a world in which respect and humanity reign supreme. I would like to deepen my faith in the Incarnation of the Word; I would like to look at the world and its inhabitants with the eyes of Jesus Christ as Pope Francis expresses it in his Encyclical Lumen Fidei (18). The life of Christ, how he knows his Father and lives in total relationship with him, opens a new experience of humanity into which we are invited. To allow us to know it, to accept it and follow it, the Son of God took our flesh. Christian Faith is faith in the Incarnation of the Word made flesh and in the Resurrection of his body... faith in a God who became of us and entered our history. Faith in the Son of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth doesn’t separate us from reality, but allows us to accept its deepest meaning, to discover how much God loves this world which he constantly invites towards himself. This engages the Christian to live more intensely his journey on this earth.
Indeed God loves us. Let’s remember what our Founder says here: It so pleased God to be loved. God has no need of anything, he only asked to be loved. Let’s be conquered by the God-of-Love. Let us love as he loves; let us love since he loves. Let’s be united to Jesus: let us love through him and with him.” Let us walk along this path to follow the Heart of Jesus and to be children of Saint Michael leading us with his example towards holiness.


Prayer

Father, who lavished upon humanity the riches of your love, take care of us, your pilgrim children, so that, by contemplating your mysterious plan of salvation, we may discover in the Face of your Son, who became one of us, the unveiled image of your infinite love.
My Lord, open our hearts so that we may recognize in each suffering human being your face and your presence. Help us to bear witness to the Gospel through a smile, a word, a sign of affection. Make us sympathetic towards people, and give us the strength to instill in them hope in your Son, Jesus, since in him only our lives find a sense of purpose and our death light.
Through the intercession of our Mother, Our Lady of Betharram, and our father St Michael Garicoits, grant us to marvel again at your love made flesh and guide us towards You and towards our brothers and sisters; help us commit ourselves more and more to serving them “with a great heart and a generous spirit”. Amen.

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