49. God’s surprises in Murialdo’s life

The encounter with God does not obey a fixed pattern, it does not happen when and how we want. The experience of Murialdo teaches us that we need a ready heart and an open mind to sense the presence of the Lord, to understand His will and to find out where He wants us to meet Him. We know the facts: the conversion, the priestly vocation and other situations: a series of surprises in Murialdo’s life, a series of encounters with God that provide a never thought direction to his life. By reading his life on this perspective, we can better understand the phrases we repeat so frequently: to trust in Providence, to always accept the will of God, and above all, to love God since in every event of life we can perceive the sign of God who loves us first, eternally. With Murialdo and on his example let us welcome the love of God, full of surprises for a fully human and Christian life.

Sister Cecilia Inés Ferrazza

Ferrazza

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49. God’s surprises in Murialdo’s life             (Sister Cecilia Inés Ferrazza)


 

Introduction

There are always many challenges, surprises, joys and sorrows. Such is life; sometimes we encounter situations that afflict us, make us fearful, but every moment of life, every given smile is recorded in God’s book. We live a dialectics between certainties and surprises. The synthesis resulting from this dialectics is faith. Faith is absolute trust in the one who guides us through the journey of life.

Murialdo, during his teenage years, lived a profound existential and spiritual crisis that led him to anticipate his return from Savona to the family and to conclude his studies in Turin. The “return to the light” was realized – as he says – in the space of a few months, with the grace of a general confession, with which he returned to discover the immense mercy of God; maturing then, at age 17, the decision to be a priest, as a response to the love of God who had seized him with His love.

The core of Murialdo’s spirituality is the conviction of the merciful love of God; a Father always good, patient, generous, who reveals the greatness and immensity of His mercy through forgiveness.

St. Leonard experienced this reality, not intellectually, but existentially, through the living encounter with the Lord. He always considered himself a man blessed by the merciful God: for this he always lived in joyful gratitude to the Lord, in the serene awareness of his own limitations, in the ardent desire of penance, in a constant and generous effort of conversion. He saw his whole life not only enlightened, guided, sustained by this love, but continually immersed in the infinite mercy of God.

Murialdo, as a man of hope and faith, allowed himself to be surprised by God and corresponded to this love day after day, so that he felt the surprises with which God transformed his life. He understood that God always reserved the best for him and that He required from him loyalty and welcoming these surprises. Murialdo was trying to meet the Lord through long moments of prayer. So much so that, even in the midst of all crises, God did not leave to surprise him. Murialdo had great surprises, because he constantly placed his hopes in him!

He allowed himself to be surprised by God in the simple things of life. He was not waiting for great signals… Every moment was an opportunity to feel the love God had for him. Gradually he discovered God’s provident love through his frailties and limitations; he believed “and permitted God to educate him” and, at the same time, he discovered and experienced God’s love God in his life, especially through the poorest and most needy youngsters. He lived every moment of his ordinary life in an extraordinary way, discovering God’s action and being pleasantly surprised by him.

By living in the light of faith and confidence, Murialdo is open to new “opportunities” that come from the grace and love of God: an infinite, tender, personal, present, gratuitous and merciful love.

At the core of the Murialdine charism it is important to emphasis the way to experience and live the discipleship of Christ and the manner Murialdo experienced it.

The encounter with Jesus, with his love, is manifested in His Sacred Heart, in the crib, in the cross and in the Eucharist – as a reflection and revelation of the Father’s merciful love – and in the poorest and most needy youngsters

As a priest he had a profound experience of God, he tried to witness the mercy and tenderness of the Lord, encouraging those who were at the edge of the road, offering hope and dignity, especially to the unloved ones by the society of his time: young people.

God, in his mystery, comes to us in our lives through the surprise and he presents himself in a new and simple manner. St. Leonard Murialdo, with his life and word, reminds us that only one thing is needed: to choose Jesus and to contemplate Him, listening to and putting into practice His Word.

The surprises of God in the history of St. Leonard Murialdo

 

The conversion[1]:

It is the first big surprise in Murialdo’s life; he feels himself a sinner, and discovers that God always wishes what is good, in a personal and merciful way.

Joy is his response, coupled with the regret for having abandoned God.

The priestly vocation[2]:

The initial spark was a sermon on hell. The reaction was to think of becoming a Capuchin, to escape the dangers of the world. It was suggested that even without becoming a capuchin, he could find the road to save himself, without fear or danger. When he was a young student he felt a strong desire to become an engineer, but he took another decision after listening to the call of the Lord to the priesthood.

“The good Lord, really good to me, almost forced me to follow the two most sublime vocations in the world: the priestly and religious ones, not to mention the most necessary one, that is, the Christian vocation (Test. p. 65)[3]. With this statement Murialdo speaks of his vocation, and expresses the feelings accompanying him.”[4].

The idea that the religious vocation was a gift “imposed” by God with “sweet violence”, highlights in Murialdo the countless benefits granted and the poor response in promoting them in his path to holiness.

After discernment, Murialdo strove to live faithfully the religious and priestly vocation through a serious path of holiness that finds in the merciful love of God the central core.

Murialdo lived the priestly and religious vocation animated by an intense zeal for the salvation of youth, convinced that he had been called to “continue the work of redemption, the great work of Jesus Christ, the work of the Saviour of the world”. [5]

 

The encounter with the St.Vincent de Paul society (oratory)[6]:

It was a group of really fervent priests, who dedicated themselves to the catechesis of street children, in the oratories, or to the apostolate in prisons. In encountering this group of priests, Murialdo avoided becoming “a priest of the sacristy”, slightly busy, as many priests of his time. He became sensitive to young people, especially the poorest. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul and, especially, his cousin Roberto Murialdo, who was part of it, introduced Saint Leonard in the apostolate of the oratory.

The encounter with don Bosco and the direction of the Oratorio saint Louis[7]:

Don Bosco entrusted to Murialdo the direction of the Saint Louis Oratory. Murialdo accepted with pleasure, especially because he was convinced that a priest couldn’t become a saint only for himself, but also with the young people entrusted to him, whom he should lead to God. Murialdo will furnish the reasons for his affirmative response.[8].

 

Rector of Artigianelli[9]:

On his return to Turin, after a year spent in Paris, Murialdo wanted to continue with his post as director of the St. Louis Oratory. The proposal to become rector of the College Artigianelli was scaring him, because of the many debts of the college and the fact that it meant a total change of life, his habits, the apostolate he lived up to that time. He, no doubt, accepted with joy. But it was a spiritual joy, more internal than external; a joy based on spiritual considerations (salvation of youths, to help poor young people…) since, humanly speaking, everything would lead him to decide not to do so.

The founding of the Congregation of St, Joseph [10]:

In the Spiritual Testament Murialdo says that he did not feel inclined to religious life, because he loved freedom very much. To become a religious and, later, a founder, was another surprise that God reserved for him. He allowed himself to be led by God’s call, revealing himself in the actual situations of the College Artigianelli: a religious congregation was necessary to ensure continuity after his death. He was the rector; therefore, if it was necessary to found a congregation, it was he who had to do it.

Travels and new foundations (the agricultural institute, the family home, the oratory of Rivoli…):

In his apostolic activity Murialdo always looked around in search of what was new and better for his educational and social apostolate. His creativity manifested itself in this bottom aperture of him that made him travel, participate and attend conferences, meet people, visit institutions, learn about initiatives in order to display them in Turin, to imitate them, to adapt them, and even to criticize them, trying not to repeat the mistakes and to respond to the problems and situations that changed from one place to another. From these trips will come alive the agricultural Colony at Rivoli and the family Home in Turin, the first, and, for a long time, the only one in Italy.

Trust in Providence:

Murialdo’s spiritual vision allows us to make one of the most synthetic and effective definitions of Providence: Providence is the love of God at hand. God is present and active with His love, here and now, in these persons gifted with freedom [11].

In March of 1887, when the College of Artigianelli was seeing its debts increase more and more, Murialdo knew he was close to death and that he urgently needed money. The money, in truth, arrived, but Murialdo had to wait 12 years, until 1899, when a large inheritance, that of the Count of Guarene came to save the school from bankruptcy. He entrusted Providence confidently, fulfilling generously the divine will, in touch with God. In this case, Providence made him wait a long time, but Murialdo was able to wait without losing heart.

If Murialdo did many different things and participated in thousands of initiatives, it was not because he was a very “enlightened” man, but because he was very attentive to the signs of the times, signs through which God surprised him every time: a love that he had experienced in himself and tried to live up to the last moment.

Without fearing a life full of risks, difficulties, constant changes but with a deep hope and confidence, rooted in his personal experience of the Lord,-he strengthened his inner life.

Murialdo gradually surrendered himself to God, in the discovery of paying back by loving him, even in the fragility.

The sufferings – “God’s will be done!”

“Everything comes from God, is permitted by Him and God does everything for our good; even evil things in order to recall us to what is good “(Writings VI, p.141).

In a letter to his confreres he wrote: “It is a great grace that God gives a man when a serious illness comes to warn him of the fragility of his days. God granted me this grace. I ask you to thank him with me. “[12].

This is the love that led him to understand in his time the continuous outcry to be welcomed, of attention and accompaniment of young people in dire need. He knew how to listen and then respond with new initiatives to the new needs that God was showing him in his time, by the signs of the times.

Murialdo used to say: “The joys that make richer the crown of the saints are the tribulations accepted with resignation, thinking that everything comes from God (Writings XI, p312). “To use what is evil to sanctify themselves…” (Writings I, p.187).

In a speech to the young people of the College, Murialdo said he had never been seriously ill until he was 57 years old, when in 1885 he had his first bronchitis, conquered by the grace of God. Nine other illnesses, of which seven were serious and two lighter, besides two bronchitis, will follow. He recognized and accepted the infirmity as a special gift of God to cleanse him and bind him even more to Him. In his view the infirmity was a surprise that he thanked God for, even if it was a tough test in his life. He said: “In order to detach myself from the world and from myself: poor health, family bereavements, decreased resources, exposed honor (failure of the printing shop)”[13].

 

General Considerations

 

Underlining the greatness of the priestly mission, which is to “continue the work of redemption, the great work of Jesus Christ, the work of the Savior of the world, that is, to “save souls”, Murialdo always reminded himself and his brethren, the responsibility of a life dependable with the sacrament received.

God’s love and to love God: this was the force of his journey of holiness, the rule of his priesthood, the deepest meaning of his apostolate among poor youth.

In this way, he joined contemplative silence with tireless zeal, fidelity to daily duties with the ingeniousness of initiatives, strength in difficulties and serenity of spirit. This was his way to holiness by living the commandment of love toward God and neighbor.

The Lord always puts signs on our path to guide us, according to His will, to our true good.

Murialdo welcomed with total availability the small surprises of God the Father in the daily life in an extraordinary way. He was always willing to follow and serve Divine Providence. Murialdo surprises us for his gracefulness of mind and the goodness of heart.

Murialdo also faced the serious problems of the poor, he visited their homes, he developed a deep social, educational, apostolic conscience, which led him, at the moment, to devote independently, in many initiatives in favor of young people. Catechesis, school, recreational activities, were the foundation of his educational method in the oratory.

His words based on the Word of God and on his personal experience, gain recognition and spread across the human existence, in every historical moment.

Murialdo has a very unique style. He is open to new possibilities … the “possibility” that come from God’s visits, which come to surprise him! He was paying great attention to every lived moment, to an unexpected encounter, as if they were good occasions to open up to new possibilities of God’s grace.

These statements were not intended to be limited to his time, but real “thoughts” of wisdom that would be engraved forever in his life.

God’s attentive and present conduct with Murialdo makes him “passionate” of this God and makes him live in an extraordinary way his ordinary life.

God is at our side but he does not take freedom away, because he does not want us to be paralyzed.

“It is necessary to grab God’s hand that is directly present at every step, at all times, in all things”  (Life of Faith, p.14).”Jesus Christ lives and works in everything that happens to us” (Life of Faith, p.16).

God loves us in a surprising way. You cannot enclose such love in a definition. The love of God is not defined. There is no way to understand God’s love. It is infinite. Our capability is too small before the greatness of this Love. Since God loves me, He surprises me every day! Even today, yes, there exist individuals made of LOVE! God wants to surprise us every day but for this, we must meet with him every day.

[1] Giovenale DOTTA, L. Murialdo. Infanzia, giovinezza… (1828-1866), L. E. Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2011, pp. 59-62.

[2] Giovenale DOTTA, L. Murialdo. Infanzia, giovinezza… (1828-1866), L. E. Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2011, pp. 67-71.

[3] Testamento espiritual, em Vittorio COSTA, Descobrir o amor. Diagnóstico e terapia da violência hoje, Ed. P., S. Paulo 1980, p. 144.

[4] Giuseppe FOSSATI, Storia di una conversione. Il “Testamento spirituale” di san Leonardo Murialdo, LEM, Roma 1997, pp. 45-88

[5] Scritti, IV , p. 165.

[6] Giovenale DOTTA, L. Murialdo. Infanzia, giovinezza… (1828-1866), L. E. Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2011, pp. 161-165.

[7] Giovenale Dotta, L. Murialdo. Infanzia, giovinezza… (1828-1866), L. E. Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2011, pp. 197-198.

[8] Giovenale Dotta, L. Murialdo. Infanzia, giovinezza… (1828-1866), L. E. Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2011, pp. 211-212.

[9] Eugenio REFFO, Vida, obra e espiritualidade de São Leonardo Murialdo Fundador dos Josefinos de Murialdo, Evangraf, Porto Alegre (RS, Brasil) 2000, pp. 56-59.

[10] Testamento espiritual, em Vittorio COSTA, Descobrir o amor. Diagnóstico e terapia da violência hoje, Edições Paulinas, São Paulo 1980, pp. 144-145.

[11] SALVATI, R. Espiritualidade São Leonardo Murialdo. Palestras para o Mês Murialdino em Quito, p. 16.

[12] DOTTA, Giovenale e FOSSATI, Giuseppe – Antologia Delle Fonti Carismatiche, l’insegnamento di San Leonardo Murialdo, Libreria Editrice Murialdo – Roma – 2012, p. 93.

[13] BARRETO M. Pe. Jiovani, DALL’ALBA Pe. Cornélio; tradução FOSSATI Pe. Giuseppe, SOUZA, Pe. Antonio Lauri de, Testamento Espiritual de São Leonardo Murialdo – Gráfica Murialdo, Caxias do Sul – RS- Brasil- 2014.

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