Our next General Chapter, which will commemorate the fourth centenary of the publication of the Memorial to Cardinal Tonti, written by Saint Joseph Calasanz to defend his project of the Pious Schools being constituted as a religious Order of solemn vows, will work on some important themes, inspired by the Memorial. One of them has to do with the title of this fraternal letter.

Indeed, Calasanz insists very strongly on one of his deepest convictions: the Order of the Pious Schools will go forward only if the Piarists live the vocation with authenticity. He thus states, in the aforementioned memorial:  “The enlargement and propagation of the Pious Schools, according to the needs, desires and instances of so many, cannot be done without many workers, and it is not possible to get them if they do not have great spirit and are not called with a particular vocation; because those called in general to leave the world, having no  spirit but of incipient people, still need to wean themselves from the comforts of the world and will always prefer, as the experience shows, some Order already approved in which after the Novitiate they are sure to have their lives secured and can reach the  priesthood, rather than entering a Congregation where, instead of these advantages, they will encounter other difficulties that stem from a life mortified by the imposed work with boys, hard by the continuous effort of their profession, and  despicable in the eyes of the flesh, which thus considers the education of poor children”.  [1]

It is a very strong text, but very illuminating for the moment we live. Calasanz knows that his project will survive if the Piarists are what they have to be. That is why he insists so much on the kind of religious he wants for the Pious Schools.  We have many examples in his writings, and we can read and think about them calmly. I have only wanted to quote one of them, because I find it very significant to try to answer this very important question: how must the Piarist be? What kind of Piarist does the Order, children, youth, the Church, the world need? Calasanz responds: a Piarist  with great spirit, aware of his vocation, who does not seek any safety or comfort, but wants to give himself to children and young people with passion, even if no one values or understands his vocation, because the values of the world are others. This is the Piarist wanted by Calasanz. That is why he is a founder, because he thought big.

I would like to add a second reflection, before moving on to the propositional part of this fraternal letter. I refer to the process of the reduction of the Order, which took place in the life of Calasanz, and its restoration as an Order of Solemn Vows. Taking a look at history always helps us, especially if we do it in front of one of the most significant episodes of our walk, the moment when it seemed that everything was going to be lost. It took 23 years of struggle to achieve the restoration of the Pious Schools.

Our historians talk about various factors that helped in this process. I want to look at the internal ones, not the external. I want to highlight what the Piarists lived and the choices they made, because they can help us understand what we need to do today. Based on the writings of Fr. Enric Ferrer, I would like to highlight four particularly significant aspects:

  1. The clarification of those who really wanted to be real Piarists, according to the style of Calasanz. During these 23 years, some 250 religious left the Pious Schools, and so many remained. Most of those who left certainly could not stand school or poverty, and their great spirit and particular vocation were not visible, even though there were exceptions, of course.
  2. New well-prepared and excellent Piarist religious arrived, who joined the faithful of old (Conti, García, Castelli, Caputi, Berro, Apa, Novari…) and regenerated the Piarist fabric. New vocations touched by the gift of authenticity, who enter the Order in tough times.
  3. No Piarist school is closed. This was the best example of the value and necessity of the Piarist ministry. Even in some schools, the number of pupils increased. And, no doubt, in the communities there was more peace, without the company of the intriguers.
  4. And the initial training was enhanced. As early as 1660, nine years before the full restoration, a Juniorate was opened in Chieti with two great Piarists at the head, who entered after the reduction: Angelo Morelli (rector) and Giovanni Carlo Pirroni (master). They then began to work on what would later become the Ratio The fruits soon arrived, years later.

We can continue to set examples of our long history, and they would be very illuminating. Also from our present moment. But I am sticking with what I have said so far, which is more than enough to be able to share with all of you some convictions that, over the years, have taken root strongly within me, and which help me to answer this important question: what is the Piarist we need like? There’ll be five elements.

My first statement is this:  the Piarist we need will not come, nor will it be, if we are not this Piarist or do not bear witness to it. It is useless to expect that those who will come are the Piarists we need if they cannot see in the Piarist that we are some of the Piarist they dream of being. They will not have great spirit if they do not see it in us; they will not perceive the strength of vocation if they do not experience it in daily life; they will not be it if we are not it.  That is why the testimony of the elderly, or middle-aged, or young adult, but of the one who believes in what he lives and lives it with passion, is so valuable. He is the bearer of that great spirit. And that is why the lazy Piarist, with no conviction or generator of bad environments is so destructive. The Piarist we need is either already there in the Order, or he will never exist, except as an undeserved gift of the One who can do it all.

Secondly, I believe that in the Pious Schools we have the challenge of transmitting that great spirit, and that can only be done by way of “raising the level“. We’re not here to accept mediocre options or to offer cheap lives. The young people who come will be the Piarists we need if what they breathe in the Order is demand, conviction, defined lifestyle, care for the fundamental keys of the consecrated of Piarist life. Only there will appear the authentic joy, the fraternity that sustains and grows, the mission that bears fruit and the serenity of those who know that they give their lives for something that is really worthwhile. The same can and must be said of the process of integration and consolidation of the Piarist laity.

We do not believe in external varnishes, but in interior transformation. We are not looking for perfect people, but for those eager to grow and aware of their smallness in the face of the gift and the received call. Thus can the religious and priestly vocations of the Piarists, the fraternities, the shared mission, the lay Piarists and all the various vocations that the Holy Spirit wants to arouse will grow. It will do so, as always, because the spirit offered to us all is of “strength, love, and self-control, because we are called not by our merits, but by the grace of the Lord.” [2]

The young people who come will be the Piarists we need – third note – if the training and formation they receive makes them grow. Piarist formation has a dimension that we should not underestimate, and it is that of transforming the person to make of it a Piarist. We keep being who we are, but we do not stand still. There is a process of change, which must help us enter into a dynamic of increasing fidelity. This is the life of the Piarist we need. How can we live without letting the first love withering?[3] How can we always maintain the same vocational desire with which we entered the Order?

Many times you have heard me say – and I have written it – that the young people who profess in the Order to be the Piarists that we need, have an inner question that they do not normally dare to ask, but it is real. The question is this:  “Will I be able to live, to the end, with the same passion and intensity as the one that I am living my first years as a religious with, or will I end up losing this first love?” This question is in the soul of every young man. I always tell them that the answer will not be found in any book. The answer is found contemplating, for example, an old man who continues to live with joy and depth his vocation. By seeing such a person, young people can understand that YES, you can. It is possible to live to the end with the same vocational dedication. And the way is no other than that of fidelity.

My fourth note refers precisely to this aspect, to that of vocational fidelity. If we look at the reasons why some people leave us, I think there are aspects that are quite common and therefore enlightening. And some of them are not their sole responsibility. Among them, I can cite the following: the poor care of spiritual life and fidelity  to  prayer; the low deepening of the authentic meaning of vows and how they should be cared for and lived; the difficulty of living healthy and fraternal human relations, especially in community life; the search for one’s own well-being and excessive concern for themselves and their world; the low quality of community life; the difficulties of living with diversity, in an increasingly pluralistic, multicultural and open consecrated life; the low degree of transparency lived and promoted, etc. The Piarist we need must know how to take care of his vocation, must know how to allow others to take care of him and he will have the right to be helped on this path. No one can walk alone.

My fifth and final contribution – I do not want to exceed the limits of a fraternal letter like this – has to do with the equipment with which he must be equipped – and which we must offer him – in this historic moment that it is his turn to live. You cannot go a long journey, and on uncharted roads, without proper equipment. I will refer only to a few examples, based on what it will be like for those who want to be Piarists today.

They will be Piarists immersed in a secular society or in an inexorable path towards it. Secularity is an objective fact of the global reality, already present in much of our societies, and to come – to stay – in other global contexts. They should know how to live in a context where the wind will not blow in favor, and in which it will not be easy to carry out our mission. But, like all, an exciting context in which the search for God will be progressively more authentic and proven.

They must know how to live with diversity, with the different, with the plural. They will live in intercultural and open communities and contexts. They must know how to understand and love the world in which they live, in order to change it.

They should be prepared Piarists. In some contexts, they will be few numerous, in others their number will be greater, but in all  contexts  they must be well prepared in the human, religious, theological, scientific, philosophical, pedagogical, etc. aspects. The Pious Schools need Piarists capable of breaking paths and understanding the world.

They must be Piarists greatly identified with the Pious Schools and with the charism. We need Piarists who know the Order well, the founder, our mission, our identity. Truly belonging Piarists, who study and deepen what they are called to live. Truly identified Piarists will be transmitters of that identity.

And finally, they must be authentic children of Calasanz, who made it clear to us what is the center of the Piarist life, what is the way in which it should be lived, which are the keys that help and sustain the vocation, what is the meaning of our mission, etc. Piarists consecrated to the one Lord, focused on their faith, dedicated to mission, brothers in community, companions of children and young people and always on the path of conversion.

Whoever comes, will come because God has sent them. Diverse and plural young people will come, but young people eager to give their lives for the Calasanctian project. Each will have his gifts and weaknesses. But if they come to us, we must offer them a path of integral growth, of their own knowledge, of formative transparency, of increasing belonging and of Piarist accompaniment so that, with the favor of God, they can be the Piarists that our children and young people expect and need.

Receive a fraternal embrace.

 

Fr. Pedro Aguado Sch. P.

Father General


[1] Saint Joseph Calasanz. Memorial to Cardinal Tonti. Opera Omnia, Volume IX, page 305-306.

[2] II Tim 2, 7.9

[3] Rev. 2, 4