On a Saint Who Taught and Guided Holy Priests

“His Secret Was Simple: To Be a Man of God”

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 30, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
A short while ago we ended the Year for Priests: a time of grace that has borne and will bear precious fruits for the Church, an opportunity to remember in prayer all those who have responded to this particular vocation. Accompanying us on this path, as models and intercessors, were the Holy Curé d’Ars and other figures of holy priests, true lights in the history of the Church. Today, as I announced last Wednesday, I would like to remember another figure, who stands out in the group of “Social Saints” in Turin of the 19th century: St. Joseph Cafasso.
Remembering him seems proper because in fact a week ago was the 150th anniversary of his death, which occurred in the Piedmont capital on June 23, 1860, when he was 49. Moreover, it is good to recall that, on Nov. 1, 1924, Pope Pius XI, approving the miracles for the canonization of St. John Mary Vianney and publishing the decree of authorization for the beatification of Cafasso, joined these two figures of priests with the following words: “Not without a special and beneficial disposition of Divine Goodness we have witnessed new stars emerge on the horizon of the Catholic Church: the parish priest of Ars and the Venerable Servant of God, Joseph Cafasso. In fact these two beautiful, dear, providentially timely figures must be presented to us today; the small and humble, poor and simple, but also glorious figure of the parish priest of Ars, and the beautiful, great, complex, rich figure of the priest, teacher and formator of priests, the Venerable Joseph Cafasso.”

These are circumstances that offer us the occasion to better know the living and timely message that emerges from the life of this saint. He was not a parish priest as the Curé d’Ars, but was above all a formator of parish and diocesan priests and, more than that, of holy priests, among whom is St. John Bosco. He did not found religious institutes, as other holy priests of the 19th century in Piedmont did, because his “foundation” was the “school of priestly life and holiness,” which he brought about by example and teaching, in the Ecclesiastical Academy of St. Francis of Assisi in Turin.
Joseph Cafasso was born in Castelnuovo d’Asti, the same country of St. John Bosco, on Jan. 15, 1811. He was the third of four children. The last, his sister Marianna, would be the mother of Blessed Joseph Allamano, founder of the Missionaries of the Consolata. He was born in a 19th century Piedmont characterized by grave social problems, but also by a great number of saints who were determined to find remedies for them. They were linked among themselves by a total love of Christ and a profound charity toward the poorest: the grace of the Lord is able to spread and multiply the seeds of holiness!

Cafasso did his secondary studies and two years of philosophy at the College of Chieri and, in 1830, he went to the theological seminary where he was ordained a priest in 1833. Four months later he entered the place that for him would be the fundamental and only “stop” of his priestly life: the Ecclesiastical Academy of St. Francis of Assisi in Turin. Having gone there to perfect himself in pastoral ministry, here he brought to fruition his gifts as a spiritual director and his great spirit of charity. The academy, in fact, was not only a school of moral theology where young priests, coming above all from the countryside, learned to confess and to preach, but it was also a true and proper school of priestly life, where presbyters were formed in the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola and in the moral and pastoral theology of the great holy bishop, Alphonsus Mary of Liguori.

The type of priest that Cafasso found in the academy and that he himself contributed to reinforce — especially as rector — was that of the true pastor with a rich interior life and a profound zeal in pastoral ministry: faithful to prayer, committed to preaching and catechesis, dedicated to the celebration of the Eucharist and to the ministry of confession, according to the model embodied by St. Charles Borromeo, by St. Francis de Sales and promoted by the Council of Trent. A happy expression of St. John Bosco synthesizes the meaning of the educational work in that community: “at the Academy one learned to be a priest.”
St. Joseph Cafasso tried to bring about this model in the formation of young priests so that, in turn, they would become formators of other priests, religious and laymen, according to a special and effective chain. From his chair of moral theology he educated them to be good confessors and spiritual directors, concerned with the true spiritual good of the person, animated by great balance in making the mercy of God felt and, at the same time, an acute and lively sense of sin.

Docent Cafasso had three main virtues, as St. John Bosco recalled: tranquility, wisdom and prudence. For him, the ministry of confession was the verification of the lessons taught, and he himself dedicated many hours of the day [to hearing confessions]. Bishops, priests, religious, eminent laymen and simple people went to him: To all he was able to give the necessary time. For many, as well, who became saints and founders of religious institutes, he was a wise spiritual adviser. His teaching was never abstract, based only on the books used at that time, but was born of the intense experience of the mercy of God and of the profound knowledge of the human spirit acquired in the long hours spent in the confessional and in spiritual direction: his was a true school of priestly life.
His secret was simple: to be a man of God; to do, in little daily actions, “that which can turn to the greater glory of God and to the advantage of souls.” He loved the Lord totally, he was animated by a well-rooted faith, sustained by profound and prolonged prayer, he lived a sincere charity toward all. He knew moral theology, but he likewise knew the situations and the hearts of people and looked after their best interests, as the Good Shepherd.

Each of those who had the grace of being close to him was transformed into another good pastor and effective confessor. He indicated with clarity to all priests the holiness to be attained precisely in pastoral ministry. Blessed Father Clement Marchisio, founder of the Daughters of St. Joseph, affirmed: “You entered the Academy being a great cheeky youngster and a rash leader, without knowing what it meant to be a priest, and you came out entirely different, fully conscious of the dignity of the priest.” How many priests were formed by him in the academy and then followed spiritually!

Among these — as I already said — emerges St. John Bosco, who had him as spiritual director for a good 25 years, from 1835 to 1860: first as cleric, then as priest and finally as founder. All the fundamental choices of the life of St. John Bosco had St. Joseph Cafasso as their counselor and guide, but in a very specific way: Cafasso never tried to form a disciple in Don Bosco “in his image and likeness” and Don Bosco did not copy Cafasso. He imitated him, certainly, in human and priestly virtues — describing him as a “model of priestly life” — but according to his own attitudes and his own peculiar vocation … a sign of the wisdom of the spiritual teacher and of the intelligence of the disciple: The first did not impose himself on the second, but respected him in his personality and helped him to read the will of God for him.

Dear friends, this is a beautiful teaching for all those who are involved in the formation and education of young generations and also a strong reminder of the importance of having a spiritual guide in one’s life, who helps us to know what God wants from us. Our saint affirmed with simplicity and depth: “The whole of holiness, perfection and profit of a person is in doing the will of God perfectly. (…) Happ
y are we if we succeed in thus pouring our heart into God’s, to so unite our desires, our will to his as to form only one heart and one will: to will what God wills, to will it in such a way, in such time, in such circumstances as he wills it, and to will all this for no other reason than that God so wills it.”
However, another element characterizes the ministry of our saint: attention to the least, in particular to prisoners, which in 19th-century Turin lived in inhuman and de-humanizing places. Also in this delicate service, carried out for more than 20 years, he was always the good shepherd, understanding and compassionate: a quality perceived by the detained, who ended up conquered by that sincere love, the origin of which was God himself. The simple presence of Cafasso did good: It brightened and touched hearts hardened by the ups and downs of life and above all enlightened and shook indifferent consciences. In the early times of his ministry among the imprisoned, he often took recourse to the great preaching that succeeded in involving almost the whole prison population. With the passing of time, he preferred simple catechesis, done in conversations and in personal meetings: Respectful of the affairs of each one, he addressed the great themes of Christian life, speaking of trust in God, of adherence to his will, of the usefulness of prayer and the sacraments, whose point of arrival is confession, the encounter with God made for us infinite mercy. Those condemned to death were the object of very special human and spiritual care. He accompanied to the scaffold, after having heard their confessions and administered the Eucharist, 57 people condemned to death. He accompanied them with profound love up to the last breath of their earthly existence.
He died on June 23, 1860, after a life offered entirely to the Lord and consumed for his neighbor. On April 9, 1948, my predecessor, the Venerable Servant of God Pope Pius XII proclaimed him patron of Italian prisons and, with the apostolic exhortation “Menti Nostrae” of Sept. 23, 1950, proposed him as a model to priests committed to confession and spiritual direction.<br> 
Dear brothers and sisters, may St. Joseph Cafasso be a call to all to intensify the way toward the perfection of the Christian life, holiness; in particular, may he remind priests of the importance of dedicating time to the sacrament of reconciliation and to spiritual direction, and remind all of the attention we must give to the neediest. May we be helped by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom St. Joseph Cafasso was most devoted and whom he called “our dear Mother, our consolation, our hope.”

[Translation by ZENIT] [The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:] 
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In these days we celebrate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of a great model of priestly holiness and apostolic zeal, Saint Joseph Cafasso, a priest of Turin, Italy, in the nineteenth century. Saint Joseph devoted his entire ministry to the formation of priests, spiritual direction and service to the poor, especially prisoners condemned to death. May his example encourage all priests in faithful witness to the Gospel.

Yesterday, on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, I conferred the Pallium upon thirty-eight Archbishops from throughout the world. I would now like to greet the English-speaking Archbishops present at today’s Audience, together with their family members and the pilgrimage groups which accompanied them to the Tombs of the Apostles:

Archbishop Alex Thomas Kaliyanil of Bulawayo (Zimbabwe),
Archbishop Gerard Tlali Lerotholi of Maseru (Lesotho),
Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan (Philippines),

Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham (England),
Archbishop Jerome Edward Listecki of Milwaukee (USA),
Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town (South Africa),

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati (USA),
Archbishop Francis Kallarakal of Verapoly (India),
Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong of Kwangju (Korea),

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami (USA),
Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark (England),
and Archbishop Matthias Kobena Nketsiah of Cape Coast (Ghana).

Dear Brothers, I ask the Lord to strengthen all of you in your witness to the apostolic faith and in generous service to the flocks entrusted to your care.

I also greet the many other English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially the groups from England, Scotland, Ireland, Ghana, Palestine, the Philippines, South Korea, Canada and the United States of America. I thank the Schola Cantorum of Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast, for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I invoke an abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

©Copyright 2010 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
 [In Italian, he said:] 
My thought turns finally to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. The solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul  celebrated yesterday is followed today by the memorial of the First Roman Martyrs. Dear young people, imitate their heroic evangelical witness and be faithful to Christ in every situation of life. I encourage you, dear sick people, to take up the example of the protomartyrs to transform your suffering into an act of donation for love of God and of brothers. May you, dear newlyweds, be able to adhere to the plan that the Creator established for your vocation, so as to succeed in bringing about a fecund and lasting family union.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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