Sunday, July 21, 2013

Metaphors for Work used by Don Orione (Part Two)

 A rag (straccio)[1]

           The Italian word “straccio” can be translated as a rag, cleaning cloth, duster, and floor cloth. It is a piece of quite worthless cloth, frequently torn, generally used for the roughest and dirtiest jobs. Don Orione used this image to refer to his children, especially to the Sisters, and sacrificial obedience. 

         In 1913, Don Orione visited Sr. Maria Benedetta Frey in Viterbo to ask her advice about the foundation of a female congregation. On that occasion, Sr. Maria Benedetta Frey said to him:
“Give me that “straccio”(rag), pointing to an old rag lying on the table.
She picked it up, and squeezing it in her hands, encouraged him to be like a rag in the Lord’s hands, and allow Divine Providence to direct him. Then she added: “When you found a female congregation, tell them that they must be like “stracci” (…)
“They must be as humble as stracci, like the rags that wipe away the tears of the poor and the afflicted.” [2]
Don Orione told a young person who wanted to join his congregation, that it was “the Congregation of God’s ragamuffins” (“straccioni di Dio”). In this text, Don Orione described how people use rags:
      “If therefore, my dear Ripetti, you sincerely desire to rid yourself of your imperfections, to deny yourself in everything, to love God and the Pope (...) then this is a sign that you are called to join this very small and poor Congregation, which is just a rag at the service of Our Lady and the Church of Rome.

        So you must become a rag, bearing in mind that our Congregation is the Congregation of the ragamuffins of God.
            Do you know what people do with rags?
            They use them for dusting, washing floors and scrubbing, removing cobwebs and cleaning shoes, and then they trample on them and put them to the humblest and meanest of tasks.
            So, my dear boy, if you wish to be one of God's rags, a rag under God's feet, or under the immaculate feet of Our Most Blessed Lady; if you wish to be a rag under the blessed feet of Holy Mother Church in the hands of your superiors, this is your place.  We are, and desire to be nothing other, than poor rags; in a word and leaving metaphors aside, in total self-sacrifice,  both in exterior matters and in the interior life, the sacrifice of your intellect, your reasoning and your entire self.”[3]

             Speaking of this Orionine characteristic, Fr. Flavio Peloso said: “There is a typical expression that characterizes the spiritual Orionine experience among a group of essential virtues, and the one that stands out is obedience: the readiness to serve as rags. Don Orione lived it, continually insisting on this as a practical rule of life.”[4]
Based on the idea of a “straccio”, Don Orione would invite his sons and daughters to total abandonment and offering themselves to God, the Church and the poor with humility and docility; an ability to adapt to the needs of circumstances, fearlessly sacrificing themselves in the humblest work and then remaining anonymous. 

The Porter (facchino)

In the homily at Don Orione’s Beatification Mass, John Paul II referred to the Founder as “il facchino di Dio”  (God's porter)[5]. The image of the porter is one of the best known and probably most used by Don Orione, always referring to labor.

 In Italian the word “facchino” (“facchini” in plural) refers to someone who carries heavy things, doing hard, manual, unskilled work. It can be translated as a luggage handler or a porter.
            For Don Orione, the image of a porter would become a definition of his own vocation and that of his children: “Pray a lot and humbly that God may have mercy on us, that we may be the carriers of faith, the porters of God and Holy Church, bearers of the souls which Jesus Christ bought with his divine blood.” [6]
            In a letter to his friend, Bishop Malfatti, he expressed the same idea: “Yes, I am a poor sinner and really unworthy to be a priest, but by the grace which I hope for from the Lord and the help of the most holy Virgin, our Mother, I desire to work as a porter for God, the Holy Church and the most holy Mother of the Lord; as a porter of souls…” [7]
On the occasion of seminarian Basilio Viano’s death, Don Orione explained that a “seminarian” means porter: “He [Viano] had quickly understood that, in the Houses of the new-born Congregation, a vast field of work is open even to seminarians, and that with us a seminarian is not only a student, or even less a young gentleman, but rather a porter, a porter of souls.”[8]

 In a letter to seminarian Gismondi, Don Orione said that by working we follow Jesus: “Always remember that Jesus did not avoid  work, neither did he become a foreman, making others  work, but he himself worked with his own arms, his own hands, with his own sweat, and that is what we need to do if we want to be true servants of Jesus Christ, true Sons of Divine Providence, true porters of God!” [9]
            For him, work would be something essential to our vocation, to the point of saying: “We, my dear sons, must be great workers: workers of humility, of faith, of charity! (…) But, did I say workers? No, that is too little, much too little! We must be God’s porters! Anyone who does not have this desire, and is not a porter of Divine Providence, is a deserter of our flag.” [10]
            Being “God’s porter” is not only a definition of the Founder´s vocation, but also an expression of his work and ministry. The various adjectives modifying the noun “porter” lend differing nuances and implications to our vocation and mission.

[1] cf. the licentiate thesis of Sr. M. A. Kedziora, PSMC, on this topic, “Come stracci”. L’obbedienza sacrificale nella spiritualità di Don Orione, Piccole Suore della Carità, Rome, 2003, 78 ss.
[2] Don Orione alle Piccole Suore Missionarie della Carità. Tipografia San Giuseppe, Tortona, 1979.
[3] Letter to Repetti. Rome, 13th October 1914. Scritti 103,098 and 103,135.
[4] F. Peloso, “Una spiritualità delle maniche rimboccate” (“a spirituality of rolled-up sleeves”), Messaggi di Don Orione 77, 1991, 45-47.
[5] cf. Homily at the Beatification Mass, 26th October 1980.
[6] Draft of a letter to his religious (who were on their annual retreat). Rome, 1st August 1914. Scritti 75,46.
[7] Letter to Bishop. Pietro Malfatti. Turin, 3rd December 1918. Scritti 9,15 and 9,18.
[8] Circular letter on occasion of seminarian Basilio Viano’s death. Tortona, 19th April 1920. Scritti 62,70 and 62,117
[9] Letter to then seminarian Gismondi. Tortona, 20th December 1922. Scritti 32, 203.
[10] Letter to his religious in Palestine. Rome, 7th February 1923. Scritti 4,263.

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