HANDLING OF PAULINE TEXTS
SERVANT OF GOD JOSEPH DE PIRO
Mario Zammit Satariano
A Dissertation Presented
to the Faculty of Theology
in Part Fulfillment of
Requirements for the
Degree of Licentiate in Sacred Theology
at the University of
To my parents
"Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain."
Although this work carries my name as its
author, I am sure that it is a product of the efforts of a much wider
circle of persons who contributed, directly or indirectly, to my own
The place of honour among these persons,
goes, undoubtedly, to my parents, to whom I dedicate this study, my four
sisters and my relatives. They provided me with the necessary warmth to
My brothers in the Missionary Society of
Saint Paul, especially those who were directly involved in my formation,
have also greatly contributed their share.
Fr. Joseph Calleja ofm conv., who
patiently assisted me all through this study deserves special mention.
So also all the professors and lecturers who shared their knowledge and
experience with us during the years at the University.
Finally I would like to mention Mgr. J. De
Piro whose contribution to the present study is not only material but
also spiritual. He had enough courage to live and preach the word of God
and to incarnate in his Missionary Society, the charism granted him by
I would like to thank you all for your
contribution and hope that this study will proof to be another small
stepping stone to help bring to light the wealth we inherited from our
beloved father Joseph De Piro.
Mario Zammit Satariano mssp
September 17, 1993.
60th anniversary from the
death of Mgr. J. De Piro
Table of Contents
1. First and second letters to the
2. The letter to the Romans
3. First and second letters to Timothy
4. The letter to the Philippians
5. The letter to the Ephesians
6. The letter to the Galatians
7. First letter to the Thessalonians
8. The letter to the Colossians
Appendix: Mgr. J. De Piro - Biographical
List of bible abbreviations
The trend of the time, is to study
classical texts from different angles, especially to bring out the use
of Scripture by these authors. In the present work we have likewise
undertaken to study the published sermons of the Servant of God Mgr.
Joseph De Piro (1877 - 1933).
The edition available presents a number of
homilies presented according to themes and not according to chronology.
One has to distinguish between fully developed themes and what is merely
the presentation of the main points. A respective number has been
attributed to each homily to facilitate reference during the study.
(Some mistakes have crept into the text of the homilies mainly through
the typists' difficulty to understand the original text. The biblical
quotations themselves present an other difficulty as in the large
majority of cases they are quoted in Latin since De Piro followed the
Latin Vulgate.) This study is based on this edition of De Piro's
homilies which, in spite of its great value, is not a critical edition.
In his constant use of various biblical
texts, from both the Old and the New Testaments, De Piro is the heir of
a long-standing tradition of Church preachers. Very often a biblical
text is referred to together with other biblical quotations. He seems to
have had a list of texts according to the topic with which he was
dealing at the moment. These texts are quoted mainly for their
illuminating content and serve to help him in the development of his
line of thought. At times some key words in the main text suggest other
texts wherein the same important words occur.
We have centered our attention on Joseph
De Piro's references to the Pauline epistles, which constitutes for him
a fact of great credit, especially at a time when Paul was not so well
known, far less quoted. In our study we have followed the epistles
according to the number of quotations in use. Thus so much importance is
attached to Paul's letters to the Corinthians and the Romans.
Each chapter is divided into two parts, in
the first part the letter is studied while in the second, the homilies
are discussed. In each case, the letter is first presented as a whole
and then each text is studied within its original context. Summaries of
De Piro's homilies, according to their content and main points are also
provided. The presence of biblical texts in both contexts (Paul's
epistles and De Piro's homilies) is meant to bring out the contrast
between the original meaning and the respective use by De Piro himself.
We are aware that very often texts were quoted and used according to
their own meaning irrespective of the original context. One should keep
in mind that this was the trend at a time when the historico-critical
method was not so much in use within Catholic theology, much less among
Furthermore one may note that the text at
the beginning of the homily, not only sets the tone but often remains
the point of reference throughout the sermon itself. Texts under the
different main points develop the section itself. Others are quoted more
than once because of their importance. One has to distinguish the
occasion when the text has been quoted to confirm, from the other
occasion when the text itself proposes a step further in the sermon's
To provide some method of approach to the
sermons, we grouped the sermons as: homilies delivered during the Sunday
liturgy, those delivered on feast days and other occasions, while a
final section is made up of meditations delivered during retreats.
Joseph De Piro preached these homilies
more than half a century ago. He teaches us that all preaching should be
based on the living word of God. Although he draws his inspiration from
both Old and New Testaments, he attaches much importance to the Pauline
epistles. This shows that he was imbued with the apostolic zeal that
finds its driving force in the writings of the great apostle of the
gentiles. In this sense Mgr. De Piro is quite ahead of his own times and
remains as an ideal for his followers and for priests in general. His
knowledge of Scripture is coupled with the knowledge of other sources
which must have been Italian preachers popular in his days.
The sermons themselves show this man's
sense of responsibility evident in the preparation of such homilies. In
spite of the lapse of time, they still preserve various aspects that
could be meaningful even in our own times. We would be more than
satisfied if through our effort we have shed light upon these writings
so that others might be inspired to take up these homilies and to study
them from other possible angles and fields of interest.
First and second letters to the Corinthians
Most scholars agree that Paul has written
various letters to the Church of Christ in Corinth, of which only two
The first letter is Paul's ardent plea to
the divided members of this community to be one in mind and in heart.
Apart from this, here Paul had to face a number of other problems.
Corinth, being an important sea port and a place of transition, was open
to the existence of different ethnic groups and cultures. This together
with the fact that there were many temples dedicated to the goddess of
love, explains the life of low moral standards. As a reaction, and in
view of the belief in the imminence of Christ's second coming,
Christians felt the urge to live their Christian ideals on a high level.
In the first part of the first epistle,
Paul condemns the disorders that cropped up within the Christian
community. He gives particular attention to an incestuous episode and
condemns all types of fornication (6,12-20). In the second part, he
answers various queries that the community had put forward.
Paul discusses the issue of marriage and
virginity (7,1-14), eating meat that had been offered to idols
(8,1-11,1) and participation in idolatrous banquets (10,14-22). He
insists on order during the liturgical assembly (11,2-34), and speaks of
charisms and their respective use in the community (12,1-14,40). He
finally addresses the issue of resurrection from the dead (15,1-58). The
letter ends up with an epilogue (16,1-18).
The second epistle to the Corinthians is
also divided into three distinct sections. Here Paul justifies his own
conduct and speaks of his apostolic ministry (1,12-7,16). Then he
organises a collection to face the needs of the Church in Jerusalem. In
last part of the letter Paul engages in a polemic against his opponents.
Sed sicut scriptum est: Quod oculus non
vidit, nec auris audivit, nec in cor hominis ascendit, quae praeparavit
Deus iis, qui diligunt illum.... Animalis autem homo non percipit ea,
quae sunt Spiritus Dei: stultitia enim est illi, et non potest
intelligere: quia spiritualiter examinatur.
In the very opening chapters of the
letter, Paul insists on the nature of the content of the Christian
message. The Corinthian Christians, living in a Hellenistic environment,
were being influenced by Gnostic philosophy and sought to be addressed
by preachers who followed the canons of classical rhetoric.
Paul's statement in 1Co 2,14 is made
against this background. He distinguishes between those who follow the
dictates of reason and others enlightened by faith and endowed by the
gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this context, in verse 9 Paul insists that
the object of his preaching goes beyond this earthly experience and
hence appeals to a higher form of knowledge. He has in mind God's
revelatory initiative and the Christian's receptiveness in faith.
Si quis autem superaedificat super
fundamentum hoc, aurum, argentum, lapides pretiosos, ligna, foenum,
stipulam, uniuscuisque opus manifestum erit: Dies enim Domini
declarabit, quia in igne revelabitur et uniuscuisque opus quale sit,
ignis probabit. Si cuius opus manserit quod superaedificavit, mercedem
accipiet. Si cuius opus arserit, detrimentum petietur: ipse autem salvus
erit: sic tamen quasi per ignem. Nescitis quia templum Dei estis, et
Spiritus Dei habitat in vobis?
In chapter 3, Paul emphasizes God's
initiative, in order to bridge the differences among the Christians. He
explains that through their missionary activity, the community's
leaders, Peter, Apollo and himself, were only instruments in God's
hands, and that their distinctive activity serves to build the one
temple, the Church of Christ.
Paul derives his imagery from the art of
construction, where while building upon one foundation, different
individuals contribute for the construction of the same edifice
according to their skills and preparation. The material used could be of
different qualities but what matters is the solidity of the edifice
itself. It has to stand the trial of the fire on the day of Christ's
second coming. According to Paul, the nature of the material used is of
little importance provided that the construction itself stands the test
of fire (vs.12-13).
Verses 16 and 17 provide an interpretative
key for what has gone before. Addressing himself directly to the
Corinthians, Paul shows that it is the community at large which forms
God's temple, wherein the Spirit of God dwells (vs.16). On these
grounds, Paul aims at ruling out both the possibility of false teaching
within the community and the attack against its unity by the existing
An nescitis quia iniqui regnum Dei non
possidebunt? Nolite errare: Neque fornicarii, neque idolis servientis,
neque adulteri, neque molles, neque masculorum concubitores, neque
fures, neque avari, neque ebriosi, neque maledici, neque rapaces regnum
In chapter 6(vss. 1-11), Paul takes up and
deals with various issues that were threatening the community life. Paul
criticizes the fact that issues among believers were being brought up
before the state courts and hence they were being settled by pagan
judges. Paul considers having a dispute as a serious difficulty within
the community of believers, but then he stresses the need that the
community should be well equipped with the means that provide solutions
to such issues.
Within this context, Paul groups together
a list of vices that disrupt community life and create differences among
members. Those who practice these vices create disorder within the
community and will not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul ends by
insisting that they are all justified through Jesus Christ and through
the Spirit of God.
Hoc itaque dico, fratres: Tempus breve
est: reliquum est, ut et qui habent uxores, tamquam non habentes
The first letter to the Corinthians was
written in answer to particular situations in Corinth. This is more
evident in chapter 7 where Paul is seen answering particular questions.
The Corinthians were living in a pagan environment at a time when many
Christians believed that Christ's second coming was imminent. In this
case Paul had to answer questions concerning life options, such as
marriage and celibacy.
Although celibacy is placed on a higher
level, married life forms an integral part of God's plan as revealed to
humanity. From verse 28 onwards, Paul takes into consideration the
urgency that has been created by this historical context. The fact that
the second coming of Christ was thought to be so imminent, increased the
sense of expectation, and so time was said to be pressing for all
Christians (vs.29). Christians living their daily lives, according to
their commitments, had to prepare themselves for that sudden change that
would be brought about by the Lord's coming. Paul is so sure of this
that he concludes saying "the world as we know it is passing away"
Nescitis quod ii, qui in stadio currunt,
omnes quidem currunt, sed unus accipit bravium? Sic currite ut
Throughout chapter 9, Paul offers himself
as an example for all Christians at Corinth. As a missionary and
founder, Paul felt the need to be one with the different groups forming
an integral part of this community, made up of Jews, Greeks and Romans,
each with their own traditions and customs.
Paul felt the need to renounce his own
rights to be as close as possible to these different groups of
believers. This suggested to him the concentrating effort required of
all those who engage in athletics. In verses 24 to 27, Paul offers this
type of imagery to invite all Christians not to spare themselves in view
of the common goals they are requested to achieve.
Itaque qui se existimat stare, videat ne
In chapter 10, Paul depicts the present
situation of the Corinthians by referring to the Old Testament typology.
He mentions various shortcomings in the Israelites' attitude towards
God. Against the fact of God's intervention in favour of Israel, Paul
reviews the causes that contributed to their mass defection and death
during the desert experience.
The climax of the argument is his warning
in verse 9 where the apostle admonishes the Corinthians to avoid putting
the 'Lord to test'. Those who complain against the Lord ignore his
salvific activity and merit punishment. The parallelism between the
situation in Corinth and this fundamental episode in Old Testament
history is meant to create the necessary condition whereby Christians
are asked to put their trust in God. In spite of all trials and life
difficulties, God does not try individuals beyond their strength.
This is indeed the context where Paul
advises his readers saying: 'the one who thinks he is safe, must be
careful lest he falls down' (vs.12). Trials therefore serve as an
invitation not to rely on one's own efforts but to trust in God.
Christians should therefore neither complain of nor trust in their own
efforts: both circumstances would lead to a consequent fall.
Imitatores mei estote sicut et ego
In the last part of chapter 10, Paul deals
with the practical issue of the food that had been sacrificed to idols
(vss. 23-30). As a conclusion to this section, he gives an important
indication to all Christians, insisting that all human activity should
have the glory of God as its goal and objective.
Thus Paul warns that Christians should
avoid all forms of offensive conduct. He then reformulates his statement
in positive terms. As he himself did not seek what was self
advantageous, but what procured the salvation of one and all, so he
invites all Christians to follow in his footsteps.
Accipite, et manducate: hoc est corpus
meum, quod pro vobis tradetur: hoc facite in meam commemorationem....
Quotiescumque enim manducabitis panem hunc, et calicem bibetis: mortem
Domini annunciabitis donec veniat.
In the second half of chapter 11, Paul
deals both with the agape meal (vss. 17-22) and the celebration of the
Eucharist (vss. 23-34). He insists that both aspects of the celebration
presuppose full unity and full sharing among members, to rule out all
social and class distinctions. Against this context, he speaks in terms
of the Eucharistic celebration by quoting the consecration formula
(vs.24) according to the Antiochean tradition.
In verse 24, Paul repeats both Jesus'
words and sayings. Jesus is reported to have thanked, broken and said;
the bread is said to be his body given as an offering, with the command
to celebrate the Eucharist as his memorial. Paul records in the same way
the blessing of the cup. The cup is intimately associated with the new
covenant ratified in Jesus' blood. In this case too Jesus commands us to
do this in his own memory.
In verse 26, there is the idea that this
re-enactment has to go on until Christ's second coming. Paul insists on
the worthy reception of both body and blood of the Lord. Besides the
abuses that might have suggested Paul's intervention, the Eucharist
itself serves as an antidote against the factions existing within this
Charitas patiens est, benigna est.
Charitas non aemulatur, non agit perperam, non inflatur.... Charitas
nunquam excidit: sive prophetiae evacuabuntur, sive linguae cessabunt,
sive scientia destruetur.
In chapter 12 Paul dealt with the
different gifts and charisms which should serve the purpose to create
greater unity among members within the same community. He drives home
this idea by means of the analogy of the human body where members with
different functions are of service to the body as a whole (12,12-31). In
the concluding line of this section (vs.31), Paul promises 'to show a
way that is better' still than any of the previously-mentioned charisms.
Thus the theme of love is introduced and is presented as being at the
very basis of all God's gifts.
In verse 4, after he had shown that
charisms without love serve no purpose, Paul starts to bring out the
various connotations that accompany and qualify true love. According to
him, love 'is always patient and kind', and on the other hand, avoids
all forms of jealousy, boastfulness or conceit. He continues to rule out
all vices that disrupt the unity among members within the same community
where love should reign supreme (vss. 5-6).
Paul then speaks in terms of the immediate
effects of love in positive terms (vs.7). Love is always ready to
excuse, to trust, to hope and above all, to endure whatever comes. At
the very end of this chapter (vs.13) Paul speaks in terms of the three
theological virtues and to extol the superiority of love, for it alone
endures when faith and hope give way.
Stimulus autem mortis peccatum est: virtus
vero peccati lex.
In chapter 15, Paul has argued about the
fact of the Resurrection (vss. 1-34) and about its manner or modality
(vss. 35-53). Scholars believe that the concluding lines (vss. 54-58)
constitute a hymn of complete triumph over death. Paul asks rhetorical
questions stressing man's immortality in spite of the reality of
physical death in the life of the Christian.
In verse 55 the apostle states that death
has been swallowed, conquered and rendered innocuous, from a spiritual
point of view, through Christ himself. In verse 56 Paul leads his way
back from the reality of death (both physical and spiritual) to law
through the experience of sin. This indeed is taken up once more in the
letter to the Romans (5,12) where it is said that death is the immediate
outcome of sin (per peccatum mors).
Paul is hinting at the idea that once
Christ has definitely conquered sin, he has completely deprived death of
its evil effects upon humanity. This reasoning becomes more explicit in
verse 57 where all Christians are enjoined to thank God for the victory
that has been granted through the Lord Jesus Christ. This section ends
up with Paul's evident invitation so that all Christians may be
confident enough through their faith in Christ and engage in the works
of the Lord.
Semper mortificationem Iesu in corpore
nostro circumferentes, ut et vita Iesu manifestatur in corporibus
nostris.... Ergo mors in nobis operatur vita autem in vobis.
In chapter 4 of the second letter to the
Corinthians, Paul speaks of the trials and hopes that form part of his
missionary activity. The apostle sheds the light of Christ in spite of
the fact that he is a weak instrument at the service of God. He insists
that whereas the message belongs to God, the apostle is fully conscious
of his shortcomings and frailty.
Paul wants to underline that both the
divine and the human are at the complete service of the Gospel. The
apostle, given the fact that he is weak and frail, should not think high
of himself; the listeners should attribute the good effects of all
apostolic ministry to God himself.
In verse 10 Paul says that Jesus has
become a source of life through the mystery of his own death. The
apostle experiences the same event of Christ when he is opposed, refused
and ignored. To such an individual, the life of the Risen Lord is being
not only promised, but given. The concluding line (vs.12) shows that it
is through suffering and persecution that the apostles procure life for
those who accept in faith their word and ministry.
Quoniam raptus est in Paradisum: et
audivit arcana verba, quae non licet homini loqui.
Paul's heavenly experience is elsewhere
said to go beyond his sense perception. In this context he seems to be
the subject of some mystical experience (not so well defined within the
letter itself) during which he hears mysterious words.
Paul experienced heavenly reality in a way
that cannot be easily explained in human language. Paul, in this
context, distinguishes the divine from the human, that which has been
granted from that which strictly, belongs to him. He considers human
weaknesses as his own, everything else has been granted to him and hence
not strictly his.
The first sermon for our consideration is
homily 6 delivered on the 2nd Sunday of Lent. De Piro dwells at length
on the theme of Jesus' transfiguration as it occurs in the Gospel
according to Mt 17,1-9.
After giving a brief description of the
Gospel content, the preacher dwells at length on the contemplation of
God in heaven, of which the transfiguration of the Lord is indeed a
prefigurement. The person concerned is gradually being ushered in by the
Guardian Angel and is taken before the throne of the Blessed Virgin,
that of Jesus, her son, and before the Blessed Trinity. In the second
half of the sermon, De Piro deals with death as being the decisive
moment when one achieves (or forfeits) his specific goal.
It is while speaking of heaven, the place
where the saints - much like Peter, James and John in the
transfiguration episode - behold God's glory, that the first Pauline
quotations are inserted. Joseph De Piro stresses the fact that heaven
was constantly kept in mind as the saints' unique goal, and this reality
is expressed through the quotations from 2Co 12,4 and 1Co 2,9. As it
stands in this homily, heaven is that ineffable mystery which goes
beyond our sense experience. This is the destiny that has been assigned
to each individual and it goes beyond the limits of our imagination.
From the rest of the sermon, we conclude
that through our daily spiritual experience we move in the direction of
that place, where we have direct experience of God. It is this aspect,
which, according to De Piro, finds no adequate expression in human
Speaking of death in practical terms, the
servant of God dwells at length on the moment when one is called to
contemplate God's mystery. Resorting to 1Co 7,29, the preacher draws his
audience's attention to the fact that that day is at hand and the time
is running short. As a result, those present are to prepare themselves
and to concentrate on the means by which they are to attain their goal.
Homily 104, delivered on the feast day of
St. Ursola, gravitates around the quote from Pr 15,83. This homily
speaks of humility as the necessary prerequisite to attain glory. Joseph
De Piro insists that one should have the right disposition to follow
God's teaching and inspiration and to leave aside all human
considerations. In this context he quotes 1Co 2,14 and points at Ursola
as a clear case in point.
In the introductory paragraph, De Piro
speaks about all worldly suggestions and promptings which could easily
mislead us. While the world offers its allurement, saints exercise a
deep sense of self abnegation and invite us to do likewise. 1Co 2,14,
quoted in Italian, is purposely chosen to show the two distinct
attitudes and options of humanity.
'L'uomo carnale', follows the
dictates of reason, and for the preacher stands for those who follow
personal gain of a vain and frivolous nature. Such individuals are
incapable of following the promptings of divine inspiration. In this
context De Piro suggests that one should be open to the teaching of God
and his divine assistance. Throughout the sermon, one's response and
co-operation with God's grace is implied.
De Piro quotes Jn 8,46 as the opening text
of homily 7, delivered on Passion Sunday, when the gospel reading is
taken from Jn 8,46-59. Jesus is depicted as claiming his innocence by
means of a question. The term of reference in this homily is the
quotation from Heb 7,25 where Jesus is said to be the innocent and the
holy one set aside from sinners.
In the second half of the homily, De Piro
asks whether we could make the same claim or not. Quoting 1Jn 1,8, he
states that we cannot ignore our sins. At this point 1Co 3,12-15 is
quoted in a way that does not recall the original context: wood, straw
and stubble stand for our venial sins and weaknesses. These are enough,
according to the preacher, to fuel the fire of Purgatory.
Although these weaknesses are of a venial
nature, they merit some form of punishment (Purgatory) of a transient
and non-permanent nature. Mgr. De Piro also says that such a form of
punishment could be meted out during one's own earthly life, on the
physical or spiritual level.
Homily 36 was delivered after the
publication of the decree Sacra Tridentina Synodus of Pope Pius X, in
1905. De Piro refers to the practical norms that form part of its
content. He insists that each one who receives Holy Communion should be
free from sin and have the right intention.
Joseph De Piro dwells at length on the
fact that the Christian should strive to avoid also venial sin, at least
that deliberately done. He speaks in terms of its gravity and
seriousness especially when mentioning Purgatory. The preacher quotes
1Co 3,12-15 to show that such sins are enough to fuel the fire of
Purgatory and weakens, "even if it does not estrange", one's
relationship with God. The relationship between the quotation in this
context and its respective use in homily 7 above, is easily seen.
Speaking about venial sins, Joseph De Piro
insists on their immediate effect. Still we notice that in this sermon
he goes into greater detail to drive home the idea that one should
strive to avoid them at all costs. Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, the
servant of God concludes that venial transgressions lead the way to
Speaking of sin as being the destruction
of God's temple, in homily 160, Joseph De Piro argues that the worst
form of such a destruction is brought about by mortal sin. Here he
resorts to 1Co 3,16 where the human body is said to be the 'templum'
where God dwells and bestows grace.
In this short summary De Piro shows that,
within this temple, we could introduce either God or the devil. He
speaks of the devil as if the latter were a beast that threatens the
safety and beauty of this temple.
In the rest of the homily the preacher
speaks on how we ought to flee from the occasion of sin by avoiding all
sorts of bad company. The sermon comes to an end by recalling that the
end is not all that different from one's own life-long commitment. This
truth is further strengthened by the importance of education, life and
death as being three distinct stages that are interrelated.
Homily 155 deals with the evil effects of
mortal sin. Joseph De Piro develops his own thought by speaking of the
effect of sin and the human soul. Then he goes on to examine the state
of the soul as seen from God's point of view.
The preacher dedicates half of the sermon
(points 3, 4 and 5) to explain that by mortal sin one deprives himself
of God's friendship and inherits Hell. This includes the risk of ending
up in Hell for good. In this latter context De Piro explains that
through mortal sin, we lose no earthly gain, heritage or royalty, but
Once this is firmly established, Mgr. De
Piro quotes 1Co 6,9-10 as a proof text to confirm the point just raised.
Thus affirming that one should not be misled, once God's kingdom is
never possessed by either fornicators or idol-worshipers.
In both homilies 167 and 172, De Piro
deals with death and develops the theme by following the same schema in
both cases. In homily 172, quoting Rm 5,12, he shows that death is the
sad lot for humanity, once all have sinned.
His main thesis is that death is the only
reality about which we have direct knowledge, whereas the other final
realities associated with humanity's goal are only grasped through
faith. Death is well embedded within the vivid consciousness of every
individual. In the introductory paragraph of this schema, Mgr. De Piro
inserts various experiential themes of a sapiential nature. Here it is
enough to recall the brevity of life and the vanity and ephemeral nature
of earthly things.
In the latter half of the same schema De
Piro deals immediately with the visible effects of death and the
decaying nature of the human body. This decaying process ends up by
reducing the dead body into ashes. In the introductory paragraph, the
preacher quotes 2Co 4,12 both as a proof text and as a saying in this
context. By the quotation 'mors in nobis operatur' he concludes
the introductory paragraph and synthesizes his line of thought.
Speaking of the corpse, De Piro quotes
various biblical texts, but then he asks the important question: 'When?'
To this he gives his answer by referring to three distinct texts (Si
14,2; Lk 12,40 and 1Co 7,29), death may be imminent and one should be
prepared, for time is indeed running short. This is certainly the idea
which the preacher wants to convey to his congregation.
We have more or less the same build-up in
homily 167 where we notice that Mgr. De Piro deals right away with the
decaying process of the human body. In the very first paragraph, when
speaking about the corpse, the preacher concludes that death will not
tarry and time is short enough. By means of two texts (Si 14,2; and 1Co
7,29), he insists that such a condition will soon arrive and
consequently one should prepare oneself.
Homily 116 is a short address delivered by
Joseph De Piro when he was asked to preside over the annual competition
organised by the Istituto Maltese d'Educazione Cattolica. After
addressing the organisers, and praising the competitors, he quotes the
Pauline epistles at the concluding section of his address.
Speaking of the participants, De Piro
recalls St. Paul's dictum: 'sic currite ut comprehendatur' (1Co
9,24). In the concluding lines, he encourages the organisers to get on
with their spiritual work and endeavours for time is running short (1Co
7,29). The final recommendation is taken from Mt 16,18 where it is said
that the gates of hell will never prevail. Once the outcome is so
guaranteed, one is therefore encouraged to do the utmost.
As is evident from the introductory
quotation from Rv 2,10, homily 157 is an ardent appeal so that the
believer may remain loyal till death, in view of the reward that has
been promised. The sermon stresses the theme of perseverance.
In the second part, perseverance is
reassured only if sin is kept at bay. Here De Piro inserts quite
appropriately the Pauline quotation from 1Co 10,12: 'let him who thinks
that is on his two feet, pay careful attention lest he falls down'. This
quotation invites the hearers not to give in to sin and to leave
completely aside the negative experiences of their past life. Speaking
of the last realities, he refers to a group of texts which underline the
frailty of human existence and the suddenness of death as a possible
Homily 83 speaks of our devotion to St.
Joseph. According to the title itself, the real devotion to St. Joseph
implies one's imitation of Jesus Christ. Even if we only have the main
points of the homily, Joseph De Piro insists that we are asked to
imitate Christ as devotees of St. Joseph on two distinct scores: both as
Christians and as missionaries. In the second half of this schema, we
notice that he speaks of what is strictly necessary for our salvation
and for the salvation of others.
In the first section, De Piro quotes 2Co
4,10 whereby it is said that the Christian should lead his life in such
a way as to manifest the life of Christ. In line with such a text, the
preacher recalls Paul's invitation in 1Co 11,1. The apostle invites the
Corinthians to imitate him, as he had imitated Christ. Missionaries too
should be in a position to offer themselves as examples. This explains
the opening statement of the homily which says that those who see our
activity should conclude that Christ so lived, spoke and acted.
Homily 30 deals explicitly with Holy
Eucharist. In the first section, De Piro quotes Ex 16,4. dwells at
length on the whole context of Israel's exodus and the manna theme. This
soon recalls Jn 6. Against this setting, Joseph De Piro insists on the
importance of the frequent reception of Holy Communion by referring to
the document Sacra Tridentina Synodus.
In the second half of the sermon, Mgr. De
Piro dwells at length on Jesus' own words as expressed in Jn
6,50;51a;51b;53. As a fitting conclusion he recalls 1Co 11,24.26 to
justify our frequent access to this sacrament in particular.
It was Jesus, as recalled by Paul, that
insisted on the re-enactment of the Eucharistic sacrifice: 'hoc
facite in meam commemorationem' (vs.24). It is important to notice
that in this sermon, vss. 24 and 26 are stitched together. To do this in
memory of Jesus becomes equivalent to our full participation by sharing
the one bread, thereby announcing the Lord's death. Jesus' injunction to
recall his self-offer suggests our frequent access to Holy Eucharist.
Homily 97 was delivered to the Sisters of
Charity of St. Jeanne Antide, on the feast day of St. Vincent de Paule.
In this sermon the preacher keeps in mind the fact that these religious,
following their patron saint, are to practice Christian love by means of
charitable acts to those in need.
De Piro insists that saints are proposed
to us to be our examples. We have to live according to our theological
virtues, show devotion to the Blessed Virgin and exercise other
important virtues by following the example of saints. Saints are models
of self abnegation in their daily commitment to God and fellow
In this context Mgr. De Piro envisages the
life of St. Vincent de Paule and the work of his religious. This
explains why he chose the Pauline saying 'charitas patiens est'
(1Co 13,4) as a title for this homily. From the text of the homily one
concludes that love towards others is not only patient, but is willing
to suffer out of love and imitation of Christ.
Homily 91 delivered on October 4, 1927, at
Fra Diego Institute, (Hamrun), is one whole sermon on the person of St.
Francis of Assisi. By constantly resorting to 1Co 13,8, Joseph De Piro
wants to give a fully-fledged portrait of Francis' personality,
especially of his love towards God, the person of Jesus Christ and his
service towards his neighbours, both within and outside his order.
This sermon is the classical example where
the introductory text not only sets the tone but is repeated throughout
to build his own thought. De Piro insists by saying that love does not
come to an end, on the contrary, it strengthens the relationship between
the one loved (in this case, God) and the lover (Francis). Such a saying
helps the preacher to see Francis' hymn of praise and thanksgiving to
God within the right perspective.
It is through his love of Christ, that
Francis is urged to live his self-offer in poverty. The text implies
that the one who loves, offers himself completely out of sheer
generosity and for no personal gain. This same text, according to the
preacher, invites Francis to engage in missionary activity. By referring
to Mt 6,9 (hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come) in conjunction with
1Co 13,8, we are led to think that God's kingdom comes provided Francis
and his companions dedicate themselves to evangelise others.
This text provides the key to interpret
correctly Francis' self-surrender to God at the moment of his death.
Death is the best expression of the constant self-offer to God during
this earthly life: it is therefore a fitting conclusion of such a
constant yearning for God.
In homily 5 delivered on the fifteenth
Sunday after Pentecost, Joseph De Piro dwells at length on the theme
suggested by the liturgical text (Lk 7,11-16). The three main points of
this section speak of the unexpected nature of death, Jesus' admonitions
and the state of sin. Within the third section De Piro quotes, right at
the very beginning, 1Co 15,56: it is sin that brings about spiritual
death that renders us inept to meet the Lord at the moment of our
This same text is taken up once again in
homily 118 when De Piro once more deals with the theme of death. In the
central section of this second sermon, where death is said to be the
gateway to either Heaven or Hell, he quotes 1Co 15,56.
The listeners are to keep in mind that death arrives sooner or later and
that we have to be prepared and to keep in mind that it is only sin that
procures the worst form of death. In the concluding section of the
sermon, the servant of God invites his listeners to ask for the grace of
a saintly death. The sermon ends up with a positive note, true
repentance should lead us to penance and not to a state of despair.
letter to the Romans
More than a letter, .Romans is a whole
treatise extolling God's initiative in view of the salvation of
humanity. This is what came to be known as justification. Humanity
becomes conscious of its own sinful situation, but through faith it
receives the full salvific benefits brought about by Christ's paschal
This endeavour explains the unfolding
mystery of salvation, brought to completion in Christ. Faith establishes
an enduring relationship between Christ and the respective believers.
Paul is writing to the community of Christ's faithful in Rome which was
not founded by him nor had they met him before.
Iustitia enim Dei in eo revelatur ex fide
in fidem: sicut scriptum est: Iustus autem ex fide vivit.
In the very first chapter after his
introductory address (vss.1-7), Paul engages in prayer and thanksgiving
to God through Jesus Christ on behalf of the Roman community and for
their faith which is indeed renown throughout the world (vss.8-17). It
is precisely in the last two lines that Paul states the theme of the
Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel, the
saving power of God for those who have faith, both Jews and gentiles
(even if the former had the place of preeminence within God's plan of
salvation). In verse 16, Paul summarizes the theme of God's justice in
favour of those who believe.
As a conclusion to verse 17 Hab 2,4 is
quoted. This short saying states that the upright man finds life through
his faith in God and in the person of Jesus. One is led to consider
faith as the necessary condition to receive life from God who has
already taken his salvific initiative in our favour. Faith is therefore
the necessary condition and important prerequisite.
An divitias bonitatis eius, et patientiae,
et longanimitatis contemnis? ignoras quoniam benignitas Dei ad
poenitentiam te adducit? Secundum autem duritiam tuam, et impoenitens
cor, thesaurizas tibi iram in die irae.... Iudaeo primum, et Greaco, non
enim est acceptatio personarum apud Deum.
In Rm 2,1-11 Paul speaks about the Jews
and their relationship to God. God shows no favour towards the Jews who
failed to abide by the dictates of the law. In the form of a question,
verse 4 states that God's mercy is often ignored by the unmindful Jew
who hesitates to repent. A particular day comes when God's wrath would
manifest its justice even to those Jews who have been hard hearted.
In these introductory chapters, Paul
dwells on the sinful situation of both Jews and gentiles. The Jews, even
if they have greater knowledge of God's will, are indeed not better off
before God with respect to the gentiles: all human beings have sinned.
Against this setting the apostle presents God's salvific initiative to
be received in faith by both Jews and gentiles - thus being offered to
both categories in an equal way, proving that both are on an equal
footing before God.
Propterea sicut per unum hominem peccatum
in hunc mundum intravit, et per peccatum mors pertransit, in quo omnes
In the section 5,1 to 7,25 Paul deals with
the good effects of God's justice as experienced by the Christian.
Chapter 5 explains that peace with God brings about certain hope in the
salvation offered to the believer (5,1-11). In verses 12-21, the author
then deals with the theme of complete liberation from original sin, and
from punishment by death that normally follows as a result.
The key text, at the beginning of the
second half of chapter 5, is creating an evident contrast between Adam
and Jesus Christ. What has been denied to us through Adam's
disobedience, has been restored through Christ's salvific intervention
on our behalf. In verse 12 (including vss. 13 and 14), Paul says that
sin has become man's condition from the time of Adam himself. This
explains why death held sway over the whole of humanity right from the
time of Adam onwards.
This was constantly the situation during
the intervening time between Adam and Moses. Still sin has only become
imputed after the time of Moses when the law was given by God. Through
the abundant divine grace that came to us as the free gift of Jesus
Christ himself, this condition has been considerably outweighed. This
has to serve as a sure motive of our hope (vs. 15).
Nunc vero liberati a peccato, servi autem
facti Deo, habetis fructum vestrum in sanctificationem, finem vero vitam
In chapter 6 Paul deals the theme of union
with Christ baptism, by which we experience Christ's death and
resurrection (vs. 5). As an immediate effect of this situation, the
Christian is invited to lead a life of holiness (vss.12-14). The
Christian who lives a life of grace is destined to lead a life that is
free from the slavery of sin (vss.15-19).
As a conclusion of this chapter
(vss.20-23) Paul draws a comparison between the punishment of sin and
the reward of holiness. In verse 22, he argues that now that we are free
from sin, we have been made 'slaves of God'. This is meant to be our
reward, leading to our sanctification and guaranteeing eternal life.
Paul sums up saying that the wage paid by sin is death, whereas God has
given us eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Vos autem in carne non estis, sed in
spiritu: si tamen spiritus Dei habitat in vobis.... Siquis autem
Spiritum Christi non habet: hic non est eius. Nam quos prescivit, et
praedestinavit conformes fieri imaginis Filii sui, ut sit ipse
primogenitus in multis fratribus.... Quis ergo nos separabit a charitate
Christi? tribulatio? an angustia? an fames? an nuditas? an periculum? an
persuctio? an galdius?.... Certus sum enim quia neque mors, neque vita,
neque angeli, neque principatus, neque virtutes, neque instantia, neque
futura, neque fortitudo....
Paul deals at length with the spiritual
life of the Christian; the life of the Spirit becomes the major theme in
8,1-11. Through the giving of the Spirit we have become the children of
God (vss.14-17). As a logical conclusion of the preceding section Paul
speaks of glory as being our destiny (vss.18-27) and of our call by God
to have our share in it (vss.28-30). In the concluding lines of chapter
8 (vss.31-39), Paul engages in one whole hymn to God who, out of love,
destined us (by giving us his only son) to share in his glory. Against
this context we now examine the meaning of verses 9, 29, 35 and 39.
Verse 9 draws a distinction between the
unspiritual and the spiritual condition of humanity. Paul seems to
understand that the unspiritual condition has now become spiritual
through Christ and in Christ. In the second half of verse 9, we are led
to understand that by possessing the Spirit of Christ, we belong to God.
This explains why man's soul is destined to live on for ever, whereas
man's body is still subject to physical death.
In verse 29 Paul says that God has called
us to share in his glory. Through the giving of the Spirit, we become
images of the Son, the eldest of so many brothers. Only those who have
been called were ultimately justified, and once justified, share in
Both verses 35 and 38 occur in the same
context, and seem to be intimately interrelated. After speaking of God's
love manifested through Christ Jesus, the apostle states that nothing
can come between the believer and Christ, given his constant effort on
our behalf. Paul recalls the various difficulties he had to face during
his ministry, through which he manifests both his love for Jesus and the
power of 'him who loved us' (vs.37).
It is interesting to note how this long
list of difficulties reaches its climax and comes to an end in verses 38
and 39. In verse 38 (as opposed to vs.35) Paul mentions the love of God,
but then goes on to say that it has been made visible in Jesus Christ
our Lord. Ultimately the difference between both expressions in the two
distinct lines is only on the verbal level, because the context is the
Sed dico: Numquid non audierunt? Et quidem
in omnem terram exivit sonus eorum, et in fines orbis terrae verba
The next quotation is taken from Rm 10, an
important chapter within the third doctrinal section (9,1-11,36). Here
as in chapter 9, Paul writes of the Jews and their strict adherence to
the Torah, as opposed to the fact of our justification in Jesus Christ
(vss.1-13), and insists on the importance of faith in response to the
message proclaimed (vss.14-21).
Paul states that the word of Christ is
being still preached by the apostles and it still demands a total
commitment in faith. From verse 18 onwards, Paul tries to examine the
situation of the Jews by putting precise questions trying to see to what
extent they are responsible for their lack of faith in Christ.
The first question is whether they did
hear. Paul himself provides the answer: quoting Ps 19,4, he speaks of
the apostles' ministry of the word: the word had been preached and the
Jews had no excuse. Then the apostle asks another question: whether they
could be excused on account of their ignorance. This too seems to be
ruled out by resorting to Dt 32,21 and Is 65,1-2 where no plausible
ground is left for such an excuse.
Tu quis es, qui iudicas alienum servum?
Domino suo stat, aut cadit: stabit autem: potens est enim Deus statuere
In this doctrinal epistle, Paul is
concrete enough to deal with the different groups within the same
community. Group members have the tendency to see everyday reality from
their own point of view and life exigencies.
In spite of the fact that reality is made
up of distinct tendencies, Paul guarantees the unity of the community by
proposing Christian charity. Charity unites individuals and serves to
eliminate the various differences existing among members. In verse 4,
Paul argues convincingly that it does not stand with us to condemn
individuals who have vouchsafed their service to God and who thus have
him as their protector and Lord.
Mgr. De Piro delivered homily 82 on
October 28, 1907, when the feast of St. Joseph was being celebrated for
the first time as a solemnity. He here insists that all saints, not
least St. Joseph, were given to us as examples and models.
St. Joseph, although not the natural
father, had to take care of both Mary and her son. He fulfilled his
mission to perfection in a way that shows his constant loyalty to God.
The preacher avails himself of the adjective 'iustus' proposed in
Mt 1,19. This text, and particularly the adjective 'iustus', soon
suggested the use of Rm 1,17, where it is said that 'the just one lives
St. Joseph, not withstanding his fidelity
towards God and to Mary, found himself in an embarrassing situation.
Still this served to manifest his strong attachment to God on whom he
relied. Such texts show to what extent St. Joseph was willing to carry
out his mission and whenever obstacles or difficulties arose, he simply
believed that God would be on his side.
Homily 112 was delivered to the mother
superiors of the Franciscan sisters in 1924. The homily as such presents
itself according to the different points touched upon by the preacher.
In the section that deals about the first
four points, Joseph De Piro quotes Rm 2,11 wherein he insists that
superiors should not give in to preferences and should keep away from
creating distinctions within their own community. In Rm 2,11 Paul says
that for God there is no 'acceptatio personarum'; there are no
distinctions before God and so also it should be with those who wield
authority over others in God's name!
In homily 155 Joseph De Piro does not
quote the letter to the Romans directly, but explains in his own words
the content of Rm 2,4-5. Within this context the preacher states that
the sinner should make it a point not to abuse of God's patience.
Repeated sin would merit God's punishment,
referred to as a treasure of wrath to be assigned on the day of anger,
when God manifests his just judgment. The text, re-echoing the Pauline
quotation, comes as a warning for all those who take their repentance
In homily 172, speaking on the theme of
death, the servant of God quotes Rm 5,12 as his introductory line. It is
important to notice that such a key text speaks of death as being the
outcome of one man's sin.
In the first paragraph, which sets the
tone for the whole sermon, there is no direct reference to the text
itself. Still death is the only reality of which man is so sure 'as
against Heaven, Hell and judgment', proposed by our faith.
We have more than one homily dealing with
man's goal in life, but it is in homilies 141 and 143 that Joseph De
Piro quotes Rm 6,22. These two homilies have a similar structure: both
sermons are made up of six distinct points. Yet the twofold division
suggests that we have three main points followed by another three main
In these two homilies, the third of the
first three points includes the quotation from Romans where it is said
that one should seek holiness as the immediate effect of all one's
actions. The second part of the same quotation is a further explanation
of the statement just quoted; the 'goal' of humanity is indeed 'eternal
life'. One may note that the word 'finem' has been suggested to
the preacher by 'fine' used in the title itself of the homily.
Joseph De Piro mentions means that help us
in our sanctification. Speaking of the breviary and the Rosary, and
exulting the pious celebration of the liturgy and the decalogue
observance, suggests that homily 141 has been delivered to priests or
In the final section of homily 6 De Piro,
speaking on the transfiguration of Christ, says that unless one is
imbued with Christ's spirit, he does not belong to him, (Rm 8,9). In the
concluding lines of the homily, the preacher suggests the reality which
provides the interpretative key to this Pauline quotation.
On the one hand, the whole life of Christ
was 'crux et martyrium'. While, on the other hand, a second
quotation (Mt 16,24) suggests that we should follow Christ by
shouldering our own cross. These two quotations reveal the way how the
preacher concretely understands the introductory line of the concluding
In homily 83, basing the devotion towards
St. Joseph on the imitation of Christ, Joseph De Piro quotes Rm 8,29
when dealing with the necessary things for our salvation. This classical
text establishes that the one known and predestined by God conforms
himself to the person of his Son.
In the following section of the homily,
the preacher harps on the same theme by referring to Jesus' invitation
('come and follow me'; Mt 19,21). The term of reference is therefore
Jesus himself, and both texts ask for our unconditional imitation of
In homily 17 delivered on the 17th Sunday
after Pentecost, as an explanation to the biblical text suggested by the
official liturgy, De Piro takes great pains in describing two existing
movements within Judaism. Mid-way in the sermon, he puts once again the
question: about the main commandment within the decalogue taken as a
Mgr. De Piro insists that to love God with
one's own mind and heart spells out one's life-commitment as a follower
of Christ. In the second half of this sermon, one finds a number of
examples taken from Church history where individuals overcame
temptations thereby remaining loyal to Christ himself. The preacher then
quotes Rm 8,35 at the very end of his homily, implying that the
Christian should make it a point to shun all things that may separate
him from the love of Christ.
The homilies 50, 53, 54 and 55 were
delivered within the same period of time, and on the same theme. In
these four sermons Joseph De Piro deals mainly with the mystery of the
Sacred Heart of Jesus by following the same line of thought and by
resorting to the same Pauline text (Rm 8,35).
Speaking about the heart, Mgr. De Piro
speaks of Jesus' love for us, made manifest especially through the
mysteries of the Incarnation and of his death and Resurrection. Special
mention of Margaret Alacoque and of her ardent devotion is repeatedly
made within these sermons.
In sermon 50, after speaking in terms of
maternal love, De Piro speaks of Jesus' prodigal love lavished in favour
of us all. Here he exclaims with St. Paul that such love merits a
generous response. This is the sense of the quotation: 'quis nos
separabit a charitate Christi?' This rhetorical question shows that
our love needs to be strong and effective to overcome all obstacles.
Homily 53, attaches great importance to
the devotion introduced by Margaret Alacoque. First the servant of God
speaks about the beginning of this devotion and then, in the second
half, about Jesus' heart as the seat of great love.
In the introductory paragraph of the
homily, the preacher avails himself once more of Rm 8,35 at the very
beginning and the concluding lines. Thus he shows that Jesus' love urges
us to set aside what might endanger our fitting response to his infinite
love. In another instance, in the first half of the sermon, in answer to
Jesus' self presentation: 'behold the heart that so much loved
humanity', De Piro quotes: 'who is going to separate us from the love of
Christ'? This question is again only rhetorical in intent, and the
listeners' love should be so great that it could be subject to no form
of threat or temptation.
At the very end of this same homily, we
have once more this quotation within the context of Holy Eucharist. It
is out of love that we become one with Christ and that in so doing we
obtain so much help that nothing can come in between.
It is interesting to note that in homily
54, the text occurs often in order to show that our love should be so
radical and self involving that nothing would be effective enough to
weaken it. At the end of this sermon, the Pauline quotation comes as a
fitting remark in answer to Jesus' unwavering love.
Joseph De Piro gives the impression that
one may find oneself on alone, without the support of others, but it is
in such moments that we remember Jesus' constant and loyal love for us.
Such a consideration demands a radical response that does not waver.
Homilies 105 and 106 not only follow the
same line of thought but also employ the same Pauline texts. Speaking of
St. Calcedonius, Mgr. De Piro introduces his subject by exclaiming that
nothing is left to intervene between us and Christ; not even fear,
thirst or death itself (Rm 8,38).
Speaking about such a saint, De Piro urges
his hearers to have the same orientation and attachment to Christ. Here
he quotes Rm 8,35. Reviewing the life of self-dedication of St.
Calcedonius, the preacher synthesizes his life commitment by stating
Paul's words: 'quis nos separabit a charitate Christi?' As in the
previous case, the text is used both to bring out the saint's commitment
and to urge the sense of imitation on the part of the listeners.
Homily 25, delivered on the feast of the
Assumption during the first solemn mass of a newly ordained priest,
sings the praises of Catholic priesthood. It is mostly in the section
that deals with teaching, that De Piro quotes the New Testament to bring
out the characteristics of the priestly missionary activity.
Priests are to be sent in the same way as
Jesus had sent out his apostles (Mt 28,19). They are to preach the word
to which hearers are invited to give their full assent (Lk 10,16).
Through the priest, Jesus is brought in to rule and dispel all forms of
darkness, since he presents himself as the truth and the life (Jn 14,6).
Joseph De Piro shows how the priest is invited to denounce all forms of
errors existing within society and the Christian community itself.
In the following section, the preacher
quotes Rm 10,18 to show that the priest is not attached to one
particular place, but in line with his own mission, his call takes him
to very distant places. De Piro refers to this text without quoting it
In homily 198, where Joseph De Piro deals
with the theme of charity, we have a conglomeration of New Testament
texts that help the development of the line of thought. At the end of
this section the preacher quotes Rm 14,4 insisting on the fact that
members of the same community should not pass judgment on one another.
De Piro makes Paul's recommendation his
own: it is only God who is in a position to judge. Indeed this is his
exclusive right. This quote is here coupled with the Jm 4,12 whereby one
is to refrain from passing judgment on one's own neighbours. These texts
recall that we all are in a precarious situation and hence we have no
right to point an accusing finger.
First and second letters to Timothy
The Pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and
Titus) reflect a rather late situation of the various Churches in a
particular area. These letters have in common the fact that they were
addressed to the heads of the community rather than to the community
itself. Timothy himself must have been in charge of various Christian
communities, especially in the Church at Ephesus. He was sent as a
missionary bishop to the capital of the Asian region.
From the 1Tm, we know that Timothy had to
see that certain people stopped teaching strange doctrines. On the
contrary, he was asked to dedicate himself to that correct instruction
from which ensue love, a clear conscience and sincere faith. He was sent
to bring about the unity of the various communities and to curb the
harmful influence of some false teachers within the fold.
In 2Tm, we have an introductory
exhortation whereby Timothy is encouraged to preach the Gospel with a
sense of determination. The author speaks also of the sufferings that
accompany apostolic activity (2,3-13), but then Timothy is exhorted to
pay careful attention towards false teachers (2,14-4,5). The epilogue is
said to be the spiritual will of Paul (4,6-8).
Fidelis sermo, et omni acceptione dignus:
quod Christus Iesus venit in hunc mundum peccatores salvos facere,
quorum primus ego sum.
In chapter one the author of 1Tm stresses
the need to control false teachers; the law is there to help the stray
to find their way back (vss.8-11) into the fold. In the last part of
this section, he writes about Paul's calling and about the
responsibility that should be shouldered by Timothy.
The author speaks of Jesus Christ who came
into the world with the express intention of saving sinners. In the
context where he speaks of Paul's calling the author considers him as
being the greatest of all sinners (vs. 15). Yet Jesus Christ showed his
inexhaustible patience in choosing Paul to dedicate all his energy to
call gentiles to salvation.
Similiter et mulieres in habitu ornato,
cum verecundia, et sobrietate ornantes se, et non in tortis crinibus,
aut auro, aut margaritis, vel veste pretiosa: sed quod decet mulieres,
promittentes pietatem per opera bona.
In the body of 1Tm (2-3,6) we have special
recommendations concerning the correct government within the community.
The author insists that women should behave themselves in a way that
befits their dignity especially when they are asked to form part of the
Christian assembly. The text suggests that they should not dress in a
way that would distract the devotion of the other members in the sacred
Nemo adolescentiam tuam contemnat: sed
exemplum esto fidelium in verbo, in conversatione, in charitate, in
fide, in castitate. Dum venio, attende lectioni, exhortationi, et
In chapter four, the author once more
draws Timothy's attention to the presence of false teachers, especially
those that occur during the last times. These teachers are presenting
nothing else but 'godless myths and old wives' tales.
According to this writer, Timothy should
oppose them by indulging in works, pious activities and in virtues
(vss.8-12). He should also be conversant with the sound teachings of
sacred scripture (vs.13), by means of his frequent readings and the
charism of his ordination.
In verse 12, the author advises Timothy
not to let people look down on him because of his young age. Rather, he
is to serve as an example by the way he speaks and behaves. His love,
faith and purity are to outshine within the community of believers.
Nam qui volunt divites fieri, incidunt in
tentationem, et in laqueum diaboli, et desideria multa inutilia, et
nociva, quae mergunt homines in interitum et perditionem.
In 1Tm 6, the author speaks about slaves
and about true and false teachers (vss.3-10). Then he speaks once again
of Timothy's vocation (vs.11-16). In the concluding section of this
chapter, the author warns rich Christians lest they should look down
He insists that the Christian should not
strive to obtain what is superfluous for such an urge will give rise to
foolish and dangerous ambition that eventually leads to their ruin and
Nam et qui certat in agone, non coronatur
nisi qui legitime certaverit.
In verse 5, speaking of the hardships
during apostolic activity, the author resorts to the imagery taken from
the life of the athlete. The competitors wins the crown only if they
stick to the rules of the game. The idea behind this is that the
missionary should continually engage in his apostolic activity without
giving in to hardships and temptations.
Bonum certamen certavi, cursum consummavi,
This time the quotation occurs in the
section known as Paul's spiritual will. Here too, the underlying
imagery, is taken from the context of athletics.
The apostle is presented as reviewing his
whole ministry while the end is drawing near. Two distinct images are
involved, one recalling gladiators and their combats (I have fought the
good fight) the other recalling athletics: I have run the race to the
finish. Emphasis is laid on the fact that Paul kept his faith till the
Homily 176 deals with the specific theme
of God's pardon by taking into consideration the parable of the prodigal
son (Lk 15,11-32). The opening line of the homily is taken from 1Tm 1,15
where it is said that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners.
In this text the author of the letter considers himself as being the
foremost beneficiary among such sinners.
There is an evident contrast between this
text and the father's image and role in the parable. God is not only is
waiting for the return of the sinner, but takes the initiative to call
sinners to repentance through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The text
therefore does not only set the tone but also serves as an
interpretative key to the whole sermon. Moreover it conditions the
meaning that should be assigned to the parable of the prodigal son.
In homily 71, where Joseph De Piro
addresses members of the pious congregation 'Figlie di Maria', he
dwells at length on the distance between God and humanity. In the
central part of his sermon, he deals with the two persons that serve as
mediators: Jesus Christ and Mary, his mother. By drawing their attention
to Mary's image on the medal, the preacher invites hearers to imitate
her particular virtues while carrying out their daily duties.
Following the footsteps of Mary, they
should be obedient, humble and modest in dress. De Piro quotes the
special Instructio of Pius XI where 1Tm 2,9-10 is quoted directly. These
ladies should be decently dressed and should behave in such a way that
they follow the Pope's recommendation, which becomes Mgr. De Piro's own
In homily 107 the introductory text not
only sets the tone, but suggests the line of development. The author of
1Tm insists that Timothy should set an example to all believers
especially by the way he speaks, indulges in conversation, observes
charity, shows his faith and lives the ideal of chastity. According to
De Piro's consideration, these aspects should form the ideal of
religious life. The servant of God takes into consideration 'verbo'
'conversatione' together, but then he separately deals with the
other three virtues.
Homily 204 is a well organised sermon
concerning the confession of sins. We have only the schema of the
sermon, made up of four principle points. First Joseph De Piro speaks of
God's presence and thanksgiving, asks for necessary light to examine
one's conscience (point 3), and requests forgiveness.
At this stage, De Piro suggests the
necessary means to obtain the right disposition. He insists on sorrow as
being the required condition to obtain forgiveness. The homily takes
into consideration confession and satisfaction as the concluding stages
of one whole process of conversion.
Before dealing with confession itself, the
preacher inserts the quote from 1Tm 4,13. The author of the epistle
suggests that Timothy should dedicate himself to the study of Scripture
in view of his duties as teacher and head of the community. One could
say that Scripture is effective in bringing about a sense of sorrow just
before confession itself.
In homily 172, speaking of death and the
fact that the human body will end up as a lifeless skeleton, De Piro
resorts to 1Tm 6,7. Thus he shows how insane and stupid it is, on one's
part, to give in to the temptation of riches and avidity.
The author of the epistle stresses the
fact that riches lead us into various temptations. Mgr. De Piro states
that riches make us forget the brevity of life and that all earthly
goods are of little avail, beyond our life span on earth.
In homily 157 in line with the positive
tone of the opening text (Rv 2,10) and the content of the sermon as a
whole, Joseph De Piro inserts 2Tm 2,5 half way down the presentation of
this homily schema. It is only the one who participates in the contest
and proofs oneself loyal to the entry requirements, may hope to receive
the glory of final success.
Through this imagery, Mgr. De Piro
stresses that life is like a competition, and we are to engage all our
energy. This text is coupled with another Pauline text taken from 1Co
In homily 18 De Piro speaks of the
mysteries that had taken place on the cross. He deals with what is
traditionally known as the seven last words proffered by Jesus
immediately before his death. We notice that such words are taken from
various gospel texts.
Speaking of Jn 19,30, (it is
accomplished), the preacher quotes 1Tm 4,7. Here this text may have been
suggested by the use of the same verb (consumatum est - consumavi).
In the first case it is Jesus who declares that his mission has been now
fulfilled, whereas in our case, it is the author of the letter, who
speaks of his own life that is drawing to an end. The latter equally
states that he has persevered in his faith. This text is adduced by the
preacher so that the listeners may be invited to persevere till the very
letter to the Philippians
Paul's letter to the Philippians is a
writing where simplicity and immediacy are evident throughout. Paul
addresses the community in a way that betrays his fatherly love and
sense of care. He arrived at Philippi during his second voyage and it
was thus the first place to receive the Christian message, even before
to Greece and Rome.
Scholars believe that the canonical letter
is made up of different writings addressed to the Philippian community
by the apostle himself. In the first part of this letter, Paul gives
news of himself and useful instructions to the Christian community. He
insists on unity and steadfastness (1,27-30), humility and the generous
self-offer (2,1-11) obedience and the witness that Christians ought to
give to the world around (2,12-18).
Through the recommendations in the second
half of the letter, we come to know of the rivalry and the jealousies
that existed among them. As a remedy, Paul suggests humility and unity
among Christians to be achieved through love, affection and sympathy.
Christians are called to show their respect to each other, and their
openness of heart to the Spirit. Paul repeats that humility is necessary
where service is required, and that both are essential to achieve unity,
among Christians who are living together.
Sed semetipsum exinanivit formam servi
accipiens, in similitudinem hominum factus, et habitu inventus ut homo.
Humiliavit semetipsum factus obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem
In chapter 2, where Paul explicitly
mentions humility, he does not hesitate to present Christ as one
example. Here he quotes a Christological hymn with which the whole
community might have been familiar.
In the hymn (2,6-11) Christ, not
withstanding his divinity, became man and humbled himself on the cross.
After he had carried out his mission Christ was glorified. We are
destined to share in his glory, provided we offer our service in
humility, according to the example of Christ.
Verse 7 strikes a note of contrast
especially when the author states Christ, a divine person, emptied
himself by taking the form of a slave. In these two lines (7-8) Paul
insists on Christ's gradual self-offer that eventually becomes the motif
for his exaltation. Following Christ, we too achieve unity through
humility, love and service that should characterise Christian living.
Eadem vobis scribere, mihi quidem non
pigrum, vobis autem necessarium.... Nostra autem conversatio in coelis
est: unde etiam Salvatorem expectamus Dominus nostrum Iesum Christum.
Paul writes that the Philippians should be
on the look out against false doctrine and teachers, so that they may
not be led astray. Thus this letter serves as a timely warning to ward
off all dangers of false teachings. In verse 20, the apostle recalls
Christ, our saviour, who comes from heaven, and the fact that it is
there that we enjoy full citizenship.
Omnia possum in eo, qui me confortat.
As a missionary, Paul is always ready to
accept his situation and condition. He is moreover given to his pastoral
ministry and is happy with the means that are available to him.
Verse 13 shows that God is on his side,
while he is carrying out his special ministry, and this is enough to
help him fulfill his own duties. This saying gives the impression that
Paul, the missionary, is concentrating and asking for what is essential.
Everything else is to be considered superfluous and of little value.
Homilies 31, 39 and 41 may be grouped
together because they deal with the same theme: the Eucharist.
In homily 31 De Piro expounds the
sacrificial aspect of Holy Eucharist. The preacher states that we have
to keep in mind five distinct elements. It is God who accepts what is
being offered, especially once we recognise him as the lord of creation.
Then it is necessary that a priest acts as a representative of the
people. There must be an offering, and, finally, the destruction of what
is being offered thereby showing that the offering has become the
exclusive possession of God himself. Destruction is an other way whereby
we set apart the offering from its normal use.
Joseph De Piro dwells at length on these
five distinct points and explains how Christ offers himself up: to God
as a victim, and to us as bread and wine. He insists on the necessary
faith of Christians when they receive Holy Eucharist.
In homily 39, delivered during a
Eucharistic exposition and adoration in one of the parishes, the servant
of God dwells at length on Christ's self-offer and his other promises.
The preacher says that while we are on our way to the promised place, we
have Christ as our companion. De Piro dwells at length on Christ's
humble presence under the species of bread and wine. He is present to
invite us in his direction to receive from him, forgiveness, light and
Homily 41, delivered to a group of
children on the day of their first Holy Communion, follows the same
arguments. Here too it is said that Christ loved us to the extent that
he wanted to live amongst us both during his earthly life and especially
through the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. There is always the emphasis on
the idea that the king is willing to humble himself for the spiritual
benefit of his subjects. The Eucharist therefore shows in a concrete
way, Christ's constant love and care through his presence amongst us.
Ph 2,7 is being quoted in these three
Eucharistic sermons. Paul insists on the fact that Christ humbled
himself through his Incarnation, passion and death. Yet De Piro seems to
imply that, Incarnation means presence both in history and in Holy
In both cases love is more than evident
and this presence solicits our loving response to Christ and our fellow
neighbours. Thus Holy Eucharist provides both the necessary benefit and
the example for the Christians while still on their way.
Homily 156 presents an entirely different
context and theme. Here De Piro speaks in terms of sin and its evil
effects. Sin is defined as disobedience to God's commandments. The
preacher draws the traditional distinction between grave and venial sin
and concludes by saying that venial sins too weaken one's own life
commitment and orientation. In this way, stressing the importance of
what is usually considered less serious.
Speaking of God's commandments and our
obedience, Joseph De Piro quotes Ph 2,8. He wants to recall the fact
that Christ both humbled himself and obeyed, or rather, obeyed the
Father's will when he became one of us. It is obvious that De Piro is
offering Christ's obedience as an example and as a remedy against sin.
Christ not only accepted God's will on our behalf, but also provided an
eloquent example to those tempted to abandon the dictates of God.
Homily 1, on doing God's will, was
delivered during the third Sunday of Lent to the sisters at Fra Diego
Institute. After a short introduction on Jesus' miracles and direct
conflict with the Pharisees, the homily is divided into six distinct
points. Mgr. De Piro argues that the hearing of God's word suscitates
the desire of a fruitful response.
The preacher then warns his audience not
to listen to the word out of sheer curiosity or in search of eloquence.
He insists that ordinary things could have a direct and lasting effect
upon the hearers provided we show the right disposition; God's word has
always to be applied to oneself and not to others. De Piro suggests that
certain facts are to be mentioned to prevent them from taking roots in
the hearers and what is said in general is to be applied to oneself by
To illustrate this, the servant of God
quotes Ph 3,1b. In this text, to think and write ordinary things, is
indeed useful to emphasize what is necessary, even if it is already
known. The preacher states that the right disposition serves so that the
audience becomes fully aware of the usefulness of what is already known.
It all depends on one's disposition. De Piro also insists that his
audience should not be overwhelmed by the desire of looking for new
In homily 107, speaking of one's use of
language, De Piro insists that the religious should always speak about
God and should not engage in worldly conversation. To carry conviction
he quotes various biblical texts, not least Ph 3,20, where the apostle
says that by means of language we should anticipate the fact that we are
Homily 158 is an earnest recommendation so
that his hearers may avoid evil and sin right from the very beginning,
not to be overwhelmed by vice in their lives. The preacher says that no
one is sure of the future or whether old age will be guaranteed to him.
This seems to be the main idea to which the fact that one has to
struggle a lot against vice, is coupled.
Here Joseph De Piro quotes Ph 4,13
together with other biblical texts and some other episodes taken from
the lives of the saints. As an answer to his question: 'how am I going
to do away with my own evil inclinations?' he replies with Paul:
'Omnia possum in eo qui nos confortat'. What seems difficult in the
life of the individual, becomes easier if assisted by God's help. It is
God's grace that helps the individual to control oneself and achieve
goodness. One may note that Mgr. De Piro changes 'me' into
'nos', thereby showing that we, as individuals and as a group, are
invited to make full use of God's help.
In homily 214 once again De Piro deals
with the theme of sin, its nature and evil effects. This homily seems to
be delivered either to young seminarians or to the newly ordained. The
servant of God ends this sermon on a very positive note, when he speaks
about the generosity and one's commitment through daily work.
Against such a context De Piro asks at the
end of the sermon, after he had suggested frequent access to the
sacrament of reconciliation, how we are to overcome our evil
inclinations. He mentions once more Paul's saying in answer to this
question: full control of self takes place through God's grace. The text
itself, implies that once there is an endless struggle going on, God is
on our side, guaranteeing complete victory over sin.
letter to the Ephesians
Although this letter has been considered
as deutero-Pauline, still it takes us back to Paul himself at least in
its spirit. As regards vocabulary, style and content, this letter seems
to belong to a disciple of Paul and it recalls to mind Colossians, to
which it is somehow related.
In the first part of the letter, the
author deals with God's plan that has been accomplished and revealed to
us. He speaks about the benefits enjoyed by both Jews and gentiles. The
author argues that God not only forgives the sins of the gentiles, but
unites all into the one fold, of God's People.
The author insists on faith and obedience
to the covenant and hence everything depends on God's initiative and not
on circumcision. Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for the sin of
the world, in him no distinction between Jews and gentiles exists. With
the fall of Jerusalem, these distinctions crumbled down and unity has
been achieved through Christ's death. Christ is therefore depicted as
the Prince of Peace.
This epistle draws our attention to the
use of various metaphors that bring out the position of the Christians
within the one Church of Christ.
Ergo iam non estis hospites, et advenae:
sed estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei.
According to the author of Ephesians, the
gentiles, when compared with the Jews, are to consider themselves no
longer as strangers or guests in God's family. They are indeed fellow
citizens and equally close to God himself.
By this type of language, the author, is
inviting gentile Christians, to consider themselves as no second class
citizens. They should remember that they are equally founded upon the
apostles and prophets, having Christ as the corner-stone. The concept of
corner-stone conveys the idea that it is Christ himself who unites Jews
and gentiles together.
Et ambulate in dilectione, sicut et
Christus dilexit nos, et traditit semetipsum pro nobis oblationem, et
hostiam Deo in odorem suavitatis....Videte itaque fratres, quomodo caute
ambuletis: non quasi insipientes, sed ut sapientes: redimentes tempus,
quoniam dies mali sunt.
The opening lines of chapter 5 take into
consideration verse 32, of the previous chapter. It recommends that
fellow Christians show mercy and forgiveness, much as God himself had
pardoned us in Christ. The author states that we as Christians should
follow Christ, our only model, who had shown his love by offering
himself unto us. The author directs our attention to the redemptive and
expiatory value of Christ's death, and to him as being our unique model.
The author also recommends that Christians
should be wise enough by being moderate, prayerful, and especially by
being thankful to God. True wisdom helps the individual to discover
God's will. The author mentions the fact that time is running short and
so much time has been lost in things of little worth and sin. He seems
to have in mind the adage 'carpe diem', whereby Christians are
invited to make their utmost within the time that is still available.
Sacramentum hoc magnum est, ego autem dico
in Christo et in Ecclesia.
In giving his advice to male and female
partners within marriage, the author of this letter refers to the
relationship of Christ and his Church as an example. The Church shows
submission towards Christ, who offers himself up to sanctify and purify
her through baptismal waters.
In this context the Church, Christ's body,
is indeed to be loved. As an expression of such love, every husband
leaves his father's house to unite in marriage where the two partners
become one flesh (Gn 2,24). This is indeed a mystery that applies to
Christ and his Church.
In homily 120, delivered in November 1930,
Mgr. De Piro dwells at length on atonement and the link between the
three distinct phases of the Church: militant, suffering and triumphant.
He insists that Christians on earth are assisted by saints in heaven;
those in Purgatory need Christ's intervention on their behalf through
the intercession of Christians on earth.
While explaining this constant link
between triumphant and militant Church, the preacher resorts to Ep 2,19.
Christians on earth form God's household and are fellow citizens of the
saints. Thus we while still on earth are God oriented and related to the
saints in heaven. De Piro makes full use of this quotation as it sounds,
on its own, out of its proper and original context.
In homily 198, where De Piro speaks on
charity, he repeats the sacred author's invitation: 'ambulate in
delectione sicut et Christus dilexit nos'. At this stage of the
sermon, no better example can be adduced for those who ought to engage
themselves in brotherly love than Christ himself.
Recalling the good we have received from
God through Christ, Mgr. De Piro intends to create the necessary
dispositions in Christ's followers. Christians in God's presence, should
make a detailed examination of their conscience asking for both pardon
and God's assistance, to carry out their daily duties.
Homilies 122 and 124 present two short
schemas of sermons delivered at the end of the year. In both, De Piro
insists that in time we have done our best to carry out our daily
duties, but it is also in time that we are fully conscious of all the
good occasions we have missed.
Quoting Ep 5,15, Joseph De Piro states
that true heavenly wisdom is only obtained through the good that is
achieved over a long period of years. He makes a list of questions
whereby he leads his hearers to make their examination of conscience.
In homily 44, delivered to a newly wedded
couple, De Piro dwells at length on the importance and meaning of such a
sacrament for the Christian community and society at large. No better
example could be provided to the Christian couple other than that of
Christ's loving self-offer to his Church. Both partners should dedicate
their whole life to each other and create the necessary environment for
the reception and full integration of offspring.
The Church also provides a good example to
the female partner called to assist her husband and to contribute
seriously for the upbringing of children in a healthy environment. Much
like Christ and the Church, parents should help in the process of their
children's spiritual growth.
Following the preacher's thought, we can
understand why he quotes the Ephesians, right at the very beginning of
his homily and as he goes along. The preacher draws the spouses'
attention by insisting on the adjective 'magnum' with reference
to marriage (Ep 5,32). The same verse is explained better against the
fact that human marriage finds its excellent explanation through the
relationship between Christ and his Church.
Mgr. De Piro explains the importance of
this sacrament by stating that it has a value that is both real and
symbolic. He suggests that the spouses are to preserve the integrity of
their marriage through a life of prayer and union with Christ in the
sacrament of Holy Eucharist. In this way both they remain faithful to
each other, and carry out their duties in a responsible way.
letter to the Galatians
Galatians and Romans are both included
within the list of Paul's 'great letters'. Paul discusses at length
justification, and lays emphasis on God's salvific initiative. Both Jews
and gentiles are asked to consider salvation as being the sole
prerogative of God's intervention in favour of humanity.
Faith is indeed not only necessary but it
helps both Jews and gentiles to establish a relationship with Christ.
Jewish law, in spite of its divine origins, decreases in importance and
only serves to lead believers to Christ, unique source of life.
In this letter one can speak of a
threefold division right after its introductory section (1,1-10). In the
first two chapters, the apostle writes about his own activity in what is
known as Paul's apology. In the second section (3,1-4,31), he speaks of
justification through faith and not by law. In 5,1-6,10 Galatians are
exhorted to preserve their freedom as Christians. Various warnings and
final greetings bring the letter to an end (6,11-18).
Vivo autem, iam non ego: vivit vero in me
Christus. Quod autem nunc vivo in carne: in fide vivo filii Dei, qui
dilexit me, et tradidit semetipsum pro me.
In chapter 2 (vs.11 ff.) Paul spares
gentile Christians from the requirements of Old Testament law. In line
with this argument, the apostle insists that we are all justified
through faith in Christ. Paul states that justification is not to be
achieved through the works of the law.
In the concluding section of this epistle,
speaking of the law and Christ, Paul sides with Christ ignoring all the
requirements of law. In verse 20 he states that, through faith, Christ
becomes the effective life principle within him.
Quicumque enim in Christo baptizati estis,
Chapter 3 develops the same themes
introduced in the concluding section of the previous chapter. From verse
19 onwards, Paul discusses the importance and role of the law itself.
Speaking of faith, he states that, all baptised have put on Christ (Rm
Through faith and baptism we receive a new
birth and become children of God assuming a new dimension in Christ.
Being Jew or gentile does not matter any more, what counts is being
descendants of Abraham!
Mihi autem absit gloriari, nisi in cruce
Domini Nostri Iesu Cristi: per quem mihi mundus crucifixus est, et ego
mundo. De cetero nemo mihi molestus sit: ego enim stigmata Domini Iesu
in corpore meo porto.
In this letter's epilogue two key texts
speak of Paul's relationship to Christ. Paul shows that there is a
strong opposition between himself and the world because of the cross.
The cross guarantees the necessary life to the one who believes in
Jesus, still it creates a sense of shame and frustration in those who
reason things out from a human point of view.
Paul concludes that we become new
creatures through our faith and union with Christ. Circumcision itself
is to no avail within this eminently Pauline perspective. Paul is so
dedicated to the cause of Christ that his sufferings become the outward
and visible signs of this union with him. Paul drew his imagery from the
practice of slaves who had to bear a physical sign indicating who was
Homilies 28 and 32 deal with Jesus'
presence and life in the Blessed Eucharist, and follow the same line of
thought, even if the latter is rather longer and more developed. Right
after the introduction of the first homily, we have various themes that
explain the peculiar union between Christ and the believer.
The idea of one's assimilation is well
brought out by the fact that Eucharist is one's spiritual nourishment.
Joseph De Piro then speaks of one's faith as being the necessary
condition to receive the full benefit of this sacrament. By means of
different biblical texts, the preacher deals both with Jesus' own desire
and with the condition necessary to obtain the promised life. Holy
Eucharist is the effect of Jesus' own initiative; it is the effect of
his wisdom, goodness and omnipotence.
In homily 32, the same themes are
developed at greater length. This sermon is more developed from the
theological point of view. Holy Eucharist is Jesus' own readiness to
remain with us and moreover is the continuation of the Incarnation
itself. He takes into consideration the fact that we remain so unchanged
in spite of the frequent reception of this sacrament. Mgr. De Piro also
discusses the giving of grace by means of different sacraments. Through
Holy Eucharist we are united to Christ in a more complete way. The
sermon ends by insisting on the importance of one's openness to Christ
In Ga 2,20, Paul states that Christ
becomes a life principle acting within each believer. Such a text
presupposes the union of two distinct persons through faith. Such a
union reaches its climax and fulfillment through Holy Eucharist itself.
The Christian is convinced of Paul's words that Christ not only dwells
within us, but becomes a source of life through faith. One could say, at
a deeper level, that the Christian is entirely at the service of Christ
and that incarnation is still taking place. Within this context, Paul's
saying gives expression to De Piro's own reflection: "it is not I who
live, but Christ who lives in me". Christ becomes the active life
principle that causes one's life to develop; indeed one spiritually
lives through Christ.
Joseph De Piro develops his own thought by
referring to this text in particular. He says that by means of Holy
Eucharist, our intellect receives the powerful light of divine
understanding. The human heart is imbued with supernatural and divine
love. Through the Eucharist man takes all the human drives and passions
under his control; thus we could say that the human dimension in man is
at the service of, his spirit.
In homily 82 De Piro speaks of St. Joseph,
and quotes Ga 2,20 within the Eucharistic context. After the reception
of Holy Communion one could say with Paul: I do not live, because it is
Christ who lives in me.
St. Joseph has been at the complete
service of Jesus and yet it was Christ who has given himself up for us
to become our spiritual nourishment. The text is here immediately
followed by a quotation from John, that confirms and explains Ga 2,20.
Life in us is justified by the fact of our union with him: "in me
manet et ego in illo" (Jn 6,57). Still we could say that the Pauline
quotation throws more light on the fact of mystical union with Christ
through the sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
Homilies 88 and 89 are both delivered to
Third Order members of St. Francis. Mgr. De Piro follows the same line
of thought in both homilies. After giving the principle points in the
life of St. Francis, Joseph De Piro deals with the First, Second and
It is through the main points of the first
section that the preacher explains the gradual transformation that takes
place in Francis' life. In the second half of these sermons, Francis'
own spiritual transformation in Christ becomes an invitation for
distinct groups within the Church to follow in his footsteps. It is
evident that by speaking of male and female religious, De Piro wants to
address lay people who by living their daily commitments, want to
embrace the Christian ideal as presented by Francis of Assisi.
In both sermons, the servant of God quotes
the same Pauline text right at the very beginning. The text which deals
with Paul's own mystical experience gives expression both to the union
that takes place through the Eucharist, and provides the right
perspective against which we have to view Francis' whole life. For Mgr.
De Piro no other individual could apply such a text to himself than
Francis. De Piro concludes that these are precisely the words that
synthesize the whole of Francis' life.
This is also, more or less, Joseph De
Piro's position in homily 89 where the same text is put on Francis'
lips. There too, De Piro states that Francis, more than others, could
rightly repeat the words of Paul.
Homilies 100 and 101 were delivered on the
same occasion and are both dedicated to St. Therese of the Child Jesus.
In both sermons, De Piro points at the Eucharist as being the focal
point of Therese's own life. This union with Christ makes her life so
transparent and accounts for her simplicity of life. Her life of silence
and humility, her obedience and docility, cannot be better explained
unless we keep in mind her constant union with Christ through the
This sermon dedicates much attention, at
the very beginning and end, to the fact that Eucharist brought about the
constant change in the life of Therese herself. In homily 100 Galatians
2,20 is often quoted. Paul's biblical text serves as the opening words
of the sermon. On three other occasions, this text is used to bring out
Therese's complete insertion in the mystery of Christ. Through her
humility she has managed to reach the high ideals of Christian
perfection. Again the text is quoted to show how her mystical love for
Christ helped her to stand so much suffering. We note that the text is
also placed at the very end of the sermon as an inclusion, the saint is
asked to bring about the same devotion in the hearers that they may
express their union with Christ in these terms.
In homily 120 De Piro explains that Christ
both helps those who form part of the pilgrim Church, and sets free the
just ones in Purgatory. In two distinct paragraphs he tells us that
Christ offers himself up for the spiritual benefit of both the living
and the dead.
In this context the preacher quotes once
more Ga 2,20. We notice that he speaks of Holy Eucharist and explains
the biblical text by means of another quotation, Jesus says: "non ego
mutabor in te sed tu mutaberis in me". Transformation takes place to
the extent that both the living and the dead benefit from Christ's
Galatians 3,27, used in homily 83, is
quoted to justify the preacher's line of thought: we cannot show our
devotion to St. Joseph unless we imitate our Lord Jesus Christ. Mgr. De
Piro quotes the text that speaks of our relationship to Christ in
baptism, when we are asked to put on Christ. Through baptism Christ
becomes our representative and what is achieved is indeed achieved on
We can easily compare this text with Ga
2,20. In both quotations, Christ acts from within and from the outside
in favour of the believer to whom he is related. Imitation takes into
consideration the fact that we are his followers. On the other hand
these Pauline texts show our complete transformation in Christ. Here we
have the highest degree of union that does justice to Paul's own
mysticism. In this case, 2Co 4,10 is not only the continuation of the
same thought, but rather its best explanation. Christ acts and is
manifested in us through a life that is based on his teachings.
In the third section of homily 156, Joseph
De Piro quotes twice the letter to the Galatians. In his exhortation to
keep away from all sin, he suggests the example of Christ's poverty,
humility and meekness. Paul confirms that he boasts of nothing else,
other than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In De Piro's thought just as in Paul's,
there is an evident shift from Christ's salvific cross to the hardships
one has to endure out of Christian love. In verse 17, Paul states that
he bears on his body the marks of Jesus' suffering. This does not
necessarily mean the physical signs of Jesus' stigmata, but rather the
hardships he had to endure during his apostolic ministry.
First letter to the Thessalonians
1 Thessalonians is the first Pauline
epistle and is indeed the first among New Testament writings. This
letter is divided into two equal sections. In the first Paul provides
enough indication about the style of his preaching (2,1-16; 3,9-12),
whereas in the second half he delivers various exhortations and
teachings necessary for the Christian daily living. The letter ends with
the usual prayers and greetings.
Vos autem frates non estis in tenebris, ut
vos dies illa tamquam fur comprehendat.
The Christian should live in holiness and
charity (4,1-12). Paul also speaks on eschatology: we completely ignore
the time of Christ's second coming (5,1-11). Against such a fact, Paul
insists on one's watchfulness. Christians are ardently invited to be
watchful and to remain awake and sober. In the following lines, Paul
insists that Christians belong to daytime and that they should be well
armed and on the alert - whether alive or dead, we are all to live
through Christ and through his self offer.
Homily 16 is based mainly on Mt 22,1-14,
the text for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost according to the old
Missal. Mgr. De Piro dwells at length on the ingratitude of the Jews who
refused to give heed to the word of the prophets, John the Baptist and
the apostles themselves. They had to pay a grave penalty for their sin:
the Romans completely destroyed the sacred city, Jerusalem. The preacher
gives a whole list of suggestions that would help each individual to
live a devout life. Yet the refusal of the Jews served so that all
gentiles may be included within the one fold.
Here Joseph De Piro quotes 1Th 5,4, meant
to envisage both Jews and gentiles within the one People of God. Paul
states that God has brought gentiles in to the one brotherhood. They
are, therefore invited to live no longer in darkness. De Piro says that
the Maltese too had been called from early times to form part of the one
Church of Christ.
letter to the Colossians
This epistle is also considered as
deutero-Pauline and it moreover runs parallel to Ephesians both as
regards style and theological themes. After a short introduction, the
author deals with Christ's universal primacy in the first part of the
epistle. Christ is also the head of the Church, his body. The author
becomes the preacher of Christ's mystery among pagans.
In the second half of this letter
(3,1-4,6), the author exhorts readers to look for things that are in
keeping with their calling. He extols certain eminently Christian
virtues (3,5-17). The author also deals with the morals of home and
household (3,18-4,1) ending up with an epilogue (4,7-18) and the usual
general recommendations (4,2-6).
Super omnia autem haec, charitatem habete,
quod est vinculum perfectionis.
While giving general rules that should
characterise Christian behaviour, the author insists on the theme of
Christian charity. As the lord has forgiven us all, so we ought to
forgive one another.
Verse 14 is indeed the concluding line of
such reasoning. Love should reign supreme, for this is indeed the bond
of perfection. It is out of love of God that one lives a virtuous life,
and shows love towards one's neighbours. Charity becomes the very
foundation upon which Christian behaviour is well grounded.
Homily 201 has Christian charity for its
theme. We have only the outline of De Piro's sermon. Charity gives
expression to God's will and turns out to our own advantage and to that
of our community. On the other hand, there is nothing worse than lack of
harmony among members within the same community. Col 3,14 is the opening
text and determines the development of the whole homily. No better sign
of perfection and the unity willed by God himself could be shown more
than love itself.
After giving a brief review of the sermons
and after studying De Piro's use of Pauline quotations in the sermons,
we would like to examine possible sources.
We are aware that the existing edition of
the homilies reproduces only a part of the sermons delivered. Yet, even
if the collection is incomplete, one can see that Joseph De Piro
preached on various themes and in different circumstances. There is
enough ground to affirm that he was one of the best preachers on the
island during his time. He is indeed to be praised for the rigour shown
in the preparation of these sermons. This applies to both context and
the choice of the biblical sources.
De Piro must have relied on sermons of
Italian preachers at the time, but he never failed to work out his
themes in a creative way. A thorough comparative study to show exactly
his indebtedness strictly goes beyond the limits of our purpose. Still
by way of conclusion, we intend to examine some part of the sermons in
the light of possible sources that may have been resorted to. This is
relevant in our case to the extent that it may show how the themes
suggested by these sources might have also proposed the biblical texts.
One of the possible sources is the Italian
preacher Paolo Segneri (1624-1694) who is often quoted by De Piro
himself in the sermons. In spite of the many references, we notice that
only a few of his ideas and examples are borrowed . He never slavishly
relied on the whole context of Segneri's sermons notwithstanding the
fact that at times they deal with the same topic.
Another preacher who could have exercised
some form of influence must have been Chaignon whose three volume work
Il prete santificato, was often read and recommended by De Piro to
the members of his Society.
By way of example, some of Mgr. De Piro's
homilies delivered during the Sunday liturgy, will be examined. Here one
has to keep in mind that both De Piro and his sources limit their
considerations to the gospel text suggested by the liturgy.
On the second Sunday of Lent the
disciples' presence with Jesus during Transfiguration suggests to the
preacher paradise and one's presence among the Blessed Virgin and the
saints. One finds a corresponding theme in Segneri's Quaresimale.
The heavenly vision itself might have been inspired by this source were
both speak of the thrones of the Virgin Mary and of Jesus, her son, and
both quote 1Jn 3,1.
On the other hand the use of different
biblical texts at the end of the sermon (Rm 8,9; Mt 16,24) may find a
possible parallel in Chaignon's meditation for the second Sunday in
Lent. In both cases such texts suggest to the listeners what is really
necessary to be with God in his heavenly abode.
This shows how ideas and texts (as is the
case here) could have been borrowed from different sources and put
together in the same homily. The fact that these two sources cover only
a part of Joseph De Piro's homily indicates that he had various sources
at his disposal and could handle these sources in a creative and
On other occasions the servant of God
borrowed ideas from his sources as is the case in the homily for the
third Sunday of Lent but then he provided the texts which were
completely missing in his source. The fact that the ideas borrowed from
Segneri are found in an entirely different context shows that he could
adapt his sources to his own needs and circumstances. This too militates
against the idea that he slavishly copied the ideas of others. It shows
moreover that through his own experience, personal reading and
reflection, he developed themes along his own lines of thought.
Homily 18 which presents Jesus' final
words on the cross, lays special emphasis on the verb consummatum est.
This expression shows Jesus' conviction that both the mission assigned
has been fulfilled and that his earthly life have come to an end.
Chaignon too attaches great importance by repeatedly using the same verb
during the meditation for Good Friday. In this context, Chaignon
attaches to this verb 2Tm 4,7-8. Here too one may conclude that possibly
De Piro availed himself of the text in an entirely creative way.
Mgr. De Piro's homily for the fifteenth
Sunday after Pentecost shows traces of dependence on some of the ideas
contained in Segneri's homily for Ash Wednesday. Here De Piro uses
Segneri's episodes, biblical text and the presentation of the main
arguments. This is indeed a case in point where one can notice his
ability to put together ideas borrowed from different sources.
As a conclusion we have to say a word on
the other texts chosen to develop the author's thought. Joseph De Piro's
method takes us back to the classical usage of Scripture by early Church
Fathers. Texts were often quoted either because of their content or
because of verbal links.
By way of example, the various sermons on
Holy Eucharist will be quoted. We notice that Ga 2,20 occurs in homily
28 accompanied by the New Testament texts from John's Gospel (chap. 6)
and Lk 22 which occur again in homily 30 with 1Co 11,24.26. Ga 2,20
occurs again in homily 32 accompanied with a different set of texts.
One cannot bypass the conglomeration of
biblical texts that occur in homily 30 where the texts from John and
Luke are added to 1Co 11 (vss. 24.26) and the summary in Ac 2,42. Still
all this is placed against the Old Testament text taken from Ex 16,4.
Homily 39 shows the combination of the greatest number of New Testament
texts on the theme.
Considering the fact that De Piro lived
decades before Vatican II, proves that he knows his biblical texts. De
Piro confirmed what he was saying by adducing proof texts. The fact that
he quotes the New Testament so often shows that he wanted to resort to
those texts with which the congregation were more familiar. Quoting the
Pauline epistles so often at a time when these were not so popular is
certainly to De Piro's credit. This point could be studied more deeply
in connection with the preaching of other priests engaged in missionary
activity among the Maltese population.
Appendix: Mgr. J. De Piro - Biographical notes
- 2 November 1877: born in Mdina to the
Noble Alessandro dei Marchesi De Piro and Ursola nee' Agius, the seventh
of nine children.
- He received primary and secondary
education, showing also considerable talent for painting.
- Entered the Royal University of Malta as
a student of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for three years.
- Between 1897 and 1898 he started reading
- While at the University he also served
in the Royal Malta Militia.
- At 21 he felt the call to the priesthood
and on May 8, 1898 while praying to our Lady of Pompei, decided that he
should follow this vocation.
- In 1898 he enrolled as a student at the
Capranica College, beginning his studies in Philosophy and Theology at
the Gregorian University in Rome.
- 15 March 1902: ordained priest at St.
- 1902 - 1904: a period of convalescence
from TB at Davos in Switzerland.
- Returned to Malta in 1904 and spent 3
years of pastoral work in the parish of Qrendi.
- 1907: appointed Director of Fra Diegu's
Orphanage for Girls.
- 1910: founded the Missionary Society of
St. Paul by accepting the first two members.
- 1911: nominated canon of the Cathedral
- 1915: the new Archbishop of Malta, Mgr.
M. Caruana, appoints him as his secretary.
- 1918-1920: served as Rector of the Major
Seminary of Malta in Mdina.
- He was one of the Maltese leaders during
the Sette Giugno disturbances of 1919.
- 1920: nominated dean of the Cathedral
- 1921: Malta was given a new Constitution
that the National Assembly - of which Mgr. De Piro was a hard working
member - had striven for.
- 1922: served as a substitute
parish-priest for some months in Gudja.
- He was made Director of the following
1922: St. Joseph's Home, Hamrun.
1922: Jesus of Nazareth Institute, Zejtun.
1925: St. Joseph's Home, Ghajnsielem -
1925: The home for Little Children, St.
1927: St. Francis de Paule Institute,
- 1930: served as intermediary between the
Church and Lord Strickland.
- 1932-1933: served as a Senator in the
third Maltese Parliament.
- 17 September 1933: Mgr. De Piro, aged
56, died after collapsing during a liturgical service at St. Cajetan'
Parish Church, Hamrun.
of bible abbreviations
1Co 1 Corinthians
2Co 2 Corinthians
1Jn 1 John
1K 1 Kings
1P 1 Peter
1Th 1 Thessalonians
1Tm 1 Timothy
2K 2 Kings
2M 2 Maccabees
2S 2 Samuel
2Tm 2 Timothy
Ac Acts of the Apostles
Sg Song of Songs
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