The binomial Eucharist-sanctification is surely one of the constants in the life and the formative and apostolic proposal of all the saints and founders. In some of these, Eucharistic spirituality has found such a resonance and accentuation as to become a qualifying aspect of their specific spiritual form. This is the case with Blessed James Alberione, Founder of the Pauline Family. This post is limited to the key moments of Alberione's Eucharistic “experience,” with the awareness and direction that took life from it.
The vocation and mission of Blessed James was born of the Eucharist. It was during a night of Eucharistic adoration from 31 December 1900 to 1 January 1901 that the Divine Master revealed his plan to Alberione. He himself narrates the story in an autobiographical testimony given in the third person, under the title “Abundantes divitiae gratiae suae” (“the abundant riches of grace,” from Eph. 2:10).
A particular light came from the Host: greater understanding of the invitation of Jesus, “come to me, all of you...' He seemed to understand the heart of the great Pope, the calls of the Church, the true mission of the priest.... He felt deeply obliged to prepare himself to do something for the Lord and the people of the new century with whom he would live. He had a clear enough sense of his own nothingness, and at the same time heard 'I am with you until the end of the world,' in the Eucharist, and that in Jesus-Host could be found light, comfort, victory over evil. [AD 15-16]
Father Alberione lived Eucharistic spirituality in the first person and with great intensity, and inculcated it in all who entered the Pauline Family. His day, even though filled with activity, began extremely early (even before 4 a.m.) with the Eucharistic celebration, which he habitually followed up with about three hours of prayerful adoration. In the afternoon he would generally make at least another hour of Eucharistic adoration.
In this light, Alberione established that the day of the Pauline should be characterised, beyond the Holy Mass, by at least an hour (or two, depending on the Institute) of Eucharistic adoration. From the very earliest years he explained the meaning and the method of adoration, which was familiarly called the “Eucharistic visit.”
The Visit to the blessed Sacrament is to honor the Eucharist as the throne of grace, like Mass and Communion. It is the antechamber of heaven; it is the sigh for the heavenly vision and the preparation for it. It is grace, light, strength... The visit is the practice which most guides and influences our whole life and apostolate... It is the great means for living the whole Jesus Chrsit. It is the guarantee of perseverance.
For each member of the Pauline Family, then, Eucharistic “devotion” becomes the necessary and qualifying way to tend toward the fundamental goal, conformity with Christ the Master. In Alberione's though the process of conformity to Christ-Life, for the heart, coincides with the grafting of the whole person in the Eucharistic Christ: “a) Do everything: in ipso et cum ipso et per ipsum (through him and with him and in him). b) In Jesus Christ we are powerful in asking, we have the right to pardon, we worthily honor the Lord; outside of Jesus Chrsit we are ridiculous and incapable persons. c) In him everything acquires supernatural power, but separated from him we are the branch cut off from the vine.”
Clinging to the Eucharistic Christ, to Jesus Christ-Life, gradually leads to holiness through a pathway of sanctification understood as a “process of christification.”
The secret of greatness is to model oneself on God, living in Chrsit. Therefore let the thought of living and working in the Church and for the Church always be clear; grafting oneself, like a wild olive tree, onto the living olive, the Eucharistic Christ; reflecting on and nourishing oneself with every line of the Gospel, according to the spirit of St Paul.... The whole person in Christ, for a total love of God: intellect, will, heart, physical strength. Everything—nature and grace and vocation—for the apostolate. The “car” needs to run on four wheels: sanctity, study, apostolate, poverty. [AD 95,100]
Alberione understood cultivating an intense love of the Eucharist as a “most special means” for sanctification: “The most special means are those which are given to every Institute and form that complex of practices, works, studies, traditions. For us, for example, the examination of conscience whould predominate quite a bit; another great means we have is the Visit, in which adoration, reading of the Bible, examination of conscience and the Rosary are concentrated. Otherwise, these things would have to be taken care of in anotehr way. It is necessary, then, to see to our sanctification in this manner.”
The great secret of rapid sanctification is the commitment to reach the point of living a Eucharistic day, as an expression of continual spiritual union with the Eucharistic Jesus: “A good thing is to make the Host the day's foundation. This means making the day Eucharistic. From midday to the following morning you start your preparation by offering, sanctifying, and carrying out your various duties with your heart in tune with the Dweller in the tabernacle; spend the morning in thanksgiving, displaying the fruits of a holy joy, working 'through him and with him and in him' to the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity.”
Explaining the urgency and newness of the apostolat of the Pauline Family, Alberione wrote that the Gospel is communicated “in the manner with which you give Eucharistic Communion.” There is, then, a close connection between Eucharist and apostolate. It is one of the central themes in the thought of the Blessed. “Eucharistic souls” are those who perceive first and best the needs of the people of God, and who know how to respond with the greatest promptness.
But who will do the apostolate best and draw the greatest fruit from it? Eucharistic souls. Jesus in the Eucharist is the Master who teaches. Jesus in the Eucharist is the Truth and the Eucharistic soujl will have greater love for the Truth, greater zeal in the apostolate. Not only that, but the fruit of Eucharistic devotion must be love for the apostolate. The Eucharistic soul understands the desires of Jesus; this inflames the will and strengthens it in the determination to want to carry out the apostolate.
In this light, one can understand another great preoccupation in the heart of Father Alberione: Paulines—and in a special way the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master—are called not only to personally foster Eucharistic life, but to live the Eucharist as apostolate, as a sharing of the very desires of Jesus for the salvation of all. All of the initiatives set in place by Blessed Alberione were the fruit of his mystical experiences in the encounter with the Eucharistic Jesus. The Founder could declare that for his various foundations, “everything, only and always, was done in the light of the Tabernacle.”
His Spiritual Testament
“Our piety is first and foremost Eucharistic. Everything flows from the Teacher in the Eucharist as from a life-giving spring. Born from the tabernacle it is here that the Pauline Family finds its nourishment, its life, its way of working, its sanctification. Everything—holiness and apostolate—comes from the Mass, Communion and the Eucharistic visit.”
“The most holy Eucharist is the principal sacrament.... We have to reciprocaten this great love of Jesus by assisting at Mass, receiving Communion and visiting the Lord in our churches. Our Pauline life issued from the Tabernacle; that is the way it is to be lived; that is the way it will be consumed, by means of Viaticum. Everything comes from the Tabernacle; without the Tabernacle, there is nothing.”
About the Author: Rev. Gino Valtorta, a priest of the Society of St Paul, served as the Postulator General for the Cause of Beatification of Blessed James Alberione.
Photo: Blessed James Alberione offering Eucharistic benediction, circa 1956.