Blessed James Alberione

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It tells of a historical event that took place when Mannaseh, King of Judah, was a prisoner in Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar, after defeating the king of the Medes, subjugates Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and Arabia. All of them, terrified, surrender. Israel, however, incited by the High Priest Eliakim, attempts to resist. Holofernes, the general leading the Assyrians, besieges Bethulia and reduces it to the extreme, and the Bethulians decide to surrender.
A pious widow, Judith, goes with a maidservant to the Assyrian camp; brought to Holofernes and detained by him, she cuts his head and brings it to Bethulia. The besieged, after attacking the enemy that flees, loot the camp. Eliakim and the people celebrate Judith and establish a feast to memorialize the great victory.
This little book, overflowing with trust in God, shows that a repentant people is never abandoned by God: its heroine is Judith, who is to be admired as a beautiful example of virtue and fortitude, a type of the true strong woman, Mary Most Holy.
The author of the book is unknown.


It is a historical book. The events concern the Jews left in Persia after the edict of Cyrus. We are in the years 485-465, during the reign of Xerxes I (Ahasuerus).
Here is the story: Xerxes during the third year of his reign repudiates Vashti, the queen, because she refuses to join a public banquet. In Vashti's place, he chooses Esther, foster daughter of Mordecai, who often visits to know how she fares and chances to discover and unmask a plot against the king. His act is recorded in the annals. Meanwhile, Haman becomes the prime minister and, hating the Jews, especially Mordecai who refuses to prostrate before him, resolves to exterminate the Jews. After getting the royal decree of extermination, he draws lots to set the date. The orders are given and the Jews begin to despair: Esther, urged by Mordecai, attempts to be received by the king. He receives her and invites her to dinner along with Haman, and repeats the invitation for the next day. Haman sets up a gibbet for Mordecai but Xerxes, who has read this man's deeds, commands him to honor him. At the banquet, Esther accuses Haman and Xerxes commands that Haman be hanged in the gibbet he prepared for Mordecai. Mordecai is then made prime minister and with a new decree obtained from the King nullifies that of Haman, wreaks tremendous vengeance on his enemies, and establishes the feast of Purim.
How noble is Esther's example who, after being raised in dignity, does not forget her persecuted brethren but intercedes for them and saves their lives!
The book is attributed by most to Mordecai himself. Of him we do not know more than what is written in the book itself.


The Bible and Ascetic Theology

Had your teaching not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

(Ps 118/119:92)

To finish the beautiful picture of Theology in relation to Holy Scripture, let us consider today the Bible and Ascetic Theology.
Ascetic Theology can be defined as: the art of Christian perfection to be attained through ordinary and common ways.
It is a science that unfortunately people esteem little. Today's persons give much value to and esteem much the natural sciences as, for example, mechanics, physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc., etc.; in a word, all the arts useful for the present life; and they think little that there is a much more important and noble art, that is the art of saving one's soul.
Ascetic Theology is a sublime and divine science; it has God as its author and its purpose is to guide souls to heaven.
Is there in the world a more beautiful and useful science than this, which teaches us how to save our souls? Oh, certainly not. This in fact is the principal task of man on this earth.
All of man's perfection lies in the love of God, and all sciences, if they do not lead to this, are vain. Now, Ascetic Theology has precisely this very noble aim, to lead the soul to love God above all things, through the ordinary ways of the Commandments and the Evangelical Counsels.
It is the task of Ascetic Theology to teach man how to uproot from his heart every vice and let all virtues bloom in it: to guide the soul to love God with tenderness, through the practice of its daily duties.
[Meaningful is the following testimony]
I was allowed to have a Bible... This divine book that I had always loved much, even when I seemed to be an unbeliever, was now studied by me with more respect as never before. Little by little I became capable of meditating it more profoundly and to savor it ever better.
Such a reading never gave me the least disposition to bigotry, that is, that badly understood devotion that makes one narrow-minded and fanatic. Instead, it taught me to love God and people, to long ever more for the kingdom of justice, and to abhor iniquity, while forgiving the wicked. (Silvio Pellico)1
Souls who are most desirous of perfection, wanting to progress ever more in holiness, seek ascetical books that may teach them how to love the Lord more, how to obtain more merits for Heaven and how to save more souls. And many are the spiritual books aimed at this: all the works of St. Alphonsus, for example, are inspired for this; those of Fr. Alfonso Rodriguez,2 of Alvarez,3 of St. Ignatius, of St. Francis de Sales, etc. These are all names that will never be forgotten and their writings shall not pass away with the passing of time, but will last for as long as the Bible, inasmuch as they are nothing but a commentary of it, and they form with it like one thing.
Hence the relationship between Theology and the Bible is very close. Ascetics in fact draws all its very lofty truths from Holy Scripture; so much so that during the first centuries of the Church, the principal, if not the only book of Ascetics, was the Holy Gospel, and it is said that St. Serapius was converted after reading the Gospel and, leaving the world, withdrew to the desert with nothing but a linen cloth on his shoulders and in his hand the book of the Holy Gospels.
The monks of St. Pacomius, of St. Basil and of St. Benedict did not have any other book of ascetics except the Sacred Scriptures, and it was prescribed by their Rules that they read every day a passage of the Holy Gospel and of the Letters of the Apostles.
It is true that Ascetic Theology is commented, illustrated and bolstered by the entire Catholic
Tradition, but its real source is, and shall always be, the Sacred Scriptures.
Nonetheless, if I told you to take the Holy Bible as a textbook of Ascetics, I would err because we have to draw from the Bible the truths not in our own way, but according to the spirit and teaching of our infallible mother, the Church. Hence in order to understand and draw ascetical science from the Bible, we need to read first a treatise of ascetics, for example La pratica di amar Gesù Cristo,4 l'Imitazione di Cristo,5 il Diario Spirituale,6 il Teotimo7 of St. Francis de Sales, and others like them, after the reading of which, if we move on to open the Bible, we shall find in it, in all their beauty, the truths read and learned from the book of spirituality.
God, the first teacher of Ascetics, in the letter he sent us, tells us very beautiful examples of ascetic persons and in many ways inculcates and excites us towards the acquisition of perfection.
How much good the beautiful examples of Abel, Joseph, Jacob, Esdra, Ruth, Judith, etc., do to our souls. All the Patriarchs and the Prophets of the O.T. are an example and an incitement for us to holiness.
The most salient and most beautiful passages of Ascetic Theology we, however, find in the N.T.: it is here that the life of our Divine Master Jesus, who is the most perfect model of ascetic life, is narrated for us in breadth and in depth. By reading especially the four Gospels, we come to know that his entire life was a continuous act of love for the Heavenly Father, so much so that he could rightly say: ...learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart. (Mt 11:29)
We know how the Apostle Paul, after hearing the voice of Jesus, tried to imitate in everything his Divine Master, so much so that St. John Chrysostom did not hesitate to say that the heart of Paul was the heart of Christ, that is, the life of the Apostle was the same life of Jesus Christ. St. Paul himself, writing to the Corinthians, says, Be imitators of me as I am of Jesus Christ. (1Cor 4:16)
Oh, divine model of holiness and perfection! Yes, O Jesus, he who follows you and imitates you shall be a saint!
And now, we ought to say more in detail how the Sacred Scriptures are the source of the whole of Ascetic Theology,8* how it is its spirit and soul, how it indicates to us the means and the rewards and how it makes us beware of so many enemies who block us in the path of goodness, etc. But how can all this be possible for me in so short a time? I invite you to do only one thing, that is, take the Holy Gospel and open it in Chapter 5 of St. Matthew and read the Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus. There, in those eight Beatitudes, you have the compendium of the entire Ascetic Theology; there you will find the foundation of all the spiritual books. The soul, thirsting for perfection, finds here the freshest and most limpid waters to quench its thirst.
In order to have a true and living Asceticism, not dead or limited only to reason and sentiment, one must, after reading the treatise, read the Sacred Scriptures. It is then that the most beautiful marble statue
acquires life and warmth that, in turn, are communicated to the soul.
And now let us pray to the Lord so that he may guide those souls desirous of holiness to the true source of life, the Bible.

EXAMPLE. - St. Hilary of Poitiers. - He is one of the champions of the Church who, with St. Athanasius and others, defended the Catholic Church from the serious danger of Arianism.9
Coming from a pagan family and educated as a pagan, not satisfied with the foolish ideals of paganism, he sincerely searched for the truth. The more I reflected, he writes, the more I was persuaded that there cannot be but one God, eternal, omnipotent and unchanging. Now when such thoughts were in my mind, I happened to lay hold of the books of Moses and the Prophets.
His mind was completely cleared; hence, with the reading of the New Testament, the Truth of the Christian Faith won over his heart and led him to join the Church. The writings of the Evangelists, he says, and of the Apostles, and especially the beginning of St. John's Gospel unveiled to me what I was looking for and much more than I would have dared to hope.
Among his writings, there are many books on the Scriptures, like the commentary on St. Matthew, the Psalms, and the explanation of the personalities of the Old Testament in relation to the New.
The Church has honored him with the title of Doctor.

LITTLE SACRIFICE. - Among the praises of the merits and of the virtues of the glorious virgin Cecilia, we read that she carried with her, at all times, hidden in her bosom, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I advice you to do the same because, among the exercises of the spiritual life, I believe that this is what is most necessary for you, the most useful, and that can lead you to a higher degree of perfection.

(St. Bonaventure)


O LORD, I have heard your renown,
and feared, O LORD, your work.
In the course of the years revive it,
in the course of the years make it known;
in your wrath remember compassion!
God comes from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
Covered are the heavens with his glory,
and with his praise the earth is filled.
His splendor spreads like the light;
rays shine forth from beside him,
where his power is concealed.
Before him goes pestilence,
and the plague follows in his steps.
He pauses to survey the earth;
his look makes the nations tremble.
The eternal mountains are shattered,
the age-old hills bow low along his ancient ways.
I see the tents of Cushan collapse;
trembling are the pavilions of the land of Midian.
Is your anger against the streams, O LORD?
Is your wrath against the streams,
your rage against the sea,
That you drive the steeds of your victorious chariot?
Bared and ready is your bow,
filled with arrows is your quiver.
Into streams you split the earth;
at sight of you the mountains tremble.
A torrent of rain descends;
the ocean gives forth its roar.
The sun forgets to rise,
the moon remains in its shelter,
At the light of your flying arrows,
at the gleam of your flashing spear.
In wrath you bestride the earth,
in fury you trample the nations.
You come forth to save your people,
to save your anointed one.
You crush the heads of the wicked,
you lay bare their bases at the neck.
You pierce with your shafts the heads of their princes
whose boast would be of devouring the wretched in their lair.
You tread the sea with your steeds
amid the churning of the deep waters.
I hear, and my body trembles;
at the sound, my lips quiver.
Decay invades my bones,
my legs tremble beneath me.
I await the day of distress
that will come upon the people who attack us.
For though the fig tree blossom not
nor fruit be on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive fail
and the terraces produce no nourishment,
Though the flocks disappear from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
Yet will I rejoice in the LORD
and exult in my saving God.
GOD, my Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet swift as those of hinds
and enables me to go upon the heights.

(Hb 3:2-19)


The greatest of the Commandments

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, Which is the first of all the commandments?
Jesus replied, The first is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than this.
The scribe said to him, Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.' And 'to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

(Mk 12:28-34)


My God, I am too ashamed and confounded to raise my face to you, O my God, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads and our guilt reaches up to heaven.
From the time of our fathers even to this day, great has been our guilt, and for our wicked deeds we have been delivered over, we and our kings and our priests, to the will of the kings of foreign lands, to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, and to disgrace, as is the case today. And now, but a short time ago, mercy came to us from the LORD, our God, who left us a remnant and gave us a stake in his holy place; thus our God has brightened our eyes and given us relief in our servitude. For slaves we are, but in our servitude our God has not abandoned us; rather, he has turned
the good will of the kings of Persia toward us. Thus he has given us new life to raise again the house of our God and restore its ruins, and has granted us a fence in Judah and Jerusalem.

(Ezr 9:6-9)


1 Italian patriot and writer, Silvio Pellico (Saluzzo 1789 - Turin 1854) is known above all for the story of his political imprisonment under the Austrian Empire, described in the book Le mie prigioni, which is considered a noble testimony of faith and of Christian forgiveness.

2 Reference is to Alonso (not Alfonso) Rodriguez, a Spanish Jesuit, a writer of Ascetics (Valladolid 1538 - Seville 1616). For many years, he taught Moral Theology at the Monterrey College, then for thirty years he was the master of novices and rector of Montilla. The work that made him famous was the Ejercicio de perfección y virtudes cristianas, in three volumes, published in Seville in 1609. He was highly esteemed by many founders of religious institutes, among whom Don Alberione.

3 Diego Álvarez de Paz (Toledo 1560 - Potosí 1620) was one of the principal authors of spirituality of the Society of Jesus. A missionary in Peru and a professor of Philosophy, Theology, and Sacred Scriptures, he owes his renown for his three volumes of Spiritual Theology: De exterminatione mali et promotione boni (1613), De inquisitione pacis seu studio orationis (1617), De vita spirituali eiusque perfectione (1618).

4 The practice of loving Jesus Christ. It is a work by St. Alphonsus de' Liguori, written in 1768, “for the use of souls who desire to assure their eternal salvation and to walk in the paths to perfection,” and considered by the saint as “the most devout and useful of all my works.” It had at least 516 editions, cf. Bibliotheca Sanctorum I, p. 853.

5 De imitatione Christi, [The Imitation of Christ] is a book attributed to Thomas a' Kempis (cf. note 5 on p. 226).

6 Cf. Diario spirituale. Scelta di detti e fatti di santi e di altre persone di singolare virtù [Spiritual Diary, A selection of sayings and facts by saints and other persons of singular virtue]. Pia Società San Paolo, Roma-Alba 1927 (reprint Bari 1956-1957). The book was anonymously published in Naples in 1775; two centuries later the Dictionnaire de Spiritualité (item Journal spirituel, Paris 1974), attributes its authorship to the Barnabite B. Canale, Milan 1749. - The saying of 1 January is by St. Francis de Sales: “Consider that your entire past is nothing and say with David: now I begin to love my God.”

7 Teotimo or Trattato dell'amor di Dio [Treatise on the love of God], published in Lyon in 1616, can be considered as the masterpiece of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. Its principal sources are: the Bible, above all the Psalms, Job, Jeremiah, the Canticle of Canticles and the letters of St. Paul; St. Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, Catherine of Genoa, Teresa of Avila. The aim is made clear in the preface: “I have not thought of any other than to simply and naturally represent the story of the birth, progress, decadence, operations, traits, advantages, and excellence of divine love... The purpose of the treatise is to help the devout soul, so that it can advance in its aim.” The treatise was written in a special manner for the Sisters of the Visitation and for souls of the contemplative life.

8* Pio VI writes to Msgr. Martini, a famous translator of the Holy Bible: “You think very excellently if you judge as something necessary that Christians be greatly stirred to read the Holy Gospel; because these are the most bountiful sources from where access for every believer must be open and easy, in order to draw from them holiness of morals and of doctrine.”
[Msgr. Antonio Martini (Prato 1720 - Florence 1809), graduated in Letters in Pisa, was archbishop of Florence. Upon invitation of Card. Vittorio Amedeo delle Lanze he dedicated himself to the Italian version and the commentary of the Vulgata, in conformity with the norm of Pope Benedict XIV (brief of 13 June 1757), according to which the translation of the Bible into modern language is allowed as long us it is equipped with notes drawn from the holy Fathers and from learned Catholic Authors. The Bible of Msgr. Martini (Naples 1771-1781) was approved through a papal brief of Pius VI dated 17 March 1778.]

9 A heresy that denied the divinity of Jesus Christ as Son of God. It was condemned by the Council of Nicea in 325. Arius, a priest of Alexandria, died in the year 336; the Arian controversy, however, occupied a large part of the IV century and was crucial for the explicitation and development of the Christian doctrine.