Monday, January 25, 2016
The special Jubilee of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis was opened on December 8, 2015, and will end on November 20, 2016. In this context, Fr. Carmelo Casile, Comboni Missionary, offers a reflection on mercy in the life and mission of St. Daniel Comboni, founder of the Comboni Missionaries. According to Fr. Carmelo, “it is evident how the exercise of mercy in the mission of Comboni is varied according to the needs of the people and the situations in which they find themselves: it is first of all to proclaim the Gospel to the Nigritia and to the whole world; and therefore it is to educate, forgive, heal, raise, admonish and rebuke with charity. It is to heal, but also to prevent errors and make people stand on their feet; in a word it is to regenerate people, starting from the most wounded, but without excluding any other person.”
IN THE LIFE AND MISSION
OF ST. DANIEL COMBONI
“As Comboni missionaries, you contribute with joy to the mission of the Church by giving witness to the charism of St. D. Comboni that finds a qualifying point in the merciful love of the Heart of Jesus for the defenseless people.
In this Heart there is the source of mercy that saves and gives hope. Therefore, as people consecrated to God for the mission, you are called to imitate Jesus, merciful and meek, and live your service with humble heart, taking care of the most abandoned people of our time. Do not tire to ask the Sacred Heart that meekness that, as daughter of charity, is patient, bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things (cfr 1 Cor 13: 4-7) (Pope Francis).
I had concluded my research on “Mercy in St. Daniel Comboni” when Pope Francis spoke to the members of our Chapter (1/10/2015). He reminds the Comboni Missionaries that the charism of Comboni:
a) finds a qualified point in the merciful love of the Heart of Jesus for the last ones;
b) and as a consequence we are called to imitate the merciful Jesus.
We may consider the first statement as the antiphon to the great Psalm personally written by Comboni with his total dedication to the missionary cause; while the second statement is like the antiphon to the personal psalm that each one of us is called to utter by living the charism in his daily life.
In the life of St. Daniel Comboni “mercy” is present from the beginning to the end, like a fundamental attribute of God and like the golden rule of the Christian in his behavior towards the other (W.3350). In the Writings Comboni shows clearly how the divine mercy molds his heart and from there it reaches out to those to whom the Providence sends him. He recognizes it in the events of the History of Salvation worked out by Him, the “all powerful God, who is all mercy, charity, justice (W.6098). He recognizes it in all those who practice charity that changes God’s wrath into gentleness (W.1774). In the life of Comboni mercy is not do-goodery, nor sentimentalism, but rather concrete love, missionary methodology rooted on mercy and compassion towards every man and woman (W.7035), assimilated “by keeping the eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, loving him tenderly and seeking always to understand more fully the meaning of a God who died on the cross for the salvation of souls” (W.2721).For D. Comboni God is mercy and love. He is aware that both words say the same thing, as by nature love is merciful. God’s mercy is not a secondary attribute, but it expresses the love, infinite and eternal, that is God himself. It is the face itself of the love of God for us. For this reason God will never regret of being merciful (W.573) and the missionary is called to put mercy at the very foundation of his apostolate (W.6837;6838).In the life of Comboni the “divine mercy” overflows from the heart of God the Father onto the heart of the Son Jesus. And from the heart of Jesus to Comboni’s heart, who is well aware of being a great sinner and thus in need of forgiveness (W.1136; 1692; 1693). Then, from his heart of forgiven sinner it overflows to the heart of all people, who belong to God, who come from God and to God return (W.3632). This dynamics of the “divine mercy” happens under the action of the Holy Spirit, understood by Comboni as the Love/Flame that from the pierced Heart of Jesus falls on the Calvary, and from there reaches all human wretchedness to regenerate every man and the whole man and raise him to Himself (W.2742).
The mystery of God
Mercy is the mystery of the love, mad and tender, of the Father for man wounded by sin. It is a mercy that expresses itself with multiple faces. God’s Mercy in fact is “divine” (W.574; 4548), “infinite” (W.1470; 1576; 1774; 1888; 2940; 2947; 3460; 4153), “immense” (W.1571). It is the divine bounty that enables the missionaries to invoke mercy on wretched souls, pleading for their conversion (W.2719); It is the “provident hand” with which God visits us “in this land of exile and tears” (W.416). Crosses coming from God are a gift of the infinite mercy (W.1612). Thus “the poor undersigned Comboni asks nothing more for himself but God’s mercy on his soul” (W.2269). God is “this good Father”. He is “the Good God”, who bestows his graces on us not because of our merits but “out of his mercy”, and for the “confidence that we have in this mercy of God (W189; 1775) who has mercy for these unfortunate people who find nothing of it from men (W.1844). God, who “in his infinite mercy helped me always through the charity of the benefactors” (W.1888; 6403). “Misericordia eius super omnia opera eius” (W.6920).
God is the “all powerful God”, to whom we address our prayers so that, in his infinite mercy, he blesses our steps and our efforts in this great work of Christian regeneration of Nigritia (W.2940; 2947). His mercy takes care of his work (W.3133). In this hour which is the hour of the redemption of Nigritia, God himself, in his infinite mercy, takes care of his work in his loving ways (W.3460). It seems that God in his mercy, has eliminated one of the biggest obstacles to the redemption of these peoples, the deadly climate (W.3602). God in his mercy destined these missionaries of good will for this vast enterprise that will bring many fruits to the Church (W.5401).
God is the “Divine Mercy” that wants the redemption of the unfortunate Nigritia. He helps to make the action of the missionaries free, secure, frank and effective enough for the eternal salvation of the souls in these abandoned lands. He consoles with abundant fruits the missionary, who works hard at the only aim of the salvation of souls, with on his lips always the cry: Africa or Death! (W.4153). Trusting in the Divine Mercy, the missionary, runs fast to the battlefield, full of hope. He gets onto the boat, the wind blows, he already moves (W.4548; 4946), like a true angel of mercy (W.4803). And there, in the mission, the mercy of God waits for the sinners to transform them, through a miracle of divine grace, into happy heirs of heaven (W.5311).
God is “The God of peace and mercy” (W.694), who fulfills within man the plans of his mercy (W.1049).God is “the Divine Providence, always rich in mercy” (W.869; 4852). He is “God provident and most merciful, who “in his immense love (720) calls the missionary to collaborate with his plans of mercy for the poor Black People”(W.1034). He is ‘that sublime Providence that in governing all things proceeds gradually and with the wisest pattern, and nothing does without purpose. He guides everything in order to implement his loving plans for the proper development of the events (W.573), so that through the ways foreseen by the Providence, the poor Africans succeed in participating in the ineffable fruits of the Redemption brought about by God made Man”. (W.810).The mercy of God reveals itself in the details of his Providence, that intervenes discretely but invariably according to the circumstances and takes care of his creatures, beginning from the feeblest and neediest.
The God “who fulfills in man the plans of his mercy” (W.1049), “is all mercy, love and justice” (W.6098). The mercy of God has established this time to call this part of the world, the most abandoned, to the true faith (5451). So now “Most Eminent and Reverend Fathers…I am convinced that this is the most suitable time to present myself to you…as I recommend to you, who are the Fathers and Teachers of all nations, the most serious cause of the Africans, imploring your protection and mercy for the peoples of Africa who are the most unfortunate of all and who have been abandoned by all” (W.2303).
The mystery of God
takes the face of Jesus
In the human history, the mystery of God Love-Mercy takes the face of Jesus and expresses itself in the gestures and words of Jesus, so that all his life is a work of mercy, concrete love “till the end” (cfr Jn 13:1; Lk 23:34).
The heart of Jesus, pierced by the spear on the Cross, made himself a welcoming heart for all of us, source of his mercy that regenerates, starting from the smallest and the farthest, so that the proclamation of the gospel and of the eternal salvation reach everybody..
In the life of Comboni, Jesus is “our dear and good Jesus”, who protects and defends “with singular Providence and love this poor and unworthy son of his”; who, “after keeping me by his divine mercy between the thorns and the cross, was abundant in consolations by making his cause and his work overcome all the attempts of a powerful enemy” (W.1479). Jesus is “the Lord” who in his infinite mercy every day gives ever greater proves so that we understand that our African work is all his. (W.1470). Thanks to the mercy of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, from 1872, when I was appointed Apostolic Pro-Vicar, till now, out of 19 missionaries who came with me, no one died, not even one (W.4690). The sacred Heart of Jesus is the most adorable, rich with the treasures of piety, bounty and mercy and we are invited to praise and bless him (W.3502; 3990).
Comboni is convinced that the solemn Consecration of the Vicariate to the Sacred Heart marks for Central Africa a new era of mercy, peace and resurrection, and that out of his divine pierced Heart will flow streams of graces and of heavenly blessings, the treasures of piety and mercy of that most adorable Hearton this great nation (W.3330; 3990). He is convinced that for Central Africa, bent under the power of Satan for so many centuries…., the Heart of Jesus, in his infinite piety, has listened to his desires and the desires of many hundreds of members of the association of the Apostolate of Prayer (W.3411).The Divine Heart of Jesus, in his infinite bounty and mercy will repair all the damages, and will guide the Holy Work with his grace (W.3834).
The Virgin Mary, mirror of the ‘divine mercy”
In his relationship with the Virgin Mary, Comboni contemplates the “good Mother of mercy” (W.1642) who in front of the wretchedness of so many men and women, appeared in “La Salette” and wept on the evils of the humanity, in order to change justice into mercy: “Profoundly moved by your appearance here to invite men to atone for their sins and to announce the reconciliation of earth with heaven, I have come to this holy mountain to implore you, divine Virgin, who wept here over the evils of humanity and came here to change justice into mercy; so I come to send up to you a cry of extreme despair that you will change into a cry of hope and salvation (W.1640).
of the Mercy-Providence of God
Comboni lives the Mystery of the “Divine Mercy” so deeply that it flows out of his mouth and of his pen, while making us participate in his rich experience of God, Love-Mercy.When we read his Writings we notice how the beginning of his missionary journey is marked by a moving Hymn to the Mercy of God that reveals himself as Providence. This hymn came out of his heart of a young missionary, on the occasion of the death of his mother (14 July 1858), a few months after his arrival at the mission (February of the same year). The words that he wrote to his father, on the very painful occasion, are a real “Canticle to the Divine Mercy and to the Pattern of the Providence”, that he saw fulfilled in the History of Salvation of the humanity, and in his personal history through the Mystery of Christ, Crucified and Risen.
Comboni who previously (3 March 1858) in a letter to his father had praised the greatness of God describing the immense and unknown landscapes of Africa: “How great and powerful is the Lord! (W.242-246), now, in the letter written to his father from the tribe of Kich (20 November 1858) sings the Mercy-Providence of God. The backgrounds of the letter are the Beatitudes: over the sadness prevails the joy of being visited by the provident hand of God, sealed by the word of Christ: blessed are those who weep (W.441). Comboni is among those happy people who weep while blessing “that provident hand that by divine mercy visited us in this land of exile and tears”.
“Ah! Is my mother then no longer alive?...Has inexorable death then cut the thread of my good mother’s days?...Are you then quite alone now, you who once saw all around you the happy company of seven children, cherished and loved by the one whom God chose to be your inseparable companion for life?...Yes, by the mercy of God it is so indeed. Blessed forever be the God who wished it so. Blessed be the provident hand which has deigned to visit us in this world of exile and of tears (W.416).
Oh! My dearest father! In what words can we give thanks to the divine mercy which, despite our unworthiness, deigns to rest with us, to visit us, to regale us with good things?...I was greatly consoled when I read you Christian resignation to the divine will, which has wished to separate you from all that was your happiness in this world. I know that at times the weakness of human nature will make you succumb beneath the burden of a great sadness. I also know that the grace of our Lord, the precious assistance of the Immaculate Virgin and the efficient words of the compassionate souls who have true affection for you will raise you up to the noblest thoughts and enable you to praise and bless the hand which in its goodness has deigned to visit you (W.417).
I exult with joy because she is closer to me than ever; and you too rejoice, because the Lord wants to hear the fervent wishes of our dear ones who are now praying for our salvation, before the throne of God. Let us both rejoice, and almost be mutually proud, because God in his infinite mercy seems to have deigned to make us feel and to show us the infallible signs of the love he has for his frail children, and has predestined us for glory. We are supremely fortunate because God is offering us a chance, and is kindly supplying us with appropriate means and opportunities, to suffer for his love” (W.419).That is the way it is. Just look at the pattern of Providence…(W.420).
With the invitation to look at the pattern of Providence, Comboni links the Mercy of God with the plans of his Providence, that is the way God approaches his faithful servants whom he predestines to eternal happiness” (W.420).
The Canticle of the Providence
and the determination
to be strong in the fight
The marvelous work of creation is in the mind of Comboni a symbol of the provident presence of God in all places. This work reaches its apex in the Resurrection of Jesus, supreme manifestation of the Mercy-Divine Providence, that trough the Cross enters also into the realm of death (cfr 1 Cor 15:14-20).
Comboni was convinced that no salvation, the one of Africa included, is possible, without the Cross. He had put the Cross as the “inevitable supreme grace, guarantee of apostolate and holiness”. Jesus, in fact, wins by dying, going through the wall of death. And also the members of his body win by living the events of life with the mind of Christ who opposed the weakness of bounty to evil, and started this way a new relationship with the humanity (cfr. Rom 12:21).
The Christian, by letting himself be crucified, saves the whole world with Christ and in Christ, because he considers himself a member of the Lord who prolongs the mystery of his Passion to the advantage of the Church and of the whole humanity (cfr. Col 1:24). At the same time, the more he is united with Christ, the Crucified One, the more he makes the experience of the Risen Lord.
In the words that he wrote to his father on the occasion of the death of the mother, Comboni develops the Canticle of the mercy of God, and writes a true “Canticle of the pattern of the Providence” that he saw implemented in the History of Salvation of the humanity through the Mystery of the Cross, that culminates in the Resurrection. This way Comboni goes deep in his Canticle of the creatures, by becoming singer of the Wisdom of the Cross, while inviting to be strong in the fighting at the side of the “same Christ, who struggles and suffers for us and with us; empowered by the assistance of such a generous and powerful Captain and Lord”. With these words, Comboni shows us the Risen Jesus, the “Eternal King’ (cfr. 2nd week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius), who invites us to follow him “in the suffering to be with him also in his glory”:
“Look at the pattern of Providence, the way God approaches his faithful servants whom he predestines for eternal happiness. The Church of Christ on earth began, grew and developed through the massacre and sacrifice of its children, through persecutions and through the shedding of its Martyrs’ and Pontiffs’ blood. Its very Head and Founder, Jesus Christ, died on a vile scaffold, a victim of a cruel and wicked nation’s fury. His Apostles met with the same fate as their Divine Master (W.420).All the Missions through which the faith has spread were established, grew and became gigantic in the world through the fury of princes, through executions and persecutions which destroyed the faithful. You do not read of a single saint who did not experience a life of thorns, trials and adversity. Even among the righteous souls we know, there isn’t a single one who is not tried, afflicted and despised. Oh the palm of heaven cannot be gained without pain, affliction and sacrifice; and those who are visited with this fortune of celestial favours can rightly call themselves happy on this earth for they are blessed with the happiness of saints foe whom it was a supreme delight to suffer great things for the glory of Christ. (W.421)
Human wretchedness is striving to deprive us of our peace of mind and hope for a better life, yet we, standing beside Jesus crucified and suffering for us, rejoice in the midst of adverse fortune, keeping this precious peace intact, which can be found only at the foot of the cross by a true servant of God. We are in the battlefield, I tell you, and we must fight bravely. Great prizes and triumphs cannot be reached other than through great toil, trials and suffering. Therefore, let the greatness of the prize that awaits us in heaven be our spur and consolation. Let us not be daunted or frightened by the size or the difficulty of the struggle. We have Christ himself by our side, fighting and suffering for us and with us. With the company and help of such a generous and powerful Captain and Lord, we shall not only be able to face the trials and suffering the Lord sends us, but shall eternally be asking him for greater ones because it is only through these, and by being spurned by the whole world, that we can attain the precious laurels of Heaven (W.424).
The Mystery of God Love-Mercy
in the charismatic event of September 1864
The Mystery of God Love-Mercy in Comboni reaches its apex, of arrival and new departure, in the charismatic event of September 15, 1864, in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the context of a strong experience of prayer, on the occasion of the beatification of Margaret Mary Alacoque. Comboni is praying on the tomb of St. Peter. He himself will state later that while in St. Peter’s Basilica, “the thought of suggesting a new Plan for converting the poor African peoples to Christianity flashed like lightening through my mind (W.4799). Comboni expressed the content of such an enlightening in the introduction of the first edition of the Plan (Torino, December 1864). “The Catholic, who is used to judging things in a supernatural light, looked upon Africa not through the pitiable lens of human interest, but in the pure light of Faith; there he saw an infinite multitude of brothers who belonged to the same family as himself with one common father in heaven. They were bent low and groaning beneath the yoke of Satan…Then he was carried away under the impetus of that love set alight by the divine flame on Calvary hill, when it came forth from the side of the Crucified One to embrace the whole human family; he felt his heart beat faster, and a divine power seemed to drive him towards those unknown lands. There he would enclose in his arms in an embrace if peace and of love those unfortunate brothers of his (W.2742).
The intuition of Comboni is clear: In the realm of death, God, Love-Mercy, enters through the Crucified Jesus. On the Calvary the cross becomes instrument and permanent sign of the saving love that from eternity spurts from the heart of the Father. Jesus, lamb sacrificed on the Cross, right when he is victim of our violence, takes on himself the evil of the world, and becomes the real revelation of the merciful face of God, to whom the wounded humanity may now return in order to live. Comboni is the first to experience of being reached by such infinite love embodied in the mystery of the Crucified Christ, who enters the realm of death and overcomes it with his Resurrection. This way the Cross becomes for Comboni, in his life, sign of the personal love of the Father for him, and a clear expression of the salvific gift in Christ, that God wants to bring, through him, to the peoples of Africa.
From the Pierced Heart of Jesus a power is released that generates life, a “divine Flame of charity”, that like a laser overcomes the mysterious darkness that wraps the Nigritia, and all the obstacles that hinder the way of the Apostle of Central Africa. The Crucified Jesus enters the painful events of Nigritia. He is the expression of his extreme and total closeness to it. He becomes one with it. With the “divine Flame of charity” that spurts from his heart, he absorbs the poison that paralyzes it. He lifts her (Nigritia) up, and brings her to himself. Jesus, who dies in the flesh taken from Nigritia, is also the son of God. Therefore his entry into the darkness that wraps her, bursts and breaks the imprisonment of her nature depressed and the chains of her slavery, recovering her totally to the embrace of the love of the Father. In the dying of Jesus his divinity is poured on those who are considered the last of the earth, and becomes in them salvific power and regenerating presence for the oppressed man. This way it opens up for Nigritia the horizon of the destiny of its history, which is the eternity and the light of divinity and of the resurrection poured upon its history of oppression. To believe and to hope with love is already to go towards where Jesus is forever, with the Father.
Comboni nourishes continually his involvement in the Mystery of the pierced Heart of Christ and introduces the dynamism of this mystery of the Divine Mercy into his evangelizing action, with the contemplation of the Mysteries of the life of the Lord. For example in the pastoral letter (1873) in which he proposes the consecration of the Vicariate to the Sacred Heart, he presents a synthesis of the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus that he himself was practicing. In it Jesus is seen in his journey of love for humanity from the “sacred crib of Bethlehem” to the tomb of the Crucified-Risen in Jerusalem.
“Never for an instant from its formation did this adorable Heart, made divine by the hypostatic union of the Word with the human nature in Jesus Christ our Saviour, always free from sin and rich in every grace, not beat with the purest and most merciful love for men. From the sacred manger in Bethlehem he hastens to proclaim peace to the world for the first time; as a little boy in Egypt, alone in Nazareth, a preacher of the good news in Palestine. He shares his lot with the poor, invites the little ones to come to him, comforts the mournful, heals the sick and raises the dead to life; he calls the burdened and forgives the repentant; dying on the Cross he prays with great docility for his own torturers; risen in glory he sends out the Apostles to preach salvation to the whole world” (W.3323).
The energy of the Spirit (the “Divine Flame”) that spurts from the pierced Heart of Christ, source of salvation and sanctuary of the redeeming love, is the energy that keeps the missionary going, and through the missionary’s activity branches and penetrates the world. The missionary becomes part of the salvific dynamism through the contemplation of the mystery of the Pierced Heart of Jesus, into which all the mysteries of his life converge. This way he becomes a disciple missionary of the Heart of Jesus according to the spirit of St Daniel Comboni (RL 1).
With his life fully offered for the missionary cause (RL 2), Comboni invites us to continue his missionary journey in the world of today, contemplating the Mystery of the pierced Heart of Jesus on the Cross, trying to understand always better” what it means a God who died on the cross for the salvation of the souls”.
The Mercy of God-Love
and the mystery
of the identification of Jesus
with the poorest and most abandoned
The Lord Jesus introduced D. Comboni into the dynamism of his divine mercy above all through the Mystery of his identification with the poorest and most abandoned, making him enter the logic of the Gospel of the preferential love for the poor.
In Mt 25:31-36 Jesus identifies himself with the poor. It is very clear: the poor is Jesus. He himself said it, in the same way as he said, “Who listens to you listens to me” (Lk 10:16) and “This is my body” (Lk 22:19).
This identification puts Comboni in front of the Theophany and Christophany in the oppression, as it happens in a temple of living stones, in need of regeneration. Seized by the vision of this Temple, Comboni finds in the Africans of his time the disfigured face of Jesus, in need of liberation, in order to live fully the dignity of sons of God (Chiocchetta, 111-112), starting this way his missionary itinerary towards Central Africa as an authentic pilgrimage towards this existential sanctuary, in which his love for Christ, the Redeemer, and for his neighbor melt in a “Christophany of the oppressed black people” (Lozano, Cristo e’ anche nero, pp 78-79), out of which he hears very clear the call to be instrument of liberation of Nigritia.
Comboni will die crucified with Christ in this Sanctuary, certain of being “a stone hid under the earth, which will perhaps never come to light, but which will become part of the foundations of a vast, new building that only those who come after him will see rising from the ground (W.2701).Many people suffered and suffer because of the cruelty, domineering attitude and human injustices, as the human being is not yet able to implement love and mercy. To be Comboni missionary means to enter into the dynamism of this paschal struggle and free Jesus himself who is oppressed, suffering and poor. Being Comboni missionary means to have a share with Jesus in the involvement in the sorrow and poverty of the people under the guidance of St. D. Comboni (RV 3-5; 3.2).
The History of Salvation is precisely a liberating action for the whole man and for all men by the Incarnate Word, through a struggle in which he suffers and falls in every person that suffers and dies, in view of letting the universal law of love triumph in the oppressed and in the oppressor.
This attitude of the merciful zeal of Comboni, focused in the first place on the last ones of the history but open to all human beings, is well expressed in the Homily of Khartoum (11 May 1873). There Comboni clearly states that in his pastoral approach the methodology will be mercy and compassion towards every human being: I am not unaware of the weight of the burden I have to carry, since as a shepherd, teacher and doctor to your souls I shall have to watch over you, educate you and correct you: defend the oppressed without hurting the oppressors, reproach errors without antagonizing those who err, denounce scandals and sins without ceasing to show compassion to sinners, seek out the corrupt without weakening to vice; in a word, be a father and a judge at the same time. But I am resigned to this in the hope that you will all help me to carry this burden with happiness and joy in the name of God (W.3159).
Comboni says without hesitation that he lives and works only for the glory of God (W.407; 920; 1004). The glory of God is not of course proud, but humble. It is the glory of Love and Mercy. It is giving up oneself up to the end. It is this logic that leads Comboni to make common cause with the people to whom he is sent (W.2742; 3159).
So, it is evident how the exercise of mercy in the mission of Comboni is varied according to the needs of the people and the situations in which they find themselves: it is first of all to proclaim the Gospel to the Nigritia and to the whole world; and therefore it is to educate, forgive, heal, raise, admonish and rebuke with charity. It is to heal, but also to prevent errors and make people stand on their feet; in a word it is to regenerate people, starting from the most wounded, but without excluding any other person.
By Fr. Carmelo Casile, mccj
Translated from Italian by Fr. Salvatore Pacifico, mccj