When I was writing my thesis, at least once a month on Friday mornings, I would go the FSP place in Camberwell and stay there the whole weekend to share in their apostolate and meals. Their community is composed of one Italian, one Filipino, and one Japanese, all of them very good cook. I love to stay downstairs with Sr. Grace, the Japanese sister because she’s the one who receives the books and CD’s from overseas. Every time I open the box, it‘s like I’m opening a Christmas present. I love to run my hands through the glossy cover of the books, wishing I have a copy of each. It will always take me some time to check the entire delivery because I would read the preface of each book first before I key in the title to the computer. At night, I would read some of these books, knowing we will never have those in the Philippines. It didn’t take me long to notice that most of the books speak or say something about Ignatian Spirituality. The books shipped from UK were almost always about the spirituality of the Celts. I’ve always been interested about spirituality but have always thought that they are all the same. Reading about Ignatian and Celtic spiritualities I remembered hearing about Pauline Spirituality myself from some of our retreats. So I asked Sr. Grace, don’t we have books about Pauline Spirituality? “It’s on display at the bookshop”, she said. I dropped what I was doing right there and then and rushed upstairs and proudly announced to Sr. Linda, “I’m thinking of reading about Pauline Spirituality tonight. It’s only proper I know something about it”. “It’s right at back of the shelf of Joyce Rupp books”, she said. Yes, Joyce Rupp’s works occupies an entire shelf!
There were about half a meter line of books about Paul’s letters there but I couldn’t find a single book which mentions Pauline spirituality in the title or even in the Preface. So I asked Sr. Linda if she could give me a title because all the books in the shelf were about explanations of the letters of St. Paul. She looked at me with puzzled eyes, and I looked at hers but I was sure hers was more puzzled. For the first time, it occurred to me, Pauline Spirituality has to do with St. Paul! How could I miss the Paul in Pauline? I was expecting it has to do with James Alberione or John’s gospel because Way, Truth and Life are in John’s. Your father is St. Paul says Fr. James Alberione. I never made the connection till that moment.
I picked one of the books in the Paul series and scanned it. The book is printed in very small prints, no questions for reflection, no suggested activities or exercise, no drawings, no stories or anecdotes and with a lot of footnotes which do not make sense to me because it was very different from the style I use for my paper. I never laid my hands to any of those books after that. “Surely, there are books that Primo Maestro used to write or explain Pauline Spirituality”, I asked the Italian sister manning the cash register (I couldn’t recall her name now, but she makes very good pasta). “I have some, I’ll put it in your room after dinner”, she promised me. For the first time in the many nights that I stayed with them, I slept past midnight eating almost half a kilo of assorted nuts while watching TV. The books neatly and lovingly arranged on my bedside table were all in Italian!
Of course, after that I made a conscious effort to understand something about Pauline Spirituality but without much success. The concept was simply very elusive. I seem to understand it when somebody is speaking about it but after that I’m clueless about it again. Sometimes, I’m tempted to consider it a mystery. But I have never heard or read that it’s a mystery. For James Alberione it was very real. He lived it and he wants people to live it so how can it be a mystery?
Last week, during the Pauline Family retreat facilitated by Sr. Elena Bossetti, a pastorella, I believe I finally got something I could hold on to. Our life, like that of St. Paul, should first be lived in thanksgiving and praise. Check out the letters of St. Paul. After the salutation, you would read “First of all, I give thanks to my God…”, “ I continually thank my God…”, “I give thanks to my God, …”, “I thank God always …”, “Praised be the God , the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, …” except of course in his letter to the Galatians. He was very angry to this lot to the point of calling them “foolish Galatians”. They say that you would know more about a man when he is fuming with anger than when he is calm. So go read and meditate on Galatians for a start so you would know why Blessed James Alberione chose Paul for your father. Of course, it was grace but I also think it was genius.