St Leonard Murialdo - San Leonardo Murialdo
Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI
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"Dear brothers and sisters,
We are moving towards the end of the Year for Priests and I would like to talk to you about two holy priests who were exemplary in the gift of themselves to God, in their witness of charity, lived in and for the Church, and to their needier brethren: St Leonard Murialdo and St Joseph Benedict Cottolengo. We are commemorating the 110th anniversary of the death of the former and the 40th anniversary of his canonization, and the celebrations for the 2nd centenary of the priestly ordination of the latter are beginning.
Murialdo was born in Turin on 26 October 1828: it was the Turin of St John Bosco and likewise of St Joseph Cottolengo, a land made fruitful by so many examples of holiness among lay people and priests. Leonard was the eighth child of a simple family. As a boy, together with his brother, he entered the College of the Piarist Fathers of Savona for the elementary classes, middle school and secondary school. There he encountered teachers trained in a pious atmosphere, based on serious catechesis with regular devotional practices. Nevertheless in adolescence he went through a profound existential and spiritual crisis that led him to go home sooner than expected and to conclude his studies in Turin, where he enrolled in the two-year philosophy course. His "return to the light" occurred as he recounts after several months with the grace of a general confession in which he rediscovered God's immense mercy. Then, at the age of 17, he took the decision to become a priest, as a loving response to God who had grasped him with his love. Leonard Murialdo was ordained on 20 September 1851. Precisely in that period, as a catechist of the Oratorio of the Guardian Angel, he came to the attention of Don Bosco who appreciated his qualities and convinced him to accept the directorship of the new Oratorio di San Luigi, in Porta Nuova, which he held until in 1865. There Fr Leonard also came into contact with the grave problems of the poorest classes. He visited their homes, developing a deep social, educational and apostolic sensitivity which led him subsequently to undertake a wide range of projects for youth. Catecheses, school and recreational activities were the foundation of his educational method in the Oratorio. Don Bosco still wanted Leonard with him on the occasion of the audience that Blessed Pius IX granted to him in 1858.
In 1873, Fr Leonard founded the Congregation of St Joseph whose aim from the start was the formation of youth, especially the poorest and most neglected. Turin at that time was marked by the vigorously flourishing works and charitable activities promoted by Murialdo until his death on 30 March 1900.
I would like to emphasize that the heart of Murialdo's spirituality was his conviction of the merciful love of God, a Father ever good, patient and generous, who reveals the grandeur and immensity of his mercy with forgiveness. St Leonard did not experience this reality at an intellectual level but rather in his life, through his vivid encounter with the Lord. He always considered himself a man whom God in his mercy had pardoned. He therefore experienced a joyful feeling of gratitude to the Lord, serene awareness of his own limitations, the ardent desire for penance, and the constant and generous commitment to conversion. He saw his whole life not only enlightened, guided and supported by this love but continuously immersed in God's infinite mercy. He wrote in his Spiritual Testament: "Your mercy surrounds me, O Lord... Just as God is always and everywhere, so there is always and everywhere love, mercy is always and everywhere." Remembering the crisis he had been through in his youth, he noted: "The good Lord wanted to make his kindness and generosity shine out in a completely special way. Not only did he readmit me to his friendship, but he called me to make a decision of predilection: he called me to the priesthood, even only a few months after I had returned to him". Thus St Leonard lived his priestly vocation as a gift of God's mercy, freely given, with a sense of gratitude, joy and love. He wrote further: "God has chosen me! He has called me, he has even forced upon me the honour, glory, and ineffable happiness of being his minister, of being "another Christ'.... And where was I when you sought me, my God? At the bottom of the abyss! I was there, and there God came to find me; there he made me hear his voice."
Underlining the greatness of the mission of the priest who must "continue the work of redemption, the great work of Jesus Christ, the work of the Saviour of the world" namely, the work of "saving souls", St Leonard always reminded himself and his brethren of the responsibility of a life consistent with the sacrament received. Love of God and love for God: this was the force that impelled him on his journey to holiness, the law of his priesthood, the deepest meaning of his apostolate among poor youths and the source of his prayer. St Leonard Murialdo abandoned himself with trust to Providence, generously doing the divine will, in touch with God and dedicating himself to poor young people. In this way he combined contemplative silence with the tireless zeal of action, fidelity to every day tasks with ingenious initiatives, fortitude in difficulty with peace of mind. This was his path of holiness in order to live the commandment of love for God and for his neighbour.
... Dear friends, these two holy priests, a few of whose characteristics I have described, carried out their ministry with the total gift of their lives to the poorest, the neediest and the lowliest, always finding the deep roots, the inexhaustible source for their action in their relationship with God. They drew from his love in the profound conviction that it is impossible to exercise charity without living in Christ and in the Church. May their intercession and example continue to illumine the ministry of the many priests who spend themselves generously for God and for the flock entrusted to them, and help each one give himself joyfully and generously to God and neighbour.
BXVI - General Audience, 28 April 2010 - © Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana