ALLAMANO, A WITNESS TO CONSOLATION
WHICH HE LIVED AND COMMUNICATED TO OTHERS
Allamano lived consolation and communicated this experience to others. He understood consolation as salvation and union with God which began with his special attachment to Mary as the “Consolata.” He was an authentic witness to consolation. The message he passed on to us enjoys the guarantee of his own holiness.
1. Allamano, “consoled” and “consoling”
Before she was known as the “Consolata” Mary was the “Addolorata” [the Lady of Sorrows]. She suffered at the death of her son but then experienced definitive consolation in his resurrection. She is the authentic witness to the resurrection and the resurrection establishes her role in the Church – she became “consolation” for her Son’s disciples and for the whole human family.
By analogy we believe Allamano was genuinely a man of “consolation.” Through Mary, he was open to an intense experience of God. Anyone who heard him speak or witnessed his daily life noticed immediately his “inner fullness,” a sort of “spiritual joy” that derived not so much from his extraordinary accomplishments as from an awareness of what he felt within himself, an awareness of what he was. As a realist he knew God had abundantly blessed all his endeavors, but he also knew that he had responded positively to God by being obedient to his superiors (Cf. Letters IX/2, 653-654). In this respect Allamano was an authentic “man of consolation.”
Just as he felt himself at peace with God Allamano managed to inspire courage and serenity in others. He was aware of this phenomenon – in fact it was intentional. An example of this is apparent in his words on the family: “I hope to apply to the Institute the experience of community I have lived my whole life. Pay close attention to my orders, exhortations and wishes – all of which you know.” (Conf. IMC, I, 15). How often he said, “Do as I do.” “Make an effort” etc. We need only recall how much he insisted that we never change the missionary goals of our Institute. He wanted us to live out his spirit – the spirit of “consolation.” He became an effective “man of consolation”, a credible “witness” of “consolation.”
We might ask why should our Founder’s spirit be so sure a compass – we would not exchange it for any other? Was it our respect for him as a wise, educated, prudent and generous man? Or our reliance on his spiritual resources as a man of God? His inner resources made him an authentic witness of evangelization. Were he not a saint Allamano would not have been so passionately interested in universal evangelization – he would not have become the father of missionaries. In this respect Allamano was indeed “consoled.” His inner life was rich – it approached holiness. A man of consolation. His was an apostolate that reached beyond the boundaries of the Church. There was a distinctly Marian aspect to our Founder’s personality and this Marian element was decisive in his personal life and apostolic activity. This Marian aspect was not generic but specific: it involved the mystery of consolation/salvation. Who knows what spiritual heights he reached during those long years at the foot of the Consolata. He never told us what thoughts and feelings passed through his head as he spent long hours contemplating Our Lady’s image in the chapel, but from what we know of him we can well imagine. We know that the idea of the Institute came to him during the time he spent in adoration before the tabernacle when his gaze fell on the image of the Consolata. We were in his heart before he organized the Institute – and along with us there were others he did not know but whose right to learn of the Father revealed by Jesus he respected.
2. Allamano’s personal relationship with the Consolata
It was more than a relationship it was a vital “understanding.” Speaking about the Consolata Allamano was both bold and disarmingly simple. He refers to her as his own. He once said to the sisters, “You see, we are destined to love Our Lord. We must do good as much as possible. I would have been happy to live my life as the Rector of the Consolata Shrine, and yet … I haven’t yet seen Our Lady today. This morning when I left the Shrine was still closed; tonight when I return it will already be closed. I have only seen Our Lady in the cathedral where I celebrated a sung Mass. I saw the cathedral Madonna – but she is not my Madonna. “ (Conf. MC, II, 556-557). Elsewhere he adds, “and still it is the same Madonna.” (Conf. IMC, II, 465). These are simple but beautiful thoughts and they indicate something deep inside him. If we look closely we will note the delicacy with which Allamano speaks of the Consolata – it is moving. A delicacy which is not limited to sentiment, no it is dynamic, it leads to action on behalf of one’s brothers.
What is even more striking is Allamano’s reference to himself as the “treasurer” or “secretary” of the Consolata. He reached the summit of his understanding with Mary – it has flowed into action. He is convinced that he works in concert with the Consolata. In a commentary on the Constitutions to the sisters he explains the Institute’s name with these words, “Above all I had the right to give the Institute this name because I have power with the Consolata; I am her secretary, her treasurer … For you talk about the Madonna always refers to the Consolata.” (Conf. MC, III,17).
Another time speaking to the sisters during the Consolata novena Allamano asked them to pray to Our Lady for two special intentions: the first of which the Holy See’s approval of Don Cafasso’s beatification miracle. His words are almost an outburst: “Pray that Our Lady give us this gift and yet if she decides not to, we won’t be upset. Here at the Sanctuary, I am, in effect, her treasurer and secretary. I should have the right to expect special favors, and yet … Others come and tell me they have been granted this favor … Mary did this for me … and what do I do? I record everything … Pray that God’s will be done: this will do it, you’ll see!” (Conf. MC, III, 436). Finally he tells us that he has an agreement with Our Lady: “”All the prayers our men and women missionaries offer for the canonization of Don Cafasso, offer them up and be holy – beginning with the most recent arrivals …I believe Our Lady will respond … I am her secretary … her treasurer, and I have the right to be heard before everyone else.” (Lett., X, 51, no. 3).
A further example of the Founder’s sensitivity is his frequent use of “dear” and “our” when referring to the Consolata. He closes letters to missionaries with expressions using these words – a sign of his sensitivity and intimacy with Our Lady, “My the Lord bless you; I pray for all of you at the feet of OUR DEAR Lady, the Consolata.” (Lett. IX/2, 681). “Take courage and receive the blessing of OUR Consolata.” (Lett. X, 156).
Who or what gave Allamano this certainty if not his intimate relationship of faith and love with Mary – and through her with Our Lord? This intimacy is a guarantee and an example for us. Our founder did not just assert that the Consolata was HIS – he was emphatic, she is OURS.
3. Missionaries “consoled” and “consoling”
Our Founder is an example of how to understand and live the missionary spirituality of consolation; it is not just for our personal growth – it is something we must pass on to others in the course of our mission apostolate. The Founder was communicating his own experience – like him we must be both “consoled” and “consoling.” We must not forget the motto that headed our first regulations in 1901. It came from the prophet Isaiah (66,19): “Et annuntiabunt gloriam meam gentibus” [They will proclaim my glory to the gentiles]. The glory was God’s and it consisted primarily in the salvation of all mankind because “a man saved is the glory of God” (St. Irenaeus). The Founder defined the relationship between his missionaries and Our Lady with these words: “The Consolata is sensitive/delicate and wants her children to be equally sensitive.” (Conf. IMC, III, 577).
We see Allamano as bold: he taught us to understand our relationship with the Consolata in these unforgettable words: “How many others come, pray and go away with favors and miracles – and we who are her chosen sons? We bear her title as our given and family name. Under this title she is our special mother.” (conf. IMC, I, 568). “We are the chosen sons of the Consolata and these are not just words but a fact … Is not Our Lady under the beautiful title of Consolata our Mother, are we not her children? Yes, she is our tender Mother who loves us as the apple of her eye, who inspired our Institute and who has supported it spiritually and materially lo these many years both here at the Motherhouse and in Africa. She is ever attentive to our needs and for this reason I sleep in peace without worries …” (Conf. IMC, II, 308). “When you speak about Our Lady you refer always to the Consolata (Conf. MC, III,17). “I would be doing you an injustice if I asked you to pray the novena to the Consolata well. Your heart prompts you to do this. We are the children of the Consolata – her favored sons.” (Conf. IMC, II, 602). These expressions are not just beautiful and unforgettable they are binding.
We must follow in our Father’s footsteps as missionaries of consolation. This should be evident in our apostolic priorities. We must be on the cutting edge – courageous – and work for the most neglected. Generosity involves uncomfortable choices; the apostolate calls us to confront and resolve unknown and problematic situations without complaint. The spirit of consolation obliges us to face up to new situations – globalization, uncontrolled migrations, rapport with other religions; all these phenomena condition evangelization; we have no time for regret or nostalgia for outdated methods of missionary work. “Consolation” is not static – it is constantly renewed and up-to-date.
Apostles of Consolation are identified by the “spirit and style of consolation” that characterizes their relations with both the Church community and non-Christians. This is why the Consolata Missionary is to be found in the midst of the people – preferably the outcast.
What conclusions can we draw from these reflections? With regard to individuals our Founder said something to the sisters that is equally applicable to us: “The name you bear must move you to become what you ought to be.” (Conf. MC, III, 275). The spirituality of “consolation” is the guaranteed basis of our life and our apostolate. In his message on our centenary, Pope John Paul II reiterates this: “I could not close my exhortation without recalling your identity as missionaries and religious with a profound Marian identity. Your Institute was born in the shadow of the Sanctuary of the Consolata – the heart of Christian Turin. Allamano himself often insisted that Mary was your Foundress. ‘Our actual Foundress is the Consolata’ he repeated frequently. With the help of the Consolata, dearest brothers, spread genuine ‘consolation’ – salvation in Christ Jesus, the Savior of Mankind.” (no. 5). Can we not hear in this papal exhortation the words of our Founder, “First saints and then missionaries.” ?
5. Subjects for reflection
- As individuals and communities do we study our Founder’s thought before making a decision?
- To what extent does Our Lady the Consolata influence our life and apostolate?
- How can people recognize in us and in our communities “consolation” – that is the positive spirit Allamano passed on to us?
Father Francesco Pavese IMC