Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of February 21, 2009
1st reading Heb 11:1-7; Psalm 144; Gospel Mk 9:2-13
Today, for the first time, I will talk about the devotion and love for Our Lady practiced in two Roman diocesan seminaries, the Minor Seminary and the Major Seminary. The Minor Seminary was attended by seminarians from junior high school to high school studying different courses: classical, scientific or other. It is an eight-year study, for some less, depending on the year of admission into the seminary. One of the teachings I understood the most, probably due to a certain predisposition, was love, devotion and attachment to Our Lady.
Today you have known something about my life and this confirms what I am telling you, that is, the presence of Our Lady in my life, even if not experienced, has always been very strong, very clear. Speaking of this, I have already told someone that when I was nine years old, and no one had ever told me about the mysteries of the Rosary, I already knew them. I looked back on it several years later and was amazed. I have a clear memory: I had a rosary, I don't know where it came from, but even as a child, I still used to wear shorts, I put my little hand in my pocket and began to recite the Rosary. I didn't just say the Hail Mary and the Our Father, which many children know at that age, but I knew all the mysteries by heart and I learned the reason many years after.
In the Minor Seminary there is human formation, but there should be both the human and spiritual formation of seminarians. In the seminary, in those years, from 1950 to 1958, there was an very strict type of education, ten-year-old sixth-grade children were asked to make a commitment that could hardly be carried out by fifteen, sixteen or eighteen-year-old people. Not only the monastic-style getting up at six in the morning, but also a severe life, marked by the bell indicating the end of one activity and the beginning of another. I think that this kind of education and training was really exaggerated. There were, in fact, moments of discouragement and incomprehension. I have never managed, at the time, to enter into harmony and understanding with the spiritual father of the seminary. It may seem weird to you, but there was so little communication between the two of us that, at one point, this monsignor even advised me to leave the seminary and not become a priest. Instead I continued to stay in the seminary.
The title with which Our lady is invoked at the Minor Seminary is Mother of Perseverance. You understand why: perseverance is really needed, a perseverance that our Lord favors, helps and stimulates its growth. Indeed, from then on I began to grow, to be formed among the incomprehension of priests that accompanied me throughout my life. Perhaps this was in God's plans and that was my training ground, but I must say that there I also found shelter in Our Lady, who cheered me up, strengthened and encouraged me. I remember the long chats I had, sometimes alone, when I was in the seventh or eighth grade, in that little chapel dedicated to Our Lady and I used to ask her to show. I wanted to see Our Lady, I got heated, upset to the point that I took the Rosary and slammed it to the ground and, since then, I've been waiting to be able to see her. However, even if I haven't really seen her, I must say that in a particular way I well perceived her presence, when she actually helped and assisted me, also because the models that were presented and offered to me were doomed to fail in a short time. There was no understanding with the spiritual father, so, to encourage me to be better, he would, from time to time, point out to me one or another of the seminarians I should have taken as model, but after a month he left and then he showed me another one, but he too went away at the end of the year. What situation would I have found myself in if I had followed the example of those who later dropped out of the seminary? I am saying this to validate, through an awareness and knowledge of the facts, the presence of Our Lady in a strong way and I can tell you that, as I had no feeling with my spiritual father, she was truly my spiritual mother who knew how to educate me, in an incomprehensible and humanly mysterious way, to be loyal to God, to love, to chastity, to prayer and the more I went on the more I realized I was a fish out of water in that seminary. From a human point of view I was perhaps more progressive than the others in terms of how I wanted to set up the life of a seminarian, of a priest. And Our Lady kept me good company.
Today, at the Roman Major Seminary the feast of Our Lady begins from sunset of the previous day until the festive day, as in the Jewish tradition. The Roman Major Seminary is attended by those who exclusively intend to reach priesthood and therefore carry out philosophical and theological studies with a view to their priestly ordination. There we find also another small statue of Our Lady whose title is Our Lady of Trust. We can see trust, faith under a supernatural dimension, faith in God, trust in God, abandonment to God, to blindly believe Him, but there is also a human dimension, represented first of all by trust in oneself, trust in others, trust in those who live with you, who are your companions, a type of trust which is, in my opinion, the child of love. You can't have trust and no love, I trust God because I love him, I trust my husband because I love him, I trust my wife because I love her, I trust my children and friends because I love them. Therefore, this virtue too, like all virtues, derives, I believe, from love, but more so the virtue of trust which is that of faith. So in the Major Seminary we entrust ourselves to Our Lady of Trust, trust in the idea of doing it, in being sure that all obstacles can and must be overcome. As I approached the priesthood, believe me, a certain quiver entered in me, a certain fear, I wondered if I could make it or not. The fear also had repercussions on a physical level, because just this sense of greatness of priesthood and seeing myself inadequate for such a great role, caused me to suffer of stomachache until I had an ulcer which, thanks God, was then healed. I am disclosing all this to you to make sure you understand how Our Lady, even in those years and especially in those years, accompanied me up to priesthood. I didn't know anything about what they were preparing up there, not even when Our Lady was present on March 9, 1963, the day of my priestly ordination. The gift of the presence of Our Lady during the priestly ordination is an act of love that neither I nor those who were ordained priests with me would deserve, but certainly if she came, she prayed not only for me but also for my fellow seminarians and this is the reason why, even if forty-six years have passed since that day, I continue to entrust them to Our Lady.
Trust could wobble, it was like a lamp that can sway when struck by the wind, but I have always truly found the lifeline in my love for Our Lady, as it is now, after almost forty-six years. Memories emerge clearly when on the eve of my ordination, I was ordained on a Saturday, I stayed in the chapel of Our Lady of Trust until late at night. What I said belongs to my inner and personal world, but some things cannot be unknown and ignored by you. I asked for loyalty to my priesthood and I can humbly say that after so many years I have never betrayed and this is truly a great achievement, because I also remember that when I had been a priest for a few years, I met a person who unfortunately had had unhappy experiences with priests and abruptly told me that sooner or later all priests betray God and, therefore, I would too. Notwithstanding his encouragement I said I hoped it wouldn't happen. In that night of prayer, before my ordination, the foundations on which my priesthood still rests today were completed: the Eucharist and Our Lady. There was Jesus the Eucharist, there was Our Lady I used to invoke her as Our Lady of Trust, because Mother of the Eucharist was a name yet to come, still unknown, inaccessible. When I would call her Our Lady of Trust, she, who was on the other side, who knows if, while smiling, could have said: "I'll wait for you in a few years, because you will change the invocation to Mother of the Eucharist". I told you that this year, on the anniversary of my priestly ordination, all the priests will be set aside and the spiritual feast, which is what counts, will be centered on the Bishop of the Eucharist and the Victim of the Eucharist. However, I believe that behind this indicative push that Our Lady has given, in your prayers, from now on, you will add the seminars and seminarians of the diocese of Rome and you too understand that there is a reason here, a particular reason for me. For now they are unknown to me, I don't know anything about them, however they know about me, things that are not true, not nice and a demonstration of this is that they no longer send me the magazine Sursum corda, the house organ of the Roman Major Seminary. They have excluded me from the association which includes former alumni who are informed, from time to time, of the death of a former seminarian so that they can pray for this deceased person, whether he is a priest or a layman, as long as he has been in the seminary. Therefore, for now, there is only a virtual encounter before God at the moment of Mass, at the moment of Rosary. As I was saying, I'm asking you to pray for my fellow seminarians. It is proper to say this sentence and I say it with fear and trepidation, but I cannot fail to mention my fellow seminarians. Therefore, before showing myself in these seminaries with the official investiture, I ask you to entrust these seminarians to our Lord because the Church, to be reborn, needs good priests, holy and capable priests and Our Lady said: "We are preparing capable bishops”, not very, very capable. I would have been happy, very happy, if she had said we are preparing very capable bishops, but Our Lady is the mother of truth and therefore, she cannot, not even to please me or you, say one thing for another. As far as our and your responsibilities are concerned, no prayers have been poured out for these seminarians so far, because I have not told you about them, I have not asked for your cooperation and I have not solicited your prayers, but from now on do your utmost and remember this: by praying for them, eventually, you will be praying for me, because the more honest, virtuous and good they are, the easier it will be for me to begin, to carry on, to bring to fruition and complete the task that God, with no desire or merit of mine, will entrust me. He is a witness that I speak the truth. I asked and urged, therefore, by praying for the Bishop, from March 15 onwards, to pray for the priests I will work with and will depend on me, for the Bishops I will work with and will depend on me, but above all for the seminarians who will become priests, whom I will ordain and who will have to work for the local Church of God, which is the one in Rome, and the universal church, for the whole world.