St Luigi Orione

(entered heaven this day in 1940)

Dear Lewis,

I think the Devil’s winning.  In the battle for your spiritual formation, I mean.  You have fixated on your tendency to lose your temper, and that just makes it worse.  You think that if you just force yourself to be patient and gentle your volatile temperament will somehow go away.  That’s not true.  Your volatile temperament will never go away.  That’s how you are.  You will always have strong, violent initial reactions to everything.  That’s how God made you.  The important thing, though, isn’t your initial reaction, but what you do with that reaction.  You can either let yourself be carried away by it, or you can channel it, control it, guide it.  But you can only do that if you have a reason to.  And that’s where your fixation does so much damage.  You are trying to defeat darkness by chasing shadows; you ought to be getting rid of shadows by turning on a light.  Don’t try to “stifle your anger”; instead, try to achieve great things for Christ.  If that’s your goal, you will be able to steer even your anger in a productive direction.  This is basic spirituality, and I know we’ve talked about it before, but it’s clear you haven’t learned the lesson yet.  Maybe contemplating the example of today’s saint will help.

The man was a hurricane.  Though poor, and sickly in health, he could never find enough to do.  Early on he joined the Franciscans, but his poor health sent him packing.  Then he joined the Salesians, and even met St John Bosco, but he left them as well, and entered a diocesan seminary.  While there, his fellow seminarians mocked him continually, for two reasons: 1) he was poorer than they were, and dressed shabbily, and didn’t have many things; 2) he was a hothead, and they loved teasing him and trying to get him to blow his cool, or watching him try to keep it.

The continual mockery served as a kind of school where he learned to control his fiery temper and put his energy at the service of others.  In fact, little by little, his example and his refusal to criticize or “pay back” ill treatment with anything but mercy and service (he took care of his sick brother seminarians, worked in the seminary to help pay his way, and did all kinds of odd jobs to make seminary life more tolerable for everyone) won over everybody and even served to save a few of the young men from abandoning their vocations.

Life in Italy at the time was difficult, to say the least.  Poverty was rampant.  Don Orione (as he was later called) couldn’t sit idly by (there’s his fiery temperament coming to the fore again).  While still a seminarian, he started gathering poor boys and orphans for instruction.  The group swelled so quickly that they outgrew the little room he was using, and then they outgrew the bishop’s garden, and so the future saint had to ask permission from the bishop to go and find a building that he could use to continue his work and even start a school for these street kids.  The bishop gave his permission, on the condition that Don Orione would find the necessary economic support.  The young man went out into the city that very day to look for it.

Meanwhile, some of the other priests in the seminary suggested to the bishop that he had acted prematurely, giving such approval.  So when Luigi got back, the bishop called him into his office and withdrew his permission.  But Don Orione explained that he had already received a donation to cover the first year’s rent on a building that could be used for a school, and had even begun enrolling students.  Faced with such incredibly swift progress, the bishop renewed his permission.

And that was how his entire life went.  Whenever he saw a need, he put his determined and energetic temperament to work in order to meet it, quickly and effectively.  Italy suffered two devastating earthquakes during his lifetime, and there he was, walking among the ruins and taking care of everyone he found, coordinating recovery efforts and even organizing assistance for priests who were in trouble.  He founded two apostolic religious orders, over a hundred charitable institutions, and two other contemplative orders, one of men who were hermits and another of blind women, both of which were dedicated to giving full-time prayer support to his many charitable and apostolic projects.  He even continued to amaze people after his death.  When his body was exhumed after 25 years of burial, it was perfectly incorrupt.

I could go on and on; the man was a chain reaction of Christian charity, but I hope you get the point.  The Devil wants you to focus all your attention on your faults, so that you turn in on yourself.  The Holy Spirit would prefer that you focus on Christ and his Kingdom, and turn your faults to your advantage.  It’s like gravity: it seems to be a defect when you’re trying to move heavy loads, until you put the loads on wheels; then gravity actually helps.

Your devoted uncle,


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