There is Sense in everything that happens
Vincent Pallotti was born into insecure times 225 years ago.
What kind of an insecure world is that: The church’s authority is getting shakier by the minute. Secular tendencies are getting into power using force and violence, people all of Europe are carried off by a pandemic disease, Rome is shaken by a fatal influenca virus, the danger of cholera is lurking around the corner. Vincent Pallotti, the man who is going to found the Catholic Apostolate and who is going to be canonized more than 100 years after his death, is born into these troubled times. What is it that this saint is telling us, the people living in modern insecure times?
225 years ago, on April 21st,1795, at 4 o’clock pm, Vincenzo Pallotti was born as the third of ten children. Most of his live (he died at the age of 54), he spent in the Eternal City of Rome. Until his death in 1850, the city of Popes and emperors endured many severe turbulences. Both political and social changes as well as diseases and epidemics, still worsened by a lack of hygiene, straightly let many people into poverty and misery.
The French Revolution of 1789 reached Italy. Napoleon became king of Italy; the Papal States faltered and was dissolved again and again. Time of change. Time of transition. Early Modern Age transformed into Modernity. In the thick of it: Vincent Pallotti, a minister and social worker, a visionary and organizer, a contemplative man in action.
Maybe his discernments can help us to newly interpret our own lives (questioned in times of the Corona virus) and to understand the questions of where we came from and where we are heading to. What remains of me when I am not allowed to work anymore? When I am not allowed to meet friends anymore? When the days are getting emptier by the minute, and the worries about the future are getting bigger and bigger?
Vincent Pallotti believed in an idea which was taken up again more than 100 years later by Viktor E. Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and the founder of logotherapy: Man is free at heart, no matter if he is being imprisoned by his many limits, influences, poverty and diseases. There is always a certain amount of freedom to take decisions. The psychiatrist’s idea of freedom was to open up for certain values and experiences and to change one’s concepts about diseases or fate, due to the fact that he was the only member of his family to survive the Nazi concentration camp. Vincent Pallotti’s idea of freedom was the one of the freedom deep down within the human being who either decides for or against God. The connection between Frankl and Pallotti is the belief that the highest form of freedom realizes itself in the bond with something higher. It’s the belief in God, or in Frankl’s words: the “power of defiance within people’s minds”, to stay life-affirming no matter under which circumstances.
Pallotti was able to live this freedom, as he was a hearing man. He was all present, living the here and now, attentively observing what he saw and heard, taking a close look at the people who talked to him, perceiving everything he encountered as something which was to be interpreted in the belief in God’s providence. He learnt to accept things the way they are and trusted in these experiences to enable him to encounter God. God is dialogue for Pallotti. The triune God, who is dialogue in Himself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is bonding with humans. Thus, in Pallotti’s perception, nothing happens which one cannot be thankful for. But only the one who believes that in the end everything is going to turn out well, that there is a last sense in everything, can be thankful. This is exactly how Viktor Frankl, too, postulated, when he founded his logotherapy, a therapy concentrating on the meaning of life. Pallotti believed that God was to be seen in everything, even in misery.
United as Humans
In these times, when we had the last Eucharistic celebrations weeks ago, Vincent Pallotti can remind us of the fact that Eucharist means benediction, and that we ourselves should live in a Eucharistic way, that we should thankfully take our lives and perceive it as relationship with others. Right now, in times when “real” contact is strictly limited, humans recognize how essential relationships with other humans are; how we try hard to keep them using new ideas and modern technology. As we are searching for the image of God in other people, in our neighbors. The Corona crisis is showing us that all people are connected, as they are humans. And Pallotti would add, as all people have the same Creator and the same Brother: Jesus Christ.
Text: Alexander Schweda
Photo: Walter Habdank
Translation: Steffi Ettenberger
Tipp: Vizeprovinzial spricht zum 225. Geburtstag über den Gründer
Wie der heilige Vinzenz Pallotti bis heute das Leben der Gemeinschaft beeinflusst
Vor 225 Jahren wurde Vinzenz Pallotti geboren. Im Interview mit der Katholischen Nachrichtenagentur erzählt Pater Michael Pfenning, Vizeprovinzial der Pallottiner für Deutschland und Österreich, wie Pallotti das Leben in der pallottinischen Gemeinschaft prägt – und was er den heutigen Menschen zu sagen hat.