Dearest confreres, members of the Rogate family, beloved friends, a blessed afternoon.
We are once again gathered here before the tomb of our beloved master, father and confrere, the Servant of God, Fr. Joseph Aveni as we commemorate his 13th death anniversary. Let us raise our prayers to our Heavenly Father that, if it is His will, he may glorify his humble servant and count him among His saints.
Fr. Aveni, during his life as a Rogationist religious and even after his death, serves as a strong reminder for each of us to strive to conform ourselves to Christ. He teaches us by way of preaching and example that our configuration to Christ, that holiness, is our supreme calling as an ordinary Christian and, above all, as consecrated persons. Fr. Aveni’s journey to holiness is marked by three characteristics that are Christ-like: fraternal love, obedience to the Father’s will, and fidelity to his vocation.
Fraternal love: for those of us who knew Fr. Aveni and who had the chance to live with him, we could recall how he was so interested to get updated about a certain confrere who was sent to study in Rome, or was sent to mission, or got sick; how he would enjoy a short conversation with a confrere who paid him a visit; how he would generously spend time hearing confession and giving spiritual direction to whoever asked for it; or how a lot of times, he would be so concerned about the affairs of the congregation, hence, he loved to read the Bolletino or any news article about the various Rogationist communities here and abroad. Every confrere is important to him. Every confrere is indeed a “brother to keep.” The commandment of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) finds fulfillment in the way he treated his confreres. Only a heart full of love could have such a kind of passionate attention for the confreres and for the Congregation. He was madly in love with Jesus and so he loved a confrere with that same love that was lavishly poured upon him. We can be sure of this, that every act of love which is born out of our personal encounter with the God who loves us is holy. Fr. Aveni excelled in fraternal love, and that made his life holy. We can be absolutely certain, then, that every gesture of love towards our brothers and sisters can make us holy.
Obedience to the Father’s will: Fr. Aveni was perfectly convinced that “the will of God is the best” because He loves us, He is our father. Jesus’ perfect obedience to his Father’s will is driven by his knowledge of and intimate relationship with his Abba-Father. “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Jesus finds delight and joy in doing his Father’s will; at the Garden of Gethsemane, even while having the thoughts of his tragic and painful end, Jesus committed himself to do the will of His Father who loves and owns him as His Son. Imitating the examples of our Lord, Fr. Aveni deeply inculcated in the minds and hearts of his novices humble obedience to the superiors as an expression of one’s obedience to God’s will. He taught them not just with words but above all with his filial obedience to his superiors. Even in his old age, we could find Fr. Aveni listening to and obeying the indications of his superiors. He used to say that obedience to our superiors, whose will are the expressions of God’s will for us, can make us holy; and that we can never commit a mistake when we obey the will of our Father in heaven because his will is the best, because he loves us, and He is our Father.
Fidelity to his vocation. Fr. Aveni used to say to the novices as they prepare to become religious: “Let your first profession be your last” meaning let it be like your perpetual profession. When we professed our religious vows we are driven by the desire to belong to God for all our life. It is that longing to be with the God who loves us first that we commit ourselves to grow each day in the living of our vows. Many of us have memories of Fr. Aveni spending long hours of personal prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, passionately celebrating the holy mass, hearing confessions, delivering homilies, reading the scriptures, meditating, praying the holy Rosary, and joining the community activities. He lived his religious vocation passionately, making every moment of his life an experience of God’s fidelity. “But the one who perseveres will be saved” says the Lord (Matthew 24:13). The joyful fidelity of Fr. Aveni to his priestly and religious vocation is further mirrored in his loving acceptance of his physical suffering. Like the crucified Lord who obeyed his Father’s will while every inch of his body was in agonizing pain, Fr. Aveni accepted his suffering silently and serenely. Indeed, he persevered till the end and his life became a holy sacrifice acceptable to the God who called and chose him to be his own.
As we commemorate the death of the Servant of God, Fr. Joseph Aveni, let us also make memory of the kind of life he lived. For us Rogationists, for all our friends and for all those who share with us in the living of the charism of the Rogate, may the Servant of God inspire us to live our religious and Christian calling with a passionate desire to be holy. Through the intercession of the Servant of God, Fr. Joseph Aveni, may God who loves us first increase our fraternal love for one another, inflame our obedience to his will and empower us to live with joyful fidelity our vocation.
Fr. Joseph Aveni, pray for us.