FEAST OF THE CELL
1) Monte Calvario.
20th February is one of the most special days in what we might call the Rosminian Calendar. It is called the Feast of the Cell and is similar to a birthday for it is on that day in 1828 that Rosmini, at Monte Calvario in the far north of Italy, commenced his writing of the Constitutions of the Institute of Charity (Rosminians).
February is of course winter in Italy. In the north it can be bleak, cold and snowy. Rosmini had wanted to write the Constitutions (the aims or purpose and way of life for his Institute of Brothers and Priests) in a secluded place, but what awaited him on the Sacred Mountain of Calvario was something more like a haunted castle.
Still a young man, Antonio left behind his friends and family, put aside his studies and, with two companions, set out to climb the hillside, through mist and snow, in order to reach the abandoned monastery where they were to stay.
What did he find? The garden was a wilderness, the forest was alive with vipers and snakes, and the building almost a ruin. We are told that the rain came through the roofs, most of the windows were broken, and lizards, scorpions and birds had made their home inside. And to top it off, his close supporter at that time (a Frenchman named Fr Lowenbruck who had decided to join him and had promised to meet him on the 20th) arrived three months late!
So what did Antonio Rosmini do? From this wilderness and disorder he created a humble home and wrote the Constitutions or foundations of his Order. In silence and prayer, and with great patience and trust, he set about his work. On the 20 February 1828 which that year was Ash Wednesday he celebrated Mass, received the ashes on his head, and spent the next two months writing the Constitutions in his small and simple room called 'La Cella' (pronounced chella) or the Cell; hence the name of our feast and day of celebration.
Over time others joined him. Young men and women (after the Sisters were founded) were attracted by his humility, acute intelligence and wisdom, his love of Jesus and the Church, and his passion for truth. Slowly what is now the Mother House of the Order took shape.
Today, Monte Calvario is a far different place from those early years. The cell is still there with its simple iron bed, but the wilderness has been transformed into beautiful gardens set against the rugged surrounding mountains. Calvario's heart remains the same; a place to draw close to God in quietness, reflection and prayer. As the Italian noviciate it is home now to young men coming from Italy, Georgia, and Azerbaijan who following in the footsteps of Blessed Antonio seek God's truth, love and wisdom along the path to priesthood or life as a Brother.
* For detailed information visit: 'The Story of Monte Calvario'
2) What are the Constitutions?
Rosmini spent two months writing the Constitutions. Having studied similar works of other Orders his vision for the Institute of Charity came to him easily and very clearly. Rosmini himself explained it this way: 'The Institute came to me one day like a flash of light. I saw it in its totality. The work of the Constitutions was only the writing down in detail of what had been shown me at a glance.'
What might you find in the Constitutions? The book is divided into 12 parts and totals 1068 numbered paragraphs.
It opens with a very general description of the Institute:
'it is dedicated to Jesus Christ and open to any faithful Christian who is ardent in their desire to live as a disciple of Jesus and prepared to work hard, with the encouragement of others, to grow in perfection and holiness' (cf. article no. 2).
Typically, it closes too with great words of encouragement and a flourish from Scripture:
"struggle constantly to put into practice all the things laid down in the Constitutions. Know them well and apply them so that all who belong may achieve true human greatness: 'planted in love and built on love, may you with all God's holy people have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; so that, knowing the love of Christ which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God" (cf. Eph 3:17-19)' (cf. article no.1068).
And in between? Selection of candidates, formation, community life and governance. Prayer, poverty, chastity, humility, and obedience. Universal charity and the undertaking of works. Lofty ideals and practical details are all to be found!
For detailed information visit: 'The Rosminian Constitutions and the Constitutions of St Ignatius'
3) Where do we fit in?
Paragraph 2 cited above already indicates an openness to all. Article 126, among others, fleshes out such a vision: 'the spirit and purpose of the Institute, which rejoices in taking its name from the Charity of Jesus Christ, wishes to pour out and share as widely as possible with others whatever good it may obtain by the Lord's grace.'
So in a very real sense we can all consider ourselves Rosminians. The Feast of the Cell provides an ideal opportunity for staff and pupils to feel a sense of belonging to the Rosminian Family.
For further information visit: 'Reflections on the Ascribed Members and the Institute – Hope for the Future'
4) How might we celebrate?
That will be entirely determined by your own imagination. Any plans afoot, please do share with each other via the email listing.
The Feast calls the school community to reflect individually and together on foundations ...
what 'constitutes' me...?
what are the building blocks of my life? We know that it is they which give us direction, order, purpose. So, if we are not in touch with our fundamental ‘foundations' or if they are in need of an overhaul, we are likely to fall into a personal wilderness or disorder or lack of direction. In teaching us this, the Feast becomes a moment for renewed and strengthened hope, enthusiasm and thanksgiving.
From Rosmini's life, and even from the brief outline above, we know that his own 'foundations' consisted among other things of:
quiet regular prayer and reflection time,
a complete trust in the goodness of God,
a clear focus on Jesus and the will of the Father,
a determination not to give up even in the face of difficulty and suffering,
a readiness to listen, zeal for charity and goodness, humility, and a profound love of truth.
Pupils and staff could be encouraged to reflect in someway on their own foundations:
What are the foundations or building stones of my life?
What gives shape to my life?
What direction does my life have?
What might Blessed Rosmini mean when he says to me/us 'achieve human greatness' (see paragraph 1068 above; recalling of course that this would always fall under an arch of humility)?
What inspires me?
How is God calling me to lead my life?
What do I need to change or strengthen or adjust in my own foundations?
What might I learn from Blessed Antonio and the story of the Feast of the Cell?
How might we pray for and humbly encourage vocations to Rosmini's Institute of Charity and the Rosminian Sisters of Providence etc etc etc
From Psalm 127 and 128
'If the Lord does not build a house
in vain do its builders toil.
If the Lord does not guard a city
in vain does its guard keep watch
How blessed are all who fear the Lord
walk in his ways
Happy and prosperous will you be
In the inner places of your home
May the Lord bless you
All the days of your life.'
Feel free to contact for any clarifications etc.
Msgr Charles E. Drennan