The virtue of confidence in times of confusion

Mater mea Fiducia mea

Perhaps the most necessary virtue in times of confusion is the supernatural virtue of hope, which lifts one’s gaze to heaven – with the desire to obtain it. Hope removes us from the tumult of the world and “verticalises” our soul, so to speak; communicating to it the sense of eternity that allows us to judge the things of the world from above. The most perfect form of hope is trust – or confidence – in God, which St Thomas defines as spes roborata – “a hope strengthened by a solid conviction” (Summa Theologiae, II-IIae, q. 129, art. 6 ad 3).

The difference between hope and confidence – Fr Thomas de Saint-Laurent (1879-1949) says in his famous Book of Confidence – is not a difference of nature, but only of degree and intensity.

“The faint light of dawn and the dazzling light of the sun at noon are part of the same day. In this way confidence and hope belong to the same virtue: the former is nothing other than the full development of the latter.”

The Council of Trent teaches us that we must all place unshakable confidence in God (Canones et decreta, sessio VI, c. 13). With this virtue we trust, not only in the omnipotence of God, but in His love for us in times of confusion. “And hope confoundeth not.” (Rom 5:5)

There is an image, venerated under the title of Our Lady of Confidence, at the Roman Seminary at the Lateran, to which many souls address their petitions for the graces of hope and trust. The history of this devotion is connected to Servant of God Sister Chiara Isabella Fornari, born in Rome in 1697; a Poor Clare and later abbess at the convent of San Francesco in Todi. She died in the odour of sanctity on 9 December 1744, at the age of 47. She had mystical graces, visions and ecstasies, including participation in the Passion of the Lord.

Sr Chiara Isabella Fornari nurtured a particular devotion to the oval-shaped image representing Our Lady with the Child Jesus, who with His left arm gestures to His Most Holy Mother while with His right He embraces her. On a parchment, kept at the Roman Seminary, are the words attributed to Sr Chiara Isabella:

“The divine Lady has deigned to grant me that every soul that will confidently present herself to this image will find true contrition for sin – with true sorrow and repentance – and will obtain from her Most Divine Son a general forgiveness of all sins.

“Moreover, this divine Lady of mine, with a true mother’s love, is pleased to assure me that every soul that gazes upon this Image of hers will receive a particular tenderness and devotion towards Her.” (Msgr Roberto Masi, La Madonna della Fiducia, Tipografia Sallustiana, Roma, Rome 1948, p. 29).

Sr Chiara’s spiritual director was the Jesuit father Giammaria Crivelli, of the Perugian branch of the Holy Office, who also assisted two other Umbrian mystics: St Veronica Giuliani (1660-1727) and the Capuchin Poor Clare sister Maria Lanceata Morelli of Montecastrilli (1704 -1762). Fr Crivelli was healed of a serious illness after praying in front of the Marian image and had a copy made to take with him when he moved to the Roman College of the Society of Jesus. The painting remained on the premises of the College, which, after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1774, were occupied by the Roman Seminary, founded in 1565 in implementation of the decrees of the Council of Trent. Since then, the history of this sacred image has been connected to the Roman Seminary.

When, in 1837, a serious cholera epidemic broke out in Italy and in the Papal States, the superiors and students of the seminary asked Our Lady of Confidence protection for themselves and their closest relatives, with a special vow to be accomplished if their request was answered. All were spared from the disease and would fulfil their vow with the offering of a precious lamp which still burns continuously in front of the sacred image. The next year, two gold crowns were solemnly bestowed upon Our Lady of Confidence by Cardinal Carlo Odescalchi, vicar general of Pope Gregory XVI. This took place on 14 October 1838, at the summer residence of the Seminary, “La Pariola”, which had been donated to the Society of Jesus as a “holiday home” in 1576 by Cardinal Ugo Boncompagni, the future Pope Gregory XIII. On 20 October 1863, the Pariola, which now shared its name with the entire neighbourhood built around it, had the honour of receiving a visit from Blessed Pius IX, who attached, in perpetuity, an indulgence of 300 days to the recitation of the Litany of Loreto in front of the image of Our Lady of Confidence. In 1920, the villa was purchased by Count Ludovico Taverna, who, in 1948, relinquished it to the United States, making it the residence of its ambassador to Italy.

On the evening of 3 November 1913, the young students of the Roman Seminary entered the new Lateran Palace, where the Chapel of Our Lady of Confidence was inaugurated on 6 January 1917, at the end of a solemn triduum, by Cardinal Oreste Giorgi, who also consecrated the new altar. The inauguration saw the debut of the hymn O Maria quant’è felice”, composed by Maestro Raffaele Casimiri and based on a text by Don Alfredo Ottaviani, the future Cardinal Prefect of the Holy Office. A further indulgence of 300 days was granted by Pope Benedict XV for the ejaculatory prayer “Mater mea Fiducia mea” – “My mother, my confidence”.

During the First World War, the Seminary prayed, with a new vow, for the safety of its students, 111 of whom had been drafted. Only one died – on the eve of the armistice – and the vow was fulfilled, out of respect for the mysterious divine will, on 12 May 1920 with the ornament of a precious halo.

Devotion to Our Lady of Confidence was promoted by many holy rectors of the Roman Seminary, such as St Vincent Pallotti (1795–1850), Servant of God Oreste Borgia (1840–1914), the Servant of God Pier Carlo Landucci (1900–1986). Msgr Landucci, spiritual director of the seminary from 1935 to 1942, is the author of texts of profound spirituality, including a book Mary Most Holy in the Gospel (Paoline, Rome 1954), which paid extraordinary homage to Our Lady of Confidence, the devotion which he had passed on to a whole generation of seminarians. He held that all men are called to holiness and that, if it is a sin to despair of one’s own salvation then he who does not aim for the heroic virtue, to which the Lord certainly calls him, also offends against hope (Formazione seminaristica moderna, Borla, Turin 1962, pp. 336-337).

In the chapel of the Roman Seminary, with her maternal gaze, Our Lady of Confidence still imbues with hope and courage all those today who do not give up on seeking the heroic virtue that Our Lord requires of all in the darkness of our time.