THOUGHT FOR TODAY BY
ST. ANTHONY ZACCARIA
If through perfect humility you will be able to know objec tively yourself, only then will you be.
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Bethlehem, PA 18020
"...on the foundation of Paul, you are going to build
not structures made of hay or wood but of gold and
precious stones..." (Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Letter VI)
- Anthony Mary envisioned a reformation movement to bring "everywhere the vitalenergy of the Spirit" (Letter 5) by the concerted involvement of priests living in community under a rule (the Clerics Regular of St. Paul - Barnabites), religious women actively committed to apostolic ministry (the Angelics of St. Paul, the first uncloistered order of nuns), and lay persons, especially married couples, committed to both spiritual life and pastoral work (the Laity of St. Paul).
- Anthony Mary found impetus and nourishment for his reformation project in the life and writings of St. Paul the Apostle, whom he saw as the perfect model for anyone who seriously intends to convert to Christ. For this reason Anthony Mary chose St. Paul as patron, inspirer, and guide of his reformation movement whose members were originally called and are "children and offspring of Paul" (Letter 7).
- Paul's spirituality was first absorbed and lived by Anthony Mary himself and then proposed by him to the "children and offspring of Paul." Anthony Mary's "pauline" spiritual journey is mapped by the following guiding principles:
- Observance of the Lord's commandments: "…let us first strive to keep God's commandments, and then we will reach the liberty of the spirit" (Sermon 1)
- Gradual growth in Christian fervor: "…spiritual life demands that you never turn back or stop going forward; but rather that, as soon as you taste it, you make progress day by day and, forgetting what lies behind, strain forward to what lies ahead" (Sermon 2)
- Acquisition of the "light" and "fire" needed to set out decisively on the journey of reformation: "…I hope to grow in Jesus' love; and the good Lord crucified will give me back the spiritual light and fervor[lit., fire], which used to keep me spiritually alive" (Letter 12)
- Desire for total perfection: "It has always been my desire to see you grow steadily in perfection" (Letter 10); "…I know the summit of perfection Jesus Crucified wants you to reach; the abundant graces He wishes to give you; the fruits He wants to gather in you; and the peak of holiness to which He wants to lead you" (Letter 11)
- Seeking God's pure honor: "The true aim of reform can be recognized in this, namely, if they seek the pure honor of Christ, the pure service of neighbor, and pure self-contempt, which rejoices in being despised" (Constitutions 16); "Let your intention, then, be rightly aimed at the pure glory of God; let it be good so that we care for our neighbor's welfare, and also steadfast in self-abasement" (Constitutions 18)
- Passionately embracing a theology of the cross: "And so from all this progress of yours may I conclude that you have received the teacher of justice, of holiness, and of perfection: the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. He, of course, will not let you go wrong; rather He will teach you everything. He will not let you lose heart, but will always remain with you. He will not leave you in need, but will provide you with everything. He will grant you, in particular, a continuous spirit of self-abandonment on the ignominious cross, and lead you to a life conformed to Christ's according to the pattern of the great saints. Consequently, you will be able to say with your Father, 'be imitators of us as we are of Christ' (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1)" (Letter 5); "It is enough and, I would say, more than enough, that we follow the way of the cross, according to which it is sufficient to know whether it is a virtue or a fault to do something or to omit it" (Letter 4)
- Anthony Mary's "pauline" spiritual journey is
supported by the following essential and foundational elements of every spirituality
- Eucharist: "The surest proof, then, of your return to God is that you go back to receive this food. Go back, my friends, go back to receive this sacrament. Nothing can make you holier than this sacrament, for in it is the Holy of Holies" (Sermon 3)
- Reconciliation: "…the mere confession of one's sins is like the work of farmers who only cut offshoots and branches of a tree (after all, they always have plenty to prune and cut). But as, on the contrary, the farmers, by plucking up the roots of the trees, will some day stop pruning and with little effort will get the fruit of the soil free of briers, so the penitents must insist in extirpating the roots of their vices. For instance: pride, the root of all sins (1 Tim 6:10), is uprooted by the profound humility of a person who thirsts for insults and hungers for contempt" (Constitutions 12)
- Prayer, especially mental prayer: "…enter into conversation with Jesus Crucified as familiarly as you would with me; and discuss with Him all or just a few of your problems, according to the time at your disposal. Chat with Him and ask His advice on all your affairs, whatever they may be, whether spiritual or temporal, whether for yourself or for other people" (Letter 3)
- Contemplation: "But just meditating is not enough; it is necessary to unite ourselves with God by lifting up our hearts, praying and even contemplating. Actually, if you do not strive for this goal, I will not be surprised if you do not understand what prayer is, let alone contemplation" (Sermon 3)
- Ascetic commitment: "…anyone willing to become a spiritual person begins a series of surgical operations in his soul. One day he removes this, another day he removes that, and relentlessly proceeds until he lays aside his old self. Let me explain. First of all, he eliminates offensive words, then useless ones, and finally speaks of nothing else but of edifying things" (Letter 11)
- Internal and external silence: "Through much meditation and prayer, you will have to be always absorbed in God" (Constitutions 18); "Let him teach the novices to observe silence" (Constitutions 12); "…not idle talk, but a strict silence is expedient and necessary for them. Acting, talking, and thinking without interior and exterior control is unbecoming and unprofitable to them." (Letter 9)
- Study of Sacred Scripture: "They shall study Sacred Scripture and relish it so avidly as to come to understand it fully, thus reaching its hidden senses, especially those which provide moral edification." (Constitutions 8)
Study of the Church's authentic Tradition: "…they may read any Doctor approved by the Church and the books of the Church Fathers, provided that their writings do not disagree with the teachings of Holy Scripture and of the Holy Doctors of the Church. But in a very special way let them find greater delight in reading those books which deal with the formation of good habits, the perfection of Christian life, and the true imitation of Christ…You should know that it is better to read a little and chew it well, than to read too many subjects and too many authors, for this leads more to feeding our curiosity than to serious study." (Constitutions 8)
- Spiritual meetings: "No one, cleric or lay brother, shall absent himself from the Community's spiritual meeting which is to take place every day for at least one hour. All gathered together, you shall confer on how to root out vices, on how to acquire true and real - not imaginary - virtues, on the help and Providence of God, and of his angels, on the snares of the devil, on the perfection of [Christian and religious] life, and the height of virtue…In these spiritual meetings, definitely shun all manner of subtle discussions. Do not consider morals in general, but in concrete details. Do not discuss your topics academically as at the University of Paris, i.e., purely in the abstract, but according to the oratorical method of the Church Fathers, all exhortation and persuasion, and always avoid overrefined words and fastidious style…All the good conclusions arrived at by the senior brothers - seniors not so much because of their age but because of their praiseworthy life - shall be transcribed in a special book. If you deem it advisable, you may go over the same subject two or three times until it is well understood." (Constitutions 9)
Personal responsibility for the spiritual growth of all: "…the interior man has no lesser need of spiritual food than the exterior man has of natural food. Therefore, let everybody take heed of the following: if one is not hungry for this food, indeed anxiously seeking it for his nourishment -- and, of course, he will look for it in the reading of Holy Scriptures, in the admonitions, and community meetings -- and if one does not share it with others, he will be accounted guilty of causing himself and others to die of starvation and indigence." (Constitutions 12)
- The 1579 Constitutions best enunciate the Founder's charism in the catchy phrase: saeculo renuntiantes, totosque nos Deo dedicantes, animarum saluti deserviamus (I,1).
- Finally, the revised Constitutions of 1984 state: "Called to live more fully our baptismal consecration as followers of Christ, we have freely chosen life in a community in order to realize the same ideal which our first confreres interpreted as renunciation of the spirit of the world [saeculo renuntiantes], total dedication to God [totosque nos Deo dedicantes] and apostolic service to our brothers [animarum saluti deserviamus]" (7).
- RENUNCIATION OF THE SPIRIT OF THE WORLD: we reject worldliness and cultivate interior growth in community through intense spiritual renewal and asceticism, which aim at constant purification of our will.
- TOTAL DEDICATION TO GOD: we express our dedication to God above all in a spirituality and pastoral ministry which are characterized by the Crucified and Eucharistic Christ.
- APOSTOLIC SERVICE TO OUR BROTHERS: we are open to serving our brothers and sisters universally and unconditionally, above all through our preferential love for the poor (Constitutions, 91), and the promotion of justice and peace.
- Other traits of our charism include:
- A lively ecclesial sense which manifests itself in our sharing in the universal mission of the Church and in our cooperation with bishops (episcoporum adiutores)
- A sense of balance (discretio) that is felt more than theorized and witnessed by Religious rich in wisdom and virtue who transmit it to each generation. This particular value is expressed in the following way: