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
Letter 7 - to Mr. Giacomo Morigia, Mr. Battista Soresina and others
The house by the Basilica of St. Ambrose was the property of Countess Torelli (see Letter IV, Introduction). Here she gathered her religious recruits, the first Angelics, until they all moved in October 1535 to the newly-built convent (see Letter V, Introduction). The vacated house, which Countess Torelli donated to Anthony Mary immediately after, became the second residence of Anthony Mary’s community of men. It was located only a block away from their first residence, a cluster of three cottages by the little church of St. Catherine.124 By the time this letter was written, the house by St. Ambrose had already eighteen religious, mostly young new recruits.125
The occasion for the letter is spelled out by Anthony Mary: “...there reigns confusion in our house. In fact nothing there goes on in an orderly fashion.”
Twice Anthony Mary and his men survived trials by the Inquisition, in 1534 and between 1536–1537. Now the trouble was within: it is insubordination. “It seems that some among you...” Anthony Mary writes, “are not complying with the intentions of their Superiors.” These Superiors did not include the most prominent leaders, namely, Anthony Mary, Bartolomeo Ferrari, and Giacomo Antonio Morigia. Anthony Mary says as much: “... since none of us is present in the community….” Anthony Mary, as Torelli’s legal advisor, was still in Guastalla following the just concluded sale of her county to the governor of Milan.126 Ferrari was in Vicenza (see Letter VI). As for Morigia, mentioned by name in the letter’s address, he was indeed the community Superior,127 but he was unable to spend much time there because he was replacing Anthony Mary as spiritual director of some forty Angelics at St. Paul Convent. The other addressee mentioned by name is Battista Soresina. The twenty-four-year old Soresina lacked both the prestige of age and the authority of the priesthood.128
At thirty-six Anthony Mary was younger than both Ferrari, thirty-nine, and Morigia, forty-one, and held no canonical position. However, as the leading founder and on account of his indisputable, outstanding holiness, he was given pride of place. He could speak with the authority of a commonly venerated father.129 And this he did when presumably tipped off by Morigia and/or Soresina. Because the letter is addressed to all members of the community, “to the children of Paul the Apostle and ours too,” it may be viewed as the first circular letter to the Barnabite Order.130
By turn, or rather, simultaneously diplomatic and outspoken, Anthony Mary speaks from the heart: “...I want to open my heart to you.” As apparently there were complaints about the lack of written rules and regulations, he quickly comes to the point. Granting that “it would be a good thing indeed if our Superiors were to write down on paper all rules and regulations,” he pointedly asked: “what good would they be if they were not also written in our minds?”131 Thus Anthony Mary identifies what is fundamentally and inescapably needed: a right attitude, a mature personal attitude, an attitude grounded on spiritual motivations. He states that one must be ready to seek, not so much one’s own will, but Christ’s in oneself. “In this way you will easily put on Christ.” Then he appeals to the fresh and stirring memory of Fra Battista by adding: “You will... accomplish the wish of our holy Father, who, as you may recall, wanted us to be foundation and pillars in the renewal of Christian spirit.”
St. Paul is next. “I entreat you, children and offspring of Paul, to open wide your hearts,” well beyond all manner of peevishness. “For those who have nurtured, and still nurture, you, have hearts larger than the ocean!” Unquestionably, Anthony Mary is the first of them. So he does not hesitate to play the ultimate card of his personal prestige: “See, then, that you please me, and keep in mind that, whether I am present or absent, you owe it to me to make me happy.”
The extant autograph of this letter is kept in the General Archives in Rome (N, b, II, 4).
SPIRITUAL-THEOLOGICAL THEMES OF THE LETTER
- Spirit of The Law Versus Letter of The Law
- “And if you are generous, you will learn to conduct yourselves with the law engraved in your hearts, rather than with external laws. Thus you will move forward to fulfill not so much the word of the law but its spirit.”
- Christ’s Will Versus One’s Own Will
-“Vie with one another to become humbler, simpler, and readier to seek not so much your own will but Christ’s in you.”
- Barnabite Vocation: Spiritual Renewal
-“You… will accomplish the wish of our holy Father, who, as you may recall, wanted us to be foundation and pillars in the renewal of Christian spirit.”
Guastalla, November 3, 1538
MY SWEETEST CHILDREN IN CHRIST,
It seems that the devil is sowing doubts in me about what is going on among you. Yes, he is suggesting to me that, since none of us is present in the community, among all other evils that he has sown and is still sowing in your hearts, there reigns confusion in our house. In fact nothing there goes on in an orderly fashion. I certainly do not want to believe this, but, just the same, I want to open my heart to you. And do not believe that it is my habit, as it seems to you, to send you harsh letters. No, they are prompted by my extreme love, which makes me worry about you.
My suspicion, then, does not lead me to conclude, but at least to doubt very much, that the devil is telling me the truth. In fact, it seems that some among you, as if dozing or sleeping, are not complying with the intentions of their Superiors.
As you know, my dearly beloved, it would be a good thing indeed if our Superiors were to write down on paper all rules and regulations. But what good would they be if they were not also written in our minds? If, for instance, there were someone, not a disciple of ours, who nonetheless would take delight in interpreting our intentions carefully and in carrying them out faithfully, always keeping them before his eyes—this one, indeed, would be a far better and more genuine disciple of ours than the one who had our intentions written on paper, but not in his heart, even if he loved to call himself our disciple.
Do not believe it to be a small evil to forget or to neglect our Superiors’ intentions. For what else would that look like but lose interest in our initial resolutions, or having our Superiors clearly understand that, should they pass away or, for some reason, absent themselves, we would soon leave aside their directives? Is it possible that those who possess greater fervor than their teachers may be inclined to dismantle the foundations established by the latter? Does not just the opposite happen: that far from abolishing them, they would add some more, not, of course, to contradict the former, but to bring them to greater perfection and to consolidate them?
Thanks be to God for blinding us so as to enable you to see better and to beget your own children as legitimate children, since your parents begot you as bastards! If your eyes are blind and adulterous, can you imagine what the rest of your body will be?132
I am not making these remarks to shame you,133 but only because I would like you to show your Superiors the same attachment that they show you. But shouldn’t your virtuous hearts, because of the natural knowledge engraved in them, sustain you so that you may no longer need written laws? And if you are generous, you will learn to conduct yourselves with the law engraved in your hearts, rather than with external laws. Thus you will move forward to fulfill not so much the word of the law but its spirit. If you then do not want to obey like slaves, but like family children, that is the way you should act.
Thus, if you have a Superior, you will let him direct you, as if there were an angel for that task, without caring who the Superior is—this or that person. And whether the Superior is present or absent, you will always safeguard the union of the body with its head and never cause divisions. You will be careful in the future not to stick rigidly to your Superiors’ words and guidelines, but you will learn to be flexible in each circumstance by interpreting their intentions for the best.
And, again, you will not foolishly try to be equal to others by imitating their way of behaving and talking because, if it is all right for an immature person like a child to say “mommy” and “daddy”, it is not so for an adult. It is quite the same in spiritual matters.
Likewise, let us suppose that one meddles in things which somebody else is already concerned with; the latter should not take offense at that. What do you think our life is all about? Do we, by chance, aim to become lords and masters of this world, rather than to help each other make progress and humble ourselves more and more? If this is the case, as indeed it is, why do some tear down that which others build?
Please, take care lest favors weaken your spirits, and praises cloud your minds; rather let us encourage ourselves and others in Christ. Let none of you disobey orders, and if anyone would do that, you must instead observe them with greater fidelity. In the absence of the Superior, be your own Superiors and work for victory over yourselves.
Vie with one another to become humbler, simpler, and readier to seek not so much your own will but Christ’s in you. In this way you will easily put on Christ.134 You will avoid doing things routinely, and will accomplish the will of our holy Father, who, as you may recall, wants us to be foundation and pillars135 in the renewal of Christian spirit.
If you only knew how many promises of this blessed renewal have been made to several holy men and women, you would see that all of them are certainly to be fulfilled in the sons and daughters of our holy Father, unless Christ had wanted to deceive them, which is impossible because He faithfully keeps His promises.
O dear Father, you have constantly toiled and suffered, and we enjoy the fruits of your zeal. The cross was your dowry, and we will inherit abundant rest. In other words, by always carrying and, as it were, eating up crosses, we will yield fruits, both yours and ours.
I entreat you, children and offspring of Paul, to open wide your hearts.136 For those who have nurtured and still nurture you, have hearts larger than the ocean! And be no less worthy of the vocation to which you have been called!137 If you really mean it, you will be here and now heirs and legitimate children of our holy Father and of the great saints; and Jesus Crucified will extend His arms over you. I am not lying to you! Who of us could do this? See, then, that you please me, and keep in mind that, whether I am present or absent, you owe it to me to make me happy. That’s all.
May Christ Himself write our greetings in your hearts.
From Guastalla, November 3, 1538.
Yours in Christ,
Anthony Mary, Priest,
Priest of Paul the Apostle,
and Angelic P[aola] A[ntonia Negri].138
- It is typical of the devil to raise doubts in us about somebody’s behavior, leading us to judge his attitude and conduct negatively. This should not keep us from offering fraternal correction. When somebody makes mistake, we should correct him, but without judging his intentions that are known only to God.
- Our conduct must always be consistent whether we are in the presence of superiors or alone. We must always act according to our conscience because God is always present, and He sees what we do.
- Since the virtue of obedience is a product of love, we obey not only the commands of our superiors but also their desires, not only what is written but also what is simply stated.
- Obedience to superiors implies not only execution of their orders to the letter but also acceptance of their will with an understanding of their intentions.
- When we notice that others perform better than we do, we should not be jealous, but rather we should give glory to God and strive to imitate them.
- To renew Christian fervor, we must humbly conform ourselves to God’s will, avoid doing things only out of habit, and learn to savor the cross in order to harvest its fruits.
- Do I know the difference between criticism, rash judgment, and giving fraternal correction?
- Is my behavior determined by the presence or absence of superiors?
- Does love of God and superiors motivate me to obey not only externally but also internally?
- Does my obedience consist only in doing what I am commanded to do or also in meeting the superior’s intentions?
- Does the success of others arouse in me envy or imitation?
- When facing life’s difficulties, do I tend to complain, or do I endure these difficulties with faith and patience?
Guastalla, November 3, 1538
This letter is addressed to the house located "by St. Ambrose," which had belonged to the Countess and to her companions, and where now the Sons of Paul have moved from the poor and small house of St. Catherine, already in good part sold to the Nuns of the near-by convent of St. Bernardine (February 9, 1537).
Their number has increased (18 after the return from if Vicenza), and so also were the opinions! Something is disturbing the quiet and the peace of the religious Community, and it has reached the ears of the Saint, so he writes.
He writes from his little room in Guastalla, and with a renewed fervor having put himself in front of Christ Crucified "to learn from him..."! He writes with a tender and paternal tone, peculiar to him:
My sweet children...it seems that the devil is tempting me to be judgmental". I do not want to believe such a thing, but I want to tell you how I feel about it. Do not think that it is a habit of mine, since it seems that I am doing nothing else but send you rude letters... my great love makes me worry about you... It seems .that among you there are some who have become sluggish about fulfilling the intentions of the one who is your leader."
Perhaps they were complaining because he had not given them yet definitive written guidelines as the Breves of Clement VII and Paul III were requiring. He had been thinking about it and had even been taking some notes, but he believed that rules had to be the fruit of experience, rather than vice versa.
Perhaps there were some who were taking advantage of the trust given them by the elders. Many young men had been accepted for postulancy during a period when none of the most influential men of the Congregation were present: Fr. Zaccaria was in Guastalla, Fr. Ferrari was in Vicenza, and Fr. Morigia was busy with the direction of the Angelics who were now numbering about forty (Fr. Morigia was substituting Fr. Zaccaria).
At the beginning of the letter Anthony Mary is timid, almost hiding under sweet titles the pain which had provoked the letter. Then all of a sudden he becomes sharp, almost offensive, to suddenly quiet down in contemplation of the supernatural certainty (the work of the "sons of Paul" is assured by "different promises made by the Crucified Lord and various Saints": private revelations) and begging them not "to make themselves less than what they are called to be by their vocation," to be heirs and legitimate sons of our Holy Father and of great Saints.
This could be considered the first Circular letter of the Congregation.
Together with Anthony Mary’s signature there is also the signature of the Angelic Paola Antonia Negri.