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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Spirituality of Saint Anthony Mary Zaccaria
- The Art of forgiveness of St. Anthony Zaccaria
- A Call to Perfection
- The Love of Your Neighbor
- Saint Anthony Mary Zacarria as a Reformer - Listen
- The Relationship Between the Eucharist and Vocation
- A Relation Between the Holy Eucharist and Vocation to the Priesthood & the Consecrated Life
- St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria and the 40 Hour Devotion
- St Anthony Mary Zaccaria as a Reformer
- Eucharist the Sacrament of Conversion and Transformation
- Eucharist the Sacrament of Convertion and Transformation - Listen
- The Thirteen Themes of St. Anthony Zaccaria
Talks on the Zaccarian Spirituality
- The Relationship Between the Eucharist and Vocation
- A close relation between the Holy Eucharist and Vocation to the priesthood & the consecrated life.
- St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria and the 40 Hour Devotion
- St Anthony Mary Zaccaria as a Reformer
Theme 1: Man Given Back to Himself
by Fr. Antonio M. Gentili, CRSP
Many today talk about a "mechanism of interiorization" (A. Borrely), which affirms that "a monk is hidden in the heart of each person" (R. Barile). We are reminded that the first of "the great specialized journeys" is constituted by the "monastic life," which, therefore, is presented as the "formative journey" by which all Christians should be inspired in disciplining their spiritual life (Card. M. Martini).
If holiness is also measured by the up-to-date teachings and examples of the one who has incarnated it, we have to say that Anthony Mary Zaccaria would be speaking the same language to us.
It has been said that the future belongs to people marked by the experience of the divine. This is exactly what Anthony Mary inculcates upon his disciples, be they lay, religious, or cleric, living under the discipline of a rule.
To the laity of his Cenacle in Cremona, a center of renewal he had founded, the very young Zaccaria was pointing out the old program of life: "Now if man is upset or full of noise from the outside, how is he going to be inside? Remember that Christ said, 'When you pray, go to your private room—that is, your heart—and shut the door—that is, your senses—and then pray to your Father in secret, and He will reward you'" (Sermons [Sr] II).
Come Back to the Heart
Man is urged to "come back to the heart," where the true I is hidden, and is called to be God's temple: "I will prepare my heart for God in all truth, in all simplicity, and in all sincerity. May he dwell in my heart forever through His grace and make it His temple" (Sr II). Therefore, the whole spiritual life consists in disciplining our exterior senses, and in developing our "interior efforts," as Anthony Mary writes to his disciples who are working in the Vicenza mission (Letters [Lt] VI).
Once back to his own very self, the spiritual man is capable to see "interiorly" again (Lt XI), which the estrangement from the practice of contemplation has almost totally erased from our forehead: "The eyes of the mind and of the spirit ... in most persons, these eyes are blind, and in all, these eyes are rather hesitant and disaccustomed to see" (Sr IV).
To go back to the original familiarity with God, "let us often elevate our mind to [Him]." This Zaccaria recommends to the layman Carlo Magni (Lt III), and to the Omodeis (Lt XI). He reminds them that it is not enough "to pray for one or two hours." They need to "often ... elevate [their] mind to Christ," with whom they have "to converse and chat interiorly" (Constitutions [Cs] XII), so as to reach a state of "continuity in prayer" (Lt III), or, according to the saying taken from St. Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Letter (2, 1: PL 77, 27), to be "always recollected" (Cs XVIII) in prayer.
Anthony Mary Zaccaria is a great master of "interior prayer" (Cs X). Interior prayer shines in those who know how "to be recollected" (Cs XII, 18) and who visit frequently the "secret dwellings of the heart," this same expression used by Gregory the Great in describing the spirituality of his holy patriarch Benedict of Norcia.
Stability of the Mind
But how does one reach such a demanding style of life? The condition is readily given: we have to reach "stability" of mind (Cs IX), since we "by nature has a wandering mind" (Lt III).
Anthony Mary had learned from Gregory the Great that the "instability of the mind" is caused by the "original transgression and "has become like a second nature" (Moralia 26, 44, 79: PL 76, 395) to us. This is why the great Doctor compares the mind, now to water, now to a mill, now to a reed. "If it is channelled, it goes up, since it has a tendency toward where it came from; if it is left to itself it gets lost, because, inevitably, it ends up to the bottom" (Regola Pastorale 3, 14: PL 77, 73). "Any mundane business is comparable to a grinding wheel which, accumulating many worries, makes the human mind whirl, and produces constantly in the depraved hearts the flour of unending thoughts" (Moralia 6, 16, 25: PL 75, 743). Also Zaccaria uses the same comparison when he preaches that "the mind is like a water mill" that grinds good thoughts and bad thoughts according to what we put into it (Sr II). And finally: "the reed represents the mobility of the mind" (Moralia 33, 3, 7: PL 76, 673).
"Heaven and earth," Gregory the Great affirms, "contend for the dominion of the mind" (Ibid. 10, 10, 17: PL 75, 931). It follows that we must not give the demon the opportunity to stir up our mind into a state of alienation from God: "Keep away ... from distractions ..., knowing that the devil is used to overpower those who are distracted" (Cs VII).
Now "the mind will reach its stability, if it polarizes itself on that one thought on which it wants to concentrate. The mind will reach stability only if it does not get swept away by the changing pressure of numberless stimulations" (Moralia 26, 44, 79: PL 76, 395).
The Enchantment of Exteriority
This entails a constant interior work which would allow us to "reap the fruit of a pure mind" (Cs XII). "The mind," Gregory the Great said, "has always to be emptied" (Moralia 31, 27, 53: PL 76, 603). Zaccaria echoes him as he recommends to the novices an absolute simplicity in their interior judgment, under the penalty that they would not "empty their mind of fantasies" (Cs XII), or when he enjoins them "never to form during prayer any fanciful images" (Ibid.), that is, not to substitute contemplation with what is a pure excitement of the senses.
To reach the silence of the mind, one requires arduous discipline. Gregory the Great affirms, "Our mind is in no way drawn to the purity of interior contemplation if it does not quiet the uproar of earthly desires" (Moralia 5, 31, 55: PL 75,710). But how could this be possible for us who are "enraptured by the things which are visible and always present, and even necessary" to us? (Sr IV). How can we overcome the "enchantment of the exterior," as Pope Paul VI says? He himself gives us the answer: "The fascinating image ... absorbs almost the whole of our interior life ... It fixes itself in our memory, to move then in our mind; if it is constantly pursued, sometimes with obsession, then it will substitute the speculative thought; our mind will be crowded with vain fantasies, which will stimulate it to imitation and will make it exterior, reducing it to the level of the sensible world. How can spiritual life, prayer, suspension to the First Principle, that is God, find room in a conscience crowded with habitual importation of images, often futile and harmful?"
Theme 2: Virginity and Martyrdom
by Fr. Antonio M. Gentili, CRSP
The great turns in life, although they seem to be sudden, usually are the fruits of a long gestation. Where, then, do we find the origin of that "dedicated himself to spiritual life," which marked the return to Cremona of the young Anthony Mary Zaccaria, newly-graduated in Medicine? It involved not only a renewed fervor toward perfection in his own personal life, but also a more direct consecration to the cause of the salvation of souls. And so we see side by side the development of his formation to the priesthood and the germination of the Cenacle of reform where, at first, as a layman among lay people, then as a priest, Anthony Mary Zaccaria lavished the treasures of his intuitions.
Since the example of the Saints is enriched by the successive readings born inside the Christian community, we are reminded of a page of the Vatican Council II, where we read:
The Church recalls to mind that culture must be made to bear on the integral perfection of the human person, and on the good of the community and the whole of society. Therefore, the human spirit must be cultivated in such a way that there results a growth in its ability to wonder, to understand, to contemplate, to make personal judgment, and to develop a religious, moral and social sense (Gaudium et Spes, 59).
For Anthony Mary culture had already opened itself to the great ideals of the spirit during the years he spent studying for his humanistic and scientific formation. At the University of Padua, the young Zaccaria, between the age of 18 and 22, encountered the philosophical thought derived from the texts of Aristotle and the various meditations of old and recent commentaries. From one of these commentaries, he took a series of definitions, which he organized alphabetically in a notebook where he would later on write his Sermons. The only definition which is not found in the source, and so completely composed by Anthony Mary, and is obviously out of place in an inventory of philosophical affirmations, reads, "Chastity helps a lot in the acquisition of science. See the Letter E, under the voice Exercise, etc." In the reference, the young student notes, going back to the source and not to his own thought: "Exercise offers to man's nature a preparation he did not have before. In an analogous way, it works even with the moral virtues, especially chastity."
We could make many observations. First of all, the young Zaccaria, about 20, confronts one of the crucial aspects of human maturation. He has an intuition for the strict ties between corporeity and spirituality. He overcomes the contrast between the exuberance of the instinct and the discipline of life, while he discovers a harmonious rapport with reciprocal fecundity. He presents himself at the threshold of adulthood in a unified and integral way, without any decompensation. Especially—and here lies the power of his "discovery," yes, not as an absolute, but a secure thing for himself—he has the intuition that chastity is not repression, as it could seem at first sight, and in spite of its etymology (chastity from "chastise"), but a drive, a "capacity." As Pope John Paul II would say, "If chastity, at first, appears as the capacity to resist against the concupiscence of the flesh, later, gradually, it will reveal itself as a singular capacity to perceive, to love, and to effect those meanings of the spousal language of the body, which stay totally unknown to the same concupiscence ... " (Audience of October 20, 1984). Spousal language of the body, manifested especially in the conjugal fecundity which binds it to the spirit: chastity helps science, as St. Thomas himself loves to remind us following Aristotle (cf. Summa Theologiae 2, 2, 15, 3).
Finally, Anthony Mary Zaccaria shows to have well understood the importance of exercise, and spiritual exercise which is not abstract but corporeal, as we can deduce from his future writings. Man is a bundle of boisterous energies; only with discipline will these energies turn to be of benefit to his integral development. Otherwise, these same energies will run him over and rape him. Let us, however, listen to our Saint.
Writing to his first disciples who, the year before, in July 1537, had opened a mission in Vicenza, Anthony Mary explains, "As you overcome ignorance going to school, and just as the iron becomes shiny with use, so it is with the practice of Christian virtues." And he gives an example: in the beginning Paul was not what he was later. The same can be said for the others" (Lt VI) and about the same for Zaccaria! About ten years before, he said to his Cenacle in Cremona, that man, to go to God, needed to purify himself, and had to take a laxative (he added as a good doctor) against all passions, which, he pin points, "are mostly rooted in the body. Hence, they require bodily remedies, bodily guidance and incentives" (Sr IV). The discipline of sensuality, taken in the wildest meaning of the term, as he explains in his letters to the Omodeis, serves more "to increase and add beauty to chastity" (Lt XI), where beauty and increase are a life program formulated with extremely positive terms, and proposed indifferently to people, married or consecrated with vows.
All our very first historians testify to the fact that this was Anthony Mary's perception about the value of virginity: it is a good for any state of life, "a necessity of the souls," a preamble to everlasting "fecundity" (expressions which today we find in our contemporary lay writers). Father Soresina describes Anthony Mary as "very much averse to any sensuality" and "an incredible lover of purity (Attestazioni). On her part, the "Anonymous Angelic," in her scented Memoirs, exalts "the unique purity and innocence" of Zaccaria, whom she defines as "an angel on earth," a "lover of purity," and gifted with "purity and innocence of mind and body," so that he flew into heaven as "a pure dove." Did he not write in the Constitutions that a true religious, "in so far as it is up to him, desires with joy the true integrity of the body and soul," (Lt III) a text where every word has its specific meaning with a particular efficacy?
At this point allow me to re-read it, keeping an eye on the Vatican Council II which exalts in the Church, linking these two "gifts" together: the "exceptional gift" of martyrdom and the "special gift of virginity" (Lumen Gentium, 42).
"Virginity and freedom," we read in our contemporary writers; and, as we said, virginity is love without compensation. Consequently, we can capture the link uniting this duplex witness in the life of Anthony Mary. We like to consider him as a virgin and as a martyr. A martyr, not in the sense of a bloody gift of his life, but certainly in the sense of an existence offered as a total sacrifice. Anthony Mary himself is very explicit about it, "Look how I long for and desire your perfection. Look at my heart, which is wide open for you. I am ready to shed my blood for you, so long as you do this" (Lt XI).
Virginity and martyrdom recall and fecundate each other. I think this is the truest and most fascinating message that Anthony Mary gives today to all those who invoke him as Father.
Theme 3: A Holy Young Man -
A Saint with a Young Spirit
by Fr. Antonio M. Gentili, CRSP
Although most of the portraits of St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria represent him as a man of mature age and merits, it has always been a big surprise to discover that he had run his crazy race ("let us rush like mad men" was his motto and program) in the short span of thirty-seven years. If he is not the youngest among all the Founders, men and women, he is, in no doubt, one of those at the top of such a list.
But if the birth certificate tells us that he was a holy young man, we can also say that he was a saint with a special direct tie, almost a conspiracy, with youth. Let us try to prove this point.
First of all, it is immediately evident that Anthony Mary lived his life with the extraordinary intensity characterizing a young person. While paganism, which is always ready to surface, since it is a dimension of human life, sees in youth the age par excellence for pleasure and pursuit, and is satisfied in refusing any ethical constriction or norm, here is this young man from Cremona, reserved, a little introverted and pious, who makes of his youth the crucible for the great choices of his life. If it is true that the adolescent is the father of the man/woman, in the years between 17 and 21, Anthony Mary makes the choices which will inspire the whole of his life. These choices seem to focus on the University years which determined his past, present, and future. Before going to Padua, he detaches himself from all material possessions and gives them to his mother. During his University years, he matures and tries his personal choices for virginity, and, once back home, with determination, he embraces the road of obedience. As we can see, Anthony Mary Zaccaria at a very young age professes in his heart those three vows which will become the spirit of his life and of his apostolate. We are already familiar with his choices, but it is worthwhile to examine them again.
The donation of his goods to his mother is so radical that it seems incredible. It could not be revoked for any reason whatsoever, even if Antonietta Pescaroli should sin of ingratitude toward her son, and even if he should have children to care for. We have said donation of goods, but we should say of "all" goods because this totality, amazing in a young man about to leave home to be on his own, puts the spotlight on the evangelical consistency which inspires him. This allows us to have a first glimpse of a project, maybe a dream, which begins to burn in his heart.
On the same line, we find the virginal orientation that Anthony Mary gives to his life during the roaring years of his youth, when the "spousal language of the body" begins to express itself in the fullness of its power and beauty and, at the same time, is in danger of experiencing the falsifications due to concupiscence and laxity against which the Word of God often warns us. Anthony Mary aims on high and lives chastity not as an inhibition of his potentials, but as a condition for their authentic development. Remember his words, "Chastity is of great help to the acquisition of science." When he exhorts his disciples "to joyfully long for true integrity of body and soul," he communicates to them an experience already tested through the years of his own youth. What is amazing is his positive vision of chastity, which he wants to see grow more and more (indeed he speaks of "beauty" and "growth") even between spouses. Almost as if saying that chastity constitutes the qualifying aspect of that common denominator to which both religious and laity are called.
About obedience, let us recall the words left to us in an ancient historical document by one of the Angelic Sisters. Back to Cremona, "he dedicated himself to spiritual life, under the guidance of the Dominican Father, Fra Marcello," and "by the will" of Fra Marcello’s successor, Fra Battista da Crema, "he became a priest." It is safe to say that spiritual life demands total docility toward our guide, whose function is indispensable for the discernment of one's vocation.
Having lived his youth with such intensity, Anthony Mary was enriched with singular charm and attraction upon the young people. The old chronicles remind us that the companions of Anthony Mary "were all young." But let us take a closer look at the relationship between him and some of them. Father Gabuzio, an excellent historian of our Barnabite origins, was very scrupulous in recreating the events about the Holy Founder and his first disciples. Gabuzio left us four "sketches" about four young men. We will report them in the essential description by the author.
It is astonishing how Tito degli Alessi, this young man from Vicenza, was struck by something like a burst of fire as Anthony Mary made the sign of the cross on his forehead. This event would mark the rest of degli Alessi’s life. He would be one of the Barnabites who, through the friendship and intercession of St. Philip Neri, would settle in Rome.
In Guastalla, Anthony Mary saw a very healthy young man by the shore of the Po River. He had an intuition of his destiny, and so he gently exhorted the young man to think about his soul, and to be reconciled with God's grace since his death was imminent. The young man, touched by Anthony Mary’s words, right away went to confession. Not much later, unexpectedly, the young man died.
The third case is about a novice who made his confession to Anthony Mary Zaccaria. This novice confessed everything to Anthony Mary but left out a secret sin. Before giving the absolution, Anthony Mary admonished him. And so the novice revealed the omitted sin; then, full of admiration and shame, he completed his confession.
The last case is about another young man who pleaded with Anthony Mary to free his house from a baleful spirit which day and night was inflicting harm and injury to his relatives, making vain any remedies.
Anthony Mary, after saying an intense prayer, and confident of God's help, right there and then, performed an exorcism: "Go," he told the young man, "and on my behalf tell that demon to leave that house in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ and not to pester it any more." The young man did as instructed, and with great success.
These four events are very characteristic, and almost constitute the figure and the design of grace in which Anthony Mary Zaccaria moves—first of all, the choice of the way of life, mediated by a daring gesture. A blessing on the forehead makes the youngster think, and then gives him, according to Father Gabuzio's expression, "quasi igneam vim," like a vigorous flame.
The horizon of human existence is marked by death. But nothing is further away from the expectations of a young man. Still the wisdom of life crosses through the consciousness of one's sunset.
Thirdly, the urgency of leading someone to the truth of his personal history, accepting its bright and its shadowy moments; a very difficult step this last one for a young man, whose very nature is a perfectionist, and is so proud.
Finally, to be aware how human life is a constant fight against the power of evil, and to come to the consciousness of the consequent dangers of evil. The spokesman of this consciousness is the young man who bends his sensitivity to the perception of the dramas of the human heart, and begs help from the power of grace.
All of us during our youth, register, or have registered, similar moments of trials and of truth, and now we know that we can rely on the protection of a Saint twice young, because of his age, and because of his spirit.
Theme 4: Friend of Simplicity
by Fr. Antonio M. Gentili, CRSP
Father Soresina in his "Attestazioni" writes, "This Father was perfect in every virtue." Soresina could say this because of his personal experience, especially about the virtue of simplicity.
However, let us go in order. We are reminded by the "Anonymous Angelic" in her Memoirs that Anthony Mary Zaccaria was "simple." This "Anonymous Angelic" proves it, first of all, from Anthony Mary’s style of preaching: "He explained the Word of the Lord with great ardor and wise simplicity." Anthony Mary transfers into his preaching the style and language of the Bible. He himself reminds the Friends of his Cenacle in Cremona: "The Scripture ... uses a very simple language" (Sr IV). Through his writings, from the Letters to the Sermons and the Constitutions, we can catch the major lines of his thought on simplicity.
With the Simple He Talks about God
Our Saint certainly became familiar with this virtue of simplicity through the assiduous reading of St. Paul. We must act "in simplicity of heart" (Eph 6:5), a simplicity rooted in Christ or which, better yet in the Greek text, makes a person long for him (2 Cor 11:3). The Apostle sees simplicity in action in a life of charity (Rm 12:8), and more specifically in the special collection taken on behalf of the Church of Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:2; 9: 11, 13). Keep in mind that Anthony Mary quotes the Vulgate which uses the word "simplicity" instead of generosity. St. Paul affirms to have acted in "simplicity of heart and sincerity of God" (this expression always according to the Vulgate edition).
These are the foundations of Anthony Mary's teaching. He reminds the laity in Cremona that "God speaks to the simple" (Sr XI), and he praises Fra Bono’s simplicity, affirming that "it has always been heard" (Lt VI). On the contrary, "The Holy Spirit shuns the double-hearted" (Sr II). "The principal aim," he outlines for those who are consecrated, is "the imitation of Christian bounty and simplicity" (Cs XIX). This, he also inculcates in the novices, urging them "to reach (Christian) simplicity" (Cs XII), avoiding any negative judgment and emptying the mind of any fabulous thinking.
This suggestion will be repeated often in the correspondence with his disciples. In the first "circular letter" addressed to the "Children of Paul the Apostle," he writes, "compete…in becoming simple" (Lt VI). But it is especially in the letter addressed to Father Soresina that the invitation to simplicity becomes more insistent. He should get "along in sincerity and simplicity with everybody," and "use…the same simplicity" (Lt X). Anthony Mary wanted his followers to be "simple" subjects (Ibid.), just as they were described by the "Anonymous Angelic" who writes that they had to be "founded in holy simplicity" (Memoirs). Almost to emphasize this invitation, at the closing of his letter to Father Soresina, in the long list of greetings, Anthony Mary adds an adjective to the name of many of his children, and he qualifies Corrado Bobbia as "simple" (Ibid, 53). We know little about Bobbia; he entered the Congregation on July 9, 1538, and died of sickness on January 30, 1543. Perhaps we can apply to him the judgment expressed by Anthony Mary about one of his followers, "he is good, simple" (bounty and simplicity mentioned before), "and of upright heart, and fearful of God" (Lt I).
Of course the Zaccarian writings could not miss the classic Gospel text, which is quoted with the usual spiritual addition, "Simple like doves, and as prudent and cautious as serpents” (Mt 10:6; Cs XII). This leads to the commitment of Anthony Mary to his friends in Cremona, "I will prepare my heart for God in full truth, simplicity and sincerity. In his grace may God live forever in my heart, and make it his temple" (Sr II).
Simple Eye and Evil Eye
The Gospel praises the simple eye (Mt 6:22; Lk 11:34), which is the eye of God (Jn 1:5: "who gives generously" in our translation), whose "sun rises on the bad and the good," and who "rains on the just and the unjust" (Mt 5:45). Opposite to the simple eye of God is man’s "evil eye" (Mt 20: 15) which is one of the twelve poisons that would, according to Mark (Mk 7: 22), render the heart impure. Therefore, the eyes of the heart can be "enlightened" (Eph 1: 18) or overcast. In this case, we have an absolute need for a spiritual medicine to "recuperate the sight" (Acts 3: 18).
Once back to simplicity, man appears transparent, receptive, condescending, disarmed, and vulnerable, since he does not stay on the defensive, but stays perfectly in tune. This does not prevent him from being unpredictable and paradoxical, just like Anthony Mary. Two examples are enough: When the novices gained little fruit from the "spiritual exercises" prescribed by their Mistress, Anthony Mary ordered them to spit her in the face! A disturbing gesture which encountered their reluctance; but actually what else had they done if not "spit on her face?"
In his autobiography, Monsignor Cacciaguerra, a merchant from Siena who converted to Christianity, and a disciple of St. Philip Neri (Neri moved to Rome in 1550, where he died sixteen years later), recalls to have lived in the community of Anthony Mary Zaccaria, who was then called the "Major" (Father Morigia was the Superior). Anthony Mary had come out, saying the expression, "I wish I could inflict a couple of wounds to his heart, to see what is inside." From then on, almost all, including the novices, would provoke Cacciaguerra. They would pull his beard, because he was too refined; rub his cassock, because it looked too luxurious; make fun of his politeness and pride ("he sucks the spirits" the Major said about him, meaning he was filled with self-gratification); catch the red of shame on his face; and finally, at the end, they would say “You are still rotten!” Anthony Mary Zaccaria ended the trial saying, "We have taken some liberty with you!" "Truly terrible men," Cacciaguerra concludes, "those reverend, who mortify persons coming under their hands" (O Premoli, Storia dei Barnabiti nel '500, p. 457-77).
The Saints are implacable, but we must judge them by their fruits, beginning with their "simplicity of heart." What was the aim of their austere pedagogy if not to destroy any double face, incoherence, presumption, and lack of authenticity? What should be a natural virtue, almost the original sign of our being, turns out to be the object of an arduous conquest and the end of a long journey. We are wounded and full of self-defenses; and only the desire to "go from strength to strength" (Sr III) and to "advance from virtue to virtue" (Sr VII) will bring us back to the fullness and perfection of our being.
Theme 5: Gift of Bread and of Himself
by Giuseppe M. Simone
There are three aspects of the Holy Eucharist which were emphasized by St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria. They are: Eucharist and Conversion, Eucharist and Word, Eucharist and Sacrifice.
The Most Important Conversion
The 1500's experienced a religious and social crisis very similar to the one we experience today. During that era, St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria and St. Charles Borromeo adopted the Eucharist as the instrument that generates and increases the holiness of the faithful. What is the influence of the Eucharist on our lives as baptized Christians? A good celebration of the Eucharist requires, first and foremost, our continuous conversion.
Preaching in St. Vitale, Anthony Mary gives this exhortation, "All other discomforts and troubles of the world urge you, they keep you awake day and night, and they do not let you rest for a moment..." (Sr IV), but when it is a question of cultivating charity and love of God, you do not get involved. Moreover, "Man, in order to reach God and to be able to love Him, must purify himself and rid himself of all vices" (Ibid.).
How do we bring about this conversion? Are we, perhaps, asking too much? In his letter to Charles Magni, Anthony Mary teaches how to practice prayer strictly intermingled with the ongoing daily events and worries, making these events and worries the objects of a direct dialogue with Christ. Then he exhorts the frequent elevation of the mind. Does not this remind us of the period of silence after communion during Mass? So a frequent elevation of the mind reaches its fullness through the Eucharistic "silence" when we put ourselves in communication with this Other Friend who is worthy of respect!
Now, we can better understand the need for conversion. In fact, "it is no wonder that man has become lukewarm and like a beast; the reason is that he does not receive this sacrament often" (Sr III).
The Two Tables
Going back to Sermon III, we read, "You will convert yourself to God by reading part of the Scripture, reciting or singing some of the Psalms…" (Sr III). Not only a good, but the best preparation for the Eucharistic Table is provided by the celebration of the Word. Listening to the Word helps us to remember the history of salvation. To understand the meaning of the Eucharist, we need to learn how to feed ourselves at the two tables: the Word and the Eucharist. The Word helps us to pray, and makes us pray with the very words of God. To listen to the Word and to focus on a specific thought could become the object of our conversation with God. Once a thought has been transmitted to us by the Word during the Sunday Eucharist, we, then, can offer it during the silence after Communion, and during the week we can recall it when we elevate our mind to God. Nonetheless, is not the Christ we adore the Incarnate Word who came on earth to convert man and lead him to the Father? Also, this acceptance of the Word as an expression of our prayer, instead of relying on our own human words, is a gesture of conversion.
Scripture is the nourishment of the interior man, capable of leading him to the conversion of the heart: "This is why you read the Scripture about the virtues and excellence of so many Patriarchs, Prophets, and Holy Men, from the beginning of the world up to the time of Christ, so that you may imitate them, and about the malice and punishment of the bad, so that you would avoid them" (Sr VI).
Sermon III continues, “And, as an extra, offering a sacrifice! – the sacrifice, I say, of your body, mortifying it for love of God; of the soul, uniting it to God; and most importantly, offering the Sacrifice of sacrifices, the Most Holy Eucharist" (Sr III). It is evident that for Anthony Mary the Eucharistic sacrifice presupposes the sacrifice of one's very self, and somehow gives this self-sacrifice efficacy. It is like saying that the Mass of the Church has to become the Mass of life. The sacrifice of one's very self is further exemplified as "maceration" of the body and "union" of the soul with God. Already in other places, Anthony Mary had insisted on this theme, "Carry your cross, macerate your body with hunger and work, stay awake in prayer, use your time to help your neighbor…" (Sr I). The language is coarse, but it transmits the very essence of a life given to God none less than to the brothers.
Anthony Mary's desire was for the world to receive communion everyday. Surely such a frequency needed special care. This explains his insistence on personal conversion, tightly connected with the need to transform ourselves as "a perennial offering pleasing to God" (cf Sr IV).
The sacraments must be allowed the fullness of efficacy both on the part of the celebrant and of the faithful. Since the good effect of holiness has to flow from such a supreme Cause, the Eucharist, the Paulines were committed "to profoundly and frequently, rather, continuously reflect on, chew, digest and put into effect the mysterious Sacrament of the Altar" (Capitular Acts). This is why they paid great attention to the communitarian discernment so as to be aware who was "gaining" or "losing" through this sacrament. The access of each confrere to Holy Communion "was kept under the strict control" of the whole community to guarantee that he is of a most irreproachable life. Finally, we cannot skip a reflection by Paola Antonia Negri. To found and strengthen the Venetian mission, she makes reference to Christmas, and centers the Eucharist in the mysterious light of the Incarnation, "The sky is in awe, nature is in awe, earth is in awe, the sea is in awe, and all created things are in awe, in front of the great mystery of the one Incarnation of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and of the many Incarnations of God made man and given as food to…the sinners." The contrast between the two perspectives could not be better emphasized.
Theme 6: Spiritual Life is the
Work of the Holy Spirit Living in us
by Giuseppe M. Simone
The task of the Holy Spirit is to make Christ present in us, and to make us understand what not even the disciples could have understood about Jesus while living with Him (cf. Jn 15 :26; Lk 24:16,30,31).
For a Christian, the experience of the Holy Spirit moves on two prospective, which are apparently opposite, but profoundly united: the Holy Spirit’s revealed reality as the third person of the Holy Trinity and the power which leads the faithful to spiritual life—a very slim, almost confusing distinction between the divine and the human spirit. This helps us to understand the two levels on which Anthony Mary Zaccaria moves in his reflection: the reception of the Holy Spirit and spiritual life. True spiritual life demands from us to move toward God, or better to become the same with Him, since Christ lives in man and his soul is governed by the Spirit of God (cf. The Writings, 83, 71). There is already some clarification in that "confusion" often made between the human and the Divine spirit, between natural instinct and "instinct of the Spirit" (a terminology which St. Anthony Mary took from St. Thomas); there is already an outline of a most common question: How much is my human spirit an obstacle to the action of the Divine Spirit, and how do I preserve my freedom?
In his Letter XI to the Omodei couple, St. Anthony Mary invites them to develop those qualities they have through the merits of Christ Crucified (didn't Jesus give up his spirit on the cross, and are not the virtues the fruits of the Spirit? cf Jn 19:30; Gal 5:22), so as to move on the road to perfection and sanctification.
It is the Spirit who gradually leads us toward sanctification, overcoming the obstacles which try to freeze the natural instinct at the lowest levels of perfection, stemming from the conviction that it would be enough to honor God only up to a certain degree. "The man who wants to go to God has to go by steps" (Sr I). It is the Spirit who inflamed Anthony Mary and made him write in his Constitutions, "Rise as much as you can, because you are more and more a debtor! Rather, never let anyone ... think to have done much ... “(Ibid.). The Saint affirms, echoing the words of his master Fra Battista: "More virtuous is man in his life, more gifts and graces he receives from God, and receiving them he becomes more and more a debtor. So, acting with fervor, he receives a new grace, without which he could not operate. Therefore, operating well, the debt increases" (Specchio Interiore, 52v).
To deepen the role of the Holy Spirit in spiritual life, we have to make reference to Sermon II, and more specifically to Letter V of June 26, 1537, the Vigil of Pentecost. Anthony Mary, talking of the Holy Spirit, "distinguishes" three aspects: the biblical aspect, the personal aspect, and the tradition of the Church.
After having presented spiritual life as an unceasing elevation of one’s mind to God, and having affirmed that every action should start with the invocation of God's name, he notes, referring to Romans 8: 16, that God's Spirit guides the soul, just as the soul guides the body. In fact, the Holy Spirit is "the teacher of justice, of holiness, of perfection" (Lt V), the master of spiritual life. He is a master who stays always with us (cf Jn 4:29), who guides us in the full understanding of revelation and makes us true witnesses of Christ. At this point comes the most personal and original reflection by our Holy Founder as a disciple of Fra Battista: he affirms how the Holy Spirit gives us the fullness of "rest," the rest which is the destiny to which God has been calling man. A rest which is "an eternal tranquillity (in the shadow of the infamous cross)" (Lt V), a total victory over oneself through the cross, which is nothing else but a life of virtue under the guidance of the sublime "virtue of the Holy Spirit" (Cs XII), as he will teach the novices, "The Anointing by the Holy Spirit will teach you everything and will take care of you" (Ibid.).
So, here is the full spiritual picture: the Holy Spirit, given up on the ignominious cross, makes the disciple a sharer and a witness of Christ, a witness not isolated but inserted in the reality of the Church (Anthony Mary's reference to the Church’s tradition is expressed in the study of the Word of God and the word of the Saints), and is capable of a life of virtue constantly increasing in quality.
Therefore, man must be able to discern in himself the vivifying presence of the Paraclete; only then can we say that he has acquired the "instinct of the Spirit," which will protect him from making mistakes, "because the Holy Spirit goes immediately to the very bottom of things" (Lt II). In fact, "the Holy Spirit will not allow you to err" (Lt V).
Theme 7: The Just will Move
from Virtue to Virtue
by Giuseppe M. Simone
Through the power and the action of the Holy Spirit, each one of us is a being-in-Christ. We can develop the relationship of man to God in Jesus' Spirit through three themes which, although expressed with different terminology, are very dear to our Holy Founder: God's paternity, the interior unification of life in the freedom of the Spirit, and the prospective of the service of our neighbor. This dynamic of conformity of the believer to Christ is realized through a life of virtue.
The virtues are interior principles of life which, in the frame of the reality of grace, sustain the believer and help him to grow toward God and neighbor. The virtues are a gift, not only of the natural faculties or qualities that develop with our potentials, but are a gift of grace which realizes the transformation of our life as life-in-Christ. They are a daily strength and support to help us progress in our love both for God and our neighbor. They are a concrete realization of that continuous "charity"—to use a Zaccarian term—between the creature and the Creator; they are the answer to God's gift to us. The virtues constitute a fundamental attitude of the person expressing a constant growth in holiness.
This is fundamental to understand how Anthony Mary’s thinking regarding virtues, as well as about other themes, is set in the wider context of the Church. This is done to better understand his teachings, so that they may not remain just pious exhortations of the past.
The Living Example of Christ
It is not difficult to find in the writings of our Saint specific references to Christian virtues, indeed he loved to quote Psalm 84:8, "They go from strength to strength (virtue); they shall see the God of gods in Zion" (cf Sr III), and invited the believer to pass "from one virtue to another" and "reach the highest degree of virtue" (Lt II).
But Anthony Mary loved to make his reflections by contrast; more than virtues, he would speak of vices which are an obstacle to the growth of our virtues.
He would talk of virtues and vices to himself, first of all, then to his confreres, to the Angelics, and to the Married, aware that "everyone…is called to holiness" (Lumen Gentium, 39), to use a favorite expression of the Vatican Council II.
Also in this reflection he was not totally original since he had behind him the whole tradition of the Fathers of the Church and of Fra Battista. We can affirm that the reflection on the virtues our Saint proposed to the faithful has its own dynamics: from the vices besieging man to the achievement of the highest of virtues realized in the perfection of the interior man.
Therefore, the goal of a virtuous life is to "search the highest degree of virtue" (Lt XII), that is, the conformation of the faithful to Christ, as he says to the faithful in St. Vitale: to be "a living pattern of Christ say with the apostle: 'Be imitators of me, as I imitate Christ, as though they were saying: Would you like to see the living example of Christ? Look at us" (Sr II), and similarly at the end of Letter V to the Angelics, "will give you ... a life in conformity with the one of Christ, and similar to the one of great Saints" (Lt V).
This conformity to Christ can happen only by abandoning our vices and bad inclinations like (among those he mentions) gluttony, desires of the flesh, anger, avarice, sadness, gossip especially about sacred and religious people…but most of all pride, "See if you have pride in the way you dress, in your good and delicious food…in the way you furnish your house, in the way you speak: as for example, being a shouter in praising yourself, in scolding others, in giving your opinion and judgment of the actions of others, and in a thousand other ways" (Sr I).
He exhorted the Married to "grow continuously" in the virtues, not to fall into lukewarmness, to "do something more every day, to decrease every day in some appetite and sensuality" (Lt XI).
With the Angelics, he invited them to hasten in denying their own "will," not to become "rough" and not to remain far away from their model: the divine Paul. "Go to the root." Very sharp in his intuition, he demanded not only a simple elimination of the vices, but the elimination of their very causes and roots.
Therefore, he required a thorough search at the interior of the individual. The victory over our defects reaches its aim when it leads to emptying our "mind of fantasies" (Cs XII), that is, thoughts and consequent feelings leading to evil or simply to whatever is not God’s.
It is continuous, that is, from birth to death, and profound knowledge of oneself, of one's interiority, that two important issues are resolved for the faithful: the overcoming of evil and the knowledge of God.
It is the overcoming of evil, because every evil finds its origin in the heart; evil, although defeated once and for all by Christ, must be constantly fought. It is the knowledge of God, because God's holiness dwells in the heart. This reflection about the heart sends us back to the true Author of Christian life, the One who allowed Anthony Mary's brightness to shine and who allows us to follow in His footsteps: the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit acts by the power of the Cross of Christ and in conformity to the will of the Father to change the interior person so that the new person could say, "I want to lead a spiritual life. I want to become the same spirit with God. I want my conversation to be of heavenly things. I want to have God always in my heart…. Although it is difficult…, I want to keep my tongue under control" (Sr II).
To lead a virtuous life means to become cooperators of the Holy Spirit.
Theme 8: Our Only Debt
by Fr. Giuseppe M. Cagni, CRSP
At the conclusion of the Fourth Commandment St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria condenses the whole doctrine he has exposed in St. Paul's sentence, "Owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another" (Rom 13:8).
The phrase, quite bold in itself, seems to have almost a reductive tone; instead, it is terribly challenging. The Apostle Paul completes it by saying that, it "has fulfilled the law," while we say that, it is the summary of the whole Gospel and its spiritual life.
The neighbor, I was saying, is everything for our Saint, because we cannot go to God unless we go through our neighbor. There is no other way, "Throughout the whole Scripture, my friend, you will find that God sets up your neighbor as an instrument to reach His Majesty" (Ibid, 113). And he quotes chapter 25:40 of St. Matthew's Gospel, where Jesus says, "I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me." As a follower of St. Paul, he could not miss the passage in Acts 9:4, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" By persecuting the Christians, Paul is persecuting Christ, because the Christians are Christ. More modestly, our St. Anthony Mary says, our neighbor "is the one who receives what we cannot give to God" (Sr V). Our neighbor is the only means, and there is no other; or if there is, it is not certain.The neighbor, in fact, for our Saint is everything. It may seem strange, since God is our whole. But God is invisible, and cannot be experienced and grasped (Sr IV); instead, we are concrete, and in need of concrete things to render human, that is, authentic, our relationship with the Lord. We could not pretend for Christ to protract to infinity his life on earth for our sake, but although we live in the era of faith, we still need a minimum of concrete existence, not build up in the sky. The Lord knows it, and has provided for it. He put on our side our neighbor.
From this we can understand what a central role our neighbor, the love toward our neighbor, plays in the spirituality of St. Anthony Mary. Not for nothing did he become a doctor, that is, a practical man. He knew that in spiritual life the great risk is illusion. He wanted "true and real, not imaginary" virtues (Cs IX). This is why he situated these virtues in the context of concrete and often radical experiences, so that they would emerge from life itself. And since he knew that the virtue which easily is a subject of illusion is the love of God, he bound it tightly to the love of neighbor on a Scriptural foundation, "If anyone says, 'My love is fixed on God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar" (1 Jn 4:20).
Certainly, the leading virtue is the love of God. We have to love him "with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind" (Lk 10:27). It is the first Commandment; it is the vow that all Christians, lay and Religious alike, have professed at Baptism. But how, the Saint asks, do we acquire a great love of God? And how sure are we, we have it?
The answer is clear, "One and the same thing helps you to acquire it, to increase it, to augment it; and in addition, it shows when it is there. Do you know what it is? It is charity, the love of our neighbor" (Sr IV). He continues by saying that "God has put man as our neighbor to test us" (Ibid.), as a verification. He insists, "The means of God's love is the love for our neighbor" (Ibid.); and following God's style who in his work uses various media, he continues, "The man who wants to reach God has to use another man as his means" (Ibid.); "we need man as our means to reach God" (Ibid.); "God usually operates in this way, one man with another" (Ibid,); "does not God work in creatures through creatures?" (Ibid.)
Therefore, our neighbor is a sacramental reality through which God reaches us, and through which we reach God. Our contact with God takes place in and through our neighbor. "Our neighbor … is the one who receives what we cannot give directly to God" (Lt II). To give is the essence of any love. Even our love for God wants to be expressed as a gift, and since "God does not need any of our goods" (Ibid.), God has put beside us our neighbor, so that we could express our love for Him in a gift, since we really give to God what we give to our neighbor. Moreover, our neighbor himself becomes for us a supreme gift, because he allows us to realize our supreme desire: to reach God.
There is no greater exaltation of our neighbor than this. Surely, so many other aspects of the theology of charity are present to St. Anthony Mary. We have to love our neighbor because he is like us, and because God's love for him is infinite. God is glad to see him loved, while he is saddened when he is saddened (Sr IV), because a person’s deep need is to have a little love (Ibid.), because love is the first lesson taught by the Incarnation (Ibid.), because only love sustains and fulfills us (Ibid.). All these aspects are true and profoundly inspiring, but not as much as considering our neighbor as the supreme benefactor, because it is through him that we reach God.
In this light human rapport is illumined. Fraternal love remains always a debt, the only debt; but we gladly pay it off, as a ride leading us to encounter God. In the journey our heart is transformed: from a "stony heart" to a "natural heart" (Ez 11: 19; 36:26). From the heart, the conversion then moves to our whole being, bringing the reality of St. Anthony Mary’s wish, "In everything, be motivated by charity" (Sr III).
Theme 9: The Chapter of Tears
by Fr. Antonio M. Gentili, CRSP
"Our origins were composed of public mortifications in the city of Milan and in the house," one of the first Barnabites, Fr. John Baptist Soresina, remembers.
- Some Confreres would go through the streets of the city holding a crucifix to preach about Christ Crucified.
- Some, standing on a pedestal to be well visible in the midst of crowded places, would speak with great emphasis about the contempt of the world.
- Some, inflamed with hate for pride and vanity of which they had been guilty and despicably dressed and with a grimace on their face, would walk among the people, or would throw themselves at the feet of those passing by, making themselves subjects of mockeries and insults.
- Some, dressed as mendicants, would stand by the doors of a church to beg for alms.
- Some, carrying a huge cross, would walk through the central nave of the Cathedral imploring in a loud voice God's mercy, and some would scourge themselves publicly in the church.
- Some would go to the public market, with a rope on their neck and a basket in their hands, and offer their service to anyone who needed help transporting groceries.
Anthony Mary Zaccaria was very much aware of the importance of signs, concentrating his attention on two of them: the crucifix and the Eucharist. For the first, he came up with the idea of ringing the bells at 3:00 p.m. of every Friday in commemoration of the Passion of the Lord. For the Eucharist, he promoted the solemn celebration of the Forty Hours, with the various churches of the city taking turn. But before his reform channelled itself into these two forms which, up to now, have withstood the trials of time, Anthony Mary had the intuition of the importance of glamorous gestures, either to urge true conversion among his followers, or to awaken the lukewarm or sleeping Christians.
But his gestures caused a shock that created a massive and dangerous reaction, putting in danger the very existence of his young Pauline Institutes.
Fr. John Baptist Gabuzio, the first historian of the Barnabite Congregation who received an eyewitness report by Fr. Soresina, writes, "As he saw his little vessel exposed to grave danger because of the persecutions infuriating against the Congregation, he, afraid of the damage, immediately ran to the rescue. He did everything possible to avoid the danger that his disciples would diminish or totally abandon their healthy practices, or, out of fear, would falter from their initial zeal."
The vibrant speech Zaccaria gave to the first group of his disciples has the meaningful date of October 4, 1534, feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
Anthony Mary, first of all, reminds them of the teachings of St. Paul, the patron and guide of his new Institutes. It is true "we are fools for Christ's account!" It is possible to be a follower of Christ only if we accept the foolishness of the Cross. The mystery of the Cross keeps knocking at the door of today's society. The Episcopal Synod, on the 25th anniversary of the Vatican Council II (1986), affirms, "We believe that in our modern day difficulties God wishes to teach us in a deep way the value, the importance and the centrality of the Cross of Jesus Christ."
And who has identified himself with the Crucified Lord better than Francis of Assisi, the minstrel of "perfect joy?" Anthony Mary uses St. Francis as an example to encourage the disoriented disciples. Fr. Soresina writes, "Fearful that some of us may loose the way (on which we had started), he called us to his room and gave us an exhortation. He was so full of fervor that he inflamed all of us, to the point of shedding tears and prostrating ourselves on the floor, promising that we persevere. With our hearts full of generosity, we promised God to keep walking on the road of contempt. Finally, we were so inflamed that, eliminating any sign of indifference in our hearts, we all promised to spend the rest of our life for the love of the Lord, who for our sake died on the Cross. Kneeling, we embraced each other, resolving in the midst of abundant tears to do anything without any reservation what the Father would say. In this way we started to live together in poverty, committing ourselves to mortification and the eradication of vices and passions, and gaining our neighbors, not worrying about efforts insofar as it was of benefit to all."
Tears and Fire
The encounter on October 4, 1534 was a memorable one. We like to call it, the Chapter of Tears. These tears were tears meant to melt hearts of stone, and to root them in the love of Christ Crucified, confirming them on a steep road leading to contestation. In that Chapter, the Congregation lived out her Baptism, and came out saved and affirmed. Since tears are always accompanied by the fire of the Spirit, "We were all inflamed," Fr. Soresina wrote. This Chapter of Tears, being the solemn and dramatic overture of the history of the Zaccarian foundations, can be a most fitting overture for the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the death of our Saint. Five years later, he paid with his own life: “not worrying about efforts insofar as it was of benefit to all." If the past has to be opened to the future, one thing is certain: without tears that little plant of the young Congregation could not have survived; the charism of Anthony Mary Zaccaria incarnated itself in a history by now multi-centennial.
Theme 10: Spouse of the Cross
by Fr. Antonio M. Gentili, CRSP
They were proceeding toward the altar singing the Litanies. There were more than two hundred young religious, representing over forty Institutes, who were invoking their Founders, adding to their names an expression which would symbolize their spiritual character and charism. Anthony Mary Zaccaria was defined the "Spouse of the Cross." "To go by the way of the Cross" is for Anthony Mary a synonym for Christian life and, ultimately, for holiness, if it is true that it consists in "giving back the talents given us by Christ Crucified."
But holiness is only a generic expression of good intentions if it does not become concrete in specific efforts. This is why Anthony Mary always accompanies his teaching with precise, accurate, and exacting demands. Who would forget his characteristic way of expressing himself, "Run away, run away from it" he says about lies; "Eliminate, eliminate the offense of your neighbor;" "Stand up, stand up and try to satisfy your debt," that is, do your duty in keeping with the Commandments; "Go, go" to Holy Communion; "Get rid, get rid" of the weights which prevent you from going to perfection.
Observe What I Have Written
"My friend," Zaccaria writes to the lay Charles Magni, who was certainly older than himself and who came from a higher social status, "I beg you, if my words are of any value to you, I compel you in Christ: please, fix your eyes and pay attention to what I have written, and try to read it not only with the lips but with facts. I promise you that for sure you will become a different person from the one you are now, in the way you are supposed to be" (Lt III). Anthony Mary is convinced of the generating power of his words, which contain: "I do not know what" "of great advantage to you" (Lt XI), or what is "able to lead to higher perfection" (he says to "consumed" holiness) that is full and tested. He used to conclude his exhortations to the laity in St. Vitale, Cremona, with suggestions and demands, like: "I want to lead a spiritual life ... I want to have God always in my heart. I will prepare my heart for God in full truth, simplicity, and sincerity. In his grace may God live forever in my heart and make it His temple" (Sr II).
"Imitate Christ, imitate God, be full of mercy…, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick, free the prisoners ... Plan your activities, perform them for love of God, have a right intention, select the best, do the right and in everything be motivated by charity" (Sr III).
"I want to conquer this love," that is why "I will submit myself to all, I will be humble and will go along with all, so that God, in his goodness, may put my heart on fire" (Sr IV). Throughout the writings of the Saint, we find suggestions not less lively as he invites to obtain "true integrity of body and soul," "to long for poverty," to get "along in sincerity and simplicity with everybody," where "getting along" indicates the dynamism of Christian life and moral conduct: to practice "a voluntary humiliation of oneself," to "put aside their own feelings and their own opinions" (Sr III), to "long with avidity" for the nourishment of Holy Scripture (cf. Cs VIII), to "always delight in pondering over some good things" (Cs X).
You Have the Duty to Please Me
"If someone is very dear to you, you will love the things he loves and values" (Sr IV), Zaccaria reminds us. It is like as if he were saying to us, if you love me, you have to share what I love, my tastes, my preferences, perhaps even my…"strange ways," if it is true that the saints have been defined as "deviant personalities," understood, of course, according to the ordinary routine of human life. From the principle mentioned above, Anthony Mary derives immediate and decisive conclusions: "You have the duty to please me…," "I am ready to shed my blood for you, so long as you do this" (Lt XI).
So those who have Anthony Mary as their spiritual father and guide are confronted by a call and a challenge. We have to welcome these challenges and make a program of life out of them, assisted by the blessing of our Father: "We have prayed Christ Crucified. We do not want anything from Him, unless it is in accordance with you and your desires" (Lt VIII). How true are the words of the Saint, "I…spent time in consultation in front of the Crucified Lord" (Lt III). He lives at the presence of the Crucified, Risen Lord and intercedes for all of us, wanting to conquer us to God’s love, since, "He does not want to give to anyone but to his friends and faithful disciples the gift of perfection, the taste of God, the knowledge of His secrets" (Sr III).
Theme 11: The Two Vineyards
by Fr. Antonio M. Gentili, CRSP
On February 15, 1548, the Community of St. Barnabas was invited to intensify its preparation for Easter by meditating on the two vineyards.
The Vineyard of the Soul
"We need to diligently cultivate the vineyard of our soul, to eradicate all thorns, and to remove all stones which could hinder a full hundredfold yield. In so doing, with the fragrance of sweet virtues acquired with the help of our Love, the sweet Christ, we will draw our neighbor to Christ."
To be able to cultivate the vineyard of our soul, our heart must, first of all, become soft as wax so as "to receive the imprint of the voice" of the Lord
Only if "we nourish ourselves with virtues and practice them" we can "spend our life, body and blood for our neighbor, to whom we cannot give what we do not have, since no one can produce fruits in others if he does not produce them in himself."which "pierces more than any sword." Secondly, "the soul must fast from vices, ambitions, presumptions, curiosities, anger, resentments, suspicions, pretenses, negligence, laziness, sadness, vain thoughts and words, quarrels, stubbornness, toughness in one’s opinions of never wanting to yield to others, judgments, complaints, desires for comfort and of being loved, and other imperfections."
The Vineyard of the Lord
Only through a tireless tending of the vineyard of our soul can we "busy ourselves in the vineyard of the Lord, to make it yield a more abundant fruit."
We have to make clear our desire for "the Lord to make use of us," and "lead us to his beautiful and sweet vineyard, so much in ruin in our days, devastated and badly tended, as you can see." As you can see! We should ask ourselves if our times are much different from that far away 1548, when, from the monastery of St. Paul Converted by St. Eufemia in Milan, the Angelic Paola Antonia Negri signed one of her 133 letters addressed to the Brothers in St. Barnabas. Her letter re-echoes a teaching very dear to our Holy Founder and often resumed during the reflections done by the members of the three Institutes gathered together for their "spiritual sharings" (Collazioni), or community meetings. "Let us first of all produce fruit in ourselves, and then in our neighbor," was the slogan of their program. On the other hand, they did not miss the truth of the opposite, that is, "the more one dedicates himself to others, being moved by the love of God, the more fullness of the spirit he receives." These texts of the Acts of the Community are matched by another thought by the Angelic Negri, "This privilege grants charity to those who labor for her, the grace not to lack that very good which they procure for others," so that "as we work in others, Christ will work in us," and "to exert ourselves to win the souls of our brothers for Christ, will consume in us any imperfection." Did not Anthony Mary write to a missionary in Vicenza, I wish "she would try to make progress not only in herself, which would be very little, but also in others" (LtVI)?
Theme 12: The Gift of a Continuous Prayer
by Fr. Antonio M. Gentili, CRSP
Anthony Mary Zaccaria offers a special "Charism of Prayer," especially of interior prayer. Here it is how it is described by Fr. Louis Minelli (d. 1891), one of the most zealous Barnabites in promoting the cult of the Holy Founder, in his work, (Spirito e Apostolato del Beato Antonio M. Zaccaria, vol. II, Turin, 1888-1889):
" ... Blessed Anthony was a great lover of prayer. He would not start any activity unless he had meditated over it together with Jesus, and asked for his enlightenment. Any available time he would spend at the feet of Jesus present in the Eucharist, from whom he would draw help and strength for his own sanctification and the one of others. Since his living, thinking and acting were totally directed toward God, with great ease, he was able to recollect himself into prayer, so that in any place and after any activity, right away, he was able to concentrate his soul on God. Prayer was his principal refuge for all his needs, and his relief and comfort in his work. Since during the day, being so busy on behalf of souls, he had very little time to spend with his God, he made up for this during the night, sometimes spending part or all of it in prayer. Then he would recommend to God not only his own needs, but also the ones of his neighbor and of the whole Church. And he used to do this with such zeal and trust in the divine bounty that his prayers could not be neglected by God. This is confirmed by what was said by the Angelic Antonia Sfondrati, 'Fr. Anthony was a man of such great prayer that each of his spiritual children gave witness of the help he/she received through it.' But what made sweet his many hours of prayer was his meditation and contemplation of heavenly subjects. Sometimes, he was so absorbed in prayer that he seemed to be out of his senses. The fruit Anthony Mary wanted, and he actually derived from his prayers, was the supreme science of Jesus Christ and his deep love for Him" (op. cit., 2, 69-70).
Vigils and Fasts
Anthony Mary draws inspiration directly from Christ. He writes to the laity in Cremona, "[Christ] suffered ... hunger and thirst, passed many long nights in prayer" (Sr IV). This is always the source of his invitation to the laity gathered in the little church of St. Vitale in Cremona: "Macerate your body with hunger…. stay awake in prayer" (Sr I). Above all, this was the example of Paul whom Zaccaria often refers to. It would be enough to remember what he said to the very first Barnabite confreres in a tempestuous moment of their history. He exhorted them to imitate the Apostle in "sleepless nights and fasting" (Sr VII; cf. 2 Cor 6:5).
Therefore, we are not surprised when he recommends to Charles Magni, a Cremonese lawyer who was immersed in business, to pray "at all times, that is, night and day" (Lt III), and to remind the Omodei couple "to pray for one or two hours" (Lt XI) and to "often elevate your mind to God" (Lt III) and "to Christ" (Lt XI) throughout the day. This is also what he prescribes with great determination to the Religious, "we want to establish that at least for two hours between day and night, we dedicate ourselves to prayer, without being involved in any other work. We beg you also…to raise your hearts to God" (Cs X).
Vigils and fasting are only means. Even if "an order has been given and accepted to increase fasts and vigils" to better keep the precepts of God and of the Church, still these "are not appropriate and necessary instruments for that end," Zaccaria observes in the Constitutions, "instead, consider as necessary means for that end the voluntary humiliation of oneself and the resolution to want to endure sufferings and pains similar to the ones of Christ and of the Saints, putting aside one’s own feelings and opinions" (Cs XIX).
Let us give thanks to our Saint for this vision of spiritual life which is committed and balanced, and…let us imitate him.
Theme 13: Faith Must Be
Transformed into Culture
by Fr. Antonio M. Gentili, CRSP
This thought underlines John Paul II's message, following the invitation of the Vatican Council: “men need to be diligently educated to a more vast culture of the spirit." This expression seems to trace the experience of St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria. Back in his home in Cremona, after graduating from the school of Medicine in Padua, he became aware of the need of moral values as the foundation for any orderly culture of life. With his catechesis on the Decalogue he aimed at rekindling in the hearts of his fellow citizens the great moral norms which constitute not only the support of an authentic religious life, but also of the same social co-existence.
The disorientation and ambiguity Anthony Mary senses in his contemporaries was not different from today's reality. He reprimands, on one hand, the facility with which "human opinions and inventions" (Sr I, 74) are indiscriminately welcomed, and on the other, the tendency to believe in superstitions which do not spare the very religious experience of the Christians who considered as miraculous the practice of prayer, fasting, and the sacraments (Ibid, 75). Even consecrated persons, he reprimands for practicing a "superstitious prayer" (Ibid, 78).
The Rot of Conscience
The basic moral principles which are the source of man's full truth cannot avoid to refer to the Decalogue, so well eviscerated by Zaccaria of its Biblical, theological, and practical contents, repeating the invitation to "investigate very carefully your own conscience" (Ibid, 72; cf. 75,76), to find faster its "rot' (Sermon II). What is needed is to transform the Saint's catechesis into a healthy occasion to look for those "many things" (Sermon IV) which reveal themselves to whomever makes an unbiased reflection of his own conduct. Once "the evil" is shown, one has to search for "the ways and the medicines" to heal it (Letter III).
There is no doubt that Anthony Mary wants to create a spiritual group which would adopt the evangelical beatitudes as its rule of life (Sermon IV). But before we aim at the extraordinary, we have to measure up to the ordinary, "If you want to keep the law of Christ, it is necessary that you first keep the old law" (Sermon I), that is, the Decalogue. To reach the "freedom of the Spirit" (Anthony Mary had learned from his teacher, Thomas Aquinas, that the law of the New Testament is the same Holy Spirit.), we have to make an effort "to keep first the Commandments" (Ibid, 76).
Once the aim is reached, the Christian moves in the spirit of the beatitudes, which inspire not only religious life but also civil life, and not only personal life but also social life. In fact, Anthony Mary affirms without compromise that if one should refuse to risk for justice, forgetting that the "blessed are those persecuted…," he "would not be talking like a Christian, rather not even as a good citizen" (Sermon IV).
Cultivate the Spirit
At this point the longing for a more responsible and profound spiritual life becomes urgent. The spirit, our Holy Founder says, is "the most precious talent" (Sermon II). To experience it (Sermon VI), to taste it (Sermon II) is the supreme good for man, to the point that if we will not have this yearning, the very observance of the Commandments will fail. It is like saying that, the extraordinary is the salvation of the ordinary. Is this not the way we act also in life? One who wants to pass the exam has to study more than what is required or than what is indispensable. Anthony Mary, in a phrase which has become lapidary, expresses, "Whoever wants to avoid the danger of transgressing the Commandments, must observe the counsels" (Sermon VI).
NOTES: Original text in Voce, 1990:1
All the 13 Spiritual Themes of St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria were translated from Italian by Fr. Frank M. Papa, CRSP and Sr. Rorivic Ma. P. Israel, ASP.