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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Letter 10 - To Mr. Battista Soresina
- SPIRITUAL-THEOLOGICAL THEMES Of THE LETTER 10
- LETTER 10
- COMMENTARY TO THE LETTER 10
All scholars agree that this letter’s Mr. Battista is Fr. Battista Soresina. Suffice it to quote the foremost Barnabite historian, Orazio Premoli (1864–1928): in this letter, Anthony Mary’s “manner of writing is precisely the manner one would use with a confrere, not so much as a Superior wielding his authority, but rather as one who welcomed and guided him from the very beginning.”155
At twenty-two, Soresina was the youngest and the last one to join, officially, the first eight companions of Anthony Mary.156 This occurred on February 21, 1535, after he received the habit from Anthony Mary on February 2. It is noteworthy that five months before, the young Soresina experienced a most dramatic event, later known as the Pentecost of the Barnabite Congregation. On the eve of the first trial by the Inquisition, October 4, 1534, Anthony Mary gathered his frightened companions, eight of them, in their first residence by the little church of St. Catherine and delivered an impassioned speech that Soresina later reported in his invaluable chronicles. It arguably was Anthony Mary’s finest hour. His words moved his audience to tears. Thoroughly uplifted, they excitedly embraced one another, pledged to persevere to the very end, and declared themselves ready even to shed their blood for Christ and the brethren.157
At the time of this letter, Soresina was twenty-seven, a priest for seven months and fifteen years away from his solemn profession.158 His filial closeness to Anthony Mary had apparently deteriorated into overdependence159 to the point of acting two-facedly toward his actual Superior, Fr. Giacomo Antonio Morigia.
As likely as not, Soresina felt despondent because he missed Anthony Mary who was still in Guastalla since the fall of 1538.160 Hence, Soresina wrote him a letter presumably to complain about his predicament. Letter X is Anthony Mary’s reply: a potent wake-up call. With his characteristic faith-filled blend of tenderness and harshness Anthony Mary hastens to reproach and encourage his wavering spiritual son. He openly uses the leverage of his unique father-son relationship with Soresina: “Let me tell you and assure you before Christ that, if you want to, you can make me live happy and give me the joy of seeing you behave sincerely and simply with everyone... What will you gain by falling from the height you have already achieved? I promise you that Jesus Crucified will lift you up to such a degree of perfection that the other sons of St. Paul will look at you with holy envy, provided that you always—as a favor to me—see me, yes my very face, in everybody else.”
In reality, a priest for another sixty-two years, Soresina proved to be an excellent “son of St. Paul,” both within his religious community and in outside pastoral activities. He was the first Vicar of the Barnabite Order, which at that time meant managing the goods of the community and providing for the material necessities of the confreres and of the house. On and off, he was the main animator of the Verona mission (1545–1552). Because of his longevity, he became an unequaled source of information to the first Barnabite historians, Carlo Bascapè (1550–1616), Agostino Tornielli (1543–1622), and Antonio Gabuzio (1551–1627). He himself authored some of the earliest Barnabite chronicles161 besides the well-known Attestations.162
The text of this letter is drawn from a collation of copies kept in the Archives of St. Barnabas in Milan(Q, IV, 1) and the General Archives in Rome (N, b, II, 6).
SPIRITUAL-THEOLOGICAL THEMES OF THE LETTER
- Steady Growth in Perfection
- “Let me tell you and assure you before Christ that, if you want to, you can… give me the joy of seeing you behave sincerely and simply with everyone.”
- “I promise you that Jesus Crucified will lift you up to such a degree of perfection that the other sons of St. Paul will look at you with holy envy, provided that you always—as a favor to me—see me, yes my very face, in everybody else.”
Mr. Battista [Soresina].154
Guastalla, June 11, 1539
DEAR SON IN CHRIST, GREETINGS.
I have received your letter and, of course, I can’t neglect to answer it with at least greetings and a few words.
It has always been my desire to see you grow steadily in perfection. That’s why it was for me like being stabbed in the heart, whenever perchance it seemed to me that you—although unawares, or simply unintentionally, and not maliciously—were not fulfilling my expectations as completely as I desired.
But far greater was the pain whenever your shortcomings were causing grief to others; for these hurt me more than those which affect me personally as, on the contrary, I derive greater satisfaction from your virtuous deeds that affect others rather than from the ones that would affect me. And this is so because by doing this you show to have greater virtue and you let yourself be ruled by noble obedience which retains the selfsame fervor both when the Superiors are present and when they are absent and also when you deal with others exactly as you would with your Superiors.
What a great joy it was for St. Paul to say that the Corinthians had found out that he had told the truth about them through Timothy and Titus!163 Likewise, if others find you as simple and zealous men, totally apostolic in your effort of gaining others to Christ, not frightened by the noise of passions or temptations but rather keeping your virtuous life well balanced in tumultuous as well as in serene and friendly situations; and if they see in you the favorable portrait I have just delineated, then you can be sure that you will make my joy perfect. But if you behave differently, you will surely cause me a deadly grief.
I have something to tell you, cordial Mr. Battista. I have come to know—and not without great worry—that you do not behave with your Father Superior in all simplicity, as you used to do with me, but you are two-faced when dealing with him. This, of course, has broken my heart, and it would have caused me a far greater suffering had I fully believed that report.
Alas! What should I think of you if this behavior of yours were true? Of whom could I glory had you truly fallen into such a fault? And I mean you, the one I carry in my heart as the fountain spring of all gladness. Woe is I! If all my children care so little about making me happy, would it not be better for me to have never begotten them, rather than to see them degenerate?
Is this the way you, O Dionysius, O Timothy, O Titus, treated your Paul? Oh, no! You always kept in your hearts the love and the very presence of your Father and harbored no other thought but that of pleasing him. Alas! This is not my case at all.
If only someone else were deceiving me! But Mr. Battista, ... the person whom I entrusted with the very best that I possess. Were he the one who had acted like that toward me, it would be too hard for me to accept.
Let me tell you and assure you before Christ that, if you want to, you can make me live happy and give me the joy of seeing you behave sincerely and simply with everyone.
What does it profit you to make me suffer? What do you gain in damaging yourself and in afflicting me? What will you gain by falling from the height you have already achieved? I promise you that Jesus Crucified will lift you up to such a degree of perfection that the other sons of St. Paul164 will look at you with holy envy, provided that you always—as a favor to me—see me, yes my very face, in everybody else.
If, from now on, I do not see you radically changed and walking in this direction—that, seeing other Superiors, you may always see me; and seeing me or those who represent me, both in me and in the others, you may see the very person of Jesus Christ, the shepherd of your soul, and you may strive to be sincere and humble and virtuous with me and the others as you would with Jesus Christ—I will not be pleased with you, and I will pray Jesus Crucified to take me out of this world so that I may never again find myself in similar anguish.
If, from now on, you continue being at fault, you will make me believe that you were responsible for your past mistakes. Indeed, your past, present, and future behavior will make me believe that Jesus Christ wants me to die, leaving behind degenerate and less than legitimate children.
Well, this is enough, for I am sure that—although you have made mistakes, and maliciously at that—you will not deviate any longer, but you will be open and sincere both with Mr. Giacomo Antonio [Morigia]165 and with everybody else. And for this I entreat you because all my happiness rests on you and all the others together.
Humble yourself under the hands of all. Do not fail to help others make progress, and avoid isolating yourself from the others if you want me to believe that your humility is the result of your love for, and obedience to, me, rather than of some interior anger.
Remember me to my beloved Mr. Dionisio [da Sesto],166 to the faithful Giovanni Giacomo [De Caseis],167 to the humble Mr. Francesco [Crippa],168 to the lover of suffering Giovanni Antonio [Berna],169 to my cordial Giovanni Antonio170 and Tommaso [Dati],171 to the ailing Mr. Camillo [Negri],172 to the quick-tempered Righetto [Ulderigo Groppelli],173 and to that simple soul of Mr. Corrado [Bobbia].174
Give my greetings also to Mr. Filippo175 and Mr. Janico,176 to Mr. Modesto177 and his wife, to Mr. Bernardo [Omodei]178 and his children, to Mr. Giovanni Antonio’s [Berna]179 nephew, and to my amiable Mr. Baldassarre [Medici],180 Mr. Giovan Pietro [Besozzi],181 and all the others.
And in my name, ask my Reverend Fathers, Fr. Superior182 and Fr. Bartolomeo [Ferrari],183 to bless you. I am not going to write to them, for Christ Himself will write in their hearts; nor do I recommend anything to them because from now on they themselves are responsible for everything.
May Christ grant me satisfaction in you.
From Guastalla, June 11, 1539.
Your Father in Christ,
Anthony Mary, Priest
154. See n. 128 and Introduction of this letter.
155. Orazio Premoli, Le Lettere e Lo Spirito Religioso di S. Antonio M. Zaccaria (Rome, 1909) 54.
We must be motivated by love and an earnest desire for spiritual growth and personal commitment to encourage and inspire our brothers and sisters.
The spiritual decadence of our brothers and sisters should cause us grief and make us desire for their conversion.
We show the same attitude toward all because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Do I regard myself as better than the others?
- Have I shown real concern toward the spiritual growth of my brothers and sisters even to the point of having to suffer for them?
- Am I willing to share with others the love I show with my loved ones, knowing that we all have the same Father in heaven?
- Am I aware that God’s grace which supports those who pursue holiness must be accepted in faith and with personal commitment?
- Are not some forms of isolation and refusal to collaborate perhaps subtle forms of selfishness?
Guastalla, June 11, 1539
This letter has the same style of Letter VII, sent to Fr. Morigia and Fr. Ferrari on November 3, 1538. It is addressed to his "dear son in Christ," Sir Battista.
Clearly this Battista is Fr. Soresina, "the way the Saint writes is the way someone would use with a Religious of his Congregation, above whom he has the authority not as a Superior, but as the one who has welcomed him and has directed him during the first years. Very clearly this happens with Soresina." (Premoli, "Le Lettere," p. 54).
The Saint had given him the habit of February 2, 1535, and had changed his name from Melchior to Battista. On Christmas, 1538, he had assisted at his First Mass in the Monastery of the Angelics. So, although for three years now Morigia has been the Superior General, the Saint-has been treating and talking to Soresina as his own son.
After a short and warm introduction, the Saint comes to the core of the letter. His dear son is failing, not so much toward him, which would have been less painful, but towards others; he is failing in simplicity and sincerity towards his Superior (Fr. Morigia), using a double face. This, if it is true, is like a stab to my heart!
His son, dearer to him exactly because of his "great candor and simplicity" (Bascapè), does not see any more in the face of his Superior the one of his first Father, and in one and the other the face of Jesus himself. Poor me! If all my children would have so little desire to please me, it would have been better for me not to have been a father!
If at least it was somebody else! instead it is you, you the one whom I carry in my heart as the one to give me all kind of pleasures..., and to whom I have entrusted the whole Treasure I have in my hands.
Bugati, in presenting this letter to the Apostolic Trial, as an example of the meekness of the Saint, justly observed that: "It is difficult to establish if it shows the power he used in correcting the defects, or the charity with which he would sweeten the same corrections" (p. 1079 v).
So the whole letter is an interlacing of painful reprimands and paternal expectations: "All my life is in your hands... If not, I will pray Christ Crucified to take me away from this earth, ifl have to die having degenerate children."
It’s enough. If you want me to believe the sincerity of your repentance, than do not put on a long face because of the reproach, and do not isolate yourself, obeying not out of love for God, but out of anger.
Soresina, very submissive to the admonitions of his holy Father and Master, amended himself and only few weeks later he had the possibility and the comfort to assist him at his death bed. Later he worked in the Verona Mission, and, having covered various positions in the Congregation, died over ninety in Milan, on September 24, 1601, after having given precious information to the historians of the Congregation about the life and the virtues and the works our Holy Founder and of the other first Fathers.
The letter ends with a long series of Christian greetings, each accompanied by a cheerful personal qualification, or compliment, or a loving correction, very similar to St. Paul’s letters: he starts from his Junior clerics, and the novices, then he lists one by one all the lay-people, especially the members of the Congregation of the Married. Then he concludes:
In my name, ask the blessings from my Reverend Fathers, and from Father Superior, and Fr. F errari... Christ will write in their hearts for me... May Christ give me satisfaction in you!
1. "To my beloved Dionysius Da Sesto"
He is the Barnabite brother of the Angelic Battista Da Sesto, first Prioress, of whom Sfondrati reports wonderfu things. He was accepted and received our habit in his own, house on Christmas Night of 1534, and he celebrated his First Mass on January 25, 1540, "in the sacred and virgin choir of St. Paul Converted." He was sent to open the Mission in Venice, and took the direction of the hospital "St. John and St. Paul." His charity toward the sick was such that many young men asked to join the Congregation: among them the brothers Bartholomew and Paul Soriano, a lawyer the first and a doctor the second, Angel Melchiel, a lawyer, Joseph Contarini and John Malipiero, all three from families of Dogi (cief magistrates of the Venetian Republic).
Victim of his own apostolic zeal, he died when only 40, on January 6, 1546.
2. "To the faithful John James De Caseis"
He belongs to the group of the first five Barnabites (Zaccaria, Morigia, Ferrari, and the Canonic Da Lecco, not mentioned here perhaps because still out of the group due to his health: he was definitely admitted on February 15, 1543). He was the first to receive the habit from our Founder, on the vigil of St. Barnabas, June 10, 1534. On July 15, 1540, about a year after the death of the Holy Founder, he changed his name to Paul Anthony (an obvious affection for St. Paul and for the Father), and he remained a lay Brother, although few years later he became the spiritual director of Fr. Gregory del Torso.
He died on the Vigil of All Saints, 1545, and was buried in the Monastery of St. Paul, together with his Father and the other three who had followed (Crippa, De Negri, and Ferrari).
3. "To the humble Francis Crippa"
He, like De Caseis, did not want to become a priest. He received the habit on August 15, 1534, together with Ferrari, from St. Anthony M. Zaccaria, and he was the first to join him in heaven on September 14, 1542, at the age of 40.
4. "To the lover of suffering, ]ohn Anthony Berna"
He had been trained to suffer for the sake of Christ by Fr. Morigia, who on July 19, 1536 (that is only few days ‘ after the Holy Founder had asked him to become the Superior General), told him to appear in front of the Community to accuse himself of his shortcomings and to receive proper penance: like, for example, to go to the market, dressed as a civilian, to buy vegetables and fish; or to discipline himself in the cathedral, or to beg for alms at the door of a church.
All, including the Holy Founder, were overjoyed, but he will receive the habit after his death, on February 1, 1540, from Fr. Morigia. On Tuesday after Pentecost of the same year (]une 7), he celebrated his First Mass, and six years later, on June 15, he professed the vows in the hands of Fr. Besozzi, since Fr. Morigia meantime had died.
We have met him while assisting on the death-bed the Priest Castellino, who, previously, had caused him many problems. He was also in Cremona to try the renewal of the Umiliates, until they were suppressed in 1570, and their church and house were given to the Bamabites.
He was one of the victims of the "pestilence of St. Charles," November 15, 1576.
5. "To my beloved ]ohn Anthony and Thomas Dati"
These two brothers from Modena (the Cronachetta calls them "Da Modena," and in the Menologio they are listed under Modena) were accepted on May 9, 1536, and they received the habit from Fr. Morigia respectively on October 3, and November 1, 1539. John Anthony, with the permission; of the superiors and of the doctors, went back to Modena, hoping that their native air would benefit his health, but he died only 30 years of age, on September 21, 1541. Thomas, instead, on September 9 of the previous year, had already gone home "moved by a false charity of giving himself to the neighbor," or (as more severely, the first part of the Cronachetta A says) "released by the whole Chapter, since, he wanted to lead a freer life and stay here as a subject."
6. "To the overburden Camillus Negri"
We have met him in the letter of the Saint to his sister, the Angelic Paola Antonia. Since he died at the age of 35, maybe the Holy Founder in the "overburden" is referring to his frail health; from what transpires from the letter, his own sister seemed to be quite sickish.
7. "To the easily provoked Righetto (Ulderico) Groppello"
He was the last one to be accepted in our house while the Holy Founder was still alive (August 15, 1538). He received the habit the following year on September 8, from Fr. Morigia, changing his name to Paul Timothy. He celebrated his First Mass on Pentecost day of 1541 (June 5, two days after Fr. Berna), "in the sacred place of the Angelics." In the Capitular Acts he has the office of Discreet, teacher of Grammar, and on May 12, 1548, he is present in the General Chapter "to consider and decide about the Constitutions" (the Latin ones by Father Battista da Crema - Premoli, p. 422). But in 1552 he left the Congregation together with the other followers of Paola Antonia Negri. Ten years later he asked to be readmitted, by the Chapter (Acts of November 2) did not approve.
8. "To the simple Corrado Bobbia (or Da Bobbio)"
This "Gentleman from Pavia" was accepted on July 9, 1538. "On January 30, 1543, at the age of 33, he migrated from this life to the true life. Because of his health he had gone to his own home to change air."
These is all the information we have about him.
The text of the letter is derived from two copies kept one each in the archives of San Barnabas (Q, IV, 1) and of Rome (N, b, II).
 We have no idea which treasure the Saint means.