by Fr. Aldo M. Rizzi, CRSP
- The Writings
- The Sources
- Zaccarian's Spiritual Message
- Universal Vocation to Holiness According to St. Anthony Mary
- Conditions for Holiness
- Spiritual Progress
- Religious Life According to St. Anthony Mary
- the theological part dealing with a general theme which is a sort of introduction to the particular subjects that follow
- a moral spiritual part: dealing with a particular problem: the Decalogue (l-4) the passions (5) and lukewarmness (6).
Zaccaria is nearer to the great tradition of the Fathers of the church and the scholastics than to the modern devotion.
- It is a practical spirituality destined to acquire virtues and the salvation of the soul. It is not speculative, systematic, philosophical, not even introspective or psychological.
- The accent is on the strength of the will and on the affective part of man.
- It is anti-humanistic and is very austere; the effort is to make the old man die to acquire the new one through the victory over ourselves and the internal reform.
- His mysticism is the exaltation of pure love, which is the final target of asceticism. The object of this love is God himself.
- It is a moralistic spirituality. He wants to teach the people to acquire virtues even with devotions (the Eucharist, The Virgin Mother, St. Joseph, The Five Wounds, etc.).
- It is a Christ-centered spirituality. More Pauline than Johnanine, centered more on Christ as the redeemer and head of the mystical body than on the Word of God. The center is the humanity of Christ, the Cross of Christ.
- It is a spirituality that aspires to reform the Church. The Apostolate is the ordinary way to reach perfection.
The two most important aspects of his spirituality are:
The way to God, as conceived by Zaccaria, developed, according to three moments:
It presupposes a degree of interior life, that is, a capacity to concentrate, to meditate, to understand the language of the conscience and of the spirit, and to be interested in the great subject of spirituality: salvation of the soul and of the world and the moral perfection, and the search for the good.
But this is possible only when we master our sensibility if we let work, recreation, relationships with others, and personal worries impede us in such a way that it suffocates our spiritual desires.
Zaccaria reminds his disciples about the interiority and the exercise of the spirit, and underlines that we must always put under revision the exercises so that they may not become routine. He insists on the Lectio Divina, the fundamental basis of spiritual exercise and progress.
Zaccaria knows that progress is a gift of the spirit but at the same time the result of our own personal effort. Mental prayer or meditation is the center of the way leading to God. We must live in a continual prayerful tension.
The reference to the cross presupposes consecration to Jesus who loved us and died for us. Kenosis or personal emptiness of oneself, is the only way to live our sequela and to give ourselves to others, the apostolate for the brothers and sisters so that nobody perishes he was bought salvation. Only by bearing and “eating” crosses will we succeed in vanquishing tepidity which is the worst enemy of perfection.
But the cross becomes the source of consolation, peace, and victory over ourselves. It is the crucifix that consoles us and it is the crucifix that becomes our partner in prayer.
Linked with the crucifix is the Eucharist which reproduces the life of the crucifix. The Eucharist is the living crucifix, a sacrificed victim. The Mass is the devotion of the crucifix in the Eucharist.
a) the central idea of the providential plan of God, which is realized in Christ. The sanctifying action of Christ is a change from the old man to the new one. That was what had happened in the life of Paul himself before and after his conversion.
b) the metanoia or the conversion, that is a complete interior renewal. The old man must deprive himself and his will so as to wear Christ’s sanctity in order to want, to love, and to act in a new way.
c) the social sense of charity; in order to renounce the joy of heaven. He sees already the imminent necessity to stay here for the sake of others.
d) the contrast between the ancient and the New Testament economy, the law of freedom. The God of the New Testament is a God with whom you can talk familiarly face to face because God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.
He affirmed the principle of auto secession from the institute when the group cannot be reformed by living together. Those who will not conform to the relaxation of the life of the community can separate themselves and form a new institute.
When is this possible? When obedience is corrupted; when poverty is in ruin; when chastity is suffocated and blackened; when the vice of gluttony and a general tepidity grows in the community life; and when the relations with the superiors are poor; as well as the sacramental life, the chapters of the community etc.... Then he describes the qualities of the reformer, whose program is to defeat the tepidity through the cross. He must intervene in time, be prudent, magnanimous, persevering, humble, tolerant. He must be a prayerful man with honest intentions, and he must choose good collaborators. He saw the renewal of the Christian fervor as the work of the reformer who must always reform himself.
Granted that these questions have always been present to the human spirit; let us see the answers that St. Anthony Mary has given to himself and to the man of his time. On this subject, we may recall and develop what has been said concerning the spiritual message of the Founder under the guide of his thought as it appears from the letters, his sermons and the Constitutions, which constitute a precious spiritual heritage for his disciple (who importantly are lay persons and all of religious).
“Man has been created and put into this world principally and only in order to reach God” (Sr VI). This is then the essential calling of man. On this subject Anthony Mary speaks of a “natural instinct”(Sr VI) or a “religious feeling” that pushes man towards God which cannot be canceled.
“Since he has given you the knowledge that does not and cannot end in this world, an unquenchable desire to taste God to experience the incorruptibility of the spirit, a continuous dissatisfaction with all the things of the world, and a continuous longing for the things of heaven…how could we deny that we have not been made solely to reach God?”(Sr VI).
It follows that man, though he can have other ends, cannot consider them as the ultimate ends, but only the penultimate end and subordinate to the last end which is God. The Founder, then qualifies what he says, by adding that “to go to God” means to “know Him” (Sr II & VI). It is clear that it is not only a knowledge of the mind but also of the heart because it includes the total vitality of the interior man; therefore, “to know God does not mean” to know who He is, but also and above all “to meet him,” “to experience Him,” and finally “to enter in communion with Him.” It is clear that from this interior knowledge, one can arrive to the external knowledge. Moreover, God works in a way which is contrary to man: therefore, the meeting point between God and Man happens thanks to the double movement.
-From God to man: God, taking the initiative, proceeds from high towards below and causes “grace and light in the soul and then he infuses it into the body.
-From man to God: man responding to the divine initiative, proceeds from below towards the higher level “and leaves the exterior first and enters into the interior, and from this he reaches God” (Sr II).
- “Via affirmationis”
If we consider that we can know man by looking at what he realizes (because in his works he leaves something of himself, the reflection of his personality), sq much more that happens with God, because, “being the cause of all goods, “He left his footprints in His creatures and in man himself (Sr III).
The via affirmationis, theologically, says that God can be known through the creatures. The great danger of this way is the concept of anthropomorphism. However, God himself used it with the incarnation, and so it is possible and practicable. It follows then that we can arrive at the contemplation of God following the way of creation, revelation, redemption, and “the work of the spirit.”
- with the only natural light of reason it is possible to know God, discovering his presence in the visible creatures and in nature, which are given by God to man.
- with the intelligence, we can know and contemplate the invisible creatures and at the same time the invisible perfection of God (above all his eternal power and his divinity). Consequently, even “the order and the beauty of nature helps to know, above all, the excellence and the greatness and other virtues which are in God and God himself” (Sr VI).
- About the particular benefits given to man by God, we can notice that: “God has almost always manifested under some sensible veil even the particular blessing, for example, the blessing of human redemption - He has given to the human race, so that even the apparitions of the angels have taken place under the appearance of some creatures, human or other, whatever was best. He has done so to make it easier for us to reach Him through these things, which are co-natural to us and which we can see” (Sr VI).
- It is in man, a rational creature “sensible and intelligent, corporeal and spiritual” made by God in His image and likeness, container of his grace, and tabernacle of his bliss. In this sense then, man, looking at his neighbor sees the way to God. All creatures, then, speak of the presence of God, of his work, that bears His inprint. “God said and this happened (Gen 1:3,7 ft.).
Creation is like a great ‘book’, the book of the creature (Sr VI, 131), a book that man can read through with many difficulties because of sin; in fact... “before man sinned, this book had beautiful, fresh, well formed, and glittering letters. After man’s sin the letters of this Book sustained some imperfections and obscurity. They were not erased, but they became old and difficult to read, almost invisible” (Sr VI, 131). Hence creation is marked with ambiguity, as the creatures, from one side, help us to reach God, while on the other side, they veil God, and may separate us from Him. So we find it to be the more difficult and uncertain way to God.
Note: These ideas are taken from the tradition and in particular from St. Thomas Aquinas “Sermon on the 2nd Sunday of Advent “(Opera omnia, Vol. 29, Paris 1876pp. 194-195).
“God, therefore-addressed man, speaking through the Book of Scripture, where we can find the useful teachings of the Law, of the patriarchs and of the Prophets; but, at the same time, He let us know the mystery of the redemption or of the human restoration to the summit of the plan of salvation, which begins from the creation of the world to Christy (Sr VI, 132).
So we have a double revelation of God to man. A cosmic revelation for which both are important and necessary to bring and direct the heart of man to God.
The incarnation re-establishes the alliance between God and man and thus restores wounded humanity. The reconciliation between God and man cannot be made through a man who is a sinner because sin makes him an enemy of God. Not even through an angel because, though without sin, an angel cannot become man. Therefore, God did not find any other way to meet man but to become man. Besides, “in what way did the human person who is Adam sin? Through another person, that is Eve, his wife and also through another person who is the Virgin Mother, Our Lady, God wished to free the world” (Sr IV.lll).
The Virgin Mary is then the pure chosen instrument to be the privileged place of the incarnation. In her the creature and God meet, Jesus Christ, our mediator, true man and God. Through Him, moreover, the plan of salvation is realized, and its most sublime moment is on the cross, the mystery of the Passion and Death, because God himself “has made the Virgin give birth and has made God die” (Sr I, 167). However, the redemption is accomplished through the resurrection, the essential element of the Paschal Mystery, the only one to give a meaning to man’s destiny.
Note: If the founder did not intend the crucifix as an essential dimension of the Paschal Mystery, all the following sentences would be meaningless, ‘talk and converse with the Crucifix’ (Lt 3), being taught by Him what we teach to others (Lt 3). The Crucified is a living one who works with us for our sanctification and spurs us to action energetically (Lts 6,10,11).
We understand now the exhortations of the Founder to the men of his time, a time of promising reform but one which needed a strong commitment to keep the faithful connected to the gifts of God. Anthony Mary Zaccaria, before the proofs of the loving presence of God, underlines that it would be mere blindness not to recognize that we are made to go to God, and he reminds us, with force, the danger of weakening the will to go to God, by ending up going on a way different from the one fixed by God. He required great effort and strong fidelity in order to receive the gifts given by God. Anthony Mary said that this danger is always present in a subtle and seducing way because of the ambiguity of the creation.
In this Anthony Mary follows tradition. On the theological level he says that God is much more in what we deny than in what we affirm. He uses such expressions as: “God is not this and that... God is not a particular and finite good... God is not only one perfection... (SrVI, 13 3). (These expressions are prudent compared to the so called apophatic theologians who are much more radical).
God is absolute, the infinite, the almighty, the incarnation and transcendence, divinity and humanity, and pure divinity are two aspects of the same mystery of God.
This way, says something about God because of the similitude between the perfection of God and the perfection of the creatures, but its realization in God and in the creature is essentially different and is unknown to us. That is why humanity must not be identified as God because God is always other than the creation.
1. “Way of the Creature”
The creature may lead to God, says the Founder, through the use that we make of it. In this way you can remark: - the use of the sensitive creatures and of nature in general is for the progress of man, but man is reminded of the consciousness of his limits. Above all, he must recognize that he is not the master but only the beneficiary. He must have the common sense to say that the skies, the animals, the plants and everything that belongs to the earth are extended to him by the Divine Goodness (Sr III).
- Man himself, mirror of the divine beauty for what he is, is also a mirror of the divine bounty for what he does because he imitates according to his capacities the work of God (Sr III); therefore, the action of man in history makes humanity co-workers with God. In spite of the apparent contradictions, history, then, becomes a way to God.
But Scripture admonishes man to pay attention and not to stumble because Scripture says that God has made the creatures to be a trap for the senseless (Wis 14:11) (Sr VI, 133).
The Founder uses radical and strong expressions like: “So my friends, since you want to observe Christ’s commandment which says, ‘you must be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 5:48), you have to follow a way to reach God’s knowledge that is the way of removal, the way of separation. Because you want to become good and perfect, according to this state, you have to follow the way of separation and removal from all creatures, from your own very self, from any defect (SrVI, 134). It is an exigency which concerns all creatures because of the difference between the finite and the infinite, between darkness and light, between instability and firmness and between creatures and creator. It is a choice: either God or the creatures. ‘How could it be, then, that man would be attached to both? It is impossible; surely, therefore, it is necessary for man to head towards God’s love, hating all creatures and everything else (Sr VI, 134).’
To enforce this separation, the Founder uses a series of examples drawn from scripture: either Egypt or the promised land (Ex 16:3-35); either the wife, the oxen, the field or the invitation to the wedding feast (Lk 14:15-24); either the presence of Christ or the sending of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:7) (Sr VI, 134).
“Therefore, if the sensible things, which are made and given by God and are exterior to you, should become an obstacle on your way to God, think what you would do yourself. As Chrysostom says: ‘No one would be hurt, if not by himself.’ (PG 28, 459). Now, if the good and spiritual things, many times slow you down on your journey toward God, think what will be the effect of the vices and bad habits that you have!” (Sr VI. 135).
But the fundamental argument is given by the example of Christ: “So that you any get rid of any heavy load, Christ invites you with those words; ‘come to Me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you’ (Mt 11:28). At first He invited you with the example of His own life, relinquishing any temporal goods and embracing extreme poverty, avoiding honors, desiring and embracing reproaches, renouncing spiritual as well as temporal consolations, accepting any desolation and abandonment not only from the creatures but even from his Father (Mt 28:46), and all this for our good. Now, if he has taken that route, do we want to follow another? (Sr VI, 135).” The Founder concludes: “Get rid of everything so to have GOD Who is everything” (Sr VI, 135).
This way seems impracticable, because of the harshness and the commitmen that it asks. It is like that for those who are not moved by love. “Now friends, who could go through so many dangers, difficulties, troubles, afflictions without being sustained by love? No one. Who could be so agile and prudent a walker to go through such a narrow and difficult road without delight? Who could be the enraptured lover who should leave his loved one without taking another one? Could we, then enraptured by the things which are visible and always present and even necessary, stop from loving them, if we are not pressed by a greater love? Do not believe it, indeed hate for something comes from love of something else. Hate of temporal goods comes from love of heavenly goods.”
The way of separation appears as the direct way to heaven which allows us to receive the fruits and the use of the creatures without loving them (Sr IV, 108). From what has been said it seems that we are in front of a dualistic anthropology as if the spiritual progress depends on the liberation from the material aspect of the world. But we must remember that “hate” is a paradoxical word. We find X in the Gospel (Lkl4:26) which underlines the necessity of an effective detachment, complete and immediate from everything, a condition sine qua non of an authentic material detachment to follow Christ without despising the creatures.
As you can see, even from the moral and spiritual point of view it is necessary to reconcile the two ways. This is made by the Founder in the sermon 5 on the Passion.
In this line of thought the Founder illustrates St. Anthony the Abbot and of St. Paul of Thebes, the first hermits, who experienced a flourishing spiritual growth though they began their spiritual experience from opposite situations.
- Anthony fled to the desert with some monks because of the friendship of men and his public notoriety of being a saint.
- Paul of Thebes on the contrary had to flee because of persecution caused by men, but in the end he accepted voluntarily what he had to choose out of necessity: the solitary life.
For both, however, the desert became the privileged place not only for their own but for the perfection of others (Sr V), exercising humility and following the middle way that is the way of indifference. The Founder talks this way, though not in an explicit way, in sermon VI, quoting 2 Cor 6:8, “whether honored or dishonored” (Sr VI). In reality the word ‘middle’ is not present in the letter of Saint Paul. Why then would the Founder attribute it to the Apostle? Evidently we are facing a spiritual interpretation which makes them see the alternative situation that the Christian may live, to be honored or dishonored.
What to choose? Which way is more useful to reach the desired end? The answer is none but the middle way between two realities. In this sense we understand the exhortation, “Go to God free and do not be attached to anything (Sr VI). It is an exhortation to exercise freedom which is proper to the Christian, who, facing the absolute reality of God, is conscious of the relative value of the rest, and so he gives all his energies in order to reach his end. To summarize all this, I think, that the best way is: the middle way or the Way of indifference.
The ways we have just described were nothing else but possible ways to achieve the unique way to God (which they identify) from the point of view of theology and from the moral and spiritual point of view. We can conclude our speech here, but Anthony Mary asks us to make another more, decisive step, which will bring us to see their unity in another way which he called “the way of the Cross.”
But he says this only to prove that the Father’s love cannot deny anything to us: “Since he has given you His Son, how could you think that with Him He has not given and will not give everything” (Rom 8:32). Then the cross becomes the supreme celebration of Jesus’ love towards His Father (obedience). The death of Jesus on the cross, more than restored the offending justice, changes man through charity, which enlightens him, gives him direction, and supports him (Sr IV). Therefore, the center and the summit of the believer’s life is Jesus as a Crucified God without any idealization albeit brutally as it appeared to his contemporaries.
There is an approach to the cross on the affective level rather than as a theological subject that satisfies the mind. This is visible above all in his letters (Lts: 4,5,7,11), “it is enough-and it is too much- that we follow the way of the cross, in whose logic it is enough to know whether it is a virtue or a vice to do or not to do something and then having eliminated any fruitless curiosity, we just get to work” (Lt 4,30-31). The Cross, then, with what it means (failures, persecution, sufferings, illness, and death) becomes a positive research by the Christian (Sr VI), who identifies with the death of Christ. In this sense the Founder had understood “how quickly one learns theology by reading the book of the Cross of Christ” (Battista da Crema: Filosofia Divina, Venice 1544), that is, “the book of the sweet memory of the Cross of Christ will lead you to higher perfection.” (Lt 11).
- holiness consists, therefore, in the true imitation of Christ Crucified (Cs VIII) because the end is to reach perfect charity through the way of the Cross (Sr IV):“to go to the crucifix and to the cross” (Lt 3) “bear and continuously eat crosses” (Lt 7). All are expressions which indicate the only way to be serious and to avoid illusions.
- if few reach holiness the reason is very simple, “because very few are those who want to bear the cross of Christ and its sufferings” (Cs XVIII). The disciple, if he wants to be a true one, must actively imitate the suffering love of Christ. This intention becomes concrete by accepting the Cross which puts him to the test and purifies him – the passive cross (Lt 11); or by contrasting personally the spontaneous tendencies (even if they are not sinful) which means to train himself for the moment of testing - active Cross (Lt 11). Besides, the very form of the Cross seems to express the tension which accompanies man in his way to God. We have some meaningful indications or suggestions
- … a truly middle way of the cross helps us to grasp the essential to linger on ‘the center’ rather than on the consequences, negative or positive, due to the choice of the cross (Lt 4)
- .... . the meeting point between the vertical and the horizontal dimension between “the way of the creatures” and “the way of separation”; but more so, is the point where God’s love and neighbor’s love meet; the inevitable tension which may come out, the sign of the suffering proper to our living here and now, in our history;
- .... . ‘the book of the sweet memory’ of Christ (Lt 3), the summary of the other two books, ‘the book of the creature’ and ‘the book of the scripture’. By reading and practicing what is written in it, the Christian can reach total perfection (Lt 3).
As we can see, in the writings of the Founder of the Barnabites and the Angelics, and the Laity of St. Paul, more than a “theologia Crucis” (theology of the Cross), there is a “Sapientia Crucis” (wisdom of the Cross), the wisdom that animated his life and enriched the life of his disciples thus becoming a real program of life.
We may conclude, then, that ‘the Way of the Cross’ is without any doubt the necessary and obligatory way for the Christian. It is a steep and demanding way which requires efforts from our will. There is no other way because it is the way that God Himself chose and used to meet man and attract him to Himself. “The way of the cross” is then the way to God. Recognizing this supreme bountiful act of the divine goodness, the Christian, humanity in general, cannot but welcome his real destination: “to be made solely to reach God” (Sr VI).
This intuition without any doubt was his moment of grace which fixed his human and eternal destiny and imbued all his existence bringing him to abandon all human and worldly careers to give up himself to the spiritual life in sharing it with his disciples. He clearly showed them that it is necessary that the true adorers of God are those in spirit and truth (1 Cor 6:17) and it is necessary that they have the same spirit as his (Jn 4:24). Because the ‘true’ spiritual life consists in this: “one’s intention should constantly be put directly toward God, one should desire nothing but God andone should think of nothing but God. As a matter of fact one should begin every action of his in the name of God and direct it to Him (Col 3:17). Briefly, a spiritual man focuses his thinking, willing, remembering, feeling, and acting on God’s goodness. His heart and his flesh sing together for joy of the living God (Ps 84:2), and Christ lives in him. It is no longer man who lives but Christ lives in man (Gal 2:20). God’s spirit rules his soul and his soul rules his body” (Sr II, 83).
Spiritual life from one side reveals the depth of the sweetness of the Father and from the other makes us like drunkards because of the graces. “It is enough, then, to conclude that the spirit makes you remember God even while you sleep, because while you sleep your heart is awake (Cant 5:2), and together with the bride of the Canticle you say: “I found him whom my heart loves. I took hold of him and I would not let him go” (Cant. 3,4), “O sweet embraces. O blessed those who once they find themselves in them, then they find rest” (Sr II, 85). To reach this supreme state there is a need of collaboration of man with God.
a. The initiative comes from the Father who looks for man, calls him, and invites him intto communion with him. “How much more this happens with God, who at the same time is your lover and child and Father and Mother and who is always with you. Indeed, if you betray Him and run away from Him, He goes after you. He calls you and He keeps inviting you. This is the reason why few are those who, after having tasted Him have left Him, and if by any chance they have left that infinite goodness, never or almost never, have they gone back to Him. Oh unhappy those who abandon Him and blessed those who stay in the bosom of that eternal Sweetness” (Sr II, 84).
b. The Son is the model to imitate; but, He is also the one who wants “His fruits to flourish in you” (Lt 11,56) that is, in the disciples of Zaccaria and so “put them in such a degree of perfection” (Lt 10,52) that they may become a model for all. For this reason Christ will give enthusiasm and fire, (Lt 12,59), the truth and the grace, that are indispensable in order to obey the Gospel and to follow ‘the way of the Cross.’
However such a spiritual journey develops itself through a series of paradoxes. One must pass from ‘self love’ to the hate of oneself. It is only in ‘the nothingness’ of oneself that ‘the all of God’ becomes present. This allows us to reach ‘the pure love of God’ experiencing in this way the effects of this wine and the sweetness coming from God’ (Sr II). One must love the neighbor unconditionally because the love of God spurs us to look for ‘the absolute perfection of the neighbor without tiring, leading him to the Crucifix and provoking in him the fruits of grace and holiness, obtaining ‘the light and the fire’ which keep them and us alive (Lts 2, 5, 6, 11). The supreme degree of perfection is realized when self-hatred and unconditional love towards the brothers “empties ourselves in a radical way.” This is the supreme paradox in the way to God, to which we are led by the knowledge of God and the familiarity with Him who is the apex of all perfection.
For the Founder, the union with God is realized in that form of spiritual life which is the ‘mixed life,’ that is, the synthesis between the contemplative life and the active life. In the Founder, and in his disciples, there is the conviction on f the excellence and the priority of the ‘mixed life’ because the greatest model of this is Christ Himself. Though the Founder does not use this canonical expression clearly in his writings he suggests this way: the three letters to the lawyer Carlo Magni of Cremona (probable successor of the Founder as the guide of the group of friends in Cremona) develop the idea of the union with God. “If man in this situation of distraction gets united with God, how much easier will it be to do through the other things and through the recollection?” (Lt 3). In the Famous Sayings by Fra Battista da Crema (well known by the Founder) there is an explicit reference to the “mixed life” and there is an explanation of the term “distraction” which we find in the letter to Carlo Magni. “The mixed life is wonderful, because it embraces contrary things. The active life uses the distraction; the contemplative life uses the union. Now, how will the distracted union and the united distraction be? It is very difficult to possess the mixed life because in this we must unite the active and the contemplative life. Not because one is an obstacle to the other, but, rather because one makes the other perfect, and both work together at the same time” (Famous Sayings, 32,4,6,12).
Consequently, “...it is imperfect when at one moment one serves the active life, and at the other moment one serves the contemplative life. It is good and perfect when at the same time both are working for perfection.” Therefore, contemplation needs action (which is already service to God); but once reached “the contemplative of mixed life gains in his activity and in his contemplation” (Famous Sayings, 4,14). In any case, the fact that contemplation is the result of “grace and human industry” reminds us that “the gifts are not given to the ungrateful, only the fervent ones can have them” (Famous Sayings, 32,10).
Note: Anthony Mary Zaccaria, during his university studies, put down this expression in a collection of philosophical definitions which he used later to write his sermons. The full text is, “Exercitium legitur naturae hominis preparationem quae in ea non erat ante et non est remotum ut virtus scilicet moralis operetur in hoc et maxime castitas” which means in a free translation: The training gives the nature of a man preparation which did not exist before and is of great help in order to exercise the moral virtue. This work was taken literally from Averroe. The Founder had in mind this text when he spoke of about chastity.“Chastity is of very great help in acquiring science.”
All this we can find in a letter to Bartolomeo Ferrari, one of the co-Founders: “Don’t get lost if you should get rusty in your words and deeds. Just as you overcome ignorance by going to school and just as iron becomes shiny with use, so it is with the practice of Christian virtue. In the beginning Paul was not what he was later. The same can be for the other apostle” (Lt 6). The spiritual exercise is made up of what we call “practices of piety” or “asceticism.”
a. The enemy is seen by the Founder not only as the “big defects” (already quoted before), but also in their manifestations, Zaccaria gives of them a full picture. It is taken from the “Cognitione and Victoria” of Battista da Crema: fornication, sloth, vain glory, superficiality, superstition, lies, arrogance... (Lts 9,11; Srs I, V). If this enemy is not fought, its influence is not only on the individuals but also in the community. It is not enough for him to give motives for the expulsion of the order.
b. The ascetic means: the fight against the enemy needs the personal commitment supported also with “remedies and corporeal stimuli’ as with the bad passions. Clearly from the religious is asked a more violent commitment, choosing the most difficult, instead of the easier means, taking humble and vilifying activities, choosing what is useful for the neighbor rather than what is useful for himself, so that fasting and being vigilant and the other ascetic exercises may still have meaning. The conscience examination is “to investigate very carefully your own conscience” (Sr 1), in order to discover the defects, and above all “the captain,” in order to “kill” him and at the same time to disperse the others. But this demands sincerity and honest intention (Lt 10). The fraternal correction is the concrete means to fight our own defects seriously and it can be practiced at two levels, individually or communally. In this case the Founder talks about the “regular meetings of the religious community as the particular and privileged place of discernment because it is the moment when we manifest our defects voluntarily (especially the obvious ones), and we accept the penance so that the “wounds of the sin” may be cured with “iron and oil” (Cs 9).
c. Man cannot walk this way alone. He needs some meaningful figures to refer to for his spiritual life.
First and foremost is the spiritual director. His task is to help discern the defects and with them to see the virtues in order to increase them. To understand the importance given to the director of conscience by the Founder, it is enough to underline that for him the spiritual director is like a mediator whose model is Christ who continuously prays for us (Heb 7:25). Therefore says Zaccaria,”... it is better to have God mad at us than your own spiritual father, because if God is mad, the spiritual father prays for you, but if the father is mad, who will pray for you?” (Sr 4, John Climacus’ Scala Paradisi). Then “when we have time, the opportunity to ask advice, we go to our spiritual father and following his advice, we either act or abandon our activities or those things which are happening (Lt 2). Finally it is good to underline that the spiritual Father is a fundamental figure not only for the religious but also for the laypersons. He may be a lay person, a lay religious woman, or a religious man or a priest.
Second, is the superior. He has the duty “to procure the profit of his subject out of charity” (Cs 13), avoiding the punitive laws because “with these laws man does not make any progress nor does he change his morals to perfection, because on the inside he remains always what he was”(Cs 12).
Last are the confreres. They must help one another to make progress, embracing “with a smiling face the spontaneous penitents and exhorting them to do better in the Lord (Lt 7).
d. By using the previous means we overcome particular situations, for fear of not making any profit, scruples, indecisiveness or, lukewarmness, which may keep us poor in virtue, slaves of vice, and “as little pots full of troubles” (Lt 3). Instead, you can reach a steady and holy fervor, “nourished by life giving water and enriched by new vigor” (Lt 5) in all activities, either spiritual or temporal.
From the context we may remark that virtue demands a voluntary and conscientious man. Certain virtues can be possessed by doing the contrary, “do you want humility? embrace willingly childlikeness; taste and delight in derision, rejoice in abject things” (Cs10). Consequently the virtue, excellence, which is the mother of all virtues, is humility. “The low nothingness of humility” is the condition sine qua non to live the evangelical radicalism in one’s heart and in one’s brothers’ hearts (Cs XII). It is the indispensable means to accept in a balanced way the fact that “the crucifix wants to be manifested to the world through infamy” (Cs XVIII). It is the condition to work for an authentic reform. He who is not humble cannot be a reformer /Cs XVIII). Then ascetic exercise is a commitment that involves all, both individual and communal, and is “love growing in virtues” (Lt 11). It is the criterion which is true and authentic of the spiritual life.
Asceticism is hard and always a struggle. It needs to be sustained with an appropriate food. The Founder is particularly attentive to this necessity and indicates the opportune food. It is made up of:
A. Vocal prayer (or exterior prayer) which takes place in four ways.
This vocal prayer must be made with “an honest intention” (the only basis on which prayer can be developed and become continuous and fruitful). It must be made with “good will” for the things of God, and it must be experienced in such a way that we are brought to feel always in prayer and meditation. The vocal prayer, however, must lead us to mental prayer, i.e. meditation; otherwise, it is only an exterior satisfaction and an hypocritical form of true prayer (Cs X, Lt 3).
“Prayer and meditation bring light... Meditation and prayer keep a strong man in the presence of God and therefore he knows what should be done and what should be avoided” (Cs XVIII). However, it develops only inside a life rich with inferiority (Lt 11). It demands a mind “free from mental chattering” (Cs XII) because “your mind is like a water-mill with its wheel always running, and your mind, in the same way, is always at work. However, if you put some wheat in it, it will grind wheat, if you put darnel or vetch, it grinds darnel or vetch. And so if you put into your mind, good thoughts and ideas it will exercise itself on them, if evil, evil” (Sr II, 88).
“It is sustained by a deliberate decision of the will, which imposes to itself constancy and firmness, trying to keep the tongue from superfluous words and even from necessary words” (Cs X). “It expands itself in the admirable distinction of creatures in their different beauty, in the great providence of God, in the sweet passion of Christ. There are thousands of infinite other things which come to the mind of those who want to practice them” (Cs X). All this may bring one to concentration, recollection, and devotion.
2. Affective Prayer is strictly linked with mental prayer because prayer involves mind and heart. This is underlined by the Founder in the advices given to the Master of Novices. “Teach the novices to enjoy mental prayer and meditation, as it has been said above. He should assure them that they would not make any progress without a minimal delight in this prayer because how can anyone extirpate and eradicate all other delights if tender prayer would not fill him with new delight?.... Teach them to always pray with fervor, because the Devil is accustomed to defile with excrements the prayer that is drowsy, as flies defile cold foods. For this reasons such prayers are offensive to God” (Cs XII). The same advice is given when he says, “delight yourselves to chew something that goes in your mind” (Sr III), so that you will come to “talk with Christ” as if with a friend (Lt 3).
3. Contemplation is the summit of interior prayer. It is like a deep dive towards the sources of being in the silence of our faculties, in the deepest and invulnerable center of the spirit. It is pure receptivity to welcome love which is manifested in us and is given to us. “Oh sweet embraces, oh blessed those who once they find themselves in them, there they find rest” (Sr II, 85). Contemplation is not disincarnate as it starts from meditation, which accepts the truth of faith and through a discursive exploration, and directs it to life. It is spiritual maturity and only those who have purified their heart and joined it with their minds may experience it in order to be directed towards God. Otherwise it is impossible to understand either meditation or contemplation (Sr III).
The practice of vocal and of interior prayer, according to the Founder, must lead to continuous prayer. All this demands constancy and time (the Founder asks at least two hours a day) as a continuous influence on life (Cs X). Other convenient helps are the Lectio Divina, the divine office recited together at the same hours of the monastic tradition (Cs I), the frequent sharing of the bread of life and of the Word of God, offering “...the sacrifice of your body, mortifying it for the love of God, and of the soul, uniting it to God, and most of all the sacrifice which is the sacrifice of the sacrifices, the Most Holy Eucharist. It is no wonder that man has become lukewarm and like a beast, the reason is that he does not receive this sacrament often.... Go to it, go to it often, there is nothing that could not sanctify you more, because there in it lies the Holy of Holies” (Sr III, 101). Another help is in following the necessary and frequent confession (sacramental confession), accompanied by the interior contrition of heart (Cs XIII, I).
Finally, the ascetic exercise and the practices of devotion help one another because the spiritual itinerary provokes a general revision of life; but, at the same time, in order that they be profitable, they must be exercised under the guidance of the spiritual director in order to acquire the right dispositions in friendly relations with Christ and then union with God. “If you observed these things mentioned above, very easily you will become close to the Crucified Lord and to the Cross. If you should do other exercises you will always feel far away from Him. I cannot stand this in you because I love and I am compelled to love and to see you in eternity in Christ Crucified.” (Lt 3, 27).
In this way, the spiritual man can give back, by increasing the talent he received from the Lord, because this is his duty. “Try always to increase what began in you and in others because the summit of the perfection is infinite” (Cs VIII).
We must conclude that the ‘true’ spiritual life is not optional. He who is not determined in his decision for it, or he who seems to embrace it, (as the spiritual men of the modern times do against whom the Founder fought vigorously) chose the contrary. (Sr II). It follows that the true disciple must say to himself, “I want to lead a spiritual life. I want to become the same spirit with God. I want conversation of heavenly things. I want to have God always in my heart, and I can - although it is difficult…to keep my tongue under control.” (Sr II, 19).
However, he reacted wanting to fulfill God’s will “against all the reactions I may have, even if I may die” (Lt 1). All this because of the example of Christ Who...“firmly fought against indecisiveness through obedience to death in order not to be negligent. He ran to the ignominy of the cross, heedless of its shame.” (Lt 2, 20). This polemic and struggle against lukewarmness is a constant feature in his life. In fact his apostolic life begins with the sermon on lukewarmness (Sr VI) and with the letter to the Omodeis (Lt 11), written shortly before his death. It is centered on this theme: “My wish is that, having given yourself to Christ, you will never experience lukewarmness” (Lt 11, 54). This defect arises when one says that there is no need to do so much good, or when some things are required and others are optional, superfluous, unnecessary (Sr VI, 36). When one says, if I do not commit grave sins, even if I commit venial sins, then there is need of God’s mercy. “...the lukewarm man or the Pharisee acts this way when he experiences conversion. He gets rid of the big sin, but then he takes pleasure in the small ones; that is, he does not have any guilty conscience for small sins. For example, he abstains from vicious sensualities of the flesh, but then takes delight in conversations and other similar things. He avoids illicit things but wants all the licit ones. He curbs himself only partially because he does not do it totally. I say not only for once or for a short time but often and for a long time like a habit.” (Lt 11, 55). Seeing the difficulties of the beginning, he lets himself be won by doubts of being able to persevere, thus falling into despair. Lukewarmness, however, is not only the main obstacle for the spiritual life of a person, but it is also the ruin of the religious life itself (Cs XVI).
The reform must be carried out as soon as the situation becomes clear, and it is possible if there is a daring and courageous reformer able to see evil and to act with prudence, discretion, perseverance, and constancy. He must have a great heart and soul to overcome difficulties, to be compassionate, tolerant, and affable with a right and good intention, prayerful, divine and saintly - that is, gifted with a Christian dimension sustained by divine glory because “the saints make revolutions but through love” (Cs XVII). There must be apt companions, chosen with care, to bring the reform to its end, though it is necessary not be deceived because very few are ready to carry the cross of Christ. In any case the best vocations are those coming from “an impeccable life and nourished by the good doctrine of Him who called them.” The Founder concludes: “brothers we have taken care to provide you with these few notes. If you will really observe them and execute them, we hope they will lead you to perfection, especially helping you to avoid lukewarmness” (Cs XVIII, 202).
In this way they could be “stock and columns to renew the Christian zeal” (Lt 7, 42), and announcers of ‘the living spirit’ everywhere according to the example of St. Paul to lead their neighbor to the true spirit and to the truly despised Christ Crucified (Lt 5, 31). In this way they will harvest abundant fruits of charity so desired by the Founder. So charity, that is love, moves one toward neighbor and consequently toward God. At the same time it is the result of this movement which is both the cause and the end. Therefore, we are able to talk about charity as the right origin of religious life.
Martyrdom should be the ripest fruit of charity as a sign of self-total offering. However, without charity, it loses its value and becomes just a search for self-glory. It becomes the extreme expression of hypocrisy (Sr IV).
Charity then is the virtue which can make transparent, credible, and concrete all other virtues. In any case, first it is a gift of God because, God, moved by His love towards man, came from heaven to save him and force him, for loves sake, to love Him. So, when Christ love entered the world. “I brought fire on earth. I only desire that it burns” (Lk 12:49) (Sr IV). For this reason before such a great love, all other loves or affections cannot lead man to his end, and so they become an obstacle. Such a weight, which is not easy to eliminate, can only be cut away at the root with the only instrument that man has. It is a love so great and powerful that it brings “hatred” against the other loves. “Hatred for temporal things comes from love for heavenly things,” says the Founder. Therefore, “it is not possible to go through these difficulties and to carry the burden without love, since it is love which carries the burden. Therefore, the love of God is indeed needed. Without the love of God we can do nothing. Everything relies on this love” (Sr Iv, 109).
Instead, “man is close by, man is a body, man acts with man so that his actions can be seen directly. Now since God needs nothing from us, but man does, for this very reason God has put man as our neighbor to test us. As a matter of fact, if someone is very dear to you, you love the things he loves and values. Now God values man very highly, therefore, you would be extremely thoughtless and rude and a poor friend of His majesty and goodness were you not to treat with the highest regard what cost God so much” (Sr IV, 110).
The last reason therefore, is in the commandment that Jesus Himself has given us: “Love one another; eve as I have loved you that you love one another. By this all men were known that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34b-35). The reasons come from the fact that the last judgment will be based on the love of neighbor (Mt 25:35). Paul was so convinced of the necessity of this love,that he wished to be accursed for his brothers. “For I could pray(wish) that I myself were accursed(separated) from Christ for the sake of my brethren my knsmen according to the flesh” (Rm 9:3). The neighbor is seen in the scripture as the way to God and also the object of every kind of work of mercy (Mt 25:45) (Sr IV). So important the love toward the neighbor, that it becomes the conditio sine qua non (indispensable condition) to reach perfection and to reach God. In this perspective we understand the gift of the Decalogue: “Through the first precepts of the Law man directs his will, his speech, his deeds towards God. With the rest man lives virtuously toward his neighbor” (Sr IV, 113).
Comcretley, to acquire charity, the Founder examines the fourth commandment, “honor your father and your mother” and from this “respect” due to our parents, he enlarges the space where charity can operate as “respect” for all men and women in general. The reason is in the word “father,” which is a name of friendship and therefore convenient for all because they are our equal. It is interesting to remark on the appeal for social justice in favor of the weak categories in society, workers, old people, etc. and also the exhortation of talking about social justice without fear (Srs III & IV).
God then has given Christians a law of love and of freedom, written in their hearts (Sr IV). In this way there is no neutral space where this law is not in action. There are no indifferent zones in our life. The love offered to us demands an answer. In this sense the new law is more demanding than the ancient one; in a sense it is its fulfillment. Besides, the new law is not given in order to add burdens but to lighten them because it is a light yoke, it is the refreshment of the heart, it is the rest, it is the life (Sr I). The evangelical counsels are seen in this perspective. They do not suggest anything new beyond the law. And though they are distinct from the precepts, the distinction is not based on obligation but rather on love which is the reason for the counsels.
- in front the perfection proposed to the Christians, some who are weak may feel discouraged;
- the distinction, therefore, is there to encourage the weak who, once arrived to a certain stability in their Christian life, should go on little by little toward perfection, overcoming the distinction between the counsel and precepts.
The conclusion is: “start to do what is good and as a consequence you will make progress and will become better” (Sr VI, 137). If we want to keep that distinction, it will favor lukewarmness and negligence because, by not observing the counsels, even the precepts are not observed. Experience is there to teach. Let us look at the relation between confession and sin. The less we confess the more we risk sinning (Sr VI). So “whoever wants to avoid the danger of transgressing the commandments, must observe the counsels... He who wastes the little he has will be stripped bare” (Sir 19: l) (Sr VI, 138).
These three commandments are already a great way to get out of our own imperfections and to reach the summit of holiness which only makes our hearts truly dedicated to God. The other seven commandments, as we have already said, concern neighbor; therefore, love of God and love of neighbor are two inseparable aspects of true charity which must be real and part of real and a part of our life.
This way of seeing the vows is clearly present in the writings of the Founder above all when the vow of chastity is concerned. In dealing with the vows, we underline in a special way the vow of obedience because the Founder considers it essential to the religious life.
a. The crucifying aspect.The first fundamental aspect
“The complete regarding of degrading yourselves by becoming simple by not i following your will but Christ’s will. In this way you will easily put on Him” (Rom 13:14). The purpose of such a discipline, which breaks the will, is to purify the soul of its fleshy roughness. Only then can we listen to the voice of God and answer it with docility thus following the example of Christ. Besides, the habit of being decisive creates the interior conviction and the good will which is one of the characteristics of obedience. Consequently, what is needed is not virtue and regularity at all cost, but convinced homage and a loving heart in service to the Lord (Cs II, 17).
Chastity is the answer to a strong and jealous love of God who demands exclusivism of our heart thus considering all others positive and negative loves as adulterous. The neighbor is not excluded. On the contrary, chastity leads to one’s love for the other. The neighbor does not cause dispersion but recollection and welcoming in charity. The distraction may happen because there are factors which are not religiously authentic, like the wrong way of living brotherhood or fraternity, affective attachment to things, which are unnecessary, and relations to lay persons which are not correct. They may bring imbalance in the religious affectivity thus exposing one to greater risk. We can thus conclude that the first immaculate chastity began to be darkened and blackened (Cs XVII). If then, other factors are present (words, writing, malice) which, though not bring the religious to unchaste things but welcoming them in thoughts. This situation is considered serious so that the religious must be expelled. “If anyone who, even, once is caught with unchaste words or writings or signs or deeds, must be expelled from the congregation...” (Cs III, 156). “If your eyes should be blind and adulterous, I leave it to your imagination what the rest of the body would be” (Lt 7, 41). But this demands discretion and discernment in order to verify the true cause of such behavior, if it is a temptation of the devil or a trial allowed by God. The criterion is given by the behavior of the religious if he avoids lightness and sloth if he looks for humility, if he desires the integrity of his body and soul with fervor, or if there is a voluntary negligence. (This is the very reason of his expulsion from the congregation). It is important also that his consideration about chastity for married people be put to (charity) in front of the sacrament. Since chastity and correct behavior are the will of God, which is our own holiness, it follows that concupiscence introduces a deformed relation with God (which may be called idolatry). Therefore we understand the exhortation to the layperson to cultivate the ‘virtue’ of chastity.
These instructions that the Founder gives to the Novice Master are a precise indication to understand the pedagogical value of virtue and the vow of poverty as well as the radical detachment from things. Not to put one’s heart in things, gives freedom, which helps us in our spiritual life and in the exercise of charity. All is done in view of perfection. “Deprive, deprive yourself, otherwise, you will not preach holiness” (Sr IV). In this sense the relations with things changes. They are not of the desire of possession, but they must be kept because they are the sacred possession of the Lord. The relations with the brothers change. Charity impels us to give and lend our possessions with magnanimity and joy, sharing with others what is necessary and according to the possibilities (Cs IV). The deeper joy of those who are rooted in poverty is not so much the desire to be poor but also to leave behind necessary things (Cs IV). It follows that the increase of goods at our disposal, accompanied by cupidity, generates complaints and pretensions. The multiplication of the means of defending the property and the affirmation of the right of possession are the signs of ruin in this vow. Then the love toward poverty is finished; rather a hatred for poverty is born (Sr IV, Cs XVII).
C. The observance of the divine precepts: a condition necessary for religious life which is impossible without the evangelical counsels Anthony Mary Zaccaria then underlines two important aspects:
1. The way to perfection, which brings man to God, asks man to respond to the gifts received by giving back to God the due tribute. That tribute is the observance of the commandments. This observance must not be exterior or pharisaic, but the fruit of the heart based on the friendship that God wants to build with man in Jesus Christ (Jn 15:15). God introduces man to a knowledge of the mysteries and so taste His presence (Sr III). It is a question of the observance without fear. Even this is a gift of God. In this sense the observance of the commandments prepares one for a more intimate relation with God in Christ, lived on the basis of the evangelical counsels. In the calling of the rich young man, Christ wants him to share His own life to lead him to enjoy eternal life, His own eternal glory; but He asks from him to improve his observance of the commandments by leaving his riches, not only materially but also affectively (Sr I). From one side it appears the observance of the commandments is enough to share intimacy with Christ and become his follower. From the other side, the commandments are not enough to become his followers.
2. A true ‘sequela’ (following) of Christ demands full conformity with Him and true commitment to imitate His life, to witness His presence to us in the world. And as His life is a model of total dedication of Himself and an acceptance of the will of the Father, it follows that the disciple, to be perfect, must try to live Christ’s virtues. These virtues are obedience (relationship with His Father), chastity (choice of virginal life, sign of His availability to all) and poverty (sign of His total kenosis “the fact of emptying himself for others”). Then the disciple can follow Christ effectively by
Therefore, the way to holiness for the religious passes through the evangelical counsels professed and lived in the community life. The Barnabites and the Angelics in particular, wishing to live the consecration fervently must look for “the pure honor of Christ only, pure utility for availability to the neighbor, and pure degradation and humiliation for themselves.” In this commitment they will never be alone because, as the founder affirms, “And the anointing of the Holy Spirit will teach you everything and take care of you, since Christ is pleased with you, little flock” (Cs XVI)(John 14:26)(Luke12:32). Moreover, the founder committed himself to his disciple; Carlo Margni: “I will see you in eternity before the Crucified Christ” (Lt 3,27). Therefore, if the religious has rooted in himself the motives and the causes of his choice to live the evangelical counsels’ the three vows become for him as the three first commandments for the common Christian: a way toward sanctification. “And so tied to this triple cord, like Jeremiah (Jer 38:13), you can easily come out of the depth of your misery and imperfection, and you will ascend to the summit of sanctification, the only thing capable of transforming the heart into a decorated temple of God” (Sr III, 98).
Comparison between Saint Anthony M. Zaccaria and Vatican Council II (LG, Chapters 5-6)
In conclusion, we may ask which are the similar points of view between Anthony Mary and Vatican Council II in the constitution Lumen Gentium (on the subject of the “Universal Vocation to Holiness in the Church” and “Religious Life”). Though we must keep in mind the different eras, we can underline some similarities.
A second common element is the protagonist of the vocation: man. In this sense, laypersons and religious are called in the same way to perfection. This way starts from the observance of the commandments. It must grow into the evangelical counsels which must be lived according to each state (Lts 10,11). Deeply related, there is a missionary task of the two ways of life. Here the Founder seems to have been ahead of his time. He did not found a congregation of women according to the tradition that is enclosed in the convents, but he founded an active apostolic congregation. In his time that constituted a revolutionary event, which will not be accepted since later on the Sisters were put into the cloister like the others nuns. The founder sent together on mission priests, sisters, and laypeople to evangelize.
Another element which is new is the figure of the layperson, who is not a simple executor but an authentic protagonist of the reform, a bearer of a living spirituality to every place and person (Lt 11).
This apostolic function is recognized by the council to the lay people in LG 33 and 41. In other words it is a common way of following Christ, but Christ poor, humble and crucified (LG 41). In the Founder this aspect is always present so that the cross becomes the authentic way leading to God (Sr VI).
The foundation of this way is charity which is the first and necessary gift of God to man. Through the Holy Spirit (LG 42), charity is a true and necessary “motor: which moves man to love God and neighbor.” But Charity is also the fruit, the end to be reached. For this it demands the greatest efforts of humanity. In this sense, both the Council or the Founder (who deals with this argument in full in Sermon IV) calls to mind the necessity to nourish charity, so that it may grow and bear fruits in the soul. The right food to nourish charity is the Word of God, the accomplishment of the will of God with the help of Grace, the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, liturgy, prayer, mortification, and service to the brothers in need by exercising the virtues (LG 2) (Lts 3, 2, 11).
Charity is also the origin of two eminent ways recalled by the Founder and the Council:
Besides, while the Council suggests this way without any other details, the Founder talks about it when he talks about the relations between “counsels” and “precepts.” He reminds the laypersons that the exercise of such virtues, in particular chastity, is a capacity which is fruitful for the entire person and his spiritual growth (Sr I). As you can see, Anthony Mary Zaccaria presents at least the essential universal intuition towards holiness which constitutes the primary goal of every believer, the summit of human evolution and of spiritual regeneration. For this reason laypersons and religious have a common vocation. Later, however, it is destined to be differentiated.
Finally, both the Council and the Founder think that religious life is a strong stimulating example for the people of God and a source of spiritual renewal which begins from personal reform (LG 46) (Sr IV).
As to verify what we have said, the figure of the Founder with his style of life and the testimony of his life says that the profession of the evangelical counsels is not against the true development of the human person. On the contrary, it is a great help. They bring the purification of the heart to spiritual freedom and keep burning the fervor of charity (LG 46). Anthony Mary Zaccaria is, in fact, a man fully “developed.”
To all he says: “you have a debt to satisfy me” (Lt 7,43). It is the desire of a fatherly vibrant heart, anxious for the salvation of his sons that we see in his rare and short writings. But his writings touch the reader and invite him to let himself be open to God and to the neighbor. What the founder wants to give are some precise points from which one can build up a program for his spiritual life. Everybody, layperson or religious, can derive a precise orientation for his/her own spiritual growth. If one follows with evangelical radicalism and with logical consequence, according to his own status, one can witness an authentic spiritual reform. In particular, for the religious, these points may be a program of spiritual life within the community in order to awaken in themselves, and in others, a thrust for God. In this way, laypersons and religious together can bring the living spirit everywhere according to the desire of the Founder. Anthony M Zaccaria appears as a robust spiritual master, not only because he exposed a full vision of the “ways to God,” but also because he could translate this vision into concrete spiritual counsels to lead souls to God.