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 2 - to Mr. Bartolomeo Ferrari and Mr. Giacomo Antonio Morigia
Bartolomeo Ferrari (1499–1544) and Giacomo Antonio Morigia (1497–1546) were two Milanese noblemen21 who, coming from different walks of life, joined Anthony Mary in establishing a new religious family, variously known as Sons of St. Paul, Clerics Regular of St. Paul, and Barnabites.22
At age two, Bartolomeo lost both parents and soon after an older brother. Fortunately, the adverse effect of these deaths was greatly alleviated by the loving care and ability of another brother, Basilio, his legal guardian. Surely, Basilio’s task was made easier by his brother’s sweet and gentle disposition. Moreover, Bartolomeo was temperamentally inclined to study and naturally responsive to the demands of Christian living. Basilio saw to it that his brother receive a good education. At eighteen, Bartolomeo went to the University of Pavia to study law. However, realizing that his Christian life could be jeopardized by the worldliness of the university milieu, he decided to interrupt his studies and returned to Milan only with a license of Notary Public.23 We know that he practiced this profession from 1521 to 1531.24 Under the direction of the Augustinian Giovanni Bellotti, the founder of the Eternal Wisdom Oratory, Bartolomeo embraced a strict ascetic life, and entered the service of the Church as a cleric; he taught catechism to children and was instrumental in reestablishing that teaching, long fallen in disuse, in several parishes. During the plague of 1524 and subsequent famine that afflicted Milan, he spent himself wholeheartedly in caring for the victims and without sparing his own considerable financial resources. Giacomo Antonio Morigia (1497–1546) too was left orphaned by his father, Simone, when a child. Unfortunately, his mother, Orsina Barzi, was only slightly interested in the religious, moral, and intellectual upbringing of her son. After a little schooling, Giacomo Antonio was quickly introduced by his fun-loving mother to Milan’s high society. Pretty soon horse riding, hunting, music and the theater became his chief occupations. Tall and handsome, he won the reputation of being the best dressed man in Milan and was known as “Morigia the elegant.” His popularity reached into the court of Francis Sforza. However, it became increasingly apparent that the dashing young man was not entirely attuned to his mother’s lifestyle. A definite streak of seriousness and independence, presumably inherited from his father, began to show. First, on his own, he studied mathematics and architecture for which he had a natural disposition. Second, no doubt to his mother’s chagrin, he declined the fat benefices attached to the Abbey of San Vittore al Corpo which his influential friends were offering to him. Instead he joined the Holy Crown Oratory whose main activity was the distribution of free medicines to the poor. At the age of twenty-five, the restless Giacomo Antonio was still searching for a direction in life. That year, in 1522, he met Father Giovanni Buono, a Benedictine of the San Pietro in Gessate Monastery. Giacomo Antonio was very impressed by the saintly old man. Undeterred by his mother’s displeasure and the remonstrances of his friends, Giacomo Antonio began turning toward a serious Christian life. Taking Father Buono’s advice, he eventually joined the Eternal Wisdom Oratory.
- The Changeless God
- “May God, the Changeless One, ever ready to do whatever is good, save you and make you steadfast and determined in all your undertakings and desires according to my deepest expectations.”
- The Changeable and Perfectible Human Person
-“God has made man’s spirit unstable and changeable in order that man would not abide in evildoing, and also that, once in possession of the good, he would not stop short, but would step up from one good to a higher one, and to a loftier one still. Thus, advancing from virtue to virtue, he might reach the summit of perfection.”
- Personal Faults
- “It is mainly this irresoluteness in my soul, besides, perhaps, some other shortcomings, that has caused in me this great and blamable negligence and sluggishness.”
- The Effects of Irresoluteness
- “If we… do not take the proper measures against this evil weed, it will produce in us a pernicious effect, I mean negligence, which is totally contrary to God’s ways.”
- Remedies for Irresoluteness
- “The first… consists of lifting up one’s mind to God and imploring the gift of counsel. The second means or way consists of seeking out our spiritual director… to ask for advice and then act according to his suggestions.”
MY VERY DEAR AND HONORABLE BROTHERS,
May God, the Changeless One, ever ready to do whatever is good, save you and make you steadfast and determined in all your undertakings and desires according to my deepest expectations.
It is quite true, my very dear friends, that God has made man’s spirit unstable and changeable in order that man would not abide in evildoing, and also that, once in possession of the good, he would not stop short, but would step up from one good to a higher one, and to a loftier one still. Thus, advancing from virtue to virtue, he might reach the summit of perfection. Hence, it flows that man is fickle in doing evil, namely, he cannot persevere in it because he does not find repose in it. Therefore, instead of persisting in evildoing, he moves to do good; and, moreover, since creatures did not give him peace, he returns to God.
Now of course, I could give other reasons for man’s being fickle, but, to our purpose, what I have said is enough.
Oh, how wretched we are! For, when trying to do good, we use the very instability and indecisiveness we should have and exercise to avoid evil. And, indeed, I am often bewildered at seeing such great irresoluteness reign in my soul, and for so many years.
I am sure, my dear friends, that, had I reflected hard enough on the evils which irresoluteness causes, I would have uprooted this evil from my soul long ago. First of all, it hampers man’s progress because man finds himself, as it were, between two magnets without being pulled by either; namely, on the one hand, he neglects to do the present good as he looks at the future one. On the other hand, he leaves aside the future good by lingering on the present and even having doubts about the future. Do you know who he is like? He is like the person who wants to love two opposite things and gets neither one. As the proverb teaches, “he who hunts two hares at the same time will see one fleeing, the other escaping.” As long as a man remains undecided and doubtful, he will surely never accomplish anything good. Experience teaches this. There is no need for me to go any further.
Moreover, irresoluteness causes man to change like the moon. Yes, the irresolute person is always restless and can never be content even amidst great joys; for no reason he gets sad and angry and easily looks after his own satisfaction.
In all truth, this weed of irresoluteness grows where divine light is lacking because the Holy Spirit quickly reaches the core of things rather than stop at the surface; man, instead, because he does not fathom the heart of things, is unable to decide what to do. This indecisiveness is at one and the same time cause and effect of lukewarmness. For the lukewarm person, when called upon to give advice on a subject, will give you plenty of reasons but will not decide which are the good ones. Thus, he will never tell you where to go or what to avoid. Consequently, if you were somewhat uncertain before, you are now left completely in doubt. He becomes eternally irresolute. On the other hand, the indecisive person loses fervor and becomes lukewarm.
A whole year would not be enough to enumerate the evil results and the causes of irresoluteness. The truth is that if indecision, which we have been talking about, were the only evil, it would be itself more than enough; for, as long as man is in a state of doubt, he remains inactive.
To get rid of this defect, two means or ways have been found for our journey to God. The first helps us when we are unexpectedly forced either to do or not to do something. It consists of lifting up one’s mind to God and imploring the gift of counsel. Let me explain: when something unforeseen and sudden presents itself, demanding that a choice be made, we lift up our minds to God asking Him to inspire us as to what we should do. Thus, following the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, we shall not be mistaken. The second means or way consists of seeking out our spiritual director, when, of course, we have the time and opportunity to do so, to ask for advice and then act according to his suggestions.
If we, dear friends, do not take the proper measures against this evil weed, it will produce in us a pernicious effect, I mean negligence, which is totally contrary to God’s ways. Therefore, when a man has something important to do, he must think it over and over and, as it were, ruminate upon it; but after such serious reflection and after having sought proper advice, he should not delay executing his project; for the primary requirement in God’s ways is expeditiousness and diligence. That’s why the prophet Micah says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk eagerly with your God?”;27 and Paul, “Sollicitudine non pigri” (“avoid with care all negligence”);28 and Peter, “satagite ut per bona opera ...” (“be prompt through good works ...”).29 “Satagite” (“Be prompt to action”) he says. You will find this sense of urgency commanded and praised in innumerable passages of the Scriptures.
My very dear friends, I have to tell you the truth: it is mainly this irresoluteness in my soul, besides, perhaps, some other shortcomings, that has caused in me this great and blamable negligence and sluggishness to the point that either I never start anything at all or at least I linger on it for so long that I never accomplish it. Consider closely those brothers, the children of a recently deceased father who, having heard Jesus’ counsel, “Let the dead bury their dead,”30 right away followed Christ.31 And also Peter, James and John, once called, immediately followed Christ.31 And so, again and again, you will find that those who truly love Christ have always been, to our shame, fervent, diligent, and not sluggish.
Take courage, my brothers, stand up now and come along with me, for I mean we should root out these pernicious plants if perchance they are present in your souls; but if they are not, do come and help me as they are rooted in my heart; and, for God’s sake, cooperate so that I may uproot them and imitate our Savior, who, by His obedience unto death32 stood up against irresoluteness and, to avoid being negligent, ran toward the cross regardless of its shame.33 And, if you can now offer me no other aid, help me at least with your prayers. Alas, dear friends, to whom do I dare to write? Indeed, to those who do act and do not merely talk, as I do.
If this is the case, at least on my part, I can assure you that only my love for you has impelled me to write these few lines to you.
But I have to tell you something else: I am very much afraid that the two of you are very careless about finalizing the publication of the book.34 And I mean here in particular Mr. Bartolomeo [Ferrari] with regard to that poor fellow, Giovan Hyeronimo;35 for not only have you allowed so many days to pass without sending any information but you have not even written a word about what you have done so far. As far as I am concerned, I am willing to excuse you, but search your conscience to see whether or not you deserve reproach or excuse.
Come then, brothers! If, up to this time, irresoluteness and, side by side with it, negligence have taken hold of our souls, let us get rid of them; and let us run like madmen not only toward God but also toward our neighbors, who alone can be the recipients of what we cannot give to God, since He has no need of our goods.
Give my greetings to Rev. Mr. Don Giovanni.36 Fra Bono37 asks him and the two of you to keep him in your prayers. Do the same for me.
From Cremona, January 4, 1531.
Your loving brother in Christ,
- Our commitment to do good must be diligent, steady, and firm.
- Doubts about our actions reveal that deep inner peace is not to be found in human realities but only in the Creator.
- Discontent with our accomplishments is a gift by which God moves us to do more and better.
- Indecision in doing good produces further indecision about what to do and when to do it.
- The irresolute person pays greater attention to the appearance of things rather than to their essence. He is fickle, irritable, and melancholic. He lacks the divine light that the Holy Spirit gives.
- Indecision is the fruit of lukewarmness or mediocrity. It manifests itself, for example, in lengthy but fruitless discussions or in a failure to act in the face of difficulties or imperfections.
- Irresoluteness can be overcome by either directing our thoughts to God or seeking the guidance of a spiritual director.
- Am I determined to seek the spiritual well-being and growth of my soul or am I concerned solely with just living a tranquil life?
- Do I recognize having made wrong decisions? Am I willing to make up and take more careful steps in making decisions?
- Am I conscious of the value of the time God has given me here on earth? Am I using my time to return to God?
- Which reality do I value most? Is it possession, health, entertainment, career, or peoples’ appreciation? Or do I rather value faith, love, generosity, honesty, prayer, kindness, or the sacraments, the in-depth study of the faith’s tenets, the striving to improve my human and Christian life?
- Can I pray to God in my own words and in any circumstances?
Cremona, January 4, 1531
After the letter to his spiritual father in Christ, there follows a letter to his first two companions and brothers in ideals and apostolate. The third will be to his spiritual children.
The young priest from Cremona and the two young men from Milan, had met at the Oratory "Divine Wisdom." Most likely it was Fra Battista to introduce Anthony Mary to the Oratory, while the other two had been members for a while already.
The youngest was Bartholomew Ferrari (1499-1544, November 25), whose sister was a nun in the Monastery of St. Martha. He had been an orphan since childhood.
The other was James Anthony Morigia (1497-1546, March 31), he too from a noble and rich family at the court of Francis H Sforza, orphan of his father. He was converted in 1522 by the Benedictine Fr. Bono, sent to him by some aunts of his who were nuns in the Monastery of St. Margaret.
Morigia was a layman, Ferrari a cleric, although still a notary public. Zaccaria was a priest. All three of them young, and vowed to a common desire for holiness and fervid apostolate, with an outstanding predilection to assist the sick and the poor, and to teach catechism to the young: but still searching for an efficient and lasting program.
It has been suggested that Morigia had come up with the idea of a society of Priests. It could be that, thinking of religious life, the cleric Ferrari, on January 20, 1530, made his will leaving everything to his brother Basil, or, in case of death, to the hospital "Maggiore" in Milan.
What is for sure is that the priest Zaccaria in 1530 had moved to Milan to bring to realization his ideals, supported by persons who wanted and could help in an efficacious way: the strong and experienced Dominican Friar, and the rich and generous Countess of Guastalla.
When Anthony Mary was writing his letter II, of January 4, 1531, the envisioned Congregation was already in its second year of life. The addressees were still "Good Brothers" of the "Eternal Wisdom;" but the thirty year old cenacle which had given so much vitality to the Christian Life of the city of Milan, having lost in 1528 (or 1525) its animators, Bellotti and Panigarola, was fading away, orgoing through a period of transformation.
Fr. Mazenta believes that the three Societies of the Fathers of St. Paul, the Angelic Sisters, and the Married were born from this fading Confraternity, like unexpected life sprouting from an old stump.
The seal of green wax representing the Zaccaria lily shows clearly that also this letter was written from Anthony Mary’s home in Cremona, as he was passing by for some business. His habitual residence was in Guastalla, as its official chaplain, where the Countess Torelli had given him his own little room.
His addressees instead were residing in Milan, each in his own house: Morigia in the paternal palace in the parish of St. Peter "intus vineam," which today does not exist anymore, but it is remembered by the Moriggi Street; Ferrari instead was renting, first in the parish of St. Silvester, then in the one of St. Lorenzino (cf. Bugati, p. 836).
Keeping this in mind, the words of the Saint assume a much fuller meaning than a simple saying: "Then, Brothers, stand up and come together with me in Guastalla..." It seems that a certain indecision or worry is troubling the two, and the Saint heartens and exhorts them. But what is he worrying about?
This final exhortation, "Come on, brothers, if any lack of reso1ution..." could be understood to say: "you are already running toward God, but you must also run toward your neighbor, because he can receive what we cannot give to God, who does not need it!" In which case perhaps they had a different view about, for example, monastic life: totally hidden in God and for God, or directed toward God, yes, but through the road of love toward our neighbor.
Anyway what is certain is that the Saint is requesting I them to carry on what was expected of them: give a hand in the printing of the book, and give an answer to that poor John Jerome.
Who was he and what was his expectation, it is not said. We do not even know what kind of book he is talking about. But a book which is already in printing, needing only to be finished. We could think of Fra Battista’s book, "The victory over oneself" (mentioned in Letter I), to be published two months later in Milan, or the "Divine philosophy" to be published on July 10 of the same year, also in Milan.
A special attention deserves the phrase right before the signature: "Your good brother in Christ Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Priest." This tittle of bounty is completely unusual to the Zaccarian style. Therefore, this creates a doubt about its authenticity, and also about the closing of the letter: "Greetings to the common Reverend Sir John."
Not excluding the possibility of a false alarm, it could be that "Common Reverend Brother" and, "good brother" refer to titles used among the members of the "Eternal Wisdom" group. To confirm this we could recall that the Adrian of the Post-scriptum in a letter to the Countess, although not that good of a person, is called ‘“Good Brother!"
The Holy Founder’s letter to the two Co-founders is a little masterpiece of penetration in the psychology of the person who lacks determination. After having given a general description of the lack of determination, he lists evil consequences, searches for and uncovers its roots, suggests two ways of avoiding it, and finally - based on and, as he will always do in his Sermons, enlightened by many Scriptural passages - with great fervor he exhorts others and himself to eradicate it from the heart.
The letter is also a moving expression of St. Anthony Mary’s humility, while giving a practical example of how to correct someone: the smart way of a saint who first looks at himself and talks to himself, making others believe that what he is saying does not come from a pious meditation but from a painful realization of his own personal conduct. As he would be saying:
Oh! not you! The Good God may grant you that stability and determination my soul is lacking. But this evil plant of irresoluteness has been rooted deeply in my heart for years and years. This is the origin of so much hesitation and laziness... Come on, then, come and help me to eradicate it, or at least help me with your prayers! Anyway, because I love you, before I finish let me tell you something...etc.
There is nothing to say: the letter, surely written by impulse, develops with amazing grace and skill: from the prayer and best wish, in the Pauline style, at the very beginning, where he clearly indicates the main subject, down to the admonitions of the last section, and to the flaring final exhortation.
Did the two Venerables really believe in those self accusations? Exactly because they were unbelievable in their Father, the two were compelled to make a self examination, and to be drawn into that mad race of his.
The text is very close to Sermon VIII on lukewarmness (does it derive from it, or is it its source?). Most likely both of them, as well as the last letter, which deals with the same theme, were a spontaneous outburst of a habitual and vivid fervor of his spirit.
Fr. Gabuzio wrote:
"This was his greatest desire, this was his greatest worry: in private dialogues, in public speeches, in hearing confession, to look, in any way possible, for God’s glory and for the salvation of souls: well r aware that this is the sacrifice most pleasing to God, · more than any other or any wholly divine work.
"Nothing done to make believe, in imitation or with laxity, nothing done by the dozen, that is, by routine; instead he exhorted all his people to do everything with sincerity, with fervor, and almost always with g new energy."
This war against irresoluteness and lukewarmness, which li takes precious time, while there is so much to' be done for the reform of the self (?‘Victory") and of others, returns as an obsession in the writings of the Saint. It has become like a thorn, as he finds himself, in his humility, to be slow and lazy; instead, we could amend him for one thing: to have exhausted himself in 36 years, realizing to be a little tired only fifteen days before the end, and, then, like a little child, so human and moving, he begged to be brought to his mother to die in her arms.
 Bugati in the Notary Archive of Milan has found hundreds of documents notarized by Ferrari between July 20, 1521, and May 20, 1531.
 "They are all young," Bugati will note in 1534, in his "Cronaca." Young is also Torelli. But they will also die young!
 Zaccaria is already a medical doctor and a catechist; Morigia was promoter of the "Pio Luogo di Santa Croce" for the distribution of medicines to the poor; Ferrari was a nurse and apostle of charity during the 1524 pestilence (Morigia too), and a precursor of the catechetical instruction program which will be much better organized fourteen years later by Castellino da Castello.
 When the writer of the above mentioned "Postscriptum" mentions this "little room of Sir Anthony M." makes us believe that it had been the request of the Saint to have a little room, instead of an apartments, we would think, he had the right to have in a court!
 Boffito (Scrittori B, IV, 467) notes: "It must be for sure a new follower or, better, a candidate of the new Congregation: but precisely who he was, it is difficult to determine.
 “A. Gabutii, "Historia Clerr. Regg. S. Pauli", p. 76