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 3 - to the honorable Mr. Carlo Magni
Carlo Magni, the fortunate addressee of this letter of spiritual direction, was a highly respected attorney in Cremona, as this letter somehow indicates and other sources39 confirm.
Apparently, this successful attorney had become a lukewarm Christian. However, in the course of time he experienced a profound change of heart, as Anthony Mary seems to imply when he warns him, “if you act otherwise, you will be a decent person but not the Christian Christ wishes, and has called, you to be. This will be clear to you if you consider closely the way by which Christ has been trying to bind you to Himself.” Whether or not he was a spiritual conquest of Anthony Mary, Carlo certainly became a member of the “Amicizia” (Friendship) Oratory established by Anthony Mary in Cremona. He was indeed one of its prominent members because Anthony Mary in this letter entrusts him with some tasks concerning activities of his “Amicizia” Oratory (see below n. 44). Since 1527 Carlo was a member of Anthony Mary’s Third Family, the Laity of St. Paul.
This letter is an answer to Carlo Magni’s request for guidance on how to live in union with God in the midst of a busy professional life. Like limpid water from a spring, the answer leaps out from the heart of a man of God who “was spirit through and through, and gifted with divine light for spiritual discernment.”40 Anthony Mary teaches Carlo how to converse familiarly and incessantly with Jesus Crucified throughout the day. At the same time, he shows him how to utilize prayer as a source of self-knowledge for the elimination of his own shortcomings. To this purpose, Anthony Mary frankly names some of Carlo’s moral flaws, and identifies pride as the principal one.
Two things stand out in this letter about Anthony Mary as spiritual director: the source and the style of his teaching. The source of his teaching is a lengthy prayerful time spent at the foot of Jesus Crucified, a practice common to other well known spiritual masters, for instance, St. Thomas Aquinas. As for style, his teaching is characterized by an exceptionally warm, personal concern for the spiritual welfare of his directees.
The text of this letter is based on a very early copy which is kept in the General Archives in Rome (N,B, II, VIII).
- Necessity of Prayer
- “I have received your letter… and I set out to answer it only after kneeling a long time before the Crucifix on your behalf, for I think it is necessary to learn from Him what I have to teach you.”
- Methods of Prayer
- Discursive Prayer
- “Discuss with Christ everything that may be happening to you.”
- Mental Prayer
- “Before starting your activities, offer Jesus a few words of
- Prayer Leading to Self-Knowledge and the Elimination of One’s Defects
- “If you treasure the counsels that I have just given you, you will fall in love with Jesus Crucified quite easily. Any other way will keep you away from Him.”
VERY DEAR FATHER AND BROTHER IN CHRIST, GREETINGS.
I have received your letter of the 23rd of this month, and I set out to answer it only after kneeling a long time before the Crucifix on your behalf, for I think it is necessary to learn from Him what I have to teach you. Had you not employed such a warm and amiable insistence, I would have almost preferred to keep silent; but moved by your entreaty, I will stammer out what I am unable to express clearly.
Thus, dear father in Christ, since your professional activity is quite binding, taking much of your time and energy, necessity suggests choosing a fitting method of prayer. That’s why I would like you to practice, as much as you can, the following three exercises:
First, give yourself to prayer in the morning and at night, as well as at any other hour within a set schedule or not,
—at any time, that is, day or night,
—in any position, that is, in bed or out of it, kneeling or sitting or as you think best,
—and most of all before you start your professional work, usually without any set order, for a short or a long time, as God may grant it to you.
Discuss with Christ everything that may be happening to you: your doubts and your difficulties, especially the hardest ones. Present to Him your reasons, thoroughly but as briefly as possible. Then, only propose to Him the solution you think is the right one or, even better, ask for His opinion; for He will not refuse it if you gently insist. I can assure you that He will let Himself be compelled to give it to you, if, again, you really want to have it.
I am indeed deeply convinced that we can learn more about human laws directly from the legislator than from anybody else, especially when that legislator is himself the rule and the pattern of all things, and knows how to explain and disentangle the sophisms of the devil. Indeed, how much more thoroughly will he be able to unravel those of men? Needless to say, if one does not believe this truth, he believes still less that God takes such good care of us that He will not let a single hair of our heads be lost;41 and again, that He is so wise that He will show the wise of this world for what they are: fools and know-nothings.42
Well, then, if in favor of those who have recourse to Him God destroys all the sophistic stratagems of modern men, who seem so intent in separating man from God, can’t you imagine how He will disperse other less complicated machinations much more easily? And if, in a sense, one can unite himself to God, even in the midst of worldly distractions, how much more easily will he be able to unite himself to Him in circumstances more favorable to recollection?
Then, my very dear father in Christ, enter into conversation with Jesus Crucified as familiarly as you would with me; and discuss with Him all or just a few of your problems, according to the time at your disposal. Chat with Him and ask His advice on all your affairs, whatever they may be, whether spiritual or temporal, whether for yourself or for other people.
If you practice this way of prayer, I can assure you that little by little you will derive from it both great spiritual profit and an ever-greater love relationship with Christ. I am not going to add anything else, for I want experience to speak for itself.
The second exercise, which will help you practice the first one and will obtain from God a greater abundance of grace, is the constant lifting up of the mind to God. You, my dear friend, cannot do without it; for the greater the danger and the more important the matter, a steadier application and sharper sight are required from you.
By nature, man finds it difficult to be recollected and, much more so, to be united with God because his spirit is naturally driven in different directions and is unable to focus on one thing. This exercise of lifting up one’s soul to God is, of course, more difficult for the person who has gotten into the bad habit of being dissipated. But the most difficult thing for anybody is to find oneself involved in activities that, by their very nature, (according to my judgment) are not conducive to union with God, and still not be distracted. Who would think it possible to stand in the rain and not get wet? This is true. But what seems to be impossible in itself becomes very easy with God’s help if only we do not refuse Him our cooperation and that diligent practical commitment with which He has endowed us.
Thus, if we want to maintain our union with God and, at the same time, to go on working, talking, thinking, reading, and taking care of our affairs as usual, let us often lift up our minds to God for a long or a short period as, for example, someone would do while entertaining a friend. If he were unable to entertain him on account of pressing business as, for instance, keeping track of the goods which were to be shipped at that moment, he might tell him: “Will you excuse me if I don’t chat with you? I’ve this and that to do; but if you don’t mind waiting, as soon as I’m finished, we’ll talk at leisure.” Then, interrupting his writing for a moment, he will occasionally turn his eyes and look at him; sometimes he will utter a word or two about what he is doing; at another time, while still writing, he will say: “In a short while, I’m almost finished.” In these and similar ways, he will entertain his friend, though unable to talk at leisure with him. At the same time, he will not be distracted from his job by these gestures nor hindered in his work by such forms of entertainment.
You, too, dear friend, should act in this way, and your studies and works would suffer almost no disadvantage.
Before starting your activities, offer Jesus a few words of your choosing; then during your work often lift up your mind to God. You will benefit much, and there will be no detriment to your job.
First and foremost, watch how anything concerning yourself or others is begun, whether foreseeable or not, whether at work or at play. Direct it first to God with any short prayer with which He may inspire you, mentally or also in words that express your thoughts and wishes or in some other manner; then, while working, thinking, or planning, frequently lift up your mind to God. Should your activity continue, break it up, perhaps, for the time it takes to say a “Hail Mary,” or as it may seem convenient to you, always, of course, following God’s inspiration. Depending on the length of your activity, you can interrupt your work more than once.
If you follow this practice, you will get used to praying easily and without detriment to your work or to your health; you will be praying incessantly, even while drinking, eating, acting, talking, studying, writing, etc.;43 and the external actions will not hinder the interior ones and vice versa. If you act otherwise, you will be a decent person but not the Christian Christ wishes, and has called, you to be. This will be clear to you if you consider closely the way by which Christ has been trying to bind you to Himself. I warn you and offer you the means to become such a Christian (if you really want to be one, as I truly think you do), so that you may not change your mind. If this were to happen, it would cause me very great pain indeed.
My very dear friend, if my words have any value in your eyes, I invite you, I entreat you, and I compel you in Christ and for Christ to open your eyes and consider well what I have written to you and try to practice it by deeds, not just by words. I can assure you that you will become a new person, such as you should be in view of the charge that God has placed and will continue to place on your shoulders in different ways. But, if you act otherwise, you will not fulfill your obligation toward God and your neighbor, and, far from being justified, you will be condemned as a transgressor.
Try hard, then, to understand what I have just said, and apply yourself to practicing it; but above all else, while observing the first exercise, keep the third one which I am about to show you; otherwise all your works will be of little value and honor before Christ.
Now, here is the third exercise. In your meditation, prayers, and thoughts, strive to pinpoint your principal defects, most of all the chief one, the Captain-General, as it were, which dominates all the others. While concentrating on trying to kill that one, make every effort also to kill the other defects which may come under your attack, thus imitating the soldier who wants to kill the Commander-in-chief of the enemy who is in the middle of his army. Striving to reach him, the soldier keeps his eyes fixed on him as the target, but at the same time he fights his way toward him by killing the other enemies he may encounter. Do likewise with your defects.
Now, if you asked me which defect, in my judgment, is the dominant one in you, I would answer that, according to my poor insight, there is some sensuality in you. But no, your main defect is not sensuality (you understand what I am talking about, don’t you?), but anger and a sudden change of mood caused by pride, which, in turn, is born of the knowledge and education that you have acquired by your studies and by the expertise which you have obtained naturally and through long practice. Think about it, and you will see that this is what makes you discontent, disturbed, prone to use bad manners and to say unbecoming words. Besides, this root of pride produces other bad fruits and effects in you.
I have just shown you the evil that in you is the mother of all vices. Kill it, then, and it will not produce any more offspring. It is up to you now to search the manner and the means of how to do it. But, if you do not know how, at some other time I might possibly write to you about it or explain it to you in a conversation. If perhaps this were not your main defect (although for many reasons I am convinced that it is), find out which one it is and kill it.
If you treasure the counsels that I have just given you, you will fall in love with Jesus Crucified quite easily. Any other way will keep you away from Him: a sad thing that I hate to see in you, for I love you and feel impelled to love you and see you forever in Christ Crucified. Amen.
I have bought a device to produce good and updated printing, and I will send it to you. It costs three liras and ten pennies.
I am about to send out some books on the spiritual life, which I believe to be more useful than any others you might read. I will send them to you. Try to convince the A.44 to buy them, for they will serve well those who want to make progress here in this life.
Our Fra Bono?45 Well, both you and I have lost him. He keeps away from me, or just seems to avoid me, on account of some obstacle. Some three or four days go by without seeing each other; and when we do, I can barely speak to him. He must be afraid that I want to convince him to join us. I like the letter you wrote to him, but he needs stronger exhortations. So do give them to him.
I will be writing to the A. Greet them all, each and everyone, on my behalf. Recommend me very warmly to the prayers of our Reverend Primicerio,46 etc.
From Milan, July 28, 1531
Your son and brother in Christ,
Anthony M. Zaccaria, Priest
The existence of this group is attested by our earliest historians. Agostino Tornielli (1543–1622), in his De principiis della Congregatione de’ Chierici Regolari di S. Paolo Decollato (1595), tells us that Anthony Mary, on the advice of his spiritual director, the Dominican Fra Marcello, initiated a gathering of nobles in the little church of St. Vitalis in Cremona. Here he guided them toward Christian renewal with eloquent, Bible inspired, talks. Likewise, Giovanni Antonio Gabuzio (1551–1627) refers to a “piorum hominum conventus” (“a gathering of devout people”) in his Historia Congregationis Clericorum Regularium Sancti Pauli ab eiusdem primordiis ad initium saeculi XVII (Rome: Salviucci, 1852) 33. Incidentally, Gabuzio’s History was completed in 1622 but remained unpublished in the wake of a time-consuming controversy about the identity of our Founder: was he Anthony Mary, the traditional view, or Giacomo Antonio Morigia, our first Superior General, as claimed by Fr. Giovannambrogio Mazenta (1565–1635)? This controversy formally ended when at the 1620 General Chapter Fr. Mazenta accepted the traditional view.
The group mentioned by Tornielli and Gabuzio is not identified by a name. Contemporary Barnabite historians have concluded that ‘A.’ means “Amicizia” (Friendship) and “Amici” (Friends). In 1959 Giuseppe M. Cagni and Franco M. Ghilardotti edited the critical edition of Anthony Mary’s Sermons (“I Sermoni di Sant’ Antonio Maria Zaccaria,” Archivio Italiano per la Storia della Pietà, ed. Giuseppe De Luca [Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1959], 2. 233–283). To reach their conclusion, the authors pointed out the following: first, that Bartolomeo Stella, another pre-tridentine reformer, founded an Oratory of Divine Love in the northern Italian city of Brescia in 1520 and called it “Amicitia” (Friendship) and its members “Amici” (Friends). Secondly, that in this Oratory’s Statutes “Amicitia” is nearly always indicated with the letter ‘A.’ (see ibid. pp. 236–237). Given the closeness of Brescia to Cremona (about 35 miles), it seems quite plausible that Anthony Mary was acquainted with Stella’s Oratory and most likely adopted the same name for his group, and the same one-letter abbreviation.
As to the initials ‘F.’ in Sermon I, p. 3 (in the original manuscript this ‘F.’ is blurry; it could also be read ‘A.’) and ‘N.’ in Sermon I, p. 5, they could easily be read as “Fraternity” and “Nobility.” In any case their respective contexts identify them with ‘A.’ (“Amicizia”).
- To walk in the way of the Lord we must adopt a method that is suitable for our profession and is favorable for our spiritual growth.
- We may dialog with Christ about our daily problems, especially the most challenging ones. We may also discuss with him the solutions we intend to adopt. And Christ will certainly make known to us his advice.
- Directing our thoughts to God, even for a brief moment, is another effective method of keeping ourselves in the way of the Lord. By this we receive grace from God.
- Christ’s wisdom is wiser than the wisdom of any wise man.
- The weakness of the human mind makes communication with God difficult, but God’s help makes it easier.
- Am I aware that with a suitable method I can foster my spiritual life even as I am absorbed in worldly affairs?
- Do I believe that God will listen to me even if I ask for his advice on worldly matters because he loves me and he desires my spiritual and material well-being?
- Have I ever tried to dialog with Christ in prayer about all my problems and concerns?
- Am I convinced that I can always bring to God all my concerns because he knows everything and has an answer to everything?
- Do I know that with God’s help it is always possible to live constantly in his presence?
Milan, July 28, 1531
Limpid and well ordered, humble but resolute was the character of the letters Anthony M. Zaccaria wrote to his spiritual children. This letter, addressed to Charles Magni of Cremona, is a marvelous example.
Reverence and humility compels Anthony Mary to call the addressee "father" and to proclaim himself "son and brother," but his priestly power makes him state that if Charles does not read this letter "with facts," and not only with his mouth, he would never come out of his mediocrity as a "good man," and he would never become the "good Christian" he is supposed to be and as it is demanded by his particular position of responsibility.
The letter does not come anymore from Cremona, like the previous ones, but from Milan. Still it belongs to the period of two-three years Anthony Mary spent in Guastalla, where he had brought the ministerial activities started in Cremona, and which in Milan he had left to the care of his companions.
Once in a while his companions, still waiting for a permanent residence in Milan, would go to the Countess’ castle. There, under the direction of Fra Battista, they would hold those spiritual "Collazioni" (spiritual sharing) to animate each other to a total dedication to God and neighbor, while studying the way to carry it out into practice.
In many occasions he was the one to make a visit – either for business or on purpose - to Cremona or to Milan, where he would be joined by his two companions and others at the house of the Countess, located by St. Ambrose; and occasionally he would come back to them through a letter.
This is one of those cases. From Milan he answers a letter received from Cremona, from one of his spiritual sons, a lawyer, who is asking with insistence advice on how to live as a good Christian in his profession; how to stay always united with the Lord in the midst of so much work and so many distractions.
To answer the request our Saint finds himself writing a short treatise on spiritual life.
He puts his thoughts on paper with great hesitation, and only because Charles has forced him "in such a warm and loving way," and only after kneeling in front of Christ Crucified, rather "standing in front of Him, for you, constantly..."
An ancient incision of the 1700's allows us to envision the Saint as he writes in his little room reserved for him by the Countess in Milan, just as in the Guastalla Castle. He writes for a while, then he raises his eyes to the crucifix, with the pen in his hand, and his ear open to the lover of Christ Crucified, St. Paul, who speaks to him from behind his shoulder"... ("I will stay in front of the Crucified Lord for you...asking Him to teach me what I should teach you...").
But who was this "Magnificent Procurator Charles Magni?"
He was a famous attorney at law. Bugati has discovered that Francis Bresciani, in his list of Cremona’s Notaries Public for 1529, and the Senator Andrew del Borgo, in his will of 1529, published by Arisi me "Cremona Literata" (Vol II, p. 126ff), speak well and with praise about Charles Magni.
A specific phrase in the letter makes us believe that Charles Magni must have experienced a recent and extraordinary conversion: "...good Christian, according to the will and the call of Christ. You will become aware of this if you carefully examine how he has called you." This, then, will be a proof of what our historians have been saying, that is, Anthony Mary Zaccaria - together with a direct approach over the masses - considered as a basic element for the success of his apostolate, the conversion of individuals exerting a certain influence on people or on some groups of a certain category.
We should also note the art of the Saint in selecting the way to talk and the reasoning to use according to the style of life and the profession of his addressee. Is Charles a lawyer? Then he will talk of laws and legislators; but especially (since he is a Christian lawyer!) "of that Legislator who contains in himself every law." And since the exercise of this profession implies great responsibility, requiring a lot of time and study, he offers him a very simple and appropriate way "adapted" to his case.
About the .A. and .F. and .N., Fr. Cagni and Fr. Ghilardotti have proposed a very suggestive hypothesis: this is a group of .A. (Amici = friends) gathered together by Anthony Mary already from his first apostolic experiences in St. Vitale in Cremona, and united under the "Association of Friends" like the one already existing under the same name for the past ten years in the close-by city of Brescia, founded by Bartholomew Stella, one of Zaccaria’s spiritual children. Most likely this organization was a precursor, a first draft of "The Congregation of the Married," which will stand side by side with the Barnabites and the Angelics in Milan.
The attorney Charles Magni must have been a member of this group in Cremona, and perhaps one of its leaders or a secretary, if the Saint entrusts to him to advertise among the .A. some books useful for Christian living, and asks him to greet all of them, one by one.
A solemn Amen marks the passage to messages, greetings, and some news about Father Fra Bono.
He was one of the Saint’s conquests, converted from hermit to apostolic life, he too "our Father," for sure a friend, although not a member of the .A. He seems to be hesitant, unsure to come into the house of St. Catherine, or the one of the Countess, to stay there permanently as a member of the Zaccaria group, while he is already involved with his own charitable activities.
Another solemn almost liturgical Amen concludes the first part, which happens to be the whole letter, written like a spiritual "collazione" (spiritual sharing) for his friend in Cremona, and inspired by Christ Crucified. It had started with the Crucified Lord, it had unfolded from the heart of the Crucified Lord, and concludes with the Crucified Lord.
It is totally animated by a burning desire to lead his friend on that road which would easily lead him to Christ Crucified and the Cross.
At the closing of this letter Anthony Mary talks about printing and spiritual books. This, together with the specifications of "three liras and 10 soldi," could be of help to understand those .A. A success in this would throw some light on that mysterious "spiritual elite" established by the Founder in Cremona to whom he addressed the Sermons on the Decalogue, which we still have.
Two weeks before the date of the letter, "on July 10, 1531," in the "glorious city of Milan, by Sir Gajetan da Ponte Fiamengo, who stays by the Doana," a third book of Father Fra Battista da Crema was published under the title "Divine Philosophy of the only true Master Jesus Christ Crucified" "once again given by the Reverend Father... to those who want to be true disciples and imitators of his."
The content and the purpose of the book is to "describe in the form of history and almost verbatim the Passion of Jesus; and then, in contemplation, to declare how it can, be imitated by those who want to be good Christians, true devout and Saints" (from the Introduction to the book).
Father Bogliolo, a Salesian, in his study: "Battista da Crema, new studies over his life, his writings, his doctrine" (S.E.I., 1952) comments: "It is difficult to find a work on the Passion inspiring so much tenderness toward the Divine Crucified Lord, so much fascination, so much lyricism, which stirs up so many spiritual energies, which shakes us so deeply as this one" (p. 55).
We know that among the books about the "true imitation of Christ," the Saint used to recommend "especially and specifically" (Constitutions, VIII, "the books of our ( Father Battista da Crema." Keeping this in mind, it would I not be surprising and even indicative to come across in reading the "Divine Philosophy" pages like the following:
...Oh poor Christians, religious as well as secular: you are distracted the whole day, I do not mean while you work and walk with your hands and feet, but with your mind as you enjoy in your thoughts, finding pleasure in frivolous thinking: tell me, as you allow your mind to wander in various fantasies I without stopping working with your hands in your jobs, which is not diminished by the fact that you think of those fantasies: why then don't you keep your mind absorbed in God and the Saints, and the Passion of Christ while you work or do your chores?
It is clear and evident that (as experience shows) your mind wanders away from what you are doing: I to do what you are doing there is no need of a consistent attention.
Now then if these works do not suffer, although the mind thinks of something different from your job: why do you excuse yourself saying that you have other things to think than the Passion of Christ? Or saying that you need to provide bread and needed things? Tell me, because you need to provide bread and other needs, are you always thinking of bread, or do you rather think of other foolish things?
In other words, does it not seem to read what our Saint has been teaching with similar words in his letter of July 28, 1531, addressed to his dear son and disciple, his friend, the attorney Charles Magni of Cremona?
 By Ludovico Mattioli. at the beginning of "Life and famous Sayings" by the Saint, edited by Fr. Francis Barelli (Bologna, 1706). It was reproduced by Fr. Boffito too, "Scrittori Barnabiti" Vol. ll, p. 237.
 Apostolic Trial, p. 1070.