Letter 10 - Steady Growth in Holiness
Mr. Battista [Soresina].154
Guastalla, June 11, 1539
DEAR SON IN CHRIST, GREETINGS.
I have received your letter and, of course, I can’t neglect to answer it with at least greetings and a few words.
It has always been my desire to see you grow steadily in perfection. That’s why it was for me like being stabbed in the heart, whenever perchance it seemed to me that you—although unawares, or simply unintentionally, and not maliciously—were not fulfilling my expectations as completely as I desired.
But far greater was the pain whenever your shortcomings were causing grief to others; for these hurt me more than those which affect me personally as, on the contrary, I derive greater satisfaction from your virtuous deeds that affect others rather than from the ones that would affect me. And this is so because by doing this you show to have greater virtue and you let yourself be ruled by noble obedience which retains the selfsame fervor both when the Superiors are present and when they are absent and also when you deal with others exactly as you would with your Superiors.
What a great joy it was for St. Paul to say that the Corinthians had found out that he had told the truth about them through Timothy and Titus!163 Likewise, if others find you as simple and zealous men, totally apostolic in your effort of gaining others to Christ, not frightened by the noise of passions or temptations but rather keeping your virtuous life well balanced in tumultuous as well as in serene and friendly situations; and if they see in you the favorable portrait I have just delineated, then you can be sure that you will make my joy perfect. But if you behave differently, you will surely cause me a deadly grief.
I have something to tell you, cordial Mr. Battista. I have come to know—and not without great worry—that you do not behave with your Father Superior in all simplicity, as you used to do with me, but you are two-faced when dealing with him. This, of course, has broken my heart, and it would have caused me a far greater suffering had I fully believed that report.
Alas! What should I think of you if this behavior of yours were true? Of whom could I glory had you truly fallen into such a fault? And I mean you, the one I carry in my heart as the fountain spring of all gladness. Woe is I! If all my children care so little about making me happy, would it not be better for me to have never begotten them, rather than to see them degenerate?
Is this the way you, O Dionysius, O Timothy, O Titus, treated your Paul? Oh, no! You always kept in your hearts the love and the very presence of your Father and harbored no other thought but that of pleasing him. Alas! This is not my case at all.
If only someone else were deceiving me! But Mr. Battista, ... the person whom I entrusted with the very best that I possess. Were he the one who had acted like that toward me, it would be too hard for me to accept.
Let me tell you and assure you before Christ that, if you want to, you can make me live happy and give me the joy of seeing you behave sincerely and simply with everyone.
What does it profit you to make me suffer? What do you gain in damaging yourself and in afflicting me? What will you gain by falling from the height you have already achieved? I promise you that Jesus Crucified will lift you up to such a degree of perfection that the other sons of St. Paul164 will look at you with holy envy, provided that you always—as a favor to me—see me, yes my very face, in everybody else.
If, from now on, I do not see you radically changed and walking in this direction—that, seeing other Superiors, you may always see me; and seeing me or those who represent me, both in me and in the others, you may see the very person of Jesus Christ, the shepherd of your soul, and you may strive to be sincere and humble and virtuous with me and the others as you would with Jesus Christ—I will not be pleased with you, and I will pray Jesus Crucified to take me out of this world so that I may never again find myself in similar anguish.
If, from now on, you continue being at fault, you will make me believe that you were responsible for your past mistakes. Indeed, your past, present, and future behavior will make me believe that Jesus Christ wants me to die, leaving behind degenerate and less than legitimate children.
Well, this is enough, for I am sure that—although you have made mistakes, and maliciously at that—you will not deviate any longer, but you will be open and sincere both with Mr. Giacomo Antonio [Morigia]165 and with everybody else. And for this I entreat you because all my happiness rests on you and all the others together.
Humble yourself under the hands of all. Do not fail to help others make progress, and avoid isolating yourself from the others if you want me to believe that your humility is the result of your love for, and obedience to, me, rather than of some interior anger.
Remember me to my beloved Mr. Dionisio [da Sesto],166 to the faithful Giovanni Giacomo [De Caseis],167 to the humble Mr. Francesco [Crippa],168 to the lover of suffering Giovanni Antonio [Berna],169 to my cordial Giovanni Antonio170 and Tommaso [Dati],171 to the ailing Mr. Camillo [Negri],172 to the quick-tempered Righetto [Ulderigo Groppelli],173 and to that simple soul of Mr. Corrado [Bobbia].174
Give my greetings also to Mr. Filippo175 and Mr. Janico,176 to Mr. Modesto177 and his wife, to Mr. Bernardo [Omodei]178 and his children, to Mr. Giovanni Antonio’s [Berna]179 nephew, and to my amiable Mr. Baldassarre [Medici],180 Mr. Giovan Pietro [Besozzi],181 and all the others.
And in my name, ask my Reverend Fathers, Fr. Superior182 and Fr. Bartolomeo [Ferrari],183 to bless you. I am not going to write to them, for Christ Himself will write in their hearts; nor do I recommend anything to them because from now on they themselves are responsible for everything.
May Christ grant me satisfaction in you.
From Guastalla, June 11, 1539.
Your Father in Christ,
Anthony Mary, Priest
We must be motivated by love and an earnest desire for spiritual growth and personal commitment to encourage and inspire our brothers and sisters.
The spiritual decadence of our brothers and sisters should cause us grief and make us desire for their conversion.
We show the same attitude toward all because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Do I regard myself as better than the others?
- Have I shown real concern toward the spiritual growth of my brothers and sisters even to the point of having to suffer for them?
- Am I willing to share with others the love I show with my loved ones, knowing that we all have the same Father in heaven?
- Am I aware that God’s grace which supports those who pursue holiness must be accepted in faith and with personal commitment?
- Are not some forms of isolation and refusal to collaborate perhaps subtle forms of selfishness?
154. See n. 128 and Introduction of this letter.
155. Orazio Premoli, Le Lettere e Lo Spirito Religioso di S. Antonio M. Zaccaria (Rome, 1909) 54.