Letter 7 - Christ’s Will Versus One’s Own Will

21Sep

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LETTER 7
 

Guastalla, November 3, 1538

To the children of Paul the Apostle and ours too: 
Mr. Giacomo Antonio [Morigia],122 Mr. Battista [Soresina],123
and all the others. At St. Ambrose’s.  
In Milan  

 

MSWEETEST CHILDREN IN CHRIST,

It seems that the devil is sowing doubts in me about what is going on among you.  Yes, he is suggesting to me that, since none of us is present in the community, among all other evils that he has sown and is still sowing in your hearts, there reigns confusion in our house.  In fact nothing there goes on in an orderly fashion.  I certainly do not want to believe this, but, just the same, I want to open my heart to you.  And do not believe that it is my habit, as it seems to you, to send you harsh letters.  No, they are prompted by my extreme love, which makes me worry about you.

My suspicion, then, does not lead me to conclude, but at least to doubt very much, that the devil is telling me the truth.  In fact, it seems that some among you, as if dozing or sleeping, are not complying with the intentions of their Superiors.

As you know, my dearly beloved, it would be a good thing indeed if our Superiors were to write down on paper all rules and regulations.  But what good would they be if they were not also written in our minds?  If, for instance, there were someone, not a disciple of ours, who nonetheless would take delight in interpreting our intentions carefully and in carrying them out faithfully, always keeping them before his eyes—this one, indeed, would be a far better and more genuine disciple of ours than the one who had our intentions written on paper, but not in his heart, even if he loved to call himself our disciple.

Do not believe it to be a small evil to forget or to neglect our Superiors’ intentions.  For what else would that look like but lose interest in our initial resolutions, or having our Superiors clearly understand that, should they pass away or, for some reason, absent themselves, we would soon leave aside their directives?  Is it possible that those who possess greater fervor than their teachers may be inclined to dismantle the foundations established by the latter?  Does not just the opposite happen: that far from abolishing them, they would add some more, not, of course, to contradict the former, but to bring them to greater perfection and to consolidate them?

Thanks be to God for blinding us so as to enable you to see better and to beget your own children as legitimate children, since your parents begot you as bastards!  If your eyes are blind and adulterous, can you imagine what the rest of your body will be?132

I am not making these remarks to shame you,133 but only because I would like you to show your Superiors the same attachment that they show you.  But shouldn’t your virtuous hearts, because of the natural knowledge engraved in them, sustain you so that you may no longer need written laws?  And if you are generous, you will learn to conduct yourselves with the law engraved in your hearts, rather than with external laws.  Thus you will move forward to fulfill not so much the word of the law but its spirit.  If you then do not want to obey like slaves, but like family children, that is the way you should act.

Thus, if you have a Superior, you will let him direct you, as if there were an angel for that task, without caring who the Superior is—this or that person. And whether the Superior is present or absent, you will always safeguard the union of the body with its head and never cause divisions.  You will be careful in the future not to stick rigidly to your Superiors’ words and guidelines, but you will learn to be flexible in each circumstance by interpreting their intentions for the best.

And, again, you will not foolishly try to be equal to others by imitating their way of behaving and talking because, if it is all right for an immature person like a child to say “mommy” and “daddy”, it is not so for an adult.  It is quite the same in spiritual matters.

Likewise, let us suppose that one meddles in things which somebody else is already concerned with; the latter should not take offense at that. What do you think our life is all about?  Do we, by chance, aim to become lords and masters of this world, rather than to help each other make progress and humble ourselves more and more?  If this is the case, as indeed it is, why do some tear down that which others build?

Please, take care lest favors weaken your spirits, and praises cloud your minds; rather let us encourage ourselves and others in Christ.  Let none of you disobey orders, and if anyone would do that, you must instead observe them with greater fidelity.  In the absence of the Superior, be your own Superiors and work for victory over yourselves.

Vie with one another to become humbler, simpler, and readier to seek not so much your own will but Christ’s in you.  In this way you will easily put on Christ.134  You will avoid doing things routinely, and will accomplish the will of our holy Father, who, as you may recall, wants us to be foundation and pillars135 in the renewal of Christian spirit.

If you only knew how many promises of this blessed renewal have been made to several holy men and women, you would see that all of them are certainly to be fulfilled in the sons and daughters of our holy Father, unless Christ had wanted to deceive them, which is impossible because He faithfully keeps His promises.

O dear Father, you have constantly toiled and suffered, and we enjoy the fruits of your zeal.  The cross was your dowry, and we will inherit abundant rest.  In other words, by always carrying and, as it were, eating up crosses, we will yield fruits, both yours and ours.

I entreat you, children and offspring of Paul, to open wide your hearts.136  For those who have nurtured and still nurture you, have hearts larger than the ocean!  And be no less worthy of the vocation to which you have been called!137  If you really mean it, you will be here and now heirs and legitimate children of our holy Father and of the great saints; and Jesus Crucified will extend His arms over you.  I am not lying to you!  Who of us could do this?  See, then, that you please me, and keep in mind that, whether I am present or absent, you owe it to me to make me happy.  That’s all.

May Christ Himself write our greetings in your hearts.

From Guastalla, November 3, 1538.

 

Yours in Christ,

 

Anthony Mary, Priest,

Priest of Paul the Apostle,

and Angelic P[aola] A[ntonia Negri].138

  

REFLECTIONS
  • It is typical of the devil to raise doubts in us about somebody’s behavior, leading us to judge his attitude and conduct negatively. This should not keep us from offering fraternal correction. When somebody makes mistake, we should correct him, but without judging his intentions that are known only to God.
  • Our conduct must always be consistent whether we are in the presence of superiors or alone. We must always act according to our conscience because God is always present, and He sees what we do.
  • Since the virtue of obedience is a product of love, we obey not only the commands of our superiors but also their desires, not only what is written but also what is simply stated.
  • Obedience to superiors implies not only execution of their orders to the letter but also acceptance of their will with an understanding of their intentions.
  • When we notice that others perform better than we do, we should not be jealous, but rather we should give glory to God and strive to imitate them.
  • To renew Christian fervor, we must humbly conform ourselves to God’s will, avoid doing things only out of habit, and learn to savor the cross in order to harvest its fruits.

QUESTIONS

  • Do I know the difference between criticism, rash judgment, and giving fraternal correction?
  • Is my behavior determined by the presence or absence of superiors?
  • Does love of God and superiors motivate me to obey not only externally but also internally?
  • Does my obedience consist only in doing what I am commanded to do or also in meeting the superior’s intentions?
  • Does the success of others arouse in me envy or imitation?
  • When facing life’s difficulties, do I tend to complain, or do I endure these difficulties with faith and patience?



FOOTNOTES 

122. See Letter II, Introduction.
123. See Introduction of this letter and also Letter X.
124. They were acquired by Anthony Mary with the financial help of Bartolomeo Ferrari and Countess Torelli between the fall 1533 and summer of 1534.  For all practical purposes, the church of St. Catherine functioned as their chapel.  By 1533 this small complex housed nine religious.  See n. 25.
125. See Premoli, Storia 39.  The formal donation occured on April 12, 1539 (Ibid. 17. N. 2).
126. The county was sold on October 3, 1538 to Prince Ferrante Gonzaga for the sum of 22,180 gold coins.  See Premoli, Storia 42.  For Anthony Mary’s next and last involvement in Guastalla see Letter IX, Introduction.
127. See n. 25.
128. Battista Soresina (c. 1512–1601), one of Anthony Mary’s first eight companions, was ordained on December 16, 1538.  See n. 25 and Letter X, Introduction.
129. See Gabuzio 42.
130. Antonio M. Gentili, I Barnabiti (Rome: Padri Barnabiti, 1967) 93, 
no. 64.
131. The writing of the Constitutions was authorized by the Brief of Clement VII, 1533, and the Bull of Paul III, 1535 and we know from a 1570 letter of Fr. Nicolo D’ Aviano (1509–1584) that “Father Anthony Mary of beloved memory” authored a set of Constitutions.  However, these Constitutions were only an outline, written in Lombard Italian, and were based on a previous Latin outline by Fra Battista da Crema.  They were never promulgated.  They were first published by Orazio Premoli in 1913.  It should be noted that Anthony Mary was in no rush to write any Constitutions because, first, his community was still small and, second and most importanly, he wanted to test their validity beforehand on the actual performance of his religious.  See Premoli, Storia 22–23.
132. Cf. Matt 6:23.
133. Cf. 1 Cor 4:14.
134. Rom 13:14.
135. 1 Tim 3:15.
136. 2 Cor 6:11–13.
137. Eph 4:1.
138.See n. 59.