HIGHLY ESTEEMED BROTHER, OR, AS YOU PREFER TO BE CALLED, DEAR SON, MY GREETINGS AND MY VERY SELF TO YOU IN CHRIST.
I have received your letter, and here I am to answer it, or rather, to talk, as it were, with you and your most cordial Madonna Laura.
You have decided to give yourselves to Christ, and I desire that you do not fall victims to lukewarmness, but rather that you grow more and more fervent. For if you let lukewarmness ensnare you, your life in the spirit will be overcome by the flesh, and—to use the proper word—you will be Pharisees rather than Christians and spiritual persons.
Now, here is how the lukewarm—the Pharisee—behaves. Having left his old ways, he does not commit big sins any longer but takes pleasure in little ones; and does not feel remorse for them. For instance, he stops blaspheming and insulting his neighbor, but he attaches no importance to getting somewhat upset and to insisting on his own opinion rather than to giving in to his opponent. Speaking evil of others is no longer a bad habit of his, but indulging quite often in vain and useless chatting during the day is not much of a sin to him. He got rid of eating too much and drinking excessively, as drunkards do, but he enjoys snacking here and there, between meals, without necessity. The vicious habits of the flesh are a thing of the past for him, but he takes delight in conversations and entertainments that are not so clean. He loves to spend hours in prayer, but during the rest of the day his spirit wanders aimlessly. He no longer seeks honors, but if they are given him, he gloats over them.
I have given some examples; you can multiply them. Be sure to conclude that the Pharisee or lukewarm person works at getting rid of serious sins but allows himself to commit little ones. He eliminates all illicit things but desires everything that is considered licit. He refrains from sensual actions but takes pleasure in visual sensualities. He wants to do good but only within certain limits. He controls himself but not totally. I am not saying that he should accomplish all this in the twinkling of an eye and in a short time, but neither should he by fits and starts and over a long time.
On the contrary, anyone willing to become a spiritual person begins a series of surgical operations in his soul. One day he removes this, another day he removes that, and relentlessly proceeds until he lays aside his old self. Let me explain. First of all, he eliminates offensive words, then useless ones, and finally speaks of nothing else but of edifying things. He eradicates angry words and gestures and finally adopts meek and humble manners. He shuns honors and, when they are given to him, not only is he not interiorly pleased, but he also welcomes insults and humiliations, and even rejoices in them. He not only knows how to abstain from the marital act, but, aiming at increasing in himself the beauty and merits of chastity, he also renounces anything smacking of sensuality. He is not content to spend one or two hours in prayer but loves to raise his mind to Christ frequently. Now, share your thoughts with one another on other subjects, just as I have done so far.
Amiable Madonna Laura and you, dear Mr. Bernardo, accept my words and reflect on them with the same affection as I have told them to you. I do not say, of course, that you should accomplish everything in one day. What I do say is: I would like you to be intent on doing more every day and on eliminating every day even licit sensual inclinations. All this is, indeed, for the sake of willing to grow in perfection, of diminishing imperfections, and of avoiding the danger of falling prey to lukewarmness.
Do not think that my love for you or the good qualities you are endowed with, may have me desire that you be just little saints. No, I greatly desire that you become great saints, since you are well equipped to reach this goal, if you will it. All that is required is that you really mean to develop and give back to Jesus Crucified, in a more refined form, the good qualities and graces He has given you.
Because of my deep and tender love for you, be pleased, I entreat you, to comply with my wishes in this matter. For I know the summit of perfection Jesus Crucified wants you to reach; the abundant graces He wishes to give you; the fruits He wants to gather in you; and the peak of holiness to which He wants to lead you.
Good Madonna Laura and amiable Mr. Bernardo, disregard the person who makes these exhortations; consider instead his love for you. See how I long for your perfection. Look into my heart; I lay it open to you. I am ready to shed my blood for you provided you follow my counsels.
Let it be known to you that I would be hurt to the marrow of my soul were I not sure that you not only ought to do this—but also to accomplish any of the greatest deeds performed by any male or female saint.
Fully convinced of your desire to be faithful to Jesus Crucified, I have written this letter to you, not with pen, but with my heart. And I entreat you to value it and read it often—even every week if it suits you. I promise that if you heed it, in the absence of any other book, it will become such a book as to help you reach great perfection if you read it along with the book that records the sweet memory of the cross of Christ.
I have not written one word without some special meaning in it. If you discover it, it will be, I think, most useful and gainful for you.
As I cannot write to you as often as I would like, it will please me if you care enough not to lose this letter. In fact, I hope that, by Christ’s power, anytime you read it, it will be for you like a new letter, and moreover, by means of it, you will be able, as it were, to write a new one by yourselves.
Cordial Madonna Laura, you will excuse me if, because of my physical weariness, I am unable to answer all your requests, as I would like to. I entrust to your care both your perfection and Mr. Bernardo’s; likewise, Mr. Bernardo, I recommend to you your own perfection and your wife’s.
I am indebted to both of you,189 and, as far as I am concerned, I want never to be free of the debt.
Remember me to your dear sons and daughters.
Christ bless you.
From Guastalla, June 20, 1539.
Yours in Christ.
Brother and part of you,
Anthony Mary, Priest
A lukewarm person is one who does not curse or insult but strongly imposes his ideas, who does not slander but gossips about others, who does not get drunk but enjoys good meals, who does not act unchastely but takes pleasure in shady jokes or suggestive talks, who prays but then allows his mind to be unfocussed all day, who seeks no titles but loves to be praised and esteemed.
Typically, a lukewarm person avoids serious sins but takes pleasure in little ones.
A spiritual person, on the contrary, removes every obstacle from the road to Christian perfection. He shakes off every idle and useless word or thought; he expresses himself in a gentle and humble manner; he accepts humiliations patiently; he tries to live chastely and strives to be always aware of God’s presence.
Christian perfection cannot be attained in an instant; it is a long journey to be taken every day, and step by step with constancy.
We should not settle for mediocre holiness but rather aim at attaining the highest perfection willed for us by the Lord.
Do I realize that failure to go forward in spiritual life slowly produces a going backward?
Do I have the courage to examine myself thoroughly to find out how imperfect I am and how much I still have to do to correct myself?
Am I aware that small defects or venial sins are like physical illnesses that may not be deadly but lessen my credibility?
Do I hold in my heart a strong desire to grow ever more in perfection by a greater commitment to prayer, charity toward others, clarity of conduct, purity of heart and mind, or a humble acceptance of adversities?
Do I have the patience to move slowly toward holiness, allowing no difficulty, weariness, or defeat caused by weakness to stop me? Am I always ready to start again with the help of God?
Do Jesus’ words, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” urge me to aim at the highest possible goal, that is, the sublime holiness which we are all called to achieve?
184. See n. 178
185. The wife of Bernardo Omodei. Besides Fabrizio she had two other sons, Giambattista (who sponsored the chapel of St. Ambrose in St. Barnabas) and Paolo. Laura and Bernardo are included in the list of benefactors of the historical mother house of the Barnabites (see n. 105).
186. For a fuller discussion on the reasons for Anthony Mary’s return to Guastalla see Cagni, “Spunti,” 438–439.