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 a midst 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,
Anthony M. Zaccaria, Priest
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?
19. See Introduction and also Letters VI, X.
20. See Introduction and also Letters IV, V, VII, X.
21. See Alessandro Teppa, Vita del Venerabile Antonio Maria Zaccaria (Milan, 1858) 38–50.
22. See n. 105.
23. At that time a Notary Public had wider authority than today. For instance, he could manage financial affairs of widows, provide for the legitimation, adoption, and marriage of natural children, and insure a minor’s rights to inheritance. This type of activity required countless appearances before the authorities (princes, magistrates, judges, etc.).
24. See Orazio Premoli, Storia dei Barnabiti nel Cinquecento (Rome: Desclée, 1913) 10, n. 2.
25. In the petition to Clement VII Bartolomeo’s name precedes that of Anthony Mary and other three unnamed petitioners, most probably because his brother, Basilio (see n. 118), was one of the papal secretaries. The Brief of approval, dated February 18, 1533, is likewise addressed first to Bartolomeo and then to Anthony Mary. The three unnamed petitioners were Giacomo Antonio Morigia, Giovanni Giacomo De Caseis, and Francesco Di Lecco (the latter is never mentioned in the Letters). These five young men plus Dionisio da Sesto, Francesco Crippa, and Camillo Negri, actually began their common life in 1534 in their first residence by the church of St. Catherine (see n. 124) and only in 1535, when they were joined by Battista Soresina, were they ready to give themselves a habit, a name, and specific assignments. The following year Giacomo Antonio Morigia was elected first Superior General as Anthony Mary humbly declined the honor (see Teppa, Vita, 170). Other practical reasons for declining were: he was full-time spiritual guide of the Angelics in Milan and the only chaplain of Torelli and her county of Guastalla. Moreover, he also felt he had to keep himself available for his mother in Cremona. Bartolomeo Ferrari, who headed the missions in Vicenza and Verona (1537–1542), was the second Superior General (1542–1544).
26. The content of this letter echoes that of the sermon on lukewarness (see Sermon VI).
27. Mic 6:8
28. Rom 12:11
29. 2 Pt 1:10
30. Lk 9:60
31. Matt 4:18
32. Phil 2:8
33. Heb 12:2
34. A plausible clue to identify this book may be found by relating three circumstances. (1) In May 31, 1530 Anthony Mary apparently declined Fra Battista da Crema’s invitation to help him write The Knowledge of, and Victory over, Oneself; (2) This book was published about a year later in Milan on March 31, 1531; (3) The present letter was written about three months before its publication and in it Anthony Mary complains with his addressees (Ferrari and Morigia who were living in Milan) that they were “careless about finalizing the publication of the book.” So, most likely the book is The Knowledge of, and Victory over, Oneself.