13 Spiritual Themes
St. Anthomy Mary Zaccaria
A Holy Young Man - A Saint with a Young Spirit
By Fr. Antonio M.Gentili, CRSP
By Fr. Antonio M.Gentili, CRSP
Although most of the portraits of St. Anthony M. Zaccaria represent him as a man of mature age and merits, it has always been a big surprise to discover that he had run his crazy race ("let us rush like mad men" was his motto and program) in the short span of thirty-seven years. If he is not the youngest among all the Founders, men and women, for sure he is one of those 04the top of such a list.
But if the birth certificate tells us that he was a holy young man, we can also say that he was a saint with a special direct tie, almost a conspiracy, with youth. Let us try to prove the point.
First of all it is immediately evident that Anthony Mary lived his life with the extraordinary intensity characterizing a young person. While paganism, always ready to surface since it is a dimension of human life, sees always in youth the age par excellence for pleasure, pursuit and satisfied in refusing any ethical constriction or norm, here is this young man from Cremona, reserved, a little introverted and pious, who makes of his youth the crucible for the great choices of his life. If it is true that the adolescent is the father of the man/woman, in the years between 17 and 21 Anthony Mary makes the choices which will inspire the whole of his life. They seem to zero in on the University years which determined his past, present, and future. Before going to Padua he detaches himself from all material possession and gives them to his mother. During his University years he matures and tries his personal choices for virginity, and, once back home, with determination he embraces the road of obedience. As we can see, Anthony M. Zaccaria at a very young age professes in his heart those three vows which will become the spirit of his life and of his apostolate. We are already familiar with his choices, but it is worthwhile to examine them again.
The donation of his goods to his mother is so radical that it seems incredible. It could not be revoked for any reason whatsoever, even if Antonietta Pescaroli should sin of ingratitude toward her son, and even if he should have children to care for. We have said donation of goods, but we should say of "all" goods because this totality, amazing in a young man about to leave home to be on his own, puts the spotlight on the evangelical consistency inspiring him, and allows us to have a first glimpse of a project, maybe a dream, which begins to burn in his heart.
On the same line we find the virginal orientation that Anthony Mary gives to his life, during the roaring years of his youth, when the "spousal language of the body" begins to express itself in the fullness of its power and beauty, but at the same time it is in danger of experiencing the falsifications due to concupiscence and laxity against which the Word of God often warns us. Anthony Mary aims on high and lives chastity not as an inhibition of his potentials, but as a condition for their authentic development. Remember his words, "Chastity is of great help to the acquisition of science." When he exhorts his disciples "to joyfully long for true integrity of body and soul," he communicates to them an experience already tested through the years of his own youth What is amazing is his positive vision of chastity, which he wants to see grow and grow (indeed he speaks of "beauty" and "growth") even between spouses. Almost as if saying that chastity constitutes the qualifying aspect of that common denominator to which both religious and laity are called.
About obedience, let us recall the words left to us in an ancient historical document by one of the Angelic Sisters. Back to Cremona, "he dedicated himself to spiritual life, under the guidance of a Dominican Father, called Fra Marcello," and "by the will" of his successor, Fra Battista da Crema, "he became a priest." It is safe to say that spiritual life demands total docility toward our guide, whose function is indispensable for the discernment of one's vocation.
Having lived his youth with such intensity, Anthony Mary was enriched with singular charm and attraction upon the young people. The old chronicles remind us the at the companions of Anthony Mary "were all young." But let us take a closer look at the relationship between him and some of them. Father Gabuzio, excellent historian of our Barnabite origins, and very scrupulous in recreating the events about the Holy Founder and his first disciples, has left us four "sketches" about four young men. We will report them in the essential description left to us by the author.
It is astonishing how, as Anthony Mary made the sign of the cross on the forehead of Tito degli Alessi, this young man from Vicenza, who, very casually, had approached him, was struck by something like a burst of fire. This will mark the rest of his life, and he will be one of the Bamabites who, through the friendship and intercession of St. Philip Neri, will settle in Rome.
In Guastalla, close to his death by now, Anthony Mary saw a very healthy young man by the shore of the Po River. He had an intuition of his destiny, and so he kindly exhorted him to think about his soul and to be reconciled with God's grace, since he could be close to his death. The young man, touched by his words, right away went to confession, and not much later unexpectedly he left this world.
The third case is about a novice who made his confession to Anthony M. Zaccaria, leaving out a secret sin. Before absolution Anthony Mary admonished the penitent who was struggling with the idea to manifest or not the other aspect of his life, and he revealed to him the omitted sin. Then full of admiration and shame, the novice completed his confession.
The last case is about the petition by a young man to Anthony Mary to free his house from a baleful spirit, which, day and night, was inflicting harms and injuries to his relatives, making vain any remedy. After intense prayer, sure of God's help, right there and then, he performed an exorcism: "Go," he told the young man, "and on my behalf tell that demon to leave that house in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and not to molest it any more." The young man did as instructed, and with great success.
These four events are very characteristic and almost constitute the figure, the design of grace in which Anthony Mary Zaccaria moves.
First of all the choice of the way of life, mediated by a daring gesture. A blessing on the forehead makes the youngster think, and then gives him, according to Father Gabuzio's expression, "quasi igneam vim," like a vigorous flame. The horizon of human existence is marked by death. But nothing is further away from the expectations of a young man. Still the wisdom of life crosses through the consciousness of one's sunset.
Thirdly, the urgency of leading someone to the truth of his personal history, accepting its bright and its shadowy moments; a very difficult step this last one for a young man, by his very nature a perfectionist and so proud.
Finally to be aware how human life is a constant fight against the power of evil, and the consciousness of the consequent dangers The spokesman of this consciousness is the young man who bends his sensitivity to the perception of the dramas of the human heart, and begs help from the power of grace.
All of us during our youth register, or have registered similar moments of trials and of truth, and now we know that we can rely on the protection of a Saint twice young, because of his birth certificate, and because of his spirit
NOTES: (original text in Ecco dei Barnabiti, 1989:3) All the 13 Spiritual Themes of St Anthony M . Zaccaria were translated from Italian by Fr. Frank Papa, CRSP and edited by Ms. Fran Stahlecker.