THEME 7: The Just Will Move from Virtue to Virtue
By Giuseppe Simone
Through the power and the action of the HOLY SPIRIT each one of us is a being-in-Christ. We can develop the relationship of man to God in Jesus' Spirit through three themes which, although expressed with different terminology, are very dear to our Holy Founder: God's paternity, the interior unification of life in the freedom of the Spirit and the prospective of the service of our neighbor. This dynamic of conformity of the believer to Christ is realized through a life of virtue.
The virtues are interior principles of life which, in the frame of the reality of grace, sustain the believer and help him to grow toward God and neighbor. The virtues are a gift, not only of the natural faculties or qualities which improve with our potentials, but are a gift of grace which realizes the transformation of our life as life-in-Christ. They are a daily strength and support to help us to progress in our love both for God and our neighbor. They are a concrete realization of that continuous "charity" - to use a Zaccarian term - between the creature and the Creator, they are the answer to God's gift to us. The virtues constitute a fundamental attitude of the person expressing a constant growth in holiness.
This is fundamental to understand how Anthony Mary’s thinking regarding virtues, as well as about other themes, is set in the wider context of the Church. This is done to better understand his teachings so that they would not remain just pious exhortations of the past.
The Living Example of Christ
It is not difficult to find in the writings of our Saint specific references to the virtues of the Christian, indeed he loved to quote Psalm 84:8, "They go from strength to strength (virtue); they shall see the God of gods in Zion" (cf Sermon III), and invited the believer to pass "from one virtue to another" and "reach the highest degree of virtue" (Letter II).
But Anthony Mary loved to make his reflections by contrast; more than virtues he would speak of vices which are an obstacle to the growth of our virtues.
He was talking of virtues and vices to himself first of all, then to his confreres, to the Angelics, and the Married, aware that "everyone…is called to holiness" (LG, 39), to use a favorite expression of the Vatican Council II.
Also in this reflection he was not totally original since he had behind him the whole tradition of the Fathers of the Church and of Fra Battista. We can affirm that the reflection on the virtues our Saint proposed to the faithful has its own dynamics; from the vices besieging man to the achievement of the highest of virtues realized in the perfection of the interior man.
Therefore, the goal of a virtuous life is to "search the highest degree of virtue" (Letter XII), that is, the conformation of the faithful to Christ, as he says to the faithful in St. Vitale: to be "a living pattern of Christ’s say with the apostle: 'Be imitators of me, as I imitate Christ, as though they were saying: would you like to see the living example of Christ? look at us" (Sermon II), and similarly at the end of Letter V to the Angelics, "will give you ... a life in conformity with the one of Christ, and similar to the one of great Saints" (33).
This conformity to Christ can happen only abandoning vices and bad inclinations like (among those he mentions) gluttony, desires of the flesh, anger, avarice, sadness, gossip especially about sacred and religious people…but most of all pride, "See if you have pride in the way you dress, in your good and delicious food…in the way you furnish your house, in the way you speak - as, for example: being a shouter, in praising yourself, in scolding others, in your opinion and judgment of the actions of others and in a thousand other ways " (Sermon I).
He exhorted the Married to "grow continuously" in the virtues, not to fall into lukewarmness, to "do something more everyday, to decrease every day in some appetite and sensuality" (Letter XI).
In short, he invited the Angelics to hasten in denying their own "will" not to become "rough" and not to remain far away from their model: the divine Paul. Go to the root. But, very sharp in his intuition, he demanded not a simple elimination of the vices, but of their very causes and roots.
Therefore, he required a thorough search at the interior of the individual. The victory over our defects reaches its aim when it leads to emptying our "mind of fantasies" (Constitutions XII), that is, to eliminate any thought and consequent feeling leading to evil or simply to whatever is not God.
It is a continuous, from birth to death, and profound knowledge of oneself, of one's interiority, that two important issues are resolved for the faithful: the overcoming of evil and the knowledge of God.
The overcoming of evil, because every evil finds its origin in the heart; evil, although defeated once and for all by Christ, must be constantly fought. The knowledge of God, because God's holiness dwells in the heart. This reflection about the heart sends us back to the true author of Christian life, the one who has allowed Anthony Mary's brightness to shine and who allows us to follow on his footsteps: the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit acts by the power of the Cross of Christ and in conformity to the will of the Father to change the interior person so that the new person could say, "I want to lead a spiritual life, I want to become the same spirit with God, I want my conversation to be of heavenly things; 1 want to have God always in my heart, and I can - although it is difficult - and therefore 1 want to keep my tongue under control" (Sermon II).
To lead a virtuous life it means to become cooperators of the Holy Spirit.
(original text in Voce, 1990:3)
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.