mercoledì 5 luglio 2017

The Renewal of Christian Fervor

Anthony Mary Zaccaria is not a famous Saint. Many people, even good Catholics, do not even know of his existence. Many priests and religious, since his liturgical celebration is inserted in the Roman Calendar, just know that he was the founder of a religious order—which one, they do not know, as the Barnabites are so few and little spread in the world. Even at school or in the ecclesiastical faculties, studying the Lutheran Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, when history handbooks have to deal with the foundation of new religious orders (the so-called “clerics regular”), they usually mention the first of these founders—Saint Cajetan—and the most famous of them—Saint Ignatius of Loyola—neglecting all others.

And yet Anthony Mary was one of the most important exponent of the so-called “Catholic Reform,” which took place before and parallel to the Protestant Reformation. It is very important to fix this point: many people still think that only Luther and other reformers of his days realized the state of crisis in which the Church was at that time; they believe that only those rebels tried to reform the Church and that the only thing the Catholic Church was able to do was the “Counter-Reformation,” that is to say, the Catholic opposition to the Protestant Reformation. The beginning of the Counter-Reformation, according to this view, would be the Council of Trent (1545-1563). And the new religious orders would have been founded to implement this Council. There is nothing more inaccurate than this narrative. Many a Saint had realized that the Church was in crisis even before Luther and tried to reform her without overturning her doctrinal and disciplinary foundations. They were aware that the Church had to be reformed not changing her structures, but with holiness. The first new religious orders were founded well before the Council of Trent: the Theatines were founded in 1524; the Barnabites, in 1532; the Somascans and the Jesuits, in 1534.

Anthony Mary gave his contribution to the Catholic Reform, not by promoting a revolution in the Church, but fostering the “renewal of Christian fervor.” His reform is a totally spiritual one: before changing structures, we have to change ourselves. In order to carry out this program, he founded a new kind of religious family and put it under the patronage of Saint Paul. The new “Congregation of Saint Paul” should be formed by three clusters: priests (the Sons of Saint Paul), nuns (the Angelics of Saint Paul) and lay persons (the Married of Saint Paul). They had to work together for the Christian renewal of the Church and society. Unfortunately, that was a too futuristic project; many did not understand this new way of acting in the Church. The followers of Anthony Mary, and he himself, were charged with heresy and forced to abandon any kind of novelty. The priests were adjusted to the canonical structure of the clerics regular; the Angelics were cloistered; and the laity practically disappeared.

But the charism of Saint Anthony Mary has continued to animate through the ages his sons and daughters. Formerly, when there was still some suspicion on him, in an unaware way; then, with his canonization at the end of the nineteenth century and the rediscovery of his writings, ever more consciously; finally, with the Second Vatican Council and the renewal of studies that followed, we have little by little defined better his personality, his charism, his teachings. Now we realize that Anthony Mary is not a minor figure in church history, but a protagonist of the Catholic Reform. He is a great Saint and a respectable spiritual author, who is in no way inferior to other more famous teachers. Do you want an example? When Saint Ignatius, in the “First Principle and Foundation” of his Spiritual Exercises, shows the purpose of the human being, says: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.” Saint Anthony Mary says the same things, but using not so many words: “Man, my friends, has been created and placed on this earth chiefly and exclusively in order to reach God; the rest of creation helps him reach that goal” (VI Sermon). The teaching is the same, but the formulation is, in my opinion, much simpler and more incisive. I think Saint Anthony Mary would deserve to be more known and venerated. But this maybe depends on us, his children, who not always do enough to make him known, not only by words, but also and above all following his teachings and living his charism.