A Conversation with Saint Anthony Mary Zaccaria on

How to Overcome Irresoluteness in Spiritual Life.

Father Anthony, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak with you. I wish to ask something which has been troubling me for quite a while. I hope you could enlighten me. See, I am a person who wants to live a good life. But often times I find myself doing wrong. There were times when I had the chance to do good, but I never did anything. What I really don’t understand is that deep inside there is this willingness to do an act of kindness. For example, but at the same time, there is also this feeling of hesitation. Sometimes I thought it might be that I am afraid that others might misunderstand me or ridicule me. But I guess it is something more than that. By wanting to do good is already a great good that you do. Yet you struggle with the thought that most often your desire to do good remains only a desire, and is not put into action. What causes your inaction comes mostly not from your fear of rejection, but from that inner truth that your spirit is also weak, changeable, and unstable. And thank God it is. Why so? It is true for you, and true for anybody, that God has made our spirit unstable and changeable. But it is in order that we will not abide in evildoing, and also that, once in possession of the good, we 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, we might reach the summit of perfection. Hence, it flows that we are fickle in doing evil, namely, we cannot persevere in it because we do not find comfort or rest in it. Therefore, instead of persisting in evildoing, we move to do good; and moreover, since creatures do not give us peace, we return to God. I could give otherseparate reasons for our being fickle, but, for our purpose, what I have said is enough. Oh, how wretched we are though. For, when trying to do good, we use the very instability and indecisiveness we should have to exercise and to avoid evil. And, indeed, I am often bewildered at seeing such great irresoluteness reign in so many souls. Irresoluteness? How does it work in us? Irresoluteness hampers our progress because we find ourselves, as it were, between two magnets without being pulled by either. Namely, on the one hand, we neglect to do the present good as we look at the future one; on the

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other hand, we leave aside the future good by lingering on the present and even having doubts about the future. Moreover, irresoluteness causes us to change like the moon. Yes, like the irresolute person, we will always be restless and can never be content even amidst great joys; For no reason we get sad and angry and easily seek our own satisfaction. Indeed, I tell you, 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 we are in a state of doubt, we remain inactive. What is an irresolute person like then? 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.” Will an irresolute person accomplish anything? As long as he remains undecided and doubtful, he will surely never accomplish anything good.Experience teaches that. There is no need for me to go any further. How do we develop irresoluteness? 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; one, instead, because he does not fathom the heart of things, is unable to decide what to do. What is the root cause of irresoluteness or this indecisiveness that permeates the soul? This indecisiveness is at one and the same time the 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.

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How do we get rid of irresoluteness? 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. What would be the consequence if this evil weed continues to remain in us? If we 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 we have something important to do, we must think it over and over and, as it were, ruminate upon it; but after such serious reflection and after having sought proper advice, we should not delay executing our 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?” and Paul, “Sollicitudine non pigri” (“avoid with care all negligence”); and Peter, “satagite ut per bona opera ...” (“be prompt through good works...”).”Satagite” (“Be prompt to action”) he says. You will find this sense of urgency commanded and praised in innumerable passages of the Scriptures. So what do you say about me? I have to tell you the truth: it is mainly this irresoluteness in your soul, besides, perhaps, some other shortcoming, that has caused in you this great and blamable negligence and sluggishness to the point that either you never start anything at all or at least you linger on it for so long that you 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,” right away followed Christ. And also Peter, James and John, once called, immediately followed Christ. And so, again and again, you will find that those who truly
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love Christ have always been fervent, diligent, and not sluggish. What then should I do? Take courage, and strive to root out these pernicious plants, this irresoluteness and negligence, if perchance they are actually present in your soul. Get rid of them; and run like a madman not only toward God but also toward your neighbors, who alone can be the recipients of what you cannot give to God, since He has no need of your goods. Imitate our Savior, who, by His obedience unto death stood up against irresoluteness and, to avoid being negligent, ran toward the cross regardless of its shame. Father Anthony, I thank you for your time and for sharing with me your thoughts. I now realize what actually is keeping me from doing good acts. It is this irresoluteness that pervades my soul. Pray for me then that I may be able to eradicate it, and so be more ready to do what just pleases the Lord. I surely will. May God, the Changeless One, ever ready to do whatever is good for you, save you and make you steadfast and determined in all your undertakings and desires.

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________________________ NOTE: Bartolomeo Ferrari (1499–1544) and Giacomo Antonio Morigia (1497–1546) were two Milanese noblemen who, coming from different walks of life, joined Anthony Mary in establishing a new religious family, variously known as Sons of St. Paul, Clerics Regular of St. Paul, and Barnabites. At age two, Bartolomeo lost both parents and soon after an older brother. Fortunately, the adverse effect of these deaths was greatly alleviated by the loving care and ability of another brother, Basilio, his legal guardian. Surely, Basilio’s task was made easier by his brother’s sweet and gentle disposition. Moreover, Bartolomeo was temperamentally inclined to study and naturally responsive to the demands of Christian living. Basilio saw to it that his brother receive a good education. At eighteen, Bartolomeo went to the University of Pavia to study law. However, realizing that his Christian life could be jeopardized by the worldliness of the university milieu, he decided to interrupt his studies and returned to Milan only with a license of Notary Public. We know that he practiced this profession from 1521 to 1531. Under the direction of the Augustinian Giovanni Bellotti, the founder of the Eternal Wisdom Oratory, Bartolomeo embraced a strict ascetic life, and entered the service of the Church as a cleric; he taught catechism to children and was instrumental in reestablishing that teaching, long fallen in disuse, in several parishes. During the plague of 1524 and subsequent famine that afflicted Milan, he spent himself wholeheartedly in caring for the victims and without sparing his own considerable financial resources. Giacomo Antonio Morigia (1497–1546) too was left orphaned by his father, Simone, when a child. Unfortunately, his mother, Orsina Barzi, was only slightly interested in the religious, moral, and intellectual upbringing of her son. After a little schooling, Giacomo Antonio was quickly introduced by his fun-loving mother to Milan’s high society. Pretty soon horse riding, hunting, music and the theater became his chief occupations. Tall and handsome, he won the

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reputation of being the best dressed man in Milan and was known as “Morigia the elegant.” His popularity reached into the court of Francis Sforza. However, it became increasingly apparent that the dashing young man was not entirely attuned to his mother’s lifestyle. A definite streak of seriousness and independence, presumably inherited from his father, began to show. First, on his own, he studied mathematics and architecture for which he had a natural disposition. Second, no doubt to his mother’s chagrin, he declined the fat benefices attached to the Abbey of San Vittore al Corpo which his influential friends were offering to him. Instead he joined the Holy Crown Oratory whose main activity was the distribution of free medicines to the poor. At the age of twenty-five, the restless Giacomo Antonio was still searching for a direction in life. That year, in 1522, he met Father Giovanni Buono, a Benedictine of the San Pietro in Gessate Monastery. Giacomo Antonio was very impressed by the saintly old man. Undeterred by his mother’s displeasure and the remonstrances of his friends, Giacomo Antonio began turning toward a serious Christian life. Taking Father Buono’s advice, he eventually joined the Eternal Wisdom Oratory. These are the two men Anthony Mary met at this Oratory in the second half of 1531. With them he exchanged ideas about the urgent need of Christian renewal. In 1532 they petitioned the Holy See for the authorization to profess the three vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty before the Archbishop of Milan or his Vicar and to begin common life in the Diocese “in order to devote themselves more vigorously and unrestrictedly to God’s gracious purposes and to probe more deeply into matters pertaining to God.” As in the meantime his companions seemed to waver in their commitment, Anthony Mary addressed them this letter, which is a true declaration of war to irresoluteness and a clarion call to action from beginning to end.

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Bethlehem, PA

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