…let us run like madmen!
July 5, 2023 by Amy Welborn
The very first religious family inspired by St Paul was founded in 1530 in Milan by Sant’Antonio Maria Zaccaria (1502-1539). Rated today for his work of reform together with Saint Gaetano de Thiene and St Ignatius of Loyola, Zaccaria developed deep Eucharistic spirituality and particular devotion to St Paul the Apostle, in the years of preparation for the priesthood. Having obtained a degree in medicine, he began to care for the poor sick people and only later at the age of 26 chose the priestly life.…
The programme of Sant’Antonio Maria Zaccaria foresaw radical reform of the Church in Lombardy, afflicted by problems which in that epoch were widespread: dioceses without a bishops, clergy with inadequate theological formation, a decrease in religious practice, monasteries and convents in decline. In a letter in 1531 the Saint wrote to his friends: “We run like mad for God and neighbour”.
The letter from which that last quote is taken is here. I find letters to be some of the most interesting and illuminating historical documents, particular in relation to the spiritual life. They tend to be not quite as carefully constructed as other formally written works, even those from past ages in which all written communication was more formal than today’s.
The theme of the letter is resoluteness – and its opposite.
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 amidst 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…
…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.