July 1, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Anthony Zaccaria

John F. FinkSt. Anthony Zaccaria, whose feast is on July 5, is not one of the best-known saints, but he was an important influence on the Church in the 16th century. That was a time when the Church badly needed reform. Indeed, it was the century of the Protestant Reformation then the reforming Council of Trent.

Anthony Zaccaria, a medical doctor who became a priest, founded the Barnabites with the expressed purpose of reforming both the decadent society of his day and the Church, beginning with the clergy and religious. The congregation’s patron is St. Paul, and it is named after his companion.

Today, there are about 500 members of the congregation in 17 countries from Afghanistan to Zaire, including here in the United States. The Barnabites have missions in the Amazon, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zaire, with hospitals, clinics, schools and radio stations.

St. Anthony is known for his preaching, both in churches and on street corners. He encouraged frequent Communion—rare at the time—the Forty Hours devotion and the ringing of church bells at 3 p.m. on Fridays. He died in 1539 at age 36.

In one of his sermons to members of the society that he founded, Anthony acknowledged the opposition they received from those who didn’t appreciate their efforts at reformation, which included two official religious investigations.

However, he said, “We should love and feel compassion for those who oppose us, rather than abhor and despise them, since they harm themselves and do us good, and adorn us with crowns of everlasting glory while they incite God’s anger against themselves.”

He encouraged his brothers to emulate their patron, St. Paul, and pray for those who opposed them and thus overcome evil with goodness. “We should heap good works like red-hot coals of burning love upon their heads, as our Apostle urges us to do, so that when they become aware of our tolerance and gentleness they may undergo a change of heart, and be prompted to turn in love to God,” he said.

He reminded his brothers that God had chosen them out of the world “to serve him and thus to advance in goodness and to bear the greatest possible fruit of love in patience.”

Part of their calling, he said, was to follow, “admittedly from afar,” the footsteps of the Apostles and other followers of Christ. That meant, he said, being willing to share in their sufferings as well.

As St. Paul sometimes referred to our lives as a race, Anthony admonished his brothers to keep running steadily in the race they started, “while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection,” quoting the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 12:2).

Since they chose such a great Apostle as St. Paul as their guide and father, and claim to follow him, Anthony said, “We should try to put his teaching and example into practice in our lives. Such a leader should not be served by faint-hearted troops, nor should such a parent find his sons unworthy of him.” †

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