88. To Seminarian Joseph Riccio

My very good Riccio,

I am writing to you a few things in a hurry. I enjoyed your letter very much because I learned from it many things, and precious news. I admire and praise your great industriousness. Since laziness is the father of vice so too is industriousness the mother of virtues. After having read many times the first page of your letter, I came to the conclusion that I could not understand anything about your correspondence with Rossetti. By the way: we have a nice opportunity to unravel the knot. I have invited Rossetti to come here for a get-together with Motta. He has accepted my invitation and has told me that (as long as Motta was agreeable) he would be in Asti on Monday, September 3rd, ready for his trip to San Martino. Why don’t you set the date of your outing for Monday also? In this way we will bring together the same little gathering we used to have in your room at the seminary. The difficulty in finding a place to sleep would be no problem at all if you are satisfied with sleeping double and a little uncomfortable at night. What do you think of it? We will put together such a rambling caravan the like of which has never been seen. I do not want to influence your freedom in deciding about it. I leave you completely free in this regard.

If the circumstances would not allow you to change the plans you have already made, I will simply fall back on the status quo, that is, the promises made in your last letter. Is it alright with you? You tell me in your letter how difficult it is for you to understand how it is possible to write a letter like my last one. If I have well grasped the meaning of your words, you are amazed by the Christian devotion you seemed to perceive in a part of my writing. Oh dear! It is only too true that our heart in pouring itself out to friends opens itself to noble sentiments and makes the pen write in a language full of love, hope, and faith the most ineffable yearnings toward the great ideals of virtue. At the same time our will, weak and poor, does not know how to put into practice even minimally its sublime impulses, its own generous resolutions.  Experience tells us everyday, that in our action we come up always short of what we have resolved in words.

Therefore, do not think of me more than what I am… Consider me as a miserable little Christian who aspires to his own betterment, but who walks forward with a vacillating and faltering step. What is the use of trying to cover it up? At every instant we find something to humble us, at every instant we feel stirring in us the evil tendency of our original sickness and are we to raise with haughty ridiculousness our proud brow? Oh why not confess rather our weaknesses when the Sacred Word tells us: Deus superbis resistit, humilibus autem dat gratiam…!88)

My dear Riccio, let us revive our faith; this is the flame which ought to open for us the new and difficult paths of virtue. May not the thought of our insignificance daunt us; it ought to give us instead a reason for greater trust in Him who is a help for everything and for all. Let us love each other. St John the Evangelist, old and unable to carry on his ministry any longer, used to have himself carried on the arms of his disciples and never ceased to repeat these words: Diligite alterutrum ut salvemini.89 And St. Augustine used to say: Ama et fac quod vis.90 All the distractions of this world tend to neutralize this heavenly sentiment of love and to replace it with the personal spirit rooted in the egotistical instincts which we carry with us from nature.

Our ministry, on the contrary, places continuously under our eyes the most splendid examples of abnegation and of love, beginning with the God-man, who sacrificed his very self as a victim of love, up to the little lady who offers to God her humble prayer interceding for her sinful brothers – Ama et fac quod vis. Let us love and then, by all means, let us do what pleases us most. In this way, after having completed peacefully our humble career down here, we may be able to arrive to the glorious reward which God has prepared for us up there.

In your letter you give me a lot of important news. What you tell me about Professor Leone91 has already been confirmed, that is, it was confirmed by the Theologian Elia, who, by all appearances, does not give me any indication he will soon follow suit. I am sorry about Canta92 who has wasted his time in the seminary: he did not take care of things when he should have and, vice versa, he should have provided for things when he did not. May God help him and keep him from evil. I heard, I have been told that Ciattino93 has been putting more irons in the fire than he can handle. Poor fellow! He could have taken care of his own affairs and “let the waters run down the river.” Instead, he gets mixed up in those accursed female problems which will end by ruining him. Poor seminary! How badly you reflect the purpose for which Charles Borromeo instituted you and the Bishop of Asti built you.94 Satan has made his nest in you and corruption has erected its pulpit there for the diffusion of its evil teachings.  Let us pray.  Let us bear patiently the evils which God permits to conform us to his will. I repeat, let us purify our souls in love, in the love of God, in the love of friends…and also of those who hate us. My dear Joseph, goodbye, pray for your namesake, who will in his turn remember you.

  1. “God resists the proud, but He gives His grace to the humble.” (Jas. 4:6; I Pet. 5:5 

  2. “Love one another so that you may be saved.” 

  3. “Love and you can do what you want.” 

  4. Francesco Leone, ex-Carmelite, was professor of systematic philosophy in the Asti Seminayr. Elia was professor of dogmatic theology. 

  5. Giovanni Canta, ex-seminarian, native of Villanova d’Asti. 

  6. What this seminarian had been involved in exactly is not known, but the following remarks of Marello imply some kind of moral scandal. 

  7. St. Charles Borromeo, (1538 — 1584) Archbishop Cardinal of Milan, is credited with the institution of Seminaries in Northern Italy after the decree of the Council of Trent. Bishop Paul Maurice Caissotti of Asti had the diocesan seminary built between 1763 — 1775 according to blueprints drawn up by Count Benedict Alfieri.