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 Years in seclusion

 The principle of 'passivity' and 'indifference'

After his ordination to the priesthood a period of reflection followed in Rovereto. Here Antonio thought about the reasons for his past failures and realised that the author of good is God alone. People, no matter how capable, are only instruments in his hands. Hence his decision to devote himself solely to the amendment of his own life, remaining open to any form of apostolate indicated to him by Providence through external circumstances. This is the so-called principle of “passivity” and “indifference”, which imply a constant interior disposition to will solely and totally what God wills.

As a priest, Antonio had before him many possibilities: parish ministry, education of youth, helping the needy, work as a Catholic writer, monastic life. All these were ways in which he could use his youthful energy for good. But he did not wish to choose on his own: he waited for God to show him the right way to go.
This new style of life which don Antonio designated as “passive” had as its sole mainstay, the will of God. So his activity, instead of being restricted was enormously broadened and his charity became truly universal.

In those years of “retreat”, while his basic occupations were study and prayer, he zealously carried out his priestly work whenever it was requested of him. A noteworthy initiative which developed at home was the explanation of the Summa of St Thomas for the priests and clerics of the city.

In 1823 Pope Pius VII died. Don Antonio was chosen to preach the eulogy. He had known him recently in Rome during a private audience. With the whole Catholic world he admired the great Pontiff for his struggle against Napoleon in defence of religion and the liberty of the Church. The panegyric, highly inspired, defended his actions and ended with a sorrowful entreaty for Italy: “As for me, out of the immense love which I bear you, O Italy, O great mother, I will incessantly make these devoted prayers to the Eternal: O omnipotent one who favour Italy, who grant to her immortal children, who from Rome the Eternal City, through your Vicars, govern souls, for pity’s sake, give also to her, most kind one, the appreciation of her high destiny, the one thing of which she is ignorant: teacher of virtue on earth, mirror of religion, make her seek the good will and friendship which is her due, rather than the tribute of fear. Make her find within herself her own happiness and serenity, and give her throughout the world a gentle and not fierce renown.” Don Antonio wished to have it printed but the Austrian censor created a series of difficulties, to such an extent that he could publish it only eight years later and with substantial cuts. And from then on his name was regarded with suspicion.

The religious vocation of his sister provided the opportunity of meeting Marchesa di Canossa, who was very impressed with the young priest and invited him to found a male branch of the Daughters of Charity which she had founded. Don Antonio reflected on this for a long time, studied the project and waited for clear signs of the will of God.

In his retirement in Rovereto he devoted himself also to writing a work on political philosophy. Re-examining the essence of civil society and the laws which develop from it, the work aimed at guiding the aspirations of peoples and the actions of governments along the path of real social justice and true liberty.

In order to deepen this subject, don Antonio listened to the suggestions of some of his friends and went to Milan in March 1826. This was the occasion for meeting new acquaintances and making new friends. Among all these was the affectionate and companionable one with Count Giacomo Mellerio, a native of Domodossola, and with Alessandro Manzoni. As regards the latter, they already knew and esteemed each other through their published works. Now they were able to see each other in person. Don Alessandro met him with a biblical greeting: “How beautiful are the feet of those who publish peace, who bring good tidings of good!” Their friendship would be sincere and deep, which Fogazzaro defined as “a twofold vertex of one flame”.