Years in seclusion
principle of 'passivity' and 'indifference'
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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”.