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"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

On the Desire to Study: To Brother Giovanni Battista, Rome, May 23, 1556


Brother Giovanni Battista [1] was the buyer at the Jesuit college in Padua and for some time had been growing unhappy as a coadjutor brother and now desired to take up studies. He made this proposal to his rector, who in turn passed it on to Ignatius in Rome. Ignatius interpreted the brother's desire for studies to be a temptation of the devil, and within that framework wrote to him telling him that he is surprised that the brother had fallen for the devil's ruse. Ignatius adds that considering Giovanni's age and his natural capabilities, studies would be a waste of time, and reminds him that in the Society, as in the human body, there is a variety of members, and that each member must be content with the task that God offers him through the will of the superior. Ignatius' letter is in Italian [Ep. 11:437-438].

Jesus

The peace of Christ.

My dear Brother Giovanni Battista:

We are not surprised at your temptation regarding studies, for we know that it is the devil's work to annoy and disturb the servants of God. But you should be surprised at yourself for having yielded to it, forgetting that a religious should have no will of his own, and that he may do God's will he should follow the will of his superiors. And you have all the less reason for yielding to the devil's suggestion in this matter, since you were expressly told from the very beginning not to think of studies, but to exercise yourself in the offices of charity and humility. Taking into account your age and your aptitudes, it was thought that you would be wasting your time in study, and that you could make better use of it in other employments in God's service.

In the body all the members are not eyes, nor ears, nor hands, nor feet. And as each member has its function, and is satisfied with it, so likewise in the body of the Society all cannot be learned, nor all priests, but each one must be content with the employment given him according to the will and judgment of the superior, who will have to give an account to God for all his subjects.

Finally, Giovanni Battista, if you have given all to God, allow yourself to be guided by God, and act not in your own way, but in God's way. You will have to learn this by obedience to your superior.

If someone tells you something different, even though he is transformed into an angel of light, be sure that he is the devil who is trying to draw you out of the Society. The Society will not put up with this self-will of yours if you do not really amend. You may have the name of religious, but if you fail in obedience, you are not a religious at all. Now, for the good we desire for you, we want you to examine yourself and get over the way of acting you have had in this matter for some time now.

May God our Lord grant you His grace.

From Rome, May 23, 1556.
1. His family name never appears in the correspondence and, hence, it is impossible to identify him further. He is sometimes referred to as "Giovanni Battista fiorentino," and is often confused with Giovanni Battista Del Todesco, another lay brother, who is also referred to as "Giovanni Battista fiorentino." The latter, however, entered the Society in 1561, five years after the present letter was written.
I. In July 1521, a 30-year-old Basque knight, named Iñigo was brought home to recuperate after his cannonball experience in the battle of Pamplona—his watershed moment. The wounds on his lower limbs led to the first long lockdown in his life, about nine months, during which he read a life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints, the only reading matter the Loyola castle afforded. He also killed time by recalling tales of martial valor and by day-dreaming about a great lady who captured his heart. Later when he was out of mortal danger, his attention was centered on the saints. This profoundly moved and attracted him that soon after he had barely recovered he resolved to do something about his many sins. To fulfill this he must embark on a journey towards conversion. He followed the holy austerities of the saints, e.g. Francis of Assisi and Dominic, that God sent as his first spiritual guides in his lifelong task towards holiness.
II. "That mission has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life… The contemplation of these mysteries, as St Ignatius of Loyola pointed out, leads us to incarnate them in our choices and attitudes" (Gaudete et Exsultate— Rejoice and Be Glad, 20).

St Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens c. 1622
III. "This spiritual poverty is closely linked to what St Ignatius of Loyola calls 'holy indifference', which brings us to a radiant interior freedom: 'We need to train ourselves to be indifferent to our attitude to all created things, in all that is permitted to our free will and not forbidden’ so that on our part, we do not set our hearts on good health rather than bad, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, a long life rather than a short one, and so in all the rest" (Gaudete et Exsultate— Rejoice and Be Glad, 69).