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

On Moderation in Penance: To Father Gaspar Berze, Rome, February 24, 1554

Gaspar Berze [1] was a missionary in India who, never thinking of himself, wore himself out for the good of souls. In April 1552 Francis Xavier appointed him rector of Saint Paul's College in Goa, and vice-provincial. Having heard that Berze's health was far from what it should have been, Ignatius wanted to rein in that excessive zeal of his and, thus, he directed Polanco to write this letter, instructing Berze to moderate his penances, and in the matter of his health to place himself under the care of someone of his own choosing. In addition, since the Europeans were greatly interested in learning about exotic lands, Ignatius asks him to write about India—the land, and its flora and fauna. Unknown to Ignatius, however, as this letter was being drafted, Berze had been dead four months. Berze suffered an attack while preaching and had to be carried from the pulpit; he lingered for twelve days and then died on October 18, 1553. He literally worked himself to death in the vineyard of the Lord. Polanco composed this letter in Spanish [Ep. 6:357-359].

The peace of Christ.

My dear father in Jesus Christ:

May the grace and peace of Christ our Lord be present in evergrowing measure in our souls.

I did not think that we would be writing more than we have already done for this sailing [2], but we only recently received a letter from Portugal, written in Goa, concerning your reverence's illness, and the work you continue to do in spite of it, preaching and so forth. Our Father has thought it best to write this letter to your reverence, to inform you, as coming from him, that such action on your part does not seem wise, nor is it something that can long endure. Though he is much edified by your holy zeal and love of mortification, he does not think that it is seasoned with that salt which God our Lord looks for in every sacrifice, namely, a reasonable service [Rom. 12:1], such as Saint Paul wishes to see in those who offer themselves to God our Lord.

There are two drawbacks in dealing with yourself so severely. The first is that without a miracle your reverence will not last long in the holy ministries you undertake; rather, death will tie your hands. Or you will become so ill that you will no longer be able to continue them, which would be to put quite an obstacle in the way of God’s service and the help of souls, in which works you could, with better health, employ yourself for many years to come. The second is that, being so harsh with yourself, you could easily come to be excessively so with those under your charge. And even though you give them no more than your example, it must result in making some of them run too fast, and especially so among the better of your subjects.

In a word, our Father recommends moderation to your reverence. He would not have you preach when you are ill unless your physician says that such exercise will do you no harm. Since in your own cause your reverence might doubt just where moderation should begin, it would be good to choose someone who is living with you in Goa, or someone who accompanies you, who should have authority over you in the matter of food, sleep, and the amount of work to be undertaken. You should obey him in the Lord on all these points. We have made use of such means here in order to control the activity of some of the outstanding men of the Society and who hold important positions in it. This should suffice for the care of your person.

Some important people in the city, who read with great profit to themselves the letters from India, usually wish, and on various occasions have asked, for something to be written about the general cosmography of the countries to which Ours are sent. They would like to know, for instance, the length of the days in summer and winter, when summer begins, whether the shadow falls to the left or to the right. In a word, they would like information about anything that appears extraordinary, such as unknown animals and plants, their size, and so on. And this sauce for the taste of a certain innocent curiosity in man can be sent in the letters themselves, or on separate sheets.

And since we have observed in persons of quality and understanding that this exerts a very good influence on them, it will be good if, in the letters which can be shown to those outside the Society, less time is spent on those things which concern members of the Society and more given to matters of general interest. Otherwise the letters cannot be printed here without considerable editing. It is true that what concerns members of the Society will have more edification for our own members here; but this can be taken care of separately, if in the latter case they miss the mark, some remedy can be applied here, though it will cause some inconvenience. But the former cannot be supplied by us here. Your reverence can see to it that the members of the province write as directed.

For other matters I refer you to the other letters, and I will say no more here than that in this house, the Roman College, and the German College, we are all well by God’s grace. May Jesus Christ our God and Lord, who is the health and true life of the world, give us the health and life that is interior. Amen.

From Rome, February 24, 1554.
1. Berze was a Lowlander, having been born in Goes, in Zeeland, in 1515. He studied at Louvain, served in the army of Charles V, then exchanged his soldier’s uniform for the garb of a hermit at Montserrat. He then left to go to Portugal and entered the service of the royal treasurer. While at court he met Simão Rodrigues, who eventually led him through the Exercises and accepted him into the Society on April 30, 1546. Berze was ordained before the end of that year, and shortly afterwards was assigned to India, where he imitated Francis Xavier, not only in apostolic zeal but also in holiness.
2. Polanco had written three letters to Berze under the date of December 24, 1553, and since there were no ships going to the East at the time, the letters had not yet left Italy.

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, eg Francis of Assisi, Onuphrius of Egypt 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).