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

On Preserving One's Health for God's Service: To Francesco De Attino

Francesco de Attino was a scholastic teaching in Sicily and because of a touch of pulmonary tuberculosis was told by his physician to return to his native air to recuperate. Being still young he wanted to stay with his Jesuit brethren in Naples and enjoy the consolation of their company, rather than living at home with his family. Thus he wrote to Ignatius asking to remain in Naples. But Alfonso Salmerón, who was then superior in Naples, not waiting for Ignatius’ letter to arrive, ordered the youth to return to Atina to recover his health. Ignatius’ letter is full of affection and concern for the young scholastic, and tells him that for the present it is better for him to forgo the consolation of living with his Jesuit brethren so that he could regain his health. Ignatius assures him that though he may be temporarily living outside the Society, nevertheless, he still remains a member because all Jesuits are bound in spirit. This letter was written in Italian [Ep. 6:585-587].

May the grace and peace of Christ always abide and grow in our souls.

Beloved brother in Christ Jesus, Master Francesco:

You will have understood the answer to your letter if you have remained in Naples. Our Father desires every spiritual consolation for you. Because you would find consolation among your spiritual brothers and fathers in Naples, he gave you permission to remain there if your health could endure it. But since the physician thought that you should by all means seek your native air to restore your health, this benefit should be preferred to consolation.

Be certain of this, my dear brother, that, though you are separated from us in body, we feel that we are intimately united in the bond of charity, and that you feel the same way. But you must be sure of being united, not only by this bond, but also by that of holy obedience, which binds all the members of our Society into one spiritual body, to which you will belong no matter where you are. Remember that it is through obedience that you are making use of all these remedies and cures and every form of acceptable recreation, even physical, that is suggested to you. Because all the sooner, then, with God’s help you will be freed from your illness to give yourself entirely to the service of God.

And do not think that trying to recover your health is an easy task. Your only purpose in desiring it is to serve God, and according to His holy will. Even though you use every reasonable means to get well, great resignation is required if you are to be content with whatever disposition God makes of you. As long as He visits you with illness, accept it from His hand as a very precious gift from the wisest and most affectionate of fathers and physicians. Be resolved especially both in mind and body, in work and in suffering, to be content with whatever pleases His Divine Providence. And write once in a while at least, though it be but a few lines.

Master Pompilio [1] tells me that you have asked for some spiritual books. It would be good for you to read from time to time or have someone read to you, for your soul’s refreshment and consolation, but do not spend much time in reading or in many devotions, especially those that require mental activity, as this would be to close the door on your recovery, which is the very reason for your going home and for the obedience that sent you. Use moderation, therefore, in every mental exercise. Remember that bodily exercise, when it is well ordered, as I have said, is also prayer by means of which you can please God our Lord.

May His grace be ever abundant in your soul. We all earnestly commend ourselves to your charity.

From Rome, April 7, 1554.
1. The only thing known about this Pompilio is that he was a Roman.
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).