FATHER CESARE MARIA TONDINI
At the age of 68, in the evening of June 29, 1907, solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, in the community of St. Charles ai Catinari in Rome, Fr. Cesare Maria Tondini de’ Quarenghi was dying after 51 years as a Barnabite religious, concluding a very intense and singular life, characterized by geniality and generosity, nourished by a profound Pauline spirituality. He had been born in Lodi on January 11, 1839.
In the Acts of the community, Fr. Matteo M. Marioni wrote: “The very reverend Fr. Cesare Tondini, Procurator General, has succumbed to sudden and unexpected death. A man gifted with great piety and doctrine, has worked a lot especially for the union of the Greek-Ruthen (Russian) Church with the Roman-Catholic Church. After the death of Fr. Luigi Cacciari, January 15, 1905, on February 15 he had been elected as his successor of Procurator General. However, he was already sick with pulmonary tuberculosis, therefore there was no hope that he could carry on this office for a long time. Anyway, every day, and until his death, he kept busy with his studies, nor did he go off until ha had completed, as he desired, the canticle in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary which he published in the magazine Messenger of the Sacred Heart with the title: The soul of Mary in the Magnificat canticle. We are all convinced that Maria, chosen by him as the most loving mother of his first youth and in whose honor for many years he had found and written new titles, has welcomed him with affection in her maternal womb, on that Saturday dedicated to her.”
At the conclusion of his articulated study on the Magnificat, which he had started in Constantinople, finished in Rome and published between 1906 and 1907 in twelve issues of the Messenger, Fr. Tondini has reserved a last humble surprise, with a blessing for the Jesuits: “I do not know how many times in Russia and among the Greeks I, a poor Barnabite, have been taken as a Jesuit; but this should happen many times, nor I would be surprised if even today I would be thought as such. It is true that times this has caused me some nuisances, but they are nuisances which I bless because they have tempered my will. So, may God and the most blessed Virgin shower upon the Company of Jesus the choicest blessings.”
A most noble spirit
He had been in Constantinople for four years as chaplain of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion when, on March 20, 1905, he reached Rome, destined to St. Charles ai Catinari community. The superior was Fr. Giovanni Vincenzo M. Siciliani, and members of the community were also Fr. Gregorio M. Almerici, who had been his companion in the novitiate and confidant, and Gregorij Şualov. His health was in a very miserable condition as if he was consumed after a life spent on a most intense rhythm always committed with tenacity and dedication to various activities and tasks in the most diverse and not easy situations.
His diaries, kept very faithfully since his formation years, his large correspondence, beside his many publications, give us the impression that we are facing not a common Barnabite and for sure a genial one. There are some expressions by Fr. Giovanni Semeria who had known Fr. Tondini as a student, that define him well: “A most noble spirit, most active, resolute as few in his resolutions… A most singular man… polyglot, a reasonable poet, easy writer, clear, philosopher, enjoying preaching… obeying to his eminently Pauline spirit…”
An ecumenical curiosity. On his part, Fr. Tondini, who had a great esteem for Fr. Semeria, in a letter of January 5, 1900, written from Ambarlia (Bulgaria) to Father General Luigi M. Ferrari, will affirm: “I have read and admired the Twenty Five Years of the History of the rising Christianity (Rome, 1900), by Fr. Semeria. A true masterpiece. If he was pope, Fr. Semeria would bring about the union!”
A wandering Barnabite: in dialogue with everybody
He was in Paris, Stockholm, Moscow, Petersburg, Cristiania (Olso), London, Malines, Vienna, Jerusalem, Constantinople, in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia, Erzegovina, among religious, simple faithful, workers, magnates, religious and civil authorities of any order and grade, Christians of different confessions; a lover of being in contact and always in dialogue: we could call him a wandering but most obedient Barnabite, always keeping in contact with his Superiors through correspondence; an outstanding religious, animated by a great love for the Church and the Congregation, sustained especially by a profound certitude, that is, to be guided by hand by the Virgin Mother of God, living every day under her protection and constantly invoking her to be able to faithfully respond to his special vocation, until the end. His singular experience “would deserve,” Fr. Semeria wrote, “a beautiful, not easy biography,” accurate and documented, in need of long years of patient work for anyone who would take up the task.
The dream of a lover of Russia
Again, as Fr. Semeria wrote, Fr. Tondini “dreamed only one thing throughout his life, the union of the Russian Church with the Roman Church…, the end of the great schism of the East, a dream he had inherited from Fr. Şualov, a dream which today is much more alive than then. At that time he was almost alone. The goal seemed so far away that was judged a utopia. He was a lover of Russia to the full… To reach this purpose he tried the most varied and direct ways…” In his diary Fr. Tondini had written: “The conversion of Russia… This thought is my life!” It is simply amazing how up-to-date these themes and resolutions are today, although with a different interpretation and finality, in the delicate context of the present Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue and the relationships among the Churches, characterized by a respect for the legitimate and enriching diversities, according to the Counciliar guidelines. Always aware that it is not up to us to known the times and moments God has reserved for his choice, we entrust the whole to his inscrutable designs, persevering in prayer and in the yearning for the reestablishment of the full and visible Christian communion.
Holocaust victim of God at 23
Fr. Semeria had arrived at defining Fr. Tondini as one “destined to let the Catholics to love Russia, and Russia Catholicism.” In fact, when 23, the year of his priestly ordination (Monza, February 2, 1862), he had offered his life for this cause, as it can be seen in the following passages taken from his diary written in Monza, in St. Mary’s of the Angels, which deserve our admiration. We note that 1862 is the year of the approval of the Prayer Association for the conversion of Russia by Pious IX (September 2), and of Fr. Tondini’s first assignment to Paris in the hose founded by Fr. Şualov (1857), his inspirer and model for his love for Russia. The attached church, now demolished, was dedicated to St. Paul.
What I have just mentioned is the crucial element which, already when very young, is going to mark the whole of his extraordinary existence as a Cleric Regular of St. Paul, constituting his essential style and true meaning, with a very clear determination. In the following quotations, very fundamental to understand him, we can detect the whole soul and vibrant spirit of Fr. Tondini’s love for the Church and the Congregation. It is a duty to remember him with veneration, one hundred years from his death, almost to hear from his living voice his exemplar ardor, always alive and fiery, and so touched at least the hem of his clock, asking for his intercession, and imitate him just a little. To remember him again today and to read over again his words for sure will not be in vain.
For the Church and for the Congregation
June 27, 1862, Friday: Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
From morning to evening I am thinking of God. To the thought of the triumph of the Most Holy Immaculate Mary and the conversion of Russia, another one, most dear to me, is added, and for its realization I have consecrated myself, with full enthusiasm, as a victim of holocaust to God. The thought of contributing, whatever I can, is this: may in the Congregation relive, where it is off, the fullness of the spirit of the Holy Founders. I do love my dear Congregation, I love it a lot, I love it with tenderness. For its good, I have consecrated myself to God, ready for a life of suffering, opprobrium, sacrifices. And because I truly love her in God, I cannot dissimulate that little human spirit that slowly has entered in some individual, anyway admirable for beautiful and solid virtues…
I think of nothing else but my total annihilation for God, for the triumph of Mary in the conversion of Russia, for the return in the Congregation of the whole of t. Paul’s spirit, of our Founders… Not only I, but many other Fathers long for this (General) Chapter to be most fruitful with holy resolutions aiming at forming in every Barnabite an instrument able to serve God and any way and wherever He wants… For some time I had already manifested my dear secret to p. M. (Pio Mauri), still a deacon. What a beautiful soul! How we have prayed together from the heart! Our talks are all about God. A life of suffering love; behold what God is making us longing for. We have offered ourselves totally to God, promising to become saints…
The two following texts, including the underlining, were written by the young Fr. Tondini in Monza novitiate, during the retreat preached by Fr. Paul M. Stub (August 18-27, 1862), a convert from Lutheranism. The approval by Fr. Stub was followed by the one by Fr. Ambrogio M. Gaspari (1809-1865), his master of novitiate: “God inspired me with that total offering of myself as described in the page 93, entirely approved by Fr. Sub and which I will show also to Fr. Gaspari. Fr. Stub recommended very much humility…”
To the honor and glory of God
August 23, 1862. Ad honorem et gloriam Dei.
God inspired me, I promised, to want to be a victim in union with Jesus Christ to obtain at any cost from God “the triumph of the Immaculate Blessed Virgin in the conversion of Russia before I will die, and the sanctification and salvation of all the Barnabites present and future.”
Victim implies that I offer to God, especially at the elevation of the Chalice, my sanctification, my life, my blood for these most holy purposes, in union with the offering of Jesus Christ.
Sanctification – I have decided that I want to be a saint, to reach that level of holiness that God wants from me, without agreements, without limits.
- continuous union with God, prayer will be my continuous occupation from morning to evening.
- perfect submission to God’s will, either manifested through obedience, or through events. Even my smallest actions will all be the ones God wants, and in the way God wants, so that in the evening I will do the examen, and the conscience will answer to have done in everything only the divine will.
- to abhor and flight from any conscious venial sin, and study to fly away also from any imperfection.
To obtain this purity of heart in front of God I will have in everything frequent acts of contrition (exmen de occulis et alienis) and of love of God and of humility. This last I will ask from God in the morning, in the Rosary and in the evening. To avoid the great stumbling blocks, especially pride, I make the solemn promise to God to never do anything on my own, but submitting all to my spiritual director, to continue in every Mass to beg God from the heart not to look and to find but Him, to keep myself always very ready not to think about Russia at the slightest indication by my spiritual director.
Life – I have decided to consecrate every instant of my life to these most sublime ends. This implies:
- To direct, from now on, every action of my life toward them. Either the action is directed toward them by itself, fine; or rather I implore the merit toward this end.
- From now on I want to make use of any free time and action I would have for nothing else but to obtain this great work. Therefore, I renounce, from now on, any genial studies, useless trips, prolonged vacations behind what is convenient. Having leftover time I will use it all in actions directed toward this work or studies or at least prayer.
- From now on I commit myself, with the permission of my superiors, to continue with great alacrity in the work I have started until its perfect completion, never stopping, except: the command by the spiritual director about the thought and the affection of the heart, the command of the legitimate superior about the very work. No other power on earth, no obstacle, no travesty I want, with the help of God, to stop me on a road where God only has put me with so many signs of his divine will, so that I may continue toward its accomplishment, and I would not know any other way through which I could know the divine will here on earth. If I had against every man, every Barnabite too, in so far as the spiritual director tells me GO, with the help of God I want to challenge and the world, and hell, and everything. In te Domine speravi.
- From now on I will prepare myself for the great work, besides with the sanctification of myself, giving my free time to appropriate studies, since the great work is the theme of my meditations; trying to purify more and more my heart. At the same time, I will prepare myself getting used, little by little and with the permission of the spiritual director, to the hard life in sleep and in food and other life commodities. I will never waist a little time. The mission is very high, the time scarce, perhaps I am mistaking, but it seems to me that God makes me feel that it should be accomplished very soon, in a week of years.
- I do not give myself any rest, but unceasingly I will work as much as I can to draw souls to God in any way and with any skill, because the zeal must also be smart and self-assured.
Blood – What counts is that I offer myself as a holocaust to God so that He would give less sign of his justice, giving me instead with sorrow the patience so that I will obtain the desired graces. A holy priest used to tell me: “God wants some sacrifice from you. (Paratum cor meum Deo. Ecce ego, mitte me. Tu perfice quod coepisti. Da ut velim, comple opus tuum).
- In safeguarding the senses and the mortification I want to keep the rules of the true Christian temperance. This is the least that I promise to God, obliging myself from now on to never fail in this, rather to grow according to the rules of the spiritual director.
- I will embrace with patience of the heart the crosses God will send me, either corporal or spiritual, remembering that they are the proof that God is granting my prayer. And I will be very careful that in doing this prayer the lips will not be in dissonance with the heart.
- When offended, humbled and similar situations, I will imitate Jesus Christ. I will say a Magnificat, in thanksgiving, in the memento of the Holy Mass together with all the dying souls of that day, etc., I will recommend those who give me the opportunity to be like Jesus Christ.
- In putting on the sacred vestments before going to Celebrate, I will accompany with true feeling the action of dressing up with thoughts analogous to the different parts of the passion of Jesus Christ, begging him to render me similar to Him. (Quos praescivit et praedestinavit conformes fieri imagini filii sui).
- About looking for mortifications, I will follow the norms of the spiritual director so that I will not stumble on pride.
- My favorite meditation will be the passion of Jesus Christ.
- Since I do not have the courage to mortify myself, from the heart I will ask God to make up for it sending me with patience the pains apt to make me feel a victim acceptable for the great work.
- It is my intention, in offering my blood, that God would make me worthy to give it in union wit the one of Jesus Christ for this purpose.
I can affirm with certitude that the act of a total offering of his life done by Fr. Tondini, was written during that retreat in Monza, as it is shown by the beginning of the text of June 27, 1862, of the following, and also by the context. The original is in Latin, without title or date, written on a loose piece of paper, vertically folded in two. For sure, he used to keep it in his breviary so that he could repeat it three times a day. Also Fr. Şuvalov used to repeat three times a day the total offering as Fr. Tondini reports, always for the same purpose, as it had been suggested by Pius IX during the memorable audience of 1857.
The total offering
I, aware of being a sinner and that what good I have or I have done is a gift from God, fearing my hidden sins and those of others, filled to the brim with God’s greatest benefits and at the same time most ungrateful for them, having made a bad use of them, anyway filled with confidence in God through the merits of Jesus Christ, of his goodness, as well as the protection of Mary and the Saints, therefore, sure that I will be heard and with the merit of obedience to the director of my soul, I offer my whole self, without limits, as a victim to God in union with the merits and the blood of Jesus Christ, to implore at least the triumph of the Immaculate Blessed Virgin and the sanctification and the eternal salvation of all the present and future Barnabites, as well as of the numberless other souls according to the pleasure of the most sweet Mary, my Mother; victim, I say, in the sanctification of life and blood, that is, of pain. My Jesus, make me so much saint as humble, make me similar to you in patience and in suffering, and if because of my weakness I do not dare to punish myself as I should, you yourself, giving me patience, punish me so that I might be a true victim as I desire, like you have been. My Jesus, give me a Catholic heart, your heart, a heart burning with love for you and Mary; answer me as I pray to grant me the graces that I need, both for myself as well for others to whom I am obligated or I love. May, then, my heart be united to you, day and night; may I walk always in front of you loving and in the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that I might be perfect. May I despise the world and may I care to be despised by it, and may I always act in obedience for supernatural motives, and may I not know the prudence of the flesh. Give me light and active zeal; give me a heart, which will trust nothing in myself and instead would trust in everything you who comfort me. Grant me to cooperate the way you want with your graces; make me perfect, you who from this stone can generate a son of Abraham, so that I could in whole sincerity of heart say with your spouse, in an overflowing recognition, “To suffer, not to die,” as a rue triumph of the omnipotent love of Mary.
Crazy and Victim
Day of October 14, 1862. My God, if it is your will, if it is for your glory that I should have no comfort of any kind down here, that I would pass through it mocked and scorned, that I might even become crazy, your victim for the triumph of Mary, for the sanctification and the salvation of all the Barnabites…
As we set ourselves to live intensely, also in the ecumenical dimension, the Year of St. Paul (June 2008-2009) announced by Pope Benedict XVI on June 28, 2007, in the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls the expression of Fr. Tondini, eminent Pauline spirit, who with intent wanted to offer his life “for the return in the Congregation of the whole spirit of St. Paul,” are of a great stimulus and very meaningful indeed.
That is what we honestly wish as “sons of such a glorious Father,” according to the words of the Holy Founder.
Translated by Fr. frank Papa, CRSP
Fr. Enrico Sironi, CRSP (Published in ECO dei Barnabiti, 3, 2007)