There is a piece of rhymed Italian popular wisdom that serves as a great principle for the spiritual life. It says “chi va piano, va sano, e va lontano.” Translated literally it means “he who goes slowly, goes healthily, and goes far.” In another, shorter form, they say “piano piano si va lontano” – “little by little one goes a long way.” The English equivalent hearkens back to Aesop’s fable and says “slow and steady wins the race.”
These expressions are exhortations for patience and perseverance in the midst of distractions. They encourage us to take our time to do something well, avoiding haste. They also turn our attention away from future worries, to the present moment and the little things we can do now or today. In all these ways, the “piano piano” philosophy is a great help for our growth in the Christian life. For while we can do nothing without Christ and His grace, with His help we are to act in each and every moment out of love for Him and our neighbor.
As an aid for our own appropriation of the “piano piano” mentality, we can turn to “il Papa Buono,” St. John XXIII. Being a wise Italian, he knew not to worry too much about tomorrow but rather to focus on the present and what little good things can be accomplished then. For this reason he wrote what is now known as his “daily decalogue,” which says:
1) Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
2) Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
3) Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
4) Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
5) Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
6) Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
7) Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.
8) Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.
9) Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.
10) Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.
As we lead our often busy and worried lives, we would do well to heed Papa Giovanni and to start practicing his little daily acts. Perhaps we can just pick one and do it well today. Let’s take our time. Remember, piano piano si va lontano.
Image: Grandville Tortoise