Christ is the center of everything in Lanteri’s life and spirituality, the decisive focus of all else. Christ is his teacher, his model, his help, and his reward. Above all Christ is his companion, the one he loves and to whom his heart opens in gratitude. He is drawn to the humble, poor and gentle Christ who goes about the cities and villages preaching the Word of the Kingdom and healing every suffering, the Christ whose heart feels compassion for at the sight of human distress.
Living Copy of Jesus
His daily effort is to imitate this Christ in such fashion that he becomes himself “a living copy of Jesus.” This imitation is the guiding principle of every action of the day. A key christological passage describes for his Oblates a ‘method’ of living moment by moment in the light and company of Christ. In each major action of the day “they keep Christ always before their eyes.” They begin “ex fide, with a tranquil glance of faith at Jesus our model,” they continue the action “cum affectu,” turning their hearts to Christ from time to time, and conclude “reflexe,” looking at the action now completed in the light of Christ. In this way, says Lanteri, “Jesus forms the only treasure of their hearts; Jesus thus abides in their hearts and they abide in the Heart of Jesus. Can there be anything greater and more consoling than this?” (Un’esperienza, 127). The practice Lanteri outlines here is simply a description of his own daily relationship with Christ. Easily discernible behind this practice is his lifelong contemplation of Christ in the framework of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.
Love and Serve the Church
And Lanteri is a man who loves and serves the Church. The object of his love is not a theological abstraction, but the real, existing, concrete Church. He is concerned that his teaching never be other than a faithful representation of the teaching of the Holy See toward which he professes a “complete, sincere, and inviolable obedience” (Un’esperienza, 203). The words of the Lord, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me” (Jn 7: 16), reveal to Lanteri a profound attitude in the heart of Christ which he wishes to emulate in his own pastoral practice (Un’esperienza, 142). From this arises his love for and full fidelity to the teaching of the Church by which he understands himself to be sent in his apostolic ministry.
This adherence is his guiding principle in resolving theological debates when they have become divisive and damaging to the faithful. A notable witness here is his solution to the endless and debilitating theological battles in moral theology regarding the absolution of penitents. In responding to the widespread acceptance of rigorist thinking, Lanteri does become one more voice arguing for a personally preferred solution. Rather, he proposes the moral theology of St. Alphonsus because of the Church’s declaration that it is nil censura dignum and therefore may be safely followed. As recent studies have demonstrated, this was the reasoning that would finally dissolve the knot of theological discussion and cause the more balanced Alphonsian moral teaching to prevail.
Love for the Holy Father
His zeal for the Church takes concrete form in his active love for the Holy Father. This was a lifelong disposition which, under the French occupation of Napoleonic years, exposed him to grave personal danger, a danger he knowingly accepted. His attitude toward Church teaching is perhaps best summed up in the phrase of St. Augustine which Lanteri often quotes: “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus charitas.” His work in the spiritual and apostolic formation of the lay leaders of his society seems to anticipate, in some sense, much of what will later be expressed in Lumen Gentium concerning the nature of the Church.
Mary as a Spiritual Mother
From his earliest days, Lanteri was drawn to Mary as a spiritual mother, and feels toward her a “tender love . . . and the confidence of a son” (Un’esperienza, 69). The death of his own mother when he was four provides the background of his statement, late in life, that “I hardly ever knew any other mother than Mary most holy, and I have never received anything but blessings from this Mother, so rich i n goodness” (Gastaldi, 21). Mary provided the essentially maternal element in his life and a deep bond of the heart was established from his family days in Cuneo. In his years as a seminarian Mary becomes also the Lady to whom he totally offers himself by a formal and never forgotten act of dedication, “with a pure, freely chosen and total gift of myself and all I possess, that she may dispose of this according to her good will” ( Un’esperienza, 49).
Antonio Ferrero, one of the first Oblates in Pinerolo and confessor to Lanteri, writes: “He had a deep love for the Virgin Mary . .. he had an extensive collection of books which speak of her and read from them for a few hours every week. He celebrated her novenas and spoke very frequently about her. . . He always wanted a talk given on her whenever the Exercises were given, and he called her his mother, his helper and his paradise” (Positio, 606). The talk on Mary always to be given in preaching the Spiritual Exercises reflects the similar Alphonsian practice.
The solid christological focus of his Marian devotion renders this aspect of Lanteri readily accessible to those who approach him today. After Jesus and never apart from him, Mary is the model whose evangelical virtues he seeks to imitate. Thus he calls his Oblates to “the closest possible imitation of Jesus Christ, whom they propose as their model in every action, together with the example of Mary most holy, their loving Mother” (Un’esperienza, 120).
Lanteri understands the culminating achievement of his life, the foundation of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, to be not his own initiative but, most radically, the work of the Virgin Mary. The name itself of the Congregation clearly reflects his intention that it be fundamentally Marian in nature. He expresses this by calling on his Oblates to tum “often and from the heart to Mary most holy, their principal Foundress” (Un’esperienza, 203). He finds Mary so deeply at the heart of his charism of founder that he can only proclaim this by calling her the true Foundress of the Congregation.