Many witnesses remark on the impact of his presence alone. To meet the priest Lanteri was to be inspired and energized in the life of faith. Of his visit to the Aa of Chambery in 1787 one who encountered him writes, “He has given new life to our beloved Aa by his presence alone” (Un’esperienza, 86). And another: “We have seen with our own eyes all that you said to us about how edifying our beloved Lanteri is, and it was readily apparent that grace has not worked in vain in him” (ibid , 87). Enrico Simonino, one of the early Oblates, testified from personal experience that “it was impossible to spend any time with him without feeling oneself grow in fervor for the service of God” (Positio, 614).
This effect on others was the fruit of continual prayer and of study in matters of the spiritual life. Training under a master, Fr. Diessbach, intensive reading, and frequent experience in giving the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises made him a master of this spirituality, able to personally live of its richness and teach it effectively to others.
A similar effort led to a like mastery of Alphonsian writing and spirituality. His writings reveal a close familiarity with the writings of St. Bonaventure, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales, Bossuet, Fenelon and many others, including a broad range of secondary spiritual literature. Lanteri appears as a man who mind is steeped in Catholic spiritual tradition, and whose heart lives this truth with impassioned energy. This study would be a continual part of his nearly fifty years of priestly ministry, and he will ask of his Oblates that, after prayer itself, it be “the principal concern of their heart” (Un’esperienza, 141).
A strikingly evident characteristic of his spirituality, thoroughly Ignatian in tone, is his constant search for spiritual awareness. His personal writings abound with references to the two Ignatian examens, the general and the particular, and to a third which he calls the ‘individual’ examen, a “simple and peaceful’ look at each major action upon its conclusion, to see it in the light of God. He regularly sets aside one day a month for personal retreat, and often a block of several hours weekly simply to review his activities and to determine how to employ with increasing effectiveness his apostolic energies.
The lack of this spiritual awareness is, for Lanteri, the root of all spiritual impoverishment, and of all significant and sustained moral failure. This absence of reflection on the truths of the faith that the Christian accepts at least in words, is the great spiritual indigence Lanteri wishes to address, whether in himself or in others. Thus the great importance of regular meditation on these truths, a meditation that moves not only the mind but arouses love in the heart. Thus also his sense of the urgent need for the Ignatian Exercises both as private retreats and in the more public setting of the parish mission: there is no more apt instrument to instruct the mind and move the heart to reform and active love of God. They are a “sure method by which all can become saints, great saints, and quickly” (Un’esperienza, 248), provided only that the recipient persevere in the gift given during the days of the retreat.
Lanteri is eminently practical in his personal spiritual proposals, and in his direction of others. The two words ‘method and fidelity’ often appear together in his writings: “I propose never to omit my meditation, and always to do it with method and fidelity,” and again, “I propose with regard to Communion to prepare . .. to do all with method and fidelity” (Un’esperienza, 63-64). There is nothing vague about what he sets out to do, his personal prayer, his practice of the sacraments, his effort to grow in virtue, etc. He takes counsel and time to plan a suitable method in regard to each, and then sets out to be faithful to what he has determined. Constant examen and spiritual direction provide the framework for continuing fidelity and adaptation of the method as he progresses spiritually.
A strong living faith is the motivation of all else in Lanteri and the only explanation of his life. A companion writes: “His faith? His whole life was a life of faith. He spoke of faith with such deep conviction and such a wealth of considerations that he reawakened or increased it in all who listened to him” (Positio, 602). From this faith a core spiritual trait of Lanteri emerges: a boundless thirst, a sober and yet powerful desire for God and the things of God: “O zeal, impassioned zeal, what will you not undertake?” (Gastaldi, 457). He is a man whose will is unshakably focused on the ‘one thing’ necessary.
He aims to “always think, speak and act as the saints” (Un’esperienza, 64), with a profound sense that his priestly vocation requires this of him, that he has “the same reasons which the saints had” for this (Un’esperienza, 66). He will not let discouragement, the passage of years, or anything else diminish this fundamental purpose and, as a consequence, will steadily grow in a life of deep holiness and union with God.
Thus the centrality of prayer in his life. The starting point (not yet the culmination) here is daily fidelity to personal meditation. Mental prayer “is as necessary for our soul and the souls of those we serve as is the bread which nourishes our bodies,” an “abundant, serious, constant and willingly made” meditation (Gastaldi, 431). His prayer is nourished by the Scriptures, the Fathers, and a wide selection of substantial spiritual authors, especially of an Ignatian bent. His meditation is carefully prepared, the time faithfully set apart, and his energies generously applied within the prayer. Upon its conclusion he reviews it attentively and seeks then to carry its grace into the activity of the day (Un’esperienza, 64-65).
Union with the Lord
As the years pass, Lanteri’s personal prayer continues to simplify and gradually resolves in a cry of the heart: “Jesu bone, sitio te,” or more simply yet, “Sitio,” a thirst for an ever deepening union with the Lord (Positio, 606). Those closest to him testify that he experienced a high degree of infused contemplation. His disciple and close associate Luigi Craveri, speaking of Lanteri’s protracted prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and extensive reading of St. Bonaventure during his years of exile in the Grangia, writes: “I do not doubt that his soul reached the highest levels of contemplation, and I have seen that with great ease he was able to discern the degrees and the nature of such prayer” (Positio, 623).
He is irresistibly drawn to Christ in the Eucharist. Devout celebration of Mass and the visit to the Blessed Sacrament were daily spiritual element of his entire life. As one disciple who knew him well affirms, “The vivacity of his faith was visible in the expression of his face as he spent long hours in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament where he often recited the Divine Office and meditated at length” (Positio, 621). His years of forced exile from Turin (1811-1814) and the last months of his life (1830) were times of especially intense and almost uninterrupted Eucharistic adoration.
Lanteri became himself a living witness to the goodness and gentleness of God that he so often proclaimed to others. Apparently this did not come naturally and was the fruit of constant effort. In his early years of priesthood especially, we find repeated application to acquiring the gentleness of Christ and this was often the subject of his particular exam. He aims to be “joyful, compassionate, yielding in all that is not offensive to God, gentle and humble of heart” in his dealings with others (Un’esperienza, 66). Those who approached him found him to be “gentle, persuasive and above all very kind” (Positio, 66). It is not difficult to understand why such great numbers sought his confessional and spiritual guidance, and why he was able to “win over even the most resistant hearts” (Gastaldi, 171)
He is a man alive with apostolic desires, with his eyes ever open to the culture and world in which he lives, searching without ceasing for ways of promoting ‘the glory of God.’ This zeal is “never wearied,” it “cannot bear to be limited” and “will not endure half-measures.” It is an “interior fire that inclines to good” (Gastaldi, 457). One can only marvel at the apostolic achievements on a local and European scale of this man. He was called in truth a man ‘with a hundred arms,’ ever promoting the work of the Church in many directions, present to the heart of intellectual and political culture of his day. The appreciation of his accomplishment deepens when one considers the unending and debilitating physical infirmities which stood in his way.
Lanteri spends hours in the confessional and is open to receiving penitents at all hours of the day. Great numbers of clergy, religious and laity come to him for spiritual direction, and many others he reaches through the numerous letters of encouragement he writes. He dedicates himself to the formation of the members of the Friendship organizations, lay people well-placed and able to affect the course of society, young priests and seminarians. His endless reading makes him a master of classical and contemporary theological writing, able to indicate with precision the value and limitations of writing concerning the faith. He assists the Holy Father in his time of need, promotes the publication and spread of the Moral Theology of St. Alphonsus, and finds ways to support the missions of the Church in the New World. He gives himself, and trains many others to give the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. Located at the heart of the events and culture of his own nation, he is endlessly creative in promoting new initiatives for the glory of God.