The depth of his spiritual life, his constant study of spiritual things, linked to an ever increasing experience in the art of spiritual guidance, caused Lanteri to become a highly effective spiritual director. Already four years after his ordination Diessbach writes to a young priest seeking spiritual assistance: “Lanteri will give you all the help you need, whatever you will ask of him, and be sure that in this way you will be following the voice of God” (Un’esperienza, 83). His closest priestly companion, Giuseppe Loggero, testified that “He was filled with the highest degree of wisdom in guiding souls to holiness” (Positio, 632), and a retreatant, the Marquis de Cavour, father of Camillo de Cavour, affirmed that “God gives him much light to understand and explain things very well” (Un’esperienza, 228).
A telling witness to this activity, the more striking because written by the Director of police in Turin during the Napoleonic occupation, testifies to the amplitude to Lanteri’s spiritual influence in the city. Monsieur d’Auzers writes to his superiors in Paris: “the Abbe Lanteri has a great influence here by means of the confessional. He is one of the most sought out confessors in the city . . . a great number of people, including those from the higher ranks of society, have chosen him as their spiritual director” (Positio, 24).
“Sentite de Deo in bonitate!” This Scriptural verse (Wis. 1:1), often quoted by Lanteri, is a nerve center of his entire spiritual direction. His own personal experience of God and his conviction of what best serves the people in pastoral practice, leads him to tirelessly present a God who is filled with goodness, toward whom we are called to relate with trust and love. To one directee he writes: “We do a great wrong to God when we measure him according to our own limits,” and invites her to “always attribute to him that which is proper to him, that which is most precious to him, that is, to be filled with goodness, merciful, compassionate, a loving Father who knows our weakness, bears with us and forgives us” (Positio, 538-539). This message, tirelessly repeated to all who approached, is all the more telling in the pastoral context of his day when God was so often presented as remote and judging.
A Sense of Hope
And so Lanteri constantly invites people to a sense of hope. His companions tell us that “he had from God the grace of comforting the anxious, giving clarity to those in doubt, joy to those who were sad, and encouraging the hesitating.” Penitents “departed from his confessional filled with consolation.” Again and again he reminds people that discouragement is the greatest obstacle in the spiritual journey, and that they must resist this with energy. The virtue of hope is a wellspring of spiritual growth, as Lanteri affirmed: “It is impossible to hope too much. The one who hopes for everything, obtains everything” And so he “had received grace from God to comfort the fearful, the give clarity to those troubled by doubts, to hearten the downcast, and to encourage the timid” (Positio, 603).
Linked to this sense of hope was his call to constantly ‘begin again,’ summed up in the scriptural phrase ‘nunc coepi’ (Ps 76: 11, Vulgate). His constant use of these words renders them a classically Lanterian expression whose sense is that whenever and however severely we may fall spiritually or morally, nothing is ever lost. In fact, we give the Lord yet a further opportunity to show us mercy. At such moments we “give God the glory of being good and mercifully forgiving with us, as one who never wearies of granting pardon” (Un’esperienza, 77). The one thing that matters is never to give way to discouragement but rather continually to begin again,” so that should I fall even a thousand times a day, a thousand times a day I will begin again” (Positio, 538). Thus he guides people “to serve God with a great and generous heart” (Carteggio, II, 164), to take new initiatives, to consider new possibilities, with courage and energy.
In contrast with much of the pastoral practice of the day, Lanteri calls all who approach him to frequent reception of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the essential ‘channels’ of grace in the spiritual life. Through them comes grace and light; upon them our perseverance depends. In his letters he constantly reminds his directees of this, and invites them to a faithful practice of these two sacraments as the basis of all else.
As already indicated, Lanteri is a firm believer in the importance of the classical practices of personal prayer: meditation, spiritual reading, examen and times of retreat, all of these in accord with the duties of one’s state in life. Meditation is to be planned as much as possible in a concrete way regarding subject matter and time. Spiritual reading is to be done from nourishing books and in a climate of faith, with an open and receptive heart, “attentively and without hurry, pausing on the truths more suitable to our needs and returning from time to time to ourselves and to God” (Carteggio, II, 284). Lanteri’s profound conviction of the importance of reading in the life of faith underlies this teaching. All of this is to be done with “a holy determination” (Carteggio, II, 161), a firm spirit of perseverance.
This kind of direction gradually creates the well-formed, solidly rooted and energetic disciple of the Lord. The Ignatian emphasis on the glory of God is never far from his mind, and he calls all who approach him to promote this by their activity in the world: “I take consolation in seeing you ever more committed to the glory of God, since there is no greater purpose nor one more consoling in this world” (Carteggio, II, 166).