The Mystery of the Cross is everything in the spirituality and life of Blessed Dominic Lentini.
An article of mine
A STRONG SUMMONS FROM BLESSED LENTINI TO THE CROSS
What is it that is lacking in people nowadays and even in believers themselves? Its the Cross, because in the Mystery of the Cross there is everything: there is faith, there is obedience - there is human pain, there is the way of glory. Well then in Blessed Dominic Lentini there was this full awareness of, and participation in the Mystery of the Cross.
The Cross as faith
Nowadays everything must be explained and rationalised. At one time the Mystery of God's existence was not a scandal for human Reason. Indeed Reason was rather pursuing and investigating it with a passion, although erring in its conclusions. The French Revolution is the demarcation line of this ultra secular road of a history without God and of a Reason exalted as an Absolute God. The revolutionary Robespierre invents the statue to the Goddess Reason, and on June 8th in 1794 he erects it in Paris. Much good has come from the revolutionary gains of past centuries and these are not called into question. Perhaps Robespierre's atheism looked only to these results of emancipation from secular slavery which were rooted in history even through the manipulation of the concept of God and the Altar - sustained by the ruling classes. But today that symbolic statue to Reason is adored by everybody and almost everywhere: even inside the Church!
That 8th of June in 1794 was the Feast of Pentecost and a humble priest from our southern Italy was consecrated a Priest: he was Don Domenico Lentini. The life of this priest - which was rich only in his Priesthood - as Pius XI was first to define it and later John Paul II - is not a casual circumstance as far as I am concerned, but rather a divine antiphon. This antiphon replies with its silent psalms to the mistaken ways of the prodigal son of present day history.
Lentini's life is not made up of great deeds, but his faith in God is great. In a world, which is already full of false prophets, Lentini is the humble little Elijah of our South who cries out in Lauria and its surroundings about the Truth of the Gospel and about coming back to God. His habit of going to St.Elijah' tiny church on the Armo slope above Lauria meant just this: to invoke St. Elijah in order to be faithful and strong like St.Elijah, just as his biographer Pisani says (ref. page 38) he was : that new Elijah who was full of ineffable zeal. And it will always be like this for him. God before all is the theme of his preaching. Faith dominates in his sermons. His testament to his beloved people of Lauria is the invitation to be watchful and not lose the faith. Thus it was that his last exit from, and return to, his house before he died was a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in Lower Lauria. On his way he met Mr Michele Messuti in the vicinity of the Cappuchin Friary and told him: "Brother, sad and troublesome times will come. Watch out for the faith, be vigilant. From here, from there, from all sides the Generalissimo will come. (editor: such as from Lauria's upper precints with Calabria - from the Galdo district to Alte Coste). Brother, let ye be steadfast - be firm in the Faith" (Pisani, see page 110). Pisani says later on page 123 about those who went to visit him on the days before his death: "In his first few words he usually asked them these questions: Are you a roman apostolic catholic? Are ye ready to shed blood for the faith of Christ? Do you believe therefore in the holy Gospel? And after their reply in the affirmative he would answer back: Blessed, you are blessed, you will all be saints; and then he used make on some of them a sign of the cross on their foreheads, and then he recited the Creed.
The Cross as obedience
Christ's Religion is not only faith and worship, but it is par excellence the Religion of Obedience to the Divine Will. In the Scroll of the Book, which is God's eternal Constitution for Man, this alone is written: "Holocausts and sacrifices for sin thou hast not desired. Then I said: Behold I have come - as it stands written of me in the scroll of the book - to do thy will, O God" (Heb. 10, 5). And Christ taught obedience and was obedient even unto death on a Cross. The Cross is the seal of the Religion of Obedience to God.
Lentini makes it his motto to his superiors: "Obedience to Superiors is my motto". He summons everyone to it and points out the spread of disobedience to God as the greatest scandal to believing Mohammedans: "O God! Ubi est catholica fides? (Where is the Catholic Faith?) The Turks say to us: where? - where is today's faith of the Christians? "These pretend to believe the Jesus Christ is in their churches, as glorious as he is in Heaven at the Father's right hand, and afterwards they are there in church with so much irreverence, so much immodesty? This is what the Turks tell us: when we are in Mecca, in the Mosque of the great Prophet, in our Mohammed's temple - we are face downwards with the utmost respect, keeping our eyes well closed and tongue sealed in our mouth in order not to see and look in his presence. And Christians? The Christians look around in church; laugh in church and make even love in church: Ubi est lex immaculata, quam iactant? (Where is the immaculate law which they throw away?) Where is that law, the Turks throw back in in our face, which the Christians boast about as immaculate and pure? They are more robbers than us, because we do not engage in usury/interest contracts....."
Lentini does not accept any compromise when it is a matter dealing with fidelity to the Gospel and God. Facing politics and a Revolution which creates factions and disorder he goes through the streets with his Crucifix and lifts it up crying out: "Here is the glorious tree of our Redemption, the tree of man's ransom: this tree alone we must adore" (Pisani:- page 60). Thus it is in 1799 and his position about taking the oath to the new (Italian) Constitution is no less steadfast, but very current nowadays. He does not sign a blank cheque but rather: "I swear fidelity to God and to the King, but for God I would shed blood" (Pisani, cit. page 87). As if to say: "I respect the State and its laws so long as they are not against the Faith, which I am ready to defend with my blood." And to translate this into the current controversy between the Bishops and the Political Parties as to the constitutionality of the legal proposal regarding assisted fertilization, Lentini in the position of Hon. Marini, the Secretary of the PPI (Peoples Party of Italy), would never have said: "We have only signed for the constitutionality of the law" . For the Christian, when one is dealing with life, compromises do not exist because compromise does not come from God. And, when one cannot convince the others to whom one is tied, one responds with the coherence of the martyr. And nowadays, Pope John Paul II tells us, there is need for the faith of martyrs.
We all have to meditate on Lentini's summons to the "Cross as obedience". And even you the reader - who say you are very devoted to Lentini - can you say in conscience that you are not touched by it? Be aware that Lentini knows you and begs you as he did to Antonia Faraco, his penitent: " I leave you, daughter, I am leaving you. Do not forget to love Jesus Christ, you had better not offend me. For charity's sake I beg you not to be lost, if you do not want me to accuse you before God's throne when you will have to give an account of your soul". (Pisani page 107).
The Cross as pain
Pain is sickness, social deprivation, poverty: that is to say it is an abnormal state both physical and social. Why is this so? We take this up with God and try to get out of these physical ailments by going here hither and thither in search of "so-called saints" and healers, and even of those social contacts which fall into illegal and delinquent forms. Pain is the great difficulty or snag that few Christians today are able to overcome because it is inhuman and irrational. Its origin lies in sin and the Cross is the way out. If we take away sin, that is if we obey God - we will see God's blessing. But this has to pass through the innocent blood of the Cross. In fact it is this absurdity of the suffering of many innocent ones and of masses of poor - which is mixed in with the Christ of the Cross in order to ransom everybody from evil and death.
Lentini chooses poverty and goes poor in order to be rich with God and full of love for his brethren. The rich man never knows the beauty of charity if he does not detach himself from things and the love of riches.
Even Lentini was touched by suffering and he accepts it and mixes it in with the suffering of the Cross. The loss of his Mother and afterwards his father, difficulties of living with his brother who was called Samson, and periods of illness keep him away both from school and from preaching which he loved so much. He accepts everything for love of God. One does not find written about him as about Padre Pio: "Lord, take everything away from me, but not suffering". But he says so with his life and teaches it to the sick. When he went to visit them he consoled them and asked them to contemplate Our Lady of Sorrows so that they might see themselves reflected in Mary's pain.
Lentini will not be content in heaven to see that nowadays his dear sick are no longer able to look at the Cross. And he feels himself betrayed by his people who welcome in this land - which was illuminated by his word and holy life - the ever new Jannes and Jambres (ref. 2Tim: 3,8) or healers of Satan, just like Francesco, from Brindisi, who is erecting the Hill of Hope in Lauria's Galdo district. One should remember that the only miracle which liberates from evil and death comes from God. Let us fight death like Christ and with Christ and only when we are armed in Christ with pain and death shall we conquer pain and death with Him. Our Hill of Hope is called Calvary because only there was the Cross of Hope planted.
The Cross as road of Glory
Calvary together with the Mother of Sorrows becomes Lentini's masterly road to become holy and participate with Mary at Jesus' Cross. In Christ the Resurrection cames through the Cross. It is thus for each one of us. The Cross nevertheless is not a faraway matter, rather it is a living one - and goes with us - and even thanks to us. If the world is hurtling along and falls more and more into worse evils, it is because living participation in Jesus' living Cross has disappeared. The Childbirth of the New Man, of which St.Paul talks, passes through the atrocious labour pains of childbirth: the Presence of Jesus' Suffering in every person. In the measure in which the believer enters heartily into the Heart of the Cross, he approaches the promised kingdom of peace and love more and more .
Well then Lentini is totally within the Heart of the Cross. He is madly in love with it. Only someone madly in love with the Cross does what I call the madness of Trecchina, where Lentini - not satisfied with the preaching he did about the Passion - continues it outside in the streets of that little town - with the crucifix held high and preaching. This was due to his anxiety to reach whoever was not in church, but also it was his being together with the Heart of the Cross which he knew was present in many homes. He wanted to embrace the suffering of the people of Trecchina because it was the living and martyred flesh of the real Christ of the Liturgical Mystery lived out in the church.
On the 15th of September 1997, while preaching in St. Nicholas, I said that Lentini is a Living Good Friday . And he knows that one can live in Good Friday only by looking at Mary and standing with Mary at the foot of the Cross, but it is better to say: within the Heart of the Cross. This is the little great Priest of Pentecost on June 8th 1794: not the Priest of Conferences or books, but the Priest prostrate at the Cross in adoration, contemplation, reparation. If any of us Priests wants to speak about Lentini, let him beforehand contemplate him and kneel down before his Crucifix in his Little House because the Crucifix was his book: "There were few books there (in his house), just the pictures of Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Francesco of Paola, the Crucifix, two skulls" and such poverty! Today Lentini asks us to imitate him - not so much to make him known - but to live and carry like he did the Living One of the Cross.
Nobody knows how many hours Lentini contemplated the Crucifix. I believe it was a good part of his day. To console Christ was not just a devotion for him but a way of life: his living was Christ and Christ Crucified. He knows how much contemplation of the Cross served for the conversion of sinners and reparation for the sins of others and he does it and feels like engaging others in that little Chain of the 30 of Our Lady of Sorrows, who pledged themselves to pray once a month to the Mother of Sorrows. This Sodality today, since its rebirth on 2/2/89, is 3,000 strong and is dispersed throughout the world and especially in our own Southern Italy in order to elevate Lentini's name and with Lentini to raise up a heartfelt daily contemplation of the Mother of a Thousand Sorrows in order to console her and jointly to console the Heart of her Crucified Son.
May Blessed Lentini make us understand and become children of the Cross, like we say in the prayer of Consecration to the Cross in our Sodality to Our Lady of Sorrows:
"Today we sacrifice ourselves like him for the conversion of sinners and the sanctity of Priests, so that the Church may be enriched by his model of life and may follow him in his total participation in the Mystery of the Cross".
(This is a preview of an article requested from me by Don Giuseppe Cozzi, the Director of "The Voice of Lentini" )
'A voice in the wilderness'
Don Mario Riccio