Venerable Father Lodovico Longari, Blessed Sacrament Priest
The Venerable, FR. LODOVICO LONGARI, was born in 1889 at Mondine (Cremona), the eleventh child of his Christian parents. He entered the Seminary of Crema at the age of twelve (1900). In 1912 he was ordained to the priesthood and was appointed a secretary to his Bishop. Soon afterward he came into contact with the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and, attracted by the spirituality of St. Peter Julian Eymard, he entered the novitiate. Meanwhile, the First World War broke out and he was called to arms as a Private attached to a medical corps at the front line, where he remained until the armistice was signed in 1918. In 1920 he made his profession of religious vows in the Spanish novitiate where he had spent the two years following the conclusion of the war. He then returned to Italy where he was given the charge of setting up the seminary of the Congregation, temporarily located at Lodigiano. From 1923 to 1935 he was at Ponteranica, in the diocese of Bergamo, where he dedicated himself to the formation of the young religious, first as Director of Students, then as Master of Novices. In 1934 he was appointed Provincial, and in 1937 he became Superior General, a position he held for twelve years. He then returned to being Master of Novices at Ponteranica (Bergamo) in the house of formation which he had opened and which he loved so much. There he died on 17 June 1963.
The Influence of his Family
The Bishop of the diocese of Crema, Bishop Libero Tresoldi, made an appropriate observation when he said: “The primary source for understanding the Servant of God is the example given by his family”. The activity of the Holy Spirit began to exert its influence upon him through the faith and deep Christian life of a family and a community which, although small and unknown, affected him profoundly. The eleventh child of parents who daily participated in the Eucharist and recited the Holy Rosary, he learned from them his first acts of Eucharistic worship and his love for the Holy Virgin.
Along with these exemplary parents he also found, in his sister Teresa, a wise and gentle teacher who instilled in him a passion for the Eucharist and a loving acceptance of the holy Will of God.
And then there was his parish community where – as the Bishop attested – “still today the Eucharist and devotion to the Madonna are the inspiring central elements of a rich Christian life.” These then are still the true values which, even under quite different circumstances, can inspire every family today.
The Primacy of Love
The particular characteristic that we can immediately see in the Servant of God is that of being a witness and apostle of a spirituality that brings about an expansion of the spirit through love, a love that is an experience of the personal, intimate love of God. He became aware of that love, became intoxicated with it, and became the communicator of it through his words and his life. Both nature and grace favoured him with gifts that allowed him to contribute to the coming of that new civilisation of love which the Church looks forward to.
Some pages of his writings, composed when he was still quite young, help us to see this: “The Lord has particularly given to me a very sensitive heart because he wants me to be holy. Holiness is LOVE. How Jesus tortured me with his Love! To the extent that I could no longer resist and had to surrender… Before the good Jesus, I accepted defeat… So, Jesus wants me to be holy, but always warmed by his Love.” So, he became a pupil at the school of Jesus: “In the final analysis, the book studied by the saints was Jesus Christ himself. They learned true wisdom, not at the school of the wise, not in dusty libraries, but on their knees in prayer at the foot of a Crucifix, covering with kisses and tears the feet of the Divine Master”.
The choice of the religious life was for him “like a second baptism. I will enter into the true life of the love of Jesus… into the vocation of love, of joy, of the happiness of Paradise… Jesus has looked down upon me, has loved me, has said to me: come, I will give you shelter, bread… I love you because I want to love you…”. He pours out his heart; words and feelings grow and intermingle with one another. He speaks of the Eucharist, he speaks of purity and of openness. He lets himself become attracted by the Bread and the Cross. His words reveal flashes of mysticism. They conclude with an invitation of Jesus: “Let yourself be consumed by my love”. It is on this foundation that his spiritual life was built…
A Personal Life Completely “Permeated by the Eucharist”
His encounter with the Apostle of the Eucharist, St. Peter Julian Eymard, determined the direction his life took, the centre of his spirituality, the source of his life. “The Eucharist is what my heart needs. Without the Eucharist life would be impossible”.
The directing of his thoughts and his prayer towards the Eucharist became constant in his life and continued to grow, simplifying all his spiritual activity. In the light of the Eucharist, he saw in a new way all the great mysteries of salvation: the creation, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the miracles of Jesus, the Resurrection. It was towards the Eucharist that he directed his meditations on the priesthood, on charity, on humility. From it, he drew the strength to be able to confront suffering, trials, difficulties, responsibilities. He saw the Eucharist as a real Presence of the Lord, given in order to be adored. With a living faith, he related the worship of the Eucharist to the four ends of sacrifice: adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, petition.
Evidently, there was not yet the breadth and the richness of the eucharistic doctrine of Vatican Council II: he was a man of his time. However, his intense relationship to the Eucharist, permeated with faith and love, was continually echoed in his words and nourished with a life of prayer and adoration, whether, as during the First World War and stationed at the front line, he knelt before an ostensorium set up in his tent, or whether, at a later stage, he was caught up with the thousand and one daily preoccupations and continuous travel imposed on him by his duties as Superior General.
His manner was not that of a theologian who intellectually develops the doctrinal riches of revealed mysteries, but rather that of a spiritual man who communicates by the example of his own life, by the force of a love aroused by the contemplation of faith, and by the witness given by a life shaped by the divine.
His life, directed towards the Eucharist, burst forth into the flame of an apostolate which we can observe in three main contexts: in the governing of his religious family, in the formation of young religious and in his work for the sanctification of priests.
Superior of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation
His gift of possessing a firm, but kind, paternal nature, allied with an understanding of the hearts of others, soon proved to be valuable for the direction of communities. Hence, we see him first as a local Superior, then Provincial and finally Superior General of the entire Institute.
The servant of God accepted the cross of responsibility, with much personal suffering, in a difficult time of transition from a centralised government to a division into provinces, carrying it out tactfully and with the gift of being broad-minded in his outlook.
He took his inspiration from the example of the Founder, whose teaching he passed on to others and whose spirit he renewed, updating it to the time and interpreting it in a way that corresponded to his own particular gifts. How desirable he made the Eucharistic vocation by his enthusiasm to be a part of the Blessed Sacrament family: “Our vocation is truly a beautiful one, beautiful like the beauty of Jesus, gentle like the gentleness of Jesus, warm like the love of Jesus, spotless like the spotless sacred Host!”
He considered the Blessed Sacrament family to be a gift which God had given to the Church in an era that was lacking in warmth, in order to make the Eucharist central, to bring it out of the tabernacle by means of solemn exposition, in a movement which had already led to Eucharistic Congresses and, under the Pontificate of Pius X, to the promotion of frequent communion, the communion of children and the cult of perpetual exposition with day and night adoration by the faithful. And how much he worked to bring in vocations and open up the Congregation to expansion with twenty-eight foundations of new houses in fourteen nations and in mission countries. But above all, he sought passionately that the Congregation might live its spirit with a great fervour of prayer and fidelity to Eucharistic adoration. For the family of Eymard, first in Italy and then throughout the world, he was like a breath of Spring.
A Formator of Youth
He was involved in the formation of young religious for many years; first, from 1920 to 1931 and then from 1949 until his death. His method, like that of St. John Bosco, was to lead them by example and to arouse enthusiasm, presenting the beauty of the ideal and giving them a taste of the Lord’s love, a fascination for virtue and for that total gift which responds to the needs of the hearts of the young.
The testimony that has been given about his method of formation is quite considerable. “He won us over with his sensitivity and tenderness. He possessed a temperament that was more inclined towards kindness than towards severity. And the kindness became more evident at certain moments, especially after his Mass in the morning or after his hours of adoration…” Though teaching the young to practice self-denial there always shone forth in him the primacy of love.
“He was a humane, understanding, thoughtful Superior; he enjoyed recreations, laughter. His love was manifested above all by his attention to the younger ones, to those who were suffering, to whoever was in some difficulty”.
“He urged whoever was tired to take some rest; he encouraged them, was concerned about the health of others; he took an interest in the food, in the conditions under which they lived, he was attentive to those who collaborated with him; he was ready to help in any family problems they had”. He preferred a gentle style of government and aimed more at convincing a person and making him understand rather than being domineering.
A Special Concern for Priests
The Servant of God had a particular charism for priests, the “multipliers” as the Founder considered them to be. He loved them, he helped them to open themselves to the Lord, to be happy in their particular calling. In his ministry, he always showed preferential concern for priests. Innumerable were the retreats he preached to priests throughout the whole of Italy, both in religious Institutes and in Seminaries; we find on the list Benedictines, Basilians, Dehonians, De Montfort Fathers, Trappists; among the Seminaries there was that of Rome as well as Propaganda Fide, Venegono, Molfetta, Bergamo. He kept returning to the need for prayer and love for God. He spoke of the Eucharist from the abundance of his heart and found the opportunity to mention it in every theme he dealt with. “To my recollection, I do not remember having ever heard sermons like those of Father Longari, with such piety and doctrine, permeated, almost perfumed, with the Eucharist…”. And even more than through his words, he communicated through his very physical presence.
An anonymous witness, a priest, described him in these words: “His physical appearance was that of one who calms you, comforts you, making you enter into yourself as if in order to examine your conscience; it was like an invitation to imitate him. There emanated from him something that is difficult to define but which acted upon you through irradiation, through osmosis. It was a presence, a witness. His words were an expression of his very being from which they drew their forcefulness. His face was calm and radiant, his gaze always peaceful and clear, turned towards the here and now but at the same time directed towards the future…”. And he continued his description with an expressive analogy: “He was a priest, an adorer, but like someone who by nature seems to have been born a poet or an aviator!”
In his final years, when he could no longer move around, he did not cease his contact with priests, but would paternally welcome them when they came to see him; many came who were going through periods of trial or were in need of enlightenment, for the most part directed to him by the Bishop of Bergamo. The cure he offered them: to live their Eucharistic celebration as the central moment of each day. And as a key, a prescription: “Sense the need of letting God take possession of your heart!”.
“He Brought a Sense of Loy to the Eucharist”
It was the Bishop of Bergamo, Bishop Giulio Oggioni, who with this expression summarised the activity of the Servant of God in his diocese. It seems significant to us and can be extended beyond the diocese to some difficult periods in his life when his zealous work was interrupted but he continued to manifest this joy.
When already a priest and a Blessed Sacrament religious he spent the period of the First World War at the front line as a soldier attached to a medical corp. We can imagine the difficulties and the dangers. But he remembered that time as among the most beautiful periods of his life. He lived it as a priest. He transformed his narrow hut into a chapel; in the morning, an early Mass and then Exposition for an hour of adoration. His kitbag served as a tabernacle, but adorned with flowers and candles… All around him was destruction: holes caused by unexploded shells, the smell of blood and the whistling of bullets. We can imagine the tiring work of attending to the wounded, helping to transport them to hospital, burying the dead. On one occasion he took care of a Major whom his companions wanted to throw into a ditch because he was so seriously wounded that he had no hope of living. He forcefully opposed this action. The moral attitude around him consisted of jeers and contempt for priests. This information came from his companions. From himself, there came only remarks such as these: “How much peace and security in the heart! Thank you, Jesus, for the Eucharist! For your love! Help us to use profitably the eucharistic talent you have entrusted to us. ”
He experienced the other war, the Second World War, as Superior General. When, after 18 September 1943, it was impossible for him to visit the houses, he made use of the opportunity to accept the requests for preaching engagements. There were many requests; his simple and persuasive manner gained entrance into hearts. To consecrated souls, he traced out the ways of living a life of generosity. Many monasteries and convents sought his help. He made their hearts expand. He used to say: “before proposing reforms, first arrange your hearts in peace”.
This was his style of preaching, also towards the neediest of the people, those he came into contact with during the “forty hours” devotions which he often animated. Here his “joyfulness” had a preferred subject: the merciful love of Jesus, because “from love he has made a sacrament, the Eucharist”. “We must be ministers of mercy”. And he used an example to persuade them: “If someone discovers that her new and beautiful dress has become torn, she regrets it very much. But if over the mended tear, a skilful embroiderer embroiders a most beautiful flower to cover it, then the dress becomes even more beautiful and acquires greater value. Let us allow Jesus to embroider his flower over our mistakes”.
We can summarise his exhortations as follows. For those who were most in need of pardon: “Acknowledge your wretchedness and then trust completely in his mercy”. For all souls: “Our life is a blank page on which the Lord unceasingly writes one word: LOVE”. In this way, he opened his heart to all.
A Man of the Church
“A Saint does not live for himself alone: he is a wonderful gift of God for his Church and for his brothers”. These words were said by St. Peter Julian Eymard.
What sort of person then was our Servant of God? He can be portrayed above all as one who was profoundly a man of the Church for the needs of our time.
He accepted in the depths of himself the teaching of the Church and communicated it with great fidelity.
A devoted son of Pope Pius XII, he often requested a personal audience when he had some grave problem.
He confided a secret to his sister: “For some time I have felt the inspiration to do this: this month I sent a letter to the Supreme Pontiff in which I humbly begged him to accept my poor life for the good of the Catholic Church and for the comfort of his heart as Vicar of Christ. I cannot explain to you the joy of my spirit in that action”.
The period in which he lived was both complex and glorious for the Church. It was an era of great contrasts: on one hand the surprising scientific and technical progress: on the other hand, a considerable obscurity regarding moral obligations brought about by the loss of a clear awareness of the presence of God. But then there appeared that blessing which was the Council and what a surprise it was. Our Servant of God lived through the beginnings of the Council though he was not able to enjoy its fruits nor enter into the new climate of pastoral and liturgical life. He died after the end of the first session, in June 1963, barely a fortnight after the death of Pope John.
What is his relevance for us today? It is to have prepared souls, building on firm foundations those dispositions that bring about a docile and faithful acceptance, teaching them to live by faith, by obedience, by love for the Church, so as to have an openness of soul towards the events of history seen as the will of God and to keep themselves in an atmosphere of inner freedom and peace in the face of all human situations. Those who have come to a knowledge of themselves from his teaching have been able to accept events and changes as gifts, in a supernatural light. God is wonderful in the way he sends precursors to prepare his ways! We are confident that from heaven he will continue to help us through his intercession. Also, in this lies his relevance for us today!
I would like to express my best wishes and encouragement to Father Postulator of the Cause of Beatification of the Servant of God, Fr. Lodovico Longari, so that he can make him better known among the faithful.
It is a task well-deserving since it will also amplify the ideal and spirit of our Saintly Founder, Peter Julian Eymard.
Since the Servant of God was the Superior General of the Congregation, I would hope that all of our communities would cooperate in making him known to the faithful in the various countries of the world.
Fr. Norman B. Pelletier, sss
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