Life & Soul Life and Soul

Why a saintly priest trespassed on the Naples Metro

(Wikimedia)

It was only recently that I discovered the Servant of God Don Dolindo Ruotolo, a Neapolitan priest and a Franciscan tertiary, through his beautiful prayer of surrender to the Divine Will. He was a near contemporary of Padre Pio, who said on meeting Don Dolindo that he “could see paradise in his soul”.

Don Dolindo’s story contains some of the same exceptional signs of sanctity and some of the same no-nonsense spirituality as Padre Pio’s, especially his death in the odour of sanctity in 1970, aged 88, after 65 years as a priest. He was a scholar and mystic, as well as a great pastor, renowned exorcist and spiritual director, who was famed for miraculous cures and healing from spiritual afflictions. In 1940 he published a criticism of some tendencies he discerned in the historical-critical method of biblical scholarship. He also produced his own monumental work of biblical commentary with the aim of making the Scriptures more accessible.

He had a great devotion to our Blessed Lady and described himself as “Mary’s little old priest”. In the last years of his life, afflicted by acute arthritis, partial paralysis and many ailments, he wrote a book on the rosary. He suffered from very severe physical ailments, yet did not let these impede his helping others. When his own sickness was deemed incurable, he wrote a mock prescription which read: “Obedience to the will of God to be taken at all times, with regular doses of Hail Marys.”

Interestingly, references to sickness and death are common in his writings and sayings. When the Naples Metro system was first opened he famously ignored the signs which said, “Do not cross the tracks. Danger of death!” When witnesses asked him why he did this he responded by telling them he didn’t believe it; after all, he hadn’t died, had he? And he would then proceed to point out how some people apply exactly the same logic when the Church says something is a mortal sin – that is, there is a danger of death – and say similarly: “I don’t believe it. After all, nothing has happened to me yet.”

As well as his physical ailments, he lived a life of such extreme poverty that his family disowned him. He was constantly available to the sick and poor. He left a dying promise that anyone needy could knock on his tomb if they needed his help. Increasing numbers of people make their way to the Neapolitan church where he is buried and knock thrice in the name of the Trinity.

The simplicity of what he writes about surrender attracted me. He advises saying regularly 10 times, “Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything.” He provides a kind of dialogue with Jesus in response to this, who says: “But having surrendered, really do surrender, don’t go on worrying and revisiting the issue. Don’t be like a child who asks a parent for something and then goes and tries to get it themselves anyway.”

The human heart is made to surrender to the Lord, but the human psyche fears to give up control. To follow this habit of asking Jesus to take care of everything, and then actually stepping back and letting him, will require many repetitions, I think. But it is actually a very simple way to holiness.