A Martyr of the Heart

How can you love Jesus and the Church when as a result of false accusations a prohibition from celebrating Mass was imposed on you for more than 16 years? “Humility and obedience,” answered Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo, an example of a heroic life, and the author of the Jesus, You Take Over! prayer.

The Path to Priesthood

When he was four years old, the Neapolitan Dolindo Ruotolo (1882-1970) had already confided to his mother that he was going to become a priest in Naples, in Southern Italy. However, there was little to indicate that in his adult life he would enter the seminary. One could not question the boy’s piety, so it was not the lack of religious inclination but rather the tragic situation of his family, which jeopardized his future. His father’s despotic and miserly ways forced the family to live in a hovel, consigning them to live in permanent hunger and to wear rags. To this was added physical and psychological violence, with the father waking the children in the middle of the night and beating them or locking them in a dark closet. Dolindo’s situation only changed when at the age of 14 he was accepted to a boarding school run by a missionary congregation. This was where his journey towards the sacrament of Holy Orders began.

“In the humiliation that can destroy a person the human spirit either falls into numbness, or rebels. So the only means is peace, obedience, and maintaining the holy dignity that only the Lord can give” (Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo)

The years of his formation in the community solidified the young man in his conviction of being called to serve God. After his first vows he even wanted to undertake a mission to China, where he wished to give his life for Jesus. In response to his wish, he heard the prophetic words of the order’s overseer: “You will be a martyr, but in your heart, not by shedding your blood. You will stay here, and nothing more will be said about the matter.”

On June 24, 1906, the much longed-for day of ordination for the priesthood arrived. “I felt like a different person. I could feel the holy character of the sacrament of Holy Orders in a way that I can’t put into words,” he later wrote in a diary.

Hard Times

Fr. Dolindo spent his first week of pastoral work in his native Naples, fulfilling the function of a seminary lecturer, as well as a teacher of Gregorian chant. Later – as the result of jealousy and intrigue among his colleagues – he was transferred to Taranto, where he was to assist the new rector of the seminary. Here, however, he experienced not only harassment from the rector (among other things, he was prohibited from giving sermons, and he was forced to do humiliating physical labor in the presence of his subordinates) but also the painful discovery of moral depravity among the seminarians. When he vocally admonished the seminarians, he was moved to a different assignment. This time he went to Molfetta, where he devoted himself to training the seminarians who were there and strengthening them internally. He acknowledged that “It was Jesus who bolstered my soul sacramentally in Molfetta. I spent hours before Him, asking that He Himself should guide the seminary. I didn’t feel that I was up to the task.”

“There is so much that one can learn in suffering, that one should take advantage of those occasions and grow in love” (Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo)

The year 1907 brought the priest the beginning of a real way of the cross, which was to last, on and off, for almost 20 years. It started from the time when a certain Sicilian woman, who contended that she was experiencing supernatural apparitions, was presented to Fr. Dolindo. She additionally claimed that the “Holy Spirit incarnated” in her nephew. After hearing the woman’s confession, he was convinced that the woman was led by God, although he rejected at the same time the possibility that the Holy Spirit was incarnated in the boy. The fact that the priest declined to dissociate himself completely from the visionary woman gave his enemies fuel to fan the flames against him. They began to circulate rumors that he was promoting heresy, and because the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith became interested in this matter pertaining to the woman and the priests who would not denounce her, a very difficult time began for Fr. Dolindo. First, during the time when he was explaining his side of the story, he was divested of his faculties for functioning as a priest (including not having permission to receive Holy Communion), and subsequently, in March of 1908, the hierarchy of his order decided to exclude him from their congregation. For another two and a half years he was engaged in making appeals to the Vatican. Finally the Holy See handed down a decision to send him to the diocese of Rossano, on top of the continuing prohibition from celebrating the Mass.

Extraordinary Graces

For a priest rejected by his congregation and his family, the only solace was God. It was exactly at this time when Fr. Dolindo’s dignity was being so sullied that Jesus began to speak to him: “I will speak to you myself, because there is much that I want you to tell mankind; this will all be transformed into glorification of God, but I need for you to be ready to surrender yourself to Me entirely, and to become My instrument. I will prepare you for this.” The priest received the supernatural gift of bilocation (the ability to exist in two different places at one time), as well as the gift of being visited by angels and later by the Blessed Virgin. Over time the gifts of prophecy and reading souls were also added to these. However, these extraordinary graces which were poured out on Fr. Dolindo did not cause him to fall into pride. On the contrary, he became a true giant of humility.

In the spirit of obedience, Fr. Dolindo accepted all the pain that was designated for him, the most difficult being the prohibition of his receiving the Eucharistic Jesus into his heart. He quietly bore the numerous aspersions of injustice and humiliation which people cast towards him. He did not complain to anyone, and would not allow himself to be provoked. Not only did he not utter a critical word against the Church or any of the people who persecuted him, neither did he permit anybody in his presence to express a negative opinion on the topic. He looked at his experience through the prism of faith. He wrote: “When God calls someone to a new path of faith, He tests him. I would even say that He pushes him in a direction that to our prideful natures may seem unreasonable. That is when we have to deny ourselves and resign from our own ways. If you close your eyes at that point and follow that path, you will overcome yourself, you will go beyond the impasse, and take yourself higher.”

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