Driving along the main highway that runs from Bologna to Milan, Fr. Giovanni Lotta was taking in the charming scenery of the Italian countryside when he heard a voice. He was all alone in the car but he knew without a doubt that someone or some “thing” was speaking to him from the back seat. Half startled, he adjusted his mirror to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. That’s when he heard the voice again. “Ask for a crucifix.” Fr. Lotta was on his way to visit a close friend who had been suffering from cancer for the past 4 years. He tried to visit him at the same time each week; though something told him that today he would be late.
Pulling off at exit 24, Fr. Giovanni tried to blame his supposed voices to the three cups of coffee he drank earlier in the morning. He knew it wasn’t the coffee or the donut he had for that matter. He also was aware of the sudden urge he had for finding a Church. “Well, here we go!” he thought as he approached a small town looking for signs that would point to the local parish.
Minutes later he parked his car outside San Lorenzo Parish Church and entered through two bronze doors that were at least 600 years old. The inside was a mosaic of frescoes, arches and marbled columns that testified to the devout faith the people of this town had. Yet, Fr. Lotta had no time to contemplate such works of Divine art. Instead he proceeded directly to the sacristy in search of the parish priest.
He found father cleaning up a cabinet and approached him timidly. “Good morning father.” “Why good morning. And what brings you here to San Lorenzo?” the other priest said with a welcoming smile. “Well, father this might sound very awkward but I came to ask you for a crucifix.” The parish priest stared at him perplexedly but then said, “Sure, I think I have a few extras. What size do you need?” Now Fr. Giovanni was puzzled. He didn’t know what size he needed, nor was his voice telling him what to choose. “Any size, I guess.” He blurted out while the other priest went searching into a back room. He came out with a beautiful wooden crucifix which stood about 12 inches high.
“Will this work?” He asked.
“It’s perfect father. Thank you so much!”
“Might I ask one more question?”
“What do you need it for?”
With a friendly grin, Fr. Giovanni looked back at the priest and said, “I’ll tell you when I find out.”
Once again heading north towards Milan, Fr Lotta tried to make up for lost time. As rolling hills and ripe vineyards whizzed past him his thoughts traveled back to his friend. Massimo was diagnosed 4 years ago with an aggressive cancer and was informed then that it was incurable. Though various sessions of chemotherapy had kept him alive, it drained most of his vigor and destined him to lye in a bed for the remainder of his time here on earth. Fr. Giovanni would visit him regularly in hope to bring him a little joy amidst his suffering. Yet, each time he left Massimo’s house, he always wished he could do more for him.
The exit for his friend’s house had finally arrived and as he turned off the highway, he glanced again at the crucifix in the back. “Well, you have your crucifix. Now what do you want me to do with it?” Fr. Lotta asked to no one in the car. Pulling into the driveway father turned off the car, reached for his books and heard another voice. As if a veil just fell uncovering all that was mysterious, Fr. Giovanni understood what he had to do. Taking the crucifix in his right hand, he approached the house and rang the bell.
He was greeted at the door by Massimo’s mother who brought father right up to her son’s room. There he greeted his bed ridden friend and pulled up a chair next to him. After a bit of small talk, Massimo’s mother politely excused herself and left the two alone in their conversation. Shortly after, Fr. Lotta looked long into his friends eyes and said, “Massimo, there is something I want to give you.” He held up the crucifix so that he could see, and went on, “I wanted to give you this crucifix and invite you to unite your suffering with Christ. Whenever you are in pain, think of what it was like for Jesus to be hanging on that cross. When your arms hurt, think about the shooting pain running down Jesus’ arms. When you feel like you cannot move, think about Our Lord who was nailed to a cross, immobile and in pain. When you are frustrated in thinking that you did nothing to suffer like this, look at the crucifix and remember that He did nothing to deserve such a painful death.”
Tears began to well up in Massimo’s eyes as he stared at the cross father was holding.
“There is one more thing I need to ask you.” Fr. Giovanni said in a soft voice. “I have been asked to build a seminary here near Milan. I have no house or land for a building. I have no vocations to fill a seminary. I have no money to purchase anything. And, I have six months to do it. I want to ask you to offer all of your suffering for this intention. Whenever you are in pain, I beg you to offer it up for the future of this seminary.”
“I will.” He said in a whispered voice that was strangled in sobs. Fr. Giovanni lowered the crucifix so that Massimo could kiss it, and then he placed it on the table next to the bed. Before leaving, he gave Massimo his blessing and said a special prayer for him.
As time went on Massimo found meaning to his suffering. He kept a list of intentions on the table next to his bed and would go over them every day. He offered up all his discomforts for the intentions that Fr. Lotta had given him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much longer for God to finally come and carry him to his eternal home. Father Giovanni made several visits to him before then, but he was not able to attend his funeral. On that day, Fr. Lotta was celebrating the inaugural mass in the new seminary that was just built. It was exactly six month after his providential visit with Massimo.
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