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Blessed Padre Pio

by Rev . Fr. Jean, O.F.M., CAP.

Padre Pio (May 25, 1887-September 23, 1968) is due to be canonized on June 16, 2002, by the Roman Catholic Church. He is the only priest known to have received the full stigmata. He never celebrated the Novus Ordo Missae.

This dying, decaying century will see the canonization of Blessed Padre Pio, the holy friar whom God sent as a sign for our age. For, while everyone wants to make us believe in a new “charismatic” Church, strangely we do not find there any wonder-working saints like the ones we meet throughout the Church’s history starting with Pentecost. Padre Pio seems to close the procession of their number, doing so magnificently, being the only priest to have borne the stigmata of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Much has been written about Padre Pio — more than 600 works, it seems — and the authors always stress the extraordinary side of his life: not only his particular charisms (reading souls, healing, raising people from the dead, bilocating, ecstasies, exuding perfume, prophesying, etc.), but also the incredible sufferings which he endured from his earliest childhood, the persecutions undergone from some churchmen and even brothers in religion, as well as his two great charitable works: the founding of the House of Suffering, and prayer groups.

In short, they present him to us as a “saint” more to be admired than imitated, so that, ultimately, we miss the most interesting lessons to be learned from this life, and the practical applications that could transform our own. We shall try, therefore, however imperfectly, to set forth a few of these lessons, hoping that we shall all be able to profit from them, and that the Padre, from high Heaven, will himself succor us, as he has promised to those who would like to become his “spiritual children”.

At the dawn of this life totally sacrificed to God and to souls, there is to be found a pious, poor and numerous family, where the abnegation of each member softens and transforms the harsh realities of daily life. Here we see confirmed the saying of Msgr. de Segur that it is in families where the spirit of sacrifice is lacking that vocations are most at risk. Baptized the day after his birth — a grace for which he was grateful all his life — Padre Pio was christened Francesco, presage of his Franciscan vocation, which was to be discovered on the occasion of a visit from a Capuchin monk begging food for the friary. Even so, his vocation was not decided without struggle:

“I felt two forces clashing within me, tearing my heart: the world wanted me for itself, and God called me to a new life. It would be impossible to describe this martyrdom. The mere memory of the battle that took place within me freezes the very blood in my veins...”

He was not yet 16 years old when he entered the novitiate. Above the door of the cloister, as a welcome, he read the sign: “Do penance or perish.” The daily rule of life included very many prayers, enough work, and little reading, being restricted especially to the study of the Rule and the Constitutions.

Brother Pio made himself conspicuous by the abundance of the tears he shed during the morning period of mental prayer, which in Capuchin houses is consecrated to the meditation on the Passion; tears so abundant that it was necessary to spread a towel in front of him on the floor of the choir. As with St. Francis, it was to this loving and compassionate contemplation of Jesus crucified that he was to owe the grace to receive later on the painful stigmata in his body. Even so, as he confided to his spiritual director, Fr. Agostino: “In comparison to what I suffer in my flesh, the spiritual combats that I endure are much worse.”

Spiritual Director

Padre Pio overcame his spiritual combats by following what had been taught him in the novitiate: perseverance in prayer, mortification of the senses, unshakable fidelity to the demands of one’s duty of state, and, finally, perfect obedience to the priest in charge of his soul. His painfully acquired experience allowed him to draw to himself souls desirous of perfection, and to be demanding.

To the souls he directed, he gave a five-point rule: weekly confession, daily communion and spiritual reading, examination of conscience each evening and mental prayer twice a day. As for the recitation of the Rosary, it is so necessary it goes without saying ...

“Confession is the soul’s bath. You must go at least once a week. I do not want souls to stay away from confession more than a week. Even a clean and unoccupied room gathers dust; return after a week and you will see that it needs dusting again!”

To those who declare themselves unworthy to receive holy Communion, he answers:

“It is quite true, we are not worthy of such a gift. However, to approach the Blessed Sacrament in a state of mortal sin is one thing, and to be unworthy, quite another. All of us are unworthy, but it is He who invites us. It is He who desires it. Let us humble ourselves and receive Him with a heart contrite and full of love.”

To another, who told him that the daily examination of conscience seemed useless, since his conscience showed him clearly at each action whether it was good or bad, he replied:

“That is true enough. But every experienced merchant in this world not only keeps track throughout the day of whether he has lost or gained on each sale; in the evening, he does the bookkeeping for the day to determine what he should do on the morrow. It follows that it is indispensable to make a rigorous examination of conscience, brief but lucid, every night.

“The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder ... What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection.”

When Padre Pio was condemned to not exercise any ministry, he spent his free time, not in reading newspapers — “the Devil’s gospel” — but in reading books of doctrine, history and spirituality. Despite this, he would still say: “One looks for God in books, but finds Him in prayer.”

His counsels for mental prayer are simple:

“If you do not succeed in meditating well, do not give up doing your duty. If the distractions are numerous, do not be discouraged; do the meditation of patience, and you will still profit. Decide upon the length of your meditation, and do not leave your place before finishing, even if you have to be crucified ... Why do you worry so much because you do not know how to meditate as you would like? Meditation is a means to attaining God, but it is not a goal in itself. Meditation aims at the love of God and neighbor. Love God with all your soul without reserve, and love your neighbor as yourself, and you will have accomplished half of your meditation.”

The same holds for assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: it is more concerned with making acts (of Contrition, Faith, Charity ...) than with intellectual reflections or considerations. To someone asking whether it is necessary to follow the Mass in a missal, Padre Pio answered that only the priest needs a missal. According to him, the best way to attend the holy sacrifice is by uniting oneself to the Virgin of Sorrows at the foot of the cross, in compassion and love. It is only in paradise, he assures his interlocutor, that we will learn of all the benefits that we received by assisting at holy Mass.

Padre Pio, who was so affable and pleasant in his relations with people, could become severe and inflexible when the honor of God was at stake, especially in Church.

“The whispering of the faithful would be authoritatively cut off by the Father, who would openly glare at anyone who failed to maintain a prayerful posture ... If someone remained standing, even if it was because there were no places left in the pews, he would peremptorily invite him to kneel in order to participate worthily in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

Not even an inattentive choirboy would be spared: “My child, if you want to go to hell, you don’t need my signature.”

The post-war fashions fell under the same censure:

“Padre Pio, seated in his open confessional, all year round would ascertain that the women and girls who confessed to him were wearing skirts that were long enough. He would even cause tears to be shed when someone who had been waiting in line for hours would be turned away because of an offending hemline ... Then some kind souls would step forward and offer help. In a corner, they would unsew the hem, or else lend the penitent a coat. Finally, sometimes the Father would allow the humiliated penitent to go to Confession.”

One day his spiritual director reproached him for his harsh conduct. He replied: “I could obey you, but each time it is Jesus who tells me how I am to deal with people.” His severe manner, then, was inspired from above, uniquely for the honor of God and the salvation of souls.“Women who satisfy their vanity in their dress can never put on the life of Jesus Christ; moreover they even lose the ornaments of their soul as soon as this idol enters into their heart.”And let no one reproach him for lack of charity: “I beg you not to criticize me by invoking charity, because the greatest charity is to deliver souls held fast by Satan in order to win them over to Christ.”