By Father MieczysЕ‚aw Piotrowski TChr,
Love One Another! 4/2004 → The main topic
Padre Pio was born in Pietrelcina on 25 May 1887 and died in San Giovanni Rotondo on 22 September 1968. He is certainly one of the world’s most well known and best loved saints. Since his death in 1968, about 9.5 million people visit Padre Pio’s grave each year.
In terms of numbers of pilgrims, San Giovanni Rotondo has become the second greatest religious shrine in the world (Guadalupe in Mexico being the first).
Padre Pio was undoubtedly the most charismatic individual of our time. He was and remains an unusually clear and living sign of the presence of the crucified and risen Saviour. His canonization on 16 June 2002 was an extraordinary event in the life of the Catholic Church. For fifty years he bore on his body the stigmata of Jesus’ Passion and death, which were continually fresh and bleeding, and which no medications could heal. From his person emanated a heavenly fragrance, which many people could sense sometimes thousands of miles away. He possessed the gift of bilocation, which allowed him to be present in any place in the world. God gave him the gift of reading people’s minds and consciences. Through his mediation, Jesus performed wonderful and spectacular cures. He had charismatic contact with souls in purgatory and mystic visions of Jesus, the Mother of God, saints and angels. Thanks to Padre Pio, many of the most hardened atheists, communists and masons – those who fought against God – were converted. His priestly service was a continual, fierce fight with unclean spirits for the souls of sinners. He was a friar who fell in love with God thanks to prayer. He often said, “I want to die loving God; either death or love. Because life without this love is worse than death.”
His earthly life was marked by constant physical and spiritual suffering. He was wrongly accused of fraud and deception. He was slandered with accusations of breaking the vows of chastity and poverty. He was humiliated until the end of his life. Father Paolo Rossi, the postulator for the beatification of Padre Pio, wrote, “We will better understand the greatness of his person, when we realise the depth of hostility shown by some Church representatives and his own fellow friars.” Padre Pio accepted all the humiliations, accusations and slander with great humility and faith. The story of his earthly life was a reflection of Christ’s sufferings and the unjust accusations leveled against Him who was condemned to death like the greatest of criminals.
He believed and trusted to the very end
The holiness of Padre Pio’s life expressed itself above all in his heroic faith. He believed and trusted God always, especially in situations, which on a human level were without hope. He wrote about his faith and trust in God thus: “I have such confidence in Jesus, that were I to see all of hell before me, and find myself at the edge of an abyss, I would not start to doubt, I would not lose trust, nor despair, but I would put all my hope in Him. His gentleness awakens this trust on my part. And when I reflect on the great battles that I have fought with Satan (and the victories won), in which I took part with God’s help, I cannot even make a count. And if Jesus, the eternal Sun, had not enlightened me, had not taken me by my hand, who knows how many times my faith and hope may have wavered, my love diminished and my mind sunk into darkness? I see clearly that His works are the fruits of his endless love. He has never denied me anything; in fact, I would say, He gave me more than I asked for.”
Do not fear Satan
Padre Pio reminds his spiritual children that Satan does everything he can to prevent man from treading the path of faith which leads to unification with God. For this reason he warns: “Do not be taken by surprise or terrified of Satan’s ferocious attacks, which you will experience many times. As you know, he will persecute souls, who do not want to listen to him, who do not want to give into him, until death. His hatred grows the more he sees that his hopes of conquering these souls for himself are groundless. You yourself continue on the right road; strengthen yourself with prayer, humility, and your boundless trust in God’s help. Give yourself to God our Father like His most beloved child. Throw yourself into his loving arms and do not be afraid of Satan’s battle against you. He can do nothing to a soul that puts all of its trust in God. He can only attack you, and that within the limits that are allowed by Heaven; God will never allow temptation to torment you beyond your strength.”
On another occasion Padre Pio wrote: “There is nothing to fear because our Lord will never abandon us and will not allow Satan to rule over us. God is steadfast and will not allow temptation to override our strength. He allows our enemy to torture us but only to the extent it serves his fatherly plans, sanctifies our souls and in order to bring greater glory to His Majesty. Therefore, be brave and retain peace in your soul, since the Lord is within your heart. He will fight with you and for you. So who will be the victor? Who can be stronger than He? …Will the victory not belong to the soul who tries only to please God, who turns to Him with trust and awaits to fulfil His intentions? You talk of your weakness in the face of such a mighty enemy of your soul; yes, but gain inspiration from our most sweet Lord, since you must know that the greater a soul’s poverty and weakness, the more it should trust in the strength of our Lord, and not in itself, nor should it be proud of its weakness. Oh, if all souls experienced thus this holy weakness, then we would not be witness to their falls, falls that happen at every moment. For never has a soul, recognising its weakness, turned to God for help, then fallen. It is only when a soul puts too much trust in its own strength and thinks it can resist and defy temptations on its own that it meets with overwhelming failure. The poor soul thought it was already touching heaven, and in one second was thrown down to the very gates of hell! So put your trust in the Lord and strengthen your courage! Do not be afraid of Satan’s continuing attack. The weakness that you feel will not be the reason for your fall, if you remain aware of it and keep watch and pray. You will then be made strong with the strength God gives you. But you will inevitably fall if you put too much trust in yourself. Then you will very quickly become aware of your penury and weakness. I repeat this to you again and will continue to do so: do not be afraid, but increasingly put your trust in the mercy of God. Humble yourself in front of our good God and thank him for all the graces that he has seen fit to give you and continues to give you. He demands thanks from us, although we will never be able in any way to give him the thanks he deserves for the abundance of graces with which he enriches us. Always try to remember what I have told you; stand up to challenges and you will overcome all of hell’s endeavours, all of its fury. With God’s help you will attain salvation. Always try to pray and accept suffering, together with God’s intention and will. May the thought of the reward awaiting you in heaven, and which, truth be told, is not so far away, give you courage.”
Mystical union through faith
Thanks to his heroic faith and complete trust in God, Padre Pio experienced the greatest possible happiness, that is, the secret of union with Christ in love, during his life on earth. This is a mystical union through faith. Writing in one of his letters, Padre Pio observes, that faith is the only means to unification with God in love. To achieve this, “the soul must abandon itself to contemplation, must purify itself of all imperfections, and not only immediate ones, which is achieved by purifying the senses, but also common imperfections, such as certain emotions and improper habits, from which the soul does not free itself in purifying the senses, but which, like roots, have retained a hold on it. That purification is obtained by cleansing the soul. Here God penetrates and fills the soul with the highest light, and completely renews it. This highest light, which God beams into these souls, touches them in a painful way and fills them with such a feeling of spiritual isolation that they experience unprecedented torment and feel as though they were about to die. At that moment these souls are unable to comprehend the effect of God’s highest light. That is for two reasons: firstly, the light is so elevated and subtle that it is simply beyond the soul’s understanding, and for this reason these souls see it rather more as darkness and torment than light. The second reason is that the souls themselves are quite simply sordid and impure. This is why that highest light is to them a darkness causing torment and pain. Instead of joy, it causes the senses great suffering, all the powers of the soul undergo terrible anguish and horrible vexation. All this happens initially, when that godly light meets souls unprepared for unification with God. So, by seizing them, it purifies them, and when this is done, the light penetrates the souls, elevating them to see God, to be one with him in a most perfect manner. And so let them rejoice in the Lord for the great honour to which they have been uplifted. Let them fully trust in the Lord, as the saintly Job did, who at the insistence of the Lord found himself in a very difficult situation, and yet hoped that after the darkness he would see the light.” St. Pio appeals to each of us: “Keep your head high! Always march forward along the paths of God’s love, knowing it as a given that the more your will is united with God’s, the more it longs for this unity, the more your perfection will grow. Let us always remember that the earth is a battlefield and only in heaven will we receive our reward. Let us remember we are in a place of exile, and that the real homeland is heaven, and that we must continually long for it. So let us act with a living faith, strong hope and fierce love on our way to heaven, with the burning desire – for we are still pilgrims – that on the day chosen by God our souls and bodies will be able to settle in paradise. Let us continually lift our thoughts to heaven, where our true homeland is. The earth is only a pale image of it. Let us maintain our serenity and peace in the face of every event, whether joyful or sad.”