I’ve never been a devotee of Padre Pio.  Of course, I’ve heard of him; you can hardly be a Catholic and not have heard of Padre Pio.  But I ordered the new book Words of Light: Inspiration from the Letters of Padre Pio as a Christmas gift for a Franciscan friend and have just finished reading it.

It is compiled and introduced by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa and published (2008) by Paraclete Press.  Father Cantalamessa, also a Franciscan priest, is known as the preacher to the Pope, and you don’t get much more theologically august and respectable than that. Much has been written about Padre Pio but in this book, drawn from his letters, he finally gets to speak for himself.

I thought I might give a thumbnail sketch of Padre Pio for those not familiar with him, beginning with:  Born Francesco Forgione in Pietrelcina, Italy, 1887. Died 1968.  Canonized 2002.  Feast Day September 23.  Then I realized that a thumbnail sketch of Padre Pio is just not possible.  There are so many facets to his life – his joining the Capuchins at a young age, his many health problems, his gifts including the reading of souls, healings, the stigmata, his good works, diabolical attacks, his problems with the church, and on and on.  Wikipedia seems to me to present a pretty comprehensive overview.

I will content myself with the following description written by Padre Pio to his spiritual advisor, Padre Benedetto, about how he received the stigmata — and then a few comments on the new book.

On the morning of the 20th of last month [September, 1918], in the choir, after I had celebrated Mass, I yielded to a drowsiness similar to a sweet sleep. All the internal and external senses and even the very faculties of my soul were immersed in indescribable stillness. Absolute silence surrounded and invaded me. I was suddenly filled with great peace and abandonment which effaced everything else and caused a lull in the turmoil. All this happened in a flash.

While this was taking place, I saw before me a mysterious person similar to the one I had seen on the evening of 5 August. The only difference was that his hands and feet and side were dripping blood. The sight terrified me and what I felt at that moment is indescribable. I thought I should die and really should have died if the Lord had not intervened and strengthened my heart which was about to burst out of my chest.

The vision disappeared and I became aware that my hands, feet and side were dripping blood.  Imagine the agony I experienced and continue to experience almost every day. The heart wound bleeds continually, especially from Thursday evening until Saturday. Dear Father, I am dying of pain because of the wounds and the resulting embarrassment I feel in my soul. I am afraid I shall bleed to death if the Lord does not hear my heartfelt supplication to relieve me of this condition.  Will Jesus, who is so good, grant me this grace? Will he at least free me from the embarrassment  caused by these outward signs? I will raise my voice and will not stop imploring him until in his mercy he takes away, not the wound or the pain, which is impossible since I wish to be inebriated with pain, but these outward signs which cause me such embarrassment and unbearable humiliation. (Letters 1, No. 511).

Padre Pio bore the wounds of Jesus on his hands, feet, and side for 50 years.  Several days before he died in 1968, the wounds of the stigmata disappeared without leaving a single scar.

The excerpts in Words of Light are drawn primarily from Padre Pio’s letters.  He describes his prayer thus:

As soon as I set myself to pray, I immediately feel as if my heart has been engulfed by the flame of a living love.  That flame has nothing to do with any flame in the world here below.  It is a delicate and sweet flame that gives no pain.  It is so sweet and so delicious that the spirit finds a great satisfaction in it, and remains satisfied by it in such a way that it does not lose the desire for it.

But all is not sweetness and consolation:

God remains hidden from the attentive spirit that burns itself up keeping watch for him, that is compelled to seek for him, though the task is exhausting.  Finding itself alone in a desolate solitude the poor spirit goes on consuming itself through the many fears of offending him since it is alone with its ardent character, alone with inner and outer vexations; alone with its natural corruption; alone with the trials of the enemy.  My God, where are you?  I do not know you anymore nor can I find you; but this searching for you is a necessity……

He is attacked by evil spirits:

Padre Pio complained to his guardian angel about the attacks of those “impure apostates.”  His angel said, ‘Give thanks to Jesus that he treats you as one chosen to follow him closely up the steep slope of Calvary.  I see, soul entrusted to my care by Jesus, with joy and emotion inside me, Jesus’ conduct toward you…..    Jesus permits the devil these assaults so that your devotion might make you dear to him, and he wants you to become like him during the anguish in the desert, the garden and the cross…… when your strength is of no use, do not worry, delight of my heart.  I am close to you.’

Whether experiencing  sweetness or desolation, Padre Pio says “I felt the need to offer myself to the Lord as a victim.”

I am prepared to be deprived forever of the sweetness that Jesus makes me experience, I am ready to suffer Jesus’ hiding his beautiful eyes from me, as long as he doesn’t hide his love, which would kill me.  But to be deprived of suffering, I am not able, I do not have the strength.

As the  recent publication of Mother Teresa’s letters disclosed her long interior suffering while living a life of obvious holiness and worldly recognition, so Padre Pio’s letters give insight into the trials of sanctity.  Mother Teresa toward the end of her life was overheard to say, “Jesus, I never refused you anything.”  Padre Pio’s response to whatever came his way was, “But fiat, I repeat always; and I long for nothing other than the fulfillment of this fiat in exactly the way the Lord requests – with generosity and strength.”  “Without reservation.”

Years ago I read that on the road to sanctity one first endures suffering, then accepts it, then embraces it.   This challenged me as I only endured suffering when there was no other option.  Obviously we are not all cut out to be Mother Teresas or Padre Pios.  Perhaps there are gentler ways to God with a lesser cross and a lesser crown?   To willingly embrace suffering in reparation for the sins of mankind must take a Christ-like love and a Christ-like courage.

Perhaps, like The Little Flower, St. Thérèse, who was content to be the smallest little white flower if it pleased God,  it is best to go along whatever path God puts us on.   Here I am, at 85, and not really into suffering. (That is not to say there may not be an opportunity.)  It might be a good idea to leave it up to God and trust that each person’s cross will be exactly the right size for them.

Or heed Padre Pio’s advice: Pray, hope, and don’t worry!

~~~

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Matthew 16:24

I rejoice in my sufferings, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. – Colossians 1:24