Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday BookReview: PADRE PIO (d. 1968)

[first published May 29, 2015]

"When you feel despised, imitate the kingfisher, who builds its nest on the masts of ships. That is to say, raise yourself up above the earth, elevate yourselves with your mind and heart to God, who is the only one who can console you and give you strength to withstand the trial in a holy way."

In an isolated mountain village on the east coast of southern Italy, Padre Pio lived for 50 years in a Capuchin friary. Often hounded and persecuted by Church officials, he submitted to their restrictions with patience -- saying, "Let God's will be done."

Pio was declared a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002. His shrine is visited by millions each year; in popularity, it is second only to Mexico's basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

"The fascination of his gruff manner and the magnetism of his extraordinary saintliness drew people to him... The only way to talk to him personally was through the medium of confession."

I've enjoyed paging through Magic of a Mystic by the Duchess of St. Albans -- stories of Padre Pio told in a folksy way (her sister lived for many years in the priest's village of San Giovanni Rotondo), along with photos of the people and landscape. A huge Franciscan hospital rose up during the priest's lifetime, "built exclusively with mule and bullock transport." 

Pio suffered greatly, literally bleeding for his flock. Things were always exciting in his orbit as he thundered, when necessary, at folks in the confessional; made simultaneous appearances in two places; and converted violent Communists.

An opera star (L) sings for his friend Padre Pio

"If you can talk with the Lord in prayer, talk to him, offer him your praise; if, due to great weariness, you cannot speak, do not find displeasure in the ways of the Lord. Stay in the room like servants of the court do, and make a gesture of reverence. He will see you, and your presence will be pleasing to him. He will bless your silence and at another time you will find consolation when he takes you by the hand."

[When asked if his stigmata hurt, he replied:] "Do you think that the Lord gave them to me for a decoration?"

An excerpt from the Duchess' book:

"Father Pasquale Cattaneo also gives us a testimony showing Padre Pio’s ability to read hearts. Fr. Cattaneo had received permission from his superiors to visit San Giovanni and to go to confession to Padre Pio. During his bus trip he prepared himself with a good examination of his conscience so as to be ready to make a sincere confession of his sins. With the help of the Holy Spirit he looked into every corner of his soul, and made new promises of amendment. However as the bus going to the Gargano was on the last part of the journey and the town came into view, he ended his examination perplexed thinking: 'The spiritual life at times seems like trying to climb glass.'

"When he arrived at the friary, he went into the sacristy and told the friar who helped with the confessions that he had come to confess to Padre Pio and afterwards he patiently waited for his turn. When the time came he entered the confessional, greeted Padre Pio and made his confession. After confessing his faults, Padre Pio gave him absolution. He then arose, feeling happy that he had made a sincere confession, when he turned one last time and glanced at the Padre -- the Padre smiled at him and with an amused look he wittingly said: 'So, the spir­itual life seems like climbing glass, eh?'


The Duchess of St. Albans wrote Magic of a Mystic 15 years after Pio's death. Several times at her home in France, she experienced (though, earlier, she had been skeptical hearing of it from others) the sweet spicy "odor of sanctity" that emanated from him -- in life and death, in rural Italy and far beyond.

With no hesitation, if someone asked me the craziest year I've witnessed in the world, my answer would be 1968. It surely is more than coincidental that Padre Pio (the most unique of all modern saints) was taken to heaven then, to fulfill his prediction that he would be able to do more for humanity after his death than he had in life.

UPDATE -- This excerpt is from an essay by Patricia Snow:

Padre Pio of Pietrelcina was not a philosopher like John Paul II or a lawyer like Thomas More; he was not a teacher like Elizabeth Ann Seton or a subtle theologian like Thérèse of Lisieux. He was a religious and a priest, an alter Christus even to the wounds in his hands, feet, and side. Coarse and unsophisticated as he was, in his person the vertical of the cross—the love of God above all created things—was manifest. Writing to a friend after a visit to San Giovanni Rotondo monastery, Don Giuseppe De Luca, an Italian historian of Christian spirituality, shared his impressions of the wounded friar:
Padre Pio, dear Papini, is a sickly, ignorant Capuchin, very much the crude southerner. And yet (bear in mind that besides making confession to him, I also dined with him and we spent a great deal of time together), and yet—God is with him, that fearful God that we glimpse in reverie and which he has in his soul, unbearably hot, and in his flesh, which trembles constantly . . . as if battered by ever more powerful gales. I truly saw the holy there, holiness not of action but of passion, the holiness that God expresses. Although he is a man of very meager intelligence, he offered me two or three words that I have never found on the lips of other men, and not even (and this is harder to admit) in the books of the Church. . . There is nothing of ordinary spirituality about him, nor is there anything extraordinarily miraculous, stunning, or showy; there is merely intelligentia spiritualis, a free gift from God. And there is a passion, even a human passion, for God, dear Papini, that is so beautiful, so ravishingly sweet that I can’t tell you. The love of woman and the love of ideas are nothing by comparison, they are things that do not go beyond a certain point, whether near or far. While the love of God, how, I do not know, burns, and the more it burns the more it finds to burn. I have the absolutely certain sensation that God and man have met in this person.

Parish procession in Boston's North End several years ago

The celebration in this year of 2016 will be especially memorable for Boston:
"I’m very excited to announce that the Capuchin Friars who run the Shrine of St. Padre Pio have offered to come to Boston with the heart of Padre Pio for his feast day this year," Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston announced in a Sept. 2 post on his blog. 
"This is the first time any major relic of Padre Pio has left Italy, and we are so pleased that they have offered to come to Boston for this historic visit..."

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