Wednesday, September 23, 2020

We Are Grateful to Padre Pio

My blog seems more and more to be pictures and commentary on the Roman liturgical calendar.

One thing I love is how the cycle of seasons, feasts, and memorials of the saints fill the entire year with "beautiful days" - like flashes of transfigured light breaking through into our time, marking our days as we journey toward the unending fullness of that glory.

Every month, every week has special moments to anticipate. There are the seasons and particular observances and celebrations of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the maternal companionship of Mary.

Then there are all the days honoring the lives of (and nurturing real ongoing "ecclesial relationships" with) men and women of every time and place, language and culture, who have gone before us and are recognized as "co-workers" with Christ by the Church's liturgical prayer.

The saints are all glorified members of Christ's body, His servants, His instruments, our companions and helpers. They are gifts to us, entirely formed by God's grace and love, witnesses to the glory of Jesus our Savior. At the same time each one of them is unique, with his or her own personality and humanity that reverberates in the Church's memory in many different ways.

The more recent saints may be remembered from the time of their earthly journey by some people who are still living. I myself have met and spoken personally with two saints, John Paul II and Mother Teresa, both of whom had a profound personal impact on my life. This is true for many of my generation. In our time, "giants walked the earth." Every age has them, of course, but there were a few in the late 20th century whose greatness was impossible for anyone to ignore even while they lived in this world. Through then, the Spirit kindled fires in many hearts.

Padre Pio was a little before my time, but people from the previous generation remember him while he was still in this life. I have known some families where the parents knew him personally (one even worked as a doctor in his hospital). Of course they have special stories about him, beautiful and very personal stories...

But like all saints, Padre Pio has become immensely greater since he went home to be with the Lord on September 23, 1968. Still, he was widely known and sought out (especially by Italians) during his years at the Franciscan Friary of San Giovanni Rotondo - this priest who bore the wounds of Christ, the "stigmata" (as well as many other deeper hidden pains and trials), who tirelessly heard confessions and through his special gifts reconciled so many and brought spiritual healing, and who also had a special dedication to serving and accompanying people afflicted with physical illnesses. Among the many aspects of Padre Pio's legacy is the beautiful hospital he built near the friary, which he called "the House for the Relief of Suffering."

He is dear to me in a particular way for his tremendous compassion for the sick. That compassion and companionship is a personal gift that he still offers today. He brings consolation to the afflicted when they call upon him.

My own story has a little place here. I didn't have any special devotion to Padre Pio. But I "feel like" he sought me out and offered his help (saints do this more than we realize, I'm convinced). Around the time of our Teresa's birth (in 2002) and shortly before the beginning of some very difficult times for me, it seems like he made me aware of his humble presence, as if to say, "I'm here for you, I'm helping you." Even though this may have been just a subjective experience or my own human psychological impression (and there's no way to prove it was anything more), still I find that I want to describe this as having something of the nature of an encounter. It was personal.

Since then I think he has “touched my shoulder” a few times and in some way said to me, “John, I know what you suffer. I had these sufferings too in my life” (I don’t know if he actually had specific illnesses related to mine, but it’s possible - Padre Pio was much afflicted in so many ways during his life).

I know that I have been consoled and encouraged and helped by him, and I invoke his intercession every day. I am reminded that God understands me, because people often don’t understand, and I don’t understand myself. Even regarding the complexity of my health, no one really knows what's going on. I don't know, and sometimes I feel confused and overwhelmed. Why am I such a mess, such a human wreck? Why do I have such a clunky brain?

But I have been so greatly blessed by the Lord, so much more than anything I have had to endure. And like so many people, I am grateful to Saint "Padre Pio" for more than I know, and I will continue to rely on his friendship in the communion of saints.

Near the end of his many years of fidelity and suffering, he is reported to have said, "tell everyone that, after death, I will be more alive than ever. And to all those who come to ask, it will cost me nothing to give to them."