One of the things I love about being Catholic is the treasury of the lives of the saints. Not only do they have the power to intercede for us from Heaven to help us get there, but their very lives inspire me far beyond what any athlete, celebrity, TV personality, or politician could ever do. I have favorite saints from every era of our Christian tradition, but have been especially interested in the modern saints, those who lived in my own lifetime. One such saint who died shortly after I was born is St. Pius of Pietrelcina (more commonly known as Padre Pio), an Italian Franciscan priest and friar. Like so many of the great saints, he overcame extraordinarily difficult obstacles, the kind that could crush a man who had no faith in God.
He was born into poverty of illiterate parents and grandparents. Despite their illiteracy, they were devout in their faith and steeped little Francis in it. (Francis was his baptismal name. He took the name Pio as a religious). He was a man who suffered severe physical ailments but managed to live to the old age of 81. His health was so poor, that when he was drafted as a young man to serve in the First World War, he was continually dismissed and recalled until they finally gave up on him as unfit for service. That was just as well, because the Lord had clearly designated him for serious spiritual combat instead. While many people are fascinated by his gift of the stigmata (the physical manifestation of the wounds of Christ’s own crucifixion), they were terribly painful physically and embarrassing to him, because he did not wish to draw attention to himself. Worse, because of his tremendous and unusual spiritual gifts, including those stigmata, some of his own brothers in the Franciscan accused him of being a fraud. This investigation went all the way to the pope. On top of that, he was harassed with completely baseless and false charges of sexual impropriety.
Despite all of these tremendous obstacles, he devoted himself absolutely tirelessly to helping the sick and the unfortunate. He healed both spiritually and physically, seemingly being able to peer directly into the soul of the thousands who came to him for confession (so they couldn’t hide what needed to be healed) and interceding for the physical healing of countless pilgrims.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of taking a pilgrimage in Italy to the place of his tomb. At the museum, there were hauntingly beautiful photographs of Pio staring unblinkingly at the Sacred Host while celebrating Holy Mass, with a look of such profound reverence, love and awe at the mystery He held within his hands, bandaged because of Christ’s wounds bleeding within him, that I have always tried to emulate that love for the Eucharistic Lord whenever I celebrate holy Mass. It is clear that he saw in that sacred Host the Lord crucified and risen out of love for us.
When I went on retreat recently, I came across a little booklet that I had picked up at that shrine containing some of his sayings and spiritual wisdom. I found it useful for prayer. Hope you do, too. In the excerpts below, it becomes very clear that Pio was a man who knew that we are in an intense spiritual battle against the devil who is attempting to derail our salvation and that Pio knew just what tools we need to engage in that battle. He also uses naval images, as his convent overlooked the Adriatic Sea.
- Often pray to Our Lord in this way: O, Lord, you are my God and I will trust in You; You will protect me and you will be my shelter and I will not fear anything.
- Do not fear your (spiritual) enemies. (They) will not amount to anything against the ship of your spirit, because its captain is Jesus, its guiding star is Mary.
- Fight courageously and you will receive the deserved prize for strong souls. Never abandon yourself to your own problems. In the moments of very difficult struggle and extreme discomfort, pray; trust in God and you will not be overwhelmed by temptation.
- Prayer is the best weapon that we have. It is the key to open God’s heart. You must talk to Jesus with your lips but also with your heart. In fact, in some circumstances, you have to talk to Him only with your heart.
- Be courageous and do not fear [the devil’s] wrath. Always remember this: when your enemies are raging and roaring around the fortress of your will, it is a good sign, because it shows that they are not yet inside of it.
- Our lifetime is short, but rewards for what we have done during it are eternal Let us perform good deeds, let us respect God’s will; let it be our star upon which our gazes are fixed during this seafaring journey. In this way we can reach nothing but a safe port.
- You will not attain salvation if you do not cross a stormy sea.
- I have nothing good in me that has not been made by God and nothing bad in me that has not been made by myself.
- Be firm in your resolutions, stay in the boat where God has put you and let the storms come.