Padre Pio (May, 1887 September, 1968) was canonized on June 16, 2002, by the Roman Catholic Church. He is the only priest known to have received the full stigmata.
The final year of the dying, decaying 20th century has seen the beatification of Padre Pio, the holy monk whom God sent as a sign for our age. For, while everyone wants to make us believe in a new "charismatic" Church, strangely we do not find there any wonder-working saints like the ones we meet throughout the Church's history starting with Pentecost. Padre Pio seems to close the procession of their number, doing so magnificently, being the only priest to have borne the stigmata of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Much has been written about Padre Pio more than 600 works, it seems and the authors always stress the extraordinary side of his life: not only his particular charisms (reading souls, healing, raising people from the dead, bilocating, ecstasies, exuding perfume, prophesying, etc.), but also the incredible sufferings which he endured from his earliest childhood, the persecutions undergone from some churchmen and even brothers in religion, as well as his two great charitable works: the founding of the House for the Relief of Suffering, and prayer groups.
In short, they present him to us as a "saint" more to be admired than imitated, so that, ultimately, we miss the most interesting lessons to be learned from this life, and the practical applications that could transform our own. We shall try, therefore, however imperfectly, to set forth a few of these lessons, hoping that we shall all be able to profit from them, and that the Padre, from high Heaven, will himself succor us, as he has promised to all those who would like to become his "spiritual children".
At the dawn of this life, totally sacrificed to God and to souls, there is to be found a pious, poor and numerous family, where the abnegation of each member softens and transforms the harsh realities of daily life. Here we see confirmed the saying of Msgr. de Segur that it is in families where the spirit of sacrifice is lacking that vocations are most at risk. Baptized the day after his birth a grace for which he was grateful all his life Padre Pio was christened Francesco, presage of his Franciscan vocation, which was to be discovered on the occasion of a visit from a Capuchin monk begging food for the convent. Even so, his vocation was not decided without struggle: "I felt two forces clashing within me, tearing my heart: the world wanted me for itself, and God called me to a new life. It would be impossible to describe this martyrdom. The mere memory of this battle that took place within me freezes the very blood in my veins . . . "
He was not yet 16 years when he entered the novitiate. Above the door of the cloister, as a welcome, he read the sign: "Do penance or perish." The daily rule of life included very many prayers, enough work, and little reading, being restricted especially to the study of the Rule and the Constitutions.
Brother Pio made himself conspicuous by the abundance of the tears he shed during the morning period of mental prayer, which in Capuchin houses is consecrated to the meditation of the Passion; tears so abundant that it was necessary to spread a towel in front of him on the floor of the choir. As with St. Francis, it was to this loving and compassionate contemplation of Jesus crucified that he was to owe the grace to receive later on the painful stigmata in his body. Even so, as he confided to his spiritual director, Fr. Agostino: "In comparison to what I suffer in my flesh, the spiritual combats that I endure are much worse."
It would seem that God expects the just to expiate in a special way, by means of temptation, the public sins of their contemporaries. At a time when psychoanalysis, with its knack for explaining away guilt and sin, was gaining sway, Padre Pio like the little Therese had to undergo an almost unbearable series of crisis of scruples, which tormented him for three long years. Then after the storm came the night, a night of the soul which lasted for dozens of years, with only occasional glimmers of light:
"I live in a perpetual night ... I find myself troubled by everything, and I do not know if I act well or ill. I can see that it is not a scruple: but the doubt I feel about whether or not I am pleasing the Lord crushes me. And this anxiety recurs to me everywhere: at the altar, in the confessional, everywhere!"
It is with the thought of his mystical experiences in mind that his maxims should be meditated: "Love is more beautiful in the company of fear, because it is in this way that it becomes stronger. The more one loves God, the less one feels it!"
St. Therese of the Child Jesus opposed to the proud rationalism of her day the little way of spiritual childhood, but she also expiated it by terrible temptations against Faith. Her cry, "I will believe!" is well known. Padre Pio also experienced violent and prolonged temptations against Faith, as his letters to Fr. Agostino testify:
"Blasphemies cross my mind incessantly, and even more so false ideas, ideas of infidelity and unbelief. I feel my soul transfixed at every instant of my life, it kills me .... My Faith is upheld only by a constant effort of my will against every kind of human persuasion. My Faith is only the fruit of the continual efforts that I exact of myself. And all of this, Father, is not something that happens a few times a day, but it is continuous ..."
What precious lessons for us, should we, for example, be surprised at finding ourselves tempted to such a degree.
Padre Pio overcame these terrible trials by following what had been taught him in the novitiate: perseverance in prayer, mortification of the senses, unshakable fidelity to the demands of one's duty of state, and finally, perfect obedience to the priest in charge of his soul. His painfully acquired experience allowed him to draw to himself souls desirous of perfection, and to be demanding. To the souls he directed, he gave a five-point rule: weekly confession, daily communion and spiritual reading, examination of conscience each evening and mental prayer twice a day. As for the recitation of the Rosary, it is so necessary it goes without saying.
"Confession is the soul's bath. You must go at least once a week. I do not want souls to stay away from confession more than a week. Even a clean and unoccupied room gathers dust; return after a week and you will see that it needs dusting again!"
To those who declare themselves unworthy to receive holy Communion, he answers: "It is quite true, we are not worthy of such a gift. However, to approach the Blessed Sacrament in a state of mortal sin is one thing, and to be unworthy is quite another. All of us are unworthy, but it is He who invites us. It is He who desires it. Let us humble ourselves and receive Him with a heart contrite and full of love."
To another, who told him that the daily examination of conscience seemed useless, since his conscience showed him clearly at each action whether it was good or bad, he replied: "That is true enough. But every experienced merchant in this world not only keeps track throughout the day of whether he has lost or gained on each sale. In the evening, he does the bookkeeping for the day to determine what he should do on the morrow. It follows that it is indispensable to make a rigorous examination of conscience, brief but lucid, every night.
"The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection."
When Padre Pio was condemned to not exercise any ministry, he spent his free time, not in reading newspaper "the Devil's gospel" but in reading books of doctrine, history and spirituality. Despite this, he would still say: "One looks for God in books, but finds Him in prayer."
His counsels for mental prayer are simple: "If you do not succeed in meditating well, do not give up doing your duty. If the distractions are numerous, do not be discouraged; do the meditation of patience, and you will still profit. Decide upon the length of your meditation, and do not leave your place before finishing, even if you have to be crucified. Why do you worry so much because you do not know how to meditate as you would like? Meditation is a means to attaining God, but it is not a goal in itself. Meditation aims at the love of God and neighbor. Love God with all your soul without reserve, and love your neighbor as yourself, and you will have accomplished half of your meditation."
The same holds for assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: it is more concerned with making acts (of contrition, Faith, love ...) than with intellectual reflections or considerations. To someone asking whether it is necessary to follow the Mass in a missal, Padre Pio answered that only the priest needs a missal. According to him, the best way to attend the Holy Sacrifice is by uniting oneself to the Virgin of Sorrows at the foot of the cross, in compassion and love. It is only in Paradise, he assures his interlocutor, that we will learn of all the benefits that we received by assisting at Holy Mass.
Padre Pio, who was so affable and pleasant in his relations with people, could become severe and inflexible when the honor of God was at stake, especially in Church.
"The whispering of the faithful would be authoritatively cut off by the Father, who would openly glare at anyone who failed to maintain a prayerful posture ... If someone remained standing, even it if was because there were no places left in the pews, he would peremptorily invite him to kneel in order to participate worthily in the holy sacrifice of the Mass." Not even an inattentive choirboy would be spared: "My child, if you want to go to hell, you don't need my signature."
The post-war fashions fell under the same censure: Padre Pio, seated in his open confessional, all year round would ascertain that the women and girls who confessed to him were wearing skirts not too short. He would even cause tears to be shed when someone who had been waiting in line for hours would be turned away because of an offending hemline . . . Then some kind souls would step forward and offer help. In a corner, they would unsew the hem, or else lend the penitent a coat. Finally, sometimes the Father would allow the humiliated penitent to go to confession."
One day his spiritual director reproached him for his harsh conduct. He replied: "I could obey you, but each time it is Jesus who tells me how I am to deal with people." His severe manner, then, was inspired from above, uniquely for the honor of God and the salvation of souls.
"Women who satisfy their vanity in their dress can never put on the life of Jesus Christ; moreover they even lose the ornaments of their soul as soon as this idol enters into their heart."
And let no one reproach him for lack of charity: "I beg you not to criticize me by invoking charity, because the greatest charity is to deliver souls held fast by Satan in order to win them over to Christ."
Padre Pio never celebrated the Novus Ordo Missae.
He was a model of respect and submission towards his religious and ecclesiastical superiors, especially during the time when he was persecuted. Nonetheless, he could not remain silent over a deviation that was baneful to the Church.
Even before the end of the Council, in February 1965, someone announced to him that soon he would have to celebrate the Mass according to a new rite, ad experimentum, in the vernacular, which had been devised by a conciliar liturgical commission in order to respond to the "aspirations" of modern man. Immediately, even before seeing the text, he wrote to Paul VI to ask him to be dispensed from the liturgical experiment, and to be able to continue to celebrate the Mass of St. Pius V. When Cardinal Bacci came to see him in order to bring the authorization, Padre Pio let a complaint escape in the presence of the Pope's messenger: "For pity sake, end the Council quickly."
The same year, during the conciliar euphoria that was promising a new springtime to the Church, he confided to one of his spiritual sons: "In this time of darkness, let us pray. Let us do penance for the elect"; and especially for the one who has to be their shepherd here below: All his life, he immolated himself for the reigning Pope, whose photograph was among the rare images that decorated his cell.
There are other scenes from his life that are full of meaning, for example, his reactions to the aggiornamento, the religious orders concocted in the wake of Vatican II. (The citations here are taken from a book bearing an imprimatur):
"In 1966, the Father General (of the Franciscans) came to Rome prior to the special Chapter on the Constitutions in order to ask Padre Pio for his prayers and benedictions. He met Padre Pio in the cloister. 'Padre, I came to recommend to your prayers the special chapter for the new Constitutions . . .' He had scarcely gotten the words 'special Chapter' . . . 'new Constitutions' out of his mouth when Padre Pio made a violent gesture and cried out: 'That is all nothing but destructive nonsense.' 'But Padre, after all, there is the younger generation to take into account . . . the youth evolve after their own fashion . . . there are new demands . . .' 'The only thing missing is mind and heart, that's all, understanding and love.' Then he proceeded to his cell, did a half-turn, and pointed his finger, saying: 'We must not denature ourselves, we must not denature ourselves! At the Lord's judgment, St. Francis will not recognize us as his sons!'"
A year later, the same scene was repeated for the aggiornamento of the Capuchins: "One day, some confreres were discussing with the Father Definiteur General (The counselors or advisers to the general or provincial of a religious order Ed.) the problems in the Order, when Padre Pio, taking a shocked attitude, cried out, with a distant look in his eye: 'What in the world are you up to in Rome? What are you scheming? You even want to change the Rule of St. Francis!' The Definiteur replied: 'Padre, changes are being proposed because the youth don't want to have anything to do with the tonsure, the habit, bare feet' . . ."
Padre Pio replied: "Chase them out! Chase them out! What can you be saying? Is it they who are doing St. Francis a favor by taking the habit and following his way of life, or rather, isn't it St. Francis who is offering them a great gift?"
If we consider that Padre Pio was a veritable alter Christus, that his entire person, body and soul, was as perfectly conformed as possible to that of Jesus Christ, his stark refusal to accept the Novus Ordo and the aggiornamento should be for us a lesson to learn. It is also noteworthy that the good Lord desired to recall His faithful servant just before they were implacably imposed on the Church and the Capuchin Order. Noteworthy, too, is the fact that Katarina Tangari, one of Padre Pio's most privileged spiritual daughters, so admirably supported the priests of Ecτne (of the Society of Saint Pius X) until her death, one year after the episcopal consecrations of 1988.
Padre Pio was even less obliging towards the prevailing social and political order, or rather, disorder (in 1966): "the confusion of ideas and the reign of thieves". He prophesied that the Communists would come to power, "by surprise, without firing a shot . . . It will happen overnight." This should not surprise us, since the requests of Our Lady of Fatima have not been listened to. He even told Msgr. Piccinelli that the red flag will fly over the Vatican, "but that will pass". Here again, his conclusion rejoins that of the Queen of Prophets: "But in the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph." The means by which this prophecy will come to pass, we know: by the divine power; but it must be prompted by the two great powers in man's hands: prayer and penance.
This is the lesson which Our Lady wanted to remind us of at the beginning of this century: God wants to save the world by devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and there is no problem, material or spiritual, national or international, that cannot be solved by the holy Rosary and our sacrifices.
This is also the last lesson that Padre Pio wanted to leave us by his example, and especially by his "prayer groups," which he established throughout the world. "He was never without a Rosary, there was even one under his pillow. During the day he recited several dozens of Rosaries." A few hours before he died, as those around him urged him to speak a few more words, all he could say was: "Love the Blessed Virgin and make Her loved. Always say the Rosary!"
The imminent elevation of Venerable Padre Pio is certainly going to arouse in many souls both curiosity and admiration. We could take advantage of the opportunity to remind them of these few lessons, if indeed we know how to put them into practice ourselves, in the merciful love of the Most Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Padre Pio's gift of conversion was tremendous. The number of conversions and Catholics brought back to the faith are innumerable. A few selections are given below.
A former Mason who was converted by Padre Pio received this letter from a friend, the late Ferruccio Caponetti, who was also once a Mason: "My dear Alberto, the Lord has infinite ways! You crossed my path, you showed me the right road, I took heed and climbed up the steep slope of Monte Gargano where I found the Master; He received me with joy because He saw that I was blind, and He listened smiling to the doubts that were in my mind. With simple words but with most profound wisdom He demolished one by one all of the theories that filled my mind, and I found myself without arguments to oppose him; He stripped my soul bare and by showing me Our Lord's sublime teaching He reopened the eyes of my soul; I was able to see the true light, my inmost heart was touched and I knew the meaning of Faith. I now enjoy true peace of soul, I now know the true God. For this I am grateful to you, for I owe you so much, and to Padre Pio I owe everything!"
A lawyer from Genoa, a cousin of Doctor Festa of Rome, persuaded that his cousin was in a state of exaltation, decided to go incognito to Padre Pio. As soon as the Father laid eyes on him he exclaimed: "What are you doing here? You are a Mason!" This was followed by verbal blows and counter-blows which all ended in the lawyer kneeling down in front of the humble friar who had converted him. On his return to Genoa he wrote a long letter to his cousin in Rome. Among other things he said: "Thanks! You have opened up a way for me which I shall follow. I can not tell you about it in writing, because it is all impossible to describe. I can only say that I have come home with a deep sense of peace in my soul, I long for silence so that nothing may disturb my spirit."
One day a poor man came with a very sick child; he had consulted a number of doctors and had spent much money in the search of a cure. He brought him to the Padre while he was still feverish, hoping for a miracle.
When he entered the confessional Padre Pio chased him away with these words: "What are you doing in front of God's tribunal if you don't believe? Go! Go away! You are a communist!"
The man went back to his lodgings with the intention of taking his child home, but a professor who happened to be there persuaded him to return to the Father and confess his sins, at the same time renouncing the evil teachings of Moscow. In the afternoon he returned to the monastery Church with the intention of going to confession. As soon as he saw the Father he threw himself weeping at his feet, unable to utter a word.
Padre Pio raised him up from the ground and said: "Now that's the way! A good scrubbing is what you need, but you have to have the will to be clean. You have done the right thing and your son will get well. Now come to confession." The poor man wept during his confession, being very deeply moved. The child was cured physically just as his father was cured spiritually.
A woman from Pesaro, the wife of a workman, brought her deaf and dumb child to Padre Pio. He cured her instantly. In an outburst of gratitude the woman took a gold chain from the child's neck, the only object of value that she owned, and gave it to Padre Pio for the Virgin. When she reached home she told everything to her husband who flew into a rage at the offering she had made to the Father: he said that she should have chosen some other article rather than the gift that he himself had made to his daughter. The next morning they found the chain on the bed table.
Signor Federico Abresch was born into a Lutheran family in Germany. At the time of his marriage to a Catholic girl, he became a Catholic more as an accommodation to his wife's religion than out of sincere conviction. Hearing of Padre Pio as a great miracle worker, he went to visit him with skeptical curiosity. When he approached Padre Pio for confession, he was told of certain grave sins that were omitted in previous confessions. Abresch stated to Padre Pio that he thought confession was good 'psychologically' but he did not believe in the divinity of the sacrament. But, deeply moved by the fact that he had read his past life, he now believed. Signor Abresch stated:
"I was struck dumb with the overwhelming realization that I had come in contact with the supernatural. Then concealing his knowledge of my entire past under the form of questions he enumerated with precision and clarity all of my mortal sins. He made me understand, with most impressive words, the whole of their gravity, adding in a tone of voice that I shall never forget: 'You have launched a hymn to Satan, whereas Jesus, in His tremendous love, has broken Himself for you.' He then gave me a penance and absolved me. From that day to this I have been to daily Mass and Communion. Both I and my wife have become Franciscan tertiaries. Not only do I believe in the dogmas of the Catholic Church, but in everything she teaches. And I could not lose this faith without also losing my life."
Signor Abresch, like so many other converts of Padre Pio, decided to move to San Giovanni Rotondo where he could be near to the man who had completely changed his life. He became, so to speak, the official photographer of Padre Pio, and most of the pictures one sees of the famous stigmatist were taken by him. Both he and his son, Pio, served his Mass many times. Eventually his son became a priest in fulfillment of a prophecy of Padre Pio. According to this prophecy the boy was not only to be a priest but would some day be placed in a high position in the Church. Msgr. Pio Abresch is presently working in the Vatican. Frederico Abresch died in August, 1969, within a year of the death of his great spiritual father.
The story on Mr. Abresch was taken from the Immaculata magazine furnished by the National Centre for Padre Pio, Inc. The remaining stories were taken from the booklet Who is Padre Pio? published by TAN Books and Publishers , which we offer in our Store.