I’ve written before about the laudable Catholic practice of praying for the dead—and that the dead can pray for us, too.
I’ve written as well about the incredible gift that the saints are; to know that there are holy Christians, in Heaven, praying for us right now is incredible.
What I haven’t written about, and what I feel compelled to share now, is the incredible story of Padre Pio—and his incredible commitment to praying for us.
First, a primer.
That deceased Christians could pray for us, and that we could pray for them, has been a well-established theological position for most of the history of Christianity. It’s important to know that it wasn’t until the Reformation that this ancient Christian practice was rethought—and only by certain groups of reformers.
In essence what ancient Christians argued was that Christ’s victory over sin, and death, forever pierced the veil between the living and the dead. A Christian is a Christian is a Christian—dead or alive and so in the same way I can ask my living and breathing Christian friend to pray for me I can asked deceased Christians too.
Important to understand, too, is that only Jesus actually answers our prayers.
In the same way I ask my friend on earth to pray for me I can ask those in Heaven. In both cases, however, I’m merely asking someone to pray for me not to answer my prayers. And, in both cases, I can technically skip the middleman but remember that Christians praying together, for each other, has been a hallmark of our faith tradition from the beginning.
Jesus Himself urged us to do likewise: To draw closer to one another, to pray for each other.
OK, so now onto Padre Pio.
The story of Padre Pio is an incredible one. Born in Italy in 1887 and died in 1968 Padre Pio was a modern day saint of medieval proportions.According to sources, Padre Pio possessed the ability to read souls and know what a person’s confession was before they gave it, the ability to bi-locate and be in more than one place at once, and, famously, the stigmata or wounds of Christ which appeared on his hands as well as his side and could not be explained by modern medical science.
What’s more, when exhumed forty years after his death Padre Pio’s body was found to be mostly intact—incorruptible—and his hands, now lacking evidence of the stigmata, appeared to have been miraculously preserved in near perfect shape.
He was officially canonized by the Church in 2002.
And I love Padre Pio. In fact, my affinity for Padre Pio is precisely because of his legendary stature and incredible abilities; the stuff of medieval legend, in modern times.
Here was a saint who could do things that seemed like pious legend but was subject to the scrutiny of the modern scientific method.
St. Polycarp in the 1st century refusing to burn on the stake, for example, sounds like an incredible tale but far-fetched at best. Here was a saint with similarly outrageous abilities but at a time of modern science, modern media, and modern skepticism.
But the coolest thing about Padre Pio, and what I really wanted to talk about, is what he said about his prayers once he’d passed on.
While still alive the pious priest promised not to enter the Gates of Heaven until every single Christian who asked for his prayers had gone before him.
That he would wait.
And that, to me, is an incredibly moving picture.
That Padre Pio, this holy man of God, is praying for those that ask and that, likewise, refuses to budge until all of us who ask for his prayers go before him.
That even now Padre Pio prays for me, on my behalf, if I ask.
And that he won’t go ahead, he won’t leave, until we’re all done and finished.
What a holy, incredible picture.
And the Communion of Saints, our prayers for the dead and their prayers on our behalf, should work exactly like this. That we’re all one big family. That in the same way, if my friend asks me to pray for him I’m going to pray for him every single day, the saints in Heaven do the same for us. And in the same way that it’s deeply comforting, to me, to know that my friend on earth is praying for my needs it’s even more so, even more beautiful, to think about Padre Pio refuses to budge until Christ has heard our prayers; until we’ve all reached Heaven, by the grace of God, together.
I can think of few things as powerful as that.