According to the remarkable mystic and saint, Padre Pio, “the more Jesus wishes to raise a soul to perfection, the more the cross of tribulation increases.” This was certainly true for the Capuchin friar and priest whose feast day we celebrate on September 23. He suffered with the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, along with numerous other trials and sufferings, for 50 years. He became so close to Christ that Our Lord allowed him to bear the very wounds which he himself had borne.
Stigmata – Sign of Divine Mercy
On September 20, 1910, while making his thanksgiving after Mass before a crucifix at Our Lady of Grace Chapel in San Giovanni Rotondo, the newly-ordained Padre Pio inexplicably received the stigmata in his hands and feet. The wounds carried the scent of roses and were completely round in shape. Miraculously, the wounds never became infected. For Padre Pio, the stigmata was painful and attracted unwanted attention, yet he bore this trial with patience and resignation. During his address on the occasion of the saint’s beatification, Pope John Paul II remarked that, “His stigmata, like those of Francis of Assisi, were the work and sign of Divine Mercy, which redeemed the world by the Cross of Jesus Christ. Those open, bleeding wounds spoke of God’s love for everyone, especially for those sick in body and spirit.”
Spiritual Gifts of Padre Pio
Padre Pio’s life was marked by long hours of prayer, penance and sacrifice. As a priest at the Friary in San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy where he lived from 1916 until his death on September 23, 1968, he celebrated the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist with profound reverence and devotion and was known to hear Confessions for as much as 16 hours a day. Some of the extraordinary spiritual gifts which he was known to possess included: prophecy, healing, bilocation, miracles, discernment of spirits, tongues, the ability to read hearts and abstain from food and sleep, and visions. He embodied the Passion of Christ in his wounds, and his miraculous gifts were an extraordinary witness and sign of the supernatural love and power of God.
Mystical Union with Christ
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. This union is called “mystical” because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments – “the holy mysteries” – and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity.” We, as Christians, are on a journey toward union with Jesus, and our lives should be a continual striving toward that goal. Each of us is called to intimate union with him; however, some individuals receive unique and extraordinary graces of mysticism to manifest God’s power to all. Padre Pio was one of these individuals. From a very young age, he received special graces and favors which lead to intimate union with the Lord. In turn, he was able to lead many others to Christ because of these gifts and graces.
Prayer and Charity
Padre Pio’s teaching and example could be summarized, according to Pope John Paul II, by prayer and charity. In his homily for the canonization of the saint, the Pope emphasized Padre Pio’s devotion to and unity with the Cross of Christ. He praised his union with God and his constant fidelity to prayer as the source of his strength and virtue. Throughout his life, he always sought greater conformity with the Crucified,” he explained. “His holiness cannot be understood without this constant reference to the Cross.” In addition, the Pope focused on the need for all Christians to embrace the sufferings we, ourselves, encounter. “Our time needs to rediscover the value of the Cross in order to open the heart to hope,” the Pope stated.
The Secret of His Holiness
Padre Pio said, “Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God’s heart. You must speak to Jesus not only with your lips, but with your heart. In fact on certain occasions you should only speak to Him with your heart.” The secret to this beloved saint’s holiness and his miraculous gifts was his constant prayer and love for Christ and his fervent celebration of the sacraments. His whole life was a reflection of the life of Jesus and the message of the gospel. He is a powerful model and intercessor for all of us who continue to carry our own crosses on earth.
(Image by: Muschio Di Quercia [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)] / Wikimedia Commons)