Authentic soul-wisdom is offered by a saint who intimately experienced the physical and interior sufferings of the pierced Sacred Heart, battled with demons, and attained the victory of love. St. Pio of Pietrelcina, more familiarly known as “Padre Pio”, was an Italian Capuchin priest and should be considered a trusted guide through the Lenten season when the Church’s liturgy presents the opportunity to intimately ponder Christ’s passion, slay our dragons and strive harder to be a faithful lover of our Redeemer.
Annually as Lent approaches, I pull from my library precious books that I purchased years ago when visiting the tomb of St. Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, a province of Foggia, Italy that was his home from 28 July 1916 to 23 September 1968. One book contains the spiritual direction letters between St. Pio and Padre Benedetto; another contains his spiritual direction letters to souls whom he guided in the interior life.
The Church leads us into the forty days of Lent to prepare for the sacred Triduum—the holiest of liturgical days spanning Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. We are guided to recall Christ’s passionate love, and walk with Jesus on the way of the cross in gratitude for our redemption born of His Precious Blood. Christ’s bloody sacrifice at Calvary grounds us in the reality of what the Church calls, “the four last things” – death, judgement, heaven, hell. Why is it important to ponder these? They are the eternal destiny of every believing or non-believing person. St. Ignatius, in his spiritual exercises, instructs us to write our own eulogy to refocus our daily decisions toward the goal.
With all that has occurred in the Church since the “summer of scandal”, the polarization within, and the deep pain in the body of Christ, Lent 2019 arrives as the perfect time to ground us in the extravagant love of the one High Priest who wills to prove his love and fidelity by resolutely laying down his life for sinners. He seeks to stir us out of our foggy fleshy atmosphere into the clarity of revealed Truth that sets us free.
Padre Pio’s life and letters remind us of the more to which we are called, and challenge us in the way that we need to be challenged about our values. He can help us go deeper into the interior life of the soul so we can internalize our Lenten practices—beyond surface devotion to the depth of transforming union with God. He wills it for us. It happens according to divine grace, His way and time—if we surrender with docility to the still small voice within—the touch of the Sanctifier, the Holy Spirit.
Padre Pio Letter 60: Foggia, 30-3-1915
Pio to Rafaelina: “The virtue of love is exceedingly beautiful, Raffaelina, and to enkindle it in our hearts the Son of God was pleased to come down Himself from the bosom of the eternal Father, to become like us in order to teach us and make it easy for us, with the means He left us, to acquire the most eminent virtue. Let us ask Jesus insistently to give us this virtue and let us make greater and greater efforts to grow in it.
The attack which I mentioned to you in my last letter, Raffaelina, continues with its ups and downs. Praise be to Jesus! This too will work out for the glory of His divine majesty. I need fresh courage all the time, though, and this I await from heaven through the intercession of yourself and of other souls that are very dear to the Divine Heart. For this purpose I ask you in charity, by the meekness of the Son of God, to begin the holy novenas to the beautiful Virgin of Pompeii in whom I have great confidence and through whom I expect all from the generosity of God. I also want you to receive Holy Communions during this time for the same intention. I am asking too much, but do not doubt that Jesus will know how to reward you.”
(Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, “Letters”, Vol. II, San Giovanni Rotondo, Foggia, Italy, 1987, p 400).
Our lesson? Intercessory prayer is very dear to the Divine Heart. Priests need intercessory prayer for the fruitfulness of their ministry and protection from diabolical attacks. In this letter Padre Pio threads the beauty of divine love, the reality of spiritual warfare, the power of intercessory prayer and above all, the need for Holy Communions for strength.
Padre Pio Letter 64: Pietrelcina, 20-4-1915
Padre Pio to Rafaelina: I repeat, dear Raffaelina, that you are not to be afraid. The One who has helped you so far will continue His work of salvation. Don’t have any doubts about the divine assistance, don’t turn in upon yourself because of the many calamities that continually surround you, for everything will turn out for God’s glory and the salvation of your soul. Tell me, how can you doubt these assurances? Without divine grace, could you have come through all the crises and battles which your soul has had to face in the past? So have confidence always, for all the rest will be done by the same grace; you will be saved and the enemy will be consumed by rage.
Continue to pray, meanwhile, and to give thanks and suffer according to the divine intention and the divine will, and may you be encouraged to do this by the thought that your reward is not far off. I understand that the trial is hard, that the fight is unspeakable, painful for your soul, but great is the merit of victory, ineffable the consolation, immortal the glory and eternal reward.”
(Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, “Letters”, Vol. II, San Giovanni Rotondo, Foggia, Italy, 1987, p 422).
Our lesson? Divine assurance is in the word of God! “Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17). Read aloud the scriptures—proclaim the word of God to you! In diabolical trials, read aloud the First Chapter of St. John’s gospel. Demons despise this scripture about the Incarnation which caused their rebellion and defeat.
Padre Pio Letter 505 to Padre Benedetto, Spiritual Director (5-9-1918)
“The attacking forces are advancing, dear Father, and they strike at the very center of my defense. Holy obedience, which is the last prop left to keep the tottering fortress from falling, seems to be yielding like the rest because of the Satanic invasion. I want to believe at all costs in holy obedience, although I don’t know whether it is a belief from the teeth out or if my whole will adheres to it. But I see that this voice of obedience, is drowned in the tempest of anxieties and torments and after the momentary comfort, which this voice brings, my soul seems to be plunged into a more merciless anguish than before and drinks in great draughts the bitter chalice, bereft of all comfort and not knowing why or for whom it is suffering. In order to render my almost desperate situation somewhat less difficult, I want and am forcing myself to abide by what my guide tells me.”
(Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, “Letters”, Vol. 1, San Giovanni Rotondo, Foggia, Italy, 1984, p 1197).
Our lesson? When the devil tries to invade our mind or life, recourse to a priest is helpful (an ordained clergyman or Church approved spiritual director); as is the practice of obedience to spiritual practices, and Church teaching. “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Eph 6:14).
Padre Pio Letter 33, 9-4-1911
“Even in these holy days the enemy is making every effort to induce me to consent to all his impious designs. In particular this evil spirit tries by all sorts of images to introduce into my mind impure thoughts and ideas of despair. He shows me a more dismal picture of my life, especially life in the world. To put it briefly, dear Father, I am right in the grip of the devil who is trying with all his might to snatch me from the hands of Jesus. I am alone in this combat and my heart is filled with terror. … I should like to make a good general confession, but as I do not know whether this would be good for me or not, I shall be satisfied to do what you suggest. I wish you at the same time, a holy Easter filled with every happiness. Asking your blessing…”
(Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, “Letters”, Vol. 1, San Giovanni Rotondo, Foggia, Italy, 1984, p 249).
Our lesson? “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet 5:7-10).
St. Padre Pio, I implore you, please, to take me as your spiritual son or daughter, and intercede for me that my faith, hope and love will endure to the end. I desire you to accompany me on my Lenten journey in a special way. Guide me to enter the pierced heart of our Redeemer who is Love.
image: Padre Pio dans la Sainte Marie des Grâce by Robin-Angelo Photography / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)