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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Padre Pio

A few days ago it was the feast of Padre Pio.
Apparently, some devotees believe that he would do just about anything from up there to celebrate the occasion. For example, today I saw a guy on TV enthusiastically holding his picture in front of the camera after Naples's soccer team won a game against Villa Real Spanish team.


I was born in Naples, and although I've never met Padre Pio, I've heard a lot about him. My mother went to visit him when I was a young girl, and I remember her returning home in a state of shock: He had refused to give her the absolution. I wonder why. He was known for his ability to see into people's heart. She never went back, which makes me think that he saw something in her that she couldn't easily change. My mother and I had a wonderful relationship, but she didn't get along with all the members of our family. Perhaps Padre Pio condemned her temper, or saw that she couldn't love her neighbor as she loved herself.

My husband met Padre Pio at the age of five. He remembers that, before celebrating Mass, he kicked two women out of the church because they were dressed inappropriately. That was scary. But later he took him on his lap and talked to him in Neapolitan dialect, and that was sweet. My husband is not a believer, yet Padre Pio's picture has been sitting on his night-stand since we moved to the USA.

Padre Pio was a man who strived towards perfection and wanted others to do the same. Like St. John of the Cross, he tried to achieve purification of the senses and suffered the Night of the Spirit. He wrote:
"I find myself enveloped in a profound night and no matter how I turn and toss I cannot find the light. How then can I walk before the Lord?"
And somewhere else, like Mother Theresa:
"My Father, how difficult it is to believe!"
Many saints have experienced interior darkness. Theology attributes this phenomenon to the increasing closeness of the saint to Jesus, who also suffered the absence of God on the cross. The saint will remain obedient to God even during years of darkness.
Another explanation could be that mystics perceive the evil nature of temptation more deeply than ordinary people. Maybe Padre Pio was horrified at the kind of thoughts that would simply remind us that we are human and therefore subject to temptation.


But of course Padre Pio had an insight of the truth: The devil's most cherished activity is to mess up with our minds. For decades I did not realize that I was, so to speak, a toy in his dirty hands. Then one night, a few weeks into the process of returning to the faith, I fell pray of an unusual sensation. I was sleeping on my side, and I felt as if someone was pressing hard on my chest and on my back at the same time. I woke up more than once because of the discomfort, realizing every time that it wasn't caused by stomach pain. Exhausted, I fell asleep again and again.
The morning after I rushed to church and asked for the priest. He was a thin, dignified man with snow white hair. I was embarrassed. "This is ridiculous!" I thought. But I told him my story and he took me seriously. He advised me to keep a crucifix next to me the following night.
"Father," I said, "I don't own anything of that sort. I'm not a religious person."
"Nothing at all?" he exclaimed. "Well, no wonder…Wait here, I'll get you what you need."
I went back home with two crucifixes and a Bible, and they have been in my bedroom ever since.


It is said that Padre Pio had physical confrontations with the devil. I certainly don't envy him. Yet, sometimes I do welcome temptations, because they allow me to recognize Jesus' power against the Big Liar. What can I say? Every so often I need to see Jesus in action.
Jesus engaged in his own private battle with Satan, whom he understood as the real cause for the wickedness of Rome. He couldn't be the kind of Messiah who would fight Rome in a war, because the one thing that God can't do is to go against His nature. Jesus couldn't fight evil with the devil's weapons, but only with the love he had for his people. So he went to the cross. He was afraid, but he trusted His Father, and Christianity won against the evil empire of Rome