“I bear the marks of Jesus on my body” (Galatians 6: 17).
St. Padre Pio (1887-1968) is remembered for three principal reasons. First, he possessed the ability to read souls. This means that when someone went to Confession to him, Padre Pio knew their sins without the penitent saying a word beforehand. He was known, in fact, to remind penitents “gently” of any sins that they forgot or tried to hide from him. Second, he was known on several recorded instances to have the ability to bi-locate. Padre Pio literally could be at two places at the same time! Third and most famously, St. Padre Pio was known for carrying the stigmata, or the marks of Christ on the Cross, on his own body much like St. Francis of Assisi centuries before him. Pilgrims who travel today to Padre Pio’s room in his monastery can look upon several of the blood-stained linens and gloves available for veneration.
The Church celebrates St. Padre Pio’s feast on 23 September (the day that he passed into eternal life), and we are reminded how our parish is privileged to have a statue of Padre Pio available for prayer and devotion among our faithful every day. Padre Pio remains an enduring figure among Christians because he is a modern saint in the sense that he is close to us in time; in fact, many people are alive today who remember visiting with or going to Confession to Padre Pio. Many others recount how Padre Pio’s prayers directly intervened to save a loved one or to heal an infirmity. He was known in his own day, as well as today, to be an effective intercessor before God.
The stigmata and the various miraculous events associated with Padre Pio are not meant to turn him (or any other saint) into a Catholic celebrity, however. A saint’s popularity based on such miracles would be nothing but an empty show or a house built on sand, as it were. The saints themselves are always the first to acknowledge that their personal reputation for holiness is always more than balanced by their personal knowledge that they are sinners before God and are always most in need of his mercy. The stigmata given to Padre Pio was, in fact, a sacrifice that he carried all his life once he received it 1910. According to his own writings, one “night something happened which I can neither explain nor understand. In the middle of the palms of my hands a red mark appeared, about the size of a penny, accompanied by acute pain in the middle of the red marks. The pain was more pronounced in the middle of the left hand, so much so that I can still feel it. Also under my feet I can feel some pain.” Later, he would also receive a wound in his side that mirrored the open wound of Christ from the lance thrust into His Sacred Heart.
Padre Pio begged the Lord to have the physical marks of the stigmata healed while at the same time, he was willing to endure the pain from the wounds in his hands, feet, and side. However, God’s providence willed that Padre Pio would keep the visible wounds of Christ’s Passion on his body. Why does God permit the stigmata? He allows some people to manifest the wounds of His Son for two primary reasons. First, the wounds are a physical reminder of the trauma that Jesus endured for our salvation. The various stigmata are living examples of what we read in the Gospels. However, beyond merely imagining what Christ must have suffered for us, the stigmata gives us a small glimpse of the actual price paid for our union with God which is now possible because of what Jesus went through in His suffering and death.
Second, certain persons are chosen by God, in the words of St. Paul, to fill “up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His Body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1: 24). The Church typically refers to such persons as “victim souls.” Although nothing whatsoever was lacking in the sacrifice that Jesus offered to His Father in His Passion, we are reminded that as baptized Christians, we are all called to offer our life to the Father in imitation of Jesus with works of penance and sacrifice. Nevertheless, we so often fail to do that sufficiently. The Body of the Church, therefore, is reminded by looking at these victim souls of how we ought to be living our Christian dignity. It is not by endlessly chasing after comfort and ease. Daily sacrifice is our mission. How well do we embrace that mission willingly, however? The stigmata was not given to Padre Pio to make him a Catholic superstar. He suffered physically, emotionally, and spiritually all his life as he carried these wounds in his person. Yet, he offered his difficulties for the good of others and for their eternal salvation. He spent hours in the confessional precisely because he wanted sinners reconciled to their God and to begin living the Christian dignity they were baptized into as infants or adults. Conversion, however, requires sacrifice. He was willing to sacrifice so much when we, in comparison, gripe when we have to sacrifice even a little. The stigmata is an external sign of what each of us ought to be carrying internally: the marks of Christ in our own soul.
Throughout his priestly life, Padre Pio often repeated, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” Although this may sound overly simplistic, Padre Pio maintained his confidence in God because he was fiercely attached to the Rosary. In fact, he called the Rosary “the weapon.” Indeed, the Rosary is the weapon against Lucifer, the worldly spirit, and our own fallen nature. Padre Pio was united to the Virgin Mary, and he called all of us to be right beside him in honoring the Mother of God. She took well care of Padre Pio in his life through all of his sufferings, and he promised that she will take care of ours, also. May we pray for the intercession of St. Padre Pio in our life by bearing the imprint of Jesus in our mind, heart, and soul as we pray to Christ every day, hope in His salvation, and confidently continue our pilgrimage in life without worrying!
Saint Padre Pio, pray for us.
May you have a most blessed and holy week!
Fr. Shawn William Cutler
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