This weekend at St. Catherine of Siena, we celebrated the life and legacy of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (“Padre Pio”) on the 50th Anniversary of his death. During a beautiful homily, Deacon Patrick Toole shared the following:
In the late 1970’s, my mother was diagnosed with a cyst the size of a grapefruit. After seeing 2 different doctors, both recommended that the cyst be surgically removed. She prayed a novena to Padre Pio asking for his intercession that the surgery be successful. As she was praying the novena late at night in her bed, she felt the presence of someone and smelled tobacco and something sweet. She had a real sense that Padre Pio was in the room with her.
The next morning when my mother was in surgery, the doctor came out and told my father that the cyst had disappeared with no medical explanation. The doctor went on to tell my father that he had a dream the night before that he should examine the cyst with a tiny surgical camera before he operated. In his 30 plus years of experience, he had never done this before, but the dream was so real that he decided to do it. So, he tried to examine the cyst, but couldn’t find it. He never performed the surgery. It was clearly a miracle that happened about 10 years after Padre Pio’s death.
In 2002, Pope St. John Paul II canonized Padre Pio as St. Pio of Pietrelcina. Today (tomorrow) is the 50th Anniversary of St. Pio’s death. I won’t go into the great detail about his life, but as you can imagine, I have a strong devotion to this remarkable saint. He was a simple Franciscan friar who lived almost his entire adult life in a monastery in southeastern Italy. St. Pio is probably most famous for having the stigmata for 50 years, the visible wounds of Christ in his hands, feet, and side. He was actually quite embarrassed by it and wore gloves and socks to hide the wounds.
When I was young, I was probably most attracted to St. Pio because of his many supernatural gifts. In addition to the stigmata, he could bilocate – essentially be in two places at the same time, levitate above the ground, speak with angels, and read souls. If you went to St. Pio for confession, he knew your sins before you confessed them. In fact, if you forgot to mention a sin sometimes he would remind you. He often heard confessions for 14 hours a day. It’s been estimated that he heard close to 1 million confessions in his lifetime. At times he also had the gift of prophesy. In 1947, Father Karol Wojtyla (later Pope St. John Paul II) went to St. Pio for confession. Many years later, Pope John Paul II confided that during his visit, St. Pio told him that he would one day ascend to the highest position in the Church.
After studying St. Pio for many years, what I came to admire beyond his supernatural gifts, was his profound prayer life and deep love for God. His life was completely consecrated to God and to the service of the Church. He exemplified the spirit of today’s Gospel, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” In the image of Our Lord, he was a true servant.
Someone once asked him, “What is most lacking in the world?” He replied, “The greatest lack in the world today is holy fear of God.” What did he mean by this? In our second reading, St. James alludes to it. “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” St. James goes on to say that wars and conflict come from our disordered passions. We covet, envy and fight because we allow ourselves to be attached and consumed by the things of this world. Holy fear of God, or fear of the Lord, is the remedy for our self-centeredness.
One of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit, Pope St. Gregory the Great described fear of the Lord as the foundational gift that leads to all other gifts of the Spirit. It enables us to avoid sin and attachment to things out of reverence and love of God. We realize our utter dependence on God and a develop a heartfelt desire to never be separated from him. Our soul is animated by a profound adoration and reverence for God along with a keen sense of sorrow for sin.
The gift of fear of the Lord is often misunderstood because of the word “fear.” We do not serve God because we fear punishment in this life or the eternal punishment of hell. Rather, it is out of love that we strive to do God’s will, to avoid sin, and to do our best to sin no more because God is all good and deserving of all of our love. When we truly love someone, we do everything possible not to disappoint that person, to not break their heart. We fear hurting a loved one and violating that person’s trust much more than we fear punishment. And so it is with Our Lord.
A few years ago, a young woman, who sponsored a friend of hers in my RCIA class, shared a story about St. Pio’s intercession in her life. She borrowed her mother’s car to go out with her boyfriend. Unfortunately, they had a serious accident, a head on collision with another car. Her boyfriend was driving at the time and she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. On impact, she felt an arm come across her chest and pin her to the seat. She walked away from the accident unharmed. She said to her boyfriend, “Thank you for holding me against the seat. Thank you for saving my life.” He replied, “I’m sorry, but it wasn’t me. My hands never left the steering wheel.” The young woman’s mother had a deep devotion to St. Pio and often prayed for his intercession. Her mother glued a small statue of St. Pio on the dashboard, similar to the statue we have here in the sanctuary with his right arm extended. After the collision, the young women noticed the statue was still firmly in place, but the right arm had broken off and lay on the floor of the car. She is convinced that it was St. Pio who saved her life.
We may not have the supernatural gifts of St. Pio, but through our baptism and confirmation we have been given the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. Through the gift of fear of the Lord we have a keen sense of God’s infinite greatness, a real sorrow for our sins no matter how small, and a vigilance to struggle against our own personal weaknesses and temptations. This gift also leads us to share the sense of wonder and awe that we have experienced with others.
On Monday evening, October 1st, we will be having an inquiry session here in the parish center for those who are thinking of becoming Catholic or those adults who have not received all of their sacraments of initiation. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please invite them to come to our meeting. And if possible, please come with them to support them.
Meanwhile, each of us can cultivate the gift of fear of the Lord in our own lives through prayer, worship at Mass, careful examinations of conscience, and regular use of the Sacrament of Penance. As far as I know, none of the priests here can read souls, so you don’t have to worry about that. So please come on Tuesday evening to receive this most beautiful sacrament of forgiveness and reconciliation. And as St. Pio reminds us, “We don’t have to be anxious about the future. Know that the Lord is always with us and our enemy has no power over anyone who has resolved to belong entirely to Jesus.”