Five Maxims for Living a Devout Life
Examining the writings of Padre Pio
The publication of the letters of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina reveal unheard of and surprising aspects of his priestly ministry. Through his vast experience he was a master of spiritual direction for the various categories of faithful: young people, adults and the elderly, both men and women. His ministry for priests and Religious was of equal, if not better, quality.
As an apostle full of charismatic gifts, this saintly priest knew how to treat every person and every situation with the greatest gentleness and charity.
Gianluigi Pasquale, the Capuchin who is currently publishing page after page of Padre Pio's spiritual correspondence, has given us a further proof of the goodness and wisdom of Padre Pio as a spiritual master through his work Padre Pio. Nel segno di Francesco. Le Lettere del Santo di Pietrelcina (Milan, San Paolo, 2004, pp. 106, €7).
The letters are addressed to the followers of Padre Pio who have started the journey of holiness and perfection: the writings were generally to individuals, but among his correspondents there were also groups of men.
'May Jesus bless you always and smile at your spirit'
"May Jesus bless you always and smile at your spirit, subjected through his goodness to so many trials; may he always console your heart, afflicted for him and by him, not through hate but through love".
This letter is dated 6 August 1916, and the town indicated is Foggia. In it, Padre Pio reasserts the pedagogical theology of the Old and New Testaments. Evil, like suffering, is not the work of God. Pain, from being an instrument of affliction, becomes a means of spiritual uplifting, of purification and of holiness.
Padre Pio affirmed: "This is my most ardent wish that I have always made for you ever since I met you before Jesus, and which I have come to present to you today in the sweetest Bridegroom of our souls".
In his being, in his person, in his teaching, Padre Pio mirrors the special features of the Good Shepherd, from which he never, for any reason, desired to stray: "It is far from legitimate, then, to think that I, at this moment the appointed judge of your soul, should wish for the sake of comforting you to pronounce a judgment different from the truth and lull you into a sleep fatal to your eternal destiny. If that were so, my beloved daughter in Christ, charity would be damaging hatred and piety, merciless cruelty. Except, of course, if you were to consider me a wicked wretch, you are obliged to be satisfied with my assurances and take them as certain. Nor is it permissible for you to suppose that I judge lightly or without deep conviction".
Padre Pio does not intend to violate the "sacrarium" of the individual conscience. Yet, as he faced the demands of truth, he came to write (3 March 1917): "I urge you in our most gentle Lord not to worry about my spiritual state. I have very good reason to praise God since he has granted your spirit some enlightenment which, although it is not entirely released, should not altogether surprise you. Spiritual fevers, like physical ones, are usually followed by a variety of sensations that, far from harming the sick person, are useful to him for various reasons: in this case because they dispel the lingering malefic humours that caused the illness".
Patience paves the way to holiness and perfection
Among the virtues that foster the achievement of holiness and perfection, Padre Pio points to patience: "You may rest assured, my dear friend, that what best guarantees our perfection is the virtue of patience; and if it is necessary to practise this virtue with others, it is right to exercise it first of all towards ourselves. Those who aspire to the pure love of God need patience with themselves even more than with others".
On 15 November 1917, the future saint wrote from San Giovanni Rotondo to a consecrated woman, warmly recommending the devotion to the Crucified Jesus. "May Jesus always be within your heart and may he protect you always with his vigilant grace".
And Padre Pio continued: "The other day I returned home" (to San Giovanni Rotondo) and expressed his genuine satisfaction: "You can imagine my deep emotion and my gratitude to Divine Love. Such exultations of holy joy that can only be felt and never described".
He then lists the following rules for the attainment of perfection: "Here is what I feel I must say to you in the Lord today. To live a devout life without failing, all you need do is to fix some excellent and generous maxims in your mind".
Padre Pio's five maxims for living a devout life
"The first one I desire you to cherish is from St Paul: 'All things work together for the good of those who love God' (Rom 8:28).
"The second maxim that I desire you to keep for ever engraved on your heart is that God is our Father; and what do you have to fear as the daughter of such a father whose providence would not let a hair of your head be harmed?
"The third maxim is that you must observe what the divine Master teaches his disciples: 'What do you lack?' The disciples answered that they lacked nothing. When you were troubled even at the time when you unfortunately did not feel much confidence in God, tell me, were you never oppressed by anxiety? You will answer, 'No'. So, I will reply, 'Why do you not have the strength to overcome all the other trials?'.
"The fourth maxim concerns eternity. Living these brief and fleeting moments should not matter much to the children of God, since they will live for eternity in glory with God.
"The fifth maxim that I implore you to keep fixed in your mind is that of the Apostle St Paul: 'Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Gal 6:14). Treasure in your heart the crucified Jesus Christ and all the crosses of the world will seem like roses. Those who have been pricked by the crown of thorns of the Saviour, who is our Head, do not feel the other wounds.
"All I am asking you at the moment is to help me with your prayers to God; and know that I will always do the same for you and for your family and for all the souls who worked for my liberation. My gratitude and acknowledgment to God for them will be eternal".
Fidelity to the charism of St Francis of Assisi
Padre Pio wanted San Giovanni Rotondo to be his true religious "homeland". It was there that he continued to sanctify himself and to win over for Christ a multitude of the faithful from every part of the world. It was also the place of his mystical sublimation where he received the stigmata.
In November 1922, he reasserted his fidelity to the Franciscan charism: "Where can I serve you best, O Lord, other than in the cloister and under the banner of the Poverello of Assisi?".
Mentioning his "spiritual struggles", he confessed: "You know, O Lord, the hot tears that I shed before you in those most distressing times. You know, O God, of my soul, of the cries from my heart, the tears that streamed from these eyes. You had proof of the tears I shed and their cause from the pillows bathed with them. I want and I always wanted to obey you, but life came to a standstill. I even desired to die rather than fail to respond to your call".
The trial was accepted and it was fruitful: "May infinite praise and thanksgiving be raised to you, O my God".
And finally, here is this holy man's invocation to St Francis: "You also help me too. I know that Jesus loved you so much and you deserve it. So speak to him for me, so that he will grant me the grace to be a son less unworthy of St Francis in order that I may serve as an example to my confreres".
His wish was granted, and the Church has recognized his perfect holiness. [Pope John Paul II canonized Bl. Padre Pio on 16 June 2002].
Weekly Edition in English
4 August 2004, page 3
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