His Spiritual Life
From his earliest years Francesco
Forgione was a man of prayer. Considered a quiet boy by the other youngsters he would
seldom play with them "because they blaspheme." This aversion to sin would cause
him to run away to pray in the church of St. Pius V. At other times he would sit under a
tree on his father's property and "think about God." By age five Francesco had
already determined to become a Franciscan Capuchin, in part because of the habit and the
beard, which he liked greatly, but also moved by the grace of God to seek perfection.
His climb of the ladder of holiness,
however, involved more than pious aspirations and flight from the bad example of the world.
Even very young it it encompassed to a remarkable degree the battle against the flesh
and against the devil. For example, the child Francis was no stranger to
mortification. Although the family had meager rations as it was, Francesco nonetheless
occasionally deprived himself of food. And, at age nine his mother discovered him sleeping
on the floor with a rock for his pillow, a practice which apparently had been going on for
some time. Such austerity would become a hallmark of his entire life. He also experienced
the assaults of the devil, who appeared in horrible forms in his dreams. Later in life
these attacks would take a more direct form, even physical assaults.
Yet, God did not leave him abandoned,
providing him with consoling visions of the Blessed Mother and his Guardian angel. On one
occasion the scope of his future warfare with evil was made known to him. In a vision that
was granted him after receiving Communion one day, he saw himself in the middle of a large
hall between two groups of people, one group had beautiful faces, the other hideous ones.
Just then a huge monster came from the end of the hall toward him, but Jesus appeared, in
order to give Francesco strength. Before the monster could reach Francesco it was struck
by lightening and disappeared. The Lord said to him, "That is the fiend against whom
you will have to fight." Indeed, any biography of Padre Pio's life shows the extent
to which this prophetic vision came true, even in its most literal sense.
January 1903 saw Francesco Forgione,
age 15, enter religious life or the state of perfection. While religious are not by the
fact of their state necessarily perfect, the life of the three evangelical counsels
(poverty, chastity and obedience) is ordered to making them so. Our Lord, counseling those
who wished to be perfect, offered them a means of complete surrender to God, the giving up
of the right to marry (Mt
19:12), to own material goods (Mt
19:21a), and to do what one chooses (Mt
19:21b). It was at this time, the entrance to the novitiate, that Francesco received
the name of Fra. Pio (Brother Pius); Fra. to indicate that he was a religious Fratello
(Italian) or Frater (Latin) and Pio to indicate by his change of name that a new
life was beginning. Only later, with priestly ordination in 1910, would he assume the name
by which he will probably be forever known, Padre Pio.
As the short outline above shows,
Padre Pio undertook the traditional and proven path to holiness, renouncing the world, the
flesh, and the devil, through prayer and mortification, capped by the total surrender of
the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. It can also be said that the
priesthood of Padre Pio gave even greater impetus to his conformity to Christ, Priest and
Victim, without which it is impossible to understand Padre Pio of Pietrilcina.