Today is the feast day of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, OFM Cap. He was commonly referred to as “Padre Pio” when alive and is still invoked in the same manner today. He was born on May 25, 1887 and died on September 23, 1958. His birth name was Francesco Forgione.
On January 6, 1903 he entered the novitiate program of the Capuchin friars at Morcone. He was only 15 years old at the time. He would begin his studies to become a priest after novitiate but would suffer many physical problems. It was around this time that he began to experience supernatural events such as levitation and demonic attacks.
In 1920, Padre Pio would be ordained a priest at the Cathedral of Benevento by archbishop Paolo Schinosi. Due to his illness, he was allowed to remain with his family until 1916. It was around this time that he moved into the Our Lady of Grace Friary in the Gargano Moutains at San Giovanni Rotondo. He would remain at this location most of the time until he was called to military service. His military service was cut short due to his bad health. Padre Pio was discharged on March 16, 1918.
Months after his discharge on September 20, 1918, while hearing the confessions of others, Padre Pio began to experience the “stigmata,” or the physical manifestation of the wounds of Christ. Despite trying to keep it a secret, news spread around that he had the stigmata and many flocked to see him. It is reported that his wounds a blood smelled like flowers which is described as the “odor of sanctity.”
Immediately, claims of healing, bilocation, the gifts of tongues, clairvoyance and other supernatural attributes were surrounding Padre Pio. This increased his popularity. Studies were made on his wounds by several doctors and none could explain them. His woulds would never get infected, never had a foul odor and had healed once and reappeared again in the same manner. X-rays of his hands were taken and no damage to his bones were found. Skeptics attacked Padre Pio by claiming that his stigmata was fake. According to a pharmacist named Maria De vito, Padre Pio had requested 4 grams of carbolic acid and needles. It was suggested that he used these to cause the words on his hands. However, the carbolic acid and needles were used to care for those ssufferingfrom the Spanish Flu. Moreover, carbolic acid decays human flesh and degrades tissue which was not what was observed in the stigmata of Padre Pio. Despite being able to heal others, Padre Pio suffered many physical problems. He had asthmatic bronchitis, kidney stones, abdominal pains, chronic gastritis, an ucler, inflammations of his eyes, nose, ear and throat, rhinitis, otitis. He also had an inguinal hernia repaired, a cyst removed, and a tumor on his ear radiated. Padre Pio was not one to parade his wounds around. He wore mittens to cover them.
As with any holy person, Padre Pio was under the microscope of the Catholic Church. Some believed him to be a fraud or possibly possessed by the devil. The local ordinary, Bishop Gagliardi believed the Capuchin friars were making up stories about Padre Pio in order to make money. Under Pope Pius X, Padre Pio was prohibited from public ministry. He was made subject to many investigations. Friar Agostino Gemelli, who was also a psychologist dismissed Padre Pio has being a psychopath who mutilated himself in order to fool the people. Skeptics and atheists would often dismiss Padre Pio as being delusional. One atheist told him that he focused on Jesus’ passion so much that his body began to show the wounds, basically describing Psychosomatic symptoms. Padre Pio replied to him to think hard of a bull to see if the atheist grows horns. The Vatican from 1924 to 1931 would issue statements denying that Padre Pio had any supernatural events occurring to him. In 1960, Monsignor Carlo Maccari who later was installed as archbishop of Ancona initiated another investigation. The 200 paged reported suggested that Padre Pio was a fraud and even had sex with women every week. However, his room was bugged and no evidence of this was discovered. Maccari would later recant his claims and prayed to Padre Pio on his deathbed.
According to reports, Saint John Paul II visited Padre Pio when he was a young Karol Wojtyła who was told that he would rise to the Church’s highest official. Some deny this claim, but it is interesting to note that once becoming Pope, Wojtyla started the canonization process for Padre Pio.
He was beatified in 1999 and canonized on June 16, 2002 by Saint John Paul II. ∞
The readings today deal with God’s mercy, the limited time to seek it and humility.
In the first reading, we read how Isaiah tells the people to seek God while He may be found. What does this mean? Can God be lost? Is not God everywhere? The statement Isaiah is making is not one regarding spatial parameters, but the limited time for the soul to seek God and repent. It is not news that we all live here for a while on Earth and then die. While here, we have free will and can choose good or evil. We can choose to tell the truth or to lie. We can choose to follow the Commandments or break them. However, God waits for us to return to Him. He extends His arms to receive us.
God is generous in forgiving as Isaiah states. There is no sin that is greater than God. We here on Earth may find this hard to believe. How can God forgive a rapist, murderer or even a child abuser? Isaiah answers this by stating that the way God thinks is not the way we think. His thoughts are beyond ours. Many atheists have trouble understanding why God allows evil. How can God be good yet allow atrocities to occur? They think this way because they do not understand what is really going on. They do not know the ways of the Lord nor understand how He thinks. Who has known the mind of God or has been His psychologist (1 Corinthians 2:16)?
We can get brain damage trying to philosophize the mind of God and why He allows evil. This is the worst way to understand, or try to understand. It is via faith that we begin to understand how God works, thinks and operates. Notice I wrote, “begin to understand.” This is because we can never totally understand God and His thoughts or ways. We are limited creatures interacting with an infinite Supreme Being. Trying to understand God’s thoughts and ways is like trying to put the entire ocean into a small hole as in the vision St. Augustine had of the young boy who told him this(see: http://www.sacerdotus.com/2013/08/st-augustine-of-hippo.html)
However, we exist not to psychoanalyze God, but to know of Him, love and serve Him. Along the way we mess up and fall into sin. These sins are the not last say. God will forgive them if we seek Him while He is still found. We can go to Confession and remove the burden of sin. Again, we have a limited amount of time to do this because at death or the end of time we will be held accountable (Hebrews 9:27).
This is why the responsorial psalm says that God is near to those who call upon Him. The Psalm goes on to remind us how awesome is God. Despite being God, He is forgiving, kind and merciful. Everything God does is just and holy. The Psalmist is reminding us that God us someone we can trust who is there when we call on Him. God respects our free will and will not force Himself into our lives (Sirach 15). We must be the ones to seek Him. This is why atheists have trouble “finding evidence” for God. They are unwilling to pray and seek God. Because of this, God will not fully reveal Himself to them because they chose not to have Him in their lives.
In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that Christ is the goal. We live and die for Christ. This is why he seems to be looking forward to dying because He will receive His reward: Jesus. It is important to stress that no Christian should seek death just to be with God. St. Francis of Assisi fell into this temptation by desiring to be a martyr. We cannot go about in life wanting to die for God. If it happens, then so be it, but this is not our choice. Martyrdom has more worth when it happens on its own and is not planned by a Christian. Living life is important. This is why St. Paul says that it is better that he remained in the flesh so that he can produce more fruitful labor. The goal of a Christian is not to die, but to die to sin (Romans 6:2).
Finally in the Gospel we read of the Parable of the laborers. Jesus tells the story of a landowner who went out to hire workers to tend the vineyard. Some got hired and worked while others were idle and them put to work. However, each of them got paid the same thing despite working different hours. This brought about complaints from those workers who were working longer, yet received the same pay as those who worked less. They felt that the landowner was cheating them. This parable tells us that God gives the same “wage” to each of us. The wage is His grace and forgiveness. We are all capable of receiving this “wage” regardless of our state in life. Some of us may have believed in God since we first began to talk while others may begin to believe later in life. The ones who believed longer did not “build up” more than those who began to believe later on in life. God calls both to Himself. Both have God as the goal.
This ties in with the first reading where we read that we must seek God while He may be found. The landowner is God looking for workers for His vineyard. If we want to get “wages,” we must seek Him when He comes to hire. Those of us who have been “on the job” longer, must not complain about those who joined us later on. This is why we must be welcoming of those who are received into the Church every Easter. Being Catholic is not a competition of who can go to more Masses, pray more or do “Catholic things” the best. We are all in this vineyard together working.
Last year, a photo of Pope Francis struck me well. In the photo, he is sitting in a chapel; not in the
front on a throne, but in the back. It is an extremely awkward looking photo of the Pope in his white papal cassock sitting in the back. There is no media or Catholic frenzy about him as we seek when he walks about or travels in vehicles. Rather, he was there alone in the back. This reminded me of what the Gospel today closes with: “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
How many of us want to be the first in everything? Recently, the new Iphone 6 device was released. People lined up before stores opened to purchase one. Some even slept outside for days! It is sad that these people go to all this trouble for a piece of metal, silicon, glass and plastic instead of for God. The same happens when new Jordan sneakers are released. We see long lines of youth outside of Foot Locker or stores that sell sneakers. They want to be the first to have these items. In their ignorance, they believe that these material things will give them status or worth. In today’s Gospel, it is the landowner (God) who gives us worth. He is the one who pays the wages. Being the first in everything only shows that we are desperate. Jesus reminds us that those who are humble and are last, will be the first to enter Heaven. These are the people who accept what happens in life. They do not complain or whine. To them, it is God’s will and they happily accept it. In many cases, it is a good idea to be last in line. If an emergency happens, those in the front will be the ones in trouble while those in the last of the line can make a run for it! Let us learn to be humble and remain the last in line. We do not have any claim to salvation so we should not rush to the front of the line believing we will be saved first. Not everyone who shouts “Lord Lord” will be saved (Matthew 7:21-23).