At Christmas time, 1943, the 15th Air Force, to which I was attached, arrived from North Africa to take over the great German air bases around Foggia on the Adriatic across from Naples. I was assigned to the American Red Cross Field Office in Foggia. Little did I think that I was soon to travel up a steep winding road on the mountain of Gargono which forms the spur of the boot of Italy. Two soldiers who told me that they heard of a Capuchin Monk at a monastery in the town of San Giovanni Rotondo who had the wounds of the crucifixion in hands, feet and side, and they wanted me to take them to Mass in order to meet him. A snow storm was in progress on the mountain. We were taken into the sanctuary where Padre Pio was saying Mass. We knelt on the cold marble floor on the side not ten feet from Padre where we could observe his every movement. As he began the consecration he seemed to be in great pain, shifting his weight from side to side, hesitating to begin the words of consecration which he would start and repeat-biting them off with a clicking of his teeth as if in great pain. His cheek muscles twitched and tears were visible on his cheeks. He reached for the chalice and jerked back his hand because of the pain in the wound which was fully visible to me. After his communion he leaned over the altar for sometime as if he was in communion with Jesus. Later I learned that at this time he presented his many spiritual children to Our Lord offering his own suffering for them.
I am a witness, I am a witness to a saint in formation. I was totally convinced that here was a priest who had attained a state of sanctity the like of which I had only read about, but never met before. In the Sacristy after mass we met for a few minutes. I received his blessing and was allowed to kiss the wound in his hands. I knew we had a destiny together. I sensed that I wanted to help make him known in America.
I am supposed to tell you about Padre Pio's spirituality. I don't really know what spirituality is. There is a lot of talk, a lot of books about spirituality. I wonder sometimes what Padre Pio would say - He might have answered too - "I don't know -- but that is what I do." What I do leads to an atmosphere of spirituality. Spirituality is the result of something.
Spirituality is sometimes like gravity - Sure, one may pass it off as a force within the universe, but does that tell us what gravity is? We all experience it every moment of our lives-but what is it?-really?
Spirituality can be a universal force which we experience. Gravity can be described as coming out of the laws of nature. So too spirituality may be described as flowing from Christ's new commandment. The law of Love. "Love one another." "God is Love." Let us go a little deeper into this. What is the essence-the root of spiritualized action? Spiritualized action always has to be motivated by the spirit, since the spirit is inspired by God. God is Love. So spirituality may be the result of God's love in action. Really we have little to do with it, because it is a grace. I think Padre Pio would buy that. Maybe we would do well to try to spiritualize our actions - all our actions. That is what Padre Pio did. That is what he did when he blessed some crucifixes for me with the added promise he would pray especially for those to whom I gave them, especially to those in great need, Examples:
1. Sr. Frederic, Medical Mission Sister, interning at Georgetown Hospital had one which I gave her - one morning on visiting her patients found an elderly lady in an oxygen tent in a coma - noted her chart - as catholic - she placed the crucifix on her, called the priest and doctor. The priest came in, she woke up, called him to hear her confession, and shortly after expired. Did Padre Pio's prayer and crucifix awake her for this final grace?
2 Mrs. Collins, age 52, cancer for 10 years, part of jaw and tongue were removed. She wanted a miracle. At my request she wrote to Padre Pio, she had an answer - called me, said her apartment was full of the aroma known to be related to his wounds. The miracle came, but in a very different way - soon she was taken to the hospital. She was terminal. I visited her several times, she could not talk, but she had Padre Pio's crucifix on her and his picture on her pillow where she had warned staff it was to stay as long as she lived.
She never complained as she had before -she let me know that all was OK. I was a pallbearer at her funeral, on the way home from the cemetery I was riding in the funeral limousine with a lady who was her best friend. She told me she was not a Catholic, but after seeing how Mrs. Collins changed after that letter came from Padre Pio - never complaining as she had most of the time - accepting all her terrible suffering -- that she felt the Catholic Church was what helped her, and that Padre Pio changed her. She asked me if she could have the crucifix. I told her I was sure Mrs. Collins would want her to have it. Then she said that her husband, eleven year old son and she were taking instructions. This is God's love in action - a true example of Padre Pio's spirituality!
There are hundreds of these kinds of graces reaching out to little people all over the world. I have been personally involved with dozens in the last 45 years.
3. A girl student at CU who nearly lost her vocation as a sister until I suggested to her to submit her problem to Padre Pio in a letter - the answer was, "finish your studies and go directly to the convent." That she did.
4. A lawyer friend in Philadelphia, not a Catholic - planned suicide - Padre Pio's picture slipped out of his wallet while on his way to the river - he went to a chapel nearby and prayed. He died much later in the Catholic Church. Soldiers were stabilized in their faith. Many vocations among GI's. President of a Catholic Foundation asked for help for his dying wife suffering from cancer, there was immediate help, when Padre Pio's crucifix was given to her.
I am not a theologian so I cannot tell you much about Spirituality. I think I know how Padre Pio worked, how he was motivated, and what makes the Mountain of Gargono a special place because of the spirit which Padre Pio's work generates there. I must tell you about his House for the Relief of Suffering.
Dr. Sanguinetti, the chief medical architect for a great hospital conceived in the mind of Padre Pio, reported a conversation with Padre Pio in the early stages of development. Padre Pio said to him - "I would very much like that people would understand what is motivating us in building this hospital. He pointed to the monastery. (They were out on the mountain side). The guidelines, yes, they are simple- 'love' just 'love'. Always love and charity. In those few words is the summary of our work and ideas and they flow directly from the House of God, Jesus and Mary." Dr. Sanguinetti responded and "Divine Providence is the great Protagonist". The spirit and aim of Padre Pio in building the hospital, as in all his work, was the spirit motivated by his love and charity. All our acts and all our activities are the effects radiated from that love and charity, in this case for the Relief of Suffering. The name Padre Pio gave it in the very beginning.
I would like to digress a bit and introduce you to a 100 year old lecture given at Oxford, England, by a great man who understood Christ's love. Henry Drummond, a scientist and theologian, addressed a group of graduates who were soon to go to the outer reaches of the Empire. He wanted to give them something which would help them help others. He used St. Paul's 13th Corinthians as a base for his thesis. Let us see what he says about Paul's "noblest object of desire" - The Summum Bonum. "I have taken you, he said, in the chapter I just read to Christianity at its source, and there we have seen the essential virtues and the greatest of these is love." Paul "deliberately contrasted Faith, Hope, Love" and without a moment's hesitation the decision falls. "The greatest of these is Love". Paul said elsewhere, "Love is the fulfilling of the law." In those days people were working their passage to Heaven by keeping the Ten Commandments. Christ said, I will show you a more simple way. "If you do one thing, you will do all ten things, without even thinking about them. If you love, you will unconsciously fulfill the whole law, Love is the fulfilling of the Law, the new commandment for keeping all the old commandments. Christ's one secret of the Christian life." Paul uses logic in contrasting Love with other things. Why is love greater than faith? Because the end is greater than the means. Why is it greater than charity? Because the whole is greater than the part. What is the use of having faith? It is to connect the soul with God. What is the object of connecting man with God? Only that he may become like God. But God is Love. Hence Faith the means, is in order to Love, the end." Love is greater than Charity, Charity is only a little bit of Love, one of the innumerable avenues of Love and there is a great deal of Charity without Love. So Love is the universal force which will spiritualize what we do - God's Love in action.
Padre Pio understood all this and he translated all this into the basic rules of his Hospital. Padre Pio also wanted all the people connected with the building and operation of the hospital to understand and practice this all embracing commandment. Henry Drummond described further how the quality of this love enhances one's character. He said - You can take nothing greater to the heathen world than the impress and reflection of the Love of God upon your own character. That is a universal language. The language of Love is understood by all peoples regardless of dialects or education or conditions of life. Love will always pour forth its unconscious eloquence. One's character reveals this message. You can take into any new sphere of labor that simple charm and your life work will succeed. You can take nothing greater, you need take nothing less. You may take every accomplishment, you may make great sacrifices, but "if you have not this Love it will profit you and the muse of Christ - nothing." He said "No worse fate on befall a person than to live and grow old alone - unloved and unloving. "
The world today needs credible signs. Padre Pio is a credible sign to our time. He is a true victim with Christ. He is a channel of grace. At the altar he is the anointed one who can bring his people the body and blood of Christ His life as a priest of more than 50 years, never leaving that monastery, yet his name and influence embraces people in every country in the world. His sanctity attracted souls and moved them toward Christ. His spiritual family numbers thousands and is open to all. To join is by will alone. He told me that if anyone wishes to join "I will know and they will know." His Spiritual Prayer Groups are worldwide. Thousands are united to serve Christ through the Love Padre Pio inspires.
Padre Pio's spirituality is reflected in his works. In his 50 years in a small convent, almost forgotten by the Capuchin Order, Padre Pio has accomplished tremendous things. Hundreds of conversions, dozens of vocations, thousands of people brought back to health, I was involved in saving the life of one of his closest devotees. And the number of people who turned to God and a life of Christian virtue could not be conceivably counted, because they are scattered all over the world. I know many in the Washington area, as well as many over the country who are devoted to the disciplines of the Church because of Padre Pio's example and spiritual influence. (In Baltimore a girls high school with over 200 students has made radical changes over the last 3 years directly under the spiritual influence of Padre Pio. The girls and their teachers all testify to this unusual turn to a truly Catholic and God loving Institution.
His spirit has crossed all borders, has rescued thousands of souls - stabilizing faith and like Mother Teresa (they were well known to each other) brings solace and hope to the poor and forgotten.
Padre Pio was very successful in getting things done - he was so credible that people trusted his judgment without question. I never had any trouble or doubt when he asked me to do something that coming from another I would most likely refuse. He stabilized the weak and confirmed the strong. His sanctity and suffering won tremendous support.
He built a great Hospital for the Relief of Suffering. He called it a House for the relief of suffering - A Casa. It was not to be a regular type of Hospital. He told Dr. Sanguinetti, his strong man in designing and construction that all people involved from the least to top Medical Directors were to have full understanding of the psychosomatic principle. Every staff member, nurse, doctor, etc, were to be grounded in the concept of human dignity and the whole person, body, mind, and spirit were to be respected in all cases. Over and over Padre Pio kept stressing Christ's love. That in the Love Christ gave him through the gift of the symbols of His cross and the suffering with them - he wanted all to share that love and understand that through suffering souls are saved. I asked him what he thought of the stigmata himself, without hesitation he said, "I find them very embarrassing to have, but I deem it a great privilege to suffer with Christ" Through this suffering he has brought many a sinner back-he would warn the habitual sinner that they make him suffer very much. Dr. Sanguinetti said Padre Pio wanted it understood that this Hospital would be different. "We would complete the formation of this hospital so that it may become a temple of prayer and of science, where the human race may find itself as one flock under one shepherd in Jesus crucified. In this home the love of God should strengthen the spirit of those who are sick, by means of love for Jesus crucified which will radiate out from those who assist the infirmities of their body and of their spirit. Here, patients, doctors, and priests will be reservoirs of love which will be more abundant in as much as it will be shared with others." Padre Pio envisioned a "Hospital City". Padre Pio on being told one day there was no more room for the sick answered - "add more beds - do away with the offices and the library, but never say no to the sick." "We can never shut the door in their faces." "Let us make the Hospital bigger".
The world has not yet plumbed the depth of Padre Pio's vision of his "Hospital City", and his own hidden fifty years of meditation on the values of understanding the essence of suffering. The world in these times has used science and medicine to wipe out suffering - only to develop new and more sophisticated suffering. This has not yet become a big thing, because our laboratories are confident they can overcome all suffering. We have the arrival of new strains of viruses every year, and some more deadly than we like to think. Nature has a price when we change it.
I wish to project something for your consideration. Let your concept of spirituality come up strong on the side of positive action Padre Pio must have had an early understanding that an aggressive spiritualization of everything he did netted untold and surprising results. During the war it was amazing how he got things done, when there was not a single source of help around. In his fifty years in this ancient Capuchin Monastery, always in prayer, bearing great suffering in body as well as in mind, he learned to value and use whatever God gave him. He established credibility -- and this gave his people stability - even in all their rightful fears in the war years. He taught people how to bear their suffering and convert it to grace.
We can spiritualize all our suffering. Inspired by the spirit to use our suffering spirituality becomes an experience of grace and God's work becomes our own.
Suffering: inspired Padre Pio's philosophy of how to relieve suffering and at the same time to bring graces to all involved. This he did by designing ways of healing the body and teaching Christian acceptance of pain and using it as prayer. Was not Christ suffering on the cross the greatest prayer of all? Who better than Padre Pio understood Christ's prayer of the cross?
Spirituality is the result of something. It is the result of God's love in action. And Padre Pio knew how to activate God's love. Do we? Can we find how?
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